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Translator's Foreword

Finding Vysotsk on the map

Vysotsk, with a population of just under 3,000, lies to the extreme north of the north-west Ukrainian province of Rivne. Dubrovytsya (pop. 9,600) is about 20 km to the south. A further 34 km to the south is Sarny (pop. 27,700), itself over 80 km north of the provincial capital of Rivne (pop. 247,700). Stolin (pop. 12,500) is about 25 km north of Vysotsk, separated nowadays by the Ukraine/Belarus border.

The Vysotsk that the authors of the Yizkor (memorial) book recalled was under Polish rule between the two world wars, part of the kresy (borderlands) subsequently incorporated into the Soviet Union. In those days, as the hand-drawn map of the Yizkor book shows, the bulk of Vysotsk's natural hinterland lay to the north, deep into what is now Belarus.


First visits to Vysotsk

Our first visit to Vysotsk, where my wife Sara's mother came from, was in 1993. We arrived unannounced, not knowing how the sudden presence of foreigners would be received. Villagers pointed us in the direction of the Jewish mass grave. On our return to the centre of Vysotsk we were greeted by the Head of the village, Grigory Yatsuta. He showed us the local history museum, then took us to meet Isaak Kaftan, the only Jewish person still living in the village.

A year later I paid another visit to Vysotsk, taking with me details of those who had been killed in 1942 (the list at the end of the Yizkor book transliterated into Ukrainian by Yad VaShem).


Subsequent visits to Vysotsk

Over a decade passed. On the next visit to Vysotsk Sara and I took with us our translation of Gitl Fialkov's astonishing personal account of survival (pages 154-180). Soon afterwards Gitl's story was translated into Ukrainian by teachers of English at the secondary school in neighbouring Dubrovytsya, and in 2009 this translation was included in the second edition of the book commemorating Vysotsk's millennium.

I also prepared a translation into Russian of the chapter-headings of the Yizkor book. Not surprisingly, more was requested. I therefore undertook to translate the complete book – though only too aware of the inadequacy of my Hebrew for such a task.


Translating the Yizkor book

As explained above, Sara and I started with Gitl Fialkov's account. Unlike the rest of the Yizkor book, which is in Hebrew, Gitl's account exists in two versions: her own, written in Yiddish, and her son's translation into Hebrew, which omits some significant material and adds or expands certain sections. What appears here is an amalgam of the two versions.

There is just one other Yiddish passage: a few stanzas from the Song of the Murdered Jewish People by Icchak Kacenelson (Itzhak Katzenelson). The rest of the book is in Hebrew. Needless to say, without Sara's help there are numerous passages I would not have made sense of on my own.

The Hebrew text contains many Polish, Russian and Yiddish words and expressions. The translation retains most of them, with explanatory footnotes where necessary.


Transliterating names of places and people

Nearly all of the names of villages and hamlets have been identified. Mostly they are left in the Yiddish form in conformity with the text, where necessary adding the modern Ukrainian, Polish or Byelorussian version in square brackets or as a footnote.

Family names presented a greater challenge. It is sometimes impossible to know how surnames of Hebrew origin should be transliterated, whereas with names of Germanic or Slavonic origin one can be more confident of a solution.

First names were problematic in a different way. Those of older people are transliterated in a traditional Yiddish form. Some of the younger people may or may not have altered the pronunciation of their names in anticipation of their new life in Eretz Israel. The names of those who settled in Israel generally appear in a standard Israeli form.


Inclusions and omissions

The complete text of the Yizkor book has been translated, except for the biographical details of those who settled in Israel and died before the book was published in 1963. Fifty years ago it was important to share these details with other former residents of Vysotsk, but by now nearly all of those listed as living in Israel have themselves passed away.

The photographs have been inserted in the text approximately in the same positions as in the original. Only one photograph has been omitted, partly because of the poor quality of the original and because it was in any case almost identical to the photograph on page 258.

I am grateful to members of my family for their help with the preparation of the photographs and the maps and in solving other technical problems.


Footnotes and glossary

The footnotes make no pretence to be anything other than basic. Many of them are repeated several times in order to avoid referring back to previous chapters. Needless to say, for those with a certain knowledge of Judaism or Zionism some of the footnotes will be redundant.

The glossary contains most of the Hebrew and Yiddish terms found in the text.


Looking forward

The primary aim of this translation is to make the history of the former Jewish community of Vysotsk accessible to the present-day inhabitants of the village. The hope therefore is that, little by little, sections of the Yizkor book will be translated into Ukrainian – as has already happened with Gitl Fialkov's story.

There is also much material in the book, whether descriptions of religious customs, rival political movements, the everyday life of the village or the detailed and vivid reminiscences of events in the war years, which could well be of interest and use to researchers in Ukraine, Poland and the Englishspeaking world.

Finally, there may be those with a personal connection with Vysotsk, unable to read the Yizkor book in the original, for whom this translation will bring to life an aspect of their family history.

  Kevin Allen
Brighton UK, November 2014




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