Interview

Veniamin Feldman grew up with three siblings. His father, a miller, hired a religious teacher during his childhood. His father was killed by bandits during the Civil War in 1919. Subsequently, he moved to Luhny and attended religious school from 1919 to 1923. As an adolescent, he worked as farmer for Christian families. He was married in 1930. During World War II, he served in the Red Army.

Boots

Ovruch, Ukraine

Veniamin explains in this clip, how a group of bandits took his father to the woods and killed him. Boots were hard to come by in 1919 Ukraine. Even in the north, where almost everyone seemed to work in the felt and leather industries, good winter boots took time and money to obtain.

One day in January 1919, in the midst of the Civil War (1917-1922), Veniamin explained, a “Pole” who had been a warrant officer in the tsarist army and now led a small band of anti-Bolshevik fighters, showed up at their house and demanded leather for boots.

The “Polish” warrant officer was probably Aleksei Kozyr-Zirko, a warlord from eastern Ukraine possibly mistaken for a Pole because of the Galician accent he adopted. For three weeks in December 1918 to January 1919, Kozyr-Zirko reigned over Ovruch and its district, looting Jewish property, stripping Jews of their boots and clothing, degrading and humiliating Jews, and ultimately murdering them with the type of sadistic violence normally associated more with the Holocaust than the pogroms.

The Volunteer Army, commonly known as the Whites, was made up mostly of conservative officers from the tsarist army. They opposed the Red Army's efforts to extend the Revolution and fought for the maintenance of the rights of property owners and priests. During the battles, attacks on the Jews among other minorities, were quite common. One survey counted 688 cities, towns and villages affected by pogroms. Many of these locales suffered multiple pogroms, as armies and brigands came and went. The pogroms were attributed most often to Ukrainian nationalists, though the White Volunteer Army is said to have been responsible for about twenty percent of the attacks, with Veniamin’s father being one example of the latter.

Arkadii Burshtein was born in Sobolivka in 1928. His father was a tailor. He attended a Yiddish school for four years, and then finished his education in a Ukrainian school. He survived in labor camps in the Reichkommissariat Ukraine before making his way into Transnistria. After the war he returned to Haysyn, where he worked as chief engineer in a garment factory.


Other Interviews:

Sobolivka
My Grandfather and the Priest
My Grandfather's Observance
"they wanted us to stay alive."
Speaking Yiddish
The Mass Grave in Sobolivka
Arkadii's Gefilte Fish

Sobolivka Ancedote

Haysyn, Ukraine

Arkadii Burshtein recalls in this clip an episode from the shtetl Sobolivka before World War II. According to him, a sick, albeit sturdy wife bid her husband farewell, before he went off to prison.

Raisa Turovskaia was educated at a Yiddish school for four years and later graduated from a Ukrainian school. During the war, she evacuated to a kolkhoz in the Shekhmanskii region. She and her family evacuated further to Siberia. She moved to Ovruch in 1944 and worked as History teacher later on.


Other Interviews:

Openhanded
Avoiding Conscription
Childhood Memories

Seeking Help From the Valedniker Rebbe

Ovruch

Raisa Turovskaia recalls in this clip one of her father's stories regarding the wisdom of the Valedniker Rebbe. A married couple sought his help after they lost their baby in the woods.

A rebbe, also called a tsadik, is the leader of a Hasidic community. Turovskaia refers to the Voledniker rebbe as a "tsadik," a righteous person. Tsadikim (plural) were sought out by the community to give advice in spiritual, personal, and business matters. Moreover, rebbes were sometimes said to foresee the future or to be able to see events taking place far away. They often had great insights into the life of other people.

Rabbi Yisroel Dov Ber (1789-1850) – son of Rabbi Yosef of Valednik, author of the book Shearis Yisroel, prominant tsadik and miracle worker, primary disciple of Rabbi Mottel of Chernobyl (source).

Raisa Turovskaia was educated at a Yiddish school for four years and later graduated from a Ukrainian school. During the war, she evacuated to a kolkhoz in the Shekhmanskii region. She and her family evacuated further to Siberia. She moved to Ovruch in 1944 and worked as History teacher later on.


Other Interviews:

Seeking Help From the Valedniker Rebbe
Avoiding Conscription
Childhood Memories

Openhanded

Ovruch, Ukraine

Raisa Turovskaia describes in this clip her mother’s chief role in collecting charity for the sick, poor, and community members in trouble. Raisa particularly remembers that her mother sent foodstuff to a sick woman in Valednik, as well as collected money from the community.

The Jewish communal support system in the prewar shtetl or village was often the only welfare system Jews in Ukraine and other places in Eastern Europe could count on. Before and after the war, charity constituted a central role to guarantee the continuation of everyday life.

Raisa Turovskaia was educated at a Yiddish school for four years and later graduated from a Ukrainian school. During the war, she evacuated to a kolkhoz in the Shekhmanskii region. She and her family evacuated further to Siberia. She moved to Ovruch in 1944 and worked as History teacher later on.


Other Interviews:

Seeking Help From the Valedniker Rebbe
Openhanded
Childhood Memories

Avoiding Conscription

Ovruch, Ukraine

Raisa Turovskaia shares more miracle stories about the Valedniker Rebbe and reveals the tsadik’s wisdom. In the first clip, Raisa describes how a violent son wanted to avoid conscription into the Imperial Russian Army. He therefore sought the rebbe's help together with his mother.

Tsar Nicholas I issued the Statute on Conscription Duty on August 26, 1827. Accordingly, all Russian males between the ages twelve and twenty-five were required to serve in the Russian Imperialist Army for twenty-five years. This decree naturally included the Jewish population. As a result, many Jewish families emigrated from the Russian Empire to avoid military service for their sons.

In the following clip, Raisa explains the desperate situation of a divorced woman, whose husband went off to Siberia and remarried a non-Jewish woman. She lived in poverty and was under great distress to organize weddings for her four daughters. After the woman sought help from the Valedniker Rebbe, everything worked out for the good.

Raisa Turovskaia was educated at a Yiddish school for four years and later graduated from a Ukrainian school. During the war, she evacuated to a kolkhoz in the Shekhmanskii region. She and her family evacuated further to Siberia. She moved to Ovruch in 1944 and worked as History teacher later on.


Other Interviews:

Seeking Help From the Valedniker Rebbe
Openhanded
Avoiding Conscription

Childhood Memories

Ovruch, Ukraine

Raisa Turovskaia remembers in this clip, how she and her family celebrated Passover during her childhood. In particular, Raisa emphasizes that her family cooked meat in kosher Passover dishes. The family’s cow, moreover, gave milk enough to sell to neighbors and to donate to the hospital.

Raisa describes in the clip below, how her mother was infected with tuberculosis during the Civil War. Raisa recalls that her mother suffered long-term from the disease. As a result, Raisa had to run chores and take care of the household during her school education.

Eugen Grunfeld grew up with five siblings and his father was a merchant. After he attended religious schools in Zau Mureş and Bukarest, he studied at a Romanian school in the city. During the war, he was a forced laborer and worked at the Tighina fortress among other places in Romania. After the war, he moved to Cluj-Napoca, where he was married in 1949. He worked as chief trained cellulose insulation technician at a factory for thirty-five years.

Studying Khimesh Dilemma

Cluj-Napoca, Ukraine

Eugen reveals in this clip, how he spent his Sabbath afternoons growing up. While other children played outside, his grandfather quizzed him about his Talmud (Khimesh) knowledge. In addition to private sessions at home, Eugen attended a public and then private religious school. Eugen thus underwent a thorough religious education before his bar mitzvah.

Jewish boys would traditionally learn how to read Hebrew and study the Torah at the age of 5 in cheder, an elementary school for the study of Jewish texts. The religious teacher (melamed) would then instruct Mishnah at the age of 7, before moving on to Talmud study. Engaging in these complicated religious texts as child, it is understandable that Eugen rather played with his friends on a Saturday afternoon than revise with his grandfather.

Bura Cohn 's parents were also born in Suliţa and he grew up with two brothers. He was an active member of the Zionist youth group Dror Habonim before the war. He and his father spent the war years as forced laborers in Tiraspol, before they were liberated by the Red Army. He was then trained as carpenter and glazier.

Hauling Stones

Botoşani, Romania

Bura Cohn remembers in this clip, how he suffered under forced labor during the war. He and his father worked in a stone quarry and paved roads without much food and very little sleep.

Bura experienced his war years under Romanian command in Tiraspol. Romania became an ally of Nazi Germany in 1940 under the fascist dictatorship of Ion Antonescu. Romanian armed forces, for instance, controlled Transnistria and guarded the Pechera concentration camp. Bura like many others suffered from starvation and endured the war years in miserable living conditions.

Abram Sharhorodskij ’s parents were also born in Rîbniţa. He grew up with two brothers and one sister. He first attended the local Yiddish school for seven years and then graduated from a Russian school. He was then trained as carpenter. During the war, he was imprisoned in the Rîbniţa ghetto from 1941, until he escaped in 1944. He was a forced laborer in a German hospital next to the ghetto. After his escape, he was drafted into the military and served from 1944 until 1947. He worked as tradesman for forty-five years.

The Ribnitser Rebbe

Rîbniţa , Moldova

Abram Sharhorodskij recalls the significance of Chaim Zanvl Abramovitsh, also known as the Ribnitser Rebbe, a mystic and Jewish religious leader active in Rîbniţa during and after the war. Abram describes how Abramovitsh, respected for his erudition and generosity towards the town's Jews, stewarded the community "like G-d himself" in the postwar period. Abram also tells how Abramovitsh fared in the Rîbniţa ghetto set up by the Romanians during the war. While Abramovitsh, according to Abram, was initially included in forced labor round-ups in the ghetto, he was later hidden by Bessarabian Jewish families in the ghetto and spared from this harsh treatment.

The figure of Chaim Zanvl (c.1890-1995) is mentioned in a number of AHEYM interviews. Famed as a wonder worker, healer, and teacher, he was revered by many Jews and some non-Jews in the region for his role in preserving and transmitting religious traditions in the postwar Soviet Union. After several decades facilitating clandestine spiritual activities in Moldova and Ukraine, Abramovitsh left the USSR in the early 1970s, eventually settling in the United States. Although he passed in 1995, Abramovitsh continues to grow in renown, especially in Hasidic circles where he is known as the Ribnitser Rebbe. His grave, a site of pilgrimage and a place credited as the source of miracles, is located in Monsey, NY.

Sebastian Schulman

Malka Altman grew up with three siblings and lived in Pervomaiscoe, Moldova, before the war. Her parents were also born in Bălţi (Belz). She never went through formal schooling and was trained as tailor. She spent the war years in evacuation. After the war, she worked at a fur factory and raised two children.

The Shtefaneshter Rebbe

Bălţi, Moldova

Malka Altman retells her husband’s experience during the First World War. As a herdsman in charge of supplying meat for the troops, he passed through Ştefăneşti. Encouraged by a non-Jewish woman, he sought out the Ştefăneşti rebbe. According to Malka, her husband joined the famous tish and stayed overnight. Malka's husband was not a herdsman per se. Rather, he was supposed to ask civilians to volunteer cattle to the Army. After his visit to the Rebbe, Malka's husband continued traveling on this mission in the hinterland. For some reason, it became impossible to hand the cattle over to the Army and the war fighting ended in the meantime. The Rebbe's prediction was thus fulfilled.

Malke uses the impersonal construction throughout her description of her husband's visit to the Rebbe, even when she is most likely referring to the Rebbe himself. For example, she says, "one shook his hand" or "one told him that he won't see the front anymore." Malka perhaps does not refer to the Rebbe directly out of respect. However, when Malka makes the Rebbe's promise more concrete, she slightly raises her voice to convey a direct quotation.

The town of Ştefăneşti in Romania was home to an influential Hasidic dynasty, which lasted from 1851 to 1933. Malka’s husband encountered Rabbi Avrohom Mattisyohu Friedman, whose legacy made Ştefăneşti one of the most important Hasidic centers in Eastern Europe. When the rebbe's followers joined him for tish (a meal or other joyous gathering around the rebbe), he was known not to speak, but to create an awe-inspiring atmosphere. He was also well-known for his miracle work revered by Jews and Christians alike.

Boris Dorfman lived in Chişinău until the beginning of the war. Both of his parents were imprisoned under Soviet occupation in 1940. He grew up with one sister, who was killed in the Chişinău ghetto. He attended religious school and then a Zionist primary school for four years, before he graduated from a Romanian secondary school. Soon after he finished a technical college to study construction, he was drafted into the Red Army. He spent the war years in the military, before he was sent off to Siberia as forced laborer. He worked as coachman until the war ended. He returned to Chişinău in 1946 and continued his studies. He worked as chief engineer at a factory for thirty-five years.

“they didn’t want to let me go”

Lviv, Ukraine

Boris Dorfman remembers his war years in the Red Army and then under forced labor in faraway Siberia. Instead of pointing out the hardships he inevitably endured as soldier and gulag inmate, Boris addresses his achievements. He proudly describes his leadership positions in the Red Army and later - to the point that his supervisor did not want to discharge him after the war had ended.

Boris Dorfman lived in a territory that came under Soviet control as part of a non-aggression pact signed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. As Boris describes, Soviet troops retreated from the Moldovan Socialist Soviet Republic, established in 1940, when the German front drew closer. The Red Army fully liberated the region by August 1944. Many locals in this territory, as well as other areas occupied by German troops or their allies, were deported to Siberia and Central Asia in fear of infiltration.

Boris is one of the most prominent and highly respected Yiddish and Jewish cultural activists in today's Ukraine. He was particularly active in the dwindling Yiddish cultural scene during the late 1980s. He became prodigiously active in the revival of Jewish life in and around Lviv in the 1990s and helped to provide care and social sustenance to elderly and often lonely Jews. Boris also has been active in disseminating Yiddish language and culture among young people, most of whom happen to be non-Jewish Ukrainians. A new Yiddish-language Polish documentary film about his life was released in 2014. The AHEYM team interviewed Boris several times, including May 2015.

Frida Zak grew up with five siblings. She lost her grandmother during the Great Famine (Holodomor) in 1933. She attended a Yiddish school for ten years and then worked in a Jewish orphanage in Letychiv. During the war, she escaped to Miropol, where her family managed to get on the last local evacuation train to Central Asia. In evacuation, her father died of starvation in 1942. She returned to Polonne in 1944 and worked for two years in the same building, which became a Ukrainian orphanage during the war. Until her retirement in 1988, she worked in a library that she helped to set up.


Other Interviews:

When Peretz Markish Came to Polonne

With the Last Train

Polonne, Ukraine

Frida Zak remembers her young adult life in a nutshell, including her education, family’s suffering in evacuation and beginnings of a life after World War II. Although this resume of her life does not convey the hardships Frida and her family endured during World War II, her account nevertheless demonstrates her power of endurance and reintegration into society after the war.

In the first days of the war, the Soviet government in Moscow established an Evacuation Council, initially headed by Lazar Kaganovich, the Commissar of Transportation who himself had been born and raised in a small shtetl near Kiev. The Council was responsible for coordinating the orderly relocation of critical industrial and consumer infrastructure from the warzone to the Russian interior, where it was imagined industrial output could be preserved with limited interruption. The Council privileged the evacuation of people and entities that were crucial for the military and industrial needs of the state, singling out engineers, workers in factories critical for industrial and military output, youth fit for military service, and state and party elites. Family members of those individuals fitting into these categories were later added to the list. No specific provisions were made for the evacuation of the rest of the civilian population, and at no point was the evacuation of the Jewish population prioritized, despite the mortal danger Jews who fell under German rule faced. The Council also adopted a scorched earth policy, ordering the destruction of all valuable resources that could not be evacuated, so that the enemy--not to mention the civilians caught under enemy rule--would be deprived of even the most basic necessities.

The lack of official sanction and governmental assistance in preparing for evacuation, though, did not stop hundreds of thousands of Jews from fleeing in advance of the German army. Many Jews were able to evacuate as part of the official evacuation because they were represented among the state and party elite or other categories scheduled for evacuation.

These chosen evacuees were often able to bring along family members and even friends on the special trains allocated for this purpose. As word of the atrocities being committed to the west spread, though, most Jews recognized the necessity of flight and took desperate measures to flee. Those who did not make the official list took what they could and headed east. Many Jews had to use their own initiative to evacuate without government assistance.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

When Peretz Markish Came to Polonne

Polonne, Ukraine

Frida Zak reminisces about Peretz Markish's very soft hand. When she was about to graduate from Yiddish school, the well-known Yiddish writer came to visit his parents in Frida's hometown Polonne. She fondly remembers how students performed Peretz's poems and songs. According to Frida, everybody danced around the New Year tree until the early morning hours.

Peretz Markish, who was born in 1895 in Polonne, enjoyed a traditional Jewish education. He was drafted into the Russian army during World War I and moved to Ekaterinoslav after his discharge from the military in 1917. Markish initially wrote Russian poetry, before he published poems in Yiddish. Markish’s early poetry was infused with the declarative pathos and the apocalyptic mood. The acclaimed poet relocated several times, first to Kiev and then to Warsaw. In 1926 Markish returned to the Soviet Union, but had spent time in major European cities. He headed the Yiddish section of the Soviet Writers Union from 1939 to 1943. During the postwar Stalinist purges, Markish was arrested and sentenced to death. He was executed on August 12, 1952, along with other well-known Yiddish writers in Moscow. This particular execution ordered by Joseph Stalin, came to known as "Night of the Murdered Poets." Markish was posthumously cleared of all charges (“rehabilitated”) in 1955.

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His major works, beside lyrical poetry, comprise epic poems, stories, novels, and drama. These include Di kupe (The Heap, 1921); Tsu a yidisher tentserin (To a Jewish Female Dancer, 1940); Milkhome (War, two volumes, 1948); Trot fun doyres (The March of Generations, 1966), Der fertsikyeriker man (The Forty-Year Old Man, 1978). Markish was also the cofounder of the weekly journal Literarishe bleter in Warsaw in 1924.

Markish’s first book Shveln (Threshholds; see image below) was published in 1919 in Ukraine. Markish’s works can be found on the website of the Spielberg Yiddish Digital Library in the original Yiddish language. The Oyneg Shabes blog by the Yiddish Daily Forward reveals information on the commemoration of Markish’s life and work.

A distinguished group of scholars and admirers of the poet celebrated Peretz Markish's 120th birthday in 2015. For more information take a look at this Yiddish article from the newspaper Forverts.

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Polina Lebvol grew up with seven siblings. She attended a Polish school in the mornings and then a religious girls' school in afternoons. She began working as seamstress at the age of 13. During the war, she evacuated to the Volgograd region where she worked on a kolkhoz. Her mother and four siblings were killed in Bălţi (Belz). After she returned to her hometown in 1945, she initially worked at the civilian registrar's office and then at a legal office.

The Jewish House

Zhovka, Ukraine

Moyshe Nayman 's parents owned cattle and worked the land during his childhood. He grew up with four siblings and helped out his parents on the farm. His father and grandfather made kosher wine for the community. After he finished his cheder education, he attended a yeshiva in Korsun and then studied with Rabbi Chaim Elazar Spira in Mukacheve. During World War II, he was a forced laborer for a Hungarian labor battalion, before his deportation to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. He was liberated from the Gunskirchen forced labor camp.


Other Interviews:

Childhood On A Farm
Mauthausen

Sleeping At Grandpa’s

Klyachanovo, Ukraine

Moyshe Nayman remembers in this clip the sleeping arrangements at his grandfather’s house in the rural village of Klyachanovo, near Mukacheve, before World War II. He and his brother slept in the same straw bed as his grandfather, because there was not room enough for each of the children to have their own beds.

Nayman, who lived on a farm with six cows, also recalls that his family had a vineyard from which they would make kosher wine to sell during Passover.

Vilk Hodinger grew up with five siblings, of whom three perished in Auschwitz. He attended cheder in Vynohradiv from the ages 6 to 15, as well as Czech and Hungarian schools. His father, who worked as laborer, was born in Ilnytsya and his mother came from Pryslip. During World War II, he survived the selection at Auschwitz, where he was deported from the Vynohradiv ghetto in May 1944. He was liberated from the Furstenfeldbruck forced labor camp, where he fixed airplanes for several months. Between 1949 and 1953, he served in the Soviet military. He worked odd jobs before his draft and then sold ice-cream for thirty years.


Other Interviews:

Vynohradiv Ghetto
"Hitler ate up our youth"

A Few Pengos

Berehove, Ukraine

In this clip, Vilk Hodinger describes prewar Jewish life in the Transcarpathian town Vynohradiv (Yiddish: Selish). He explains that his family was very poor and his father had to work odd jobs to make ends meet. He also recalls the living arrangements at home, where several members of his family shared a single bed.

Transcarpathia was under Czechoslovak rule when Vilk grew up. Due to the province’s unique location as borderland, a multiethnic population, consisting of Jews, Hungarians, Romanians, Ruthenians, Poles and Germans, resided there. The population cultivated socio-economic ties with neighboring countries that persevered after the province was Sovietized in 1945, and the borders officially shut down. This is why, Vilk’s father was able to make some extra money, specifically pengos - the Hungarian currency between 1927 and 1946, by helping travelers from Budapest with their bags at the railway station.

Vilk Hodinger grew up with five siblings, of whom three perished in Auschwitz. He attended cheder in Vynohradiv from the ages 6 to 15, as well as Czech and Hungarian schools. His father, who worked as laborer, was born in Ilnytsya and his mother came from Pryslip. During World War II, he survived the selection at Auschwitz, where he was deported from the Vynohradiv ghetto in May 1944. He was liberated from the Furstenfeldbruck forced labor camp, where he fixed airplanes for several months. Between 1949 and 1953, he served in the Soviet military. He worked odd jobs before his draft and then sold ice-cream for thirty years.


Other Interviews:

A Few Pengos
"Hitler ate up our youth"

Vynohradiv Ghetto

Berehove, Ukraine

In this clip, Vilk Hodiger talks about imprisonment in the Vynohradiv (Selish) ghetto during World War II.

When the Germans occupied Hungary in March 1944--"after Passover," as Hodiger puts it-- they immediately set up ghettos for the Jewish minority. Most of the Jewish population in Transcarpathia was forced into ghettos. The largest ghettos in the region were in Berehove, Uzhhorod and Khust. Hodiger, who was fifteen years old at the time, was driven out of him home, together with the other children and women of Vinohradiv, and forced into the ghetto. There were few Jewish men in town because in the years before the German occupation, the Hungarian government had already taken most men into forced labor (munka tabor)

Between May 15 and June 7, 1944--"around Shavuot," as Hodiger puts it, once again using the Jewish calendar as a marker-- the Germans deported about 290,000 Jews from Transcarpathia, mostly to Auschwitz.

In Auschwitz, Hodiger was selected for death twice, but explains that somehow someone convinced the authorities to pick him for forced labor instead. He was among the ten percent of Hungarian Jewish deportees, who were sent to concentration camps in Austria and Germany, where they were put to work for the German war effort.

The deportation of 437,402 Transcarpathian Jews was one of the last stages of the Final Solution, and one of its deadliest.

In the following clip, Hodiger speaks about the period after Auschwitz, when he was moved from one concentration camp to the next. He was liberated by American troops near Dachau.

Vilk Hodinger grew up with five siblings, of whom three perished in Auschwitz. He attended cheder in Vynohradiv from the ages 6 to 15, as well as Czech and Hungarian schools. His father, who worked as laborer, was born in Ilnytsya and his mother came from Pryslip. During World War II, he survived the selection at Auschwitz, where he was deported from the Vynohradiv ghetto in May 1944. He was liberated from the Furstenfeldbruck forced labor camp, where he fixed airplanes for several months. Between 1949 and 1953, he served in the Soviet military. He worked odd jobs before his draft and then sold ice-cream for thirty years.


Other Interviews:

A Few Pengos
Vynohradiv Ghetto

“Hitler ate up our youth”

Berehove, Ukraine

Vilk Hodinger talks about his military service in this clip. Hodiger was drafted into the Red Army in 1949, just five years after his liberation from a Nazi forced labor camp near Dachau, Germany. As was the case for many survivors, particularly those who returned to the Soviet Union, the end of the war did not translate directly into a peaceful reintegration into civilian life. Hodiger was drafted into an aerodrome construction regiment as a sapper, and was sent first to Belarus and then to the Soviet Far East. "I traveled across all of Russia," he recalls. In the army with him were a few other Jews who, like him, had only just been liberated from the camps a few years earlier.

Sura Bivson was born in 1926 in Polonne. Her father paved clay floors. Sura attended a Yiddish school for six years. In 1941, her family escaped from Polonne and evacuated to Birobidzhan. After the war in 1945, Bivson returned to Polonne, and a few years later, her family moved to Starokostyantyniv, where she was married and had one son. Bivson worked as a telephone operator for forty years.


Other Interviews:

the shoykhet across from us

Birobidzhan in 1941

Starokostyantyniv, Ukraine

Sura Bivson remembers in this clip the strenuous journey, she experienced as as a child in 1941. Sura and her family evacuated to Birobdizhan, where her sister lived.

After Sure and her family arrived in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, life was "not too smooth either," as she explains in this clip.

Sura Bivson was born in 1926 in Polonne. Her father paved clay floors. Sura attended a Yiddish school for six years. In 1941, her family escaped from Polonne and evacuated to Birobidzhan. After the war in 1945, Bivson returned to Polonne, and a few years later, her family moved to Starokostyantyniv, where she was married and had one son. Bivson worked as a telephone operator for forty years.


Other Interviews:

Birobidzhan in 1941

the shoykhet across from us

Starokostyantyniv, Ukraine

In this clip, Sura Bivson remembers how her family would keep kosher in Starokostyantyniv after World War II. She explains that they continued to procure kosher meat from the neighboring town of Khmelnytskyy, after the local kosher butcher passed away.

Alexander Cherner Alexander Cherner was born in 1935 in Balta. He comes from a family of klezmer musicians, and has written some 500 klezmer tunes. He lived in Balta until 1952 and then moved to Kharkiv, where he worked as turner and locksmith at a factory. He moved to Odessa in 1961.

Playing Fiddle with my Grandfather

Odesa, Ukraine

In this clip, Alexander Cherner remembers fondly how he performed with his grandfather at a Jewish wedding in Balta around 1948.

Cherner comes from a long line of klezmer musicians, as was common for klezmer musicians. His grandfather led a klezmer group and taught students how to play the piano, clarinet and trumpet before the war. The musical profession was widespread in the shtetl before World War II. Jewish musicians often struggled and had to take on additional jobs to make ends meet. Cherner recalls that most musicians were Jews, but that there were also non-Jews who could play well.

Miron Endelshtein was born in 1925 in Belgorod-Dnestrovskiy (formerly Akerman, Bessarabia). He spoke extensively about his service in the Red Army during the war, in which he used the name Mironov, so that people wouldn't know he was Jewish.

“a memorial plaque”

Mykolayiv, Ukraine

In this clip, Miron Endelshtein speaks about his return to Bolhrad after the war in search of surviving family members. He explains that he heard from a local about the cruel ways in which Jewish children were murdered in the chicken slaughterhouse, and so came to the conclusion that there was nothing left in the town for him. He says he put a memorial plaque up in the synagogue, which has since been turned into a church, and left.

Moisei Fish " was born in March, 1922 in Rivne. His father was known as Zalmen der Miler (b. 1883 in Koloniya Olizarka), since he worked as a house-builder and brick-layer. His mother, Khaye bas Yoyne, was born in 1887 in Zholuds'k, a nearby town. The family moved to Rivne at the start of World War I in 1914. Fish's mother was a housewife and raised the family's five children, of whom Moisei was the youngest. This whole family was killed in the early years of World War II, as were most of the approximately one hundred relatives Fish had before the war. Fish started going to a kheyder (religious school for young boys) at 3.5 years of age and continued until age five. At the age of five-six years, Moisei's father got him a private teacher, who for an hour a day in the afternoon would teach him how to pray. At the age of seven, he began to attend a ""shule"", a Polish-language Jewish school, and continued for seven years. After 7th grade, at the age of thirteen, Fish entered a Polish-language Jewish gymnasium, which he finished in 1939, three months before the war. In the 1930s, Fish participated in Shomer Akiva, a socialist youth group. After graduating from the gymnasium, Fish worked for two months until the war broke out . When the war started, Fish ran on foot to Kotsk at the former Soviet-Polish border, eventually being able to evacuate to the Russian interior and later to Kazakhstan. There, he worked in rice fields, and then in the bookkeeping office in a Korean kolkhoz. He tried to join the army, but he was sent back because he was a former Polish citizen and did not speak Russian well. He moved to Stalingrad and worked in a war-factory for two months. Finally in 1942 he was mobilized and sent to the front. Fish fought in Belarus, Poland, Germany, where he was wounded in the leg by grenade shrapnel, and the Far East. After the war, he completed a Soviet accounting institute. Fish moved back to Rivne in 1946 and found a job as the head accountant in a restaurant, where he worked until 1982. In 1946, Fish married Ida Lakir, a Jewish woman from Kalinindorf, one of the Joint-supported Soviet Jewish kolkhozes. They had three sons. Fish and his wife prepared to immigrate to Israel, but could not go in the end because of his wife's health. Fish has been involved with the local religious community since 1995, where he serves as a leader/cantor [gabe un khazn]. "


Other Interviews:

a Childhood Ditty
"Look, over there is a Jew"

Private Teacher

Rivne, Ukraine

Moisei Fish discusses his primary religious education at a private Cheder. He started school at age three and a half. In particular, Fish remembers his teacher, his melamed, also called a rebbe. He remembers that there were about twenty or thirty people in the class From age five on, Fish's father hired a private teacher to come to his house to provide religious instruction.

Moisei Fish " was born in March, 1922 in Rivne. His father was known as Zalmen der Miler (b. 1883 in Koloniya Olizarka), since he worked as a house-builder and brick-layer. His mother, Khaye bas Yoyne, was born in 1887 in Zholuds'k, a nearby town. The family moved to Rivne at the start of World War I in 1914. Fish's mother was a housewife and raised the family's five children, of whom Moisei was the youngest. This whole family was killed in the early years of World War II, as were most of the approximately one hundred relatives Fish had before the war. Fish started going to a kheyder (religious school for young boys) at 3.5 years of age and continued until age five. At the age of five-six years, Moisei's father got him a private teacher, who for an hour a day in the afternoon would teach him how to pray. At the age of seven, he began to attend a ""shule"", a Polish-language Jewish school, and continued for seven years. After 7th grade, at the age of thirteen, Fish entered a Polish-language Jewish gymnasium, which he finished in 1939, three months before the war. In the 1930s, Fish participated in Shomer Akiva, a socialist youth group. After graduating from the gymnasium, Fish worked for two months until the war broke out . When the war started, Fish ran on foot to Kotsk at the former Soviet-Polish border, eventually being able to evacuate to the Russian interior and later to Kazakhstan. There, he worked in rice fields, and then in the bookkeeping office in a Korean kolkhoz. He tried to join the army, but he was sent back because he was a former Polish citizen and did not speak Russian well. He moved to Stalingrad and worked in a war-factory for two months. Finally in 1942 he was mobilized and sent to the front. Fish fought in Belarus, Poland, Germany, where he was wounded in the leg by grenade shrapnel, and the Far East. After the war, he completed a Soviet accounting institute. Fish moved back to Rivne in 1946 and found a job as the head accountant in a restaurant, where he worked until 1982. In 1946, Fish married Ida Lakir, a Jewish woman from Kalinindorf, one of the Joint-supported Soviet Jewish kolkhozes. They had three sons. Fish and his wife prepared to immigrate to Israel, but could not go in the end because of his wife's health. Fish has been involved with the local religious community since 1995, where he serves as a leader/cantor [gabe un khazn]. "


Other Interviews:

Private Teacher
"Look, over there is a Jew"

a Childhood Ditty

Rivne, Ukraine

Moisei Fish not only enjoyed an extensive private religious education, but also absorbed religious culture at home. In this clip, Fish sings a Yiddish-loshn koydesh ditty, which he learned from his mother.

The story of Noah,
alcohol gives you strength.
Strength is the main thing,
alcohol makes you drunk.

"Ov" is a father,
”keyder" is a tatar.

A tatar is a “keyder,"
”begodim" are clothes.

Clothes are “begodim,"
”khut" is thread.

Thread is “khut,"
”lekhem" is bread.

Bread is “lekhem,"
”Rekhem" is thought.

Thought is “rekhem,"
“ "shmoyno" is eight.

Eight is “shmoyno,"
a dove is “ yoyne."

“ Yoyne" is a dove,
“ Mitsnefes" is a hoist.

A hoist is a "mitsnefes,
a stall is "refes."

"Refes is a stall,
"Moro" is gall.

Gall is "moro,"
a cow is "poro."

"Poro" is a cow,
"boyker" - morning.

Morning is "boyker,"
expensive is "yoyker."

"Yoyker" is expensive,
"Eysh" is fire.

Fire is "eysh,
"bosor" is meat.

Meat is "bosor,"
"mayim" is water.

Water is "mayim,"
let’s all make lekhayim.



Childhood ditties were designed to teach Hebrew words. They include words that were rarely, if ever, used in East European Yiddish. This particular ditty was tremendously popular and recorded in Poland, Lithuania, Transcarpathia and elsewhere.

The master scholar of Yiddish folklore, Yehudah-Leib Cahan, published this ditty in the second volume of his Yidishe folkslider, mit melodien, oys dem folk-moyl gezamlt (Yiddish Folk Songs, with music notes, collected directly from the people) in 1912. More recently a version of the rhythmic song was published on the Yiddish Wiki Library. In 2009, the Hasidic blogger Hirshel Tzig published another version. Moreover, Australian cantor, singer, teacher and entertainer Velvl Lederman performs this ditty in a "Polish" (Central) Yiddish with a poignant and wickedly embittered anti-German addition at the end. This part was added in the wake of the Holocaust.

This ditty was also popular among many Yiddish writers. It was cited by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Itzik Manger alluded to it in his playfully anachronistic "khumes-shpil" (quasi-Biblical short play) entitled "Inside Noah's Arch".

The following section will illustrate a couple of things: first, how the distinction between Moisei Fish's native dialect and the "standard" whole Hebrew pronunciation of Hebrew words has been preserved; and, second, the text itself will be put in comparison with other recordings.

Fish pronounces the Hebrew words according to standard Eastern Ashkenazi form. Moreover, his pronunciation is based to a large extent on Lithuanian Ashkenazi Hebrew (minus the "ey" for "kholem"), rather than on the "local" Volhynian (i.e.,northern variety of Ukrainian) form. Accordingly, "ov", "begodim", "khut", "moro", "poro", "bosor" rather than those current in his own dialect – "uv", "bgudem", "khit", "muru", "puru" and "buser". The preservation of the first short vowel and the last one in "shemoyno" (rather than the more expected one – "shmoyne") and of the diphthong in the single syllable word "eysh" (rather than the more Yiddishized "esh") also clearly testify to a careful presentation of the so-called "whole Hebrew" pronunciation, i.e. the way Hebrew should be pronounced per se in distinction from the Hebrew words which are an integral and fully integrated component of Yiddish.

Moisei's version has two lines (possibly a trace of larger missing segment) which so far couldn't be found in other extant versions:

Kleyder zenen begodim
Khut iz fudem.

Fudem iz khut,
Lekhem iz broyt.

The rhyme here is not preserved in the first couple (i.e. begodim // fudem, instead of *bgudem // fudem) and the second couple is not much of a rhyme at all (khut // broyt). Other variants have no trace of the "fudem" and "khut" element. Instead they have:

Kleyder zenen bgudem (bgodem)
Royt iz udem (odem)

Odem iz royt
Lekhem iz broyt

Another couple in our version that doesn't rhyme too well is:

Fleysh iz bosor
Mayim iz vaser

This is in all likelihood the result of the following missing lines that can be easily found in other versions:

Fleysh iz boser [whole Hebrew: bo'sor]
Khazer iz oser [kha'zir, o'sur]

Oser iz khazer
Mayim vaser

Judging by some rhymes in other variants, there was not much insistence on the "correct" whole Hebrew pronunciation, as it clearly seems to be the case in Moisei's version. He skips a few lines, but on the whole he preserves his early childhood version. It exemplifies a case of distinguishing between proper Ashkenazi pronunciation of traditional Hebrew, side by side with genuine Yiddish folklore.

Moisei Fish " was born in March, 1922 in Rivne. His father was known as Zalmen der Miler (b. 1883 in Koloniya Olizarka), since he worked as a house-builder and brick-layer. His mother, Khaye bas Yoyne, was born in 1887 in Zholuds'k, a nearby town. The family moved to Rivne at the start of World War I in 1914. Fish's mother was a housewife and raised the family's five children, of whom Moisei was the youngest. This whole family was killed in the early years of World War II, as were most of the approximately one hundred relatives Fish had before the war. Fish started going to a kheyder (religious school for young boys) at 3.5 years of age and continued until age five. At the age of five-six years, Moisei's father got him a private teacher, who for an hour a day in the afternoon would teach him how to pray. At the age of seven, he began to attend a ""shule"", a Polish-language Jewish school, and continued for seven years. After 7th grade, at the age of thirteen, Fish entered a Polish-language Jewish gymnasium, which he finished in 1939, three months before the war. In the 1930s, Fish participated in Shomer Akiva, a socialist youth group. After graduating from the gymnasium, Fish worked for two months until the war broke out . When the war started, Fish ran on foot to Kotsk at the former Soviet-Polish border, eventually being able to evacuate to the Russian interior and later to Kazakhstan. There, he worked in rice fields, and then in the bookkeeping office in a Korean kolkhoz. He tried to join the army, but he was sent back because he was a former Polish citizen and did not speak Russian well. He moved to Stalingrad and worked in a war-factory for two months. Finally in 1942 he was mobilized and sent to the front. Fish fought in Belarus, Poland, Germany, where he was wounded in the leg by grenade shrapnel, and the Far East. After the war, he completed a Soviet accounting institute. Fish moved back to Rivne in 1946 and found a job as the head accountant in a restaurant, where he worked until 1982. In 1946, Fish married Ida Lakir, a Jewish woman from Kalinindorf, one of the Joint-supported Soviet Jewish kolkhozes. They had three sons. Fish and his wife prepared to immigrate to Israel, but could not go in the end because of his wife's health. Fish has been involved with the local religious community since 1995, where he serves as a leader/cantor [gabe un khazn]. "


Other Interviews:

Private Teacher
a Childhood Ditty

“Look, over there is a Jew”

Rivne, Ukraine

Moisei Fish addresses in this clip religious persecution under postwar Soviet rule. He particularly points out that parents were afraid to speak Yiddish to their children, so they would not be recognized as Jews on the street.

Alexei Futiran was born in Tomashpol in 1925, the son of a coachman. Both his parents were also born in Tomashpol. He was one of six children; two of his brothers died fighting in the Second World War. He attended a Yiddish school for four years, and then completed his education at a Ukrainian language school. At the age of fifteen he began working as a carpenter. During the war he was evacuated to the east, and then drafted into the army in 1943, serving in the Far East until 1950. After the war, he worked as a leatherworker, making hats. He married his first wife in 1950. After she passed away, he remarried a non-Jewish woman. He has two sons, one in Moscow and one in Israel.

a Poor Family

Tomashpil

Alexei Futiran explains in this clip, how he grew up in a poor family. When he was fifteen years old, Alexei began to work as a carpenter apprentice in prewar Tomashpil. Alexei’s family particularly suffered during the Great Hunger (Holodomor) in the early 1930s, when his father was let go from his job as coachman.

Accounts by World War II survivors from Eastern Europe significantly revise the romantic image of the the shtetl. In order to make ends meet, many people had to work on Sabbath, as Alexei addresses in the following clip. Moreover, many men had to take on extra jobs. Many women also worked, in addition to raising children and taking care of the household.

Veniamin Geller was born in 1923 in Pyatka. He has three siblings. Binyomin's father, Yankl, was born in Khazhin, four kilometers from Berdychiv, and his mother in Velyka P'yatyhirka. Geller's father worked in a sugar factory in Gorobtsy and later was a glass-maker in a factory until 1932. When the Great Hunger broke out in 1932, the factory was closed down and Yankl looked for work in Dnipropetrovs'k. However, he fell ill and had to return home in 1934, where he passed away shortly after. Binyomin studied at a Ukrainian school because the Yiddish school was closed in 1930. Geller's family moved to Zhytomyr in 1936. When the war broke out, the family was evacuated to Kazan before the Germans entered Zhytomyr. Geller was drafted in March 1942. He served in the Red Army for four years and was injured three times. He returned to Zhytomyr after the war and got married in 1949.


Other Interviews:

a New Life
Throwing Stones on Kol Nidre

the Great Famine Exodus

Zhytomyr, Ukraine

Veniamin Geller talks in this clip about the effects of the Great Famine of 1932-1933. During the Famine, many artisans fled the village for nearby cities, where conditions were slightly better and where it was sometimes possible to receive support from abroad. With the migration of the artisans, only the poor and elderly Jews were left in Pyatka. A few years later, in 1936, the Yiddish school in the village was closed down. The remaining young Jews left for Berdychiv. By 1939, the Jewish population of the town had fallen from about 500 before the Famine to less than 200. The Jewish community of Pyatka was unable to recover itself after the Famine.

Veniamin Geller was born in 1923 in Pyatka. He has three siblings. Binyomin's father, Yankl, was born in Khazhin, four kilometers from Berdychiv, and his mother in Velyka P'yatyhirka. Geller's father worked in a sugar factory in Gorobtsy and later was a glass-maker in a factory until 1932. When the Great Hunger broke out in 1932, the factory was closed down and Yankl looked for work in Dnipropetrovs'k. However, he fell ill and had to return home in 1934, where he passed away shortly after. Binyomin studied at a Ukrainian school because the Yiddish school was closed in 1930. Geller's family moved to Zhytomyr in 1936. When the war broke out, the family was evacuated to Kazan before the Germans entered Zhytomyr. Geller was drafted in March 1942. He served in the Red Army for four years and was injured three times. He returned to Zhytomyr after the war and got married in 1949.


Other Interviews:

the Great Famine Exodus
Throwing Stones on Kol Nidre

a New Life

Zhytomyr, Ukraine

Veniamin Geller remembers in this clip the early beginnings of a new life at the end of World War II. When fighting at the front, Veniamin was injured from a German grenade and almost lost his legs. He recovered at a hospital in Moscow from October 1944 through March 1945 and then returned to Zhytomyr, only to find that gentiles had occupied his home in his absence. With so many Jews murdered and absent from the town, gentile neighbors often assumed that the seemingly abandoned homes were free for the taking. Veniamin managed to reclaim his home, married a Jewish woman in 1949, and settled down to make a new life for himself. His repeated reference to making "a new life" echoes the rhetoric of the time, and signifies the complete rupture that the war represented to so many people.

Veniamin Geller was born in 1923 in Pyatka. He has three siblings. Binyomin's father, Yankl, was born in Khazhin, four kilometers from Berdychiv, and his mother in Velyka P'yatyhirka. Geller's father worked in a sugar factory in Gorobtsy and later was a glass-maker in a factory until 1932. When the Great Hunger broke out in 1932, the factory was closed down and Yankl looked for work in Dnipropetrovs'k. However, he fell ill and had to return home in 1934, where he passed away shortly after. Binyomin studied at a Ukrainian school because the Yiddish school was closed in 1930. Geller's family moved to Zhytomyr in 1936. When the war broke out, the family was evacuated to Kazan before the Germans entered Zhytomyr. Geller was drafted in March 1942. He served in the Red Army for four years and was injured three times. He returned to Zhytomyr after the war and got married in 1949.


Other Interviews:

the Great Famine Exodus
a New Life

Throwing Stones on Kol Nidre

Zhytomyr, Ukraine

Veniamin Geller remembers in this clip two episodes from his childhood during the height of the Stalinist anti-religious campaign. In the first episode, he remembers how the prayer house was turned into a carpenter workshop, and one of the assistants mistakenly set it on fire.

In the second episode, he describes how the head of the Ukrainian school, who was himself a Jew, took the children who were members of the Young Communist League (Pioneers) to the synagogue on Yom Kippur in order to throw stones at the faithful on their way to prayer. Teaching children to harass their elders was a common form of Soviet indoctrination and intimidation.

Iosef Grayf was born in Kolomyya in 1922 to parents Gershon and Etl. He had six siblings. Iosef was educated in a Polish-language school and in a "kheyder" (traditional religious school for young boys), where he learned to pray and read and write in Yiddish. Just before the war, Grayf worked on the trains before being drafted into the Red Army. He served in the Far East and on the Eastern front during the Great Patriotic War. After the war, Grayf returned to Kolomyya, where he found no family left. Nevertheless, he decided to stay in the town. After the war, Grayf worked in a dental laboratory. In this photograph, Grayf shows the researchers his jacket covered with war medals.


Other Interviews:

People Stood Outside
Return to Kolomyya

Around Kolomyya

Kolomyya, Ukraine

Iosef Grayf recalls an active religious life before World War II in his hometown Kolomyya, which was then a part of Poland. In this clip, Iosef Grayf states that Jews were religious not only in Kolomyya but also in the surrounding villages. After being asked, he also comments on the preponderance of small shop keepers among Jews in the city.

Iosef Grayf was born in Kolomyya in 1922 to parents Gershon and Etl. He had six siblings. Iosef was educated in a Polish-language school and in a "kheyder" (traditional religious school for young boys), where he learned to pray and read and write in Yiddish. Just before the war, Grayf worked on the trains before being drafted into the Red Army. He served in the Far East and on the Eastern front during the Great Patriotic War. After the war, Grayf returned to Kolomyya, where he found no family left. Nevertheless, he decided to stay in the town. After the war, Grayf worked in a dental laboratory. In this photograph, Grayf shows the researchers his jacket covered with war medals.


Other Interviews:

Around Kolomyya
Return to Kolomyya

People Stood Outside

Kolomyya, Ukraine

Iosef Grayf recalls an active religious life before World War II in his hometown Kolomyya, which was then a part of Poland. In this clip, Grayf remembers that in the center of town was the Great Synagogue, a layout popular in many other towns in the region, but most people went to the synagogue nearest their own house. He recalls, in particular, the crowds that would gather outside the synagogue, signifying the vibrant religious life of 1930s Poland.

Iosef Grayf was born in Kolomyya in 1922 to parents Gershon and Etl. He had six siblings. Iosef was educated in a Polish-language school and in a "kheyder" (traditional religious school for young boys), where he learned to pray and read and write in Yiddish. Just before the war, Grayf worked on the trains before being drafted into the Red Army. He served in the Far East and on the Eastern front during the Great Patriotic War. After the war, Grayf returned to Kolomyya, where he found no family left. Nevertheless, he decided to stay in the town. After the war, Grayf worked in a dental laboratory. In this photograph, Grayf shows the researchers his jacket covered with war medals.


Other Interviews:

Around Kolomyya
People Stood Outside

Return to Kolomyya

Kolomyya, Ukraine

Iosef Grayf served in the Red Army during World War II, as he mentions in this clip. After his recovery at a hospital in Perm, Russia, he worked until the war ended in May 1945.

The Jewish population in Ukraine experienced the war very differently. It depended on different occupational forces, which often changed in one place. People who lived in Transnistria were forced into ghettos and the Pechera concentration camp. In the Reichskommissariat territory, Jews were victims of forced labor and widespread massacres. The survival rate was particularly low in this area.

In the following clip, Iosef describes his arrival at home, where he did not meet a surviving family member. He found out that his family was deported to Germany. Iosef continues that life had to go on and he soon made a living. Although many returnees lost their family members, Jewish life was revived and religious customs continued to be practiced.

Nukhim Gvinter was born in Bershad in 1936. He is Khayke Gvinter’s brother. He grew up with four siblings. He survived the war in the Bershad ghetto. After the war, he worked as a carpenter in a textile factory and then as the manager of a shoe store. He also served in the military after the war. He has three children.


Other Interviews:

Fixing Shoes

Holidays

Bershad, Ukraine

Nukhim Gvinter, Sara's brother-in-law, discusses in this clip holiday celebrations at home in Bershad before World War II. Nukhim proudly points out that his mother knew how to pray.

While Nukhim quickly goes through the most memorable things about major Jewish holidays including Yom Kippur and Passover, his family’s Sabbath rituals are deeply engraved in his memory.

Nukhim Gvinter was born in Bershad in 1936. He is Khayke Gvinter’s brother. He grew up with four siblings. He survived the war in the Bershad ghetto. After the war, he worked as a carpenter in a textile factory and then as the manager of a shoe store. He also served in the military after the war. He has three children.


Other Interviews:

Holidays

Fixing Shoes

Bershad, Ukraine

Nukhim remembers in this clip, how his father fixed shoes to support his family in prewar Bershad. Nukhim helped out his father by accompanying him to the surrounding villages or by assisting with repairs at home. This kind of service is entirely obsolete in today’s consumerism and Nukhim’s experience indeed stems from a different century.

Many Jews worked as artisans and merchants in prewar Ukraine and were thus the economic backbone of small market towns (shtetl). The poverty, in which Nukhim spent his childhood, is striking in his description about sharing a piece of bread with his four brothers.

Klara Katsman was born in 1931 in Tulchyn. Her father was a brushmaker and her mother was a homemaker. She has lived in Tulchyn her entire life, other than during the war when she was imprisoned in the Pechera concentration camp. After the war, she returned to Tulchyn, where she worked as a tailor. She has a son and a daughter.

March to Pechera

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Khayke Katsman was a young adolescent, when she experienced World War II under Romanian occupation. In this clip, she describes how the Jewish population of Tulchyn was driven into the local bathhouse for disinfection, suffering unbearable humiliation.

The following clip is the continuation of Khayke’s path to the Pechera concentration camp. While people unable to walk got immediately shot, the prisoners had to spend the night at a stable.



This is the final part of the prisoners’ trajectory from their hometown Tulchyn to the Pechera concentration camp. Khayke remembers how she slept next to corpses that were eventually thrown out and eaten by starving prisoners.



The most striking theme in Khayke's story involves constant lack of basic human needs: water and food. On their way to Pechera, Khayke and others had to drink from trough. In Pechera, inmates were left to their own devices, some even resorting in desperation to cannibalism. Such cases were mentioned also by a few other Pechera survivors, whom we interviewed in Tulchyn.

Roza Klein was born in 1923 in the village Grebenivke. She comes from a highly educated family. Her mother was born in the village Sakhnovtsy and her father was born in the village Hrybenynka and worked as a carpenter. Klein had four siblings. Roza received her education at a Yiddish school where she studied for three grades and which in 1938 was turned into a Russian school with the same teachers now teaching in Russian. Since Klein's father was a specialist, he was evacuated to Omsk (Central Asia) during the war, and the family spent the duration of the war there.

At the Yiddish School

Starokostyantyniv

Roza Klein remembers in this clip her studies at the local Yiddish school in her hometown Starokostyantyniv. In particular, she praises the high quality teaching of subjects, including History and Geography. Interestingly, Roza recalls that the very same teachers, who taught her at the Yiddish school, transferred to the Russians school and continued to teach in the Russian language.

Parents filed numerous contemporary complaints about the poor quality of Yiddish schools and about the low priority they were given in state allocation of resources. The government seemed to have essentially given up on Yiddish schools in the early 1930s, leading to the steep decline in enrollment noticeable after the peak of 1931.

Instead of bolstering Yiddish-language education, the state undermined it. In 1935, the government began closing the Yiddish schools it had opened only a decade before, a process that was accelerated in 1937.

By 1940, there were only about twenty Yiddish schools left in all Ukraine.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

The Goat

Odesa

Riva Medved recalls a short episode from her childhood memories in Bershad. As a little girl, she went up a snowy mountain to sled. Unfortunately, she happened to be pushed downward by a goat.

Mira Pasik was born in 1933 in Nikolaev. She grew up on a Jewish kolkhoz (collective farm), Yefingar, where she says that everybody spoke Yiddish and even the Russians on the kolkhoz went to the Yiddish school.The collective farm celebrated all the Jewish holidays and even tried to keep kosher.

Yefingar Colony

Mykolayiv

Mira Pasik remembers her childhood experiences, when growing up in one of the first Jewish agricultural colonies in Eastern Europe, located in the Mykolayivskyy province. When Mira grew up, prewar Stalinist persecution was in full sway. Mira, accordingly, mentions that only one out of three synagogues could still be used for official prayer services. Here is information on the Yefingar colony in Russian.

Matvei Rubin was born in 1928 in Buki.

Gefilte Fish

Uman

Matvei Rubin describes in this clip how his mother cooked the well-known Ashkenazi Jewish dish “gefilte fish” (stuffed fish) during his childhood. According to Matvei, it was a laborious undertaking, where the fish had to be chopped with a chopping knife and prepared with beetroot, onion, oil, sugar and matzo meal, resulting in the fish’s stuffing. The dish then had to be cooked on low heat for two hours. In the second part of the clip, Matvei adds more culinary details about his mother’s cooking.

Here are more gefilte fish receipes, recalled by AHEYM informants in the Vinnytsya region.

Pyotr Sandler "Perets Shilovich" Sandler was born in Starokostyantyniv in 1926. His father was a barber, and his grandfather was a shoemaker and the head of the Jewish community in Zhytomyr in 1945. Sandler went to a religious school (kheyder), as well as a Yiddish school, which he attended for four grades. During the war, Sandler's family was evacuated to the Volgograd region and later to Uzbekistan. His father died of cholera and was buried in a mass grave there. After the war, the family returned to Starokostyantyniv.

Celebrating Holidays

Starokostyantyniv

Pyotr Sandler fondly remembers holiday celebrations at home. According to Pyotr, his father would make sure that all holidays would be celebrated. Although he grew up in poverty in a family of eight children, they would eat meat once a week, on Sabbath.

Pyotr studied at a Yiddish school for four years and grew up in a traditional home. He cannot, however, recall more details about the holidays themselves. When growing up in prewar Soviet Ukraine in the 1930s, Stalinist persecution of religious activity was at its pinnacle. As a consequence, Jewish religious practice moved underground or was confined to the home. The shift from the public to the private resulted in a less all-encompassing religious education.

Religious schools and state-sponsored Yiddish schools were closed down and thus the development of a Jewish traditional consciousness was often only possible within the family nucleus.

Rakhil Shames was born in 1915 in Ivanopolis (Yanushpol) in 1915. Her father was a millworker. During the war she evacuated to the east and returned afterwards to Khmilnyk. She worked most of her life as a bookkeeper.

Toward Israel

Khmilnyk

Rakhil Shames remembers in this clip an active religious life with an operating synagogue during the aftermath of World War II. According to Rakhil, the majority of Jews left Khmilnyk for Israel later on. This exodus resulted in a drastic shrinkage of the community and therefore less of a possibility to conduct a traditional way of life.

Raisa Teplitskaia was born in 1931 in Ternivke. She grew up with two sisters and one brother. Her father was a blacksmith and her mother was a homemaker and raised pigs. She went to a Ukrainian school. She survived the war in hiding in a village. After the war, she returned to Ternivke, before settling in Uman in 1952. She has three sons, one of whom lives in Germany, and a daughter.

Matzo Baking with Neighbors

Uman, Ukraine

Raisa Teplitskaia remembers her mother's tireless efforts to get everything ready for her family's Passover celebration. In particular, she recalls her parents' and neighbors' combined efforts to bake matzos in their home.

Whereas today matzo is distributed by the Federation of Jewish Communities and is readily available for pickup in Jewish community centers and synagogues throughout the region, acquiring matzo—or more commonly, the flour used to bake it—in prewar Soviet Union was difficult.

Preparations for the Passover holiday often began months before the beginning of the festival, thereby lengthening the sacred time associated with it. Passover was transformed from an eight-day festival into a full season of preparation, culminating in the celebration of the holiday itself. Most people baked matzo themselves at home from flour obtained either in the marketplace, when flour was still available for purchase in the 1920s and early 1930s, or from state stores.

Often foreign currency sent to them by relatives abroad helped smooth the purchase of flour. Others obtained it in November, when it was distributed in commemoration of the October Revolution, and stored it until needed for Passover four or five months later.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Matzo Baking in the Shtetl

Vinnytsya, Ukraine

In this clip, Grigorii Shor recalls how even after the government confiscated matzo-baking machines in the late 1930s, matzo was still available in Kopayhorod. He explains that it was still possible to obtain matzo from neighboring towns, or several families in Kopayhorod would gather together to bake matzos in their homes. Ironically, the baking of matzo then became a communal experience and its importance was heightened. The rolling pin to poke holes in matzo dough is particularly engraved in his memory.

Donia Presler was born in 1929 born in Tulchyn. Her father was a musician. Her mother worked as a glazier. She had two sisters, one of whom died in the Pechera camp. She finished four years of Yiddish school. During the war, she was imprisoned in the Pechera camp for four years.


Other Interviews:

Show Trial in the Camp
Inside the Camp
A Little House with a Dirt Floor
A Family Played the Fiddle
Avrum-Yosl the Glazier
"Christ has risen"
The Torgsin Store
Homentashn

Passover Soup

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Donia Presler recalls her favorite recipe, she remembers her mother preparing for Passover. There are several steps to follow to cook a delicious Passover soup with kugel.

Evgeniia Kozak was born in 1926 in Bershad. She attended a Ukrainian school for eight years. Her parents, who were cousins, were both born in Bershad. Her father was a furrier. She had a younger brother and sister. She survived the war in evacuation in Bezopasnik, Orlovsky Region in the Caucasus and then in Andizhanskaia in the Stalinska region in Central Asia. When she returned to Bershad after the war, in April 1944, her mother worked as a baker. She married in 1958 and has two sons. Her husband died before her second son was born, when her first son was just one and a half years old.


Other Interviews:

A Pair of Shoes
Food on Sabbath
Postwar Charity
Evgeniia's Gefilte Fish

Stuffed Neck with Chicken Fat

Bershad, Ukraine

Evgeniia Kozak is excited to share her family recipes with the AHEYM team. In this clip, she explains how a broth only comes out right when you add stuffed chicken neck.

Evgeniia cherishes these foodways all her life, and the memories they instilled were an integral component of her heritage, valued both for gastronomical satisfaction and as a family birthright.

Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

“a very religious family”

Berdychiv, Ukraine

Bella Vaisman remembers her family's Passover celebration at home in the Jewish town Berdychiv. She points out that she had no brother, who could ask the Four Questions.

The Passover holiday is a domestic affair and is intricately bound up with memories of family and loved ones. Passover was the most observed Jewish holiday in the interwar Soviet Union, as well as the one most condemned by the government. The Jewish Sections of the Communist Party also recognized the popularity of Passover celebrations, and so concentrated much of their propaganda on combating its observance through the use of “Red Haggadahs” and mock trials of Passover.

Passover, like the Sabbath, is remembered today primarily because it evokes memories of family, food, and domestic harmony. Passover’s central rituals — eating matzo, cleaning the house of bread products, and the seder meal — are focused on the home rather than on the synagogue, just as the Sabbath meal and rest are domestic rituals.

Both holidays can be observed in private, inconspicuously, and with few resources. Although both also have a synagogue component, it is the home rituals that define the holiday. Passover was and remains a cherished holiday neither because of its universalist message of liberation nor because of its centrality as one of the three pilgrimage festivals in the Jewish religious tradition, but rather because the unique tastes and smells associated with its specific dietary restrictions evoke a nostalgic longing for childhood.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

A Wealthy Family

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Pesia Kolodenker talks about the harsh realities in the Pechera concentration camp, fighting off diseases and starvation on a daily basis. Yet despite dealing with these dreadful extraordinary living conditions, Pesia points out that she, being a young girl, had ordinary thoughts. She describes her encounter with a beautiful Russian-speaking sixteen year-old girl from Bukovina .

A significant part of the clip is in not in Yiddish, as Pesia remembers this episode in the Russian language.

Sara Gvinter was born in 1930 in Bershad. She is a niece of the violinist David Oistrakh. Her father, who died when she was young, was a carpenter, and her mother was a cook. During the Second World War, she was imprisoned in the Bershad ghetto and the Pechera con- centration camp. She was shot by the Germans during a mass shooting outside Pechera, but survived and pulled herself out of a mass grave. She worked for the partisans briefly in the Bershad region. She returned to Bershad after the war, married, and worked as a seamstress.


Other Interviews:

Let It Be Enough!
The Synagogue Cellar

Survival

Bershad, Ukraine

Sara Gvinter remembers in this clip one time in 1943 when a German punitive brigade crossed over in black trucks from the other side of the Bug, and massacred a group of Jews. She was among those shot and left for dead in a mass grave. She specifically describes the rounding up and massacring of Nazi camp prisoners, as well as her miraculous survival.

Sara was only ten years old when she witnessed a horrendous scene of mutilation, and thus provides a graphic childlike description. Sara has deep-seated empathy with a tortured boy - Max - who stays ever-present in her memory. Here is a song she remembers Max's father would sing before he was murdered in the Pechera concentration camp. The pain caused by those Nazi atrocities is written all over Sara's face.

Sara's insights have a disturbing effect on the viewer. The horrors of Nazi occupation are mostly unimaginable to post-World War II generations. Sara's account nevertheless takes us a step closer to understanding the gruesome acts committed by Nazis and their collaborators.

Tsolik Groysman 's were also born in Tarashche. His father was a watchmaker and his mother was a homemaker. He grew up with two sisters. He went to a Yiddish school for seven years and then transferred to a Ukrainian school to complete ten grades. A month after the war broke out, he was drafted into the Red Army. He was injured twice in battle, once in Rostov and once in Stalingrad. Before the war, he had studied to become a dentist, but was unable to complete his studies after the war because of his injuries. After he was released from hospital in Tarashche, he took courses to become a massage therapist and started working in the hospital. He then moved to Almaty, where his uncle lived, and started working as a watchmaker, along with his uncle and father. He married a childhood friend from Tarashche and moved to Korsun-Shevchenkivskyy in 1952, where he worked again as a watchmaker.

“forward”

Korsun-Shevchenkivskyy  , Ukraine

In the two clips on this page, Tsolik Groysman explains how his belief in God was reinforced by his experiences during the war. He was injured twice, but can only attribute his survival to the intervention of God. In particular, he focuses on one tank battle that he survived for reasons he cannot explain without resorting to the miraculous.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

“go there”

Bar, Ukraine

Klara Vaynman addresses in this clip some of the difficulties of starting a new life in the aftermath of World War II.

There were new faces in cities and towns as well, as individuals unable to return to their own homes settled in with their new spouses or wherever they could get a job. Klara Vaynman was born in Vinnytsya, but had been brought up in Lviv before the war. She evacuated during the war to Samara (Kuibyshev), and sought to return to Lviv as soon as the hostilities ended. However, since her birthplace was recorded as Vinnytsya, she was only permitted to travel that far.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Postwar Religious Practice

Bershad, Ukraine

Brukhe Feldman recalls a couple of episodes from her experience of religious life in the postwar Soviet era, Yom Kippur and Memorial services. In a childlike manner, Brukhe remembers how she thought she was about to get caught eating sweets in the synagogue on Yom Kippur. Upon shofar-blowing, Brukhe felt an ominous presence and therefore didn’t reach into her pocket. Brukhe also amusingly points out that she didn't know shofar-blowing signifies the end of Yom Kippur and fasting.

Insights into an active Jewish communal life in Bershad after World War II draw attention to the fact that religious expression did not only take place within the domestic sphere, but also in form of a continual active synagogue life.

This is particularly interesting for two reasons: it demonstrates the perseverance of the Bershad community to express its Jewish identity vis-à-vis Stalinist antisemitic persecution. It also shows the risk the community was willing to take to pass on their Jewish heritage to the next generation - children that were members of Pioneer and Komsomol organizations. The very fact that children attended synagogue services risked discrimination and repercussions at school.

Brukhe’s reflection indicates that she grew up with a strong sense of Jewish identity. Additionally, Brukhe portrays her mother in both clips as persistent in terms of passing on religious customs to her children. This underlines the community’s perseverance to live an expressive Jewish life after the dramatic experience of World War II.

Brukhe, just a child after the war, doesn’t remember her father, who was drafted when she was only three years old and was killed fighting at the front, but she diligently insists in this clip she honored his memory with the yizkor memorial prayer.

Brukhe Feldman was born in 1938 or 1939 in Bershad. Her father died fighting in the war when she was three years old, and she was brought up by her mother. She spent much of her life working in a furniture factory.


Other Interviews:

Postwar Religious Practice
Hunger of 1946
Kheskele - the Clarinetist
Burial Customs
The Shiva
A Jew Must Eat Matzo

A Gravestone for My Mother

Bershad, Ukraine

Brukhe Feldman remembers in this clip the death of her mother by pointing out the help she received from the community .

The Germans vandalized many Jewish cemeteries during the war, stealing gravestones and using them for paving and construction. Once the Red Army arrived, the vandalism continued, as locals made up for the shortage in building supplies by raiding what remained of the Jewish cemeteries.

In the years after the war, local Jewish communities tended to what was left of the cemetery; they sought out toppled gravestones and replanted them on the ground as close to the grave they marked as possible. They carved new gravestones, marking the hundreds—sometimes thousands - who lay in mass graves. Since many of these mass graves lay deep in the woods or in unknown locations, often the Jewish cemetery served as the only available memorial site.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

“make it a synagogue”

Berdychiv, Ukraine

David Soyfer remembers that when returned to Berdychiv from evacuation immediately after the war, the pious prayed outside in the empty courtyard against the synagogue wall.

At times, the needs of the community conflicted with the needs of
individuals for shelter and basic necessities. Some sought to rebuild communal life and religious institutions first, whereas others prioritized private housing. Similar debates beset the Soviet reconstruction effort at all levels: most famously, the central government ordered the reconstruction of the tsarist palaces surrounding Leningrad before the population of the city had been provided with adequate housing and hospitals.

On a smaller scale in each and every town that had been destroyed by the war, the local population argued about whether resources would be best allocated toward restoring large symbolic buildings or meeting the more mundane needs of the population.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

A Piece of Bread

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Pesia recites a song in this clip that she heard from an acquaintance in the Pechera concentration camp. A woman, who lost her six children in the camp, asked for food.

The horrid reality of daily life in a concentration camp, including personal encounters like Pesia's, were intensified by the fact that no one was able to give her anything. The woman therefore passed away soon after. Encounters with acquaintances and strangers in this extraordinary environment haunt survivors their entire lives.

Ernest Halpert was born in 1923 in Mukacheve, which was then under Czechoslovak rule. His father was a shopkeeper and Halpert grew up with two sisters. Halpert attended a private religious school until his bar mitzvah and then worked at a factory until the outbreak of World War II. When Mukacheve was occupied by the Germans in 1944, he was deported to Austria, where he was imprisoned in several camps as forced laborer. In March 1945, Halpert was drafted into the Red Army. During the postwar Soviet era, Halpert worked as engineer at a factory and raised two children.  


Other Interviews:

The Hard Years
The Jewish Soul
The Prayer House

Minkatch: a Jewish Town

Uzhhorod, Ukraine

Ernest Halpert describes in this clip how he grew up in a religious family in Mukacheve before World War II. The romantic image of a Jewish shtetl (i.e., small Jewish market towns) in Eastern Europe that occurs in Western literary and scholarly narratives disappears at once when Ernest mentions his straining job at a factory at 13.

Ernest returned to Mukacheve after World War II, when he was released as forced laborer from the Hungarian Army battalion for Jews. The Transcarpathian province was officially annexed to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic mid-1945. This new socio-political reality significantly restricted Jewish religious practice - as Ernest remembers well. Ernest's strong sense of Jewish identity, growing up in a hasidic family, is very much noticeable when he describes the urge to live a Jewish way of life. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, he was finally able to practice religion free from state persecution.

Ernest Halpert was born in 1923 in Mukacheve, which was then under Czechoslovak rule. His father was a shopkeeper and Halpert grew up with two sisters. Halpert attended a private religious school until his bar mitzvah and then worked at a factory until the outbreak of World War II. When Mukacheve was occupied by the Germans in 1944, he was deported to Austria, where he was imprisoned in several camps as forced laborer. In March 1945, Halpert was drafted into the Red Army. During the postwar Soviet era, Halpert worked as engineer at a factory and raised two children.  


Other Interviews:

Minkatch: a Jewish Town
The Jewish Soul
The Prayer House

The Hard Years

Uzhhorod, Ukraine

Ernest describes in this clip the fate for the majority of Jews from Transcarpathia during World War II. After Passover 1944, all Jews that were assembled from villages and other towns in ghettos of major Transcarpathian towns a month or so prior, were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

By undergoing the same fatal processes of the Holocaust, they joined the destiny of the majority of Eastern European Jews in Auschwitz. It is beyond human imagination, particularly for the younger generations, how Ernest and other Nazi camp survivors are capable of talking about "the hard years" and reflecting on the horrors of Auschwitz. Ernest, like so many others, came to witness the inhumanity that "Auschwitz" represents. Survivors narrate their experiences of Joseph Mengele's selection processes, while smelling burned flesh and seeing smoke coming out of the camp's chimneys.

Nusn Naybauer was born in Velké Kapušany in 1924 and grew up in Mala Dobron. His father worked in an equestrian military facility. Naybauer attended religious school until his bar mitzvah and moved to Uzhhorod in 1935. During World War II, he was imprisoned in the Hungarian forced labor camp Munka Tabor, before being deported to Auschwitz, Gleiwitz and Mittelbau-Dora camps. After the war, he returned home via Prague and Budapest.


Other Interviews:

Bergider and Golda Meir
The Article

Tailored Suits

Uzhhorod, Ukraine

While taking a stroll through the former Jewish neighborhood in downtown Uzhhorod that used to be filled with Jewish artisan shops, Nusn Naybauer talks about his apprenticeship at his uncle’s tailor shop in the very same town, then under Czechoslovak rule. Nusn points out his successful career as tailor, serving customers across Eastern Europe after World War II. During the postwar Soviet period, Nusn - just like many other Jews in the Soviet Union - continued to work in occupations found in any shtetl before World War II. The fact that craftsmanship was passed on from one generation to the next is also a typical shtetl phenomenon.

In this clip, Nusn also points out his great circle of acquaintances, which spanned an area covering Hungary, a Soviet satellite state, all the way to Moscow, the political control center of the USSR. Nusn's connections became particularly important in order to protect his wife, a teacher, from antisemitism at her school. She was asked to write a report and include justification for her son's circumcision.

Nusn's acquaintanceship beyond Soviet borders reveals the Transcarpathian province's unique position as borderland and its role as window to the West in postwar Soviet times. Jewish life in Soviet Transcarpathia also demonstrates that in spite of its annexation to the Ukrainian Socialist Republic (UkSSR) in mid-1945, prewar connections to neighboring countries, like Hungary, persisted after the war.

Genrykh Zinger began a tailor apprenticeship at the age of 14 in his hometown Velykyi Bereznyi, then in Czechoslovakia. His father worked as tombstone carver, glazier and frame builder. He was drafted into the Czechoslovak army in 1936 and served for three years. During World War II, he was a forced laborer for the Hungarian army from 1940 to 1943. After the Red Army defeated the Hungarian army, Zinger was captured along with other POWs and sent to a gulag in Voronezh, Russia, where he worked as tailor. He returned to his hometown in 1946, but joined his sister in Uzhhorod soon after.


Other Interviews:

Carving Tombstones
Communal Matzo Baking

From Hungarian to Russian Forced Labor

Uzhhorod, Ukraine

Genrykh Zinger describes in this clip how he endured the harsh conditions of Hungarian forced labor (munkaszolgálat or Munka Tábor) during the winter of 1942. He specifically describes a forced march, fleeing the front and searching for food. It was during this winter when the Red Army prevailed at the battle of Stalingrad, when the Germans were unprepared to fight in those conditions.

Although Zinger was a forced laborer, the Red Army did not make any distinctions regarding ethnicity and treated him, like Hungarian soldiers, as a Prisoner of War. He was therefore sent to a gulag in faraway Russia, from which he returned not before 1946. Genrykh returned to his hometown Velykyi Bereznyi, which became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic mid-1945, and found all the borders to neighboring countries cut off. Genrykh was born in the first year of World War I in a region that was under Czechoslovak rule until 1938. Upon his return, Genrykh was confronted with a new Soviet reality.

Grenrykh points out that it is general knowledge to grasp war realities. It is, however, difficult to imagine to cook rotten food remains from compost over a bonfire during a forced labor march in freezing cold.

Genrykh Zinger began a tailor apprenticeship at the age of 14 in his hometown Velykyi Bereznyi, then in Czechoslovakia. His father worked as tombstone carver, glazier and frame builder. He was drafted into the Czechoslovak army in 1936 and served for three years. During World War II, he was a forced laborer for the Hungarian army from 1940 to 1943. After the Red Army defeated the Hungarian army, Zinger was captured along with other POWs and sent to a gulag in Voronezh, Russia, where he worked as tailor. He returned to his hometown in 1946, but joined his sister in Uzhhorod soon after.


Other Interviews:

From Hungarian to Russian Forced Labor
Communal Matzo Baking

Carving Tombstones

Uzhhorod, Ukraine

Genrykh Zinger remembers fondly in his clip, how his father took him out the to large Jewish cemetery of Velykyi Bereznyi. Throughout his childhood, Genrykh assisted his father, who was a skilled artisan in the shtetl. Carving tombstones was more on the creative side, along with making klezmer music, among the Jewish professions in prewar Ukraine. Typical Jewish occupations included merchants, glaziers and tailors. The more artistic professions were often accompanied with a less stable income. Genrykh's father, accordingly, worked as frame builder and glazier during the winter.

Genrykh Zinger began a tailor apprenticeship at the age of 14 in his hometown Velykyi Bereznyi, then in Czechoslovakia. His father worked as tombstone carver, glazier and frame builder. He was drafted into the Czechoslovak army in 1936 and served for three years. During World War II, he was a forced laborer for the Hungarian army from 1940 to 1943. After the Red Army defeated the Hungarian army, Zinger was captured along with other POWs and sent to a gulag in Voronezh, Russia, where he worked as tailor. He returned to his hometown in 1946, but joined his sister in Uzhhorod soon after.


Other Interviews:

From Hungarian to Russian Forced Labor
Carving Tombstones

Communal Matzo Baking

Uzhhorod, Ukraine

Genrykh Zinger recalls in this clip how he helped out his father, baking matzos with other families, in his home before Passover. As Genrykh points out, there was no possibility to buy machine made matzos in stores, as nowadays. The Jewish community of Velykyi Bereznyi, therefore, relied on their own strong hands to complete the often week-long matzo baking processes. Jewish communities in prewar Soviet shtetls, like Kopayhorod and Ternivka, also baked shmurah matzos in combined effort that took place in secrecy.

In oral history interviews, informants - like Genrykh - are often glad to receive questions about their childhood. It brings back memories about a distant and seemingly perfect family life. When talking about the past and fate of relatives during World War II, childhood memories are a welcome diversion.

Malke Snook 's father was a farmer. Before the war, she studied at a technical college. She also attended a religious school for three years. She was deported to Auschwitz during World War II. After the war, she raised a child that she was able to rescue from a woman about to be sent the crematory. She raised her son traditionally Jewish and made sure he would attend religious school.


Other Interviews:

Left Behind
A True "Khosid"

Extinguishing Coals

Khust, Ukraine

The Slavic folk custom of throwing hot coals into water in order to determine the presence of the evil eye and to remove its effects was widespread among the Jewish population as well. The hissing noise of the coal when thrown into water symbolizes the bursting of the evil eye. It is difficult to establish why healing power is attributed to coal. One explanation could be the cleansing and disinfecting properties of charcoal ash. If the coal sinks, the person is diagnosed with being inflicted with the evil eye. After the coal has sunk to the bottom of the glass, the afflicted person takes three sips of the water, and the person performing the ritual sometimes sprinkles the four corners of the room to ward off or wash away the evil eye.

The practice of finding a remedy for good health or to protect someone from the evil eye [Yiddish: a gut oyg; Hebrew: ayin ha'ra] has been part of Jewish tradition for over a thousand years. It also became a widespread Christian and pagan tradition and was absorbed into Jewish daily life throughout Eastern Europe. Jewish residents would for instance visit Christian neighbors to protect their newborn children from the evil eye. In Jewish towns, or shtetls, other folk customs - involving the practice of folk medicine, such as rolling an egg and drinking urine - were also widespread.

Malke Snook 's father was a farmer. Before the war, she studied at a technical college. She also attended a religious school for three years. She was deported to Auschwitz during World War II. After the war, she raised a child that she was able to rescue from a woman about to be sent the crematory. She raised her son traditionally Jewish and made sure he would attend religious school.


Other Interviews:

Extinguishing Coals
A True "Khosid"

Left Behind

Khust, Ukraine

In this clip, Malke Snook sings a very sad song about an abandoned lover. Her sweetheart left for Di goldene medine, the Golden Land of America, and had promised to write and keep her in his heart. But as time passes, she waits for the letters that never come.

The song stems from the period of massive emigration from Ukraine in the early twentieth century. Men often preceded their families in emigration with the intention of sending for their families as soon as they got settled. All too often, though, the families were forgotten and the young men, liberated from all the strictures of life in the Old World, chose instead to start a new in America, leaving their families behind. Married women left behind became agunahs, abandoned wives, and were not permitted to remarry without a divorce or proof of their husband's demise. The presence of so many abandoned wives, often with children to care for and no wage-earner, created a large social and economic problem for the Jewish communities in Ukraine and Poland. Sometimes women were impelled to hire private detectives to search out their husbands in America. In this song, the couple is not married, so the deleterious effects of abandonment are limited to heartbreak.


S’iz shoyn fariber dray monat, dray yor
er iz dokh eyn birger atsind,
fun zayn ershter gelibter hot er shoyn lang fargesn,
er hot shoyn eyn froy mit eyn kind.

Un di gelibte tut veynen un klogn,
zi shpayt dokh shoyn nebekh mit blut.
geshribn hot zi im a brivele,
dos lebn on im ken zi shoyn nisht,
I swear here and now
as soon as I’ll arrive in America
one letter I’ll write to you at once."


By now three months, three years passed,
he's a citizen by now,
he had long forgotten about his first love,
he already has a wife and child.


And the beloved keeps on crying and lamenting,
she, the poor thing, already spouts blood.
She wrote him a letter,
she can’t go on life without him.

Malke Snook 's father was a farmer. Before the war, she studied at a technical college. She also attended a religious school for three years. She was deported to Auschwitz during World War II. After the war, she raised a child that she was able to rescue from a woman about to be sent the crematory. She raised her son traditionally Jewish and made sure he would attend religious school.


Other Interviews:

Extinguishing Coals
Left Behind

A True “Khosid”

Khust, Ukraine

Malke Snook sings about a hasid's devotion to his rebbe. The song was popular in the small towns of the Transcarpathian region, where Hasidism was popular. We recorded another version of the song, shared by Adolf Smajovics, who was born in nearby Velyka Kopanya.

Oy, I will shokel during prayers

and make different grimaces.
And the rebbe with his hasidim,
[so that] they lose themselves of joy.

Oh yes, my dear rebbe, I stand [before you] and tremble,
a fire burns in my little heart.
I will be a good, devoted hasid
a hasid, a faithful one.

I will put on a woolen shawl,
in the greatest heat of summer.
I will put on a long black coat
with seventy-five laces.

Oh yes, my dear rebbe, I stand [before you] and tremble,
a fire burns in my little heart.
I will be a good, devoted hasid,

a hasid, a faithful one.

I will immerse in the cold mikveh

in the greatest cold of winter.
I will remain a pious Jew
oy, oy in both worlds.

Perl Nayman 's father was a Cohen and worked as a blacksmith. She grew up with five brothers and one sister. She and her mother helped non-Jews work the fields with their horse during her childhood years. Her family owned a plot of land and animals. She listened in classes at a cheder in Turya-Bystra. She was deported to Auschwitz in April 1944. Afterward, she was forced to work at a metal factory and then to build trenches in Germany, before her liberation by the Red Army troops in May 1945. After the war, she lived in Studenyy for thirty years, before moving to Vynohradiv in 1978.


Other Interviews:

Selection at Auschwitz
A Child Lost To The Evil Eye

“Let her pray”

Vynohradiv, Ukraine

Perl Nayman describes in this clip how she snuck into the boys' cheder without paying. After the melamed (religious teacher) saw how serious of a student she was, he allowed her to sit in and pray together with the boys.

Perl Nayman 's father was a Cohen and worked as a blacksmith. She grew up with five brothers and one sister. She and her mother helped non-Jews work the fields with their horse during her childhood years. Her family owned a plot of land and animals. She listened in classes at a cheder in Turya-Bystra. She was deported to Auschwitz in April 1944. Afterward, she was forced to work at a metal factory and then to build trenches in Germany, before her liberation by the Red Army troops in May 1945. After the war, she lived in Studenyy for thirty years, before moving to Vynohradiv in 1978.


Other Interviews:

"Let her pray"
A Child Lost To The Evil Eye

Selection at Auschwitz

Vynohradiv, Ukraine

Pearl Nayman explains in this clip how she, at the age of 18, survived selection in Auschwitz in April 1944. She explains that she pretended her younger cousin was her child in the hopes that she would be kept together with her family, but the Germans separated her from her family, sending her to the labor camp and the rest of her family to the crematoria.

Perl Nayman 's father was a Cohen and worked as a blacksmith. She grew up with five brothers and one sister. She and her mother helped non-Jews work the fields with their horse during her childhood years. Her family owned a plot of land and animals. She listened in classes at a cheder in Turya-Bystra. She was deported to Auschwitz in April 1944. Afterward, she was forced to work at a metal factory and then to build trenches in Germany, before her liberation by the Red Army troops in May 1945. After the war, she lived in Studenyy for thirty years, before moving to Vynohradiv in 1978.


Other Interviews:

"Let her pray"
Selection at Auschwitz

A Child Lost To The Evil Eye

Vynohradiv, Ukraine

In this clip, Pearl Nayman discusses the death of her first child, which she blames on a sorceress who visited her house and gave the newborn the evil eye. Superstitions about the evil eye were widespread among Jews and Christians alike in early twentieth-century Eastern Europe, and remain common today. Nayman believes that some people possess the power to bewitch and do harm by spiteful looks. She explains that she only learned later that the evil eye can be warded off by extinguishing coals, and regrets not having extinguished coals after the sorceress visited her newborn.

In the next clip, Nayman explains the process of extinguishing coals to ward off the evil eye. She explains that first, you put hot coals into a cup of water. Then you count to nine, but adding "not" before each number, first forwards and then backwards. Next you wash the child with the water, and then wipe it off a certain way while reciting "May all evil fall off of you."

Dora Fiksler 's parents were born in Romania and owned animals, when she grew up. Her father was a construction worker. She grew up with six siblings and helped out with the animals in her free time. She attended a Hungarian school for eight years. During the war, she was initially deported to Auschwitz and then further to the Mauthausen concentration camp. There she worked at a factory until her liberation. After the war, she worked as shop assistant in a grocery store in Solotvyno.


Other Interviews:

After The War
Yiddish and Hungarian

A Neolog Family

Solotvyno, Ukraine

Dora Fiksler describes her religious upbringing in Transcarpathian Nyzhnye Solotvyno. When she was born in 1924, the town belonged to Czechoslovakia but like most of Transcarpathia, had long been a part of Hungary. As a result, Fiksler's upbringing was Hungarian in orientation. She speaks a Hungarian inflected Yiddish and identifies her family as having been Neolog, a reformed version of Judaism followed by most Hungarian Jews. Her comment that her grandfather from Romania was Orthodox but her own father was already Neolog, can also be seen as part of a general trend that Romanian Jews were more orthodox and that levels of orthodoxy decreased with each passing generation.

Dora Fiksler 's parents were born in Romania and owned animals, when she grew up. Her father was a construction worker. She grew up with six siblings and helped out with the animals in her free time. She attended a Hungarian school for eight years. During the war, she was initially deported to Auschwitz and then further to the Mauthausen concentration camp. There she worked at a factory until her liberation. After the war, she worked as shop assistant in a grocery store in Solotvyno.


Other Interviews:

A Neolog Family
Yiddish and Hungarian

After The War

Solotvyno, Ukraine

A vibrant and diverse Jewish life characterized Dora Fiksler's hometown of Nyzhnye Solotvyno before the war, when it was under Czechoslovakian sovereignty. But after the war, the region fell under Soviet rule and was subject to Soviet anti-religious campaigns. Only about ten percent of the prewar Jewish population returned to the town. The Soviets confiscated the synagogues, claiming that there were too few Jews left to warrant their use, and the few Jews who remained in the town gathered in private homes for prayer services.

Dora Fiksler 's parents were born in Romania and owned animals, when she grew up. Her father was a construction worker. She grew up with six siblings and helped out with the animals in her free time. She attended a Hungarian school for eight years. During the war, she was initially deported to Auschwitz and then further to the Mauthausen concentration camp. There she worked at a factory until her liberation. After the war, she worked as shop assistant in a grocery store in Solotvyno.


Other Interviews:

A Neolog Family
After The War

Yiddish and Hungarian

Solotvyno, Ukraine

Although Nyzhnye Solotvyno was a mixed Hungarian and Jewish town before World War II, Dora Fiksler recalls that the two populations remained largely separate. The Czechoslovak state, to which Nyzhnye Solotvyno belonged, tried to integrate the populations in school, but Fiksler recalls that most of her friends were still Jewish. Even when the Jews spoke Hungarian, there were still social barriers between the Jews and the Hungarians. As Fiksler concludes, "The Jewish girls went for walks on Saturday; the Hungarian girls went on Sunday."

Hershel Vider grew up with three brothers. He attended cheder and spoke with his parents in Hungarian and with his grandparents in Yiddish. As an adolescent, he was involved in Zionist movements, such as Betar and Hashomer Hatzair. During the war, he was imprisoned in a Russian labor camp in Vorkuta,Russia, from which he was released in 1946. He was married in a traditional wedding in 1949.


Other Interviews:

Coming Home
Vorkutlag

Bubbie Zisl

Mukacheve, Ukraine

In this clip Hershel Vider talks about his great-grandmother, who died in 1927, when Hershel was only a child. He remembers, though, that every evening she would have a dinner of two rolls from the nearby bakery and a glass of red wine. He proudly states that his family has lived in Mukacheve for several hundred years.

Mukacheve was what some have called a typical Jewish town in Transcarpathia under Czechoslovak sovereignty; its Jewish population was about sixty percent of the total population of the city. Not only was it a center for Hasidism, led by Rabbi Chaim Eleazar Spira, but it was also housed one of the best Hebrew gymnasiums east of Budapest.

Hershel Vider grew up with three brothers. He attended cheder and spoke with his parents in Hungarian and with his grandparents in Yiddish. As an adolescent, he was involved in Zionist movements, such as Betar and Hashomer Hatzair. During the war, he was imprisoned in a Russian labor camp in Vorkuta,Russia, from which he was released in 1946. He was married in a traditional wedding in 1949.


Other Interviews:

Bubbie Zisl
Vorkutlag

Coming Home

Mukacheve, Ukraine

Hershel's brother only spent three days in Mukacheve, after his return in May 1945. It was a common phenomenon among Transcarpathian Jewish returnees to leave the region, as soon as they came to know that no one from their family survived. In addition to this, the new Soviet rule was also a good reason for people to leave.

Hershel, however, did not have a choice, as he points out in this clip. He was sent to a gulag in 1940, after being accused of spying. Hershel was only released in 1946 and was forced to reside in Transcarpathia. The Soviet border was sealed after December 31, 1945.

The dwindling postwar population in Transcarpathia was connected with two emigration waves; immediately after World War II and in the 1970s. There were, however, a number of Jewish migrants from other parts of Ukraine, as well as Russia, that enriched local populations.



The prospects for a Jewish life in Transcarpathia after World War II looked grim. Over seventy percent of the prewar population was killed in Auschwitz, many died during forced labor or death marches, as well as in ghettos. The majority that managed to survive the war ended up leaving Transcarpathia.

Yet, a few thousand Jews came back and stayed. They rebuilt communities and fostered an active religious practice vis-à-vis persecution. As a result, we can find revived traditional communities in many towns, especially Mukacheve. Hershel remembers in this clip, how he helped baking matzos at a Romanian migrant’s home.

Hershel Vider grew up with three brothers. He attended cheder and spoke with his parents in Hungarian and with his grandparents in Yiddish. As an adolescent, he was involved in Zionist movements, such as Betar and Hashomer Hatzair. During the war, he was imprisoned in a Russian labor camp in Vorkuta,Russia, from which he was released in 1946. He was married in a traditional wedding in 1949.


Other Interviews:

Bubbie Zisl
Coming Home

Vorkutlag

Mukacheve, Ukraine

Over seventy percent of Transcarpathian Jewry was killed in Auschwitz. A minority of the prewar population of 102,000 individuals, however, managed to survive either in hiding or in forced labor camps, sometimes under Hungarian direction and sometimes under Russian direction. In this clip, Hershel Vider explains how he survived the war in the Vorkuta gulag, where he was sent at age 18. He jokes that he was accused of being a spy for the Yiddishists. It was in the gulag, he explains, that he learned to speak Russian. In the clip below, Vider describes the fate of the rest of his family: two brothers were in Auschwitz, one brother was in hiding in Budapest and was saved by Raoul Wallenberg, and the fourth brother fought in France as part of a brigade of volunteer exiles from Czechoslovakia, calling themselves the "Masaryk Czechoslovak Regiment."

Moyshe Nayman 's parents owned cattle and worked the land during his childhood. He grew up with four siblings and helped out his parents on the farm. His father and grandfather made kosher wine for the community. After he finished his cheder education, he attended a yeshiva in Korsun and then studied with Rabbi Chaim Elazar Spira in Mukacheve. During World War II, he was a forced laborer for a Hungarian labor battalion, before his deportation to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. He was liberated from the Gunskirchen forced labor camp.


Other Interviews:

Sleeping At Grandpa's
Mauthausen

Childhood On A Farm

Klyachanovo, Ukraine

In this clip, Moyshe Nayman remembers the rural environment of his childhood in prewar Klyachanovo, a village near Mukacheve. It was common for Jewish families to settle in villages near large towns so that they could utilize the Jewish communal infrastructure of the larger city, such as its cemetery, mikvah and synagogue. Despite the preponderance of Jews as urban dwellers, many Jews lived in smaller villages, where they could own land and live off the land.

Nayman recalls that the Jews of his village owned cows and land; his own parents had six cows. They made a living by bringing butter, milk and cheese to the Jewish shops in Mukacheve. As a young boy, Nayman himself was tasked with the job of carrying the products through the fields on his back. Nayman also reports that when he got older and went to yeshiva, he studied with the famous rabbi, Elazar Spira, in Mukacheve. Education remained an important part of life, even for country boys, who had to go to school in the city.

Moyshe Nayman 's parents owned cattle and worked the land during his childhood. He grew up with four siblings and helped out his parents on the farm. His father and grandfather made kosher wine for the community. After he finished his cheder education, he attended a yeshiva in Korsun and then studied with Rabbi Chaim Elazar Spira in Mukacheve. During World War II, he was a forced laborer for a Hungarian labor battalion, before his deportation to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. He was liberated from the Gunskirchen forced labor camp.


Other Interviews:

Sleeping At Grandpa's
Childhood On A Farm

Mauthausen

Klyachanovo, Ukraine

In this clips, Moyshe Nayman talks about his fate during World War II. In 1942, he was taken for forced labor digging dugouts for the Hungarian Second Army. He was then deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. He briefly mentions an attempt to escape the camp, but ultimately he was relocated to the Gunskirchen camp. Nayman remembers the mass shootings of the camp, and the German dogs that terrorized the prisoners.

Over seventy percent of Transcarpathian Jewry was killed in Auschwitz. A minority of the prewar population of 102,000 individuals, however, spent the war years in hiding, under Hungarian or Russian forced labor.

Approximately, 40,000 predominately Jewish "recruits" as young as 16 were "drafted" from Transcarpathia and other occupied territory into Hungarian labor battalions to support the war effort between the years 1939 and 1944. The province was under fascist Hungarian occupation from 1938 until March 1944, when Germany seized Hungary.

Yenta Kolodenker was born in Tulchyn in 1927. She is the wife of Lev Kolodenker. She has one brother and a sister. Her father was a baker. She survived the war in the Pechera ghetto. She lived in Israel briefly in the 1990s, but returned to Tulchyn. Her son lives in Canada. We interviewed her on January 8 and June 8, 2009 in Tulchyn.


Other Interviews:

Inside the Camp

“all of Tulchyn into one courtyard”

Tulchyn, Ukraine

In December 1941, the Jews of Tulchyn, who had been languishing in the city’s ghetto for the first months of the war, were ordered to report for disinfection and relocation. Romanian gendarmes gathered all the Jews together on one street and took them into a school, where they were counted and their valuables were confiscated. From the school, about 3000 Jews from Tulchyn were forcibly marched to the Pechera concentration camp.

In these clips, Yenta Kolodenko recalls the terrible conditions inside the school.

Aleksandr Kolodenker is the brother of Pesia and Lev Kolodenker. He was born in Tulchyn in 1929. During the war, he was imprisoned first in the Tulchyn ghetto and then in the Pechera concentration camp.

“they threw us out of our homes”

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Alexander Kolodenker remembers how he and his family were driven out of their homes in Tulchyn. On the way to the Pechera concentration camp, the Jewish community had to endure disinfection.

Penia Golfeld was born in Tulchyn in 1932. He was imprisoned in the Pechera concentration camp during the war. After the war, he trained at a technical institute and found work in a shoe factory, where he was employed for forty-nine years. He served for four years in the military. He married and has a son.


Other Interviews:

Inside the Camp

From Tulchyn to Pechera

Tulchyn, Ukraine

In December 1941, the Jews of Tulchyn, who had been languishing in the city’s ghetto for the first months of the war, were ordered to report for disinfection and relocation. A typhus epidemic was spreading through Transnistria—the region of Ukraine under Romanian occupation. Romanian authorities panicked at the typhus epidemic of late 1941, and, in some regions where the epidemic was already rampant, responded with extreme violence: in the last weeks of 1941 and first months of 1942, some 48,000 Jewish prisoners, mostly deportees from Bessarabia and Bukovina, were massacred in camps set up in Bogdanovka and Domanevka, in the Golta region of the southeastern part of Transnistria. The authorities justified the massacre as a means of preventing the spread of the disease and of protecting supply lines to the north. The massacre was also the culmination of a eugenics and purification mentality that had pervaded Romanian political and social thought.

The Jews of Tulchyn were gathered together and counted in a local school, where they were held for three days without food or water-- "packed together like sardines" in the words of one survivor. Afterwards, the 3,005 Jews of Tulchyn were taken to the city’s baths to be disinfected.

The Jews of Tulchyn were then forcibly marched through the town along the village road. They passed through the village of Torkiv, where they were housed in stables and the first victims perished. Those unable to walk were shot and left to die on the road.

The convoy eventually arrived in the town of Pechera, where, set on a cliff overlooking the Southern Bug River and surrounded by parkland was a three-story Romanesque palace that had once belonged to the Potocki noble family, but had been used as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients by the Soviet government. It was an ideal isolation ward for quarantine purposes.

The Jews of Tulchyn and surrounding towns were dumped in the building and left to their own devices. This was not a labor camp nor technically a death camp—although death rates were exceedingly high. Rather, it was simply a de facto concentration camp, a place where the Romanians could quarantine Jews to prevent the typhus epidemic from spreading.

Over the course of the next months, additional shipments of Jews were brought into the camp, including about 750 Jews from Bratslav who were brought to the camp in January 1942, and several hundred more who arrived over the next few days from Ladyzhyn and Vapnyarka. Sporadic deportations into Pechera continued over the summer and fall: about 3,500 Jews from the Mohyliv-Podilskyy ghetto were deported to Pechera in two waves in July and October–November 1942. Many inmates of the camp were Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews, whose long forced exodus from their homes in Romania finally ended here. In total about 9,000 Jews were held in Pechera.

In this clip, Pinia Golfeld talks about the ordeal endured by the Jews of Tulchyn and relates some of their experiences in the Pechera camp.



Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Rita Shveibish was born in 1936 in Tulchyn. She grew up with two brothers. Both of her parents were born in Tulchyn. Her father delivered products for a welding shop. She survived the war in Pechera. After the war, she trained in Vinnytsya as a nurse, and worked as a nurse for fifty years in Tulchyn. Since her retirement, she has been director of the Jewish community of Tulchyn and has been active in establishing memorials for the murdered Jews of the town.


Other Interviews:

Inside the Camp

Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews

Tulchyn, Ukraine

The Romanian authorities who seized control of Transnistria hoped to use it as a dumping ground for the Jews they were expelling from Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina—the provinces that Romania had acquired from Russia and Austria in the aftermath of the First World War, which were then seized by the Soviet Union in 1940 before being recaptured by Romania the following year. Romanian authorities sought to expel the Jews ostensibly in retaliation for the alleged Jewish support of the Soviet occupation. In reality, the Jews were victims of an extensive Romanian ethnic purification campaign. The little that has been written on Transnistria has focused on the fate of these approximately 150,000 Jewish deportees.

Between October 13 and November 15, 1941 another 46,000 Jews were deported across the river, this time mostly from Czernowitz in Northern Bukovina and several southern Bukovinian towns, including Suceava, Radauti, and Vatra Dornei. On November 7, 1941, about 9,000 Jews from Dorohoi were added to the deportees. For the initial deportees, Transnistria was only a transit point in their journey across the Southern Bug into German occupied territory, the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. But in November 1941 the Germans began to fear the spread of disease across the border and halted the deportations across the Southern Bug, resulting in the establishment of “colonies” of Romanian Jews between the two rivers. During the course of the war, about two-thirds of the Romanian deportees perished either during the forced marches across the Dniester, at the hands of German soldiers in Reichskommissariat Ukraine, or from starvation or disease in Transnistria.

The refugees, who tended to come from wealthier and more urban communities than those of Vinnytsya Province, brought with them valuables and money they had managed to salvage when they were forced out of their homes. The Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews who sometimes arrived with valuables were initially better off and able to trade their jewels for food. This created resentment between the two communities, some of which persists to this day.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)


Other Interviews:

Boots
Sobolivka Ancedote
Seeking Help From the Valedniker Rebbe
Openhanded
Avoiding Conscription
Childhood Memories
Studying Khimesh Dilemma
Hauling Stones
The Ribnitser Rebbe
The Shtefaneshter Rebbe
"they didn't want to let me go"
With the Last Train
When Peretz Markish Came to Polonne
The Jewish House
Sleeping At Grandpa's
A Few Pengos
Vynohradiv Ghetto
"Hitler ate up our youth"
Birobidzhan in 1941
the shoykhet across from us
Playing Fiddle with my Grandfather
"a memorial plaque"
Private Teacher
a Childhood Ditty
"Look, over there is a Jew"
a Poor Family
the Great Famine Exodus
a New Life
Throwing Stones on Kol Nidre
Around Kolomyya
People Stood Outside
Return to Kolomyya
Holidays
Fixing Shoes
March to Pechera
At the Yiddish School
The Goat
Yefingar Colony
Gefilte Fish
Celebrating Holidays
Toward Israel
Matzo Baking with Neighbors
Matzo Baking in the Shtetl
Passover Soup
Stuffed Neck with Chicken Fat
"a very religious family"
A Wealthy Family
Survival
"forward"
"go there"
Postwar Religious Practice
A Gravestone for My Mother
"make it a synagogue"
A Piece of Bread
Minkatch: a Jewish Town
The Hard Years
Tailored Suits
From Hungarian to Russian Forced Labor
Carving Tombstones
Communal Matzo Baking
Extinguishing Coals
Left Behind
A True "Khosid"
"Let her pray"
Selection at Auschwitz
A Child Lost To The Evil Eye
A Neolog Family
After The War
Yiddish and Hungarian
Bubbie Zisl
Coming Home
Vorkutlag
Childhood On A Farm
Mauthausen
"all of Tulchyn into one courtyard"
"they threw us out of our homes"
From Tulchyn to Pechera
They Took Her - Alive
Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews
Show Trial in the Camp
Inside the Camp
Transport of Corpses
A Small Ladder to Heaven
Rebbe, Reb Shneyer
On the Way Home
Saving the Synagogue in Khust
Arrival in Prague
Liberation
Leaving For Home
Thank God We Had a Piece of Bread
Sobolivka
"...and we lived well"
"stuffing ourselves"
A Little House with a Dirt Floor
A Pair of Shoes
A Blanket to Fight Hunger
A Family Played the Fiddle
Avrum-Yosl the Glazier
Home: One Small Room
Running Away from the Melamed
The Great Synagogue
Cantor Gaz
Wooden Synagogue
Food on Sabbath
Sabbath Was Sabbath
"as though God had baked it"
Seder on a Kolkhoz
Hunger of 1946
"Der Shtern"
Peeking into the Men's Section
The Binding of Isaac
The Matzo Bag
"and a goat on a chain"
Eating Sour Mash - the Great Hunger
Kheskele - the Clarinetist
Burial Customs
"I was a courageous lad"
Krishmeleyenen
Hebrew - the Language of Prayer
"In short, I am a Jew"
Evacuation of the Communists
With Horse and Wagon to Donbas
Tashkent-Samarkand-Panjakent
Making Matzo Dough with a Roller
Craftsmen and Merchants
"I love Yiddish"
Valik, Zhuzhia and Ivanov
"And every day we waited to die"
Tsezeyt un tseshpreyt (Scattered and dispersed)
The Butcher's Synagogue
Army Training
Transmitting Secrets to America
At the Yiddish School
Postwar Charity
"the first bomb fell"
"as soon as they attacked, they were already here"
Tomashpil Massacre of August 4, 1941
Inside the Ghetto
Good Christians
The Jewish Soul
Bergider and Golda Meir
The Article
Antisemitism
Inside the Ghetto
The Orchard and the Mass Grave
The Southern Bug River
"Christ has risen"
Inside the Camp
"when I encountered the Germans"
Career in the Red Army
"Misha Katsop"
My Grandfather and the Priest
My Grandfather's Observance
"they wanted us to stay alive."
Speaking Yiddish
The Mass Grave in Sobolivka
"don't run into the forest"
Bratslav Matchmaking
"we need to have a wedding!"
“our children’s children’s children’s children must know”
A Great Hunger Myth
Jewish Professions
A Coachman's Song
Vanity of Vanities
I'm leaving you my dear in-laws
Getting Ready For Sabbath
How to Get Food
Liberation
Our House
What It Means to Be a Jew
Oy vey tsu mayne yorn (Woe to my years)
The Zogerin (the Synagogue Prompter)
Ekhod mi yoydeo (Who knows one)
Nuts
The Head of the Fish
Bones of Berdychiv
Dishes in the Attic
Aheym, briderlekh, aheym (Homeward, brother, homeward)
Physics in Yiddish
Oy mayn libe Basarabye (My Beloved Bessarabia)
Cholent
Bris
Sabbath and Poverty
Remedy for the Evil Eye
The Shiva
The Esebet (Reclining Bed)
Zits ikh mir in kretshme (I'm sitting in the Tavern)
The Fur Coat
Varenikes
Taking Out the Flour
Kosher Chicken
Oreme pleytim (Poor Refugees)
Money from America
May 27, 1942: Zhornyshche
The Tulchyn Pogrom
The Proskurov Pogrom
The Torgsin Store
From the Chimney to Berlin
From Tulchyn to Pechera
Let It Be Enough!
The Synagogue Cellar
The Reinsdorfs
The Prayer House
Evgeniia's Gefilte Fish
Arkadii's Gefilte Fish
Mama's Mamaliga
The Sabbath Candles
A Jew Must Eat Matzo
I Defended Stalingrad
Challah
Dovid's Gefilte Fish
Zionist Purim
Zhenya's Gefilte Fish
The Holiday Cycle
Revolutionary Celebrations and Jewish Holy Days
Khad Gadyo (One Little Goat)
Sonye's Gefilte Fish
Rolling an Egg
Homentashn
Writing in Soviet Yiddish
Remedy for the Whooping Cough
Maryam
Eating Tsimmes and Raising Geese
Women's Prayer Quorum
Sanctification of the Moon

“nobody gave”

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Donia Presler was born in 1929 born in Tulchyn. Her father was a musician. Her mother worked as a glazier. She had two sisters, one of whom died in the Pechera camp. She finished four years of Yiddish school. During the war, she was imprisoned in the Pechera camp for four years.


Other Interviews:

Passover Soup
Inside the Camp
A Little House with a Dirt Floor
A Family Played the Fiddle
Avrum-Yosl the Glazier
"Christ has risen"
The Torgsin Store
Homentashn

Show Trial in the Camp

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Penia Golfeld was born in Tulchyn in 1932. He was imprisoned in the Pechera concentration camp during the war. After the war, he trained at a technical institute and found work in a shoe factory, where he was employed for forty-nine years. He served for four years in the military. He married and has a son.


Other Interviews:

From Tulchyn to Pechera

Inside the Camp

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Penia Goldfeld describes in this clip the harsh circumstances, in which he survived the Pechera concentration camp . In particular, Penia recalls how he fought off starvation, eating beetroot during the winter period.

In total, about 15,000 Jews were deported from Transnistria into Reichskommissariat Ukraine between spring 1942 and early 1944, at least 4,800 of whom came from the Tulchyn district. In Bershad, the Gestapo, which had established a unit in the city in the spring of 1943, took about 1,200 residents into the Reichskommissariat for work, where most perished.

In the Reichskommissariat, the Germans worked the prisoners to death on starvation rations, or shot them when they became too sick to continue laboring. In a final statement, toward the end of the occupation as the Red Army approached, the retreating Germans murdered many of those Jews who had survived the labor brigades and remained relatively strong. About 2,500 prisoners from Pechera were seized for work in the Reichskommissariat.

This is how Pinia remembers German procedure to collect camp prisoners for forced labor:



Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Transport of Corpses

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Throughout 1942-1943, the death rate in the Pechera concentration camp rose. Inmates were forced to work carting the dead out of the camp to a nearby mass grave in the forest, where the dead were buried. In this clip, Pesia Kolodenko remembers what the cart looked like as it rolled through the camp. Others we have interviewed recall sick relatives being taken alive to be buried.

Boris Tzentziper was born in the village of Dobre, near Nikolaev, in 1923. He fought in the Red Army on the Eastern front in a battalion with 12 different nationalities.

A Small Ladder to Heaven

Mykolayiv, Ukraine

We interviewed Tzentziper in Mykolayiv in 2008 and he honored us with a kind of song that mourns the tragic fate of the Jewish people. Although he characterized the song as one of his own, it resembles another popular song that can be found in Beregovsky's collection of 1934. It appears that almost one stanza and part of the melody of Tzentziper's song were borrowed from there (text).

A leyter tsum himl vel ikh shteln.
Un ikh vel aroyfkrikhn tsu got.
Eyne, tsvey verter, oy, vel ikh bay im fregn:
Farvos di yidn hobn in ergets nit keyn ort.

Un nokh vel ikh im zogn:
Az di yidn - hobn fargosn azoy fil blut.
Er zol baklern
 un zol makhn az di yidn zoln lebn gut.

Un nokh vel ikh bay im betn:

Ot-di ale, vos zey hobn di yidn nit lib
zol er zey araynvarfn in grib.
I will put up a small ladder to heaven.
I will climb to God
to ask him one or two things:
Why don't the Jews have a place anywhere.

And I will tell Him:
that the Jews shed so much blood.
He should consider this
and make sure that the Jews live well.

In addition, I will ask from Him:

Anyone who doesn't like the Jews
He should throw into a pit.

Semyon Vaisblai was born in 1930 in Chemerivtsi. His father worked as a cap-maker and his mother, who died when he was seven years old, was a homemaker. He had a sister and a brother. His brother died under occupation, and his sister served in the Red Army during the war. He attended a Yiddish school for four years. During the war, he was imprisoned in the Kamyanets-Podolskyy ghetto. He escaped the ghetto and, when he reached Chemerivtsi, he became the servant of a German soldier. He was then imprisoned in the Smotrich ghetto, before being sent back to the ghetto in Kamyanets-Podolskyy. The remaining time of the war, he spent on the kolkhoz in Dubinka. After the war, he worked various jobs, such as supplier and shop assistant. He worked as an administrator in the Khmelnytskyy’s synagogue in for many years.


Other Interviews:

Oy vey tsu mayne yorn (Woe to my years)

Rebbe, Reb Shneyer

Khmelnytskyy, Ukraine

First part of the song "Rebbe, reb Shneyer" (also known as "Tsvey shayles," "Oy, rebenyu,"Tayerer rebenyu") continued to be popular in Ukraine and we heard it in various places (Iziaslav, Polonnoe, Vinnytsya). In this clip, Semyon Vaisblai sings a version that he remembers from Prokurov (now Khmelnytskyy), recorded in 2008. Here is a full version of the Yiddish lyrics with an English translation. The song was commercially recorded by Rebecca Kaplan and Pete Rushefsky in 2009.

Oy rebenyu, rebenyu rebenyu Reb Shneyer,
Oy, a tsore getrofn, mayn shkheynes shikse zeyer.

Oy, di shkheynishe shikse,
a make ir in ponim,
Iz gevorn mit mayn man di heymishe mekhutonim.

Oy, zog zhe, rebenyu, oy,
oy, zog zhe oy rebenyu, oy!

Oy, vaybele, vaybele - geyt aheym.
Un shikt tsu mir, zi areyn.
Un men nemt abisele ash.
Un me tutn arayn in a vash,
Ir zolt zikh gor nisht foyln,
Ir zolt zi legn oyf koyln.
Vet zi kosher vern.
Dear Rabbi, oh, Rabbi Shneyer,
Oh, a terrible thing has happened with my neighbor's gentile wife.


The gentile woman next door,
a plague on her face,
has become very familiar with my husband.

Dear Rabbi, oh, Rabbi Shneyer,
tell me!

Woman, woman - go home,
and send her in, to me.
Take some ashes.
Give her a good wash,
Don't be lazy.
heat her over coals.
She will be kosher.







Vaisblai also shared with us of Adolf King's well-known song "Sha Sha Der Rebbe Geyt (Shh, Shh, the Rabbi's Coming), which was written around 1922.


Other Interviews:

Boots
Sobolivka Ancedote
Seeking Help From the Valedniker Rebbe
Openhanded
Avoiding Conscription
Childhood Memories
Studying Khimesh Dilemma
Hauling Stones
The Ribnitser Rebbe
The Shtefaneshter Rebbe
"they didn't want to let me go"
With the Last Train
When Peretz Markish Came to Polonne
The Jewish House
Sleeping At Grandpa's
A Few Pengos
Vynohradiv Ghetto
"Hitler ate up our youth"
Birobidzhan in 1941
the shoykhet across from us
Playing Fiddle with my Grandfather
"a memorial plaque"
Private Teacher
a Childhood Ditty
"Look, over there is a Jew"
a Poor Family
the Great Famine Exodus
a New Life
Throwing Stones on Kol Nidre
Around Kolomyya
People Stood Outside
Return to Kolomyya
Holidays
Fixing Shoes
March to Pechera
At the Yiddish School
The Goat
Yefingar Colony
Gefilte Fish
Celebrating Holidays
Toward Israel
Matzo Baking with Neighbors
Matzo Baking in the Shtetl
Passover Soup
Stuffed Neck with Chicken Fat
"a very religious family"
A Wealthy Family
Survival
"forward"
"go there"
Postwar Religious Practice
A Gravestone for My Mother
"make it a synagogue"
A Piece of Bread
Minkatch: a Jewish Town
The Hard Years
Tailored Suits
From Hungarian to Russian Forced Labor
Carving Tombstones
Communal Matzo Baking
Extinguishing Coals
Left Behind
A True "Khosid"
"Let her pray"
Selection at Auschwitz
A Child Lost To The Evil Eye
A Neolog Family
After The War
Yiddish and Hungarian
Bubbie Zisl
Coming Home
Vorkutlag
Childhood On A Farm
Mauthausen
"all of Tulchyn into one courtyard"
"they threw us out of our homes"
From Tulchyn to Pechera
They Took Her - Alive
Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews
Show Trial in the Camp
Inside the Camp
Transport of Corpses
A Small Ladder to Heaven
Rebbe, Reb Shneyer
On the Way Home
Saving the Synagogue in Khust
Arrival in Prague
Liberation
Leaving For Home
Thank God We Had a Piece of Bread
Sobolivka
"...and we lived well"
"stuffing ourselves"
A Little House with a Dirt Floor
A Pair of Shoes
A Blanket to Fight Hunger
A Family Played the Fiddle
Avrum-Yosl the Glazier
Home: One Small Room
Running Away from the Melamed
The Great Synagogue
Cantor Gaz
Wooden Synagogue
Food on Sabbath
Sabbath Was Sabbath
"as though God had baked it"
Seder on a Kolkhoz
Hunger of 1946
"Der Shtern"
Peeking into the Men's Section
The Binding of Isaac
The Matzo Bag
"and a goat on a chain"
Eating Sour Mash - the Great Hunger
Kheskele - the Clarinetist
Burial Customs
"I was a courageous lad"
Krishmeleyenen
Hebrew - the Language of Prayer
"In short, I am a Jew"
Evacuation of the Communists
With Horse and Wagon to Donbas
Tashkent-Samarkand-Panjakent
Making Matzo Dough with a Roller
Craftsmen and Merchants
"I love Yiddish"
Valik, Zhuzhia and Ivanov
"And every day we waited to die"
Tsezeyt un tseshpreyt (Scattered and dispersed)
The Butcher's Synagogue
Army Training
Transmitting Secrets to America
At the Yiddish School
Postwar Charity
"the first bomb fell"
"as soon as they attacked, they were already here"
Tomashpil Massacre of August 4, 1941
Inside the Ghetto
Good Christians
The Jewish Soul
Bergider and Golda Meir
The Article
Antisemitism
Inside the Ghetto
The Orchard and the Mass Grave
The Southern Bug River
"Christ has risen"
Inside the Camp
"when I encountered the Germans"
Career in the Red Army
"Misha Katsop"
My Grandfather and the Priest
My Grandfather's Observance
"they wanted us to stay alive."
Speaking Yiddish
The Mass Grave in Sobolivka
"don't run into the forest"
Bratslav Matchmaking
"we need to have a wedding!"
“our children’s children’s children’s children must know”
A Great Hunger Myth
Jewish Professions
A Coachman's Song
Vanity of Vanities
I'm leaving you my dear in-laws
Getting Ready For Sabbath
How to Get Food
Liberation
Our House
What It Means to Be a Jew
Oy vey tsu mayne yorn (Woe to my years)
The Zogerin (the Synagogue Prompter)
Ekhod mi yoydeo (Who knows one)
Nuts
The Head of the Fish
Bones of Berdychiv
Dishes in the Attic
Aheym, briderlekh, aheym (Homeward, brother, homeward)
Physics in Yiddish
Oy mayn libe Basarabye (My Beloved Bessarabia)
Cholent
Bris
Sabbath and Poverty
Remedy for the Evil Eye
The Shiva
The Esebet (Reclining Bed)
Zits ikh mir in kretshme (I'm sitting in the Tavern)
The Fur Coat
Varenikes
Taking Out the Flour
Kosher Chicken
Oreme pleytim (Poor Refugees)
Money from America
May 27, 1942: Zhornyshche
The Tulchyn Pogrom
The Proskurov Pogrom
The Torgsin Store
From the Chimney to Berlin
From Tulchyn to Pechera
Let It Be Enough!
The Synagogue Cellar
The Reinsdorfs
The Prayer House
Evgeniia's Gefilte Fish
Arkadii's Gefilte Fish
Mama's Mamaliga
The Sabbath Candles
A Jew Must Eat Matzo
I Defended Stalingrad
Challah
Dovid's Gefilte Fish
Zionist Purim
Zhenya's Gefilte Fish
The Holiday Cycle
Revolutionary Celebrations and Jewish Holy Days
Khad Gadyo (One Little Goat)
Sonye's Gefilte Fish
Rolling an Egg
Homentashn
Writing in Soviet Yiddish
Remedy for the Whooping Cough
Maryam
Eating Tsimmes and Raising Geese
Women's Prayer Quorum
Sanctification of the Moon

Oy iz dus a Rebenyu” (Oh is that a Rabbi)

Moisei Katz grew up with six siblings. His father was a coachman for wood transportation. He attended heder until the age of thirteen. After his father was "drafted" as forced laborer in the Hungarian army, he continued his father's work as coachman. In 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau from the Iza ghetto. He was liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp by the American army in 1945 and returned to Koshelovo, via Prague and Budapest. He moved to Khust in 1954 and worked in his profession as chauffeur.


Other Interviews:

Saving the Synagogue in Khust
Arrival in Prague
Liberation
Leaving For Home

On the Way Home

Khust, Ukraine

In this clip, Katz speaks about his experiences on his homeward journey, when he and his cousins met a fellow-Jew from his hometown Koshelovo.

After the liberation of Nazi camps by the American, British or Soviet armed forces in Spring 1945 a large number of Jewish survivors attempted to make their way back to their hometowns in Eastern Europe. Just like Moisei Katz, who was among the thousands of Carpatho-Ruthenian Jews who returned to southwestern Ukraine. The region of Transcarpathia was officially annexed to the Soviet Union in June 1945.





Those lucky enough to find a close or distant relative restarted their lives in postwar Transcarpathia with them and often decided together how to deal with the new Soviet reality. Jewish returnees, who were not lucky enough to encounter a family member or relative in their hometowns, looked for Jewish or non-Jewish friends in order not to have to face reality alone and to arrange for a familiar setting. Katz remembers the historical moment in this clip.

PDFObject example

View map to follow the trajectories of Carpatho-Rusiyan Jews back to Transcarpathia.

Moisei Katz grew up with six siblings. His father was a coachman for wood transportation. He attended heder until the age of thirteen. After his father was "drafted" as forced laborer in the Hungarian army, he continued his father's work as coachman. In 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau from the Iza ghetto. He was liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp by the American army in 1945 and returned to Koshelovo, via Prague and Budapest. He moved to Khust in 1954 and worked in his profession as chauffeur.


Other Interviews:

On the Way Home
Arrival in Prague
Liberation
Leaving For Home

Saving the Synagogue in Khust

Khust, Ukraine

How did Jewish returnees re-settle in places that were once part of a cohesive and vibrant prewar Jewish community? The daily disappointment of finding out who did not survive and thus not return home is no doubt a reality of every Jewish returnee. However, diving into testimonies of Carpathian Ruthenian Jews, another reality seems to emerge: the necessity to move on and continue life, even under the new Soviet rule. The sense of community, reinforced by the shared fate as Shoah survivors, and reconstituting traditional Jewish life appears to be evident among Carpathian-Ruthenian Jews in Subcarpathian Rus' during the postwar period. In this clip, Moisei Katz shares with us an episode about the rescue of a synagogue in Khust in the early 1950s.

Moisei Katz grew up with six siblings. His father was a coachman for wood transportation. He attended heder until the age of thirteen. After his father was "drafted" as forced laborer in the Hungarian army, he continued his father's work as coachman. In 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau from the Iza ghetto. He was liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp by the American army in 1945 and returned to Koshelovo, via Prague and Budapest. He moved to Khust in 1954 and worked in his profession as chauffeur.


Other Interviews:

On the Way Home
Saving the Synagogue in Khust
Liberation
Leaving For Home

Arrival in Prague

Khust, Ukraine

After the liberation from Nazi concentration camps and ghettos in 1945, many Jewish survivors decided to go back to towns and villages they grew up in. The need and longing to go home endured the dire circumstances and length of such a return journey, not to mention the weak physical conditions the survivors were in. In the immediate postwar months of 1945: More than 10,000,000 displaced persons voyaged home with as many as 10,500 people a day. A large fraction of displaced persons traveled to Eastern Europe. As a result, returnees had to endure the chaotic conditions of traveling on the roofs of packed wagons, in trains without a schedule. Another memory is also present: Red Army soldiers at stations, in trains, and at borders. Jewish returnees went through different, what can be called stations on their way home, passing through cities like Prague, Bratislava, Budapest and sometimes Bucharest, on a long term quest to find loved ones.

Although oftentimes Jewish returnees would find a close family member, relative, friend or acquaintance in one of these stations, the urge to return home to find out what happened to the place where they came from outlived in many cases the initial comfort they felt being taken care of among their own in resurgent Eastern Jewish communities. This clip shows a snippet of Katz's experience on his journey home.

Moisei Katz grew up with six siblings. His father was a coachman for wood transportation. He attended heder until the age of thirteen. After his father was "drafted" as forced laborer in the Hungarian army, he continued his father's work as coachman. In 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau from the Iza ghetto. He was liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp by the American army in 1945 and returned to Koshelovo, via Prague and Budapest. He moved to Khust in 1954 and worked in his profession as chauffeur.


Other Interviews:

On the Way Home
Saving the Synagogue in Khust
Arrival in Prague
Leaving For Home

Liberation

Khust, Ukraine

Displaced persons were scattered in different former Nazi forced labor and concentration camps throughout Austria and Germany at liberation. They experienced several camp liquidations and subsequent death marches from one concentration camp to the next. The experience of the following step, after the liberation, was defined by the proceedings of either American, British or Soviet armed forces. Overall, a significant amount of Jewish survivors felt the urge to return to what they knew as home, before making any other life-changing decisions regarding moving and/or emigration.

One of the more noticeable differences between American and Soviet liberators for example, found in the survivors’ narratives, has to do with the degree to which they took care of the former inmates. One can sense an overwhelming positive experience of “American care-taking,” where former prisoners were immediately taken to hospitals or doctor check-ups, nourished back to health with a gradual increase of food intake. Furthermore, the tragic experience of “overeating,” because people’s stomachs, that had been used to starved rations for so long, and could not take the distributed rich food, was a deep-seated memory of this period. Survivors’ memories of the “Russian care-taking” ranges from being nourished back to health in some form or other to receiving no attention at all. The former inmates’ recovery process would often take up to several months until they were in an acceptable condition to face the incredibly arduous journey home.

Another memory concerns the acquisition of food and clothing. According to several accounts, survivors were given permission by the Red Army, and to an extend American army, to (forcefully) take whatever they needed from German homes or former inmates also proceeded without any permission at all. In this clip, Katz talks about his liberation from the Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar, Germany, by the American armed forces in April 1945.

Moisei Katz grew up with six siblings. His father was a coachman for wood transportation. He attended heder until the age of thirteen. After his father was "drafted" as forced laborer in the Hungarian army, he continued his father's work as coachman. In 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau from the Iza ghetto. He was liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp by the American army in 1945 and returned to Koshelovo, via Prague and Budapest. He moved to Khust in 1954 and worked in his profession as chauffeur.


Other Interviews:

On the Way Home
Saving the Synagogue in Khust
Arrival in Prague
Liberation

Leaving For Home

Khust, Ukraine

After the liberation from Nazi concentration camps in spring 1945, many Jewish survivors felt the need to return home, before contemplating their next step in life. In the hope to find family members or at the least to recover family possessions, survivors often came to this decision facing much more promising options emigration. This was also the case with Katz, who decided to return to his hometown Koshelovo in southwestern Ukraine (Transcarpathia).

Carpathian-Rusiyan Jews initially thought that they returned home as Czechoslovak citizens. This impression was well justified since for instance Czechoslovak troops came into the liberated camps and “collected” their people or the American occupational administration arranged the former inmate population according to citizenship to facilitate the dissolution of the camp. Each individual’s journey home was a different experience, especially regarding duration, and often dependent on the arrangements – if any - made by the American or Soviet armed forces. The need and longing to go home endured the dire circumstances and length of such a return journey.



In the immediate postwar months of 1945: More than 10,000,000 displaced persons voyaged home with as many as 10,500 people a day. A large fraction of displaced persons traveled to Eastern Europe. As a result, returnees had to endure the chaotic conditions of traveling on the roofs of packed wagons, in trains without a schedule. Another memory is also present: Red Army soldiers at stations, in trains, and at borders. Jewish returnees went through different, what can be called stations on their way home, passing through cities like Prague, Bratislava, Budapest and sometimes Bucharest, on a long term quest to find loved ones.

Katz talks about his experience, when passing through Bratislava and Budapest with his cousins and uncle.

Isaak Vaisman 's father, who died in 1928, was also born in Berdychiv and had worked as a tailor. He grew up with one sister. He attended a Yiddish school for seven years, before he was transferred to a Russian school to complete his education. He evacuated to Uzbekistan when the war began, from where he was drafted into the Red Army. He served from 1943 until 1946 in an intelligence unit. After his retirement, he worked as soda seller on the market.

Thank God We Had a Piece of Bread

Berdychiv, Ukraine

Isaak Vaisman’s pride in serving his country during the war was evident, but when asked when he had experienced the best times of his life, he answered without hesitation, “My youth.” After hearing him describe his childhood, one could only imagine how much worse things must have become for these to have been his best years.

Isaak and his wife Bella say that her family did provide some charity for the poorer families, like the Vaismans, who lived in the same building block. Those who grew up poor often relied upon the beneficence of those who were a little more fortunate. At least until the government began arresting the wealthier members of the community, there was often a philanthropist in town who helped alleviate the struggles of the destitute.

Isaak Vaisman was seventy-seven years old and still doing backbreaking work selling seltzer water in the Berdychiv marketplace.He pries open a heavy rusting canister with a wrench and pours seltzer into glasses for the waiting customers who tossed him a couple of kopecks for a swig. He worked silently, rarely exchanging pleasantries with his thirsty customers, and only turning his attention from the queue to glance at the canister’s gauge and adjust the pressure of the gas.



Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Sobolivka

Haysyn, Ukraine

Settlement and occupational patterns in pre-war Ukraine were sharply demarcated by ethnicity. Jews tended to live in shtetlekh, where their residences were concentrated around the main square, and where they worked as artisans and merchants. In this clip, Arkadii Burshtein remembers that the Christians lived around the shtetl, and the Jews lived within it. This impression of two starkly demographically distinct regions is supported by census data. According to the 1926 census, whereas only 11 percent of all Ukrainians--Jews and non-Jews--lived in urban centers, 91.4 percent of Ukrainian Jews were urban. Even the most heavily Jewish cities were still surrounded by non-Jewish countryside. Jews were also distinguished by occupation, and many people we spoke with drew sharp distinctions between the Christian peasants who lived in the countryside and the Jewish artisans who lived in the city. Again, the census figures confirm that Jews dominated certain handicrafts, such as tailors, cobblers, glaziers, coopers, and coachmen.

Bella Vaisman was born in 1925 in Berdychiv. Her father was born in Warsaw and worked as a chief accountant. She grew up in a relatively wealthy family. Days before the war began, she went to visit her cousin, as a result of which she was cut of from the rest of her family. She survived the war in evacuation in Uzbekistan, but her family was killed in Berdychiv. She was married to Isaak Vaisman.


Other Interviews:

"a very religious family"
Sabbath Was Sabbath
The Reinsdorfs

“…and we lived well”

Berdychiv, Ukraine

When Bella Vaisman, nee Rainsdorf, was a child she lived in the same building block as Isaak Vaisman who would become her husband after the war. Bella came from a wealthier family, while her husband experienced a childhood in poverty. Her father, born in Warsaw, had come to Berdychiv as a refugee during the First World War, but was able to make a living for himself in the Soviet Union as a bookkeeper.

Efim Skobilitskii was born in 1919 in Berdichev. His father was born in Poland, near Warsaw, and worked as a metalworker. His mother raised five sons. He studied in both a Yiddish school and in a cheder. During World War II, he served in the Red Army as the commander of a battalion of tanks. After he was demobilized in 1949, he returned to Berdychiv and was trained as an agronomist. He worked at a warehouse transfer station for kolkhozi and zovkhozi for thirty-five years.


Other Interviews:

"when I encountered the Germans"
Career in the Red Army
The Zogerin (the Synagogue Prompter)

“stuffing ourselves”

Berdychiv, Ukraine

Efim Skoblitsky recollects great poverty during his childhood. Although his family lived comparatively well-off, the memory of beggars and peddlers are engraved on his mind.

Efim, however, also remembers a philanthropist named Magazanik, who exported leather from the leather factory, where Vaisman’s mother worked, to Czechoslovakia. According to Efim, "Magazanik was a great landowner. He would lead his cattle along the entire street and would carry dairy products, like butter and sour cream, to sell in Zhytomyr and Kiev. And over there, he planted an orchard with all kinds of trees. Now it’s a street where they have added new buildings. It used to be a long orchard along the street.” Magazanik, Skoblitsky went on, lost most of his wealth when it was expropriated by the Soviet state and his property was seized for communal use.

It is perhaps in tribute to Magazanik that the Berdychiv-born writer Vassili Grossman gave the name of Efim Magazanik to the poor Jewish blacksmith who is forced to host a pregnant Red Army soldier during the Civil War in his 1934 short story, “In the Town of Berdychiv” a story later made famous by Aleksandr Askoldov’s 1967 film Commissar. Grossman was, perhaps, making an ironic comment on the fate of the wealthy under Bolshevism, by taking the name of this locally famous aristocrat and philanthropist for his poor blacksmith.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

A Little House with a Dirt Floor

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Donia Presler remembers the communal aspect of shtetl life very well. A popular picture often found in literature as part of a romantic perception of the Shtetl. Donia reminisces cheerfully about eating, dancing and singing together. But even Donia's account does not escape reality and describes the existence of sheer poverty in the shtetl.

During the Civil War, the fledgling Soviet State sought to orient all its resources toward fueling the Red Army’s efforts by instituting an economic policy known as “War Communism.” In the infancy of the Revolution,the engineers of Soviet ideological and economic policy believed they were implementing pure communism and foresaw world revolution close behind. The state nationalized the banks and large industry,centralized industrial management, introduced a state monopoly on trade, and criminalized private enterprise and exchange.

These policies disenfranchised anybody who employed hired labor, received income from sources other than employment, or worked as private merchants,brokers, or religious functionaries. Jews predominated in each of these categories. Living mainly in the urban centers, where commerce and industry were most concentrated, Jews were subject to the worst of the military requisitions and property seizures.

Relying overwhelmingly on private enterprise and trade for their livelihood — the two occupations most targeted for elimination by the new government — the Jewish middling class was one of the major victims of the Revolution. Jews, who accounted for just 5.4 percent of the total population of Ukraine, constituted 45 percent of disenfranchised people, based on figures from 1925–1926.

Many Jews thereby lost the emancipation rights that the Provisional Government had only just recently awarded them. Previously persecuted for their religious beliefs, they now faced persecution instead for their sociological and economic status.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

A Pair of Shoes

Bershad, Ukraine

The Jews of the Podolian shtetls remember the 1920s and 1930s as a time of great need and want, but they also recognize that within this period there was a sense of community and mutual aid. Many recall their fellow Jews sharing food and helping out. At least in the early 1920s, they claim, the community was close-knit and neighbors helped one another.

Many Yiddish songs that shtetl Jews sang in this period bemoaned the poverty of the shtetl. The same melancholy phrases and idioms of poverty recur in numerous songs. Young orphan children are always wandering through the dark and cold streets of the shtetl barefoot, dreaming only of a pair of shoes, for which they would pawn their last shirt. Evgeniia Kozak, who grew up in Bershad in the 1920s, sung several songs for us incorporating these themes. One, in particular, weaved them all together in a lament of poverty, want, and destitution:



In droysn iz finster un nas un kalt
Ikh hob shoyn nit keyn shikhelekh.
Aroystsugeyn in gas.
Ven mayn oreme muter volt atsind gelebt
Zi volt farzetst dos letste hemd.

Arayn in tifn noyt.
Un volt far ir yoseml a por shikhelekh gekoyft.
Der lerer fun der shul zogt ikh bin a kind, a brilyant
Un ale raykhe yingelekh lakhn fun mayn shand.
Azoy iz avekgon tsvelef yor derkhanand
Un fun dem oremen yosem iz gevorn...

Di oreme muter hot farzetst dos letste hemd
Un hot far dem yoseml a por shikhelekh gekoyft.
Azoy iz avekgon tsvelef yor derkhanand
Er zitst in tsimer un drikt im di hant.
Tsi gedenkstu shoyn tatenyu tsurik mit tsvelef yor
Ven du host mir gekoyft shikhelekh a por?
Un derfar vos du host mir gekoyft shikhelekh a por
Vel ikh dikh gliklekh makhn ale dayne yor.
Outside it’s dark, and wet, and cold.
And I have no shoes,
To go out on the street.
If my poor mother were still alive,
She would pawn her last shirt.
Never mind her extreme need,


And would buy a pair of shoes for her little orphan.
My school teacher says I am a precious child,
And all the rich children laugh at my shame.
So twelve years passed,
And since then this poor orphan has become...


My poor mother has pawned her last shirt,
And bought her orphan a pair of shoes.
So, twelve years have passed,
He sits in his room and wrings his hands,
Do you still remember your son after twelve years?
When you bought me a pair of shoes?
And because you bought me that pair of shoes,
I will make you happy for all your years.




Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

A Blanket to Fight Hunger

Berdychiv, Ukraine

Raisa Chukh remembers how much she and her two little brothers suffered during the Great Famine (Holodomor ) of 1932-33. According to Raisa, her mother saved the family from starvation through innovative creativity as a blanket seamstress.

In 1931, the Soviet central government’s insistence on meeting outrageous procurement quotas and their obstinate refusal to yield to local needs, combined with climactic conditions, created a massive famine in 1932–1933 that left some 2.5 to 3.5 million people dead. Today, many historians believe the famine was manufactured as a deliberate policy to punish the people of Ukraine for their resistance to collectivization.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

A Family Played the Fiddle

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Occupational prestige was part of a complex and ambiguous social hierarchy in the Soviet shtetl. Whereas many aspired toward higher education and professional lives, the practical value of possessing a set of artisanal skills was obvious. This occupational opacity was most evident in occupations that possessed both professional and trade characteristics. Donia Presler’s father was a professional musician. Like many other trades, musicians learned their skills in the family, as she clarifies in this clip.

Donia explains that her father lived in Odessa in the 1920s, where he even played with famed Jewish Jazz musician Leonid Utesov. When her father moved to Tulchyn, he also played in a band. In this clip, Donia reminisces about shtetl klezmorim (musicians):



Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Avrum-Yosl the Glazier

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Occupations tended to run in the family. Not only did Donia Presler's father's side of the family pass on musical skills from one generation to the next, but her mother's side also passed on their glazier expertise.

Since gigs as a klezmer musician were hard to come by, Presler’s father had to supplement his income with artisanal work. In this clip, Donia describes how her parents carried on the glazier tradition Donia's mother inherited from her grandfather Avrum-Yosl. Donia's parents made a living by selling windowpanes in Ukrainian villages surrounding the town of Tulchyn.

Asya Barshteyn 's father was a purveyor and her mother was a homemaker. She attended a Yiddish school for six years, until her schooling was interrupted by the war. She survived the war in the Sharhorod ghetto. After the war, she completed her schooling by correspondence. She worked as a telegraph dispatcher and a switchboard operator at the post office, and later as a cashier at a barber shop. In 1983 she moved to Vinnytsya,where she is one of the leaders of the Vinnytsya Jewish Women’s Choir.


Other Interviews:

Rebbe, Reb Shneyer
The Great Synagogue
Cantor Gaz
"as though God had baked it"

Home: One Small Room

Vinnytsya, Ukraine

Asya Barshteyn remembers how her father struggled to raise his three daughters well and marry them off adequately. In this clip, she recalls the tiny house they lived in, typical of the time and place.

In part because of their work duties, Jewish women tended to marry later than their non-Jewish neighbors. According to the 1926 census, Jewish men were getting married in their mid-twenties and Jewish women in their early twenties. In Right Bank Ukraine, most Jewish men were married by the age of twenty-five and women by age twenty-two.

Yet, for many women, marriage was not so easy. As a result of the violence that plagued the region - 76 percent of the victims of the pogroms were men —there were 1,140 Jewish women for every 1,000 Jewish men in 1926, and 1,160 Jewish women for every 1,000 Jewish men in 1939.

The marriage market was a competitive one, and many women never married.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Running Away from the Melamed

Vinnytsya, Ukraine

Avrom Furer bitterly remembers how the children at the state Yiddish school he attended would mock him mercilessly for receiving private religious instruction from a religious teacher (melamed). The students viewed it as anomalous and were thus affected by the antireligious morals and values Soviet society enforced.

Religious schools (cheder) were part of the traditional system of Jewish education in which sacred texts were given exclusive attention in the curriculum and had long been the bedrock of Jewish education in Eastern Europe.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

The Great Synagogue

Vinnytsya, Ukraine

Asya Barshteyn reminisces about Sharhorod's Great Synagogue. She describes the synagogue's activity during the war, the transformation of the building into a juice factory during the postwar Soviet era and today's absence of congregants to attend prayer services.

She then discusses how each occupation had its own synagogue, and reminisces about the guest cantors who would occasionally visit the shtetl from neighboring cities.

Asya Barshteyn 's father was a purveyor and her mother was a homemaker. She attended a Yiddish school for six years, until her schooling was interrupted by the war. She survived the war in the Sharhorod ghetto. After the war, she completed her schooling by correspondence. She worked as a telegraph dispatcher and a switchboard operator at the post office, and later as a cashier at a barber shop. In 1983 she moved to Vinnytsya,where she is one of the leaders of the Vinnytsya Jewish Women’s Choir.


Other Interviews:

Home: One Small Room
Rebbe, Reb Shneyer
The Great Synagogue
"as though God had baked it"

Cantor Gaz

Vinnytsya, Ukraine

Asya Barshteyn remembers the synagogue as the center of Jewish communal and cultural life in the shtetl. She recalls the excitement of hearing visiting cantors who would occasionally tour and perform there. For Barshteyn, with a continued love of music and song, the cantor was the highpoint of religious life. The synagogue building, however, represents much more than a religious identity, and serves as the focal point of the community.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Wooden Synagogue

Vinnytsya, Ukraine

Grigorii Shor has distinct memories of attending the wooden two-storied synagogue in Kopayhorod with his father until it was closed in 1936.

It is fascinating from an ethnographic standpoint to watch Grigorii in the process of remembering details of life in the shtetl of the 1930s in Yiddish - a language he had not spoken for 60 years. At times he struggles to find the appropriate terminology, having spent most of his adult life in the secular Soviet state speaking Russian. His wife, Liudmila, interjects repeatedly, trying to help him out, as does Dov-Ber Kerler, who is conducting the interview.

Evgeniia Kozak was born in 1926 in Bershad. She attended a Ukrainian school for eight years. Her parents, who were cousins, were both born in Bershad. Her father was a furrier. She had a younger brother and sister. She survived the war in evacuation in Bezopasnik, Orlovsky Region in the Caucasus and then in Andizhanskaia in the Stalinska region in Central Asia. When she returned to Bershad after the war, in April 1944, her mother worked as a baker. She married in 1958 and has two sons. Her husband died before her second son was born, when her first son was just one and a half years old.


Other Interviews:

Stuffed Neck with Chicken Fat
A Pair of Shoes
Postwar Charity
Evgeniia's Gefilte Fish

Food on Sabbath

Bershad, Ukraine

In postwar Soviet Ukraine foodways provided one of the few means of expressing ethnic identity and memory. After so much of the old world was destroyed, food provided a means of memorializing and commemorating a past that could not be publicly expressed. In this clip Evgeniia Kozak gets lost in her memories of cholent.

Food was also strongly associated with religious festivals and practice, a phenomenon by no means unique to Soviet Jewry. Sabbath foods— challah, gefilte fish, cholent, and latkes — feature prominently in memories of the Sabbath.

Cholent, in particular, a slow-cooked stew, usually consisting of meat, barley, beans, potato, and whatever else could be found around the house, symbolizes the Sabbath for many. The Sabbath rest prohibits cooking from Friday evening through Saturday sunset, but does allow the consumption of a hot meal provided that the fire was lit before the onset of the Sabbath. It is traditional, therefore, to place the stew in the oven prior to the start of the Sabbath, on Friday evening, and remove it, fully cooked, for lunch on Saturday.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Sabbath Was Sabbath

Berdychiv, Ukraine

In Bella Vaisman’s recollection, the memory of food evokes visceral emotions that beautify the moment: “Since it was Sabbath everything was good.”Sabbath time was sacred, rendering even the profane good. For those who formally welcomed the Sabbath with prayer on Friday evenings, lighting Sabbath candles and eating traditional challah bread was an important part of the custom.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

“as though God had baked it”

Vinnytsya, Ukraine

In this clip, Asya Barshteyn describes her Sabbath rituals.

Asya's insistence that she performs all the rituals “like you were supposed to do” was echoed by many of those we interviewed, who insisted that they followed religious strictures “just as they were supposed to,” or occasionally described how they performed a custom even though “you are supposed to do it differently.” These phrases indicate a strong sense that the performance of religious ritual was a requirement that they had agreed to fulfill in accordance with established guidelines and customs.

In their narratives, religious obligations trumped the expected behavior of a Soviet citizen, for whom religious performance was not an obligation, but rather an infringement. In Soviet Ukraine in the 1930s, one was certainly not “supposed to” light Sabbath candles and bake challah bread.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Seder on a Kolkhoz

Teplyk, Ukraine

Tatiana Marinina of Teplyk, who spent much of the 1930s living on the Lunacharskii collective farm in Crimea with her sister Sofia Palatnikova, recalls how Passover brought the whole collective farm together.
Between 1923 and 1938, the American Joint Distribution Committee cooperated with the Soviet government in establishing Jewish colonies throughout Crimea. The Kremlin believed that Jewish settlements would be an effective buffer against ethnic minorities like Germans and Crimean Tatars, who the Kremlin viewed as hostile to Bolshevik power. The Soviet government and the Joint also viewed the project as an opportunity to promote farming among Jews. Dozens of Jewish collective farms were established in the region during these years.

Brukhe Feldman was born in 1938 or 1939 in Bershad. Her father died fighting in the war when she was three years old, and she was brought up by her mother. She spent much of her life working in a furniture factory.


Other Interviews:

Postwar Religious Practice
A Gravestone for My Mother
Kheskele - the Clarinetist
Burial Customs
The Shiva
A Jew Must Eat Matzo

Hunger of 1946

Bershad, Ukraine

The postwar years were difficult years of rebuilding for Jews and non-Jews alike. The year 1946–1947 was the most dire—just as the long process of rebuilding got underway, the region was plagued with a devastating harvest that combined with counter-productive government procurement demands to create an all-out famine. Brukhe Feldman returned to Bershad after the war, and remembered the famine most of all, as her family was forced to seek sustenance in a soup kitchen.

Maria Yakuta was born in 1921 in Teplyk. She grew up with six siblings. Her parents were also born in Teplyk, and her father worked as a hatmaker. She attended a Yiddish school for seven years. Her parents and three siblings were killed in Teplyk during the war.


Other Interviews:

Peeking into the Men's Section
The Binding of Isaac
The Matzo Bag
"and a goat on a chain"
Eating Sour Mash - the Great Hunger
Sanctification of the Moon

“Der Shtern”

Teplyk, Ukraine

The interwar Soviet shtetl was never completely isolated from the wider world. Residents of small-towns eagerly devoured news from larger cities. High rates of illiteracy combined with the rarity of big-city newspapers, though, meant that for many reading was a collective experience. In this clip, Maria Yakuta paints a picture of a shtetl population intensely interested in the world around them.

Maria Yakuta was born in 1921 in Teplyk. She grew up with six siblings. Her parents were also born in Teplyk, and her father worked as a hatmaker. She attended a Yiddish school for seven years. Her parents and three siblings were killed in Teplyk during the war.


Other Interviews:

"Der Shtern"
The Binding of Isaac
The Matzo Bag
"and a goat on a chain"
Eating Sour Mash - the Great Hunger
Sanctification of the Moon

Peeking into the Men’s Section

Teplyk, Ukraine

Women played auxiliary roles in the synagogue service; they did not participate directly in the men’s service, which took place downstairs in the main sanctuary of the synagogue, but rather they held their own services in the women’s section, usually located on the balcony above the main sanctuary. Often the balcony was closed and the women were only able to observe the men’s section through a window. In this clip, Maria Yakuta recalls how the women in the synagogue of Teplyk would listen to the cantor singing below, and peek down to see the men dancing with the Torah scrolls.

Maria Yakuta was born in 1921 in Teplyk. She grew up with six siblings. Her parents were also born in Teplyk, and her father worked as a hatmaker. She attended a Yiddish school for seven years. Her parents and three siblings were killed in Teplyk during the war.


Other Interviews:

"Der Shtern"
Peeking into the Men's Section
The Matzo Bag
"and a goat on a chain"
Eating Sour Mash - the Great Hunger
Sanctification of the Moon

The Binding of Isaac

Teplyk, Ukraine

Women were generally unable to acquire a formal Jewish education. Many, like Maria Yakuta, derived their faith and religious identity from biblical stories, which they knew from the Tsene Urene, a popular Yiddish retelling of the Bible. In the spirit of midrash, the book incorporates a variety of non-canonical stories about biblical characters, and explicitly derives moral lessons from the stories. Although the original text dates to the sixteenth-century, versions circulating in the modern period were written in a conversational style, and so were widely accessible. The Tsene Urene was one of the most popular of Jewish writings in the Ashkenazi world well into the twentieth-century. In this clip, Yakuta recalls how her mother would read aloud from the text. Interestingly, the names and life stories of the biblical patriarchs had receded from her memory, but the lessons remained relevant to her daily life. In this clip, she summarizes what it means to be a Jew by telling us the story of Akeydes Yitskhok (the near-sacrifice of Isaac), but she can not recall the names of Abraham or Isaac or even the origins of the story: Yakuta didn’t treat this central story in the Bible as part of a textual tradition, but rather viewed it as an element of folk wisdom. Like many women, and men as well, she knew her biblical stories not from reading the Pentateuch, but rather from retellings of the stories designed to emphasize their moral lessons.

Maria Yakuta was born in 1921 in Teplyk. She grew up with six siblings. Her parents were also born in Teplyk, and her father worked as a hatmaker. She attended a Yiddish school for seven years. Her parents and three siblings were killed in Teplyk during the war.


Other Interviews:

"Der Shtern"
Peeking into the Men's Section
The Binding of Isaac
"and a goat on a chain"
Eating Sour Mash - the Great Hunger
Sanctification of the Moon

The Matzo Bag

Teplyk, Ukraine

Passover was the most commonly observed Jewish holiday in the interwar Soviet Union. But few of those we interviewed recalled the meaning of the seder--the ritual meal that forms the centerpiece of the Passover ritual--or the specific details of the Passover Haggadah. Instead, they remember the rituals--the eating of matzo, cleaning the house of bread products, and the peculiarities of the seder ritual. In this clip Maria Yakuta remembers the ornate bag in which the matzo was stored during the seder meal, and how her father reclined during the meal, in accordance with tradition.

Maria Yakuta was born in 1921 in Teplyk. She grew up with six siblings. Her parents were also born in Teplyk, and her father worked as a hatmaker. She attended a Yiddish school for seven years. Her parents and three siblings were killed in Teplyk during the war.


Other Interviews:

"Der Shtern"
Peeking into the Men's Section
The Binding of Isaac
The Matzo Bag
Eating Sour Mash - the Great Hunger
Sanctification of the Moon

“and a goat on a chain”

Teplyk, Ukraine

Between 1928 and 1933, the period of the First Five-Year Plan, the Soviet Union underwent a radical transformation from a mixed economy to a planned one: the state outlawed all private capital and launched a massive campaign to promote heavy industry and collectivized farming. The increased intrusion of the Soviet state into the shtetl was so transformative that people often indicate this break by referring to the post-1933 era as “the Soviet regime” in contrast to the earlier decade, during which the Soviet government had not yet fully infiltrated the shtetl. This popular periodization reflects the real difficulties the Soviet central government had in establishing full control over the small towns in Ukraine. Prior to what many people refer to as “the Soviet regime” the impact of Soviet institutions and policies was limited. Certainly for those who paid attention to politics, the communist government was instituting numerous changes, but for ordinary folk who struggled on a day-to-day basis to make ends meet, the period before the early 1930s was characterized only by economic insecurity, and at least in the initial revolutionary years, a dizzying array of governments that came and left.

For about fifteen years following the Bolshevik Revolution in faraway Petrograd, the struggle for food security, shelter, and survival continued unabated in small-town Ukraine. It was only during the 1930s that the region began to pull its way out of poverty and slowly transform itself into a modern industrialized region, just in time for a new devastation, whose terrors would completely surpass the Civil War and pogroms of that earlier era. In Ukraine, collectivization and dekulakization were the most invasive effects of the First Five-Year Plan, radically transforming the Ukrainian countryside.

In addition to the subjugation of the peasantry, though, collectivization unleashed a wave of repression against individuals the state believed facilitated the peasant economy: priests, village elites, private traders, and the petty intelligentsia.34 Repressive policies were replicated in urban centers, where religious functionaries, including rabbis and Jewish elites, were persecuted together with merchants and small shop-owners, who were accused of aiding the kulaks and preventing grain distribution. In short, those who had managed to sustain the economy during the first decade of the Revolution were rewarded for their efforts with arrests and expulsion.

One target of the Teplyk collectivization drive was Maria Yakuta’s uncle, Khotskl. She remembered that Khotskl had a goat, and thus was able to get milk whenever he wanted. This was a luxury in Teplyk during the 1920s, and reason enough for the children to visit Khotskl as often as possible: “He would welcome us with dumplings and milk. It was so delicious.” Khotskl’s goat and the “luxurious” lifestyle he enjoyed with his dumplings and milk attracted the attention of the authorities, who were hunting “kulaks.” Most of Khotskl’s meager wealth came from his small shop: “My mother’s brother had a small shop. There were pencils there and notebooks and herring, kerosene, candles. It was a poor little shop, a little canteen. And he was a pauper with a big family.” But since he personally owned his shop, he was regarded as a speculator, an enemy of the people. As Yakuta explained, “The president of the Jewish government, Stratievski, was given the task of collecting gold from the Jews. He searched my uncle, Khotskl—his name was Khotskl Vitniatski. And he was arrested. He didn’t have any money. He was thrown in prison. He was left there for an entire winter; his beard was overtaken by lice. He barely made it out of there alive. It wasn’t just his money they were after but also that of his brothers. They wanted him to sell out his family.”

Yakuta was indignant that Khotskl was targeted as one of the moneyed elite, when he had so little with which to feed his family: “They were all very poor people. Who were the Jews with money?! Those who had a business with large stores, or large businesses of course. But he just had buckwheat dumplings boiled in milk. And a goat on a chain.” Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Eating Sour Mash – the Great Hunger

Teplyk, Ukraine

In 1931, the Soviet central government’s insistence on meeting outrageous procurement quotas and their obstinate refusal to yield to local needs, combined with climactic conditions, created a massive famine in 1932–1933 that left some 2.5 to 3.5 million people dead. Today, many historians believe the famine was manufactured as a deliberate policy to punish the people of Ukraine for their resistance to collectivization. Some view it as a counterpart to the Holocaust and have come to understand it as “the Hidden Holocaust” or the “Unknown Holocaust.” Even the neologism commonly used to describe the 1932–1933 famine, Holodomor—literally, murder by famine—is a semantic counterpart to Holocaust, complete with the same first four letters of the word. While those shtetl Jews who lived through the famine all recall the sufferings that the Jewish community endured, many admit that conditions were worse in the villages. Maria Yakuta recognized that the Jews were tormented with hunger, but her most vivid memory is of the Christians who died near the distillery.

Brukhe Feldman was born in 1938 or 1939 in Bershad. Her father died fighting in the war when she was three years old, and she was brought up by her mother. She spent much of her life working in a furniture factory.


Other Interviews:

Postwar Religious Practice
A Gravestone for My Mother
Hunger of 1946
Burial Customs
The Shiva
A Jew Must Eat Matzo

Kheskele – the Clarinetist

Bershad, Ukraine

Many of those born in the 1920s married and started their families right after the war. Few managed to have full weddings, mostly simply registering at the city hall instead, but the fortunate few were able to celebrate their wedding with a klezmer band. In this clip, Brukhe Feldman remembers attending weddings with klezmer bands in postwar Bershad.

Brukhe Feldman was born in 1938 or 1939 in Bershad. Her father died fighting in the war when she was three years old, and she was brought up by her mother. She spent much of her life working in a furniture factory.


Other Interviews:

Postwar Religious Practice
A Gravestone for My Mother
Hunger of 1946
Kheskele - the Clarinetist
The Shiva
A Jew Must Eat Matzo

Burial Customs

Bershad, Ukraine

After the war, surviving Jews continued to mourn the dead in the Jewish fashion. In this clip, Brukhe Feldman recalls the practice of burial, recalling how the body would be wrapped in a shroud and carried into the cemetery. She remembers, in particular, the practice of avnet, in which a sash is wrapped around the shroud and tied in the form of the Hebrew letter shin. Jewish burial customs were marked as distinctly different than Christian customs, as a result of which Brukhe recalls that the Christians would look on with curiosity. She mentions that they would comment on Jews “running” with the body, likely viewing the custom of carrying the body by hand as bizarre. The clip finishes with Feldman discussing the custom of burning the shoes that the deceased had worn.

Naum Gaiviker born in 1912 in Khmel’nytskyy (Proskurov). He worked as a barber for 36 years, just like his father. In 1930 he decided to move to Moscow, but had to return to Khmel’nytskyy during the Famine in 1933. He was drafted into the Red Army in 1941 and fought in multiple fronts, including Stalingrad, until the end of the war.


Other Interviews:

The Proskurov Pogrom

“I was a courageous lad”

Khmelnytskyy, Ukraine

Sofia Geller was born in 1929 in Bratlsav. Her father worked as a coachman before the war. During the war, she evacuated to Central Asia, where she worked in a collective farm. When she returned to Bratslav after the war, she worked in the city council. She is married to Dovid Geller. She and Dovid have two daughters who live in Moscow.


Other Interviews:

Hebrew - the Language of Prayer
With Horse and Wagon to Donbas
Bratslav Matchmaking
"we need to have a wedding!"

Krishmeleyenen

Bratslav, Ukraine

In this clip, Sofia Geller shares what she remembers of the ways a bris was celebrated in prewar Ukraine. In particular, she talks of the krishmeleyenen the custom of boys coming to the parents' house in the days leading up to the bris to recite this prayer as a means of keeping the baby safe. Over time, however, the term came to symbolize any number of customs associated with the bris.

Sofia Geller was born in 1929 in Bratlsav. Her father worked as a coachman before the war. During the war, she evacuated to Central Asia, where she worked in a collective farm. When she returned to Bratslav after the war, she worked in the city council. She is married to Dovid Geller. She and Dovid have two daughters who live in Moscow.


Other Interviews:

Krishmeleyenen
With Horse and Wagon to Donbas
Bratslav Matchmaking
"we need to have a wedding!"

Hebrew – the Language of Prayer

Bratslav, Ukraine

Women in the prewar period were not commonly taught the Hebrew language in which prayers were recited. Only a few Jewish women from the pre-revolutionary generation had acquired some reading knowledge of Hebrew. Some of the younger women whose mothers had acquired rudimentary Hebrew-language skills remembered with pride how their mothers were able to follow along in the Hebrew text. Many women prayed extemporaneously in Yiddish, uttering heartfelt supplications to God. But women with bookish knowledge learned to say their prayers according to the canonical version, in Hebrew, the Holy Tongue. In this clip, Sofia Geller tells us that her mother prayed in Hebrew, but as a young girl Sofia not only didn’t understand the Hebrew, but didn’t even know why her mother was using a strange language. Only now does she understand that her mother was praying in Hebrew.

David Geller was born in 1929 in Zhmerynka. During the war he evacuated to Central Asia, first to Tashkent and then to Shymkent. After the war, he returned to Zhmerynka, but soon moved to Kiev, where he worked in a factory. In 1950 he was drafted into the army, served for three years, and then settled in Bratslav, where his wife was from.


Other Interviews:

Evacuation of the Communists
Tashkent-Samarkand-Panjakent
Bratslav Matchmaking
"we need to have a wedding!"
Dovid's Gefilte Fish

“In short, I am a Jew”

Bratslav, Ukraine

The covenant of circumcision has long been regarded as a defining rite of male membership in the Jewish community. According to the biblical book of Genesis, God promised Abraham that he would make of his seed a great nation in return for which Abraham and every child in his “generations” would circumcise their male children as a token of the everlasting covenant. When in 1870 a Jewish physician from Hanover refused to circumcise his son, the event launched a wrenching debate within the German Jewish community over whether one could be accepted as a Jew without being circumcised Although circumcision in the USSR was never officially prohibited, Soviet Yiddish propaganda viciously attacked circumcision as a barbaric rite unbecoming of communist behavior. Nevertheless, the journalist David Meckler, who traveled to Soviet Russia and Ukraine in the mid-1930s, was surprised to find Party members still circumcising their children. Party members were able to excuse themselves from punishment by insisting that their wives had carried out the deed without their consent. It was only later in the decade that circumcising a son became grounds for expulsion. Non-Party members, however, were not subject to the same restrictions and often managed to continue to circumcise their sons until the war. Trained moyels (ritual circumcisers) still practiced in most small towns legally until 1937. Even after the 1937 crackdown and arrest of most of the professional moyels, Jewish physicians could still be counted on to perform the procedure quietly and without witnesses. Dovid Geller also proudly shared with us that he was properly inducted into the Jewish community. His father, however, paid the price of Party membership for this breach of discipline. The term for circumcision that most of those we spoke with employed—the German-component term yidishn rather than the Hebrew- component mole zayn (circumcise)—alludes to a familiarity and intimacy with the ceremony. Its usage as a verb—literally, to make Jewish— also indicates the crucial importance attached to the ceremony as a fulfillment of one’s identity. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Evacuation of the Communists

Bratslav, Ukraine

In the first days of the war, the Soviet government in Moscow established an Evacuation Council, initially headed by Lazar Kaganovich, the Commissar of Transportation who himself had been born and raised in a small shtetl near Kiev. The Council was responsible for coordinating the orderly relocation of critical industrial and consumer infrastructure from the warzone to the Russian interior, where it was imagined industrial output could be preserved with limited interruption. The Council privileged the evacuation of people and entities that were crucial for the military and industrial needs of the state, singling out engineers, workers in factories critical for industrial and military output, youth fit for military service, and state and party elites. Family members of those individuals fitting into these categories were later added to the list. No specific provisions were made for the evacuation of the rest of the civilian population, and at no point was the evacuation of the Jewish population prioritized, despite the mortal danger Jews who fell under German rule faced. The Council also adopted a scorched earth policy, ordering the destruction of all valuable resources that could not be evacuated, so that the enemy—not to mention the civilians caught under enemy rule—would be deprived of even the most basic necessities. The lack of official sanction and governmental assistance in preparing for evacuation, though, did not stop hundreds of thousands of Jews from fleeing in advance of the German army. Many Jews were able to evacuate as part of the official evacuation because they were represented among the state and party elite or other categories scheduled for evacuation. As he explains in this clip, Dovid Geller was fortunate that his father was among those privileged to be included in the official evacuation list. As a result, he was able to leave in an orderly fashion from his native Zhmerynka. Geller believed that the evacuation list included not only communists, but also all the town’s Jews. Despite this common perception that all Jews were scheduled for evacuation, there is no documentary evidence that any government official had a policy to evacuate all Jews.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

With Horse and Wagon to Donbas

Bratslav, Ukraine

In the first days of the war, the Soviet government in Moscow established an Evacuation Council, initially headed by Lazar Kaganovich, the Commissar of Transportation who himself had been born and raised in a small shtetl near Kiev. The Council was responsible for coordinating the orderly relocation of critical industrial and consumer infrastructure from the warzone to the Russian interior, where it was imagined industrial output could be preserved with limited interruption. The Council privileged the evacuation of people and entities that were crucial for the military and industrial needs of the state, singling out engineers, workers in factories critical for industrial and military output, youth fit for military service, and state and party elites. Family members of those individuals fitting into these categories were later added to the list. No specific provisions were made for the evacuation of the rest of the civilian population, and at no point was the evacuation of the Jewish population prioritized, despite the mortal danger Jews who fell under German rule faced. The Council also adopted a scorched earth policy, ordering the destruction of all valuable resources that could not be evacuated, so that the enemy—not to mention the civilians caught under enemy rule—would be deprived of even the most basic necessities. The lack of official sanction and governmental assistance in preparing for evacuation, though, did not stop hundreds of thousands of Jews from fleeing in advance of the German army. Many Jews were able to evacuate as part of the official evacuation because they were represented among the state and party elite or other categories scheduled for evacuation.

These chosen evacuees were often able to bring along family members and even friends on the special trains allocated for this purpose. As word of the atrocities being committed to the west spread, though, most Jews recognized the necessity of flight and took desperate measures to flee. Those who did not make the official list took what they could and headed east. Many Jews had to use their own initiative to evacuate without government assistance. In this clip, Sofia Geller, then Dikkerman, describes how her father, who was a coachman, was able to transport his family out of Bratslav in his wagon, eventually making it to Lugansk. Outside of immediate danger, those with specialized training were placed in factories to serve the military or industrial mission of the state. Those without industrial or military training were usually put to work on collective farms. As Sofia explains, her family initially in a kolkhoz in Lugansk. But when the Germans approached Lugansk, the family was forced to evacuate further, traveling in freight trains to Tashkent, and eventually to a town by the Iranian border, where they worked on a kolkhoz for the remainder of the war.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Tashkent-Samarkand-Panjakent

Bratslav, Ukraine

Those who managed to flee in advance of the Germans often found themselves in transit for many months, moving further east in advance of the front and in accordance with government orders. Dovid Geller, who had managed to evacuate from Bratslav explains in this clip how he was first evacuated to Tashkent and then sent further on to Samarkand, where he worked in a collective farm, before he was relocated once again, this time to Panjakent in Tajikistan. Geller’s father was drafted soon thereafter and his mother, who gave birth en route in Dzhambul (Kazakhstan), died in Samarkand, leaving the two older boys with their newborn brother to fend for themselves. Dovid learned how to become a lathe operator and eventually made it to Krasnovodsk (Turkmenistan), on the Caspian Sea. He worked first as a lathe operator, and then, thanks to the intervention of friends of his father, managed to secure work for himself in a cafeteria, where the labor was less physically demanding and where he knew he would have access to food. But the Gellers were among the fortunate few. About two-thirds of those Jews who lived in the territories that eventually came under German rule were unable to evacuate in time. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Making Matzo Dough with a Roller

Uman, Ukraine

In Soviet times, while public displays of Jewish observance were heavily discouraged by state authorities, many Jews held on to the traditions of Passover, such as clandestinely baking and eating matzo. More than most other Jewish practices, Passover customs persisted among Soviet Jews, in part because of the symbolic content of the holiday's message of national liberation, and because of the memory of participation in the Passover Seder as children. Memoirs from the period and reports from foreign visitors often noted the importance Soviet Jews ascribed to obtaining matzo for the holiday. Rabbis in the Soviet Union made numerous appeals to Jews abroad in the 1920s requesting that they send matzo to the USSR, and in 1929 the government responded to popular pressure by briefly permitting its importation. In times and places when imported matzo was unavailable, though, locals made the matzo themselves. In this clip, Chaim Rubin recalls how he and his family would make the matzah in preparation for the Passover holiday.

Arkadii Gelman was born in 1921 in Kamyanets-Podilskyy. His father, also born in Kamyanets-Podilskyy, was a locksmith and his mother, who was born in Kitaygorod, was a homemaker. He had three siblings: two brothers and one sister. Before the war, he went to a Yiddish school and worked together with his father as a locksmith. He served in the Red Army during the Second World War, and fought in the Battle of Berlin. After the war, he worked as a cattle dealer.


Other Interviews:

Sabbath and Poverty
Challah

Craftsmen and Merchants

Kamyanets-Podilskyy, Ukraine

Jews in the prewar Soviet Union often worked in traditional handicrafts, as they had for generations. According to the 1926 census, Jews constituted 74 percent of all artisans in Tulchyn and 69 percent of all artisans in Vinnytsya district. Many Jews dabbled in multiple jobs, buying, selling, and making whatever they could manage. About one-third of all Jews worked in the occupations that the Soviet government targeted for elimination—trade and traditional handicrafts

Indeed, practicing traditional crafts was not a generally efficient way to earn a living; a craftsman had to be able to sell his or her wares as well. In this clip, Arkadii Gelman, who made his living as a cattle dealer in Kamyanets- Podilskyy, explains how artisans would buy and sell their wares to eke out a living. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

“I love Yiddish”

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Yiddish-language education was an integral component of the Soviet shtetl in the 1920s and 1930s, and remains today a source of pride to those who benefited from it. The Soviet Union was the only country in the world with a state-sponsored system of Yiddish-language schools. In 1930, almost 95,000 children were studying in more than eight hundred Yiddish-language schools in Ukraine alone. Many of these were concentrated in the districts of Vinnytsya Province. In the twenty-one shtetls that comprised Tulchyn district, for instance, there were fourteen four-year Yiddish schools and eight seven-year schools in 1926. The movement to school Soviet citizens in their mother tongues was part of the policy of korenizatsiia, or nativization, which encouraged national minorities to use their own languages for local governance, cultural development, and education.6 Soviet ideologues rejected the Herderian notion that language is the primary receptacle of a nation’s cultural heritage, and instead believed that language was simply an empty vessel into which any ideology could be inserted. The Commissariat of Enlightenment had decreed that schools for national minorities be opened wherever there were a sufficient number of pupils to warrant the organization of such a school, and that these schools be afforded the same rights as schools of the majority language. The Commissariat of Nationality Affairs and the Commissariat of Enlightenment called for the formation of educational institutions in the languages of the national minorities as the most effective means of reaching these students. In addition to schools, the policy encouraged the formation of theaters, party cells, films, cultural clubs, and courts, all of which functioned in minority languages. Ukrainians were encouraged to attend Ukrainian-language schools; Germans were encouraged to attend German-language schools; and Jews were encouraged to attend Yiddish- language schools. The latter, though, were not to be confused with Jewish schools, as they deliberately avoided teaching children anything about the Jewish religion, preferring instead to promote a completely secular de-Judaicized vision of Jewish life. The Hebrew language, which had for centuries served as the predominant written language of Jewish erudition, was rejected as the language of the hated bourgeoisie and Zionist agitators. The bedrock of a traditional Jewish education—Bible, Talmud, and rabbinical knowledge—was excised from the school curriculum and instead a new secular curriculum was constructed ex nihilo. Many Jewish cultural traditions were thereby made inaccessible to graduates of Yiddish-language schools. Despite the assimilating drive of these schools, their students emerged highly conscious of themselves as Jews. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Valik, Zhuzhia and Ivanov

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Although they were designed with the goal of better integrating Jews into the Soviet system, Yiddish-language schools often had the opposite effect. By removing one of the most important venues of interethnic and intercultural exchange the modern state offered—integrated public schools—Yiddish-language schooling heightened the ethnic divisions between Jews and Ukrainians. Those who attended Yiddish schools were surrounded almost exclusively by other Jews and had their Jewish identity reinforced despite the curricular efforts to erase parochial ethnic identities. Many Jewish children socialized only with other Jews. But there were many who managed to traverse these ethnic boundaries. Sometimes, if they happened to live in Yiddish-speaking neighborhoods, non-Jews also enrolled in Yiddish-language schools. In this clip, Yosl Kogan remembers that there were several non-Jewish children who attended his Yiddish school in Bershad. But non-Jews in the Yiddish schools were an anomaly, and probably come up so often in our interviews precisely because they stood out so much. Jewish children in Ukrainian schools, though, were much more common than the other way around. The majority of Jewish schoolchildren in Ukraine were always enrolled in Ukrainian- or Russian-language schools; Yiddish-language schools never managed to attract even half of the Jewish schoolchildren. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

“And every day we waited to die”

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Bershad fell to the Germans on July 29, 1941. It had been just over a month since the start of the war, and the German Wehrmacht was moving through Ukraine at a rapid pace. Many residents simply did not realize how quickly the Germans would be in their town, and could not imagine the sufferings they would endure under German rule. In this clip, Yosl Kogan explains that his family was not able to get out in time and found themselves living under German occupation.

Yosl Kogan was born in 1927 in Bershad. His father, a soap-maker, died during the 1933 famine. He was brought up by his mother, a candy-maker. He spent much of the war in the Bershad ghetto, where he wrote songs about his experiences. He served in the Red Army and participated in the liberation of Berlin. After his military service, he worked at a liquor factory in Bershad, draining molasses. He moved to Tulchyn in 1960 and worked in a procurement office.


Other Interviews:

"I love Yiddish"
Valik, Zhuzhia and Ivanov
"And every day we waited to die"
Inside the Ghetto
Aheym, briderlekh, aheym (Homeward, brother, homeward)
From the Chimney to Berlin

Tsezeyt un tseshpreyt (Scattered and dispersed)

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Another one of Yosl Kogan’s songs from the Bershad ghetto, “What Have You Given Us, Hitler,” describes in verse the horrors he witnessed, as he watched refugees from Romania forge across the river with their belongings on their backs. In “What Have You Given Us, Hitler?” Kogan accuses Hitler of placing thieves on the throne. The poem again borrows phrases, rhymes, and motifs from other sources: the phrase “scattered and dispersed,” for instance, is often used as a general reference to the state of Diaspora Jews, but was employed specifically in songs of Transnistrian ghettos to refer to the Jewish deportees from Bessarabia. The Yiddish writer Szmerke Kaczerginski, for instance, published a song that parallels the variant sung by Kogan, which Kaczerginski obtained from a source who was in the Sharhorod ghetto. Kogan ends his song with a verse of hope, drawing from the same themes he employed in “Aheym.” Once again, the Jews will wait for a time when all the Jews in the world will be free, they will fly a flag emblazoned with the star of David, and will have respect for the Jewish Spirit. In Kogan’s variant the song drifts into recitative mode, as he parenthetically comments on the suffering he witnessed.

Vos hostu Gitler- merder-mir azoy gegibn
Akhuts a numerl af geln karton,
A hoykhn zabor arum dem shtetl?
Un di gazlonim hostu geshtelt afn tron.

Tsezeyt un tseshpreyt,
Vu ir zeyt, vu ir geyt.
Yidelekh fun yener zayt brik
Mit di pekelekh in di hent,
Kleyne kinder af di hent.
Me traybt undz, me shlogt undz,
Nit farvos.

Itstert vil ikh, az ir zolt zen dos.
Dos harts heybt on tsu flakern,
Zen tsukukndik af di kinder,
Vi-zoy zey mutshen zikh.
Tsukukndik af zey
Rayst zikh op dos harts.
Tsukukndik af di kinder un af di mentshn.
Yidelekh fun yener zayt brik,
Farshvoln, hungerik in kelt
Aroysgetribn hot men undz fun yener zayt,
Fun undzer shtub.
Brider, shvester, fraynt.
Zey hobn dertseylt di yidn, azoy.
A sakh undzere brider un fraynt
Zenen geblibn af di felder, af di felder.
S’iz take emes, take azoy.
Un me shlogt undz un me traybt undz un me pakt.
Me zogt azoy: mir hofn, mit gots hilf
Az s’vet kumen di mazldike sho
Ven ale yidn fun der gorer velt veln besholem zayn.
Mit gots hilf zayn bafrayt,
Un demlt ver s’vet blaybn lebn
Veln mir ale undzere zingen a naye lid.
Af der fon—dem mogn-Dovid.
Ale yidn fun der gorer velt veln hobn koved.
Mid dem nomen pintele yid.
What have you given me, Hitler—murderer,
Aside from a number on a yellow badge,
A high fence around the shtetl?
And you put the thieves on the throne.
Scattered and dispersed,
Wherever you look, wherever you go,
Jews from the other side of the bridge
With packs in their arms
And little children in their arms
They goad us, they beat us
For nothing!
Now I want you to see this:
The heart begins to flutter
Looking at the children
How they torture them,
Looking at them,
It tears your heart,
Looking at the children and at the men.
Jews from the other side of the bridge,
Swollen, hungry, and cold,
They forced us from the other side, from our home.
Brothers, sisters, friends.
That’s how the Jews explained it.
Many of our brothers and friends
Were left in the fields, in the fields.
It’s completely true, just like that.
And they beat us, and goad us, and grab us
They say “we hope, with God’s help, a better hour will come,
When all the Jews in the entire world will be at peace.
With God’s help, they will be free.
And then, those who remain alive,
Will sing a new song, all of us together.”
On the flag—the star of David!
All the Jews from the entire world will have respect
For the name, “the Jewish Spirit.”
Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

The Butcher’s Synagogue

Khmelnytskyy, Ukraine

In the immediate postwar period, many of the surviving Jews shared a sense that Jewish communal and religious life should be rebuilt. Following upon a liberalization of official attitudes toward religion, the reconstruction of synagogues seemed like a genuine possibility. In order to rouse the population during the war, the state had made concessions to most religious organizations, recognizing the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan and permitting Muslim pilgrimages to Mecca, for instance. Religious belief provided comfort to those facing loss during the war and gave incentives to fighters to continue the battle. Jews in the shtetls assumed that just as their Christian neighbors were being permitted to return to a semblance of religious life, so would they. In addition to providing spiritual sustenance, synagogues, like churches and mosques, also supplied some of the essential material needs of veterans and returning evacuees. With the state overwhelmed and unable to provide basic necessities for its citizens, faith-based organizations could help fill in the gap, providing welfare and commemorative functions. In this clip, Aba Kaviner explains the difficulties and sacrifices entailed in rebuilding community synagogues. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Army Training

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Most able-bodied men were drafted in the first days of the war. Lev Kolodenker was sixteen at the time, too young to be sent to the front but not too young to be sent for training. He was drafted from Tulchyn in the first days of the war and was sent to an artillery school, where he learned to be a soldier. Eventually he was put in charge of seven soldiers, with whom he helped liberate “all of Western Ukraine” as well as Poland. “I took Berlin. The Reichstag was right next to me,” he proudly declared. The military, which largely privileged skill over social status, provided unprecedented opportunities for the advancement of poor Jews from the shtetl. Those who had served in the military before the war were drafted immediately without additional training and were sent to the front, if not as fighters, then at least as auxiliary staff. The role they played in defending the Soviet Union and defeating Nazism in Europe remains a source of great pride. In this clip, Lev Kolodenker briefly describes his experience fighting in the Red Army, and relates that his father perished defending Rostov on the Don. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Transmitting Secrets to America

Khmelnytskyy, Ukraine

In the early 1950s, as official policies of antisemitism intensified, new attempts were made to close down synagogues and arrest religious activists in even the most out-of-the-way small towns. Sometimes the official reasons for the closing of synagogues and arrests were patently absurd. In the city of Khmelnytskyy, Aba Kaviner remembered: “In ’51 the entire Jewish community—the caretaker of the synagogue and all of its members—were arrested as German and American spies. To inflame the antisemitism even more, they added that in the synagogue where the holy ark was, a radio transmitter was set up, from where they would broadcast military secrets from the synagogue to America and to England.” Kaviner laughed at the idea that these Jews, some of whom could barely communicate in Russian, let alone English, would have been privy to Russian military secrets and capable of transmitting them abroad. The false accusation that synagogues were fronts for spies and treasonous activity, though, was serious, and became a common trope of Soviet antisemitism.

Pesia Kolodenker was born in Tulchyn in 1927. She is the sister of Lev and Aleksandr Kolodenker, as well as the husband of Nisen Kiselman. Her mother was a candy wrapper, before becoming a homemaker. She survived the war in the Tulchyn ghetto and Pechera concentration camp.


Other Interviews:

A Wealthy Family
A Piece of Bread
Transport of Corpses
Bris

At the Yiddish School

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Yiddish-language education was an integral component of the Soviet shtetl in the 1920s and 1930s, and remains today a source of pride to those who benefited from it. The Soviet Union was the only country in the world with a state-sponsored system of Yiddish-language schools. In 1930, almost 95,000 children were studying in more than eight hundred Yiddish-language schools in Ukraine alone. Many of these were concentrated in the districts of Vinnytsya Province. In the twenty-one shtetls that comprised Tulchyn district, for instance, there were fourteen four-year Yiddish schools and eight seven-year schools in 1926. The movement to school Soviet citizens in their mother tongues was part of the policy of korenizatsiia, or nativization, which encouraged national minorities to use their own languages for local governance, cultural development, and education.6 Soviet ideologues rejected the Herderian notion that language is the primary receptacle of a nation’s cultural heritage, and instead believed that language was simply an empty vessel into which any ideology could be inserted. The Commissariat of Enlightenment had decreed that schools for national minorities be opened wherever there were a sufficient number of pupils to warrant the organization of such a school, and that these schools be afforded the same rights as schools of the majority language. The Commissariat of Nationality Affairs and the Commissariat of Enlightenment called for the formation of educational institutions in the languages of the national minorities as the most effective means of reaching these students. In addition to schools, the policy encouraged the formation of theaters, party cells, films, cultural clubs, and courts, all of which functioned in minority languages. Ukrainians were encouraged to attend Ukrainian-language schools; Germans were encouraged to attend German-language schools; and Jews were encouraged to attend Yiddish- language schools. The latter, though, were not to be confused with Jewish schools, as they deliberately avoided teaching children anything about the Jewish religion, preferring instead to promote a completely secular de-Judaicized vision of Jewish life. The Hebrew language, which had for centuries served as the predominant written language of Jewish erudition, was rejected as the language of the hated bourgeoisie and Zionist agitators. The bedrock of a traditional Jewish education—Bible, Talmud, and rabbinical knowledge—was excised from the school curriculum and instead a new secular curriculum was constructed ex nihilo. Many Jewish cultural traditions were thereby made inaccessible to graduates of Yiddish-language schools. As a result, many Jewish parents preferred to send their children to Russian-language schools. Schools made up for their academic shortcomings with material rewards. Students who showed up for classes were provided with food and hot soup. In this clip, Pesia Kolodenker of Tulchyn remembers how the school provided basic necessities for the poverty-stricken children. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Postwar Charity

Bershad, Ukraine

For the survivors of the war, the first few years after liberation were very difficult, but charity was an important means of sustaining the community and providing for the sustenance of its members. In this clip, Evgeniia Kozak recalls that when her family returned to Bershad from evacuation poor and hungry, they were offered charity from the synagogue. The rest of the community was poor as well, though, and she recalls that her family refused the help.

Nesye Katz was born in 1916 in Brailiv and orphaned at a young age when her parents died of typhus. Her father had worked at the mill. She was raised by her uncle, a tinsmith. She served in the Red Army as a nurse during the war and then worked in a factory for thirty-six years. She has a daughter in town and a son who lives in Europe.

“the first bomb fell”

Vinnytsya, Ukraine

Those who were unable to evacuate before the Germans arrived remember the bombing that usually preceded the entry of German troops into town. In this clip, Nesye Katz, who was living in Vinnytsya at the time, remembers the first bombs falling on the city. She would later serve in the Red Army as a nurse.

Sofia Palatnikova is the sister of Tatiana Marinina. She was born in 1927 in Teplyk. Her father was a butcher. In the 1930s, she moved to the Lunacharskii collective farm in Crimea. She went to a Ukrainian school for six years, but her schooling was interrupted by the war. She survived the war in Teplyk and Bershad, and in camps in Bratlsav, Haysyn, and Raygorod. After the war, she worked in an industrial complex for twenty-two years.


Other Interviews:

Taking Out the Flour
Sonye's Gefilte Fish

“as soon as they attacked, they were already here”

Teplyk, Ukraine

In this clip, Sofia Palatnikova tells of her family's attempts to flee Teplyk before the town fell to the Germans on July 26, 1941. The family, however, waited too long--"as soon as they attacked, they were already here," explains Palatnikova. The Germans caught up with them and forced them to return.

Toward the end of 1941, the Germans established ghettos in most towns, restricting Jewish residence to one or two streets. There they were put to work, first performing mundane household chores for the Germans and then, when winter fell, performing manual labor clearing the roads of snow. Palatnikova recalls that Christians were put to work as well, but that the Jews were singled out for brutal treatment.



Sometimes the ghetto streets were surrounded by barbed wire, but more commonly--as in Teplyk--they were open ghettos with no physical boundaries demarcating them from the rest of the town. The Jews were required to wear an armband with a Star of David and were prohibited from leaving the ghetto area except for forced labor.


Other Interviews:

Boots
Sobolivka Ancedote
Seeking Help From the Valedniker Rebbe
Openhanded
Avoiding Conscription
Childhood Memories
Studying Khimesh Dilemma
Hauling Stones
The Ribnitser Rebbe
The Shtefaneshter Rebbe
"they didn't want to let me go"
With the Last Train
When Peretz Markish Came to Polonne
The Jewish House
Sleeping At Grandpa's
A Few Pengos
Vynohradiv Ghetto
"Hitler ate up our youth"
Birobidzhan in 1941
the shoykhet across from us
Playing Fiddle with my Grandfather
"a memorial plaque"
Private Teacher
a Childhood Ditty
"Look, over there is a Jew"
a Poor Family
the Great Famine Exodus
a New Life
Throwing Stones on Kol Nidre
Around Kolomyya
People Stood Outside
Return to Kolomyya
Holidays
Fixing Shoes
March to Pechera
At the Yiddish School
The Goat
Yefingar Colony
Gefilte Fish
Celebrating Holidays
Toward Israel
Matzo Baking with Neighbors
Matzo Baking in the Shtetl
Passover Soup
Stuffed Neck with Chicken Fat
"a very religious family"
A Wealthy Family
Survival
"forward"
"go there"
Postwar Religious Practice
A Gravestone for My Mother
"make it a synagogue"
A Piece of Bread
Minkatch: a Jewish Town
The Hard Years
Tailored Suits
From Hungarian to Russian Forced Labor
Carving Tombstones
Communal Matzo Baking
Extinguishing Coals
Left Behind
A True "Khosid"
"Let her pray"
Selection at Auschwitz
A Child Lost To The Evil Eye
A Neolog Family
After The War
Yiddish and Hungarian
Bubbie Zisl
Coming Home
Vorkutlag
Childhood On A Farm
Mauthausen
"all of Tulchyn into one courtyard"
"they threw us out of our homes"
From Tulchyn to Pechera
They Took Her - Alive
Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews
Show Trial in the Camp
Inside the Camp
Transport of Corpses
A Small Ladder to Heaven
Rebbe, Reb Shneyer
On the Way Home
Saving the Synagogue in Khust
Arrival in Prague
Liberation
Leaving For Home
Thank God We Had a Piece of Bread
Sobolivka
"...and we lived well"
"stuffing ourselves"
A Little House with a Dirt Floor
A Pair of Shoes
A Blanket to Fight Hunger
A Family Played the Fiddle
Avrum-Yosl the Glazier
Home: One Small Room
Running Away from the Melamed
The Great Synagogue
Cantor Gaz
Wooden Synagogue
Food on Sabbath
Sabbath Was Sabbath
"as though God had baked it"
Seder on a Kolkhoz
Hunger of 1946
"Der Shtern"
Peeking into the Men's Section
The Binding of Isaac
The Matzo Bag
"and a goat on a chain"
Eating Sour Mash - the Great Hunger
Kheskele - the Clarinetist
Burial Customs
"I was a courageous lad"
Krishmeleyenen
Hebrew - the Language of Prayer
"In short, I am a Jew"
Evacuation of the Communists
With Horse and Wagon to Donbas
Tashkent-Samarkand-Panjakent
Making Matzo Dough with a Roller
Craftsmen and Merchants
"I love Yiddish"
Valik, Zhuzhia and Ivanov
"And every day we waited to die"
Tsezeyt un tseshpreyt (Scattered and dispersed)
The Butcher's Synagogue
Army Training
Transmitting Secrets to America
At the Yiddish School
Postwar Charity
"the first bomb fell"
"as soon as they attacked, they were already here"
Tomashpil Massacre of August 4, 1941
Inside the Ghetto
Good Christians
The Jewish Soul
Bergider and Golda Meir
The Article
Antisemitism
Inside the Ghetto
The Orchard and the Mass Grave
The Southern Bug River
"Christ has risen"
Inside the Camp
"when I encountered the Germans"
Career in the Red Army
"Misha Katsop"
My Grandfather and the Priest
My Grandfather's Observance
"they wanted us to stay alive."
Speaking Yiddish
The Mass Grave in Sobolivka
"don't run into the forest"
Bratslav Matchmaking
"we need to have a wedding!"
“our children’s children’s children’s children must know”
A Great Hunger Myth
Jewish Professions
A Coachman's Song
Vanity of Vanities
I'm leaving you my dear in-laws
Getting Ready For Sabbath
How to Get Food
Liberation
Our House
What It Means to Be a Jew
Oy vey tsu mayne yorn (Woe to my years)
The Zogerin (the Synagogue Prompter)
Ekhod mi yoydeo (Who knows one)
Nuts
The Head of the Fish
Bones of Berdychiv
Dishes in the Attic
Aheym, briderlekh, aheym (Homeward, brother, homeward)
Physics in Yiddish
Oy mayn libe Basarabye (My Beloved Bessarabia)
Cholent
Bris
Sabbath and Poverty
Remedy for the Evil Eye
The Shiva
The Esebet (Reclining Bed)
Zits ikh mir in kretshme (I'm sitting in the Tavern)
The Fur Coat
Varenikes
Taking Out the Flour
Kosher Chicken
Oreme pleytim (Poor Refugees)
Money from America
May 27, 1942: Zhornyshche
The Tulchyn Pogrom
The Proskurov Pogrom
The Torgsin Store
From the Chimney to Berlin
From Tulchyn to Pechera
Let It Be Enough!
The Synagogue Cellar
The Reinsdorfs
The Prayer House
Evgeniia's Gefilte Fish
Arkadii's Gefilte Fish
Mama's Mamaliga
The Sabbath Candles
A Jew Must Eat Matzo
I Defended Stalingrad
Challah
Dovid's Gefilte Fish
Zionist Purim
Zhenya's Gefilte Fish
The Holiday Cycle
Revolutionary Celebrations and Jewish Holy Days
Khad Gadyo (One Little Goat)
Sonye's Gefilte Fish
Rolling an Egg
Homentashn
Writing in Soviet Yiddish
Remedy for the Whooping Cough
Maryam
Eating Tsimmes and Raising Geese
Women's Prayer Quorum
Sanctification of the Moon

“an armband with a Star of David”

Teplyk, Ukraine

Toward the end of 1941, the Germans established ghettos in most towns, restricting Jewish residence to one or two streets. Sometimes these streets were surrounded by barbed wire, but more commonly—as in Teplyk—they were open ghettos with no physical boundaries demarcating them from the rest of the town. The Jews were required to wear an armband with a Star of David and were prohibited from leaving the ghetto area except for forced labor.

Nisen Kiselman was born in Tomashpil in 1927. He is a cousin of Pesia, Sasha and Lev Kolodenker, as well as the husband of Pesia Kolodenker. His father was a coachman and his mother was a homemaker. His father died during the famine in 1933, leaving his mother to care for Nisen, his sister, and his four brothers. During the Second World War, he was confined to the Tomashpil ghetto, where his mother and sister were both killed by the Germans in a massacre. After the war, he joined the Red Army and served for seven years.


Other Interviews:

Inside the Ghetto

Tomashpil Massacre of August 4, 1941

Tulchyn, Ukraine

The Germans captured Tomashpil in late July 1941. A few days later, a group of Ukrainians were taken to the outskirts of town, by the Polish cemetery, to dig several large pits. Romanian gendarmes and German soldiers gathered about 150 Jews and led them to the cemetery, where, on August 4, 1941, they were executed. Accounts differ on whether it was only Germans who did the killing, or Germans together with Romanian gendarmes. Nisen Kiselman's mother and sister were among those taken. He explained later that he was able to escape because the Germans mistook him for a Christian. When the Germans left town eight days later, leaving the city under Romanian control, Kiselman went through to the grave in search of his mother and sister. He was able to recognize his mother's corpse from her clothing, but could not find his sister among the corpses.

Nisen Kiselman was born in Tomashpil in 1927. He is a cousin of Pesia, Sasha and Lev Kolodenker, as well as the husband of Pesia Kolodenker. His father was a coachman and his mother was a homemaker. His father died during the famine in 1933, leaving his mother to care for Nisen, his sister, and his four brothers. During the Second World War, he was confined to the Tomashpil ghetto, where his mother and sister were both killed by the Germans in a massacre. After the war, he joined the Red Army and served for seven years.


Other Interviews:

Tomashpil Massacre of August 4, 1941

Inside the Ghetto

Tulchyn, Ukraine

The Germans captured Tomashpil in late July 1941, and remained in the town for eight days before Romanian gendarmes moved in to take over control. Once Romanian authorities took control of the territory they established ghettos in each town, to which Jewish residence was restricted. In Romanian terminology, the space of Jewish residence was called a “colony,” whether it was located within a distinct quarter of a city, as in a ghetto, or outside the city, as in a camp. Romanian authorities established about two hundred of these concentration points, most of them with only a few dozen residents, throughout Transnistria. Of the fifty-three ghettos in Mohyliv district, for instance, twenty-six had fewer than one hundred and fifty people in them, and only two imprisoned more than one thousand people. In Tomashpil, Romanian gendarmes established a ghetto by stringing barbed wire around two streets and ordering the Jews to stay within the confines of the wire. The semi-porous barriers of barbed wire that surrounded the Tomashpil ghetto, allowed for continued interaction between the Jewish and the non-Jewish world throughout the war. Although Jews were prohibited from leaving the ghetto except for work, those inside could receive assistance from non-Jews outside the ghetto, or could trade what little they had for food.

Dora Guzman attended both a Ukrainian and a Yiddish-language school. During the famine of 1932–1933, she moved to Pishchanka to live with her aunt and uncle. Her father, born in Tomashpil, worked as a postman. Her mother was born in the Odessa region. She had one younger brother. She survived the war in the Tomashpil ghetto. After the war, she worked as an accountant and as an inspector.

Good Christians

Tomashpil, Ukraine

In Tomashpil, Romanian gendarmes stablished a ghetto by stringing barbed wire around two streets and ordering the Jews to stay within the confines of the wire. Those, like Dora Guzman, who already lived within the cordoned-off area were able to stay in their own homes, and thus had access to some familiar comforts. The semi-porous barriers of barbed wire that surrounded the Tomashpil ghetto allowed for continued interaction between the Jewish and non-Jewish world. Although Jews were prohibited from leaving the ghetto except for work, those inside could receive assistance from non-Jews outside the ghetto, or trade what little they had food. In this clip, Dora Guzman remembers the good Christians who helped during the war.

Ernest Halpert was born in 1923 in Mukacheve, which was then under Czechoslovak rule. His father was a shopkeeper and Halpert grew up with two sisters. Halpert attended a private religious school until his bar mitzvah and then worked at a factory until the outbreak of World War II. When Mukacheve was occupied by the Germans in 1944, he was deported to Austria, where he was imprisoned in several camps as forced laborer. In March 1945, Halpert was drafted into the Red Army. During the postwar Soviet era, Halpert worked as engineer at a factory and raised two children.  


Other Interviews:

Minkatch: a Jewish Town
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The Jewish Soul

Uzhhorod, Ukraine

The clip, also concerning postwar Soviet religious life, shows Halpert's deep-seated longing and desire to express Yiddishkayt or Jewishness throughout the Soviet period. After 1991, it was possible to establish religious institutions in independent Ukraine and therefore provided Halpert with an official environment to express his identity.

Nusn Naybauer was born in Velké Kapušany in 1924 and grew up in Mala Dobron. His father worked in an equestrian military facility. Naybauer attended religious school until his bar mitzvah and moved to Uzhhorod in 1935. During World War II, he was imprisoned in the Hungarian forced labor camp Munka Tabor, before being deported to Auschwitz, Gleiwitz and Mittelbau-Dora camps. After the war, he returned home via Prague and Budapest.


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Tailored Suits
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Bergider and Golda Meir

Uzhhorod, Ukraine

Nusn Leyb Naybauer gives a glimpse of postwar religious activism under Soviet rule and its consequences; resulting in state persecution.

Nusn Naybauer was born in Velké Kapušany in 1924 and grew up in Mala Dobron. His father worked in an equestrian military facility. Naybauer attended religious school until his bar mitzvah and moved to Uzhhorod in 1935. During World War II, he was imprisoned in the Hungarian forced labor camp Munka Tabor, before being deported to Auschwitz, Gleiwitz and Mittelbau-Dora camps. After the war, he returned home via Prague and Budapest.


Other Interviews:

Tailored Suits
Bergider and Golda Meir

The Article

Uzhhorod, Ukraine

Not only did Nusn Leyb Naybauer observe religious activism in his community during the postwar Soviet era, but he was also personally affected by state persecution. All it took was circumcising his soon and the KGB was on to them, he tells us in this episode.

Aba Kaviner was born in 1921 in Derazhnya, where he was able to receive a Jewish education, first in a heder and then in a clandestine yeshiva. His father worked as a cooper and his mother was a homemaker. In 1939 he was drafted into a military school in Leningrad. He remained in the army until 1946, serving in the Baltics and in Moscow. After the war he returned to Derazhnya, but soon thereafter moved to Khmelnytskyy, where he eventually found work as the director of a carpentry workshop.


Other Interviews:

The Butcher's Synagogue
Transmitting Secrets to America
Physics in Yiddish

Antisemitism

Khmelnytskyy, Ukraine

The immediate postwar period in Ukraine, and the Soviet Union as a whole, saw a resurgence of antisemitism. The influence of years of Nazi propaganda in the occupied territories was palpable, and was seen in the unleashing of latent anti-Jewish sentiments that had been repressed in the interwar Soviet Union, and the invention of new forms of racial hatred that had been largely foreign to the region. Even those who neglected to buy into Nazi antisemitism still resented the Jews, believing that they were at least partially responsible for bringing the wrath of the Germans upon the territory. Anti-Jewish sentiments were further exacerbated by the common misperception that the Jews had been protected from the worst atrocities, a notion that many spread maliciously. Many were simply ignorant--or in denial--of the existence of camps, ghettos, and mass killing sites. Christian townspeople had endured immense suffering during the war, and simply knew that the Jews had not been around. The Jews, they contended, had abandoned the town during the occupation when the going got tough. Many refused to believe the reports of mass killing sites, finding more credible the rumors that the Jews had fled the front for Tashkent, where they had lived in the relative safety of evacuation, leaving the Christian townspeople to the mercy of the Germans. As they saw Jewish evacuees begin to return to town after the war, they believed their suspicions were confirmed. Many chose not to ponder where the rest of the Jews had gone. Anti-Jewish hostility was further exacerbated when the returning Jews sought to reclaim their property and real estate. Those residents who had looted "abandoned" Jewish property during the war came to resent the returning former owners. Even those who had innocently benefited materially from the Jewish absence, believing in fairness that the property was freely available for the taking, came to begrudge the new claimants, seeing the Jews' return as a reproach to their own wartime conduct. Many responded to the climate of unspoken antisemitism that surrounded them by becoming embarrassed and even ashamed of being seen as Jews. Others saw it as just part of being Jewish. Aba Kaviner waxed philosophically about the persistence of antisemitism: "Antisemitism there was, there is, and there will be. As long as there is a Jew, there will be antisemitism [antisemitizm iz geven, un s'iz do, un se vet zayn. Biz vanet se vet zayn a yid, vet zayn antisemitizm]." Kaviner, who had received a deep Jewish education, was likely paraphrasing the Adon Olam prayer's invocation of God: "He was and He is and He will be." The replacement of God with antisemitism can be seen as an sardonic aspersion on Jewish life in postwar Ukraine.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Inside the Ghetto

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Yosl Kogan sung us several songs he had written about the Bershad ghetto. One of these is a sardonic satire of the well-known Soviet song, “Zhankoye,” an upbeat propaganda piece about Jews building farms and new lives for themselves in the collective farms of Crimea. The original song begins with the famous lines: “As you travel to Sevastopol / Not too far from Simferopol /There’s a railroad station” and continues to celebrate how former shtetl Jews with typical shtetl names—Abrasha, Leye, Beyle—are now working on collective farms as productive Soviet workers, as reapers, threshers, and tractor drivers. Kogan took the basic melody of "Zhankoye,” but sung it at a slower, more somber pace, and altered the lyrics to deride the optimistic life promised by the original song. Rather than the open fields of the Crimean countryside, Kogan situated his song in the overcrowded Bershad ghetto, which he calls a camp.

Az me fort keyn Balonvike
Iz nit vayt fun Obodivke—Bershad
Dortn iz a lagerl faran.
Yid lign op meslesn
Nit getrunken, nit gegesn
Gitler, merder, zogt azoy darf es zayn.

Oy-vey, tsores, tsores
Toygn yidn af kapores
Hoft men afn mazldikn tog.

In a vinkl khropet Dvoyre
Reb Gedalye halt di toyre
Un bet got er zol shoyn tun dem nes.

Oy-vey, tsores, tsores
Toygn yidn af kapores
Hoft men afn mazldikn tog.

Avrom-Iche fort af dem vogn
Es iz a kharpe im tsu zogn
Er makht shoyn skhakl shoyn dem zektsn tur.
Di obshchine hot im geheysn
Im farnemen ale meysim
Groyen im far veytik azh di hor.

Oy-vey, tsores, tsores
Toygn yidn af kapores
Hoft men afn mazldikn tog.

Inem shtetl, Bershad, der besoylem
Prinimayet yenem oylem
Griber shtaygn poshet nit farshit.
Es lign yidn un zey foyln
Azh dos harts heybt on tsu groyen
Akh farvos darf opkumen der yid.

Oy-vey, tsores, tsores
Toygn yidn af kapores
Hoft men afn mazldikn tog.
As you travel to Balonivke
Not too far from Obadivke, Bershad
There you will find a little camp.
Jews lie dying,
Not eating, not drinking.
Hitler—murderer—says it must be so.

Oy, vey, sorrow, sorrow
Jews are left for rubble
Hoping for a more fortunate day.

In a corner Dvoyre snores,
Reb Gedalya holds the Torah,
And pleads to God for a miracle.

Oy, vey, sorrow, sorrow
Jews are left for rubble
Hoping for a more fortunate day.

Avrom-Itshe leads the wagon
It is a disgrace to speak to him,
He is already doing his sixth round.
The community appointed him
To take all the bodies.
His hair is gray from grief.

Oy vey, sorrow, sorrow
Jews are left for rubble
Hoping for a more fortunate day.

In a shtetl—Bershad—the cemetery
Is receiving the entire community.
Graves pile up not yet covered.
Jews are lying and they rot.
The heart shudders.
Why does the Jews have to suffer.

Oy vey, sorrow, sorrow
Jews are left for rubble
Hoping for a more fortunate day.



Instead of the railroad station found at the end of the road in the original song, Kogan finds a concentration camp. Instead of Abrasha, whose tractor races through the field, Kogan inserts Avrom-Itshe, who hauls a wagon full of corpses. Leye the reaper is replaced with Dvoyre who snores, and Beyle the thresher becomes Reb Gedalya, who holds the Torah. Each of the characters in Kogan’s song is based on a real individual he knew from the ghetto: Avrom-Itshe Lekhetser, he told us, “was given a wagon with a horse. He would collect the corpses six times a day—no less. They were falling like flies.” Gedalya, he continued, “was one of our shoykhets,” and Dvoyre was his wife. When the Germans came through the town on their retreat in 1944, Kogan explained, they executed Gedalya on charges that he had been assisting the partisans in the forests outside the town. Kogan honored the murdered Gedalya as the one who “holds the Torah and pleads to God for a miracle.” Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

The Orchard and the Mass Grave

Bratslav, Ukraine

Mikhail (Moyshe) Kupershmidt was twenty-seven years old when the war started in 1941. He was born in Bratslav in 1914; his father was a coachman and his father’s father had been a horse trader. Kupershmidt had trained as a driver. As far back as he knew, his paternal ancestors had lived in Bratslav. His mother was from a small village about 12 kilometers away, where her father ran a mill. His father’s family was poor, but his mother’s family was wealthy enough to have their own cow.

When the Soviet Union attacked Finland on November 30, 1939, beginning what was to become known as the Winter War, the Red Army quickly realized its need for more drivers; Kupershmidt was drafted to the northern front.

When he returned home in 1940, he had already been hardened in battle. He sought to return to the driving school at which he had been employed before the war, but found that it had closed in the interim. His record in uniform and reliability, though, impressed the chairman of the executive committee of the local Communist Party branch, who hired Kupershmidt to become his personal chauffeur.

Kupershmidt was still serving in that capacity on June 22, 1941. Within days able-bodied men were mobilized into the army, and Kupershmidt expected to serve as well. Instead, he received instructions to remain in his position as chauffeur to the chairman of the executive committee.

During the second week of July, as the Wehrmacht conquered the southern banks of the Southern Bug River in a southeastwardly direction toward Bratslav, the chairman decided to evacuate his wife and daughter. He ordered Kupershmidt to drive the two to a village in the district of Byshev, near Kiev, east of the encroaching front. The chairman hoped that from Byshev his family could escape into the Russian interior where his brother ran a factory. But by the time Kupershmidt reached Uman,the Germans had already encircled the city.

The Battle of Uman would end with the city falling to the Germans. One month later, during the festival of Succoth, German Police Battalion 304 massacred six thousand Jewish men, women, and children in the city.

In Uman, Kupershmidt was captured. The Germans confiscated his car and documents and took him as a prisoner to a nearby village. When they inspected his identification papers, they discovered that he was a Jew; nationality, an identity the Soviet bureaucracy kept distinct from citizenship, was clearly marked on Soviet identification papers.

In this clip, Kupershmidt describes what happened next:

They led me to an orchard with trees. And behind the orchard was a garden, a clearing, with covered trucks. And the German gave me a shovel to dig. There were non-Jewish prisoners standing there and the German was shouting “quickly, quickly.” They were saying, “Look at the silly Jew digging his own grave.” After I started to dig, a plane came and it started to bomb. So, the plane came and the Germans ran into the orchard, and I fled for who knows how long, into the night.

He covered himself with dirt, digging himself his second grave of the day, and hid beneath the ground until he felt the coast was clear. But this story of how he “ran away from death” was only the beginning of his remarkable story of survival. “Wherever we turned, death was behind us,” he recalled. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

The Southern Bug River

Bratslav, Ukraine

In this clip, taken in 2002 in Bratslav, Mikhail Kupershmidt points to vertical wall of a magnificent cliff, scenically overlooking the dirt road on one side and the pristine sparkling waters of the Southern Bug River ahead on the other and tells us about how the Germans threw children from the Jewish orphanage over the cliff into the waters below to be drowned-- “Children, living children, they were throwing over.”

The massacre Kupershmidt witnessed took place after the surface of the river had begun to freeze, creating a thin layer of ice that easily gave way to the force of the bodies plummeting from above. The Soviet Extraordinary Commission that, in 1944, investigated German atrocities in Bratslav reported on a February 1942 incident in which an unspecified number of people, including children, were drowned inthe Southern Bug. Thirteen names of known victims are listed. It is possible that this is the incident to which Kupershmidt is referring. Other witnesses we have interviewed outside of Bratslav also tell of shootings into the Southern Bug, so it is also possible that Kupershmidt was referring to an altogether different episode.

Ukraine’s rivers are full of stories of such massacres. It is even said that some rivers are cursed from the days of the Haidamaks and Khmelnitsky, who also drowned elderly Jews and children in the river. In Bershad, it is said that the Baal Shem Tov himself cursed the river when he was told about the atrocities that had taken place there in the eighteenth-century.

Donia Presler was born in 1929 born in Tulchyn. Her father was a musician. Her mother worked as a glazier. She had two sisters, one of whom died in the Pechera camp. She finished four years of Yiddish school. During the war, she was imprisoned in the Pechera camp for four years.


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Passover Soup
Show Trial in the Camp
Inside the Camp
A Little House with a Dirt Floor
A Family Played the Fiddle
Avrum-Yosl the Glazier
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Homentashn

“Christ has risen”

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Donia Presler survived the war in the Pechera concentration camp, a camp established by the Romanians on the shores of the Southern Bug River. The camp held some 9000 Jews, many of whom starved to death.

Some of the younger inmates, though, were able to survive by escaping the camp and begging or trading for food with Ukrainians in nearby villages

Initially, the inmates relied upon the nearby residents of the town of Pechera for sustenance, but eventually the town residents tired of giving alms, and the inmates who managed to get out were forced to go begging in more distant villages, in Vishkivtsi and Bortnyky. Some even forged across the Southern Bug to Sokilets, where the Germans were stationed. A few former inmates spoke of escaping the camp for multiple days at a time, traveling from village to village in search of food, before returning to the relative safety of the camp.

In this clip, Donia Presler remembers how once “during their Passover,” she says of Easter, she and a few girls managed to get some food from older Ukrainians, who had pity on the children

When we came to Pechera, people had already stopped giving out food, and they sent us further, so we walked further. If the herdsmen—young boys of ten years old with cows in the fields—got hold of you they would immediately kill you. It was worse being caught by them than by the police. They would cut you to pieces. So we hid behind the haystacks. When they took away the cows for the night, we showed up in the village. The older people would take pity on us. We would come and say “Christ has risen” and they would reply, “Truly, He is risen.” People would give us a piece of bread, or two potatoes, or beetroot.



Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Inside the Camp

Tulchyn, Ukraine

In December 1941, the Jews of Tulchyn, who had been languishing in the city’s ghetto for the first months of the war, were ordered to report for disinfection and relocation. After a forty kilometer forced march over two days--during which many died en route--about 3000 Jews from the city eventually arrived in the town of Pechera, where, set on a cliff overlooking the Southern Bug River and surrounded by parkland was a three-story Romanesque palace that had once belonged to the Potocki noble family, but had been used as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients by the Soviet government.

The Jews of Tulchyn and surrounding towns were dumped in the building and left to their own devices. This was not a labor camp nor technically a death camp—although death rates were exceedingly high. Rather, it was simply a de facto concentration camp.

Over the course of the next months, additional shipments of Jews were brought into the camp, including about 750 Jews from Bratslav who were brought to the camp in January 1942, and several hundred more who arrived over the next few days from Ladyzhyn and Vapnyarka. Sporadic deportations into Pechera continued over the summer and fall: about 3,500 Jews from the Mohyliv-Podilskyy ghetto were deported to Pechera in two waves in July and October–November 1942. Many inmates of the camp were Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews, whose long forced exodus from their homes in Romania finally ended here. In total about 9,000 Jews were held in Pechera.In this clip, Rita Shveibish, a child survivor herself and local amateur historian, describes the forced march to the camp and some of the conditions in the camp.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

“when I encountered the Germans”

Berdychiv, Ukraine

Approximately 500,000 Jews served in the Red Army during the Second World War. Only 300,000 of those who served survived to bear witness.

Jewish soldiers knew that they were fighting for much more than just territory or ideology; those who were drafted after the occupation had witnessed first-hand the atrocities the Germans committed against innocent Jews. They recognized that defeat at the hands of the Germans would mean certain death for themselves and any surviving family members. They had seen their loved ones murdered and had been forced to endure the horrors of the ghettos and camps. Even those who had not been under occupation, but joined the military in the first weeks of the war or from points of evacuation, still heard of the fate of those left behind. Jewish soldiers knew what their fate would be if the Red Army lost the war.

As the war turned in the Soviets’ favor and the Red Army became more confident of eventual victory, Jews also started to demand vengeance. Chaim Skoblitsky of Berdichev put it best to us when he told us: “The Germans killed my mother, my father and [my little brother] Motele. But I reckoned with them. I killed more of them than they killed of mine. I cut them to pieces.”

A diary collected by the Blavatnik Archive Foundation records a Jewish soldier whom the diarist encountered; the soldier, too, spoke of revenge: “We drank their blood. I got plenty of revenge for my family,” he tells the diarist after explaining how the Germans murdered thirty-five members of his family. Many Jews were motivated not only by patriotism, but also by revenge.

This theme was echoed and reinforced by Yiddish-language newspapers and political speeches, which urged Jews to fight for vengeance. The famed war correspondent, Ilya Ehrenburg, who came to identify more and more with his Jewish roots throughout the war, famously wrote articles screaming for vengeance to motivate the troops: “We will die, but we will destroy the hated butchers,” he vowed in one article. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Career in the Red Army

Berdychiv, Ukraine

Approximately 500,000 Jews served in the Red Army during the Second World War. Only 300,000 of those who served survived to bear witness.

Despite the role of the army as a force of integration, many Jews had their Jewish identity strengthened in service.

At least initially, the Jews of the shtetl came out of the war convinced that the Soviet Union was capable of greatness. They had fought hard for their victory, overcome enormous obstacles, and witnessed unimaginable atrocities. They imagined now that the Soviet state they so valiantly defended would reward them for their service. But Soviet veterans, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, were disappointed: the benefits they expected to be bestowed upon them for defending the country in its time of need were not forthcoming. They received orders, medals, and the gratitude of a nation, but were then sent on their way. At least in the immediate postwar period, as the state struggled to bring itself to its feet again by fostering its youth, returning veterans were largely neglected.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, many elderly Jews continue to identify with the Red Army and the Soviet Union, under whose hammer and sickle they fought during the war. The pride they feel in their achievements is palpable; and the respect and admiration they have earned should be limitless.

In this clip, Efim Skoblitsky talks about his military service as a commander of a batallion of tanks. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

“Misha Katsop”

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Relations between Jews, Ukrainians, Romanians, and Germans were highly complex affairs in Transnistria, where the power structure was nebulous and constantly being negotiated and revised. Survivors tell many stories of Romanian gendarmes, Ukrainian peasants, and Jewish prisoners risking their own safety in order to protect life. That is how they survived. Those who did not survive have no such stories to tell.

Local Ukrainians sometimes provided spiritual support. In this clip, Nisen Yurkovetsky remembers one Christian, whom he called Misha the Russki (literally Misha Katsop), who smuggled a Torah scroll into the Pechera concentration camp for the Jewish inmates. Misha had lived in the Jewish quarter of Tulchyn prior to the war, spoke Yiddish, and was friendly with many of the Jews in the town. Yurkovetsky had been close to Misha’s daughter before the war. Thanks to Misha’s Torah scroll, the camp inmates were able to pray in a part of the building they called the synagogue.

The influx into the camp of religious Romanian Jewish refugees also contributed to a spiritual revival among the Soviet Jews, who had been more distant from organized religious life. “There were people learned in Judaism who knew all types of things,” explained Yurkovetsky, and these people would lead services in the camp.



Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

My Grandfather and the Priest

Haysyn, Ukraine

Jewish residents of small-town Ukraine lived side by side their non-Jewish neighbors. Jewish and non-Jewish children often played together, and adults also befriended their Christian neighbors in casual interactions. But close and intimate friendships between Christian and Jewish adults seem to have been rare. Only in exceptional circumstances, such as during periods of military service, did such friendships coalesce.

In this clip, Arkadii Burshtein remembers that in his native Sobolivka his grandfather was friendly with a local priest who had served with him during the First World War. Yet even this friendship seems to have been a formal one, lacking the familiarity common to more intimate relations between Jews. The family carefully maintained an unusual decorum when the priest visited, treating him as a respected guest. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

My Grandfather’s Observance

Haysyn, Ukraine

The Jewish Sections of the Communist Party closed some 650 synagogues throughout the entire Soviet Union in the 1920s, but in 1926 there were still more than 1,000 functioning in Ukraine alone, with more than 800 rabbis; most small towns in Ukraine were still left with houses of worship until the late 1930s. These included not only official synagogues established by dvatsatki (groups of twenty worshippers authorized to open a synagogue), but also numerous other prayer quorums (minyans) that met officially as “associations,” for which a permanent building was not required, and many more that met unofficially in private homes orplaces of business, often changing locations every day in order to avoid detection.

With the end of the New Economic Policy and the dissolution of the Jewish Sections in 1929, the futures of synagogues and Jewish communal property in Ukraine were placed under the auspices of the All-Ukrainian Central Executive Committee of National Minorities, based in Kharkiv, which worked with a vengeance to close remaining synagogues. The wave of synagogue closures and mass arrests of most of the remaining rabbis during the Great Terror of the late 1930s was far more severe than that of the late 1920s.

As Arkadii Burshtein explains in this clip about the synagogue in his native Sobolivka, the confiscation of synagogues failed to completely eradicate Jewish religious practice. The congregation of Sobolivka simply moved the services from the public space of the synagogue into private homes.

Indeed, many Jewish prayer quorums, or minyans, simply moved underground. There are no rites or rituals in Judaism that can only be performed inside a synagogue; it is the community, as manifested in the minyan, that is sacred, not the structure it meets in. The presence of a minyan and a Torah scroll renders any building sacred, allowing for complete fulfillment of all rituals. Thus, when a synagogue was transformed into a sports complex or a movie theater, the faithful could simply migrate elsewhere. This flexibility and mobility are factors that have helped the Jewish religion survive innumerable persecutions and transformations. By contrast, although the Christian Orthodox majority was also able to reconstitute portions of their belief underground, in the absence of priests and churches major religious accommodations needed to be made. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

“they wanted us to stay alive.”

Haysyn, Ukraine

Arkadii Burshtein and his family were also not able to evacuate and were still in Sobolivka, about 20 kilometers from Teplyk, when the Germans arrived on July 28, 1941. As he explains in this clip, as soon as the Germans arrived they forced the Jews to work, scrubbing floors, digging potatoes, and sweeping the streets.

The Germans, though, were not there for long; they soon left the town in the hands of the local Ukrainian police. The local police continued to force the Jews to work in the fields, digging potatoes in the fall and clearing the railways of snow in the winter. Only now instead of laboring for a foreign invader, the Jews were laboring for their former neighbors. The hardships of labor and occupation were compounded by the indignity of being oppressed by one’s own townsmen.

As the winter of 1941 began to thaw, the Germans initiated a new round of selections, taking able-bodied men to labor camps that were hastily established in the region. Most of the Jews from Teplyk district were taken to a camp in Raygorod, a town on the German side of the Southern Bug about midway between Nemyriv and Haysyn, where they worked on the Thoroughfare IV road project that would link Vinnytsya to Uman as a military supply route. The project was subcontracted to a private German firm, run by Dr. Fritz Todt, and therefore was commonly called Todt. Todt hoped to construct a massive supply line by turning small country roads into a major thoroughfare stretching over 2,000 kilometers from Lviv in the west to Taganrog in the east.

Burshtein was among the one hundred Jews selected for labor from Sobolivka in April 1942, and taken to Raygorod. Those Jews who were not taken for labor in the towns of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine were usually shot in one of the Aktions—or “pogroms” as the locals still call them—that the Germans perpetrated in the spring of 1942. The rest of Burshtein’s family remained in Sobolivka, and were among the three hundred victims of the May 27, 1942 shooting there. Burshtein subsequently survived another massacre, in June, in which some six hundred Jews from the region were murdered. Burshtein was likely left alive because he could speak some German from his school days. He was taken to work in a foundry. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Speaking Yiddish

Haysyn, Ukraine

Upon returning home, whether from evacuation, the army, a ghetto, or a camp, the first challenge that met most returnees was simply finding shelter. Many returned to find only ruins where their houses had once stood. Those whose houses had been spared the bombs, found that in their absence their homes had been occupied by neighbors or others in search of shelter.

Rather than return to his native Sobolivka, where his entire family had been killed and no community remained, Arkadii Burshtein moved to Haysyn. His father had been a tailor in Sobolivka, and Burshtein became chief engineer of the garment factory in Haysyn.

The antisemitic climate that greeted Jewish survivors led many to feel ashamed of their Jewishness and to adopt methods of camoflauging their identity. Many chose not to speak Yiddish any longer in public, so as not to stand out obviously as Jews. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

The Mass Grave in Sobolivka

Haysyn, Ukraine

Arkadii Burshtein's entire family was mas murdered by the Germans in a May 27, 1942 massacre in Sobolivka that left about three hundred and seventy Jews dead.

In this clip, Burshtein explains that he visits the site of the mass grave in the forest every year with his family.

Semyon Skliarskii was born in Lypovets in 1926. His father was a furniture maker. His mother died when he was three years old and his father passed away four years later. He was brought up by his mother’s sister. He began his schooling in a Yiddish school, and completed his education in a Ukrainian language school. He survived most of the war in hiding in the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. Toward the end of the war, he joined a group of partisans. After the war he worked as an accountant. He married a woman from Bershad in 1951 and moved to Bershad in 1969.


Other Interviews:

May 27, 1942: Zhornyshche

“don’t run into the forest”

Bershad, Ukraine

Semyon Skliarskii and his half-brother Yasha spent much of the spring of 1943 hiding out in the town of Zhornyshche. It was there that a girl, about twelve or thirteen years of age, convinced them to follow her in a quest to seek out and join the partisan fighters they had heard were seizing control of the forests, working with Moscow to disable the enemy from the rear. The girl’s father, a glazier, had gathered together a group of about a dozen people, all of whom were to head out together into the forests. On the appointed day in the summer of 1943, they secured food supplies and set off south from Zhornyshche toward the village of Krasnenke.

On one of the first nights, a Friday evening, as they rested on the edge of the forest, Skliarskii had a vision, in which the Messiah or God Himself, came to him to warn him that there was going to be a fire and he should not to go into the forest, but should run instead into the fields.

Suddenly, two Don Cossacks fell upon the group. Everyone scattered, running into the forest, except for Skliarskii who found refuge instead, as the Messiah had instructed him, in the fields. In the open field, he ran down a hill and into a waterfilled gulley. He splashed through the stream and managed to elude the Cossacks. The other members of his party, those who ran into the forest, were overcome. Yasha survived by climbing a tree where he hid as the shots rang out below.

As Skliarskii was telling us this story, he pulled out of his pocket a piece of paper onto which, after the war, he had inscribed the words of the Messiah so that he would forever remember how his life had been saved. In his interview with the USC Shoah Foundation, Skliarskii confided that the experience turned him into a believer.

Sofia Geller was born in 1929 in Bratlsav. Her father worked as a coachman before the war. During the war, she evacuated to Central Asia, where she worked in a collective farm. When she returned to Bratslav after the war, she worked in the city council. She is married to Dovid Geller. She and Dovid have two daughters who live in Moscow.


Other Interviews:

Krishmeleyenen
Hebrew - the Language of Prayer
With Horse and Wagon to Donbas
"we need to have a wedding!"

Bratslav Matchmaking

Bratslav, Ukraine

Recognizing the hardships and difficulties that returning soldiers and evacuees encountered, many remember the postwar years as the best years of their lives. It was a time of rebuilding and renewal, both literally and metaphorically.

Dovid Geller returned from evacuation in Baku to Zhmerynka, where he lived with his aunts for a few years. He moved to Kiev in 1947 to continue his training as a lathe operator. However, he was drafted into the military in 1950, and served for three years in the Far East. When he finally returned to Zhmerynka again, now five years after the end of the war, he found that there was no life for him in the city; he left instead for Bratslav, where he moved in with his brother. There, he met his wife, Sime-Leye Dikkerman, and it was love at first sight.

Sofia Geller was born in 1929 in Bratlsav. Her father worked as a coachman before the war. During the war, she evacuated to Central Asia, where she worked in a collective farm. When she returned to Bratslav after the war, she worked in the city council. She is married to Dovid Geller. She and Dovid have two daughters who live in Moscow.


Other Interviews:

Krishmeleyenen
Hebrew - the Language of Prayer
With Horse and Wagon to Donbas
Bratslav Matchmaking

“we need to have a wedding!”

Bratslav, Ukraine

Most of those who married in the immediate postwar years did so with little ceremony, simply registering their marriage with the municipal authorities. Only a very few managed to celebrate their matrimony in accordance with Jewish law under a chuppah. Dovid Geller, who moved in with his brother in Bratslav after returning from military service in Vladivostok, met his wife, Sime, at that time. Both of them wanted to leave Bratslav for a better life in Kiev, but they realized it would be easier to receive an apartment in the city if they were married. Dovid thought they should just register the marriage with the city, but Sime insisted on a proper Jewish wedding.

It was important to the couple that they have a Jewish wedding, but they were afraid to put up a wedding canopy. Instead, they made the wedding Jewish by just inviting Jewish friends. Although they did not put up a chuppah, they insisted that it was a Jewish wedding. The wedding would not have been sanctioned by Jewish law, but retained a distinct Jewish flavor that provided the couple with the meaningful foundation they craved.

Mikhail Kupershmidt was born in Bratslav in 1914. His father was a coachman and his mother stayed home and looked after the children and the cow. His parents had six children, two of whom died in infancy. He attended a Yiddish school in Bratslav for four years. He served in the military in the Finnish War, and was working as a chauffeur when the war began. He survived under Nazi occupation in Reichkommissariat Ukraine, and ended the war serving in the Red Army. After the war, he returned to Bratslav, where he continued working as a driver. His first wife died in 1947. He soon remarried and has a son, who lives in Israel.


Other Interviews:

The Orchard and the Mass Grave
The Southern Bug River

“our children’s children’s children’s children must know”

Bratslav, Ukraine

The experiences of Soviet Jewish Holocaust survivors has been silenced for many years. They were marginalized in Holocaust historiography, which largely neglected the Soviet experience, and they were marginalized in Soviet history, which suppressed the unique experiences of Jews.

It is for this reason that so many of those who have survived feel a need--a compulsion--to tell their stories and to ensure that their stories are heard for generations to come.


Other Interviews:

Boots
Sobolivka Ancedote
Seeking Help From the Valedniker Rebbe
Openhanded
Avoiding Conscription
Childhood Memories
Studying Khimesh Dilemma
Hauling Stones
The Ribnitser Rebbe
The Shtefaneshter Rebbe
"they didn't want to let me go"
With the Last Train
When Peretz Markish Came to Polonne
The Jewish House
Sleeping At Grandpa's
A Few Pengos
Vynohradiv Ghetto
"Hitler ate up our youth"
Birobidzhan in 1941
the shoykhet across from us
Playing Fiddle with my Grandfather
"a memorial plaque"
Private Teacher
a Childhood Ditty
"Look, over there is a Jew"
a Poor Family
the Great Famine Exodus
a New Life
Throwing Stones on Kol Nidre
Around Kolomyya
People Stood Outside
Return to Kolomyya
Holidays
Fixing Shoes
March to Pechera
At the Yiddish School
The Goat
Yefingar Colony
Gefilte Fish
Celebrating Holidays
Toward Israel
Matzo Baking with Neighbors
Matzo Baking in the Shtetl
Passover Soup
Stuffed Neck with Chicken Fat
"a very religious family"
A Wealthy Family
Survival
"forward"
"go there"
Postwar Religious Practice
A Gravestone for My Mother
"make it a synagogue"
A Piece of Bread
Minkatch: a Jewish Town
The Hard Years
Tailored Suits
From Hungarian to Russian Forced Labor
Carving Tombstones
Communal Matzo Baking
Extinguishing Coals
Left Behind
A True "Khosid"
"Let her pray"
Selection at Auschwitz
A Child Lost To The Evil Eye
A Neolog Family
After The War
Yiddish and Hungarian
Bubbie Zisl
Coming Home
Vorkutlag
Childhood On A Farm
Mauthausen
"all of Tulchyn into one courtyard"
"they threw us out of our homes"
From Tulchyn to Pechera
They Took Her - Alive
Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews
Show Trial in the Camp
Inside the Camp
Transport of Corpses
A Small Ladder to Heaven
Rebbe, Reb Shneyer
On the Way Home
Saving the Synagogue in Khust
Arrival in Prague
Liberation
Leaving For Home
Thank God We Had a Piece of Bread
Sobolivka
"...and we lived well"
"stuffing ourselves"
A Little House with a Dirt Floor
A Pair of Shoes
A Blanket to Fight Hunger
A Family Played the Fiddle
Avrum-Yosl the Glazier
Home: One Small Room
Running Away from the Melamed
The Great Synagogue
Cantor Gaz
Wooden Synagogue
Food on Sabbath
Sabbath Was Sabbath
"as though God had baked it"
Seder on a Kolkhoz
Hunger of 1946
"Der Shtern"
Peeking into the Men's Section
The Binding of Isaac
The Matzo Bag
"and a goat on a chain"
Eating Sour Mash - the Great Hunger
Kheskele - the Clarinetist
Burial Customs
"I was a courageous lad"
Krishmeleyenen
Hebrew - the Language of Prayer
"In short, I am a Jew"
Evacuation of the Communists
With Horse and Wagon to Donbas
Tashkent-Samarkand-Panjakent
Making Matzo Dough with a Roller
Craftsmen and Merchants
"I love Yiddish"
Valik, Zhuzhia and Ivanov
"And every day we waited to die"
Tsezeyt un tseshpreyt (Scattered and dispersed)
The Butcher's Synagogue
Army Training
Transmitting Secrets to America
At the Yiddish School
Postwar Charity
"the first bomb fell"
"as soon as they attacked, they were already here"
Tomashpil Massacre of August 4, 1941
Inside the Ghetto
Good Christians
The Jewish Soul
Bergider and Golda Meir
The Article
Antisemitism
Inside the Ghetto
The Orchard and the Mass Grave
The Southern Bug River
"Christ has risen"
Inside the Camp
"when I encountered the Germans"
Career in the Red Army
"Misha Katsop"
My Grandfather and the Priest
My Grandfather's Observance
"they wanted us to stay alive."
Speaking Yiddish
The Mass Grave in Sobolivka
"don't run into the forest"
Bratslav Matchmaking
"we need to have a wedding!"
“our children’s children’s children’s children must know”
A Great Hunger Myth
Jewish Professions
A Coachman's Song
Vanity of Vanities
I'm leaving you my dear in-laws
Getting Ready For Sabbath
How to Get Food
Liberation
Our House
What It Means to Be a Jew
Oy vey tsu mayne yorn (Woe to my years)
The Zogerin (the Synagogue Prompter)
Ekhod mi yoydeo (Who knows one)
Nuts
The Head of the Fish
Bones of Berdychiv
Dishes in the Attic
Aheym, briderlekh, aheym (Homeward, brother, homeward)
Physics in Yiddish
Oy mayn libe Basarabye (My Beloved Bessarabia)
Cholent
Bris
Sabbath and Poverty
Remedy for the Evil Eye
The Shiva
The Esebet (Reclining Bed)
Zits ikh mir in kretshme (I'm sitting in the Tavern)
The Fur Coat
Varenikes
Taking Out the Flour
Kosher Chicken
Oreme pleytim (Poor Refugees)
Money from America
May 27, 1942: Zhornyshche
The Tulchyn Pogrom
The Proskurov Pogrom
The Torgsin Store
From the Chimney to Berlin
From Tulchyn to Pechera
Let It Be Enough!
The Synagogue Cellar
The Reinsdorfs
The Prayer House
Evgeniia's Gefilte Fish
Arkadii's Gefilte Fish
Mama's Mamaliga
The Sabbath Candles
A Jew Must Eat Matzo
I Defended Stalingrad
Challah
Dovid's Gefilte Fish
Zionist Purim
Zhenya's Gefilte Fish
The Holiday Cycle
Revolutionary Celebrations and Jewish Holy Days
Khad Gadyo (One Little Goat)
Sonye's Gefilte Fish
Rolling an Egg
Homentashn
Writing in Soviet Yiddish
Remedy for the Whooping Cough
Maryam
Eating Tsimmes and Raising Geese
Women's Prayer Quorum
Sanctification of the Moon

Hardship in 1932

Ukraine

Binyomin Geller, who was born in Pyatka in 1923, began his interview with us in a lively mode, smiling, winking at the camera, putting on a show. But the twinkle in his eyes diminished quickly when talking about his two-year old brother, who succumbed to the Famine, the Holodomor, in 1932. Now squinting, gazing at the ground, and fiddling with his glasses on the table, he explained that his father, who had worked in the local sugar factory, lost his job when the factory was closed during the famine. He traveled to Dnepropetrovsk in search of work, but became ill and passed away within the year.

Motl Derbaremdiker was born in 1920 in Berdichev. He traces his ancestry to Hasidic Tsadik Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev. His father was a soap maker and later became the manager of a soap and soda shop. His mother worked as a seamstress. Motl studied at a heder and then at a Yiddish school for seven grades. In 1936 he moved to Kiev to study chemistry at the Institute of Leather Industry. During the war, he was evacuated to Samara (Kuibyshev), and he returned to Kiev in 1945, where he settled. After postgraduate studies at the Kiev Light Industry University, he worked as a research engineer in a factory.

A Great Hunger Myth

Kyiv, Ukraine

In 1931, the Soviet central government's insistence on meeting outrageous procurement quotas and their obstinate refusal to yield to local needs, combined with climactic conditions, created a massive famine in 1932-1933 that left some 2.5 to 3.5 million people dead. Today, many historians believe the famine was manufactured as a deliberate policy to punish the people of Ukraine for their resistance to collectivization. Some view it as a counterpart to the Holocaust and have come to understand it as "the Hidden Holocaust" or the "Unknown Holocaust." Even the neologism commonly used to describe the 1932-1933 famine, Holodomor--literally, murder by famine--is a semantic counterpart to Holocaust, complete with the same first four letters of the word.

Although an untold number of Jews died of starvation during the Great Famine, there is a widespread myth that Jews were the instigators rather than among the victims of the Great Famine.

In this clip, Motl Derbaremdiker of Berdychiv insists that “it is a lie that only Ukrainians died in the hunger.”

Elizaveta Bershadskaia was born in Chernyatka in 1927. Her father was a barber and was also born in Chernyatka. Her mother was born in Bershad and worked as a seamstress. She had two brothers and a sister. She moved to Bershad at the age of 13, and spent much of the war in the Bershad ghetto. We interviewed her on July 18, 2002 in Bershad.


Other Interviews:

Getting Ready For Sabbath
How to Get Food
Liberation
Our House
Mama's Mamaliga

Jewish Professions

Bershad, Ukraine

Handicrafts with the very essence of Jewish professional life in the shtetl. The Jewish concentration in traditional crafts drew a sharp distinction between the Christian peasants who lived in the countryside and the Jews who lived in the urban centers. In this sense, the shtetl was often defined as the place where Jews lived; and Jewish men, in turn, were equated with artisans. This impression of two starkly demographically distinct regions is supported by census data. According to the 1926 census, only 11 percent of all Ukrainians—Jews and non-Jews—lived in urban centers. However, 91.4 percent of Ukrainian Jews were urban. Ukraine had significant Jewish populations, informing the identity of the cities and their relationships with surrounding satellite shtetls.

Elizaveta Bershadskaia was among the few Jews born in the rural villages around Bershad. She was born in the village of Chernyatka, 30 kilometers across the Southern Bug River, in 1927. Her father, Kalmen, was a barber, and her mother, Khave, a seamstress. Elizaveta, too, recalled how few Jews lived outside the town. In this clip, she explains that her father’s clients were predominantly non-Jews. Even in the village, Jews tended not to engage in agrarian work, but rather worked as artisans. She is proud that even the Gentiles recognized the skills the Jews could bring to the rural villages.

Liudmila Shor is the wife of Grigorii Shor and was born in Kopayhorod. She attended a Ukrainian language school. Her father owned a flower shop, but was driven out of the house and shop in the 1930s. Her family then moved to Verkhovka and her father became a barber. She has two daughters, one lives in Israel and the other in Germany. She is active in the Vinnytsya Jewish Women’s Choir.


Other Interviews:

Vanity of Vanities
I'm leaving you my dear in-laws

A Coachman’s Song

Vinnytsya

In many of the small towns of Ukraine, the majority of coachmen were Jewish. Coachmen had long been known to sing songs as they carried their passengers along the roads. Singing helped make the time pass on long journeys, kept the coachman awake, and entertained the passengers. Coachmen were both admired and feared, as fiercely independent people who commonly traversed the liminal spaces between towns and traveled along empty roads at night. They needed to know the travel routes, the horses' language, and the language of the spirits that haunted the nighttime woods.

Liudmila Shor is the wife of Grigorii Shor and was born in Kopayhorod. She attended a Ukrainian language school. Her father owned a flower shop, but was driven out of the house and shop in the 1930s. Her family then moved to Verkhovka and her father became a barber. She has two daughters, one lives in Israel and the other in Germany. She is active in the Vinnytsya Jewish Women’s Choir.


Other Interviews:

A Coachman's Song
I'm leaving you my dear in-laws

Vanity of Vanities

Vinnytsya, Ukraine

The loss of childhood and aging are common motifs in Yiddish song.

Liudmila Shor is the wife of Grigorii Shor and was born in Kopayhorod. She attended a Ukrainian language school. Her father owned a flower shop, but was driven out of the house and shop in the 1930s. Her family then moved to Verkhovka and her father became a barber. She has two daughters, one lives in Israel and the other in Germany. She is active in the Vinnytsya Jewish Women’s Choir.


Other Interviews:

A Coachman's Song
Vanity of Vanities

I’m leaving you my dear in-laws

Vinnytsya, Ukraine

Ikh for fun aykh avek. ikh for fun aykh avek, Mayne libe mekhutonim, mayne libe mekhutonim... Ikh loz aykh iber mayn kind, Mayn tokhter far a shnur, Iz zet, zi zol nit onvern ir ponim! Mekhuteneste mayne, mekhuteneste getraye, Mayn kind fri zolt ir mir nit vekn, Mayn kind fri zolt ir mir nit vekn! Un tomer vet ir zen an avle fun mayn kind – Iz vi a muter zolt ir dos fardekn... Mekhuteneste mayne, Mekhuteneste getraye, Af kinder tut men blut fargisn, Af kinder tut men blut fargisn! Un tomer vet ir zen, az der zun hot lib di shnur – Iz vi a muter zol aykh nit fardrisn! Oy, shvigerl mayne, oy, shvigerl getraye, Tsu aykh kum ikh on a parikl, Tsu aykh kum ikh on a parikl! Un tomer vet ir zayn a shlak, a beyze shviger – Iz bin ikh oykh a shnurl an antikl!

I’m leaving you, my dear in-laws. I’m giving you my daughter as a daughter-in-law. May she not lose her looks with you! Mekhuteneste [mother-in-law of the bride], don’t wake my daughter too early. And if you notice any faults in my child, like a mother you should overlook them. It takes plenty of suffering to raise children. And if you notice that your son loves my daughter, like a mother you shouldn’t get upset. My dear and devoted mother-in law, I come to you without a wig on. And if you should be a shrewish, nasty mother-in-law, let me warn you that I will be your match!

Source: Joel Rubin, Shalom Comrade!:Yiddish Music in the Soviet Union 1928-1961

Elizaveta Bershadskaia was born in Chernyatka in 1927. Her father was a barber and was also born in Chernyatka. Her mother was born in Bershad and worked as a seamstress. She had two brothers and a sister. She moved to Bershad at the age of 13, and spent much of the war in the Bershad ghetto. We interviewed her on July 18, 2002 in Bershad.


Other Interviews:

Jewish Professions
How to Get Food
Liberation
Our House
Mama's Mamaliga

Getting Ready For Sabbath

Bershad, Ukraine

Food was also strongly associated with religious festivals and practice, a phenomenon by no means unique to Soviet Jewry. Sabbath foods—challah, gefilte fish, cholent, and latkes—feature prominently in memories of the Sabbath. Cholent, in particular, a slow-cooked stew, usually consisting of meat, barley, beans, potato, and whatever else could be found around the house, symbolizes the Sabbath for many. The Sabbath rest prohibits cooking from Friday evening through Saturday sunset, but does allow the consumption of a hot meal provided that the fire was lit before the onset of the Sabbath. It is traditional, therefore, to place the stew in the oven prior to the start of the Sabbath, on Friday evening, and remove it, fully cooked, for lunch on Saturday. In this clip, Elizaveta Bershadskaia remembers sealing the oven with clay in order to prevent heat from escaping (and to stop anybody from violating the Sabbath by rekindling the oven) as the cholent cooked overnight.

Elizaveta Bershadskaia was born in Chernyatka in 1927. Her father was a barber and was also born in Chernyatka. Her mother was born in Bershad and worked as a seamstress. She had two brothers and a sister. She moved to Bershad at the age of 13, and spent much of the war in the Bershad ghetto. We interviewed her on July 18, 2002 in Bershad.


Other Interviews:

Jewish Professions
Getting Ready For Sabbath
Liberation
Our House
Mama's Mamaliga

How to Get Food

Bershad, Ukraine

In the Bershad ghetto during the war, the Romanian gendarme Lieutenant Colonel Gheorghe Petrescu protected the Jews from excessive violence and allowed for the functioning of a small market, at least until his dismissal in August 1942. In this clip, Elizaveta Bershadskaia explains how her family survived in the ghetto by selling wood and purchasing polenta in the ghetto market.

After Petrescu’s dismissal, the new gendarmerie further restricted the importation of food into the ghetto. By 1943, nevertheless, some semblance of institutional functionality had been achieved in the Bershad ghetto with the establishment of a hospital an orphanage, and schools, much of which was made possible with the assistance of aid from the Jewish community of Bucharest.

Elizaveta Bershadskaia was born in Chernyatka in 1927. Her father was a barber and was also born in Chernyatka. Her mother was born in Bershad and worked as a seamstress. She had two brothers and a sister. She moved to Bershad at the age of 13, and spent much of the war in the Bershad ghetto. We interviewed her on July 18, 2002 in Bershad.


Other Interviews:

Jewish Professions
Getting Ready For Sabbath
How to Get Food
Our House
Mama's Mamaliga

Liberation

Bershad, Ukraine

Red Army soldiers liberated Bershad on March 14, 1944. They found approximately ten thousand people alive in the ghetto. One of the survivors was Elizaveta Bershadskaia. In this clip, she describes what she remembers of her liberation, when "ours" arrived, she says referring to the Red Army. The final bombings and destruction that characterized the last days of the war destroyed much of the infrastructure that had managed to survive the years of occupation. The shtetls that were liberated by the Soviet army were very different from those they had left thirty-two months before: factories had been evacuated or destroyed, houses had been leveled by bombs, electrical networks had been disrupted, and power plants had been demolished. Most importantly, the population had been transformed: what had once been largely Jewish shtetls were now mostly Ukrainian villages.

Elizaveta Bershadskaia was born in Chernyatka in 1927. Her father was a barber and was also born in Chernyatka. Her mother was born in Bershad and worked as a seamstress. She had two brothers and a sister. She moved to Bershad at the age of 13, and spent much of the war in the Bershad ghetto. We interviewed her on July 18, 2002 in Bershad.


Other Interviews:

Jewish Professions
Getting Ready For Sabbath
How to Get Food
Liberation
Mama's Mamaliga

Our House

Bershad, Ukraine

Upon returning home after the war, whether from evacuation, the army, a ghetto, or a camp, the first challenge that met most returnees was simply finding shelter. Many returned to find only ruins where their houses had once stood. Those whose houses had been spared the bombs, found that in their absence their homes had been occupied by neighbors or others in search of shelter. Invariably, their property had been plundered. Those who remained in town, Jew and non-Jew alike, had assumed that the evacuees would never return and that their property was available on a first-come, first-served basis. The law was ambiguous on ownership rights, as a 1937 edict had deprived those absent for more than six months of any claims to abandoned residences. City officials had no means of determining which of the evacuated families were ever going to return, and so assigned abandoned houses to newcomers in need of shelter.

If the prewar owners returned, their claims of ownership conflicted with those of the newer residents who had been allocated the property by civil authorities. Many survivors had difficulty returning to their homes after the war. In this clip, though, Elizaveta Bershadskaia explains that she managed to reclaim their belongings with little effort.

Bella Chirkova 's father was a rabbi and her grandfather was a cantor. During the war, she served at the front as a nurse. After the war she moved to Vinnytsya to study at a pedagogical institute, and then worked as a teacher. We met her at the Vinnytsya Jewish women’s choir, where she was dancing and singing at ninety years of age.


Other Interviews:

Remedy for the Evil Eye
The Sabbath Candles

What It Means to Be a Jew

Vinnytsya, Ukraine

Bella Chirkova’s piety was a personal one, derived not from the rabbinical learning of her father, the rabbi of Krosne, nor from her grandfather the cantor, but rather from her own personal faith in God, and from the lessons she had learned from the American and Israeli emissaries sent to Vinnytsya in recent decades. She believed that suffering and endurance were part of what made her Jewish. This moral essence—that a Jew must be faithful and endure whatever hardships God has in store for him or her—was a staple of popular Jewish belief in the region.

Semyon Vaisblai was born in 1930 in Chemerivtsi. His father worked as a cap-maker and his mother, who died when he was seven years old, was a homemaker. He had a sister and a brother. His brother died under occupation, and his sister served in the Red Army during the war. He attended a Yiddish school for four years. During the war, he was imprisoned in the Kamyanets-Podolskyy ghetto. He escaped the ghetto and, when he reached Chemerivtsi, he became the servant of a German soldier. He was then imprisoned in the Smotrich ghetto, before being sent back to the ghetto in Kamyanets-Podolskyy. The remaining time of the war, he spent on the kolkhoz in Dubinka. After the war, he worked various jobs, such as supplier and shop assistant. He worked as an administrator in the Khmelnytskyy’s synagogue in for many years.


Other Interviews:

Rebbe, Reb Shneyer

Oy vey tsu mayne yorn (Woe to my years)

Khmelnytskyy, Ukraine

"Semyon Vaisblai was born in 1930 in Chemerivtsi. His father was a cap-maker and his mother a housewife. There was a synagogue in the Vaisblai home, because the father, a pious man, was crippled during a pogrom and thus could not leave the house to attend services elsewhere. In his childhood, Vaisblai studied both with a religious teacher and at a Soviet Yiddish school. Vaisblai spent the war running from town to town and eventually ended up working at a kolkhoz (collective farm), posing as a non-Jew. After the war, he returned briefly to his hometown but then had to wander once again in search of work.

AHEYM interviewed Vaisblai in Khmelnytsky, Ukraine, in 2009. He sang a number of songs for the interviewers, some of which he learned before the war from his father, and others that he learned after the war from demobilized Jewish soldiers. In this clip, he sings a song about poverty that he learned from a tailor who lived with his family. Vaisblai relates how the tailor used to drink cologne instead of whiskey; this was a fairly common practice in the Soviet Union -- when conventional alcoholic beverages where not available or could not be afforded, some people would drink anything with alcoholic content, including cologne.

A version of this song was also collected by ethnomusicologist Ruth Rubin and can be found in the volume Yiddish Folksongs from the Ruth Rubin Archive, edited by Eleanor Mlotek and Mark Slobin (Wayne State University Press, 2007), pp. 145-146. Vaisblai's version is quite a bit shorter, and while the lyrics differ slightly, the meaning is the same. Versions of the song have also been collected by Y. L. Cahan in Yidishe folkslider mit melodyes (1957), and by Moyshe Beregovski and Itsik Fefer in Yidishe folkslider (1938).

I get up at six o'clock, My head hurts. I'm about to pass out, I want a glass of tea.

Oh woe, woe is to my years. Why did I have to leave home?

I say to the landlady, ""Make me some dumplings, please."" She fumbles around, So that her eyes almost pop out.

Oh woe, woe is to my years Why did I have to leave home?

The landlady says, ""Eat and be satisfied!"" In her heart, she thinks That I eat like a soldier.

Oh woe, woe is to my years Why did I have to leave home?"

Efim Skobilitskii was born in 1919 in Berdichev. His father was born in Poland, near Warsaw, and worked as a metalworker. His mother raised five sons. He studied in both a Yiddish school and in a cheder. During World War II, he served in the Red Army as the commander of a battalion of tanks. After he was demobilized in 1949, he returned to Berdychiv and was trained as an agronomist. He worked at a warehouse transfer station for kolkhozi and zovkhozi for thirty-five years.


Other Interviews:

"stuffing ourselves"
"when I encountered the Germans"
Career in the Red Army

The Zogerin (the Synagogue Prompter)

Berdychiv, Ukraine

Efim Grigoryevich Skobilitskii was born in 1919 in Berdichev. In this clip from a 2002 interview, he talks about his mother, a Rabbi's daughter, who acted as a zogerin in a synagogue. The zogerin, as Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Michael Wex write in the YIVO Encyclopedia, was ""a cross between a prompter and cantor, her position was informal, honorific, and unremunerated, though indispensable; she led less literate women in Hebrew and Yiddish prayers in the women’s section of the synagogue."" Efim's mother was able to fulfill this role, because she had received a formal Jewish education.

At the end of the clip, Efim talks about the Yiddish-language school that he attended. He notes that there were a number of non-Jews at his school, who, as a result of their education, could speak Yiddish better than Russian.

Semyon Krotsh was born in 1922 in Ştefăneşti into a poor family with many children. Krotsh was educated in a "kheyder" (traditional religious boys' school), a Romanian-Modern Hebrew Jewish school, and a yeshiva, where he studied Talmud and other traditional texts. Although Krotsh was an excellent student, he also studied to be a tailor. During the war years, Krotsh went to the Soviet Union and was evacuated from the town of Rîbnita to the Caucasus region of Russia, where he worked in a kolkhoz (collective farm). From there, he was evacuated further into Azerbaijan, and then drafted into the Red Army from 1942 to 1947. Krotsh went to Kolomyya after the war in 1949 with the intention to move to Romania. However, by the time he got there, the border was closed and Krotsh settled in the town, got married, and had three sons.


Other Interviews:

Zits ikh mir in kretshme (I'm sitting in the Tavern)

Ekhod mi yoydeo (Who knows one)

Kolomyya, Ukraine

Semyon Krotsh (born 1922 in Stefanesti, Romania) performs a beautiful rendition of the traditional Passover song, ""Ekhod Mi Yoydeyo"" (Who Knows One?) in his dialect of Loshn Koydesh.

For some of the numbers, Semyon lists all of the units in the set the first time they are mentioned: for example, he names the patriarchs, the matriarchs, the books of the Torah, and the twelve tribes. In addition to his impressive memory, Semyon is a marvelous and charming performer -- watch his warm and dynamic facial expressions as he sings.

During the war years, he escaped to the Soviet Union and was evacuated from the town of Rîbnita (Moldova) to the Caucasus region of Russia, where he worked on a kolkhoz (collective farm). From there, he was evacuated further into Azerbaijan and then drafted into the Red Army from 1942 to 1947. After the war, in 1949, Krotsh went to Kolomyya at the suggestion of a friend from the army, since it was near Romania. However, by the time he got there, the border was closed, and so he stayed in the town. AHEYM interviewed him there in 2005.

David Vider was born in 1922 in the town of Sighetu Marmatiei (north-western Romania) to a Hasidic family, followers of the Botoshaner Rebbe. Vider had five siblings. After finishing yeshiva, Vider’s father Avrum-Mayer served four years in the Austro-Hungarian army and was wounded during the First World War. During his life, he worked many jobs as a shoykhet (ritual slaughterer), melamed (religious teacher), and a khazn/bal-tfile (cantor and/or prayer leader). Vider’s father and brother were killed during the Second World War. Vider's mother was a women's prayer leader in the synagogue. Vider's father educated him at home, teaching him the Jewish alphabet and basic prayers before he started school. At the age of three, David with his family moved to Hîrlau, where he attended Jewish school, studying in Yididsh in the morning and in Hebrew in the afternoon. Around the age of twelve, Vider's family moved again to Iasi, where Vider received his formal traditional religious education in the Beys-Arn Yeshiva. In his youth, David was a member of the Gordonia Zionist group. After studying for three years to become a tailor, in 1940 Vider moved to the Soviet Union to earn a better living. At the age of eighteen, he began working in a mining town in the Urals and then worked for some time as a mechanic in the Garagum (Kara-kum) desert in Turkmenistan. During the war, Vider worked in the oil fields in Turkmenistan. Later, he worked in a mine in the L’viv area, staying there until the age of seventy, at which time he retired to Kolomyya. Vider was married twice. His first wife was a communist Jewish woman, while his second wife is a Christian woman from Kolomyya.

Nuts

Kolomyya, Ukraine

In Soviet times, while public displays of Jewish observance were heavily discouraged by state authorities, many Jews held on to the traditions of Passover, such as clandestinely baking and eating matzah. More than most other Jewish practices, Peysekh customs persisted among Soviet Jews, in part because of the symbolic content of the holiday's message of national liberation, and because of the memory of participation in the Seyder as children.

In the early years of the Soviet Union, the Jewish Sections of the Communist Party published so called Red Hagaddahs that tried to retell the Passover story as a story of the liberation of the proletariat from the oppression of the bourgeoisie. These Red Hagaddahs were widely distributed through Communist Party youth organizations. Almost none of the people we interviewed remembered the Red Hagaddahs. Instead, they recall traditional seders with their families, but often have difficulty recalling specific details of the ceremony. Dovid Vider was born in 1922 in Sighetu Marmatiei (in present-day Romania). He received a traditional religious education in a yeshiva in Iasi, Romania. In this clip Dovid describes games which children would often play during Passover.

Because Jewish children in Eastern Europe could often not afford elaborate toys, they would invent games that required only everyday items as props, such as nuts (often walnuts). This game used eight nuts, equivalent to the eight days of Passover and of Sukkoth, the other occasion when the game was played.

Sonia Litvak was born in 1925 in Novohrad-Volynskyy. She had four siblings. Her father, a leatherworker, was also born in Novohrad-Volynskyy. Her mother worked occasionally as a freelance seamstress. Sonia studied at a Yiddish school. After the war, she worked as a curricular administrator in kindergartens, as well as in a textile factory. In the 1960s, she worked in the cultural department of the Soviet consulate in Germany.


Other Interviews:

The Fur Coat

The Head of the Fish

Rivne, Ukraine

In Soviet times, while public displays of Jewish observance were heavily discouraged by state authorities, many Jews held on to the traditions of Passover, such as clandestinely baking and eating matzah. More than most other Jewish practices, Peysekh customs persisted among Soviet Jews, in part because of the symbolic content of the holiday's message of national liberation, and because of the memory of participation in the Seyder as children. Sonia recalls that fish was an important part of the Peysekh meal. The father, as head of the household, was served the fish head, which was considered a delicacy in Eastern Europe. The rest of the family had to share the body and tail, with the tail being the least desirable part.

Because the family was unable to acquire enough matzah to last the entire holiday, they celebrated only the first three days, marking the first day with a traditional Passover Seder. Even though they observed a shortened holiday, those first three days were observed fully and strictly -- there was no bread or grains in the house, and Sonia's younger brother asked the fir kashes (the Four Questions) at the Seder.

Mikhail Vainshelboim was born in Berdychiv in 1928. His parents were both born in Berdychiv, where his father worked as a painter. He had four siblings, two brothers and two sisters. He studied at a Yiddish school for four years, before completing his education at a Russian school. His oldest brother died at the front, his younger brother, parents and two siblings were murdered by the Germans. He escaped the mass shooting that killed his father and was aided in hiding by several non-Jews. He was liberated from a forced labor factory. After the war, he briefly worked in a mill before being drafted into the army in 1950. He served for four and a half years. After his service, he worked another 25 years at a mill, and then at a factory.


Other Interviews:

Kosher Chicken

Bones of Berdychiv

Berdychiv, Ukraine

Sometime after the liberation in 1944, the graves at the mass murder sites in Berdichev were opened by the authorities and the victims' remains were as much as possible recounted, and reburied. In 2003, when AHEYM visited the former airfield area near Berdichev, where most of the massacres took place, it still had the old Soviet plaque stating in Russian that the number of “peaceful Soviet citizens” who “were brutally murdered” there totaled 18,640. Two years ago, re-visiting Berdichev, the members of the 2009 expedition unexpectedly came to face some of the Jewish ""Bones of Berdichev"" vandalized almost 70 years after the horrendous German murder “actions” of 1941.

While visiting Berdichev in June 9, 2009 we interviewed Moyshe Vaynshlboym. Born in 1927, he escaped two mass murder actions that were described by Grossman in the “Black Book”. He fled the second one after he and his father had already undressed awaiting their execution. His father, Aron (who, as a useful specialist, was initially spared), told him then: ""Moyshe, run away!"" And he added: ""I will stay and join your mother and your siblings. But you are still young, you can run. Perhaps you will survive the war to tell the truth."" That was in late 1941. And for the next long few years 14 year old Moyshe Vaynshelboym had to flee and hide. At least three times he narrowly escaped certain death at the hands of German soldiers and Ukrainian Polizei. Against all odds he survived and returned to his native Berdichev as one of the miniscule group of 15 Jewish survivors of the once famed “Jewish capital” of Ukraine.

After the interview we asked Moyshe to take us to the site of the mass murder that he escaped. We could see it from a distance since it is located across a large inaccessible field. From afar it looked like a large elongated mound with densely planted tall trees. On the other side, across the road was the beginning of the former airfield area, which was the site of the so-called “Bloody Monday” massacre of September 15, 1941 where his mother, his small brother and two older sisters were murdered. That site was more accessible so we went there. It consists of two mass graves; one is very large, the other one, at some distance away, is smaller. We first approached the large one. Moyshe pointed to the new plaque in Ukrainian, which does not specify the number of victims (often estimated to be close to 20,000) and, although it bears the Jewish Star, the text remains faithful to the old Soviet official style by identifying the victims merely as “peaceful Soviet citizens.” “Some 20, 30 years ago,” says Moyshe, “the mass grave was cared for. Now it’s all abandoned and desolate.” He notices that even though there is overgrown grass and bushes on the mound, its surface is suspiciously uneven. He says that at times the place is raided by marauders who keep looking for gold. We walked to the end of the first mound and proceeded to the second one. “One grave wasn’t enough for them” remarks Moyshe bitterly. By the time we were coming closer to the second site, Moyshe exclaimed: “Look! They were here again!” We came closer still and saw some scattered bones. – Something that no one of us expected to find, the bones of Berdichev, the remains of her innocent martyrs. Moyshe pointed at a child’s skull and immediately started to cover it with earth, which he kept digging with his strong hands. “Who knows?” he kept saying, “Who knows? It could be the skull of my little brother; he was just 5 years old…” Nearly 70 years later, the bones of Berdichev can’t be left in peace…

Anya Kelmenson was born and spent her childhood in Khmel'nyts'kyy. During the war, she was evacuated to Tashkent. After the war, she lived in Central Asia and later in Chisinau, eventually moving to Bratslav.

Dishes in the Attic

Bratslav, Ukraine

In Soviet times, while public displays of Jewish observance were heavily discouraged by state authorities, many Jews held on to the traditions of Passover, such as clandestinely baking and eating matzah. More than most other Jewish practices, Peysekh customs persisted among Soviet Jews, in part because of the symbolic content of the holiday's message of national liberation, and because of the memory of participation in the Seyder as children.

In the early years of the Soviet Union, the Jewish Sections of the Communist Party published so called Red Hagaddahs that tried to retell the Passover story as a story of the liberation of the proletariat from the oppression of the bourgeoisie. These Red Hagaddahs were widely distributed through Communist Party youth organizations. Almost none of the people we interviewed remembered the Red Hagaddahs. Instead, they recall traditional seders with their families, but often have difficulty recalling specific details of the ceremony.

Yosl Kogan was born in 1927 in Bershad. His father, a soap-maker, died during the 1933 famine. He was brought up by his mother, a candy-maker. He spent much of the war in the Bershad ghetto, where he wrote songs about his experiences. He served in the Red Army and participated in the liberation of Berlin. After his military service, he worked at a liquor factory in Bershad, draining molasses. He moved to Tulchyn in 1960 and worked in a procurement office.


Other Interviews:

"I love Yiddish"
Valik, Zhuzhia and Ivanov
"And every day we waited to die"
Tsezeyt un tseshpreyt (Scattered and dispersed)
Inside the Ghetto
From the Chimney to Berlin

Aheym, briderlekh, aheym (Homeward, brother, homeward)

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Yosl Kogan styled himself as a type of bard of the Bershad ghetto. He recorded his experiences in the Bershad ghetto in the songs he wrote during and immediately after the war. He explained to us once that he wrote poetry both as a protest and as a mnemonic device to preserve the memory of what happened in the ghetto during those terrible years:

“I wrote the first song because I was afraid that they would kill me. Someone would find a Jew and would go around telling people that he wrote Yiddish songs against Hitler.”

He had notebooks full of poetry that he kept by his bed and recited to us whenever we visited. He told us that he wrote the poems during the occupation and kept the books hidden until the town’s liberation. Most of the pieces in his notebook were songs circulating in the region that he had copied down, but a few were compositions he had created, often by stringing together stanzas and phrases he had picked up from other sources. He told us that after the war, he stopped writing his own pieces. When he sung the songs for the Bukovinian Jews who remained after the war, he continued, they all applauded, chanting his name and honoring him.

These versified memories draw motifs from other poems and well-known songs, which Kogan adapted to the circumstances of the Bershad ghetto, freely combining tunes and stanzas to create poetic tributes and memorials. Most of Kogan’s poetry—written in conditions of unimaginable despair—contain hints of optimism, reflecting the hope that the suffering will soon end and that the Jewish people will one day be free in a land of their own. Even his most bitterly satirical comments on the Jewish predicament in the Soviet Union are tempered with a kernel of optimism. These songs seem a reflection of Kogan’s personality: he spoke freely of the most terrible atrocities he had witnessed and endured, but did so with the firm conviction that bearing witness will bring about a better world.

One of Kogan’s favorites is a song called “Aheym” (Homeward), which he has sung for us in several variants over the years. The poem’s opening verse laments the sorry state of Jewish life in the ghetto, in which Jews are disdained and disgraced simply on account of their names—for being Jews—and ends with a fervent declaration, issued in almost messianic terms, that “there will come a time when all Jews will be free.”

Aba Kaviner was born in 1921 in Derazhnya, where he was able to receive a Jewish education, first in a heder and then in a clandestine yeshiva. His father worked as a cooper and his mother was a homemaker. In 1939 he was drafted into a military school in Leningrad. He remained in the army until 1946, serving in the Baltics and in Moscow. After the war he returned to Derazhnya, but soon thereafter moved to Khmelnytskyy, where he eventually found work as the director of a carpentry workshop.


Other Interviews:

The Butcher's Synagogue
Transmitting Secrets to America
Antisemitism

Physics in Yiddish

Khmelnytskyy, Ukraine

Aba Kaviner was born in 1921 in Derazhnya, Ukraine. As a child, he attended both a Soviet Yiddish school and a yeshiva. Kaviner completed his education in the Soviet school in 1939, just before the school closed. At the school, all subjects were taught in Yiddish, including math and physics. In this clip, Kaviner describes how physics was taught in the Yiddish language -- accessibly and clearly.

Kaviner served in the army from age 19 and moved to Khmelnitsky after the war, where AHEYM interviewed him in 2008.

Zelda Roif

Oy mayn libe Basarabye (My Beloved Bessarabia)

Chisinau, Moldova

This clip is from Chisinau, Moldova where the AHEYM team passed through on their 2011 expedition throughout the cities and shtetlekh of Podolia, Bukovina and Bessarabia. The regular video clips are not yet available, but in the meantime, we are pleased to share with you some of our latest photos and a special audio excerpt. In this audio clip, we hear Zelda Davidovna Roif (b. 1930) sharing the opening lines of Oy mayn libe basarabye (Oh, My Beloved Bessarabia). As Zelda explains earlier in the interview, for her, the young shepherd and his scattered sheep represent the relationship between G-d and the Jewish People, especially during the Great Patriotic War. The words are sung to the tune of a doina, a Moldovan and Jewish musical form often associated with the region’s shepherds. The words, transcribed as she sings them in a Bessarabian dialect, are as follows:

S'iz geveyn a mul postekhl
Nokh a kind fin tsvishn kinder
Fleyg er ba zayn totn posn
Shufn, lemlekh, tsig in rinder
Fleg er ba zayn totn posn
Shufn, lemlekh, tsig in rinder

Vi oyf a mul hot er fargesn
Ot tirl tsu farmakhn
Zenen ale zayne sheyfelekh oyf der velt tselofn

O mayn libe besarabye
Lond fin freyd
In lond fin trouer
There once was a young shepherd
Just a child among children
He used to shepherd his father’s
Sheep, lambs, goats and oxen
He used to shepherd his father’s
Sheep, lambs, goats and oxen

One time he forgot
to close the gate
and all his sheep ran out into the world

Oh my beloved Bessarabia!
Land of joy
And land of sorrow!

Isaak Nibulskiy

Cholent

Zhytomyr, Ukraine

Cholent: a Folk Etymology

When describing a special shabes (Sabbath) meal that his grandfather used to host, Isaak Nibulskiy (interviewed in Zhytomyr, 2008) mentions that his grandmother would serve tsholent (cholent), a meat stew slow-cooked starting on Friday. Because cooking is prohibited on the Sabbath, making cholent is a way to have hot food on Saturday, as the stew would cook overnight, kept warm in the oven. In this clip, Nibulskiy relates his understanding of the origins of the word ""cholent"". He believes it comes from the consonant Slavic word ""chulan"", meaning closet or pantry, where the oven could be located in a Jewish home. This folk etymology does not conform to the history of the word, however, which dates back to the 13th century, before the Slavic component of Yiddish was prominent. The commonly accepted etymology of the word is that it can be traced to the ""present participle of the Latin verb CALERE (to be warm),"" ""calentem"" (Max Weinreich, History of the Yiddish Language, Volume I, p. 400). An alternative etymology holds that the word comes from the French ""chaud"" (warm) and ""lent"" (slow).

Nibulskiy grew up in Poninka, in northwestern Ukraine, where a subdialect of Volhynian Yiddish was spoken. His dialect can be heard in the combination of the vowel shift from ""oy"" to ""ey"" (""tseneyfgeyn"", ""azeyne""), more commonly associated with the Northeastern Yiddish (or Lithuanian Yiddish), with the vowel shift from ""o"" to ""u"" (""mul"") and from ""u"" to ""i"" (""fin"", ""kimen""), more commonly associated with Southeastern Yiddish (or Ukrainian Yiddish). (See, for example, Shaya Mitelman's post on the Mendele listserv describing some features of the dialect.)

Pesia Kolodenker was born in Tulchyn in 1927. She is the sister of Lev and Aleksandr Kolodenker, as well as the husband of Nisen Kiselman. Her mother was a candy wrapper, before becoming a homemaker. She survived the war in the Tulchyn ghetto and Pechera concentration camp.


Other Interviews:

A Wealthy Family
A Piece of Bread
Transport of Corpses
At the Yiddish School

Bris

Tulchyn, Ukraine

In 2009, AHEYM interviewed a small group of people in Tul'chyn, Ukraine: Pesia Kolodenker, Nisen Kolodenker, Aleksandr Kolodenker, Yenta Tolkovitz, and Khaye Katsman. In this clip, the three women of the group discuss different customs associated with the birth of a child - the bris (brit milah) for a boy, and the brisitse (bris, with a feminine suffix) for a girl.

Khaye talks about her son's bris, at which a Rabbi performed the circumcision and refreshments were served. Then Pesia describes a brisitse, where children were given special spice-cakes. In the midst of this discussion, Yenta mentions a krishme-leyenen, a term that literally means "reading the Kriyat-Sh'ma", a prayer that must be recited every evening before bed. Traditionally, krishme-leyenen referred to the custom of boys coming to the parents' house in the days leading up to the bris to recite this prayer as a means of keeping the baby safe. Over time, however, the term came to symbolize any number of customs associated with the bris; in this case, it seems that Yenta uses the term to refer to the "rocking the cradle" custom, which Pesia then describes.

In "rocking the cradle", which Pesia associates with the brisitse ceremony, the baby is temporarily removed from the cradle, and a cat is put in its place. The cradle is then filled with candy and other sweets, and as the cradle is rocked, the sweets fall out, and the invited children must catch them. This custom is also intended to bring good luck to the baby.


Other Interviews:

Boots
Sobolivka Ancedote
Seeking Help From the Valedniker Rebbe
Openhanded
Avoiding Conscription
Childhood Memories
Studying Khimesh Dilemma
Hauling Stones
The Ribnitser Rebbe
The Shtefaneshter Rebbe
"they didn't want to let me go"
With the Last Train
When Peretz Markish Came to Polonne
The Jewish House
Sleeping At Grandpa's
A Few Pengos
Vynohradiv Ghetto
"Hitler ate up our youth"
Birobidzhan in 1941
the shoykhet across from us
Playing Fiddle with my Grandfather
"a memorial plaque"
Private Teacher
a Childhood Ditty
"Look, over there is a Jew"
a Poor Family
the Great Famine Exodus
a New Life
Throwing Stones on Kol Nidre
Around Kolomyya
People Stood Outside
Return to Kolomyya
Holidays
Fixing Shoes
March to Pechera
At the Yiddish School
The Goat
Yefingar Colony
Gefilte Fish
Celebrating Holidays
Toward Israel
Matzo Baking with Neighbors
Matzo Baking in the Shtetl
Passover Soup
Stuffed Neck with Chicken Fat
"a very religious family"
A Wealthy Family
Survival
"forward"
"go there"
Postwar Religious Practice
A Gravestone for My Mother
"make it a synagogue"
A Piece of Bread
Minkatch: a Jewish Town
The Hard Years
Tailored Suits
From Hungarian to Russian Forced Labor
Carving Tombstones
Communal Matzo Baking
Extinguishing Coals
Left Behind
A True "Khosid"
"Let her pray"
Selection at Auschwitz
A Child Lost To The Evil Eye
A Neolog Family
After The War
Yiddish and Hungarian
Bubbie Zisl
Coming Home
Vorkutlag
Childhood On A Farm
Mauthausen
"all of Tulchyn into one courtyard"
"they threw us out of our homes"
From Tulchyn to Pechera
They Took Her - Alive
Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews
Show Trial in the Camp
Inside the Camp
Transport of Corpses
A Small Ladder to Heaven
Rebbe, Reb Shneyer
On the Way Home
Saving the Synagogue in Khust
Arrival in Prague
Liberation
Leaving For Home
Thank God We Had a Piece of Bread
Sobolivka
"...and we lived well"
"stuffing ourselves"
A Little House with a Dirt Floor
A Pair of Shoes
A Blanket to Fight Hunger
A Family Played the Fiddle
Avrum-Yosl the Glazier
Home: One Small Room
Running Away from the Melamed
The Great Synagogue
Cantor Gaz
Wooden Synagogue
Food on Sabbath
Sabbath Was Sabbath
"as though God had baked it"
Seder on a Kolkhoz
Hunger of 1946
"Der Shtern"
Peeking into the Men's Section
The Binding of Isaac
The Matzo Bag
"and a goat on a chain"
Eating Sour Mash - the Great Hunger
Kheskele - the Clarinetist
Burial Customs
"I was a courageous lad"
Krishmeleyenen
Hebrew - the Language of Prayer
"In short, I am a Jew"
Evacuation of the Communists
With Horse and Wagon to Donbas
Tashkent-Samarkand-Panjakent
Making Matzo Dough with a Roller
Craftsmen and Merchants
"I love Yiddish"
Valik, Zhuzhia and Ivanov
"And every day we waited to die"
Tsezeyt un tseshpreyt (Scattered and dispersed)
The Butcher's Synagogue
Army Training
Transmitting Secrets to America
At the Yiddish School
Postwar Charity
"the first bomb fell"
"as soon as they attacked, they were already here"
Tomashpil Massacre of August 4, 1941
Inside the Ghetto
Good Christians
The Jewish Soul
Bergider and Golda Meir
The Article
Antisemitism
Inside the Ghetto
The Orchard and the Mass Grave
The Southern Bug River
"Christ has risen"
Inside the Camp
"when I encountered the Germans"
Career in the Red Army
"Misha Katsop"
My Grandfather and the Priest
My Grandfather's Observance
"they wanted us to stay alive."
Speaking Yiddish
The Mass Grave in Sobolivka
"don't run into the forest"
Bratslav Matchmaking
"we need to have a wedding!"
“our children’s children’s children’s children must know”
A Great Hunger Myth
Jewish Professions
A Coachman's Song
Vanity of Vanities
I'm leaving you my dear in-laws
Getting Ready For Sabbath
How to Get Food
Liberation
Our House
What It Means to Be a Jew
Oy vey tsu mayne yorn (Woe to my years)
The Zogerin (the Synagogue Prompter)
Ekhod mi yoydeo (Who knows one)
Nuts
The Head of the Fish
Bones of Berdychiv
Dishes in the Attic
Aheym, briderlekh, aheym (Homeward, brother, homeward)
Physics in Yiddish
Oy mayn libe Basarabye (My Beloved Bessarabia)
Cholent
Bris
Sabbath and Poverty
Remedy for the Evil Eye
The Shiva
The Esebet (Reclining Bed)
Zits ikh mir in kretshme (I'm sitting in the Tavern)
The Fur Coat
Varenikes
Taking Out the Flour
Kosher Chicken
Oreme pleytim (Poor Refugees)
Money from America
May 27, 1942: Zhornyshche
The Tulchyn Pogrom
The Proskurov Pogrom
The Torgsin Store
From the Chimney to Berlin
From Tulchyn to Pechera
Let It Be Enough!
The Synagogue Cellar
The Reinsdorfs
The Prayer House
Evgeniia's Gefilte Fish
Arkadii's Gefilte Fish
Mama's Mamaliga
The Sabbath Candles
A Jew Must Eat Matzo
I Defended Stalingrad
Challah
Dovid's Gefilte Fish
Zionist Purim
Zhenya's Gefilte Fish
The Holiday Cycle
Revolutionary Celebrations and Jewish Holy Days
Khad Gadyo (One Little Goat)
Sonye's Gefilte Fish
Rolling an Egg
Homentashn
Writing in Soviet Yiddish
Remedy for the Whooping Cough
Maryam
Eating Tsimmes and Raising Geese
Women's Prayer Quorum
Sanctification of the Moon

Bris and Brisitse

Ukraine

In 2009, AHEYM interviewed a small group of people in Tul'chyn, Ukraine: Pesia Kolodienko, Nisen Kolodienko, Aleksandr Kolodienko, Yenta Tolkovitz, and Khaye Katsman. In this clip, the three women of the group discuss different customs associated with the birth of a child - the bris (brit milah) for a boy, and the brisitse (bris, with a feminine suffix) for a girl.

Khaye talks about her son's bris, at which a Rabbi performed the circumcision and refreshments were served. Then Pesia describes a brisitse, where children were given special spice-cakes. In the midst of this discussion, Yenta mentions a krishme-leyenen, a term that literally means ""reading the Kriyat-Sh'ma"", a prayer that must be recited every evening before bed. Traditionally, krishme-leyenen referred to the custom of boys coming to the parents' house in the days leading up to the bris to recite this prayer as a means of keeping the baby safe. Over time, however, the term came to symbolize any number of customs associated with the bris; in this case, it seems that Yenta uses the term to refer to the ""rocking the cradle"" custom, which Pesia then describes.

In ""rocking the cradle"", which Pesia associates with the brisitse ceremony, the baby is temporarily removed from the cradle, and a cat is put in its place. The cradle is then filled with candy and other sweets, and as the cradle is rocked, the sweets fall out, and the invited children must catch them. This custom is also intended to bring good luck to the baby.

Arkadii Gelman was born in 1921 in Kamyanets-Podilskyy. His father, also born in Kamyanets-Podilskyy, was a locksmith and his mother, who was born in Kitaygorod, was a homemaker. He had three siblings: two brothers and one sister. Before the war, he went to a Yiddish school and worked together with his father as a locksmith. He served in the Red Army during the Second World War, and fought in the Battle of Berlin. After the war, he worked as a cattle dealer.


Other Interviews:

Craftsmen and Merchants
Challah

Sabbath and Poverty

Kamyanets-Podilskyy, Ukraine

In 2003, AHEYM interviewed Avrom Gelman in Kamyanets-Podilskyy. When asked about how his family observed the Sabbath before the war, he recalled that Sabbath was particularly special, because it was the only time the children got to eat meat. Sadly, abject poverty is a theme that runs through many AHEYM interviews, particularly when the interviewees retell their memories of the 1930s. Gelman's family was so poor, in fact, that his mother could not afford to provide both meat and challah for the family on Sabbath. Instead, she baked malay, cornbread, for the meal. In the middle of the interview, you can hear Dov-Ber Kerler and Gelman discuss the various Yiddish words for "corn" -- one of Romanian origin, and the other, that Gelman uses, of Slavic origin.

Towards the end of the interview, Gelman mentions the various professions that Jews in his town practiced. He tells AHEYM that to be a craftsman alone was insufficient to make a living. To make enough money, one had to both practice one's trade and be able to sell the items one made.

Bella Chirkova 's father was a rabbi and her grandfather was a cantor. During the war, she served at the front as a nurse. After the war she moved to Vinnytsya to study at a pedagogical institute, and then worked as a teacher. We met her at the Vinnytsya Jewish women’s choir, where she was dancing and singing at ninety years of age.


Other Interviews:

What It Means to Be a Jew
The Sabbath Candles

Remedy for the Evil Eye

Vinnytsya, Ukraine

Bella Chirkova from Vinnitsa speaks about folk remedies. When asked if she knows how to ward off the evil eye, she begins by saying that she can tell what's wrong with a person by using an egg. She then gives an example of one way a person can be healed without conventional medicine - Bella suggests drinking your own urine to cure a cough.

The suggested treatment is but one example of what is known as babske refues -or old wives' medicine. As Lisa Epstein notes in the YIVO encyclopedia, "The approach of the East European Jewish population to health care made no distinction between what would now be considered 'scientific' medicine and 'folk' medicine.... Among Jews, a rich oral tradition of folk remedies for physical, as well as emotional, ills existed." The cures could be found in various recipe books, but by the time Bella was learning them, they were primarily transmitted orally, from one woman to another.

Brukhe Feldman was born in 1938 or 1939 in Bershad. Her father died fighting in the war when she was three years old, and she was brought up by her mother. She spent much of her life working in a furniture factory.


Other Interviews:

Postwar Religious Practice
A Gravestone for My Mother
Hunger of 1946
Kheskele - the Clarinetist
Burial Customs
A Jew Must Eat Matzo

The Shiva

Bershad, Ukraine

Brukhe Feldman recalls an interesting custom associated with mourning the dead. Brukhe was born in 1938 in Bershad, Ukraine. She discusses the ritual of shive (shivah), a period of seven days in which a mourner is prohibited from washing, wearing shoes, studying Torah, or having marital relations. The mourner typically sits on the floor or on low stools during this time. Brukhe remembers that in her community, shivah was observed for eight days, which was relatively common in Eastern Europe, rather than the more universal seven days (shivah means seven in Hebrew).

In this clip, recorded in Bershad in 2008, Brukhe discusses a custom associated with the shoes of the person who has passed away. Any shoes that the deceased had worn are burned, while new shoes that were in his or her possession may be given away. Brukhe remembers hearing that the reason for burning the shoes is to avoid "stepping" on the corpse by stepping into his or her shoes.

Evgeniia Krasner was born in 1936 in Shpykiv. She attended a Ukrainian school before the war and spoke Yiddish only among her family. Her father worked as an accountant in a sugar factory. During the war, she was imprisoned in the Pechera camp. After the war she was trained at the Cultural Institute of Kiev, from which she graduated as a librarian.


Other Interviews:

Zhenya's Gefilte Fish

The Esebet (Reclining Bed)

Shpykiv, Ukraine

In Soviet times, while public displays of Jewish observance were heavily discouraged by state authorities, many Jews held on to the traditions of Passover, such as clandestinely baking and eating matzah. More than most other Jewish practices, Peysekh customs persisted among Soviet Jews, in part because of the symbolic content of the holiday's message of national liberation, and because of the memory of participation in the Seyder as children.

In the early years of the Soviet Union, the Jewish Sections of the Communist Party published so called Red Hagaddahs that tried to retell the Passover story as a story of the liberation of the proletariat from the oppression of the bourgeoisie. These Red Hagaddahs were widely distributed through Communist Party youth organizations. Almost none of the people we interviewed remembered the Red Hagaddahs. Instead, they recall traditional seders with their families, but often have difficulty recalling specific details of the ceremony. Evgeniia mentions how her father would read the Agude (Haggadah), and she would ask the Four Questions - in the clip, she begins reciting the first one, about the difference between eating khomets (chametz) and matzah. Going in reverse chronological order, Evgeniia then describes the preparations that went on before the holiday, first bedikes khomets and biur khomets (searching for remaining crumbs of bread and then burning them), and then the kashering (making kosher) of pots for Peysekh using a hot stone.

Semyon Krotsh was born in 1922 in Ştefăneşti into a poor family with many children. Krotsh was educated in a "kheyder" (traditional religious boys' school), a Romanian-Modern Hebrew Jewish school, and a yeshiva, where he studied Talmud and other traditional texts. Although Krotsh was an excellent student, he also studied to be a tailor. During the war years, Krotsh went to the Soviet Union and was evacuated from the town of Rîbnita to the Caucasus region of Russia, where he worked in a kolkhoz (collective farm). From there, he was evacuated further into Azerbaijan, and then drafted into the Red Army from 1942 to 1947. Krotsh went to Kolomyya after the war in 1949 with the intention to move to Romania. However, by the time he got there, the border was closed and Krotsh settled in the town, got married, and had three sons.


Other Interviews:

Ekhod mi yoydeo (Who knows one)

Zits ikh mir in kretshme (I’m sitting in the Tavern)

Kolomyya, Ukraine

Semyon Krotsh in Kolomyia sang Zits ikh mir in kretshme for AHEYM in 2007. He did not remember all of the verses, but the ones he did sing seemed quite a bit more lighthearted than the lyrics of Der Furman. He mentioned that he learned the song before the war, in Shtefanesht (Ştefăneşti), Romania, where he was born in 1922.

A different version of this song appears on the Vernadsky archive compilation Treasure Of Jewish Culture In Ukraine from 1997. The piece is sung by Arn Shmuel Kahan and was recorded in Proskuriv, Podolia Region, in 1913. Both the mood and the lyrics in this version differ quite a bit from Krotsh's rendering: the melody is more melancholy than upbeat, and in the last verse, the drunken narrator beats his wife with a chair.

I sit in the tavern with no troubles or worries.

The tavern keeper is drunk, he puts it on the tab.

I can drink whiskey, I can drink wine. I'll drink everything, but I won't get drunk. As soon as I walk out the door, The streets are drunk, they spin around me.

I go left, I go right, I don’t recognize my house.

The streets are drunk, I can see that. Oh, moon, you shine up on high.

If you are drunk, how can that be appropriate?

During the war years, Krotsh escaped to the Soviet Union and was evacuated from the town of Rîbnita (Moldova) to the Caucasus region of Russia, where he worked on a kolkhoz (collective farm). From there, he was evacuated further into Azerbaijan and then drafted into the Red Army from 1942 to 1947. After the war, in 1949, Krotsh went to Kolomyya at the suggestion of a friend from the army, since it was near Romania. However, by the time he got there, the border was closed, and so he stayed in the town. AHEYM interviewed him there in 2005.

Sonia Litvak was born in 1925 in Novohrad-Volynskyy. She had four siblings. Her father, a leatherworker, was also born in Novohrad-Volynskyy. Her mother worked occasionally as a freelance seamstress. Sonia studied at a Yiddish school. After the war, she worked as a curricular administrator in kindergartens, as well as in a textile factory. In the 1960s, she worked in the cultural department of the Soviet consulate in Germany.


Other Interviews:

The Head of the Fish

The Fur Coat

Rivne, Ukraine

In the early years of the Soviet Union, the Jewish Sections of the Communist Party published so called Red Hagaddahs that tried to retell the Passover story as a story of the liberation of the proletariat from the oppression of the bourgeoisie. These Red Hagaddahs were widely distributed through Communist Party youth organizations. Almost none of the people we interviewed remembered the Red Hagaddahs. Instead, they recall traditional seders with their families, but often have difficulty recalling specific details of the ceremony.; Sonia (Sure) Litvak was born in Zvil (Novohrad-Volynskyi), Ukraine in 1925. AHEYM interviewed her in Rivne, Ukraine, in 2003. Sonia was discussing the extreme poverty during the Great Famine (Holodomor) in Ukraine, 1932-1933. She explained that despite the terrible conditions, no one in her family died from the hunger, because her grandmother had managed to save some money for the family.

Sonia's grandmother was a ""bube,"" a kind of midwife and folk healer in Zvil. It is interesting to note that this profession was sufficiently lucrative for her to be able to save up a significant amount of money, enough to sustain the family in years to come. The story Sonia tells in the clip took place in 1918, during the Russian Civil War. Sonia's grandmother had hidden her savings in a fur coat. A ""Denikinovets,"" a soldier from the army of Anton Denikin, entered the house and tried to take the coat. When the grandmother resisted, she was beaten, and she died two days later.

General Denikin was commander of the Volunteer Army, one of the many factions fighting for control of Ukraine during the Civil War that broke out in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution. The Volunteer Army, commonly known as the Whites, was made up mostly of conservative officers from the tsarist army. They opposed the Red Army's efforts to extend the Revolution and fought for the maintenance of the rights of property owners and priests. During the battles, attacks on the Jews, among other minorities, were quite common. One survey counted 688 cities, towns and villages affected by pogroms. Many of these locales suffered multiple pogroms, as armies and brigands came and went. The pogroms were attributed most often to Ukrainian nationalists, though the White Volunteer Army is said to have been responsible for about twenty percent of the attacks, with Sonia's grandmother being one example of the latter. Because of the grandmother's bravery, Sonia's family kept the hidden money and used it to survive the Famine.

Mira Murovanaia was born in 1926 in Mykolaiv. Her father, a colonel, was born in Kublich. He was positioned in Moscow and taught at the Army Technical School (NVD) in Babushkin. Her mother was born in Haysyn and, as a devoted Communist, worked as president of a tailors’ collective. She had a half-sister from her father’s second marriage. She attended a Russian school and finished seven grades in Haysyn. During the war, she evacuated to Central Asia. After the war, she was trained at a pharmacy and then worked as a pharmacist technician for forty-five years. She has two daughters; they live in Moscow and in Haysyn.


Other Interviews:

Revolutionary Celebrations and Jewish Holy Days

Varenikes

Haysyn, Ukraine

While AHEYM was interviewing Mira Murovanaia from Haysyn, Ukraine, she was busy making varenikes - dumplings. In the video clip, you can see her rolling out circles of dough, sprinkling the dough with sugar, adding a few sour cherries, and pinching the dumplings closed. Her daughter, meantime, is boiling some water on the stove to cook the dumplings.

While they cook, Mira and her daughter discuss Jewish life in Haysyn. Although Mira herself attended a Russian school, she recalls that there was a Jewish school in town before the war. There were also three synagogues, all of which were destroyed in World War II. Even after the war, however, Mira remembers there being a shoykhet - kosher butcher - in town.

Sofia Palatnikova is the sister of Tatiana Marinina. She was born in 1927 in Teplyk. Her father was a butcher. In the 1930s, she moved to the Lunacharskii collective farm in Crimea. She went to a Ukrainian school for six years, but her schooling was interrupted by the war. She survived the war in Teplyk and Bershad, and in camps in Bratlsav, Haysyn, and Raygorod. After the war, she worked in an industrial complex for twenty-two years.


Other Interviews:

"as soon as they attacked, they were already here"
Sonye's Gefilte Fish

Taking Out the Flour

Teplyk, Ukraine

In Soviet times, while public displays of Jewish observance were heavily discouraged by state authorities, many Jews held on to the traditions of Passover, such as clandestinely baking and eating matzah. More than most other Jewish practices, Peysekh customs persisted among Soviet Jews, in part because of the symbolic content of the holiday's message of national liberation, and because of the memory of participation in the Seyder as children.

In the early years of the Soviet Union, the Jewish Sections of the Communist Party published so called Red Hagaddahs that tried to retell the Passover story as a story of the liberation of the proletariat from the oppression of the bourgeoisie. These Red Hagaddahs were widely distributed through Communist Party youth organizations. Almost none of the people we interviewed remembered the Red Hagaddahs. Instead, they recall traditional seders with their families, but often have difficulty recalling specific details of the ceremony. In Sofia's family, her mother was very careful to observe all of the laws of Passover, though her father was not very religious. There were special dishes for Passover, and the family would gather in the house to celebrate, even in the years when people could no longer attend synagogue.

Mikhail Vainshelboim was born in Berdychiv in 1928. His parents were both born in Berdychiv, where his father worked as a painter. He had four siblings, two brothers and two sisters. He studied at a Yiddish school for four years, before completing his education at a Russian school. His oldest brother died at the front, his younger brother, parents and two siblings were murdered by the Germans. He escaped the mass shooting that killed his father and was aided in hiding by several non-Jews. He was liberated from a forced labor factory. After the war, he briefly worked in a mill before being drafted into the army in 1950. He served for four and a half years. After his service, he worked another 25 years at a mill, and then at a factory.


Other Interviews:

Bones of Berdychiv

Kosher Chicken

Berdychiv, Ukraine

Kosher Meat - Not for Vegetarians!

Moyshe Vainshelboim from Berdichev talks about all the stages involved in the process of making kosher chicken, from slaughtering to plucking to cooking. Vainshelboim remembers a kosher butcher (shoykhet) being active in his town in the 1930s, and he recalls how his mother would salt a slaughtered chicken at home.

Vainshelboim emphasizes the fact that the chickens were plucked without the assistance of hot water. Scalding a chicken is an oft-used method of facilitating plucking, as it loosens the feather follicles; it is, however, not allowed when making kosher chicken. Salting, additionally, is a process particular to kosher chickens, as it ensures that all of the blood is properly drained.

Lazar Burshtein was born in Goworowo (Poland; Yiddish: Govrove) in 1929, where he lived until the 1939 German invasion of Poland. He had five siblings and went to religious school (kheyder) and then studied at a Polish school. When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, he fled with his family into Soviet occupied Belorussia, first to Bialystok and then to Bobruisk, where he lived until the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union. After He then fled with his family further east toward the Urals, where he lived in evacuation in Chusovaya for the duration of the war, during which time his parents died. There he met some other Jews from Zhytomyr, and decided in 1944, to settle with them in Zhytomyr.

Oreme pleytim (Poor Refugees)

Zhytomyr, Ukraine

Lazar Burshtein told us when we visited him in 2002 that he remembered hearing this song from German refugees in Poland. The song likely originated among refugees from the First World War.
Another, apparently fuller version of this song, entitled "Gasn zinger," appears in the commercially recorded "Jidische Vergessene Lieder" by Karsten Troyke (1997/98). The details of that album can be viewed here. The text of the song appears on p. 25 of the album’s liner notes and was also reproduced online. Karsten tells in his introduction to the liner notes (pp. 6-7), that this song was found by his Yiddish language and Yiddish song mentor Sara Bialas-Tenenberg “in a 10 groszy song book” which she got as a little girl in prewar Poland, when this song was “a Yiddish hit” in the Polish Republic.



Elnt un eynzam bin ikh yung geblibn
On a tatn-mamen,on a heym
Shtark tsu der arbet hot men mikh getribn
Gevolt a mentsh zol fun mir zayn

Oreme pleytim--Farloyrn af der velt
Oreme pleytim--on ayn groshn on an ayn getselt
A gasn-zinger gevorn bin ikh fun noyt
Tsulib a froy gekumen bin ikh tsu dem broyt

Mayn veytog tu ikh aykh atsind oyszingen
Un batrakht mayne verter atsind
Tsu vos a froy ken alts tsu brengen
Ven zi hot a man mit a kind

S’iz oys milyonen--Ayn kaptsn bin ikh shoyn tsurik
S’iz oys milyonen--Farloyrn hob ikh mayn glik
Eyn gasn-zinger gevorn bin ikh fun noyt
Tsulib a froy gekumen bin ikh tsu dem broyt.
When I was young I was alone and miserable.
Without a mother and father.
Without a home.
I was pushed to work very hard
As a mentsh I deserved more.

Poor refugees lost in the world.
Poor refugees without a penny, without a roof.
I have become a street singer out of need.
On account of a woman, I came to this profession.

Let me sing to you about my suffering.
Looking at my words now.
And realizing what you can sacrifice for a woman,
when she has a husband and a child.

Are the millions gone.--I was left behind as a beggar.
Are the millions gone--I lost my fortune.
I became a street singer out of need.
On account of a woman, I came to this profession.

Tsilia Khaiut was born in 1917 in Mohyliv-Podilskyy. Her father, also from Mohyliv-Podilskyy, was a cobbler. Her mother came from the Bessarabian region, near Mykolaiv. She attended two Yiddish schools and finished her education in 1934. She had two sisters and a brother. She survived the war in the Mohyliv-Podilskyy ghetto and a concentration camp in Transnistria.

Money from America

Mohyliv-Podilskyy, Ukraine

In 1931, the Soviet central government’s insistence on meeting outrageous procurement quotas and their obstinate refusal to yield to local needs, combined with climactic conditions, created a massive famine in 1932–1933 that left some 2.5 to 3.5 million people dead. Today, many historians believe the famine was manufactured as a deliberate policy to punish the people of Ukraine for their resistance to collectivization. Some view it as a counterpart to the Holocaust and have come to understand it as “the Hidden Holocaust” or the “Unknown Holocaust.” Even the neologism commonly used to describe the 1932–1933 famine, Holodomor—literally, murder by famine—is a semantic counterpart to Holocaust, complete with the same first four letters of the word.

Some Jews managed to survive because they still had relatives in America who could help provide for them. In this clip, Tsilia Khaiut, who was born in Mohyliv-Podilskyy in 1917, explains that her maternal grandparents would send money from America, which her parents would keep in U.S. funds, recognizing that the exchange rates rendered their remittances worthless.

Although an untold number of Jews died of starvation during the Great Famine, the ability of some to survive on the basis of foreign currency and political clout has contributed to the false perception, often manipulated for political reasons today, that Jews were the instigators rather than among the victims of the Great Famine.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

May 27, 1942: Zhornyshche

Bershad, Ukraine

The war began in the village of Zhornyshche on July 16, 1941, when the German Sixth Army occupied the village on its way from Vinnytsya to Uman. The Germans quickly turned the administration of the village over to a headman, a chairman of the village council, and two Ukrainian policemen. A few weeks later, the local Ukrainian police led a group of about a dozen Jewish men, including one thirteen-year-old boy, to a clubhouse, and shot them.

Soon thereafter all the Jews of Zhornyshche were required to wear a Jewish star on their arm and back, and were put to work, carrying stones for the construction of roads. Just as in every other town in the region, a small ghetto was established. Word reached Zhornyshche the night of May 26, 1942 that pits had been dug in the nearby town of Ilnytsya. That night, the village elder’s son, who had seen the pits and understood their purpose, ran the 8 kilometers from Ilnytsya to Zhornyshche to warn the Jews of what was to come. He had many friends among the Jewish children of Zhornyshche and hoped to save them. He ran in circles around the village warning anyone he could find, but Ukrainian police had already surrounded the village. Shloyme Skliarskii’s three aunts together with their children managed to hide, but Skliarskii was left outside. Even his half-brother, Yasha, who was a mere three months younger than Skliarskii managed to hide in the attic with the rest of the family.

The next morning, all the Jews of Zhornyshche, with the exception of a few who had specialized skills, were ordered to march together under guard to Ilnytsya. “Two tailors, two cobblers, and two glaziers were left behind,” Skliarskii explained. “I mean the tailor and his wife—each one and his wife were left so that the non-Jews could learn how to work. So these ones weren’t taken, at least not immediately.” A Noah’s Ark of survivors was to remain, not to repopulate the village, but only to train replacements among Christian apprentices after which they too would be eliminated. The massacre, Skliarskii recalled, was led by Police Captain Zavalinsky, a local Ukrainian who had been a stable boy before the war; since he had ethnic German roots, the new authorities had promoted him to police captain soon after the town’s occupation. It was Zavalinsky, Skliarskii told us, who pulled the trigger, sending a bullet into Skliarskii’s upper left arm as he fled the column marching down the road.

According to testimony taken by a Soviet Extraordinary Commission in Ilnytsya immediately after the war,

The Germans arrested more than 800 civilians, put them in a building that had been a Jewish school, where the arrested were subjected to inhuman suffering and tortures; they were all taken to the field and shot.

According to another witness, Shloyme Yablonsky, who testified before the Extraordinary Commission in April 1945:

On April 24, 1942, while it was still morning in the village of Ilnytsya, regulars from the German army, along with police, conducted a round- up and caught nearly a thousand civilians, mostly Jews. They were taken under guarded convoy near the forest about 2 kilometers from Ilnytsya to a previously prepared grave. Before execution they were terribly humiliated and forced to undress. Then they were all executed; among them were many women and small children. The Germans did not shoot the children but threw them into the pits alive. On May 27, 1942 more than 800 civilians were also arrested and taken to the premises of a Jewish school. They were held there for one day and were not given food or water. After this, they were executed in the same manner as those who had been executed before and in the same place.

Liudmila Koroteska also testified to the Extraordinary Commission about both the April and May incidents and added the gruesome detail that after the massacre “the clothes they [the victims] were wearing were brought back to Ilnytsya and sold here.”

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

The Tulchyn Pogrom

Tulchyn

Nisen Yurkovetsky, like many Jews born during the agonizing birth pangs of the Revolution, was weaned in violence and destruction. His story is, in many ways, the story of the revolutionary generation. As the Bolsheviks declared victory in faraway Petrograd, the fighting was only beginning in Right Bank Ukraine. Podolia was in particular turmoil, with a bulk of the violence and disorder falling along the path of the Dnieper.

Jews, who tended to reside in the borderlands most devastated by the fighting, were disproportionately affected by the war. During the Great War of 1914–1918, they had been distrusted by the German and Russian military alike, both of whom imposed debilitating discriminations upon Jewish residents of the borderlands and sometimes even deported entire communities.

Each time authority broke down in the urban centers, nationalist fighters, criminal brigands, and disgruntled mobs took advantage of the power vacuum to loot Jewish property and vent their frustrations on Jewish civilians. They garnered support for their violence in large mea- sure by linking popular distrust of the Soviets with latent Judeophobia, claiming that the Jews were ushering in the communists. The pogrom perpetrators saw the Jews as the source of much of their misfortune: some blamed the Jews for the communist onslaught, some blamed the Jews for the war, some blamed the Jews for the economic collapse, others blamed the Jews simply for being Jews. Still other bandits felt no particular compulsion to blame the Jews for anything, but saw potential loot in Jewish-owned holdings. These perpetrators repeatedly plundered and destroyed Jewish property, and killed and maimed with impunity in outbursts of violence.

The first pogrom in Tulchyn took place in February 1918, when the city government, which had been loyal to the Central Rada, fell to the Soviets. In the ensuing chaos, disbanded soldiers attached to the 132nd Benderskii infantry regiment attacked the Jewish quarter of the city, destroying and burning Jewish homes and killing two people (a third person died in the fires). But this was only the beginning of the violence. Eighteen months later, in May 1919, a group of peasants and bandits at- tacked the city, killing fourteen Jews and looting Jewish homes. As the weather warmed, the violence heated up. In June, as all authority broke down, the Christian Orthodox population of Tulchyn, with the local priest Nestervarka Afanasii Braduchan at its helm, took action to curb the violence and expel the bandits who had shattered the town’s peace. According to one report, Braduchan spread false rumors that the Red Army was approaching the city, forcing the violent brigands to flee. But the local Christians were only able to keep the bandits at bay for so long. On the night of June 14, 1919, another gang of Ukrainian national- ists, this time under the command of a Cossack ataman by the name of Lyakhovich, moved into the city, chanting, “Long Live Independent Ukraine!” and attacking the Jewish quarter of the town. When the night was over, Lyakhovich and his gang had murdered 260 Jews, and left the baby Yurkovetsky an orphan, bleeding in a mass grave in his dead mother’s arms.

Yurkovetsky’s account, like many other pogrom narratives, demonstrates the complexities and ambiguities of Jewish–Christian relations in the region. Yurkovetsky’s account, told to him by other survivors and authenticated by the physical evidence that scars his arm, is further corroborated by contemporary reports. A 1921 investigation into the Tulchyn pogrom found that there were instances of Jews being concealed, “primarily on the part of the intelligentsia class,” and that there were some Christian efforts to avert the pogrom. But despite these exceptional cases, the report concluded, the general attitude of the surrounding peasants was indifference. The report notes that the pogrom led to a deterioration of relations between Jews and Christians in the city, as well as a wave of Jewish emigration, primarily to America, and a worsening of the local economic situation.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

The Proskurov Pogrom

Khmelnytskyy

One of the worst pogroms occurred in Proskurov (now Khmelnytskyy), where rumors were spreading that the Bolsheviks were about to launch an uprising in the city and appoint a Jewish socialist as its leader. Christian residents responded by attacking the city’s Jewish population. The pogrom began on February 15, 1919, and lasted three days.

In this clip from 2007, Naum Gaiviker, who was six years old at the time, remembers the events of that terrible day. At the age of ninety-five, he retained his boyish rebelliousness and good humor, even while sharing with us some harrowing stories from his past. But this one he found too upsetting to talk about, so his wife, Sonia, told us what had happened to him as Naum sat next to her, leaning against his cane, nodding and wincing. According to Sonia:

They came into their house:
-“Give gold or diamonds!!”
They were very poor. They didn’t have anything. So they said:
-“We don’t have anything.”

-“If you don’t give us anything, we’ll chop off your head.”
They had no idea what was going on outside. They only heard how people screamed “gevalt.”

At that point, whistling began outside, [signaling] the leaders to convene, to gather together. The bandit, who wanted to kill them, took his saber and put it inside his sheath, and left.

This time they survived. But when they went outside, they saw that over there were heads, over there were hands, over there were feet. And all of his friends were killed off. And he, just a boy, stayed alive. It tormented him his entire life.

Gaiviker finishes the story, adding, “Afterwards the Poles came in and took away my father for one-and-a-half months. When he wasn’t there anymore, we thought he was murdered.”

But Gaiviker doesn’t want to end the story here; instead he concludes with the comment, “In general, things were joyous here.”

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

The Torgsin Store

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Donia Presler survived the famine of 1932-33 with the help of relatives abroad, who sent the funds that were needed to make purchases at the special Torgsin stores, which sold hard-to-obtain goods for hard currency:

We wouldn’t have survived except for two sisters, Zisl and Gitl, who left for America just before the [First World] War. They left for America and from America they learned that there was a famine here. During the Soviet regime, there was a store, a canteen, where they had food—flour and corn—and if you had a dollar you could go and exchange it for food. So they sent us—there were four sisters and two brothers—and they would send us twenty-five or twenty dollars or so, and we would go and buy the food. We would mix the cornmeal with some water and a little salt. We would make a punch of water, cornmeal, and salt, and slowly, slowly we would drink it. . . . And this is what saved us. Without it we would not have survived. They were falling like straw in ’33.

The Torgsin stores remained stacked even during the worst times of the famine, a scene that taunted the starving masses. In fact, the Torgsin stores were available to the political elite and those with connections as well as to those with access to hard currency or valuables. Money sent by relatives abroad saved many Jews who would otherwise have surely starved to death.

For more on how funds from abroad saved some Jews from the Holodomor see Money From America

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

From the Chimney to Berlin

Bershad

Throughout March 1944, the Red Army slowly inched westward across Ukraine, liberating the lands of Vinnytsya Province from German occupation. In Transnistria, Soviet soldiers found pockets of surviving Jewish communities: they liberated 12,000 indigenous Jews and another 40,000 Romanian Jews who had been deported to the region from their homes.

In the Reichskommissariat the Red Army found no intact Jewish communities; there were only individuals who had managed to survive the occupation in hiding, usually in isolation.

The occupation was over, but the war was not.

Young men throughout the region were immediately drafted into the military, scooped up by the war machine, and joined the historic journey westward toward Berlin.

They would end the war not as victims, but as victors. “As soon as the Red Army came, they took me. I was only seventeen years old,” recalls Yosl Kogan of his liberation. “They took me to the draft office and asked: ‘Were you under occupation?’ I answered, ‘Yes, I was under occupation.’ So they took me to the draft office and the Reds enlisted me in military training.” After a truncated training in Rzhev, some 1,200 kilometers to the east, Kogan was placed in the first reserve rifle regiment and sent into the bloodiest front in human history.

In this clip, Kogan frames the narrative of his journey to Berlin as a story of peripeteia, a sudden reversal of fortune, from what seemed like certain death to a spectacular victory. Kogan, who had briefly been imprisoned in the Pechera concentration camp, escaped, weakened, with swollen legs, and near death, back to Bershad, where he hid from the Romanian gendarmes in a chimney. In his telling, he emerged from his hiding spot to join the Red Army and fight all the way to Berlin, where he was able to inscribe his name on the Reichstag as a victor:

I went inside a chimney, where I could hardly breathe. I almost suffocated there. I had to hold my nose. At night, I would go out because my nose was bleeding. . . . When my mother, may she rest in peace, was already gone, I went to a non-Jewish woman. The woman took me in and I went up to the attic. And I spent a week lying in the attic. They couldn’t give me any food. Telling you about such things, I can’t fully describe to you what I lived through. And afterwards, the Red Army came and drafted me into the army. At the age of seventeen, I was off and in the army for seven years. I served at the front for two months. I went all the way to Berlin.

Many Soviet Jews embed the victorious narrative of the Great Patriotic War into their life stories. Veterans of the Red Army view themselves as victors, and not just victims. Yosl Kogan’s story of how he escaped from the chimney and managed to join up with the Red Army to fight in the battle for the Reichstag is emblematic of this triumphalism. The cult of the war resonated with Soviet Jews, who prided themselves on their role in the victory. Emphasizing their victimhood, on the other hand, brought no material advantage from the state or sympathy from the community. On the contrary, it brought them under suspicion for having lived under German occupation.

Survivors struggled to mourn for the dead and took measures to commemorate their losses, but they were more likely to emphasize the disproportionate number of Jews who fought than the disproportionate number of Jews who were murdered.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

From Tulchyn to Pechera

Tulchyn, Ukraine

In December 1941, the Jews of Tulchyn, who had been languishing in the city’s ghetto for the first months of the war, were ordered to report for disinfection and relocation. A typhus epidemic was spreading through Transnistria—the region of Ukraine under Romanian occupation. Romanian authorities panicked at the typhus epidemic of late 1941, and, in some regions where the epidemic was already rampant, responded with extreme violence: in the last weeks of 1941 and first months of 1942, some 48,000 Jewish prisoners, mostly deportees from Bessarabia and Bukovina, were massacred in camps set up in Bogdanovka and Domanevka, in the Golta region of the southeastern part of Transnistria. The authorities justified the massacre as a means of preventing the spread of the disease and of protecting supply lines to the north. The massacre was also the culmination of a eugenics and purification mentality that had pervaded Romanian political and social thought.

The Jews of Tulchyn were gathered together and counted in a local school, where they were held for three days without food or water-- "packed together like sardines" in the words of one survivor. Afterwards, the 3,005 Jews of Tulchyn were taken to the city’s baths to be disinfected.

The Jews of Tulchyn were then forcibly marched through the town along the village road. They passed through the village of Torkiv, where they were housed in stables and the first victims perished. Those unable to walk were shot and left to die on the road.

The convoy eventually arrived in the town of Pechera, where, set on a cliff overlooking the Southern Bug River and surrounded by parkland was a three-story Romanesque palace that had once belonged to the Potocki noble family, but had been used as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients by the Soviet government. It was an ideal isolation ward for quarantine purposes.

The Jews of Tulchyn and surrounding towns were dumped in the building and left to their own devices. This was not a labor camp nor technically a death camp—although death rates were exceedingly high. Rather, it was simply a de facto concentration camp, a place where the Romanians could quarantine Jews to prevent the typhus epidemic from spreading.

Over the course of the next months, additional shipments of Jews were brought into the camp, including about 750 Jews from Bratslav who were brought to the camp in January 1942, and several hundred more who arrived over the next few days from Ladyzhyn and Vapnyarka. Sporadic deportations into Pechera continued over the summer and fall: about 3,500 Jews from the Mohyliv-Podilskyy ghetto were deported to Pechera in two waves in July and October–November 1942. Many inmates of the camp were Bessarabian and Bukovinian Jews, whose long forced exodus from their homes in Romania finally ended here. In total about 9,000 Jews were held in Pechera.

In this clip, Lev Kolodenker talks about the ordeal endured by the Jews of Tulchyn and relates some of their experiences in the Pechera camp.

Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Let It Be Enough!

Bershad, Ukraine

Sara Gvinter survived the Pechera concentration camp by literally crawling out of a mass grave. The Pechera camp was situated on a cliff overlooking the Southern Bug River in Romanian-controlled Transnistria. The other side of the river was part of Reichskommissariat Ukraine, under the direct control of the Germans.

In this clip, she remembers when in 1943 a German punitive brigade crossed the river and massacred a group of Jews. She was among those shot and left for dead in a mass grave.

She remembers one family from Chernivtsi (Czernowitz), whose members were all shot in the grave with her. The memory of one young child, in particular, continued to haunt her the rest of her life. In this clip, she recalls a song that the child's father used to sing.

The song itself is derived from another Yiddish song from Bessarabia and Bukovina that laments the anti-Jewish atrocities committed by Ukrainian brigands during the 1919–1921 pogroms.

The song, Eykho, likely entered Transnistria with the deportees, and was reworked to refer to Nazi atrocities. Thus, Gvinter learned it from Max, the deportee from Chernivtsi.

In the earlier version, the singer alludes to Eicha, the biblical Lamentations, and includes the same refrain, begging the heavens to “cast a glance” and “let it be enough” as well as several lines from the verses, including “little children taken from their mother’s breast” who are “thrown in the rubbish,” and “elderly Jews with gray bears,” who are “thrown to the ground.”

The crucial difference between the two versions, though, is that the biblical references have been dropped. Gvinter does not associate her song with Eicha, most likely because the biblical book had no resonance for her, if indeed she had ever heard of it: she no longer lives in a world in which daily events are measured in accordance with biblical precedents and archetypes.

Other versions of the song that were recorded in Polish ghettos during the Second World War also include verses about holy books being torn to pieces and synagogues turned into stables, both of which are excised from Gvinter’s variant. By the time Nazi atrocities began in Pechera, the holy books had already been forgotten and many of the synagogues had already been reallocated, if not to horses, then to communists.

Afn yidishn beys-oylem iz a shreklekher vint,
Dort lign di yidn azoy vi di hint.
Funem himl a blik,
Af di idelekh gib a kik,
Leshn shoyn op dos fayer,
Un loz shoyn zayn genig!

Vey adonoy, Farvos shlogt undz der nyemets azoy?
Lesh shoyn op dos fayer,
Un loz shoyn zayn genig!

Altitshke yidn mit di grove berd,
Me hakt zey, me brakt zey,me varft zey tsu der erd.
Funem himl a blik,

Af dayne yidelekh gib a kik,
Lesh shoyn op dos fayer,
Un loz shoyn zayn genig.

Kleyntshike kinder fun der muters brist,
Me hakt zey, me brokt zey, me varft zey afn mist.
In a Jewish cemetery there is a terrible wind,
There the Jews lie like dogs.
From the heavens take a look,
Cast a glance at the little Jews:

Blow out the fire already,
And let it be enough!

Oh God, Why do the Germans beat us like this?
Blow out the fire,
And let it be done!

Elderly Jews with gray beards,
They hack them, they break them, they throw them to the ground.
From the heavens take a look,
Cast a glance at your little Jews:

Blow out the fire already,
And let it be enough!

Little children taken from their mothers’ breasts,
They hack them, they break them, they throw them in the rubbish.


Gvinter sung another version of this song for us in 2005.



Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)

The Synagogue Cellar

Bershad, Ukraine

Sara Gvinter spent time during the war first in the Bershad ghetto, then the Pechera concentration camp, and then--after her escape from the camp-- back in Bershad.

During the fall of 1941, large convoys of deported Jews from Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina were being relocated into several towns selected to receive the deportees, including Mohyliv-Podilskyy, Sharhorod, and Bershad. The influx of tens of thousands of individuals from Romania into the already congested ghettos led to massive overcrowding: by late 1941, the population of Mohyliv-Podilskyy swelled to 19,000, Shagorod to 7,000, and Bershad to more than 25,000.20 Sara Gvinter remembered: “And then refugees started to come in. . . . There were ones from Edinet, Chernivtsi, Moldova, Mohyliv-Podilskyy, and from other districts. So many people.”

Many of the Romanian Jews who were herded into the ghettos arrived already sick and tired after enduring forced marches across the Dniester River, and living in stables and other temporary dwellings along the way. The refugees, who tended to come from wealthier and more urban communities than those of Vinnytsya Province, brought with them valuables and money they had managed to salvage when they were forced out of their homes. Many of those without material assets came with spiritual sustenance—a resilient faith in God and intimate familiarity with religious ritual. The revival of spiritual life helped sustain some whose faith had been repressed by twenty years of Soviet rule.

In Bershad, the Romanian gendarme Lieutenant Colonel Gheorghe Petrescu protected the Jews in the ghetto from excessive violence and allowed for the functioning of a market in the ghetto, at least until his dismissal in August 1942.

After Petrescu’s dismissal, the new gendarmerie further restricted the importation of food into the ghetto. By 1943, nevertheless, some semblance of institutional functionality had been achieved in the Bershad ghetto with the establishment of a hospital, an orphanage, and schools, much of which was made possible with the assistance of aid from the Jewish community of Bucharest.

Bella Vaisman was born in 1925 in Berdychiv. Her father was born in Warsaw and worked as a chief accountant. She grew up in a relatively wealthy family. Days before the war began, she went to visit her cousin, as a result of which she was cut of from the rest of her family. She survived the war in evacuation in Uzbekistan, but her family was killed in Berdychiv. She was married to Isaak Vaisman.


Other Interviews:

"a very religious family"
"...and we lived well"
Sabbath Was Sabbath

The Reinsdorfs

Berdychiv

Bella (Betya) Vaisman (née Reinsdorf) was born in 1924 in Berdychiv. She was brought up in a well-to-do, intellectual family. Her father, Moyshe (Moisei), was a religious man who came to Berdychiv in 1914 as a World War I refugee from Warsaw. Although he was unable to openly practice his religion in the Soviet Union, he still refused to work on Yom Kippur. He and his wife Sonya raised three children: Bella and her sisters, Esther and Zina (Zisl). Bella attended a Russian-language school, and though she spoke Yiddish at home, she never learned to read or write in this language.

In June 1941, Bella had just completed the eighth grade with honors, and she asked for her parents’ permission to celebrate by going on a trip with her cousin to visit her maternal grandparents in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkov. This cousin, Zonya, was a law student and needed to go on the trip to take his final exams in order to graduate. They left on the June 20th, two days before Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Her cousin was able to make another trip back to Berdychiv to bring his wife, child, and blind mother to Kharkov, but Bella’s immediate family was left behind. Her parents, two sisters, and paternal grandmother were murdered by the Nazis less than six months later. Zina, the youngest girl, was four years old.

Bella kept a remarkable collection of Bella and her grandfather were eventually evacuated to Uzbekistan for the duration of the war and returned to Kharkov in 1947. It was then that Isaak Vaisman, Bella’s childhood neighbor, saw her name among lists of survivors and found her in the city. They were married shortly thereafter. Their first child was born in 1954.

The Vaismans were last interviewed by AHEYM in 2010 in Berdychiv, the town they continue to call their home.

The Prayer House

Uzhhorod, Ukraine

Ari Halpert gives us some insight about the circumstances of postwar religious life under Soviet occupation. In particular, he points out that Jews who were not bound to governmental work were more inclined to express their faith. For Halpert, the prayer house had been an essential religious institution throughout the Soviet period.

Evgeniia Kozak was born in 1926 in Bershad. She attended a Ukrainian school for eight years. Her parents, who were cousins, were both born in Bershad. Her father was a furrier. She had a younger brother and sister. She survived the war in evacuation in Bezopasnik, Orlovsky Region in the Caucasus and then in Andizhanskaia in the Stalinska region in Central Asia. When she returned to Bershad after the war, in April 1944, her mother worked as a baker. She married in 1958 and has two sons. Her husband died before her second son was born, when her first son was just one and a half years old.


Other Interviews:

Stuffed Neck with Chicken Fat
A Pair of Shoes
Food on Sabbath
Postwar Charity

Evgeniia’s Gefilte Fish

Bershad, Ukraine

Directions:
1. Clean the fish
2. Fillet the fish
3. Put the fillet through a meat-mincer or chop with a chopping knife on a board
4. Add a few eggs and garlic
5. Mix in raw and fried onions
6. Add matzah meal.
7. Make cutlets
8. Fry the cutlets
9. Add raw and fried onions to a pot of water
10. Add salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar to taste
11. Cook the cutlets in the pot for 2 hours

Ingredients:
1 whole fish
A few eggs
Garlic
Raw onions
Fried onions
Matzah meal
Salt
Pepper
Sugar
Vegetable Oil

Arkadii Burshtein was born in Sobolivka in 1928. His father was a tailor. He attended a Yiddish school for four years, and then finished his education in a Ukrainian school. He survived in labor camps in the Reichkommissariat Ukraine before making his way into Transnistria. After the war he returned to Haysyn, where he worked as chief engineer in a garment factory.


Other Interviews:

Sobolivka Ancedote
Sobolivka
My Grandfather and the Priest
My Grandfather's Observance
"they wanted us to stay alive."
Speaking Yiddish
The Mass Grave in Sobolivka

Arkadii’s Gefilte Fish

Haysyn, Ukraine

Directions: 1. Fillet the fish 2. Add sugar, egg, and onions 3. Make cutlets 4. Cook; Ingredients:

1 fish Eggs Sugar Onions

Elizaveta Bershadskaia was born in Chernyatka in 1927. Her father was a barber and was also born in Chernyatka. Her mother was born in Bershad and worked as a seamstress. She had two brothers and a sister. She moved to Bershad at the age of 13, and spent much of the war in the Bershad ghetto. We interviewed her on July 18, 2002 in Bershad.


Other Interviews:

Jewish Professions
Getting Ready For Sabbath
How to Get Food
Liberation
Our House

Mama’s Mamaliga

Bershad, Ukraine

Mameliga is lauded far and wide to this day for its versatility, affordability, and heartiness. In the Podolian town of Bershad (in Ukraine, just northeast of Moldova), AHEYM recorded the recipe for mameliga that Elizaveta Bershad'skaya learned from her mother. Because mameliga is parve - that is, neither meat nor dairy - it can be enjoyed with milk and cheese or with meat, making it an easy base for any meal. You'll notice that Dov-Ber and Elizaveta also discuss the texture of the dish - for the mameliga to come out "as it should be", it must be firm enough to slice with a cotton string.

Bella Chirkova 's father was a rabbi and her grandfather was a cantor. During the war, she served at the front as a nurse. After the war she moved to Vinnytsya to study at a pedagogical institute, and then worked as a teacher. We met her at the Vinnytsya Jewish women’s choir, where she was dancing and singing at ninety years of age.


Other Interviews:

What It Means to Be a Jew
Remedy for the Evil Eye

The Sabbath Candles

Vinnytsya, Ukraine

Bella Chirkova from Vinnitsa describes the process of lighting the Sabbath candles and talks about the personal prayers she usually says while lighting the candles.

Brukhe Feldman was born in 1938 or 1939 in Bershad. Her father died fighting in the war when she was three years old, and she was brought up by her mother. She spent much of her life working in a furniture factory.


Other Interviews:

Postwar Religious Practice
A Gravestone for My Mother
Hunger of 1946
Kheskele - the Clarinetist
Burial Customs
The Shiva

A Jew Must Eat Matzo

Bershad, Ukraine

In Soviet times, while public displays of Jewish observance were heavily discouraged by state authorities, many Jews held on to the traditions of Passover, such as clandestinely baking and eating matzo. More than most other Jewish practices, Passover customs persisted among Soviet Jews, in part because of the symbolic content of the holiday's message of national liberation, and because of the memory of participation in the seder as children.

In the early years of the Soviet Union, the Jewish Sections of the Communist Party published so called Red Hagaddahs that tried to retell the Passover story as a story of the liberation of the proletariat from the oppression of the bourgeoisie. These Red Hagaddahs were widely distributed through Communist Party youth organizations. Almost none of the people we interviewed remembered the Red Hagaddahs. Instead, they recall traditional seders with their families, but often have difficulty recalling specific details of the ceremony.

In this clip, Brukhe Feldman recalls the Exodus story and describes how people would bake matzah in the baker's oven in Bershad. Women would roll out dough for matzo, and the baker would bake them in his oven. Feldman also remembers helping her mother make matzo at home, on baking sheets.

David Furman David Zelikovich Furman was born in 1919 in Berdychiv. He worked as a carpenter before the war and was drafted into the Red Army in 1939 to train in Vladivostok. He fought at the Stalingrad front during the war.

I Defended Stalingrad

Berdychiv, Ukraine

David Furman, born in Berdichev in 1919, was one of the 1.1 million Soviet soldiers who fought in the Battle of Stalingrad, the seven-month battle that turned the war on the Eastern front and left one and a quarter million German and Soviet soldiers dead. Furman left school at the age of fourteen to become a carpenter like his father, but he was drafted into the army in 1939. He was stationed in the Far East until the war broke out in 1941, when he was taken to the front. He fought at the front until 1943, when he lost his leg in battle. By the time that Stalingrad began, in August 1942, Furman had already received word that his entire family - his father, Zelig; his mother, Leyke; his sister, Kheyved and his two brothers, Moyshe and Berl--had been murdered by the Nazis in Berdichev. He knew what he was fighting for.

In this clip, Furman, whom we first met at the synagogue soup kitchen in which the interview takes place, tells about his experience in the war. Viewers should note that the question posed to him is “Tell us something about Berdichev? Were you born in Berdichev? Tell us about the old days? Tell us about your schooling?” Rather than talk about his childhood or his hometown, Furman shares with us his proudest moment--his military service. He rushes through his childhood and neglects his postwar life, but straightens his back, raises his chin, and lets out a smile as he tells us that he fought in Stalingrad! Not only that, but he pulls out of his pocket a snapshot of himself decorated with military medals, as though he expected an international camera crew to show up at the soup kitchen that day. For David Furman, every day is Victory Day.

Arkadii Gelman was born in 1921 in Kamyanets-Podilskyy. His father, also born in Kamyanets-Podilskyy, was a locksmith and his mother, who was born in Kitaygorod, was a homemaker. He had three siblings: two brothers and one sister. Before the war, he went to a Yiddish school and worked together with his father as a locksmith. He served in the Red Army during the Second World War, and fought in the Battle of Berlin. After the war, he worked as a cattle dealer.


Other Interviews:

Craftsmen and Merchants
Sabbath and Poverty

Challah

Kamyanets-Podilskyy, Ukraine

Occasionally, Avrom Gelman's mother was able to make challah on Shabes. He recalls that before she baked the challah, she would cut off a small piece and throw it in the oven. This tradition -- of separating a piece of dough from bread about to be baked -- is a Biblical commandment for Jewish women. In times of the Temple, the separated bread was consecrated for use by Kohanim (priests), but today it is just discarded or burned.

Taking challah was not the only commandment Avrom's mother kept. She would also light the Sabbath candles every Friday night and say prayers over them. Avrom remembers what his mother would pray for: she would speak to G-d in Yiddish, asking for livelihood and health for her family.

David Geller was born in 1929 in Zhmerynka. During the war he evacuated to Central Asia, first to Tashkent and then to Shymkent. After the war, he returned to Zhmerynka, but soon moved to Kiev, where he worked in a factory. In 1950 he was drafted into the army, served for three years, and then settled in Bratslav, where his wife was from.


Other Interviews:

"In short, I am a Jew"
Evacuation of the Communists
Tashkent-Samarkand-Panjakent
Bratslav Matchmaking
"we need to have a wedding!"

Dovid’s Gefilte Fish

Bratslav, Ukraine

Gehakte fish is made with a chopping knife. Gefilte fish is put through a meat-mincer.

Izrail Gliazer was born in 1919 in Podgaytse. His father worked as a glass and window maker. He attended a Polish-language school, before working at a printer’s office. During the war, he joined the Red Army and worked as a radio operator. He fought the Japanese in the Far East, where he stayed until 1946. After the war, he moved to Chortkiv before eventually settling in Ternopil in the 1960s.

Zionist Purim

Ternopil, Ukraine

Purim on the Jewish calendar is a day of celebrating, hearing the Megillah, eating festive meals, exchanging gifts, and giving charity. In Eastern Europe, the purim-shpil, or Purim play, was a popular phenomenon: performers would visit homes during the holiday and entertain those present with skits, songs, and comedy. Dressing up in costumes and wearing masks was another common custom, as mentioned in this week's clip by Izrail Gliazer from Podgaytse, Ukraine. Izrail was born in 1919 and received a traditional Jewish education in a kheyder (religious school for boys).

AHEYM interviewed Gliazer in Ternopil', Ukraine, in 2005. Gliazer mentions a few other traditions that were observed in Podgaytse on Purim. One that was fairly common throughout Eastern Europe but that may be surprising today is the custom of playing dreidel on Purim, a practice usually associated with the holiday of Khanike (Hanukkah). Finally, Gliazer discusses ""purim gelt"" -- money that was collected on Purim to fulfill the commandment of giving charity. He enumerates various organizations that were active in his town, such as the Zionist Trumpeldor organization, representatives of which would go door-to-door collecting money on Purim.

Evgeniia Krasner was born in 1936 in Shpykiv. She attended a Ukrainian school before the war and spoke Yiddish only among her family. Her father worked as an accountant in a sugar factory. During the war, she was imprisoned in the Pechera camp. After the war she was trained at the Cultural Institute of Kiev, from which she graduated as a librarian.


Other Interviews:

The Esebet (Reclining Bed)

Zhenya’s Gefilte Fish

Shpykiv, Ukraine

Directions:

1. Clean the fish 2. Slice open the belly, and take out the intestines 3. Slide your hand under the skin and take out the meat 4. Leave the bones, the tail, and the head intact 5. Saute onions and mix with the fillet 6. Mix in with carrots, eggs, and a little beet (optional) 7. Add pepper and matzah meal (no substitutions!) 8. Put the mixture on the bottom of a large heavy-bottom pan and cook. Ingredients:

1 whole fish Onions – chopped Carrots Eggs Beet (optional) Matzah meal Pepper Vegetable oil

Semyon Later Semyon Efimovich Later was born in 1919 in Smotrich. He studied German at the Foreign Language Institute in Moscow. He worked as a director of a Yiddish school before the war. His father was a bookkeeper. After the school was closed down, he transferred to a Russian middle school and taught German language. He was drafted into the Red Army in 1940 and arrived in Kamyanets-Podilskyy in 1955. During the war, he fought in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Germany, rising to the rank of captain. After the war, he worked as the chairperson of a local cooperative.

The Holiday Cycle

Kamyanets-Podilskyy, Ukraine

"Semyon Later was born in 1919 in Smotrych, Ukraine, where he received an extensive Jewish education. He attended both kheyder (religious Jewish school) and a Soviet Yiddish school. When AHEYM interviewed him in Kamianets Podolsk in 2003, he remembered how his family observed Jewish holidays before the war.

Semyon begins by recalling two of the Four Questions traditionally recited by the youngest child in a family during the Passover Seder. He mentions that he would recite these questions at his grandfather's house. He then talks about the rituals involved in the celebration of the Sukkoth holiday, which he mistakenly remembers as Shavuoth. Semyon insists that instead of the traditional esrog (citron), his family would buy a lemon for the holiday. Likely the lemon was the closest approximation of the esrog that was available to the family. Semyon additionally recalls eating his meals in the Sukkah."

Mira Murovanaia was born in 1926 in Mykolaiv. Her father, a colonel, was born in Kublich. He was positioned in Moscow and taught at the Army Technical School (NVD) in Babushkin. Her mother was born in Haysyn and, as a devoted Communist, worked as president of a tailors’ collective. She had a half-sister from her father’s second marriage. She attended a Russian school and finished seven grades in Haysyn. During the war, she evacuated to Central Asia. After the war, she was trained at a pharmacy and then worked as a pharmacist technician for forty-five years. She has two daughters; they live in Moscow and in Haysyn.


Other Interviews:

Varenikes

Revolutionary Celebrations and Jewish Holy Days

Haysyn, Ukraine

Mira Murovanaia was born in Nikolaev, Ukraine in 1926. During World War II, she was evacuated to Central Asia. After the war, she moved to Gaysin, Ukraine, where the AHEYM team interviewed her in 2002. Mira worked as a pharmacist in Gaysin for 45 years before retiring in 1990.

In this fascinating clip, Mira describes a broad spectrum of Jewish religious belief, practice, and custom of Soviet Jews before and after World War II. Her mother, though she believed in G-d ""in her heart"", felt that Jewish practice compromised her status as a Communist Party member.

Mira depicts a different manifestation of Jewishness in her account of holidays at her in-laws'. In this context, Communism and Judaism coexisted, as revolutionary and religious holidays both found their place in the home. Mira's memories of these holidays, however, are not marked by traditional observance, but rather by the foods that her mother-in-law taught her to prepare. The observance of holidays ""without praying,"" as she says, suggests a more secularized form of celebration.

Finally, in her grandson's generation, Mira describes the reclamation of Jewish tradition by youth in the late Soviet period, reflecting the era of increased freedoms and social experimentation.

Anatolii Shor was born in Bershad in 1922. His father was the leader of a local Hasidic group in town and worked as a hatmaker. He had two brothers and a sister. He went to a Yiddish school for four years and finished his education in a Ukrainian school. He also attended a heder.

Khad Gadyo (One Little Goat)

Bershad, Ukraine

The markers of Ashkenazic Jewishness in the USSR and Former Soviet Union have differed greatly from those in North America or other parts of the world where religious and institutional life play a leading role. Since the late 1940s, Soviet Ashkenazic life and self-identity were almost entirely unofficial, often illicit, and manifested most vitally in family and small community contexts through grass-roots forms of expressive culture like language and verbal art, music – especially song – and traditional foodways.

Thus, the ability of persons of Naftule Shor’s generation to remember and especially to read portions of Jewish liturgy or paraliturgical text is usually a distinctive mark of religious or traditional upbringing transmitted and not forgotten through the Soviet Period, the Second World War, and the dissolution of community life that has often accompanied the emigratsiia: the large-scale emigration of Jews since the 1970s from the USSR and its successor states. New forms of Jewish life are again taking root in larger cities in the Former Soviet Union, but the continued dwindling and disappearance of smaller communities are not only a factor of the inexorable march of time and old age, but a consequence of an emigratsiia that continues to this day.

Many – though by no means all – Soviet Ashkenazim born before 1930 and still deeply familiar with traditional Jewish liturgy are zapadniki, (Russian: “Westerners,”), who grew up in areas of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Baltic countries that were not part of the USSR until the years surrounding World War II. Naftule Shor’s Hagode reading transports us to an earlier era in East European and Soviet Jewish life and reminds us that religious Jewish life and tradition did not simply vanish with the establishment of the USSR or its annexations of neighboring areas.

This is particularly true of Peysekh, with its message of freedom and its function as a participatory celebration for which many older individuals recall ritual or textual specifics. In this clip, Shor chants portions of the four concluding hymns of the Passover seyder (lit. order: religious ritual accompanied by a meal and four glasses of wine). Asked by AHEYM interviewers what he recalls in connection with Peysekh, in particular the final hymn, Khad gadyo (The One Kid), Shor begins to chant the latter from memory. Interrupted and asked if he knows the rest, he picks up a Hagode and begins to read and chant its four concluding hymns in order.

Shor begins with verses 1 and 3 of Ki loy noe, ki loy yoe (It Befits Him, it is Due Him), the final hymn of Halel(Praise), the penultimate Hagode section. He moves directly into the Hagode’s concluding section Nirtso(Acceptance) with the first two verses of the hymn Adir hu (He is Mighty), before chanting all thirteen verses of the counting hymn Ekhod mi yoydeyo (Who Knows What “One” Means?). He often punctuates his chanting of the latter by translating the Hebrew original of each number into Yiddish for the interviewers, who he’s not sure understand (they do!).

Musically, Shor’s renditions are typical of an older, pre-modern and pre-American Ashkenazic style of reading theHagode, in particular its hymns. They are chanted (gezogt, lit. “said”) rather than sung (gezungen). Though they have pulse and melody, or more accurately mode, in the traditional Yiddish worldview they are not “songs”. This approach continues to distinguish the older Orthodox Ashkenazic style of synagogue and home liturgy from more modern, often West European-influenced styles employed by Conservative, Reform and Modern Orthodox traditions throughout the world.

Additionally, Shor’s versions of the concluding hymns (chanted after the Seyder meal) are upbeat and mainly employ “major” modalities. This is also typical of older East European Jewish practice. While we don’t have an example here of Shor chanting the first portion/s of the Hagode, particularly Magid -- the narration of the Passover story itself -- it is characteristic to chant those portions in a more somber manner, utilizing musical modes that convey the suffering, power and drama of slavery, redemption from it, and the Exodus itself.

An intriguing modal and rhythmic moment in this clip is Shor’s brief rendition of Adir hu. We don’t hear much of it, but it appears to be distinctive in its use of a “minor” mode (or one cadencing on the 2nd degree of the mode) and especially in the pulse of the chant, which seems to imply an asymmetrical “7/8” rhythm in the repeated cadences. If the latter is true, we are witness to a moment of great exceptionality. Ashkenazic musical practice in general avoids or “straightens out” the asymmetrical rhythms of Ottoman or Balkan musics. Shor’s rendition raises the question as to whether Jews in southern, former Ottoman and certainly Ottoman-influenced locales like Bershad’ preserved features in liturgy or paraliturgical music that are otherwise absent from secular genres like the instrumental klezmer tradition as we know it.

The texts for Ekhod mi yoydeyo and Khad gadyo are likely of non-Jewish origin, given their parallels in many European cultures. Khad gadyo is unique among the concluding hymns of the Hagode by virtue of being in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Some see this as proof of its antiquity, but given its multitude of variants in non-Jewish European folk traditions, it is more likely a borrowed theme deliberately penned in Aramaic to give it the patina of age and Jewish specificity.

At the end of the clip, Shor refers to the custom of finishing the Seyder on the second night of Peysekh by reciting the blessing that begins the ritual period of Sfires ho-oymer (The Counting of the Omer).

-With thanks to Michael Alpert for providing the descriptive content of the song

Sofia Palatnikova is the sister of Tatiana Marinina. She was born in 1927 in Teplyk. Her father was a butcher. In the 1930s, she moved to the Lunacharskii collective farm in Crimea. She went to a Ukrainian school for six years, but her schooling was interrupted by the war. She survived the war in Teplyk and Bershad, and in camps in Bratlsav, Haysyn, and Raygorod. After the war, she worked in an industrial complex for twenty-two years.


Other Interviews:

"as soon as they attacked, they were already here"
Taking Out the Flour

Sonye’s Gefilte Fish

Teplyk, Ukraine

Directions:

1. Fillet the fish and save the skin 2. Grind the fillet through a meat-mincer, or chop with a chopping knife 3. Mix in raw and fried onions 4. Mix in pepper, salt, and eggs 5. Add matzah meal or dry biscuit crumbs 6. Stuff the mixture back into the skin 7. Place stuffed fish on a pan, and fry briefly with carrots, raw and fried onions, bay leaf, pepper, and salt 8. Cook on a low flame for two hours 9. Arrange on a platter with the head, the stuffed middle, and the tail.

Ingredients:

1 whole fish Onions – grated Onions – fried Pepper Bay leaf Salt Eggs Matzah meal or Dry biscuit crumbs Carrots Vegetable oil.

Liza Petrunenko Liza Iakovlevna Petrunenko was born in Rakova in 1918. Her father worked at the kolkhoz Gigant in Tomashpol. She studied at a Ukrainian school and worked at the kolkhoz as well. After the war, she went to the medical institute in Vinnitsya for six months and then worked as disinfector at a hospital in Tomashpol for 47 years.

Rolling an Egg

Tomashpil, Ukraine

"Incantations must not be taught to anyone," writes Avraham Rechtman in his 1958 book Yidishe Etnografie un Folklor (Jewish Ethnography and Folklore). During an expedition to Tomashpol (a shtetl in the Podolia region of Ukraine) in 2003, AHEYM met Liza Petrunenko, who believed in this rule of silence. Although she knew the formulas that one must say in order to ward off the Evil Eye, she refused to tell the interviewers. However, she did agree to demonstrate the procedure of ""rolling an egg"", which is done to dispel fear.

In Jewish custom, the Evil Eye is mentioned as far back as Proverbs in Tanakh (see, for instance, 23:6 and 28:22), and many preventative and curative measures for it exist, including spitting and incantations (mentioned in the video). Folklorist Dov Noy writes that ""Although practices of this kind were disapproved of by rabbinic authorities... they persisted... In the Middle Ages there is evidence of a more widespread use of folk medicine among Jews. There are many folk prescriptions in the Sefer Hasidim (13th century), most of them derived from the contiguous Christian culture"" (Encyclopaedia Judaica, Second Edition).

Donia Presler was born in 1929 born in Tulchyn. Her father was a musician. Her mother worked as a glazier. She had two sisters, one of whom died in the Pechera camp. She finished four years of Yiddish school. During the war, she was imprisoned in the Pechera camp for four years.


Other Interviews:

Passover Soup
Show Trial in the Camp
Inside the Camp
A Little House with a Dirt Floor
A Family Played the Fiddle
Avrum-Yosl the Glazier
"Christ has risen"
The Torgsin Store

Homentashn

Tulchyn, Ukraine

Homentashn on Shvues

""Homentashn on Shvues?!"" you might ask. But the triangular pastry is usually eaten on Purim! Indeed, Purim is the time to indulge in prune- or poppyseed-filled treats, but on Shvues, Donia Pressler's family in Tulchyn (Ukraine) would make a filling of dairy rice pudding for their homentashn.

The holiday of Shvues (Shavuoth, Shavuot, Shvies), the Festival of Weeks, commemorates G-d giving the Torah to the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt. Because the holiday lacks any distinguishing commandments (like the eating of matse on Passover or the building of a suke on Sukes, for instance), it was often one of the first to be forgotten by acculturating and assimilating Jews. In the Former Soviet Union, those Jews who do remember observing the festival usually recall eating dairy foods on that day, a well-known custom among Ashkenazi, Syrian, Iraqi, and other Jews. And that's how it came to pass that Donia's family ate homentashn on Shvues -- they were special, dairy, rice pudding-filled homentashn.

Efim Rubin was born in 1922 in Buki. He is Matvei’s cousin. Efim attended a Yiddish school for four years, before finishing his education at a Ukrainian school. His father was a barber. He was drafted in 1940 and trained as an officer in Odessa. During the war, he fought at the Moscow, Leningrad, Smolensk and Kalinin fronts. After the war, he worked as a dental technician in Uman. He was interviewed together with his cousin, Matvei Vladimirovich (Motl ben Velvl) Rubin, who was born in 1928 in Buki.


Other Interviews:

Making Matzo Dough with a Roller

Writing in Soviet Yiddish

Uman, Ukraine

Efim (Chaim) Rubin (born 1922) was interviewed in Uman in 2002, along with his cousin, Matvei (Motl) Rubin (born 1928). Both men grew up in Buki, Ukraine. In this clip, Efim recalls his education: he went to a Soviet Yiddish-language school for four years and completed his education (10 grades in all) at a Ukrainian school. The Yiddish schools were meant to be "national in form and socialist in content," utilizing the Yiddish language to promote sovietization and anti-religious propaganda.

Efim mentions that despite his advanced age, he still remembers how to read and write in Yiddish the way he was taught in the school. Although it is difficult to see in this segment, Efim spells two Yiddish words, "shobes" [Sabbath] and "khover" [friend] using Soviet orthography. Traditionally, words of Hebrew origin are spelled in Yiddish the same way they are in Hebrew. In Soviet orthography, however, which deemphasized the Hebrew element in accordance with anti-religious policies, words of Hebrew origin were "naturalized," or spelled phonetically.

Etia Shvartzbroit was born in Mohyliv-Podilskyy in 1928. Her grandfather was a rabbi, and her father had a textile workshop, where her mother worked as a pattern-maker. The workshop was closed in the 1920s, after which her father worked as a government purveyor of eggs until his death in 1940. Etia went to a Yiddish school for four years. In 1942, she was imprisoned together with her family in the Pechera concentration camp, where the rest of her family died. She escaped, eventually making it back to Mohyliv-Podilskyy. After the war, she settled in Lutsk.

Remedy for the Whooping Cough

Lutsk, Ukraine

Etia Shvartzbroit was born in Mohyliv Podilskyi in 1928. She comes from a religious family -- her grandfather was a Rabbi, and her parents kept a kosher household. Her family was quite wealthy -- they kept two servants and donated generously to the poor. Her mother, however, had trouble having children. When Etia was finally born after 13 years of trying, her mother wanted to make sure that she would grow up healthy.

Etia was, unfortunately, a sickly child -- she had whooping cough and was not responding to treatment. When the cough returned after a treatment with a doctor in Odessa, her parents turned to folk remedies. First, her father attempted to ward off the illness by ""giving it away"" to various streams in the town. When that did not help, her mother ""sold"" the child to a widow with many children who was so poor that bad luck (and thus, sickness) would stay away from her.

Iosif Torchinsky was born in 1918 in Skvyra. He moved to Kyiv with his older sister in 1934. His father passed away when he was one year old. His mother owned a shop and traded in goods. After her shop was closed down, she worked at the kolkhoz "Der Poyer" as a cook. He attended a Yiddish school for seven years. After graduation, he studied at a Ukrainian commercial school. He joined the Red Army in 1938 and was sent to Odesa to study at a military school.

Maryam

Kyiv, Ukraine

Iosif Torchinsky was born in Skvyra, Ukraine, in 1918. He studied in a Soviet Yiddish school from 1926 until 1933 and moved to Kyiv, Ukraine, in 1934. In March, 1941, he got married, but three months later he was sent to war. The poem in this clip is dedicated to his wife, Maryam, and tells the story of their relationship. Iosif wrote it in the 1980s.

At the end of the clip, the camera zooms in on the handwritten manuscript, showcasing Torchinsky's beautiful handwriting. Torchinsky's education in a Soviet Yiddish school is reflected in his Soviet Yiddish orthography, seen in such words as חודש) כױדעש, month) and מלחמה) מילכאָמע, war). Maryam

In the town of Pereyaslav-Khmel’nyts’kyy, On the shores of the Dnieper, Where its waves rage, My Maryam was born.

The first month of spring, A joyous thing befell me, I fell in love with Maryam, And happiness was in my life.

To me, a young military man, A young girl got married. In her eyes there was no unrest, But our life did not go smoothly.

We lived together for three months, Until with pain we had to part -- My wife went to the hinterland, And I went to war.

I was wounded in battle, Maryam found out about it, She did not forget me, I knew that well.

On this day, your birthday, I wish you, my dear, Health, luck, and peace, And to be with me for many long years.

Berta Vaisburd Berta Aronovna Vaisburd was born in 1931 in Mohyliv-Podilskyy. Her father was a factory worker. During the war, she was imprisoned in the Pechera camp. She managed to escape and hid in Sharhorod, before returning to Mohyliv-Podolskyy, where they lived in abandoned houses. After the war, she studied in Tashkent and got married before returning to Mohyliv-Podilskyy, where she brought up her two daughters.

Eating Tsimmes and Raising Geese

Mohyliv-Podilskyy, Ukraine

Berta Vaisburd was born in 1931 in Mohyliv-Podil's'kyi. Her father was a factory worker, and her mother was a homemaker. This interview clip (collected in 2005) begins with a description of the various foods Berta's mother used to cook for Shabes (the Sabbath) before the war. Berta mentions various types of tsimmes -- a kind of stew, often made with carrots or legumes and eaten on special occasions such as Shabes, which in Berta's family was always prepared sweet, with sugar.

When discussing tsimes nahit -- chickpea tsimmes -- Berta brings up the fact that her family raised geese -- both to sell for profit and to eat at home. Goose fat was an important ingredient in many dishes, such as tsimes nahit. In Berta's family, they would sell (or use) the goose fat separately, and then they would stuff the goose body with corn meal kneaded into dough and sell that separately. Because her mother did not have an outside job, raising, stuffing, and selling the geese was an added source of income for the family.

Klara Vaynman was born in 1939 in Vinnytsya. She moved to Lviv shortly thereafter. She evacuated to the Urals during the war. Her father was a director of a factory and her mother, born in Lubenets, was a teacher at a Yiddish technical institute. Her father was killed during the war. After the war, her mother worked in a sugar factory and then in the kindergarten in Bar.


Other Interviews:

"go there"

Women’s Prayer Quorum

Bar, Ukraine

Klara (Khayke) Vaynman was born in Vinnitsa in 1939, but her family moved to Lvov when she was only a few months old. She spent World War II in evacuation with her mother in the Ural mountains. After the war, she moved to Bar, Ukraine. In this video, Klara talks about her mother, who was a learned and religious woman from Lubenets, northern Ukraine.

Klara describes how women would gather to pray together under her mother's leadership. Note that the prayer meetings took place after World War II, during a period in which prayer was very taboo and dangerous, but the idea of gathering together as Jews in the aftermath of the war was an important means of asserting community.

Maria Yakuta was born in 1921 in Teplyk. She grew up with six siblings. Her parents were also born in Teplyk, and her father worked as a hatmaker. She attended a Yiddish school for seven years. Her parents and three siblings were killed in Teplyk during the war.


Other Interviews:

"Der Shtern"
Peeking into the Men's Section
The Binding of Isaac
The Matzo Bag
"and a goat on a chain"
Eating Sour Mash - the Great Hunger

Sanctification of the Moon

Teplyk, Ukraine

Masye Yakuta, who was born in Teplik in 1921, recalls how her father would go to a minyan to pray. She also discusses how her father would make pilgrimages to the graves of Hasidic rebbes, particularly Nahman of Bratslav (also known as Nahman of Uman). Largely neglected in the postwar period, the graves of Hasidic rebbes have once again become popular sites of pilgrimage both for Hasidic Jews from around the world and for the local Ukrainian population—Jewish and Christian—who sometimes ascribe supernatural properties to the graves.

Many synagogues were closed during the anti-religious campaigns of the 1920s and 1930s, forcing those who continued to practice to do so outside of the official synagogue. Judaism does not require a formal structure, such as a synagogue, for prayer; it only requires a prayer quorum, or minyan, for the recitation of certain prayers. Thus, those who continued to practice could do so in private homes. Believers established minyans that met clandestinely when there was no synagogue available. Reports from local authorities indicate that they were aware of the presence of minyans, but for the most part chose not to act against them, so long as the members were predominantly elderly and were not attracting the youth away from Communism.

In the selected clip, the viewer also sees Dov-Ber's interest in the linguistic properties of the Yiddish language. Dov-Ber asks Yakuta to repeat certain phrases in order to hear her dialect precisely, and he is very interested in the terminology she uses to describe the rebbe. Whereas she describes him as a ""pious Jew,"" Dov-Ber is curious to see whether the archaic term for a Hasidic rebbe, ""a good Jew,"" still has any resonance.