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.

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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)