The information in this section was obtained from a variety of sources, including, but not limited to: the Enclopedia Judaica, the Black Book, the Nazi Crime Against the Jewish People, personal communication with Miriam Weiner and others and 17 years of painstaking research.
These memoirs were recorded on a tape deck in 1986 during an interview. I posed questions and
my father answered them. While transferring everything to paper, the memoirs were transformed into a monologue with some materials re-shuffled such that they better fit a particular heading. It turned out that the conversational style of these recordings is completely unsuitable for reading and, thus, I paraphrased much of this material myself, trying at the same time to preserve the particularities of the verbal original. Several fragments were reconstructed from memory of conversations held in the past. I can not guarantee the absolute accuracy of the dates and facts. Practically everything remains as it was narrated by my father. His memory may have failed him in some details, especially given the fact that he never, himself, listened to the recordings, much less edited them.
Yasha Kazanovitch, Pushino, 2002
The city of Priluki had a standard layout: straight streets crossing each other at right angles. The
main street, which at the time bared the name Alexandrovskaya, was a highway laid out from stone. At the sides, there was an unpaved road and further to the sides came sidewalks laid out from bricks, [and] in some places, wood or unpaved at all. Asphalt, of course, was not used anywhere. The city length was probably in the order of ten city blocks and so it could be crossed, on foot, in forty minutes to an hour. Public transportation was limited to a few carriages with drivers, which were accessible only to very wealthy people.
In the 20s, the city of Priluki housed approximately 28 thousand inhabitants. The language in use was so called "small Russian" - the combination of Ukrainian and Russian. At home, my parents used Yiddish amongst themselves, but conversed in Russian with the kids. The same order was established in the family of uncle Ara and probably everywhere. Ours was a typical family.
The city consisted, primarily, from one story buildings (which as a rule lacked a backyard), but in the center there were some two-story buildings. I can not recall any interesting buildings, whose architecture would somehow attract attention. Nevertheless, there was a beautiful church next to our house. The center [of the city] was rich in stores, bakeries, cafes and repair shops. There was one bath house for the entire city and almost no one visited it. We washed at home in a washtub. The bathtub appeared in our family only in recent years. Washing with hot water was common once a month, but underwear, of course, was changed more frequently.
Although, no trees were planted on the streets, the city had quite a green appearance thanks to gardens. Especially pleasant was the city garden. No one took special care of it, trimming the trees and bushes, but it was clean and tidy. Another garden was host to visiting theatrical bands, which held concerts in the summers. There was a theater there, an open sky cinema and a stage on which professional bands performed daily. The musicians of Priluki had quite a high level of expertise. Two of the city's cinemas (250-300 seats each) showed movies in the evenings and were usually overcrowded.
I remember some of the movies that I watched back in my childhood: "Damn You, the Person Who Ruined my Life", "If You Want Peace, Prepare for War". From among more recent impressions, I can recall films featuring Mojuhin and Lisenko, "The Match" with Boris Freindlih, "Vufka" with Panov, "Seven Plus Two", many films with Douglas Ferbenksom [Fairbanks}(amongst them "Signal Zorro") and Mary Pickford. From amongst foreign actors, Lolita Torres and Pola Negri were very popular.
A river flowed not far from the city. I often went swimming there in the summers. When I got older, I swam [from] a boat and not always with my parent's consent. I got into trouble for that. In the Winters, ice skating was the main source of entertainment. The skates were without boots. They were simply screwed onto regular shoes. Small kiddies skated on frozen puddles or on snow in the center of the city. No one cleared the snow, but it was trampled into a solid walking surface under pedestrian's feet. Adolescents, who were a bit older, went to specially equipped ice skating rinks.
The city of Priluki had several amateur theaters: Russian, Ukrainian and Jewish. An amateur opera was very popular. I remember an actress by the name of Jadkevich, the wife of a famous Priluki doctor. She was not a professional actress, but was often invited to perform when professional theaters came to town. The Ukrainian professional band was excellent, composed from Priluki residents. I even remember individual actors: Shul'ga, Tchaikovskaya, Hvilya. The theater was located in a single building used by the locals and the visiting bands alike. On occasion, very famous bands came to visit Priluki. I remember one such band was under the leadership of Gol'dfaden. I attended their performance in 1921 or 1922. They brought to stage such plays as "Wrilia Costa", "Pierr & Jan", "The One Who is Slapped" by Leonid Andreev. Gol'dfaden had under his supervision one very famous actor, Zarjevskiy, who I later saw in the Little Theater (Translator note: an eminent Moscow theater) as well as on the movie screen. Zarjevskiy's specialty was comedy, but once he was given a tragic role in the play "Til'bi" and he performed so brilliantly that the entire town voiced delight afterwards. In the Jewish amateur theater, I saw a play "Bar Kohba" about a hero of the anti-Roman wars. Particularly memorable, was how he tore away the chains from his body. When I was little, my father took me to a play called "The Sacrifice of Isaac". Naturally, I do not remember the plot, but the scene, in which Abraham raises the knife above Isaac and the angel halts his hand, had a profound effect on me.
All-in-all, although my father was not a theater-goer, as he rarely attended performances, he loved theater dearly. At one time, upon returning from a trip, he said that he saw a play called "The Straw Hat". He enjoyed it so much that he spent several days under its influence. My father usually went to the theater in the company of my mother. She loved the theater as well, although probably she and others were divided by national lines. Everything was mixed. The same schools were attended by everyone and there were practically no ethnic conflicts among the children, if rare incidents are discarded. I remember I beat-up on one kid because he called me a "dirty Jew". One time, I knocked another guy off his feet on the soccer field for the same offense and sat on top of him until he apologized. He was considerably stronger than me, but everyone was on my side and happy that I had my [way] with him.
The situation with the schools has to be clarified. After the revolution, I attended a so called Jewish school. There were two such schools in Priluki. Nevertheless, all subjects were taught in Russian. Later, all Jewish schools were dissolved and we were transferred to a Ukrainian school. There, all nationalities were mixed, but I still had more [affinity] for Jewish kids.
Many Priluki residents led a very poor existence. Our home was close to the outskirts of town. The only district further out from the center of town was Kustovtzi. There was still another outward district, Kvashevtzi on the other side of town, but I had less knowledge of it. The residents of Kustovtzi, peasants and industrial workers, came to our shop for groceries. How modestly they ate could be inferred from the kind of food they bought. They usually bought salted fish. Not a kilogram or a pound, just one fish. [They bought] 50 grams of oats [and] olives. Not sunflower oil, but olives because olive oil was cheaper. Very often, they did not pay cash, but made entries into a special debt book and paid later when they had the cash. Such a system of credit book purchases was very widespread. During Denikinskiy terror raids, we hid in Kustovtzi. (Translator note: Denikin, a Tsarist army general was known to have carried out anti-Semitic raids in territories under his control). We had acquaintances, mothers who came to our grocery shop. They treated us very well and not only hid us, but fed us as well.
Our family lived comparatively better than these people, but even in our household, we never saw such produce [such] as sausage, cheese, doughnuts or candy. Unlike our family, uncle Ara could afford sausage. When we came to visit him, it was on the table for guests and we enjoyed it greatly. The only plentiful products were vegetables and dairy products. Ice cream was sold in Priluki, but it was quite expensive and so it was not easy to get ice cream money from parents. My father liked ice cream and during NAP (Translator note: successful post revolution economic reforms), he treated me to it, but still not very often. Ice cream was considered a rarity.
In spite of the relative wealth of our family, there were no purchased toys in our household. We played with what we could find. Moreover, collective games were quite common. For instance, we played a stick game by the name of tzurki palki. For this purpose, we delineated a small piece of land (a space into which we placed a stick sharpened on both edges). We had to hit it on its edge so that it flew as far as possible. After that, another player had to hit the stick hard enough so that it flew back into the delineated space. During school years, we were very fond of the game, battle for the flag. Two teams participated which moved from one area to another in accordance with special rules. The team that reached the finish faster, won.
During my teen years, I participated in organized sports. Lessons were not taught by professional, salaried coaches, but by sports enthusiasts. We concentrated, primarily, on field athletics and gymnastics, but also played soccer. I ran fast (100 meters in 12 seconds), was quite adept on parallel bars and rings and somewhat less successful on a tunicate.
Priluki enjoyed fairly high quality medical services. The city had a large hospital and a free clinic- more exactly an ambulatory with one doctor and a nurse. Priluki doctors were pretty highly qualified. I remember a doctor, Krasnopol'skiy, who went to Kiev to receive treatment and was asked, "why did you come here from Priluki, when you have such a doctor as Krasnopol'skiy in your hometown?" Our family was regularly looked over by a family doctor, who treated both children and adults alike. When I caught scarlet fever, I even had intravenous injections. During the Civil War, most suffered from Typhus (intestinal, recurring and the rash variant). Lisa and mom went through the ordeal and were treated by doctors. Many also suffered from the [acute] epidemic of influenza (Spanish strain). For children, the most dangerous diseases were pertusis, measles and diphtheria. Tuberculosis was very widespread. Several people I knew died from that disease.
There were practically no industrial centers in Priluki, if you disregard the two tobacco factories. The city awakened to the bell sounded at these two tobacco factories and two windmills, Shahima and Dolgina. Two or three engineers, who worked there were viewed as the local upper class. I remember that one of the engineers, Shenderov, loved to drink tea on the terrace of his house. This was as high as one could go and he was the envy of the town.
Everyone worked, mostly in the service or retail sectors. The city had plenty of different repair shops and bakeries. I personally [watched] as dough was mixed in a bakery by the worker's feet. Compared to this, even our butter production shop with ten workers was a sizable enterprise. People worked all week straight, with the exception of Saturday. There were no vacations, not only in practice, but even in theory. Such a concept did not exist. Trading was accomplished at the bazaar (Translator note: market place). It was large and relatively inexpensive. Wholesale trading took place as well. For instance, uncle Ara had warehouses from which he marketed salt and, after the revolution, large quantities of flour. He sent all of his sons, with the exception of Mark (who was then 15-16 years old) on business trips to different cities. On one of such trips, one of his sons caught typhus and died. He was a very good guy. It was then that I first saw my father crying during his funeral.
Wholesale trading went through the exchange house. Business people met there in the evenings to discuss trading arrangements and also to discuss the most recent political events. My father went there, from time-to-time, to sell butter. It is important to note that all arrangements were, as a rule, made through the word of mouth. No official documentation was used. A promise was esteemed very highly, probably, because those who broke (it) were expelled from the business circles. Even though my father participated in trade, I first heard the term bill when I was quite grown up. I do not know whether he sent a bill to someone or someone sent a bill to him, but probably it was an isolated incident. Although in truth, there was one instance where my father was cheated. He accepted a railway car full of matches on false papers. It was done by a man who was considered to be a highly respected, g-d-fearing citizen. He even read the Torah in our synagogue. My father did not want to go to court on this matter [as] this was considered impolite. But people spoke of this incident in the synagogue and this man's reputation was ruined. Money was (loaned) and often in quite large amounts without interest or even a signature and not only to relatives, but just to people one knew could be trusted.
Beginning in 1910, the novelties of the technical civilization [began] appearing in Priluki. During the first years after the World War , a telephone was installed in our house and soon after the civil war, we had electricity. Automobiles appeared shortly before the revolution. The first car owner in Priluki turned out to be a distant relative. He had a bicycle shop and rented some bicycles out. He was a "techie" with "golden hands", able to fix absolutely anything. Once, he bought a "piece of garbage" on four wheels and fixed [the automobile] to the point of being able to take it for a ride.. The reliability of this form of transportation was quite doubtful. Once, he invited us for a ride, took us outside of town and, at that time, the engine died without any hope of resuscitation. We had to return home on foot.
After I left Priluki, I continued to socialize and maintain friendly relations with its residents. However, it so happened that they were not the same people with whom I was close to while living in Priluki. I maintained relations with my Priluki friends from Leningrad until the last days. Every time, I came to Leningrad, I made every effort to meet with them. One of such friends, Polya Pen'kovsky, not long before his death, traveled on the Volga and visited us in Kuibishev. I do not write regularly to the widows of my friends, but we congratulate each other on special occasions.
WARS and REVOLUTIONS
Even though I was not even five years old when the first World War began, I remember peasants who came to our house saying that, in all probability, war will start soon. However, they had quite a naďve understanding of the nature of war. For instance, someone asserted, "they will engage each other [with] pitchforks beyond Kozenko (village next to Priluki), fight a little and it will end there". Reality proved much more frightening. Genya's brother, Yanya Gleih, wrote home from the front that it is better to be left without a head than go fight. Another one of Genya's brothers, Isaac, a very tough, healthy man, drank poison to avoid being drafted during mobilization. Genya put vision deteriorating eye drops in his eyes. As a result, his vision was quite weak in one eye. There were also those who put red hot coins on their bodies to induce lesions. I heard of those who shot themselves on the frontlines. Even severe penalties could not stop them.
Due to his affiliation with the military supply chain, my father dealt with the office of military control chief - something that is now called the "military commissariat". (Translator note: In the Soviet armed forces, commissariat implied an office headed by a commissar, a commander overseeing command and control as well as compliance with party ideology). My father was under the command of colonel Nirkevich. Their relationship was strictly professional, without bribes of any kind and yet mutually beneficial. When the war began, my father used Nirkevich's sympathy for him to get preferential treatment and even used it to help a few of his friends to evade the draft. Once, my father helped a wealthy man with the same problem, who then offered a fairly large sum of money as compensation for the colonel. Nirkevich categorically refused the money. [He said] "do not wish a sin on my soul as I enter old age".
I clearly remember the very beginning of the revolution. [There were] demonstrations on city squares, orators who spoke, literally, around the clock and a high degree of agitation among the people. Our family and other families that I knew unconditionally endorsed the February revolution. Why another revolution was necessary was beyond them. For instance, this is what uncle Ara remarked about the October revolution - "This could not be".
A new state seemed to him to be the embodiment of absurdity. My father thought that it was the revolution of eighteen year olds. That everything is to blame on inexperienced, senseless adolescents, who are doing hell knows what. As far as the younger generation is concerned, I do not know anyone, even from wealthy [ bourgeois] families, who did not ecstatically endorse the revolution. This was the cause of quite serious conflicts within families. During that time, one of our distant relatives, Aron Gurevich, worked as an accountant in my father's butter shop. My father was not against saving on taxes, but Aron was categorically against it. Naturally, it irritated my father and went far enough to lead to scandals. Nevertheless, [we] children preserved the warmest relations with Aron. He later lived in Har'kov [Kharkov] for many years and was friends with Lisa and her family. Aron was a political officer, a war veteran [and] had many awards, including the Medal of Bogdan Hmel'nitzkiy. He retired as a colonel. I visit him to this day when I am in Har'kov [Kharkov].
In the 1920s, Priluki had pioneer and komsomol youth organizations. Many kids were a part of them because working for them was a lot of fun. I also participated in the work done by a pioneer organization, but I was not allowed to become a member, probably because I did not come from a proletariat family. Actually, this rule was not always enforced. For instance, Rimma's brother, Isaac, was a pioneer and a very active one besides. His parents did not approve.
The civil war was a trying ordeal for Priluki residents. With the establishment of a revolutionary government, confiscation of private property commenced. Beds, writing desks and other furniture was confiscated not only from the well to do, but from anyone who made, more or less, a decent living. That is why when Denikin's forces rolled into town, they were greeted with flowers after what the reds had done. Genya Gleih once remarked on this matter - "Do not be alarmed, they will beat us up no matter what". And actually, on the very first night, they carried out a horrible terror raid (Translator note: In this context, terror raid refers specifically to one carried out against Jews), in which tens of people have died. After we hid from Deniken's men where we could, Grisha and I were sent to hide with a distant relative, who lived in the most far off, rarely visited part of town. To pass off our house as the poorest and least attractive, we left cabbage remains on the floor. As a result, the house had such an odor that, of those soldiers who walked in, very few had the desire to stay. Nevertheless, some agreed to an offering of a shot, but were very modest and did not even want to take sugar.
My father, who hid in a different house was treated less delicately. One of Deniken's men demanded that my father take off his shoes. My father begged that they do not take away his boots and offered money instead. However, the soldier said that he needed only boots and forced my father to give them up. After some time, another soldier walked in and asked - "who here offered money for boots?". My father had to give up the money as well.
In those years, people were robbed by anyone who was not lazy. [These included] the Reds, the Whites, the Greens and just criminals who did not disguise themselves under a political ideology. One evening, we received a knock on the door. A security guard replied to the question of "who is there?". When we opened the door, armed men burst into the house. As it turned out, they forced a security guard to knock on the door. [The armed men] demanded money and everything that had value. It is not possible to say that they were successful in enriching themselves by robbing us as, by this time, there were very few valuables left in the house. However, they severely frightened us. The consequences of such an intrusion could have been a tragic murder, which was a routine occurrence.
Compared to crimes committed by individuals, government sanctioned theft proved more effective. In the mid 1920s, a so called "gold rush" began the confiscation of gold from the populace. From among our relatives, it was uncle Ara who suffered from this. Someone probably snitched on him and he was [taken] to the central police station. He really did have some quantity of gold saved for artificial tooth purposes later in life. He gave up everything immediately after his arrest. and then they brought Ara home in hopes that he would give up something else. They then took him back to prison. One of his sons was arrested to be sure he behaves. Uncle Ara was set free in two weeks. I went by the prison with Mark just to meet him. When they escorted him out, he looked very sick and completely deranged. In a couple of weeks, he became more like his old self, [at which time] he could tell us how the police earned its gold.. (It is interesting that the police gave him papers allowing him to skip work until he recovered.} "Convicts were kept in a cell completely packed with people so that they could not sit or lie there. We were kept on a diet of salted fish and given no water. We were interrogated at night. While you made your way to be interrogated, you got so tired that you were carried out on somebody else's hands. Also, the morning was a time for roll call and the following speech by the prison head - You bastards hid away gold for a rainy day, so know this, there will be no day rainier than this one in your life. Give up the gold!".
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