will write my memoirs, as much as I remember and what my mother of
blessed memory used to tell me.
I was born in 1898, ten days before
Chanukah (# Nov 28, 1898). We were eight children to our parents, six
sons and two daughters: Khaim, Shmilik, me Rokhel, Pinkhas, Velvel,
Yokhved, Zalmen and Leibl. We lived in a Jewish colony (Trudolubovka).
There were seventeen colonies in Yekaterinoslav Gubernia (# government).
Mother told us that her grandfather and
grandmother used to live in Kovno. In those times they used to snatch
Jewish children to take them for soldiers. Many children were
converted. The great-grandfather and great-grandmother took the
children and came with them to the Ukraine. They built government
houses for them. They gave them land to work. The land belonged to the
government; they weren't allowed to sell it nor were they able to
acquire more land. In the Kolonya they chose for an elder one who the
regime was interested in. He used to take taxes and send them to the
regime. There was a Shule. The Jews built a store where all the
householders kept their produce for the next year. There was a Feldsher
(# an unqualified medical orderly). We had two shops. Two brothers made
soap. There was a vineyard. When there was a grape harvest we children
went into the vineyard and we found especially large grapes.
When I was very young the authorities
built a secular school. Half a day they learnt Russian and half Hebrew.
The Russian teacher was a Jew from Andreyevka. They built for him and
his family a house. The Jewish teacher was my grandfather, my father's
father. The school was in our Kolonya and was built of red brick
surrounded by a wall and a gate to be closed.
In our Kolonya there was one main street
and a small one; we called the small one `The Hintisher Gasse' (#The
Dog's Street). One person used to raise dogs and sell them. The Shule
stood at the junction of the Hintisher Gasse. There were two shops,
both opposite the Shule. Between the shops lived the rabbi and the
I think that father had twelve desyatins
of land. How it was divided I don't know. When grandfather had three
more sons grandfather himself didn't work the land. He was a teacher in
the school; he was a Shokhet and Khazan. In his young days it was hard
for my father. He didn't have all the machines one needed to work the
land. When my brothers grew up and they knew how, they helped. Then
things were a lot easier.
We used to sow wheat, corn, oats, beans
and sunflower for making oil. We had a very small house. But later we
built a bigger house with a big chimney and large windows. In his young
days my father was a little gentleman. My dear mother was a great
housewife. She cooked, washed, sewed, and crocheted; there was nothing
my mother didn't know. In my father's house there was no place to lie
down. Mama was busy all the time. She made children's pants and all the
clothes so that the children always had new clothes. At harvest time
Mama didn't sit with crossed hands but helped with everything and
don’t forget that as a housewife she had to feed the chickens and
roosters and calves and everything was in order in the house.
My dear good mother! When one is young
one doesn't understand the value of a mother but when one gets old and
when oneself is a mother, only then do you understand how to value it.
My mother was from another Kolonya
(Grafskoy), seven versts from us. My mother did not have a mother.
Grandmother died when she brought my mother into the world. Grandfather
was the rabbi of Grafskoy. They were seven children, four sons and
three daughters. The eldest son Zalmen was a rabbi, Mendel, Ester,
Meir, Simkha, my mother Dina and another sister, from one father but
not one mother, Reizel.
I don't know why it was, but a rabbi
could not remain without a wife. Aunt Reizel's mother had a son from
her first husband. The son was not all there. He was older than Uncle
Zalmen. When the time came when he was liable for conscription there
was a commotion. Why? For the sake of the simpleton Zalmen would have
to take his place. They decided to make a provisory divorce. The Aunt
Reizel's mother was a dear wife. They indeed took uncle Zalmen to
serve. He was there a Feldsher and used to heal the soldiers. He made a
kosher kitchen for them. But grandfather himself already no longer
lived with his wife. Aunt Reizel did not want to go away from
grandfather. Aunt came every day and used to cook for him and do the
washing and help with the children. All the grandfather's children
belonged to their one family.
After his service, Uncle Zalmen married
and had three sons and four daughters. The uncle I will never forget.
He was a Mentsh and a Neshoma (# good soul). It is not possible to
write enough of his goodness. Now I will give the names of my cousins,
Uncle Zalmen's children: Khaim-Sholem, Mottel, Khaya-Rokhel, Meir,
Luba, and the other two I can't remember. Uncle Zalmen's wife was
Uncle Mendel, his wife Beila: the first
son Zalmen, Yaakov Leib, Yokhved, Binyomin, Basse, Zlate, Pinkhas, and
Ester; her husband was called
Khaim-Moshe. They had only one son - they had no other children. They
died young. For a Segula (# lucky charm) they gave him the name of the
Brisker Rov Yosef-Dov. (# Soloveitchik). They dressed him in strange
clothes until he was six years old. Uncle Khaim-Moshe was an affluent
man. He used to have in Mikhailovka a wholesale business for all sorts
||Uncle Meir lived in Andreyevka; his
wife's name was -------(# Tybel).|
||They had three daughters and three
sons: Khana-Reizel, Tsipora, Alter, Pinkhas and Leibl. (# and Khayalah)|
||Uncle Simkha, his wife Khava ----
(# Rokha) had one son Pinkhas and two daughters Khaya-Gittel and Beilka.|
||My mother Dina, father
Avraham-Hillel Namakshtansky. Mother's maiden name was Komisaruk. The
children were six sons and two daughters: Khaim, Shmilik, Rokhel,
Pinkhas, Velvel, Yokhved, Zalmen and Leibl.|
||Aunt Reizel was married to Koppel
Kahan. Three sons and five daughters: Yokhved, Basse, Moshe, Leaka,
Pinkhas, Falka (# Rafael) Pashka, and Khanka.|
I must add that
Uncle Khaim-Moshe had rabbinical ordination but he didn't practice as a
rabbi. His brother was the rabbi of Mikhailovka. The child was called
Alter. I didn't know him other than as Alter. He was a very clever
child. At three years he went to a Kheder (# elementary school) with
ten year old children, learnt Khumash (# Bible) and other things. Once
the teacher asked an older child a question and he didn't know the
answer. A small child would know the answer, but he (# Alter) laughed.
The teacher beat the child with a whip until he bled. When the child
came home he said nothing. When his mother gave him a bath she
discovered the terrible damage the teacher had wrought on her child.
She took him by the hand to the teacher and gave him a telling off. She
immediately took him to another teacher.
there was no high school. Alter wanted to learn. He bought all the
books which he wanted to learn. When the time came to hold examinations
he traveled to Melitopol. He answered all the questions a hundred
percent. The gentile students couldn't answer them all. They awarded
diplomas but told Alter that he was no good. He knew that it wasn't
that he was no good but that he was a Jew. He went home broken. He
wanted to jump under the train but he had pity on his parents.
They would have
taken him during the First World War, even though he was an only child,
but in wartime they took everyone. Aunt Ester dressed him in Prussian
clothes so that he could cross the border and he got to Harbin. Alone
they lived in a broken home. When there was the Revolution they
arrested Uncle but many gentiles pleaded for his release. How they
managed to get out to Harbin I don't know. In Harbin lived Uncle's
sister. After the Revolution Alter came to America. With the parents he
lost all contact. They knew nothing of him and he knew nothing of them
for a very long time. He married. All this Alter told me.
Now I will
return to Trudolubovka. My grandfather Rabbi Eizik Namakshtansky;
grandmother Fruma. I remember her as a woman of religious standing,
with a white kerchief perched on the head; always worried. Grandmother
had eighteen children but they did't see the light of the world except
for six children, four sons and two daughters. My father was the
eldest, Avraham-Hillel, David, Sarah, Feigel, Shmilik, Shimon. My
mother's name was Dina; the children's names I've already written.
David had two children; his wife's name was Bassie. One of the children
was a daughter Sarah and a son Moshe. Aunt Sarah married in Tokmak to
Itche Levitsky and had two daughters Rokhel and Ester. Aunt Sarah was
pretty; when she went by they used to look at her. But her life was
short. Uncle made a fine life after Sarah's death. Grandfather and
Grandmother didn't want the children to have a stepmother. They made
Aunt Feigel marry Uncle Eizik. She didn't want to; she didn't love him,
but her parents insisted. Uncle Shmilik married his beloved Ester and
had two daughters Sarah and Feiga and Sonny. Their son lived in
Toronto. Uncle Shimon was killed in the First World War. I think I
haven't forgotten anyone. I hope not.
Now I will
return to our dear family. One thing I can say that I was a wild one
and disobedient. I, together with Pinkhas, used to make a lot of
pranks, so much so that Mama used to beg us children to be quiet and
let her do some work. But we were more noisy. She sat us in corners,
one with a broom in the hand and the other with a poker, each facing
the corner. We burst out with resounding laughter. I was tired of being
in the corner and, hearing a neighbor, came out. The neighbor asked:
"Rokhele, what is up?" I replied: "Grandmother died. "I always had an
answer for everything.
Mama always sat
with us to say `Modeh Ani' (# morning prayers) and `Benched' (# Grace
After Meals) after meals with all of us and prayed with us before going
to bed. She `Davened' (# prayed) three times a day by heart and fasted
every `Yortzeit' (# anniversary of a death) and so G-d would help, she
fasted during wartime every Monday and Thursday to thank G-d for His
great kindness that her sons would not have to go to the war.
In the next
house from us lived my friend Mariasha. She had sinus trouble and used
to talk through her nose and was not very good looking. I used to go
jumping and skipping to Mariasha. In the yard stood her mother with a
young man who used to travel around to buy hard goods. When I came
skipping in and asked if Mariasha was home , the man said: "What a
pretty child". Mariasha's mother said: "What good is a pretty face when
she is a midget". I overheard and went home and told Mama, "Mama, you
have a midget for a daughter". I told what I had heard and my mother
said: "Don't take any notice of what Riva said. It's only because
Mariasha isn't as pretty as you."
Once, it was
harvest time, when they took in the produce, I was then nine years old,
or ten. I used to talk with other girls who were twelve or thirteen. We
wanted to go and bathe in a creek which was one and a half versts from
home. My sister wasn't yet a year old. The heavens clouded over and it
was a good excuse for going to collect grass for brooms. I took the
child with me as I wanted to help Mama. Heaven forbid it might rain but
we could shelter in a hut where they collected the kernels of the
crops. We took something for the child to eat and I lost count of the
time. We wandered on further along the way to the creek. All the girls
0helped me carry the child. We came to the creek, sat the child down
and gave her something to eat. We all went into the water to bathe we
were very happy and cheerful. Then we went on a little way until we saw
a rider, and then a second, and after the riders, a whole army of men
recognized my brother Khaim on the first horse. The second was my
father. Khaim rode up and took the child from me and said: "You will
already get it." Father said nothing. When the women came, the first
was my mother who ran up to me. She snatched the brooms from me and
with them she gave it to me in the `soft place'. It was a great shame
for me. My mother said nothing and I accepted it.
shepherds used to bring the cattle home from the pasture they had to be
milked early in the morning. The street was grown like a green carpet.
Girls and boys went out and danced and sang. I used to want to go with
them. No I could not. Why? My mother used to say: "You ought to know
who you are."
Rabbi Pinkhas didn't live very long. It was a cold winter. Grandfather
did not want to wake the children so they could give food and water to
the horses and cows. He got up and dressed warmly. In the barn he gave
them all food. But they wanted to drink. He took the bucket with a rope
out to the well to draw water. It was very slippery; it was a heavy
frost and in the evening when they had drawn water from the well, some
spilt out. As it was a very cold night, it froze and became very
slippery. It was impossible to stand properly as Grandfather lowered
the bucket and filled it with water. When he pulled up the bucket, it
pulled him over into the well.
shouting for help. They couldn't find a rope. Everyone was so confused
that they couldn't think clearly. In the same house with Grandfather
lived Grandfather's brother (# Velvel) and he had a shop for farmers'
supplies. But there was no rope. Grandfather called from the well:" You
stand in the middle of the ocean and you ask for a drop of water."
pulled him out of the well they quickly brought a doctor. But he was
too chilled and they could not save him. Seventeen rabbis from the
surroundings came to the funeral. All the children from the places
where they lived, together with many householders, came to pay their
respects for the father.
For my mother
it was the worst. When she was born and lost her mother, Grandfather
used to sit all night with the Gemorrah in his hand (# studying),
swinging the cradle. My mother knew how to `Pasken' all the `Sheylahs'
(# make decisions of religious law).
When the time
came to go to school there were girls of the `aristocracy'. In each
class they used to sit for two years. When I was attending school there
were with me six boys who learnt very well. When I started I didn't
understand any Russian. The teacher used to give homework and ask us
later what we had understood. I used to learn and Mama used to heat the
oven where we sat. I was very good in arithmetic and geography. But I
was a great `crammer'.
With G-d's help
it was winter and I broke the toe of my right foot. Mama used to rub it
with Shmaltz (# chicken fat) and wrap the foot with rags and cover the
foot with a galosh and put the other foot in a galosh. I so loved to
study the geography chart on the wall. It was a very big map. I knew
all the countries and all the waterways and cities. Once I took
geography and sat down opposite the wall and made pranks. The children
broke out laughing. The teacher didn't understand and asked: "What's
this noise?" They said "Namakshtanska did it ". I looked up with such
an innocent face and said: "My foot hurts so that I can't stand and I
sat and learnt the chart".
I want to go
back a bit. When I was five years old father was away for a while. Mama
wanted to bake bread but she had no meal. It was a dark night. She went
to Karl the miller. He lived four houses from us. She took from him a
pud of flour. A pud is forty pounds (# about 18 kg.) and she went home.
She didn't know that they had dug a cellar and in the cellar was also a
hole. Mama, with the sack of flour on her shoulders went and fell in
the cellar and caught her foot in the small hole and broke her foot.
She cried out for help. They carried her out of the cellar and brought
her home. By us, over the way, lived Reb Ber; he had a vineyard. When
anyone broke a foot or a hand they used to go to him. He used to give a
pull to the hand or foot and it was good. He would set the foot and
bind it. But it did not succeed.
to take her to a specialist who set bones. He came and had to break the
foot again to set it in plaster. They made a hole in the end of the bed
for a rope to tie to the foot and hung over the bed a big stone. In six
months he would come and take off the plaster.
Mama lay in
great discomfort and never once made a sound. After six months, when
they took off the plaster, my mother limped till the last day of her
life. She never walked straight.
Now I will go
back to the school. I, with the boys, went from one class to the next.
When we came to the last class, the daughters of the aristocrats
finished the second year. One more year, then the exams. They gave us
arithmetic. I, with the six boys soon finished. The girls weren't up to
the same standard and cheated. They slandered me that I had cheated and
so, in that distasteful way, I finished school.
I learnt for a
while at home with the teacher, and then he suggested that I study in a
gymnasium (# high school) on a scholarship. Father refused permission
for me to go to Mariupol because it was "a strange town". I was
disappointed with his decision. I wanted to leave the Kolonya and go to
work in Chernigovka to live with father's brother, Shmilik. I wrote to
him to find work for me. He replied and invited me to come. My mother
was appalled: " My daughter a seamstress ! " I argued with my parents,
but they finally agreed, since at least I would have my uncle to watch
My father took
me to Chernigovka. I went to work making clothes for the peasants and
used to travel around in a wagon selling amongst the villages. It was
very hard work and I had to work long hours. The Jews in Egypt didn't
work so hard. I was there less than a year until I wrote home and
father came to collect me.
home for three months, I still felt that I wanted to leave the Kolonya
and to feel free. A neighbor was a tailor in Kaminka
(Tsarakonstantinovka), a large town twelve versts away. So I went to
work for him for a year. I learnt to make trousers, vests and jackets.
They were very good to me and I spent a year there. In the town there
were rich Jews. The mother of one family donated a Sefer Torah to the
Shule and there was a big celebration.
brother Khaim worked for Singer's Company selling new sewing machines
and he invited me to Nikitovka to work. But I had not finished my
year's work and my employer would not release me. Nevertheless I
insisted on going, leaving my forwarding address should my employer
decide to make a legal claim against me.
traveled home to a new house. It had large windows and was like
paradise. Then I went back with father to pick up my case. But my
employer would not release me and there was a court-case where it was
decided that I had to pay compensation.
After the Yom
Tovim (# festivals) (we were all always home then), I went to
Nikitovka. There lived father's cousin Feival Savitsky. His wife was
from our Kolonya, Michal Seifer and another cousin's daughter,
Khana-Ester. She was from Grafskoy; her mother was a cousin Freidel
Levinson. I stayed with Khana-Ester in Nikitovka. Her father,
Avrom-Hillel Levinson from Grafskoy, was one of the distinguished
`Baale Batim" (# householders); with wisdom, wealth, and his words were
A Shidukh (#
match) was made for Khana-Ester; she was not good-looking but had a lot
of charm. The match was forced upon her by her father, but the family
were fine people. The family name was Rogozin, his name was Solomon.
Avrom-Hillel Levinson died soon after her wedding. In 1959 when I was
in the U.S.S.R I visited with Khana-Ester.
I will write a
little about life on the Kolonya and how we celebrated the Yom Tovim.
It was a complete kingdom. They chose a prominent person as Starosta,
that is the mayor. He used to collect the taxes and was responsible for
everything that happened in the Kolonya. His name was Moshe Nol. When
they took in the produce from the fields and made it ready, they used
to pack sacks with wheat and take them to sell in Mariupol. The first
money used to be taken for taxes. The next wagonloads were sold to buy
foot ware and cloth to make new clothes. There was nowhere to buy
readymade clothes. Then Mama became very busy making new clothes for
everyone. She made new under vests and knitted socks for everyone and
lots of other things, whatever one can think of, it's impossible to
needed to store produce for the next year. For this they built for
everyone a warehouse where everyone stored their crops. Everyone had a
stall for their produce. In winter the men had nothing to do. They used
to go to Shule and sometimes they received newspapers which were passed
from hand to hand. These were received from Moskva or Petersburg and
were in Yiddish or Hebrew. They came home and told the news of the
We didn't have
much but it was a calmer world than we have now when there is killing
and men can fly and the whole world is like a volcano. We hadn't yet
experienced what was to happen with Nikolai (# the Tsar) and with the
six million Jews. Even though people saw pictures of what the American
soldiers found when they liberated the concentration camps, the younger
generation has forgotten and our teachers don't know how to convey the
tragedies of the past. Our teachers and rabbis have become politicians.
But I have recorded my dear ones, everyone by their names; they should
not lie there forgotten.
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Now I will write
about the Yom Tovim by my parents.
Mama made beets
for Purim and I grated them. First Mama made wine and then beets. New
clothes for Pesach were already made by Purim and were washed and
pressed. Then Mama cleaned the whole house. She Kashered (# prepared
utensils for the festival of Passover) everything on the last day
before Pesach. Matzah was baked in a special house with an oven, tables
for rolling the dough, rolling pins, a tin plate and a pusher, a mill
for making the meal and a pitcher for bringing water.
someone's job to sit and watch the Matzah. The meal we always made from
winter wheat. My father always bought a five pud sack of Pesach meal
and Mama made Matzah meal for Kneidlach and Lekach (# sponge cake). She
used a Shteisel (# mortar and pestle); Gribena (# chicken fat rendered
crisp and cooked with onions) for Kneidlach and Farfel.
and Kashered all the utensils and sharpened the knives. The Kashering
was done with a hot stone in boiling water. She kashered the tables
with hot water and a burning stone. For ~Bedikas Khometz" father went
with a candle in hand, a wooden spoon and a feather to find and take
out any leftover Khometz. In the morning he sold it to a Goy.
brought from Mariupol on ice, a wagon full. Khrein (# horseraddish) was
made with salt, sugar and beet root. Kharoses was made by the rabbi who
gave some to each householder.
Father and my
older brothers used to go to the bath while Mama washed us at home in a
big bowl or a bath.
When the men
came home from Shule, mother had dressed up the children and prepared
for the Seder. Wine was on the table, Hagodos, candles, the ceremonial
plate with the hard-boiled egg and onion in salt water. They came home
from Shule; Mama had already `Benched Licht' (# lit and blessed the
candles). I always sat at father's left hand so as to take the
Afikoman. Leibl said the `Ma Nishtanah'. By us we said the Hagodoh by
interpreting every word in Yiddish. For example: (Hebrew Characters
appeared here) "We were slaves". The best thing was the wine, then
the food. The neighbors came to sing `Khad Gadyah' with us. On `Khol
Hamoed' (# the intermediate days of the festival) we went visiting and
Mama spent her time entertaining guests who came to us.
Shavues was a
joyful festival. The fields were green and everything was growing. The
houses were decorated with blossoming flowers from the fields. On the
first day we ate milk dishes; Mama made Blintzes. Fish was brought
again from Mariupol. Father spent the whole night in Shule learning.
was a time of very hard work, separating the chaff from the produce,
harvesting potatoes, corn and cutting the hay. For a farmer there is
enough work when harvest time comes.
Then came the
High Holy Days: Rosh Hashonoh. When I was a child I sat in Shule with a
Makhzor (# festival prayer book) in my hand even though I didn't
understand a word. I thought that I was commanded and my prayers went
straight to Heaven. But now I know that G-d didn't hear my prayers. He
punished me for others who didn't pray to him. For Tashlich we went to
the well to cast off our sins.
Then came Yom
Kippur; everyone fasted. We made Kapporos, the men with roosters, the
women with hens. We went to Kol Nidrei and sat the whole evening in
Shule praying from the Makhzor. I loved to hear the Khazan so much. My
grandfather was the Khazan in our Shule. I got up early in the morning
and went straight away to the Shule. When they used to say Yizkor (#
the memorial prayer for the dead during which people whose parents were
alive used to go outside) I did not want to go out of the Shule. Mama
used to plead with me that I should not be there when they said
Kippur, Mama used to go to the family graves to Grafskoy. When she had
Yohrtseit (# the anniversary of a relative's death) she used to fast.
When the First World War broke out my Mama used to fast every Monday
and Thursday to thank G-d that he had prevented her children from going
after Yom Kippur, we began straight away to build a Sukkeh. We used to
make it near the entrance to the house so mother could bring the food
close by. We made a door which could be closed, windows, and covered it
with branches. We did not decorate it so as to be awarded prizes. We
built it to remember how our forefathers had to live in the desert. The
first two days were the festival. Over Khol Hamoed we went visiting and
guests came to us. It was a joyful festival. The produce had been
brought in from the fields. The taxes had been paid and all sorts of
new things had been bought for the family.
blessing of the Esrig the Shammes went from house to house with the
Esrig and Lulav and everyone made the blessing. Then came Simkhes
Torah. My father had bought places for himself and the brothers. On
Simkhes Torah Father used to take us around to the men's Shule. The
women's Shule was in a separate room with a window between them. When
Father used to carry the Torah, he used to bring it to us we should
kiss the Torah and say: "We have lived another year". So he used to
take the Torah around the women.
belonged to the Khevra Kaddisha (# the burial society) and on Simkhes
Torah they used to have a party. They would have a `Shnapps' and become
very merry. I used to ask: "Reb Avrom-Hillel have you had a Shnapps?"
He used to lay down to sleep and everything was fine.
Khanukah. We unfortunately did not have a Khanukiah so we used to take
a potatoe. We used to cut it, make holes and fill them with oil and
wick and so it would burn. It was so nice. And the hot juicy Latkes
were so good and fragrant. And what about Khanukah Gelt (# money) ?
Actually it wasn't very much, but it was money.
Purim. Firstly we baked Homentashen, filled with poppy seed, with
raisins, with plums. We went to Shule `to kill' Haman. The children
used their `Gregers'(# noisemakers) when they heard his `holy'name. In
the morning we sent `Sholekh Mones'. On two trays were arranged all
sorts of good things, covered with a white cloth. The children took
firstly to Grandfather and Grandmother. Father and mother had sent
`Sholokh Mones'. Grandmother took off the trays what the children had
brought and put all sorts of her good things. And Grandfather gave a
few koppecks. We felt so rich, like Rothschild. We went home happy.
Then there was
the `Seudah'. We invited guests. We made roasts with a `Lokshen Kugel'
with sour cucumbers, peppers. Next we drank tea with `Verenya' (#
preserved fruit in thick sweet syrup) and sponge cake.
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that I have concluded the cycle of the festivals.
Now I was ready
to travel to Nikitovka. Mama was not happy that I was going away.
Father took me to Tsarakonstantinovka from where I took a train. I had
written Khaim when I was due and he had arranged my welcome. There
lived Meir and Ada Seifer, a sister and brother. She had a sister
married to our cousin Feivel Savirsky. From the station they took me to
the Savirskys. It was not long before a young man came, tall and
good-looking, blond. We drank tea, sat and talked. The young man paid a
lot of attention to me and he arranged that in the morning he would
come and take me to my employer. I was with Khana-Ester who lived two
houses away from her uncle; Feivel Savirsky was her mother's brother. I
was to sleep there. Her husband was at home and she had also a girl
will describe Nikitovka Station. It was an important station. The
trains from all over the country passed through it. It was a nice
station, and when we used to go for a walk, we used to go to the
station. Every minute a train arrived and a train left. You could see
people from all over the world. There were trains which traveled five
or six days before reaching Nikitovka. I was tired from my journey so
Khana-Ester said that in the morning I would appreciate everything
better. She treated me like a child; I was only fourteen but I looked
older. I said goodnight to everyone and my future escort said he would
come for me at ten o'clock.
Exactly at ten
in the morning my escort arrived. His name was Grisha Abramovitch
Berchansky. It was a cold day. He took me to my employer and we
discussed my working conditions. Fourteen men were employed there, all
gentiles. I was to work for a year and be paid for food and board. The
boss was a sympathetic person. After work, my brother and his friend
came to collect me. Grisha was interested to hear how the arrangements
were for eating and sleeping. The early period was quite good. The
Goyim behaved themselves since the boss had asked them not to drink or
misbehave. But how long can a Goy refrain from drinking ? When they
were drinking it was unbearable, so dirty and they were free with their
hands. I told the boss and he spoke to them. It was all right for one
day and in the morning, the same thing over again. I gave the boss an
ultimatum: either conditions improved or I would not be able to
continue working. But it was no good. I worked there for half a year
and I had to leave the place. That caused more trouble. I had not
completed my contract. I had to go again to the court. The court was in
Nikitovka, a verst from the station. I went there with Grisha and left
my address at Khana-Ester's so they could contact me when to come.
was a big shop there with lots of Goyim working in it. The boss's name
was Potomkin. He took me to work. But not with the Goyim; he brought
everything home, machine, equipment and material. He would bring
material to me and then collect the finished articles. It was a
satisfactory arrangement. After about four months I received a notice
to appear in court. I went with my escort and came through without
having to pay a penny.
was becoming very interesting. Grisha was in love with me. He behaved
towards me like a good father treats his child. I didn't yet understand
what was love. He never once said anything. Another year passed before
he gave me a kiss. I did not speak to him for a month.
We used to go
twice a week to the silent movies. Afterwards we would stand and talk
or we would go for a walk in the evenings or sit at home. So I worked
for weeks and months, for food and two dollars a day. When I had a free
day we used to wonder. My brother Khaim and Grisha were the same age.
Which would they take first to be a soldier? Grisha was such a good
person and always optimistic. Once, on a Sunday when we didn't work, we
all went for a walk. Khaim, Meir, Ada, Leizer, Grisha's elder brother
and we went in the forest were there was a waterway. Leizer took my
hand to help me cross over the stream. When Grisha saw this he was
furious. It was as if he had hit me like the teacher. He said that he
saw how Leizer took my hand. "Leizer is my brother and I love you". I
told him he shouldn't talk so stupidly. He was jealous even if I spoke
to a girl or a woman.
We didn't see
each other for two days. Khana-Ester went to Solomon and begged him
that he should come to see us. Eventually we were reconciled.
Then came the
time when he had to stand for Priziv (# conscription). It was Sukkos
time. I always traveled home for the festivals. He wrote a letter to my
parents asking whether he could come for Sukkos. My parents answered
that a friend of their daughter was their friend. I went back for Rosh
Hashonoh. Khaim and Shmilik also came. It was the first day of Sukkos.
He had not yet arrived. I felt that perhaps something had happened. He
had worked late at night and then left everything for Leizer. Then he
took the train to Station Tsarakonstantinovka. He had had to wait for a
train to come back. He arrived at the station and took a wagon to
travel to the Kolonya. When he arrived and got down he asked where the
Namakshtanskys lived. So everyone knew who he was and that our guest
I was so
nervous from such great happiness. We all sat and ate. Then Mama told
him he should go and lie down. But he could not sleep. Idel, the
Klezmer's daughter (# musician) said: "What have you got that I haven't
got that all the young men crawl after you ?" Grisha told my parents
that he wants to make a `Tenaim' (# engagement contract) so that he
could be sure that I would wait for him. Because he would not go away
from us for long before the police would come for him. After Sukkos
they invited the uncles and aunts to come for the Tenaim. Two wagons
came with guests and we made a Tenaim.
traveled back and he had to make all his business arrangements. His
brother Leizer would look after everything. Within a week he would have
to start his service. That was at the end of 1913 and in 1914 the First
World War broke out. I used to send a letter to Grisha twice a week.
His unit was stationed in Zhmerinka. He wrote to me and asked me to
come and visit him before they would send him to the front. At first I
didn't want to go and found excuses. Then he sent a telegram I should
come at once. I didn't ask my parents or my brother. I told Grisha's
elder brother Solomon and he gave me his blessing.
I set off. It
was winter; cold. In Kiev I had to wait for another train for three or
four hours. I arrived in Zhmerinka and Grisha was so happy to see me.
He took me to his friend. There I took sick and he had to call a
doctor. I had to stay in bed for five days. When I was better Grisha
took me to see his people and to meet his sister with whom I stayed. I
was there a week and Grisha begged me to stay longer but I couldn't. It
took me a whole week to get home. People looked at me and wondered what
was wrong. Could I tell them that my heart was broken?
I came home and
decided I must write a letter. I bought a large block of paper and sat
down to write. The tears flowed from my eyes like blood. I filled the
entire block of paper on both sides, writing everything which was in my
bitter heart. I wished him that he would come home healthy from the war
and that he would find someone who was suitable for him. I was not for
him. I sent the letter. The same day I received a letter from him, a
letter from the front. I answered him.
It was before
Shavues when I received from him a letter from Pavlograd. He had been
wounded and was lying there in a hospital. He begged me I should come
there to see him. He had there his mother's brother with his wife and
daughter and I could stay with them.
brother, had become a bridegroom to my uncle Zalmen (the rabbi)'s
daughter. Khaim was traveling to his bride in Vasilkovka which was not
far from Pavlograd. We decided to travel to Vasilkovka and I would go
on to Pavlograd. For Shavues I would come to the uncle.
me so nicely at his uncle's home. The daughter was called Bronia.
Grisha was very lightly wounded. He would come to the uncle and then we
would travel to Vasilkovka. Grisha came early and changed into his
uncle's civilian suit. Bronia traveled with us. The journey passed very
nicely. Nobody asked anything or said anything.
had a haberdashery store and she and Khaim were to meet us at the
station. Uncle said that he would go from Shule and open the store
until she would return. It was already ten o'clock when Uncle came
home. Grisha greeted him. He sat down and asked: "And where is my
niece?" I answered: "I am the niece." But as I didn't know how to
behave Uncle said: "As you are my niece you can take my hand."
introduced Bronia. It was Erev Shavues. For Shavues came home uncle's
second son Mottel with his wife Pola and their two boys. Pola and
Mottel were Hebrew teachers. They had a class for forty children. Pola
was a Lithuanian, a very nice person and very educated. They were a
match from G-d; gentle, nice and learned. We all sat down at the table
and ate. Pola said to Uncle: "Father-in-law, how would you interpret in
the Gemorah such and such a passage?" Uncle answered in his usual way.
Pola said:" And why can't you interpret it in such and such a way?"
Uncle answered: "Go on with you !" Then I understood that anyone can
interpret as he thinks.
festival we traveled home. Grisha with Bronia to Pavlograd; Khaim and I
to Nikitovka. Two weeks after Grisha had written from the hospital he
arrived in Nikitovka. He said: "I do not want to lay my head down for
Nikolaika." What was to be done? By Solomon he could not stay; there he
would soon be found. By Khana-Ester and Feival Savirsky he had to go
into another room whenever anyone came. I used to go and work by day.
My brother was not happy with the situation. One day he came and
announced that he was writing home to my parents that the match was
off. This was for me a cheek and I said:" I didn't ask you and it's not
Then we rented
an apartment, Khaim, Shmilik, me and Grisha; we sold things and it
wasn't too bad. But I wanted to work. Grisha used to spend the whole
day alone. It was no good. I received a letter from my parents that it
would be good for Grisha to be on the Kolonya. At anytime they might
come from the police and discover Grisha. We realized that it would be
the best plan. We wrote a letter that Father should come and take him
I had written
very little about my father. He was such a good-natured person, always
with a smile. Blond with a goatee beard, just like grandfather of
blessed memory, his father. My father was always ready to do a favor.
My father came and took Grisha with him. Everyone was very friendly.
Everyone knew that he had run away from the war. Grisha was a great
smoker. Even on Shabbes he could not control himself. He used to go out
of the house, go into the animal stall and stand between the horses
smoking. When Father knew about it he used to do nothing. But if,
Heaven Forbid, Mama was around when he was smoking, the heavens opened
festivals I came home. Before I left Nikitovka I heard that Idel the
Klezmer's son had been killed in the war. It effected me so badly that
I felt ill whilst I was traveling home. I was worried I would collapse
on the train. Khaim had bought a ticket for a place and a sleeping
compartment. I arrived at the station and Father had come for me. We
traveled home. We talked about everything except about the tragedy.
My mother was
full of happiness and Grisha could not contain his joy. The Sukkah was
soon ready. Mother was taken up with cooking and baking. At night the
men were away at Shule. We were all waiting in the Sukkah. Mama had
blessed the candles. Everything was decorated. They came home from
Shule and it was happy and festive. We all sat around the table in the
Sukkah. As I sat I hoped that I would not feel ill. We ate the fish and
mother was serving the soup. Suddenly my eyes began to dance and I gave
a sudden cry. Mama dropped the bowl with the soup and she called out:
"My child, what is it?" Grisha was worried. They laid me down. Mama
said: "My child, early in the morning we are going to speak to the
In the morning
the men were away in Shule and Mama and I went to the Grandmother
Reiza. She got a fright when she saw me. Mama told her why we had come.
The Grandmother Reiza took a large Taz (# traditional Russian bronze
mixing dish), filled it with a little water, took a candle and lit it.
Then she said to me: "My child, if you want it, to this will help. You
must have faith." She held the candle over the water and said
blessings. I went home and felt better. I believe! I believe! It helped
a little. But later, when I felt nervous, the same peculiar feeling
came over me.
had told my father that he knew someone who made passports. But he
wanted two hundred rubles for a passport. Father told him he would have
to consult the family at home. When we heard we decided that we wanted
to see the man. We decided that it was in order and the man came with
the passport. His name was Vladimir Yakobovitch Berman. We paid two
hundred rubles, but Grisha still wasn't able to walk about in the
street. It would be better to go somewhere where nobody knew him. It
was decided on Genichesk in the Crimea. It was located on the Sea of
Azov and the climate was good there. The town was very nice. To the sea
one had to go down a hundred steps and the sand was as white as fallen
snow. There it was never winter. It was a town to live and enjoy life.
I went back to Nikitovka.
Grisha wrote a
letter that he wanted to arrange the wedding. He wrote to my parents
asking how long a man could live alone. I wrote that I was coming home.
I packed everything and left Nikitovka. The wedding took place on the
20th of October 1916. I hadn't got anything ready yet. Father with
Grisha went to `Number Three' (# Kolonya Number Three = Krasnoselka) to
write. (# may mean to register). One could say that it was a quiet
wedding. The uncles and aunts and a great-aunt from Grafskoy came. (#
This must have been Feigel, the widow of Velvel Komisaruk, her
grandfather's brother, since she was the only surviving member of that
generation. She died in Russia in 1925). The morning after the wedding
Grisha traveled back to Genichesk. I stayed home for a month and with
Mama prepared all sorts of linen. Then Grisha wrote saying everything
could be done in Genichesk.
Father took me
to the station. When Grisha went back, Mama took his hand and made him
promise that when I would be expecting, he should let me come home to
my parents to give birth. I parted from Father, sat in the train and
traveled. I developed a migraine. I had to get of at another station to
change trains and just then I felt as if my head was bursting. I was so
dizzy from the headache that I lay down on a bench in the waiting room.
I couldn't open my eyes. Then I felt someone taking my hand like a
little child. It was Grisha; he had come to meet me. I couldn't even
speak and we arrived in Genichesk. I couldn't even take off my coat.
rented a room; the neighbors were such fine people. There was a Jewish
watchmaker and a young Christian woman. Her husband had been killed in
the war. She had two children and a younger sister lived with her. Her
parents were landowners with a large farm not far from Genichesk. She
used to come every week bringing milk, cheese, butter and cream. She
used to bring so much that she used to ask me to take some. Her sister
attended a gymnasium there. My sister had finished primary school and I
brought her to us to attend the gymnasium.
Khaim had got married. Grisha could not go and I could not travel
alone. We planned to travel home for Shavues. When Khaim heard that we
were going home, he decided also to come. They lived in Nikitovka. We
were soon ready to go. In Genichesk there were so many people at the
station wanting to travel. We were able to get seats only at the end of
the train. Grisha had a silver cigarette case which he had put in his
jacket. When we were seated in our places Grisha wanted to smoke.
Suddenly he made an exclamation: he hadn't got the case. We assumed
someone had taken it. The cigarette case had been a present from his
elder brother Solomon.
For Shavues all
the children traveled home. It was very happy and festive by my
parents. After the festive they would have to go home. I was pregnant
with my child three months. Mama did not ask me but she asked Grisha if
I would be coming home. Shmilik said:" If I had ten sisters I would
travel from one to the other". He was so good and clever.
later, Father came to visit us. On Friday Father came home from Shule.
The table was laid. The candles were burning. Father made Kiddush and
he was weeping. I had never seen my father weeping. I asked:" Tate,
what's the matter with you?" He replied:" That I have lived to make
Kiddush at your table I am crying from joy." For me this seemed also
right. After a few days he was to go back. Previously a letter had come
from Mama that she wanted me to come and have my child with her at
home. I could not be left alone and tended properly in strange hands.
If I would not come she was frightened that I might die. Grisha was
silent. I didn't know that Father had spoken to him about when I would
There were two
more weeks left before I was due to have my child. Pinkhas came to take
me. My sister stayed with Grisha. Grisha said farewell to us and
Father met us at the station. When the train arrived and we got off at
the station. I say our wagon with a large trunk loaded on it and Father
lying on the trunk sleeping. I went up to him and asked: "Reb Avrom
Hillel, can you take us home?" He gave a start: "Oh, it's you
children". I looked at the big trunk and asked: "What's this trunk?" My
father said to me: " I was in Nikitovka and Khaim Montovitch's daughter
is studying there. She is coming home for Yom Tov. It is hard for a
girl to drag. She asked me to take it for her." My father one could
We sat in the
wagon. In Kaminka we also took on a neighbor’s daughter. We
traveled and talked. Meanwhile I remembered that Father had been in
Nikitovka so I asked him: "Tate, you've come from Nikitovka. How are
Khaya-Rokhel and Khaim?" Father said: "To tell you the truth, I don't
really know how Khaim is doing." I knew my father with his answers. It
was clear to me that everything was all right.
home. Mama always cried for joy. Then my Mama was so happy. In the
house everything was spotlessly clean. Soon Mama made a meal, we all
sat and ate and talked cheerfully. I was tired from the journey so Mama
made up a bed for me to go to sleep. Early in the morning I got up and
saw father saddling the horse to travel. I asked him: "Tate, where are
you going?" He replied:" To Grafskoy". I said: "Haven't you forgotten
to take the trunk?" I was in the house and saw that everything was
ready to travel. I saw through the window our neighbor with her three
daughters coming to us. I went out again. The trunk wasn't there.
"Tate, didn't you forget the trunk?"
Pinkhas came up
to me, took me aside and said: "Sister, be strong. The trunk is not
Montovitch's. It is our brother's, Khaim. Khaim is dead. I pushed him
away and rushed to Mama. I grabbed her dress and began screaming: "How
can you live if Khaim is dead?" I didn't understand why the neighbors
weren't coming to us and I was screaming:" Khaim is dead!" It was like
a pain in the heart but one had to gradually learn to live with it.
Khaim had come
for Shavues on the train and had traveled back on a wagon to Nikitovka.
He had to travel some twenty-five versts from the station and would
soon be home. It was a very hot summer and the sun burnt like a
hell-fire. When he came home he announced that he had a severe
headache. Khaya Rokhel went with him to a doctor who examined him and
found nothing. But his head got worse. His wife said to him: "Let us go
to Bakhmut; there in the hospital is a great doctor Ginzberg." As they
said it so they did. Doctor Ginzberg examined him and said: "Meanwhile
I cannot find anything. You must lie for a week in the hospital so we
can see what it is."
She took his
clothes and returned to Nikitovka. He lay in the hospital. A week
passed and they told her to come and bring his things as he was to go
home. She came immediately and went into his room. Khaim said: "I see
the same Khaya-Rokhel as before." She asked what he saw because she
hardly recognised him. His whole face was swollen and his eyes
protruded. She began crying out for help. Doctor Ginzberg and other
doctors came when they heard her screaming. They realized that he must
have an inflammation of the brain and immediately he died.
She was there
all alone. She didn't know anyone. She sent a telegram to Shmilik; he
was working for the war. Shmilik came quickly and went to the hospital.
They told him that he must go quickly to the cemetery. Khaya-Rokhel
went back to the town to the rabbi to get a Tallis to bury him in. When
Shmilik arrived at the cemetery and found out what the cost was he made
a big fuss. So they wanted him to leave the town. The rabbi came with
Khaya-Rokhel and they calmed him down. Shmilik took Khaya-Rokhel back
to Nikitovka and alone, with his bitter heart, returned to
find out until after Shloshim (# thirty days after the death). He could
not tell Mama. He still had to go and say Kaddish for his firstborn. It
was night time. By us there were large windows and mother used to like
to sit and look out the windows. They were open. Father broke a large
branch from a tree. When Mama went to shut the window she saw the
broken branch. Mama began screaming:" My child is dead. "She made such
a noise that the whole street could hear. All the neighbors had known
but who could tell such terrible news. Mama went and tore the
`Paroches' (# the curtain hung before the Holy Ark in the synagogue) in
the Shule. Nobody could pray over the sound of her screaming.
She sent a
letter to her brother: "Brother what can you say about this?" His
answer was: "G-d gives and G-d takes."
Shmilik have to stand. My brother had not yet had any children. The
second brother had to marry the widow. If not, he had to give her
`Khalitza'. This was a terrible business, an ancient custom. After the
bandits, I said that at least I had my child (# after her husband was
killed and therefore her brother-in-law was not obligated to her).
It was near the
Yom Tovim and Shmilik came. They cut `Kriyah' (# a symbolic cutting of
a garment as a sign of mourning, usually done at the funeral, but under
the circumstances, delayed.) He went and lost the jacket. The next time
Mama didn't notice. But when he got down from the wagon, Mama began
shouting and grabbed his jacket: "You are still the stand-in for your
When nobody was
in the house I grabbed Shmilik that he should tell me everything. How
much I heard I was crying so much. I have written in `My Dreams' how
Khaim appeared in a dream when I had my child. Through that same window
where father had broken the branch, I saw him standing in white linen.
I told Mama my dream. "I must surely give a name after my dearest
I can still see
the home when we were still children. It was winter; Friday night a
long time ago. Father used to lie on a wide bench near the oven with
all of us children around him. And he used to tell us stories. We
children used to sit with open mouths and devour every word which he
told. Where did he take it all from? And he never told the same thing
Now I received
a letter from my husband that it was time to come home. And my daughter
was a great crier. By day and by night. She never closed her mouth.
Shmilik took me home. Mama made Shmaltz and stuffed necks and gave me a
big package. We came home where Grisha was waiting for the child.
children so much. When we went out for a walk and he would see a child
he would always comment what a pretty child it was. But when my child
screamed a whole night, then Grisha said: "Had I known that this is how
it is, I wouldn't want any children." She screamed for three months and
then she was like an angel. Beautiful as the world; large blue eyes; a
sweet face with blond hair. I wrote how when we went home Grisha had
lost his silver cigarette case. I bought him a new one with a gold
One day in
summer it was a very hot day. We lay on the carpet on the floor on a
quilt with cushions and slept. My sister, the child and Grisha. We had
hardly gone to sleep when there was a knock at the door. "Who is
there?" "Police". Grisha answered the door. He saw outside three
policemen. "Your passport". Grisha showed them his passport. They were
very polite and apologized for disturbing us.
back to top
from the Revolution until Canada
October Revolution came we all went out and paraded. Grisha carried
Khayetchka on his shoulders and said: "I am wearing my flag." Then we
decided to be worthy people (# because of the new found equality). We
traveled to Verchye Dnyeprovsk where he was born to take his original
passport and for me and the child to be written on the passport. Now we
had everything taken care of.
I had written
to Aunt Ester that when I would travel home we should stop by them. We
quickly received an answer that they would be waiting for us with
impatience. We didn't know how to make a date when we had written. When
we came to Mikhailovka station there were a lot of wagons. When I asked
them who knew the Lubans, they said: "Who doesn't know the Lubans."
When we arrived
at Uncle's yard it was five o'clock in the morning. Uncle was sitting
outside learning. The maidservant was milking the cows. Aunt was
engaged in the house. When we arrived and Aunt saw us, she gave a
shout: "Khaim-Moshe, the children are here." Aunt was a great worthy
person. Uncle Zalmen was with them. Aunt had delayed him for two days
that he should see the children. We did not arrive in time and Uncle
Zalmen couldn't wait any longer.
Uncle was a
prosperous man. He had a large yard with small houses. In one of the
houses lived Uncle's brother, the rabbi of Mikhailovka. Aunt had put us
in Alter's room. Everything was spotlessly clean. In all the rooms the
furniture was covered in white coverings. They had heard nothing from
their son. In Harbin Uncle had a sister who was very prosperous (# Her
husband's name was Yaakov G. Baranov). They hoped that they had not
lost him. We were with Uncle and Aunt a few days but Grisha impatiently
wanted to travel on to see what he could do.
When we came
home to my parents Grisha said that he wanted to travel to Nikitovka.
He suffered from piles. He went to Nikitovka. It was very bad with the
piles but he did not want to write to me how badly he felt. It was two
weeks since I had not heard from him so I took my child and traveled to
Nikitovka. I arrived at his brother Solomon and he told me that he was
in hospital having had an operation for piles. The hospital was in
Nikitovka village, not near the station. I took a wagon and traveled to
the hospital. Grisha soon felt better. I saw the doctor and he said
that in a day or two he could go home. When he was at the war he had
nothing to eat and he used to pick beets in the field and potatoes and
eat them raw. That caused his condition. In two days I returned and
took him from the hospital. We stayed until dawn with Solomon and then
It was not very
long until Christmas. All my brothers heard that Grisha and I were
coming home so they came home. The times were not very good. They used
to come to see what was going on by us. Once there came a White
recognizance unit. They found nothing in the Kolonya but they plundered.
Mama needed to
make all the Shmaltz. She said to Shmilik that he should get on a horse
and ride to Heitzur to the market to buy onions. Straight away he went
to a friend, Hershel Goldshtein. Shmilik said that he wanted to take a
horse. The friend didn't want to; the Goyim might take the horse.
Shmilik said to his friend: "Come with me, altogether it's five
versts." Good, they went and came to the market. A group of hooligans
surrounded them. "What did the Whites want from you?" "By us there are
no Whites left". The hooligans wanted to kill them. There were many
householders and they stood between the hooligans and my brother and
his friend. The householders said: "First you'll have to get through
our bodies." So they did nothing. The householders took my brother with
his friend and traveled halfway out of the village and stayed with
Shmilik until it was all right.
went to the Starosta Moshe Nol and told him everything. He immediately
called an assembly. That was Thursday, 1918, December 21st. They
quickly called everyone to the assembly. I should have said firstly
that the time was very unfortunate. We first packed up all the good
clothes. I had a fur coat. My husband had a nice coat. My brothers,
father, Mama, we had a very large box and packed everything in it. In
the yard stood a store. There we dug a type of grave to bury the box in
the earth so that it could not be found.
everything was buried. But when Shmilik and Father came from the
assembly they decided to take out the box and disperse the clothes
amongst all the neighbors. We worked the whole night. Silver things and
gold we buried. My husband had a revolver which he had brought from the
war. He loaded the bullets and shot six times in succession, he should
be rid of them. Friday in the morning I took the revolver and wrapped
it in a rag. Over the road was an empty yard with trees. I sat down and
with a chopper dug a sort of grave and buried the revolver, covering it
with earth and with fallen leaves from the trees. I went home having
done something important. If the bandits had come and found it they
would have been very angry.
that a storm was coming. Friday and Shabbes went by in terror. Water
for the horses and cattle we drew from a well. But it was no good for
drinking. We used to travel to the `Balka' (# canal) halfway to
Heitzur. There we used to take water for drinking and cooking. Sunday
morning Father wanted to travel for good water. The wagon was soon
harnessed when Father came into the house and said that the whole
Kolonya was surrounded by bandits.
Mama had first
sent my little brothers to go to Kheder but it did not take long for
them to come home weeping. They had been stripped of their boots and
coats and all the children had been sent home barefoot and naked.
All the men
were called to an assembly, actually in Moshe Nol's yard. Two bandits
with cocked rifles faced us. Shmilik's friend came and said: "Your coat
is already missing." Shmilik said to the bandits: "Comrades, is it
right like this? I work for the war and I had a coat which was taken
away." One of the bandits asked:" Where was your coat taken?" Shmilik
said:" At night I was with my friend and I went outside. It wasn't cold
and I went home without the coat." One of the bandits said: "So you
say. Go to the assembly and you will ask the elders. If you will
recognize your coat you can take it back."
They needed to
send the men back so they could begin their work. One gave a look at my
sister and said: "She is a spy; she has black eyes!" My mother stood
up, stood by my sister and said: "First you will have to kill me before
you can kill her!" There were two of them. One said: "Let us take
them." The second smote my husband with his `Nogaika' (# whip). He was
still weak from his operation. There were shouts as Pinkhas and Velvel
neighbor’s daughter had come to us in the morning and she wanted
to go home. I gave her my child and I with Mama was taken quickly with
them. I held Mama by the hand. They drove us to the third house from
us. When we were halfway the bandits decided that without us they could
carry out their `Holy Work' better. With rifles directed at us they
drove us home.
Mama cried out
such that the heaven would split. I thought that perhaps they will
surely beat them, wanting to find out something. Maybe they were
killed. Not even that news, mercifully, came. And I dragged and begged
Mama she should go. He was ready to shoot. There in the third house
were bandits. They were still waiting for us to be brought to them.
When we were back in the house Mama tore out her hair from her head,
banged her head on the wall and begged her father, the Tsaddik (#
Saint) that he should take immediately her children to him alive.
meanwhile left her alone and dragged from the cup boards tablecloths
and bed linen and with a sword cut them to shreds. They found our
coats. They spilt so much in the course of one hour. Then a bandit in a
wagon rode up and banged on the window: "Let's go now." When they left
our house we went quickly to the third house where they had taken our
dear ones. The neighbor from the house came with us to open the house
with the key. She said:" We have nothing to go in for." Nothing could
be heard from the house. The door was locked. Through the window I saw
a broken head, a chopped foot, and a chopped hand.
We all went
quickly to the assembly. From all the houses came the same chant. All
were hurrying to the assembly. There was a shout: "They have all been
We could not
believe it. We hurried and arrived at the place: a great heap of black
ashes. We screamed so much with dismay. Then came householders from
Heitzur. They were maidservants who worked in the Kolonya. They broke
out with a cry: "See what the bandits have done to the Jews!" Then the
householders came riding in and when they saw the `Khurban' (#
destruction) which had happened to us they asked everyone about his
troubles. The householders didn't stop long by us; they must go quickly
to rescue others. When the bandits came to the second Kolonya Peness
they had only time to kill nineteen Jews when the Goyim came and said:"
Get going, the Whites are coming." So they saved the remaining Jews.
In the `house
of fire' of the Starosta was a `Saray'(# barn). It was a store and was
very big. All the machinery for working the land was stored there, as
well as hay for the horses to eat. They drove everyone inside and
sealed them in. Shmilik Itskovitch made a fuss and he was shot in the
yard. His dog sat day and night and wouldn't leave him.
We found from
my father an `anitsha'. I will explain what that was. Most men at that
time used to wear boots. In winter it was very cold so they wore socks
and wrapped around their feet an `anitsha'. This was made from a
flannel blanket. This meant that they were made to remove their boots
and clothes and everything was taken.
We were left
naked and barefoot. The first night we hid in the cemetery with the
children wrapped in rags. In the morning it was still. We went home and
took the wagon with a horse. The horse hadn't eaten a whole day and
night. Another neighbor with her children also took a wagon and horse
and we left and traveled to a German village. That day was very cloudy
for us in the heart. The leaves were kicked about by the horse's feet
and it couldn't pull the wagon.
We started to
travel; Mama, my sister, my brother Zalmen and the youngster Leibl and
me with my child. The neighbor had two little boys, one probably not
yet a month old. We traveled. It was hard for the horse; the leaves
were so thick.. We stopped; the horse wanted to rest a little. We went
on further. We heard dogs barking. A village was not far if the dogs
were barking. It was so noisy that they didn't recognize what they saw.
When the dogs began barking the Germans thought it was bandits so they
began shooting. When we proceeded they shot so we turned around and
rode back to the Kolonya.
The horse was
exhausted so we had to stop. The neighbor’s child began crying.
She had no milk since she hadn't eaten for two days and the child
cried. She said to my mother: "Dina, I want to lay the child down. What
sort of a life is this for him ?" My mother said: "Hena ! You are a
mother, what you wish for yourself, you want for the child." And Mama
took a piece of bread in her mouth and chewed it until it was soft as a
rag and gave it to the child. The child became silent and we went on.
When we came
not far from the Kolonya we stopped the wagons. I went down to Karl the
miller to ask if it was safe in the Kolonya. When he saw me coming to
his house he came out and said: "Go! Go! Quickly if you don't want to
be killed." Our house was the fourth from Karl's. I went on to our
house and took something to eat for the children. It was silent in the
street. There was not even a mad dog. I came in the middle of the
street to a big old house and stopped. I went into the house. There
were still five mothers with children. We left the children there and
traveled to find a place for the wagon and horse. We left the wagon in
one place and took the horse to another yard. We gave the horse water
and a lot of hay, closed the stall and went to our new quarters.
we learnt that in the Hintisher Gasse the bandits killed all the women
and children. Then the leader of the bandits gave an order to leave the
women alone and children from thirteen years were to be set free. One
little boy of six years old hid under the bed when the bandits came in.
And he saw how the murderers slaughtered everyone. His family name was
In our new
house we blocked the window with a cushion and stood a lamp on the
table. When a little child wanted to make a sound we used to close his
mouth. The pogrom had been on Sunday and so we existed until Thursday.
I thought that the whole world must be like this and I used to think
that I surely would live and find out what sort of a world there was to
in the morning we heard that a Minyan of Jews (# the quorum of ten men
required to hold prayers, in particular for the dead) had come from
Kaminka (Tsarakonstantinovka) to bury the dead. We all went out and
found that the horses had done their `business' on our doorstep. We
went quickly and began crying about our great calamity. The Jews said:
"We have left our families `Hefker' (# abandoned) and we don't know
when we will get back. We hope we will find them alive.
They broke the
windows where the bodies lay in the houses. The blood saturated the
earth. They took a swig of whiskey to give them strength to carry out
their holy work. They carried them, stiff as boards and loaded them on
a Britchka (# cart). We traveled in a wagon to look at our dear ones
for the last time. But they had to finish and get back. So they went
from house to house. They went to the cemetery where they had taken the
mound of ashes. We took Father's Tallis (# prayer shawl in which the
deceased were normally buried). They had made graves; in one grave they
buried the ashes. It was sufficient. Meanwhile there was a sudden
shout: "The bandits are coming !" The Jews wanted to get away and asked
us to hurry and help. When we returned it turned out that it was not
bandits. But it was too late to finish the holy work. They were so
alarmed that we should be there in the cemetery. They dug a type of
wide grave and put them all in. That was it. They weren't to blame.
They were men with hearts and feelings.
We didn't know
what to do now. We should get away soon. Friday, very early, we took
the wagon with the horse, loaded up and traveled on. As we passed our
house we took from the attic a half sack of meal. We opened the stall,
let out the cattle, horses and hens and gave them water to drink and to
eat. We locked up the doors and set of to travel to Grafskoy to Mama's
brothers. The horse, having eaten now went well. We traveled. Two
versts from our Kolonya was Peness. We decided to bypass their houses
when a Jew came out towards us and said: "Go on further if you want to
live, if you aren't to be killed." We didn't even stop.
From Peness to
Grafskoy is five versts. We drove into the Kolonya. It was like a
cemetery. We drove to Uncle Mendel, Mama's elder brother. We arrived at
his yard and stopped the wagon. Uncle came out of the house and said:
"I can't help you with anything as my family are not here at home . I
have only come to see what is happening and I am going straight back to
lived on the farm; it was close to Marenfeld. I didn't know how Pinkhas
(# Simkha's son) saw us, but he soon saw we were there and came quickly
and said: " I have just now come to see what is happening here. We are
all in a German village. You must come with me." I didn't want to go
but I had no alternative other than to go and stay there.
We went with
Pinkhas. On the way a rider came up and stopped us to ask where we were
going. I was the spokeswoman and told him where we were going, that we
were traveling with our cousin to his parents in the German village. He
listened and then said: "Go ahead." When we arrived we were received
like important guests. They were staying with a rich German. They gave
us the big room with a bed and bed coverings. The horse was taken to
the stall with their horses. We stayed there three weeks until it was a
We went with
Uncle and Aunt to Grafskoy. At dawn we went back to Engels (# =
Trudolubovka) We traveled with two wagons, ours and Pinkhas'. We found
two cows, hens and took wheat from the barn in our wagon and in
Uncle's. We traveled all day to look for whatever we could find and we
took until there was no more room. We wanted to bring for the children
The last time
we came to see we locked the windows and doors for the last time. We
dragged our wheat from there but had a surplus. I decided that the
Goyim could have it; two thirds for them and one third for us. Neither
time did Uncle travel with us. The last time we took him with us. When
he came back he said: "Seeing what they have done to the houses I can
imagine what they did to the people."
brother was my right hand. He was not yet twelve years old. An orphan
becomes Barmitsvah (# confirmed) at twelve (# instead of thirteen).
Frequently we used to go to our Kolonya. Once on the way a shepherd was
grazing some animals. I saw that he was wearing my husband's waistcoat
from the suit in which he was killed. Would that we had had the courage
to take back the waistcoat. When the dead had been brought to the
cemetery they went to bring more. But when the Jews were busy burying
the ashes the Goyim came and took their clothes.
It was said
that the authorities gave wagons to the unfortunate who were left alive
in the Kolonya. They could choose where they wanted to go. Meanwhile a
messenger came from my brother-in-law, Solomon, from Nikitovka. He had
not known that Grisha had been amongst the victims. He wanted to bring
me and my child to him. I didn't want to go but it was worthwhile if
the authorities gave the opportunity to sell things for money. We
decided that maybe it was a plan for me to go and see. I had no
passport; Grisha had perished with all our documents. They said that at
Station Rozovka there was a Commandant who issued papers. I should go
and speak to him. So we went and arrived at Station Rozovka where the
Commandant was supposed to be. But he wasn't there. He had gone away
somewhere and they didn't know when he would be back. Said Sivirsky,
the man who had accompanied me: "I have a passport. Let's go!" I had no
So we set off
with the child in my arms. The wagons were packed full of people . It
was evening when we arrived at Station Khatzepetovka. The train went no
further as it was wartime. It was twenty more versts to Nikitovka.
Everyone sat wherever they could find a place. There were military
personnel everywhere. Two of them came up and accused us of being
spies. They were checking everybody's passports. Savirsky wanted to
find a horse and wagon to travel to Nikitovka. They checked Savirsky's
passport and all was in order. Then they came to me: "Where is your
passport?" I told them that I did not have a passport and told them
everything that had happened to me. The one who had asked for they
passport said:" How do I know if it's so. There are so many spies who
can take a child with them and go around spying. You are arrested!" The
other one who was with him said: "Can't you see that the lady is
telling the truth! I will take her on my responsibility until the
commandant comes. He took me by the hand and I felt that he was an
angel from Heaven who had saved my life.
child began crying. The officer asked me:" Why is she crying?" I
replied: "She is hungry; I have no more milk for her." He called a
soldier and sent him to bring some milk. She drank and fell asleep. The
officer told me his whole biography. He had previously been an officer
in the Tsarist army. When he had gone away, the Bolsheviks came and
killed his wife and two children. Now he had joined the Whites (# the
anti-Communists) to get revenge. When the commandant returned he was
away for only five minutes before he came back joyfully. All the people
were to be evacuated. The commandant was a good friend of his and a
Half an hour
later he came back with the commandant and introduced him to me. The
commandant shook hands with me and commiserated with me for all the
misfortune that had befallen me. He told me that everyone was being
evacuated and they were traveling through Nikitovka. He apologized that
he couldn't take us in his wagon. But we could travel in a wagon with
soldiers. He made sure that they were to behave themselves and mind
their language. I thanked him profusely and he said:" Stop it madam, we
are men with hearts." The officer took us to a wagon full of soldiers,
made room for me, my child and Savirsky and bid us a good night.
When the train
entered Nikitovka and stopped in the station and I opened my eyes. We
got down and the officer was there. "Was it a good journey?. Were the
soldiers gentlemen?" We thanked him sincerely.
We went to
Solomon's house. Four o'clock that day a Minyan of men gathered in
Solomon's house so the old father could say Kaddish for his lost son.
It was such a scene which one could only see in the movies. I only
wished that nobody would arrive who wanted to exterminate us. Nikitovka
was the center of the war.
I had not heard
anything from Mama nor she from me. We stayed in Nikitovka another two
months and I wanted to go home. Solomon didn't want us to travel as it
was dangerous. We should wait until it was quieter. He always found
excuses. But after three months I decided that I must travel. It did
not help Solomon explaining what a difficult way it was with a child.
But his begging did not help.
There were no
regular trains for passengers. There were only wagons which brought
coal from Yuzovka. I had a flannel blanket in which I wrapped the
child. The train did not go all the way in to Yuzovka. We got out and
asked someone to let us in to wash and eat. Then I had to walk a full
verst in deep mud to Yuzovka.
lived Mama's sister, the Aunt Reizel. When I dragged myself to the aunt
I was more dead than alive. She took me and the child in. Then
everything was fine and we were in Yuzovka for one week. It was a long
way from Grafskoy. I decided to go home. Aunt and Uncle did not want to
let me go but we discussed it and we couldn't stay in Yuzovka.
So I left. When
I arrived home the joy was so great. Mama was so happy to see me and
the child, and my happiness was likewise. I was so tired from
travelling. First there was a commotion in the Kolonya. There was
shooting and screaming. First Pinkhas hid in the space above the
rafters. In the dining room there was an opening to the roof space.
First the men hid and an obstruction was made so they would not be
seen. So there was a door. We set up a table and on it laid cushions
and bedding. Everything was fine. The Uncle's two girls lay down with
bandaged heads on the table. My two little brothers, my mother, my
sister and my child, we all slept on one couch. All of us in a large
dining room. Uncle and Aunt were in another room.
We did not have
to wait long before the guests arrived. Aunt answered the door. The
first one who came in demanded money from Aunt. She gave him whatever
she had. "No! It is not enough. Give more!" Aunt told him that she had
no more; she had given him whatever she had. He hit her with the
`Nogaika' (# whip) and looked at us. "Why are they lying with bound
heads?" "They have a serious illness, Scarletina. They moved away and
went into the second room. We heard one say to another: "We will get
nothing here. They are from the Fifth Kolonya." Our Kolonya had three
names: No.5, Engels, and Trudolubovka. They departed.
It was quiet in
the Kolonya. Uncle Simkha lived on the farm. It was not in the center
of the Kolonya. During the day, whenever we heard that bandits were
coming, we would run quickly to the Plantation. It was very close to
Uncle's house and we used to hide there amongst the thick trees.
We decided to
go away to Yuzovka. We took a wagon and loaded up the wheat which was
over and two cows. Uncle Simkha came later. We found an apartment with
two rooms and place for the cows. The horse and wagon we sold straight
away. It was on the eleventh street. The landlady was a widow with
three married sons and a married daughter. They all lived together in
the one house. They all had children and they used to play together and
with Khaytshke. When the fathers came home from work, all the children
used to laugh with their fathers. Once, Khaytshke asked: "Boba (#
Grandmother), All children have fathers and I have not!" My mother's
eyes filled with blood not with tears. What could one tell a child,
that murderers came and cut short his life.
When we arrived
we had no time to find pasture for the cows. We lived near the edge of
town and there was a lot of green grass. My sister used to take the
cows to eat there. Once she met a young man and got to talking with
him. The next day, Mama went to milk the cows and they were gone. I
went to the police and reported it. It took several months for them to
call me to advise that they had found the thief. I went with my sister
to identify him. He admitted it but told them that he had sold the cows
to some people. The police wrote a letter to the authorities there
advising them of the facts and to arrange to return the cows.
there was a loud knocking on the door. The landlady went to the door as
a drunken voice demanded to be led to us. She called her sons and they
said we had gone. They went away and we were so grateful that they had
saved us. I went to get back the cows. There I went to the police and
they came with me. We were shown the cows but they were about to give
birth so we could not take them then. The police made the man sign a
document to give back the cows after they had calved. a long time
passed and still they weren't returned. I hired a man to come with me
to get them back. I was so tired that I took the train back and he
brought the cows home.
At that time
there was an outbreak of Typhus. The first to worry about was
Khaytshke. Mama called a doctor to her. He examined all of us and said:
"All of you should be taken to the hospital except for Khaytshke."
Uncle Simkha with my mother took all of us children away to the
hospital. The hospital was a long way from the city and there was so
much mud. Yokhved and I lay in a room. Between us lay a woman. The two
little brothers lay with the men.. My dear Mama used to come every day
to look through the window to see us in bed. I must say that they gave
us special treatment. They used to take out temperatures and my
sister's was always less than mine. But she was delirious from fever.
Once doctors came and had a discussion, I don't know what they said. My
head was burning and I could not stand the lights hanging from the
ceiling. I covered my head with the blanket.. I remember that I had not
fallen asleep. I saw my grandmother, my mother's mother whom my mother
had not known; she stood in the corner near my sister's bed dressed in
her shrouds and she took hold of the sash and said to me:" You, my
child must live. You have a little child. I wish you to lie in your
place." I took off the blanket from my eyes and said to her: "Even if
in the morning my temperature is forty-two I will not die." ,
Early in the
morning came the crisis. The doctors did what they could. A few days
later, Mama came and brought chicken soup for us with a bone and a
little meat. My sister felt better. The nurse fed her the bone with the
meat and it was like a drug for her. It was better than what the
doctors had given her which hadn't helped. I begged the nurse to take
me to my little brothers. She took me by the hand to a door and said
that they lay there. I went around amongst the beds but could not find
them. The nurse took me again and I didn't recognize my brothers. The
head was so swollen and they were so pale. When they saw me we all held
hands and cried for joy. I had to promise them I would come again in
Mama used to
bring sweet cream to the nurses to give to us. I used to sit on a bed
feeding them with a spoon. One morning I was released from the
hospital. Then my brothers. My sister stayed another month and nothing
helped. They gave her medicine but it did not help. She was so weak
that she could not sit up. One day Mama said: " What G-d wants to be so
must it be." She went to the hospital with Uncle Simkha and said: "I
want to take my child home." The doctors thought she was crazy. But she
insisted. Mama went to an apothecary and bought berry syrup which she
gave my sister to drink three times a day. It was a miracle from heaven
and in a week my sister was completely better. But she was still very
weak. Little by little Mama fed her and gave her juice which she made.
A nurse from the hospital came to see how we were, and when she saw my
sister, she was amazed.
becomes Bar Mitzvah at twelve years. Leibl used to go to the Talmud
Torah. On the first street was a barbershop. It was like a palace; a
lot of men worked there. I asked my brother Zalmen if he wanted to
become a barber. "Yes. Why not?" I went back to the barbershop and
asked the boss. His name was Bassin. We discussed it and he agreed to
teach my brother the trade. In six months my brother became an expert.
After a while
we moved to another apartment on Eleventh Street, on a corner near a
large bridge. We had two rooms. One was a large dining room with an
entrance to the outside. When my brother finished learning we bought a
large mirror and a barber's chair. He worked at our place and he did
very well. One customer told another because they were so pleased with
his work. Then a military unit came to Yuzovka. The commandant
advertised in a newspaper that they needed a barber. We wrote an
application, Zalmen was accepted, and he went to work for the soldiers.
It was a time
of great famine. We had the good fortune to have work in a factory.
There we used to wash and peel potatoes and they were cooked in a large
oven. We were able to take home leftovers and Mama made all sorts of
dishes. My brother also got some oil and sugar. When the soldiers came
to have haircuts they paid half in food. Then we were not hungry. Mama
used to bake bread, mixing the flour with chaff. Once a neighbor who
had come from our Kolonya came to us. She was swollen with hunger. She
begged my mother for some bread and my mother was ashamed to admit she
baked bread with chaff. She said that if she had any over she would
give her. My daughter said: "Grandmother, but you just now finished
baking bread!" Mama said to the woman: "I would give you some but I
don't think you can eat it." The woman ate the bread and said: "It is
better than sponge cake!" It was as hard as a brick.
This same Lieba
had a sister in Kobilnye, a Kolonya not far from ours. Her sister had a
windmill. She, her two young children and the elder of my brothers
decided to travel to her sister. She left the girls in Yuzovka. They
had to travel seventy versts. It was hard for satisfied people to
travel, but for hungry ones it was even worse. They were not far from a
village when she fell down and died. The two unfortunate youngsters had
to go into the village and ask for spades to bury their mother. When
the children came home and we knew all about it, it was a terrible
blow. The children became so nervy from their misfortune, that they
developed a twitch in the eyes. Because of this twitching there was an
cigarettes in the market. A policeman bought an open packet of
cigarettes. He questioned one of them and they other one was so nervous
that he began to twitch his eyes. They were arrested. Their sister
heard about it, went to the police and they were released.
There was great
inflation. Today's money became worthless in the morning. When my
brother was still working and he still had clients, I used to lend to
the neighbors whatever they wanted, and the rest I deposited in the
bank. Once I came a minute too late, but the one who used to stand on
the door opened it for me, let me in, and I was able to make the
deposit. Soon Leibl became Bar Mitzvah. Again we went back to Bassin
and he took him to learn.
lived in our building. I was the breadwinner of the family. I think it
was once when I was in the market selling furs. I used to travel and
trade and bring more furs. All furs first were mixed together in clean
water. Some furs were yellow and some white. When they were kneaded in
clean water, they all came out the same color.
It was harvest
time. I came home from the market. Mama said: "Uncle Simkha is very
ill. Let us go and see him." We went and found him lying in bed and I
could see that he was not good. He motioned to me with his hand that I
should sit down next to him on the bed. I sat down and talked about
nothing in particular. My heart was crying out in pain, Uncle looked so
bad. Uncle said: "Rokhel, you are not as faithful a niece as Yokhved"
(a cousin) (# Sherr, daughter of Mendel Komisaruk). I asked him on an
impulse:" Why, Uncle?" He said: "When she comes, she says `Uncle, today
you look so good!' " I answered: "Uncle, if it would help, I would say
it ten times!" He said: "No my child. I know how I feel and she told me
Khava was crying and moaning: "For whom do I remain?" Uncle said: " You
can live without me, as you know how she (my mother # Dina) also lives,
so can you." He was for us like a dear father. And I loved him more
than a father. He was such a dear soul. In less than a day, Uncle
passed away. May his memory be blessed. May he have a bright paradise.
If there is such a thing, he had, in a kosher way, earned it.
I used to
travel to Grafskoy trading. I used to buy clothes in Yuzovka and trade
them there for wheat. They used to bring it from the Crimea. Once my
two cousins Binyomin ( # son of Mendel) and Pinkhas (# son of Simkha)
and three other men traveled. They were all going to buy horses. I
parted from them in Grafskoy and they all traveled on to a gentile
village to buy horses. They stayed in a hostel and asked the owner if
he knew anyone who traded in horses. He knew of some people and
immediately sent for them. The vendors arrived and informed them that
they could take them to see the horses immediately.
They took them
quite a way from the village. It was winter; very cold and a lot of
snow. They stopped and told everyone to get down. They stripped them
naked, stood them one next to the other with hands up, and they began
to shoot one after the other. They fell on the soft white snow.
Pinkhas was the
last. The bullet had entered his mouth, tore in half his tongue and
shattered his teeth. He heard them say that everything was fine. He
didn't move until he heard that they had gone away. He felt more dead
than alive and was frightened that at any moment the men might come
back. He was bleeding and had lost a lot of blood. He didn't know how
long he was lying there.
Later he got to
a village. He fell at the first house and knocked at the door. The
householder opened the door and saw a lot of blood. Pinkhas could not
talk. The householder wrapped Pinkhas in a fur, laid him on a sleigh,
harnessed up a pair of good horses and began traveling. The horse flew
like birds. He brought him to the hospital in Rozovka. He could not
talk. They gave him paper and a pencil and he wrote.
received a letter from the hospital that she should come as her son was
wounded. Velvel Berel's (# son of Berel Komisaruk), Aunt and I traveled
quickly to Rozovka. When I was in Grafskoy I finished my business
quickly. I hired a wagon and came home. They wondered how I could go
away again so soon. But for such a misfortune I could not stand idle.
When we arrived
in Rozovka Pinkhas still couldn't talk. He answered all the questions
in writing. I stayed with Aunt in Rozovka until we could take him home.
In Rozovka we stayed with Khana-Ester's aunt. We had to stay there a
long time before we could take him home.
became a little normal. There was still fighting, but far away from us.
Then the purges began. Every day we heard of someone being called to
the G.P.U. (# secret police), and from there one did not return.
Mama became ill
and she could not get out of bed. One night, before going to sleep, I
gave her prune juice. After three spoonfuls I asked:" Mama, another
spoon?" "No my child, go to sleep." I extinguished the lamp and lay
down. I was not yet asleep when I heard Mama groaning. She felt so bad;
she never groaned. Khayetchka always used to lie next to Mama and I
didn't want to frighten her and wake her.
I woke up the
children so they should light the lamp. Mama did not feel good. She
moaned. The children got up quickly and lit the lamp. I stroked my dear
Mama gently. She groaned and tears fell from her eyes. I tried to wake
her and screamed. The tears poured and she didn't answer. I cried out:
"Mama, answer me!" She groaned and the tears poured from her eyes. I
told the children to call Aunt Khava. When Aunt arrived, she said:
"Robber! Let her die peacefully. Don't you know how you are tormenting
her?" All of us were crying.
Now we had lost
the ground from under our feet. We now no longer had our mother. When I
used to despair and talk about everything which had befallen us; there
was no longer a G-d in the world. How could he sit and look at what had
happened to all our loved ones. Mama used to sit with clasped hands and
stare at me in silence. Now was the end of it all.
It was the
seventh day in Adar when my Mama died. The mud was so deep we couldn't
get a wagon to take Mama to her rest. So my brother went to his
commandant and told him that Mama had died and we couldn't get a wagon
to travel to the cemetery. The commandant came at once. The horse had
to drag through the deep mud. He didn't say a word and gave a horse.
Even I could not go to Mama's last visit. Only Zalmen; he said Kaddish
and the Khevra Kaddisha (where Leibl learned in the Talmud Torah)
arranged where Mama was to be. They laid Mama next to Uncle Simkha.
When my brother came home it was already nighttime. My brother could
see nothing. For a long time he became blind. We could not believe it
that we were still living on without our dear Mama.
I have already
written that there were purges. There came from Aleksandreya sixteen
youths. They had been expelled from the university. They came to work
in Yuzovka where there was a foundry to forge iron. The furnace never
closed. Neither by night nor by day. The youths thought that they would
work for a year and then resume their studies. How they came to be in
our company I don't know. A month later two girls, Zune and Mania came.
Moshe Berezinsky told us that two girls were coming and he wanted us to
take them in. I protested about taking them since I had only one room.
But when I came back, the girls were there already. What could I do? I
offered them food but they had just eaten and they wanted to go to
sleep. I had only two beds. In one slept my brothers and in the other
my sister, Khayetshka and I. In the barber shop I rolled back a carpet
and put down cushions and an eiderdown with blankets. Every night I
hardly closed my eyes. We slept in bed and they on the floor. They got
up early and didn't eat with us.
situation with us started to improve, I began to realize all that had
happened to us. I became very nervy so I went to a doctor and told him
about my whole life. He gave me an injection of iron. It didn't help at
all. When I was at home I began to hit the dear children. And they kept
quiet about it. So the doctor advised my to go away to a village where
I could take mineral waters.
I wrote a
letter to Khana-Ester's sister Feiga Kaplan. She lived in a German
village a verst and a half from Rozovka (# probably Luxemburg). He was
the mayor of the village there. I soon received an answer that
everything was arranged. I traveled there with my child. It was an
outstanding place with the rich Germans in the village. Everything was
fine. Shmilik Kaplan, Feiga's husband was a communist. But a rich
Communist. In the evenings we used to go for a walk to Rozovka, to a
theatre or a movie. Shmilik had a voice like an opera singer. Feiga
also sang so nicely that we used to go and sing.
It was in the
summer months. Every day the Germans used to make me a bath with salts.
When we used to go to Rozovka the German `aunt' used to sleep with
Khayetshka. When I had been there a month I put on forty pounds. My
sister came to bring me more money so I could stay longer. I stayed
another two weeks. More than that I couldn't. I was given such a
welcome by the children when I came home. They laughed so much when
they saw me.
Then Zune and
Mania went away for a month. I received a letter from Zune's mother
that I should send Khayetchke to her. The child wanted to go. In
Aleksandreya lived Grisha's sister. She had converted. She was a ballet
dancer. Her husband was a doctor. Then there were no civil marriages so
she converted and they were married. The parents `cut Kriah’ and
sat `Shiva' for her (# as if she was dead). The family had no further
contact with her nor ever even mentioned her.
a child of six and since she loved Zune so much, she wanted to go. They
passed over a bridge and Khayetshke put her head out of the window
because she didn't feel well; so she sent me a postcard about her
journey. On the third day Zune's brother took her to see her aunt. They
went to a cottage where they saw a woman with a child playing in the
garden. Khayetshka asked: "Does the convert live here?" The woman
asked:" And what do you want with the convert?" Khayetshke said:" She
is my aunt." The woman asked:" And who are you?" She replied:" I am
Grisha's daughter". They received her nicely and asked her to come
again. Tania had two children. Her husband was a doctor. He even had
his own car. Once he went to visit a patient, taking a child with him.
They had an accident and were both killed. After a month's vacation
Khayetshke came back to Yuzovka.
I received a
letter from Zune's mother thanking me for sending Khayetshke to her.
When I was in Bakhmut visiting Solomon. I told him that Khayetshke had
seen Tania. He quickly went inside the house. He put a finger to his
mouth. It was then no longer the Revolution and everything was in
order. But not for Solomon. I invited Tania to come to us and I wrote
to Solomon that she wanted to see him. She stayed with us for a week.
With Solomon, she stayed only for a day.
We had an
interesting and intellectual circle. One used to read from a book and
then we would discuss it. We used to make mock courts. Once my brother
Leibl was the victim, Motke the thief. One of them was studying in the
Then I began to
think. In another year or two Zalmen would be taken to the army.
Meanwhile my father's sister, Aunt Feiga heard about our misfortune.
She was then living in Winnipeg in Canada. She wrote asking what she
could do for us. I wrote that I didn't need any help from her but that
I had to think of Zalmen first. In Canada they wanted farmers to come
and work. Uncle knew a number of farmers who could arrange for a visa.
It didn't take long and we received a visa and a ticket for the ship to
Canada. Everything was arranged quickly and I went with him to Moskva.
I wrote for him everything about farming, how many pud of corn could be
grown on a desyatin etc. He had to learn everything because he would be
examined in the Canadian embassy.
We arrived in
Moskva and went to the Canadian embassy. They asked him all sorts of
questions. When he answered I kept quiet. But when I saw that the
question was too hard for him, I answered. The inspector said:" You
know better than he does." I answered: "He was still a child in school
when they made the pogrom and killed everyone." He didn't ask any more
and immediately issued a visa.
I wrote telling
them that we had the visa and asked them to send one also for Yokhved.
When it arrived I went to Moskva again. Now both children departed. I
was very heavy hearted. Now I had to find a way to earn money for our
ship tickets. I took a bookkeeping course with one Aleksandrov. I began
to work. Then I received a letter from Zalmen that he was ill and
needed an operation. He couldn't work and needed money. I managed to
get together fifty rubles from friends and took a loan from the bank.
Aleksandrov approved it. I went to Uncle Koppel (# Kogan: the husband
of her aunt Reizel, her mother's sister) and he wrote a letter to send
the fifty rubles.
Then I received
a letter from Zalmen that he needed more money. I had to go to
Aleksandrov again but this time he referred me to the manager. I told
him the whole story but he demanded proof that my brother was really
ill. I showed him a letter from Zalmen but Aleksandrov complained that
it was in Yiddish. The manager said that was all write since he was
also Jewish. He read the letter and asked me:" Are you Lithuanian?" I
told him that when they used to abduct little children to serve in the
army, my great grandfather had come from Kovno. He immediately put his
stamp on the loan.
I needed to
earn enough for five ship tickets. We filled in all the necessary
papers and then received notice to go to the G.P.U. They told me Leibl
could go at once. I would not be able to go so soon. I decided that
Leibl should go and we would come later. I sent Khayetshke to stay with
Solomon in Bakhmut and I traveled with Leibl to Moskva.
My heart was
torn. How could one send a child alone? But as it is said, G-d is a
father. The ship company had room for him. Then we met a woman
travelling with her children and I asked her to look after Leibl. So I
was satisfied that he was in good hands.
I went back to
Bakhmut to collect my child and went home. Meanwhile I sold everything
and sat and waited for them to notify me that I could travel. Aunt
Reizel's son was a great communist (# Mishe Kogan). He was married to a
cousin, Khayushka, Uncle Meir's youngest daughter. She was a teacher
and they had a young son. She was away teaching then in a village. He
used to come and ask what was happening with my papers. We sat and
talked as if he was interested in everything. I thought it was nice
that my cousin was so interested and I told him everything.
I sat with my
child in the house, firstly a guest of the G.P.U. They called me. When
they called you, you did not usually come back. I told my child:" If I
don't come back by four o'clock, you go and tell Aunt that I have been
called." I went back with the messenger. I came to gate and gave my
name. They opened the gate for me. I went through; the soldiers stood
with rifles ready to shoot. I told my name again and the soldiers
opened the door for me. I went on along a corridor until I came to
another soldier. He asked my name and, when I gave it, said:
"Berchansky! Come and sit here and wait for the officer." It was clear
to me that everyone knew my name.
official came and greeted me. We sat for a long time and talked about
various things. He said:" A lot of people want to travel. Why do you
want to travel?" I said: "The earth is saturated with our blood. They
have killed everyone. I am the only one left alone with my child. I
have nothing more here." He said nothing more. I got up and banged the
table with my fist and said:" I demand an explanation!" He said: "No
you will get no explanation. It is a state secret. "He told me that I
could get nowhere there. I had to arrange new papers and go to Kharkov
and if that didn't help, I should go to Moskva. It was not my fault.
I went away
from there weeping. I met my cousin and grabbed him by the lapels of
his jacket:" You are my Angel of Death. "He went white and he said: "I
will not let you get away. And if you get away I will come after you."
I said: "America is a big country. You can come but not to me. I will
not know you!" I left him and was so ashamed, I could not even tell
filled in new papers. It took some time and I didn't reveal my plan to
a soul. When the papers were ready I took my child to my brother-in-law
and traveled to Kharkov.
I went to the
foreign ministry. I told the elderly secretary that I wanted to speak
to whoever was in charge of the office. The secretary refused claiming
that he had to know in advance all the details. I insisted and even
threatened that I would go to Moskva. In the end I showed him my
papers. After examining them he told me that I would receive a passport
in one month.
I returned home
happy, picking up my child on the way in Bakhmut. I waited a month but
to no avail. I wrote a letter which was not answered. So I took my
child again to my brother-in-law and returned to Kharkov. The same old
secretary was sitting there and when he saw me, he told me that my
passport had been sent a week before. Then I waited for a letter from
the shipping company with the details of the journey. Meanwhile I went
to Grishino where Uncle Zalmen's married daughter lived. I can't
remember her married name. I spent an enjoyable week there. She gave
Khayetshke a gold ring before we went home.
ready packed in the evening. In the morning I told Khayetshke to make
sure nothing was left in the house. We went to see Aunt Reizel and then
hired a Droshky to go and take our leave from my dear Mama. We talked
with Aunt but I didn't mention anything.
We went to
visit my brother-in-law but he was away. So we parted from my
sister-in-law and traveled to Moskva. There I became friendly with a
family with an only son. I had with me six hundred dollars and it was
more than one was permitted to take. I could take ninety and forty for
my child. What was I to do with the rest of the money? I asked the
friends if they had a lot of money with them and they said they had
none. I told them the truth and asked them if they would take two
hundred dollars over the border. They agreed and with the rest I bought
so thin and so was I. Soon the day was approaching, thank G-d, that we
would be leaving Russia. They sent us via Vilna. Khayetshke and I
passed over the border safely. The woman and the son were let through
but her husband was stopped. I was not so worried about the money as
about the man. When the train was about to depart the son came to tell
me that his father was free.
I was so happy
when we got to Vilna. We stood in the shipping company office with all
the passengers. From there we went to Riga for two weeks. There we
received our visas for Canada. I had an accident and cut my finger. It
became infected. I went to the consul with the finger bandaged. The
consul talked to Khayetshke, taking her by the hand. She was so thin
but pretty. She had blond-golden hair and large blue eyes with a bright
face. Then he saw my finger and asked what had happened. I told a white
lie that I had a splinter in it. He called a doctor who removed the
bandages. The finger was covered in pus. The consul asked me if I had
seen everything in Riga. I told him that I was not there to see Riga
but to go to Canada. He asked me why I had to work so hard and I told
him that I had to support my child. He looked at me with pity and
issued the visa, wishing us to find good fortune.
When the ship
arrived we traveled three days to Germany. Khayetyshke and I felt so
ill we could not eat anything. We arrived in Danzig and joined up with
two ladies. I don't know what they found in common with us but we went
to tour the city. But we didn't buy anything. When we reached Liverpool
we had to wait for a larger ship. Once Khayetshke was washing and put
her golden ring down near the sink. After we had left the room she
remembered the ring. But when we went back it was gone.
We were in
Liverpool a long time waiting for our ship; Canadian Pacific. On this
large ship we traveled six days when we encountered an iceberg. We had
to all go on deck, having locked up the cabin. For a while the
situation was dangerous as the iceberg approached. But the captain
maneuvered the ship and we were saved. It was very pleasant on the
ship. The manager of the dining room was a French Jew and he had
arranged a cabin close to the dining room. We met a couple from New
York and used to sit and talk with them and sometimes with the manager
of the dining room.
We didn't eat
very much because we felt so ill. It took sixteen days to reach Halifax
where we left the ship. They examined our papers and then sent us to
the doctors. Everything was fine with Khayetshke but they were very
dubious about my finger. I told them that the consul in Riga had called
a doctor who passed me so they agreed to let me in.
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