Interview with former Kolki-ite, June 1999

From: Michael R. Stein
Sent: Tuesday, June 13, 2000 8:04 AM
Subject: interview with former K-ite, June 1999

Dear Kolki researchers,

About a year ago, I interviewed a native Kolki-ite who survived WWII and remained in Poland until 1950, when he emigrated to Israel. I have reproduced the interview below, keeping my interviewee anonymous, since I do not have permission to use his name.  (I have reason to believe that this is the same person who was the subject of another anonymous interview posted by Selma a few weeks ago.)

My interviewee is relatively young compared to my relatives who emigrated in the early 1900s, and had no knowledge of anyone in my family, except my grandfather's brother-in-law, Ruven Schnitzer.

The quality of my tape recorder made it difficult to make out some words and phrases when I was transcribing, but I don't think they are crucial to following what he had to say.

Mike Stein

Interview 5/25/1999.  Copyright 1999 by Michael R. Stein, all rights reserved.

(Original interview conducted in Hebrew; translation by MS 6/14-15/1999. Original question and answer format has been edited into a first-person narrative.  Order has been changed in a few places to bring similar subjects together.  Tape is hard to hear in places.)

I was born in 1915.  My family [like yours] also left Kolki [MS: i.e. for Israel, America, etc.]; I was the only one who stayed behind. They are now in Baltimore...  I stayed in Kolki until 1941.  I was in the Russian army. In 1939 I was a Polish citizen [MS: was Kolki part of Poland between the wars, the way Rovno was?].  The Russians partitioned Poland with the Germans, and I was in the Russian sector. I was a Soviet citizen, and in 1941, when the war began, I was drafted.  The war started on June 22, and I was drafted on June 23 or 24.  There was a big battle between Korotz? and Zhitomir, and I was wounded. I awoke in the Zhitomir hospital - the city was on fire, so they took us to transport camps, and then to Kiev. Kiev was also burning, so they took us to ?? (further east).  Then they took us to the Urals.  There they began to build tank factories that we worked in.

I arrived in the Urals in 1942.  I stayed until 1946, when we were discharged.  I traveled to Poland.  I didn't need a visa.  I had a letter saying that no one from my family remained.  I traveled to a part of Germany, Niederschlesen, that had been freed and annexed to Poland, to the city of Breslau.  I lived there until 1950, and got married there.  In 1950, I came to Israel.

I was born in Kolki, and I lived there all the time until WWII.  I didn't know any family named Steiner in Kolki.  The pig hair business was a Jewish business; it was mostly centered in Odessa.  All families in Kolki were religious, including mine.  I went to a Polish school in Kolki, but I also learned in a Tarbut school.  This was several m'lamdim who formed their own school in which they taught spoken Hebrew with an Ashkenazi accent.  Once we made a vow not to speak any Yiddish for 3 days.  It was wonderful.

I knew a Lerner family. The father was Chayyim, Motel and Shloime were  sons, and there were 2 daughters whose names I don't remember.  I remember they all were married.  Shloime had a small grocery store????.  One was in Kolki.  I remember that before Rosh Hashana and Pesach, my family would go there to buy clothing.  My brother went in there before the chagim, took all the packages, without paying.  Why? Chayyim Lerner was an [?].  In the evening my brother went back, they figured out the bill, and he took only 7 or 8 %.  I remember this family well.

I remember Pesi der klezmer.  I knew his son Ruven Schnitzer in Rovno. They were also my family by marriage.  My sister married his youngest brother, Fishel.  Moishe Schnitzer, Velvel Schnitzer, Lozar Schnitzer,-- Pesi der klezmer had 16 children, 12 from his first wife, 4 from his second.  I didn't know Ruven Schnitzer's wife, Feige - it's possible that I knew her then, but I don't remember her.  Ruven had a sister named Feige, and another sister whose family name was Spiegele in Rozhes?. She had a son, Shloime Spiegel.  My sister's son, Yitzchak, is no longer alive.  I don't know of any Schnitzers who are still in Russia or in Israel. Fishel may still be alive in Russia. I'll see if I have an address for him. He lives in Belgod?, near Kharkov. [MS: didn't find an address]

I was at the wedding of my sister and Fishel Schnitzer.  There were seven days of celebration after the wedding in the house of Pesach der klezmer. That was in 1931 or 1932.

Moishe Schnitzer was the oldest, then Ruven, then Feige, -- Ruven had a shoe store. Pesach Schnitzer's boys were not musicians.  I remember that .... Pesach Schnitzer was not a chazan.

I didn't know any Binyumin Eisenberg or Leah Kolodny, nor any of Herschel Wolf, -- I knew a Melach Eisenberg and a Herschel Eisenberg. I don't know if he was Herschel Wolf or not, but he wasn't any part of my family.

I don't recall any Kolki families who went to America while I was there.  I recall one family went to Brazil or Argentina.  Brick's [MS: someone else from Kolki whom I met in Israel] uncle went to Argentina. He worked with pig bristles.  I don't remember his name.  I didn't know any family named Deutsch from Kolki.  I did know a family named Fidel.  Boruch Fidel had a son who went to Argentina.  One was Herschel Fidel, another was Tzvi Fidel, who stayed in Kolki.  There was also a David Fidel, and the oldest sister was named Hudel.  She was married, I think, to somone named Katz.  Now I think I remember there was another borther named Shlomo who also went to Argentina.

I remember many people from Kolki.  When I was at Yad vaShem was about 45-50 years ago, they started to collect names at Yad vaShem, and when I came from Poland, I....

I don't know the name Kosoki or Kaiser from Kolki.

I went to America around 1990, and I looked up my relatives in Baltimore. My aunt left Kolki in 1937.  I stayed with them several days.  I think they thought that I wanted money from them.  [lots of gossip about the standard of living of his Baltimore relatives

My father's name was Yitzchak.

I have a list of names that I gave to Yad vaShem.

Fishel's sister [MS: from end of this paragraph, he probably meant, and maybe even said, Pesach Schnitzer's sister] died in Baltimore.  I have a picture of him which I got [MS: from the Baltimore family?

I have a whole collection of things from Kolki.  [shows a picture] ``We give you this photo as an everlasting memento to the director of the Tarbut School, Chayyim Spitz, 1929''.  I recognize all the girls in the picture. Bela Bustig. Gitel Biber.  Rivka Bustig.  Mirel Feld. Rivka Fidel. 2 Edelstein girls [MS: first names hard to make out].  2 brothers named [Karnov?].  Chayyim Spitz left for Israel.  He was the head of the Tarbut school.

[shows another picture] I am not in this picture.  My younger sister is in it.  This woman is named Shapira, she was a Polish language teacher.  In 1975 I was here and my wife and I saw her at a lecture. I went up to her and said ``excuse me.  Are you Sonja Shapiro?'' She grabbed me and said ``I used to be.  Now I'm called Goldstein. Who are you'' ``You wouldn't know my name, but you were my teacher.''

Here's the list which I gave to Yad vaShem of people from Kolki who died in the Shoah.  All these these Schnitzers --Avraham, Eliezer, Shmuel, Bela, Malka, Wolf, Batya - were from the same family [MS: I assume the family of Pesach Schnitzer].  Batya was the wife of one of the Schnitzer boys.

Sheinde Lerner and David Lerner - I don't remember now who they were. Some other Lerners on the list: Shlomo, Rachel, Chana, Mordechai, Eliezer.  All from the same family.

Many of the inhabitants of Kolki were [Karlin-]Stolner chasidim.  Pesi Schnitzer was one. They still exist, with branches in Yerushalayim and B'nei Brak.  Every year, in the winter, Reb Yochanan [MS: I think a former Stolner Rebbe] would come to Kolki in a sleigh.  He had very beautiful ???.  When I came to Israel, one of the chassidim found out from Yad vaShem that I, a former Kolki-ite, was here, and he called me to ask me if I had the names of any Karlin-Stolin chassidim [???].  He came to take the names from me - I'm not a chasid.  A while later, they were here in Tel Aviv, and they called to tell me that the Rebbe was here and he wanted very much to see me - this is the son of the Rebbe I knew in Kolki; he is now deceased.  I went to the verbrengen, and afterwards the gabbai grabbed me by the shirt and said the Rebbe wanted to see me, and brought me back to see the Rebbe.  We talked about the old days, and he wanted to know if I remembered any of the melodies of his father, or if I had any pictures.  I told them I had one picture of the former Stolner Rebbe, but it wasn't in very good condition. Nevertheless, they wanted it, so I went home and made copies and sent them to Yerushalayim.  From that time on, these chassidim were always very gracious to me.  When my wife died, the  Rebbe sent 3 of his yeshiva boys to my house to be m'nachem avel and learn mishnayot in her memory. Before every festival, someone from the Stolner chassidim calls to wish me ``Gut Yomtov''.

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