Founding of Ozeryany
From 1804 until 1865, the czarist government in Russia encouraged Jews into agriculture through the establishment of agricultural
colonies. Over 500 Jewish agricultural colonies were eventually formed throughout the Pale of Settlement in almost every gubernia.
The goal of the Russian authorities was to remove Jews from villages, to assimilate them into Russian society, to reduce competition for Russian merchants,
and to “make them less parasitical”. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 2, Jerusalem: Keter Publishing, 1971, s.v. “Agricultural Colonies.”)
Incentives for Jews to join these agricultural colonies potentially included freedom from forced military service, exemption from taxes, and perpetual
leaseholds on land. Ozeran was one of these agricultural colonies established in 1848, in the Russian gubernia of Volhynia, now in Ukraine. Ozeran was undoubtedly
named for the small nearby lake as Озер means lake in Russian.
An account of the founding of Ozerany appears in Pinkas Ha-kehillot as follows:
"An agricultural Jewish settlement in Gemina Warkovits, district of Dubno. Ozierany was founded in 1848, at the time of
Czar Nicholas I, on governmental land. There were 208 settlers who came from different towns and villages in Volhyn." (Shmuel Spector, ed., Pinkas Ha-kehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Vol. V., “Volhynia and Polesie,” [Jerusalem: Yad Vashem Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, 1990], 102.).
So, it appears that the first settlers of Ozeran originated from other villages within Volhynia. One of the sources for the aforementioned entry in Pinkas Ha-kehillot came from a booklet entitled Yalkut Volhy. This publication of reminiscences from survivors from Volhynia gubernia offers more detailed information on the founding of Ozeran and is translated from the Hebrew:
"Ozierany is one of the few Jewish colonies in Volhyn and even in all Russia. It is located between Zdolvinov and Dubno-20 kilometers from each of them. The train station, Ozeryani is located 2 kilometers away from the small town…the land of Ozierany was given to Jews for settlement, mainly for soldiers out of the service, at the time of Czar Nicholas I.
Their number was estimated at approximately 200. The first settlers came from different places and clung to the bare ground. They worked it by the sweat of their brow even though their suffering and hardship was great and they knew how to keep the land and improve it." (Yalkut Volhin Vol. 2, part 10, Jerusalem, 1948, 18.).
Life in Ozeryany Prior to World War I
The history of Ozeryany from Pinkas Ha-Kehillot continues: "In 1876 a governmental committee visited the place under the allegation that not all the
Jewish settlers were involved in agriculture, so they took most of the land and left the Jews 2,500 dunam. [One dunam equals 1,000 square meters or .247 acres so the area referenced is about 618 acres.] In 1898 Ozierany had 637 inhabitants.
Because the land was not sufficient to support that many people, many of them engaged in different kinds of work. Starting in 1897, the village was served
by a Rabbi Eliyahu Blumenzweig."
We get an idea of what Ozeran must have been like during this time period from this first-hand account of Sam Fisher,
who lived in Ozeryany and was 84 years old at the time of this recollection: "Ozeran [Ozeryany] was a small villige [sic] about 40 to 50 Jewish families
and about 200 goiem [sic], the Jews were separated from the goiem everybody had there [sic] own house with straw roofs no water no toilets you had to go
to the well with a pail and long rope to get your water. We all had land where we grew our own vegetables and our grain for us and our animals.
We had cows and horses and chickens enough food for our self [sic]. (Sam Fisher, letter to Roy Gerber, October 3, 1976.)
Another opportunity to imagine life in Ozeran during this period comes from the hand-drawn map
Fishel Meyer Fiedel included in his unpublished memoirs. Since Mr. Fiedel left Ozeran in the spring of 1907, his map provides a unique window into that
culture and time just after the turn of the century. This amazingly detailed map, probably drawn in the 1980s, provides features such as the configuration
of roads, proximity to the train station, lake, pastures, and even exact locations of houses owned by families. The map also shows the location of the
bathhouse “turkish bath every Friday,” blacksmiths, schul, barns, and wells. One notation indicates the location of the sand and lime pit where
“every Friday the houses were smired with that.” Mr. Fiedel’s hand-drawn map of Ozeran follows (Fishel Meyer Fiedel, Unpublished memoirs, ed., Jeffrey M. Elliott, ):
During this same pre-war period, Ozerany was listed in a Polish gazetteer as follows:
Translated from the Polish as: "Ozierany 1.) part village and colony, district Dubno,
township Warkowicze, parish Orthodox, Kniahynin (4 verst), 23 verst from Dubna. Village 9 houses, 46 inhabitants; colony 184 houses, 1104 inhabitants."
(Filip Sulimierskiego, Bronisław Chlebowskiego, Władysław Walewski, Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego I innych Krajów Słowiańskich
[Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and other Slavic Countries], (Warszawa, 1880-1902), Volume XVI, 426.)
Life in Ozeryany Between the World Wars, 1919-1938
After World War I and the subsequent redrawing of national boundaries, the country of Poland reappeared on world maps.
During the Polish-Soviet War of 1920, most of western Volhynia including the area around Ozeran was returned to Polish rule and the official language
changed from Russian to Polish. Eastern Volhynia became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The description of Ozeryany from Pinkas Ha-Kehillot during the Interwar years: "In the 1921 census, Ozierany counted
796 Jews and 47 non-Jews. In the 1930s there were still about 200 Jewish families in Ozierany and they had the use of 2,500 dunam.
The size of the individual farm was then between 50-200 dunams. The agricultural level was relatively high and the farmers used agriculture machines.
One of the important agricultural products was sugar beets, which were sold to a sugar factory in the nearby town of Mizoch.
Other than agriculture, the farmers of Ozierany were involved in horse and cattle trade. In the place [village] there were two flour mills, a matzo factory,
and six shops. From the year 1928, Ozierany had a cooperative bank founded by the organization ORT."
Outbreak of World War II and Soviet Occupation, 1939-1941
When Germany invaded Poland at dawn on September 1, 1939 to ignite World War II, all of Volhynia was annexed by the Soviet Union
according to the secret terms of the Molitov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed earlier by Germany and the Soviet Union.
By September 18, 1939, Soviet troops entered the Warkowicze-Ozierany (Varkovichi-Ozeryany)area.
According to the account of the event by the Goldenbergs (Sam and Anna Goldenberg, Whispers in the Darkness [New York: Shengold Publishers, 1988], 21.),
the occupying Red Army troops “behaved with great decency” and “took nothing by force”. This was apparently in stark contrast to the brutal force previously
exhibited by the czarist troops during World War I. However, once in control of the Warkowicze-Ozierany area, the Soviets seized all the private farms in
the area, organized them into collectives or kulhoz, closed all private business, and shut down Jewish religious and social organizations. Jewish merchants
and Zionists were threatened with exile to Siberia.
The Holocaust Years, 1941-1944
On June 22, 1941, Germany began a second front by attacking its Soviet ally to the east. The region of the Soviet occupied
territory where Ozeran was located was incorporated into the Reichskommissariat Ukraine by the Germans. The murder of Jews in this and other territories
occupied by the Germans on the eastern front began shortly thereafter. Unlike occupied Western Europe, where the Nazis later systematically gathered Jews
into ghettos and later concentration camps for slave labor or the gas chambers, their plan for the Eastern Front (die Ostfront) was to kill with bullets.
The Nazis sent Einsatzgruppen, or mobile killing squads into the former Soviet-held territories.
According to the entry in Pinkas Ha-kehillot, Jewish property in Ozeryany was looted and confiscated, and the Jews of Ozeryany
were moved to a ghetto in the neighboring village of Warkowicze (Varkovichi). The establishment of this ghetto in Warkowicze in the spring of 1942 was
described by the Goldenbergs: "About one third of the town was to be fenced off, and the entire body of Jews, which consisted a majority of the town’s
population, was to live only there. Around this area, Jewish labor gangs were to build a wooden fence, six feet tall, with two gates in it.
The fence would be surrounded by barbed wire, and the gates would be guarded by Jewish and Ukrainian police twenty-four hours a day.
Immediately the housing situation became terrible. People who had lived outside this area had to leave their own homes, carrying only the barest
necessities, and move in with their neighbors. Space was willingly shared, as other things had been, and there were no quarrels. But now 2,000 persons
were crammed into three or four side streets, five or six families to a two-room apartment."
The ghetto in Warkowicze, including the Jews of Ozeryany, was sealed on October 4, 1942—a prelude to liquidation. According to
the account by the Goldenbergs, the massacre of the Jews of Ozeryany and Warkowicze took place early in the morning of October 7, 1942: "The Germans arrived with dogs, trucks, and swarms of
Ukrainian police. They had already rounded up the Jews in the neighboring village of Ozeran so they added the Warkowicze victims to their truckloads,
and the whole cavalcade had bumped and lurched its way to where the ditches had been dug outside town. There, Jews were ordered out of the trucks,
stripped of their clothes, and then lined up naked at the side of their graves, and when the Germans and Ukrainians had stepped out of the way,
the machine guns opened up."
The report of the murders in Pinkas Ha-kehillot varies by four days: "On October 3, 1942, the Jews of Ozierany along with the rest of the local Jews were marched
to pre made pits outside the town and were murdered. Because it was known that the Aktion was about to take place, some were able to flee.
Among the people that fled, many were from Ozierany. Most hid mainly in the Czech villages in the area."
Another account mentions the role of some "righteous gentiles": "...and indeed one day the Jews of Ozierany
with others that were concentrated in the ghetto were taken to the outskirts of the town and murdered. Only a few tens of the Ozierany Jewish community
found refuge with the Ukrainian and Czech people and miraculously were saved. This is the place to note the behavior of a few of the Ukrainian villagers
to a few of the Jews. With danger to their own life they hid some of the Jews they knew for months and years. But in general the Ukrainians stood by the
Nazis and with them spilled much Jewish blood." (Yalkut Volhin Vol.2., part 10, Jerusalem, 1948,18.)
In 2012, as part of their investigation of execution sites of Jewish victims in Eastern Europe, Father Patrick Desbois' group, Yahad-In Unum, located the exact place
outside of Warkowicze (current-day Varkovychi) where the Jews of Ozeryany and Varkovychi were murdered together:
In addition, in March of 2012, the Yahad-In Unum team conducted video interviews with five eyewitnesses who were living in Varkovychi in 1941 at the time of the murders. These non-subtitled video interviews are in French and Ukrainian. The author has acquired copies of these video interviews and obtained English translations of each interview.
A sample 10-second video of an interview with one of these Ukrainian witnesses is available with English subtitles from Yahad-In Unum at the following link:
Ozeryany and the surrounding towns and townlets were liberated in February 1944 by advancing Soviet troops. It is estimated that
of a June 1941 Jewish population of 943 in Ozeryany, 20 to 30 people survived. The estimate for the neighboring Jewish village of Warkowicze (Varkoviche) is
that there were 60 survivors out of a June 1941 Jewish population of 1,053. (Shmuel Spector, Holocaust of Volhynian Jews 1941-1944 [Jerusalem:
Yad Vashem, Federation of Volhynian Jews, 1990], 358.)
We will never know all the names of the approximately 900 Ozeraners that died in the Shoah. A recent search of Yad Vashem's
Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names was conducted for any victims whose listed place of birth, location before the war, location during the war,
or whose place of death was listed as Ozeran, Ozierany, Ozerany, Oziran, Ozeryany, and other spelling variations. Of those names found, it appears that approximately
114 of those victims were associated with "our" Ozeryany located in the district of Dubno, in the region of Wolyn. See the following link for Holocaust victim's names associated with Ozeryany in Yad Vashem's Database:
Partial Listing of Ozeryany Victims
As of this date, no Yizkor book pertaining to "our" Ozeran has been found.