This morning I am going to BORZNA!
We will leave at 6:00 so am up at 5:00. . . . It is difficult to describe one's feelings at a time like this. I have come to the USSR for this day. I want to be as sponge-like as I can, and yet I know I will miss much. What will it be like? ... The car is borrowed. During the trip out of the city we pass lines of perhaps 80-90 cars waiting for a gas station to open - maybe it will, maybe it won't.
The road is a large one (by Russian standards) - the main road between Kiev and Moscow. There are two lanes on either side. The countryside is beautiful, not at all like our native grasslands in the Midwest that stretch on and on. Here are wide fields of wheat, yes, but they are surrounded by dense borders of forest, mostly conifers and birch. There are many beautiful flowers. I look occasionally at the road map and see Borzna and surrounding country. The driver says at one point, "We are now only twenty miles from Borzna." I let my mind wander to that first day I found Borzna on a map and wondered if I would ever be able to be there. Suddenly we pass a bus stop shelter on the side of the road. On its frame is printed (in cyrillic) "Borzna". It's at times like these when you wonder "Dare I go further?" After several hundred yards is a small road crossing the highway--leading to Borzna. We turn north and almost immediately come upon a large structure with the name BORZNA on it with a large symbolic shield. We stop to look and take pictures. I suppose this is my first time actually stepping on the soil of my "home town".
We drive on into the town itself. There are many old homes decorated with colorful wooden carvings around the windows and roofs--just like one sees in pictures of rural Russian towns. We see a young woman walking along the road and stop to ask her if she knows any Volkovitsky's in the town. She says there are three and agrees to take us to the first. She gets in and off we go. She directs us to a house where Alex (my driver), being more fluent than I, gets out to speak with the inhabitants. I have a chance now to talk with this "Borznian". Again, how can I describe my feelings about conversing with this individual? Events begin happening almost too fast. I want to stretch this out - to think - to absorb. After a few minutes, Alex returns with the man and wife who live there. They say that the Volkovitskys in the town are not Jewish - and that V. is not a Jewish name, it is Ukrainian. They said there were only three Jews left in Borzna and perhaps they could help us.
We park in what could be described as the town square . . . and walk to the house of a woman named Fannye. A lady, perhaps in her seventies, appears at the door. . . She does not know the name Volkovitsky - Yes, the last Sovitsky died three years ago. He was a glassmaker and his daughter had moved to Kharkov. She cried as she described what happened to the Jews in Borzna. In 1942 there were over 200 Jews in Borzna. They were hiding underground. A Ukrainian told the Nazis their location. They were rounded up, taken to a field, and shot. She was out of town at that time - her sister (who now lives in Brooklyn with her daughter!), escaped just before they came, naked, out into the winter cold.
Seeing the sensitivity here, it was difficult to ask many more questions. "Was there a Synagogue here?" "Yes, but now it sometimes serves as a fish market." She sent us there with a small boy from Baku who was living with her. It is a large, old building. I can't help but feel that here was a place that Pesach would have known and at which he would have worshipped. Again, I wished for time to just look... and think... and feel. Alex and I walk around it, and we agree it is now a sad place. And yet, it still stands, a large building with an enormous history, and its proud soul is still there for those who know. . .
We then stop at the home of Lena. This wonderful lady appears to be decades older than Fannye. She is very short (not even 5'). She confirms what we have heard. I ask her about a Jewish cemetery. She says there is one, although she doesn't like to go there because of the desecration. . . Before we leave I asked if I could take her picture. She smiled "yes" and tried to smooth her unruly white hair with her hands as we stepped outside. Both the homes we've visited were very old and had a strong musty odor within. I didn't notice anything that suggested that this was a Jewish residence although both were dark inside. As we leave she says significantly, "The earth smells for me." Soon there will be no Jews in Borzna. . .
We drive off to find the cemetery. This is now very rural country - mud roads with deep ruts often filled with water. Alex is driving this poor car as though it were a jeep. I pity the owner after this trip. I see many babushkas following herds of cattle or shepherding flocks of geese. These people are not hungry. There were many geese and ducks and chickens. It is like a scene out of Fiddler on the Roof. Finally, we find the location and walk over to some markers we see in the distance. They are surrounded by a metal fence but are mostly recent. All are located at the edge of a field and number no more than eight or nine. Where are the older graves? A woman walks by and we inquire about these. She says that this was all that is left; the main part has been plowed under! I can see why Lena doesn't like to come out here. My original motive for learning Russian was to be able to read the markers here. As we stand on this field, Alex says that we are probably standing on the spot. I know now that the Synagogue-Fishmarket has become their last remaining monument.
Back to BORZNA Main Page