Lyubar KehilaLinks

Ellen SHINDELMAN KOWITT (ESK)

 

Lyubar, Ukraine

4955' N /2745' E
205 km WSW of Kyyiv, 47 miles WSW of Zhytomer,
37 miles W of Berdychiv, 17 miles SE of Polonnoye

 

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Bronia SHINDELMAN's Memoir as Edited by Ellen SHINDELMAN KOWITT

I was born on June 13, 1914, in Lyubar, Volhynia Guberniya, Zhitomirskaya Province. My father was Yosef SHINDELMAN and mother was Malka Leah KARGER SHINDELMAN. I was born into a wealthy family. My father was in the "first glizy" (this was the term used for wealthy social families). His worth at that time was over a million rubbles. In his business, he ran many leather factories and stores that produced soft and hard leathers. His factories produced boots for the Tsar's soldiers during the Russo-Japan war in 1905 and during World War I. All of his products were sold through his stores. In addition, he owned many homes in various cities. My mother helped him by doing the accounting. She was one of a few Jewish women to graduate from gymnasia (high school) because her father Avraham KARGER had been a soldier in the Crimean War. My father was not educated and could not read or write, but he had a very smart head for business. They were both very kind and caring and helped many people who were in need. My father would lend people money but never ask for it back.

In Lyubar, we lived in a 12-room house. My father's factories and stores were also located in Lyubar. My parents had 9 children: 7boys and 2 girls. In 1896, Isaac, was born. Before his birth there was a son who died and after his birth, another son was born who died. In 1902,
Pinya was born. After Pinya's birth, yet another son was born who died. Then in 1904, Paicy was born and in 1911, they gave birth to Srulig. When I was born, my parents were very happy to have a girl. My Hebrew name is Brucha which means mazel (luck or a blessing). In 1917, my sister Ruchel was born when my mother was 45 years old. In our home, there were three housekeepers who cleaned, cooked, and looked after the children. One of these housekeepers was named Raisel MATASAR. She was a nurse (midwife) who would help people in town give birth. She lived with us for over 30 years. She helped give birth at our home to all of my brothers, my sister, and myself. She became part of our family and she would often sit with us and talk about various issues. Raisel was never married and lived for her sisters and surrogate children. The house was comfortable and contained expensive furniture from Paris. In the hallway where my father invited business associates, hung murals painted by artists from Paris in a Jewish, biblical style. In addition, people came to my father with various family problems. His opinions were valued and he acted like a court to solve these people's problems. He never asked for money for helping solve their problems. I remember that after he passed away, my mother would say, "If we had a fraction of what your father gave away, we would be wealthy". This all continued until the revolution in 1917, when the Bolsheviks came to power. The Communists began to build new laws and break down all of the old. It was in 1919 when the Jews started getting harassed and killed. My father's factories and stores were confiscated and torn down. Communists sent soldiers to his stores and we watched as they tore down the shops. This happened in 1920. All of the homes he owned were taken away, with the exception of the one that we were living in. The Communist terrorist sect in our area was called the Budyonofsky soldiers. Jews were killed and beaten. In our home, we had a secret room without doorways or windows. The only entrance was in the ceiling. This room was built by my father and accessed from the pantry in the kitchen. He created a trap door in the attic ceiling that led by stairway to a room behind the kitchen. In the room hid my three brothers Isaac, Paisy, and Pinya. Our first cousin, Shulka GURALNICK also hid there. My mother fed them and we hid them for 10 days. My father hid in a tree at a gentile Russian friend's home. My mother, sister, brother Srulig, and I were not in danger since we were women and very young. This is how my family avoided getting killed. Unfortunately, Raisel's sister's son was also in danger during this time. Raisel tried to help save his life by sending him to the Jewish graveyard to hide. The terrorists found him and killed him. After this incident, Raisel blamed herself for her nephew's death and became very depressed. She gave up her work, started sleeping on the floor, couldn't eat and became a very different person. She ended up dying in the hands of the Nazis in 1941 because she was Jewish. After the pogroms and my eldest three brothers and father hiding, my eldest three brothers decided to go to America. My father was against their departure. He especially did not want Paisy to go since he helped him with the business. He thought that the Communists would not last long. He said, "They stand like a house on water". This is why he did not want to leave. My mother, sister, brother Srulig, and I stayed at home. With my brothers, left my Aunt Dvoira with her three daughters, Molly, Ida, and Dora. Grandmother Perl went with them to America. Feiga and her husband Velvyl GURALNICK went with their son Shulka and daughter Rose to Canada. The GURALNICKS settled in Montreal. Grandma Perl and my three eldest brothers went to America through Poland. My grandmother met up with her sister, Ester, in Warsaw when she was 88 years old. I remember a picture she sent us taken there with her sister who was 112 years old. My grandmother's son in America was Moshe KARGER. They all stayed with him when they arrived. Moshe KARGER had gone to America in 1905. He had served in the Tsar's army. My father went to the front, paid money, and sent him away to America. I remember when my uncle Moshe KARGER wrote a letter to my father saying that he was wealthy and wanted to help my father move to America also. My father did not want to leave his wealth, and believed that his wealth would return. So we stayed among the Communists. All three of my eldest brothers went to America via. a different route through Cuba. Pinya lived in Cuba the longest, for several years, because immigration to America was restricted during that time. He arrived in NYC in 1930.

In 1921, when I was 7 years old, I began school. It was at this time I realized that I came from a wealthy family. All of the blue-collar children did not want to play with me. I was teased and not allowed to participate in their games. My father did not have the right to speak or vote since he had been wealthy and this was against the Communist belief. After the 10th grade, I did not have the right to go on and study more. I realized at this time that I had to think about my future. After I finished school in 1930, my brother Srulig and I left for the town of Slavuta. There was a ceramic factory there and I began to work. Srulig carried newly manufactured toilets and I worked as a cleaning lady at the factory. We worked there for 2 years. Srulig and I received papers that we were workers and we got the right to vote and go to school. We then returned home to Lyubar in 1932 and I applied to gymnasia (high school) for accounting. I finished night school while working. I then found a job as a bookkeeper in the working rapcope (working co-op). They provided services for local stores run by poor people in Lyubar. In 1934, I went to Odessa where my cousin David KARGER lived. He was the same age as my brother Pinya, born in 1902. I lived with David and worked in another office. He was married to a girl named Clara SEIGAL. David later died in 1941 during WWII while serving in the military. Clara survived the War and moved to Leningrad.

During the 1930's, massive arrests of wealthy people began. During the arrests, the Communists demanded money and gold. My father was arrested many times. They would take him away and bring him home. He would give away his gold and they would arrest him again. They would take him home late at night, and one time instead of giving the Communists the gold that my father promised them, my mother made a mistake and gave away a large gold necklace that weighed 2 kilograms. It had a 6-karat diamond attached to the necklace. Even though they gave away all of these things, the Communists still came back for more. On Aug 8, 1934, the Bolsheviks came to my father's home and started to search for more wealth. When they didn't find any more, they took him into another room and killed him. When my mother opened the door, she discovered his dead body.

During this time, I was living in Odessa. My father was buried without me present. After his death, my mother wrote to me that my uncle Moshe came to visit from America, so I made the trip home. I was not greeted at the train station by Uncle Moshe, but rather by my father's friend SHUCHMAN. When I asked him where my father was, he did not tell me. When I got home, I noticed all of the mirrors covered and realized that something had happened. My mother looked terrible. She looked very pale and obviously upset. She told me what happened and said that over 150 people attended the funeral. People came from different cities that knew my father through business. They all knew him as a great, honest, wonderful man, so they made the trip. I continued to live in the house with my mother, brother Srulig, and sister Ruchel.

I started working in the local rapcope again as a bookkeeper. I was 20 years old at the time. My sister Ruchel was 17, and my brother was 23. My mother was always sick. In 1935,
Srulig married a girl named Frieda KAPER. She moved into our house. At the end of 1935, they had a son and named him after my father Yosef. In 1936, I meet a man named Boris Surulovich BRENER. He was 9 years older than me, but he was very handsome and had finished law school. He also served in the military and finished the military academy. He lived in Berdichiv. We courted for 2 years, and being a military official, he was not allowed to get married until the military looked over my background. During this time, I did not know he was planning on proposing. After the investigation, they allowed us to marry. He asked me in 1937 and we married that April. We did not have a wedding, but when he came to Lyubar to get me, my mother invited an old Jewish rabbi and we held a small Jewish ceremony with the windows and shades closed so no one would see. No one could know about this because of his job in the military. Within one week, we left for Berdichiv. When we got there, I moved into his apartment and met his housekeeper Sara LENA. She looked after him and his mother for 11 years, since his mother was paralyzed from illness and remained a quadriplegic. When I arrived, his mother had already passed away, but Sara was still living with him. In Berdichiv I found work as a bookkeeper in a military organization like the Pentagon called "Catch Garnizon." In 1938, my daughter Zena was born. Her Hebrew name is Zlata and she is named for Boris' mother. At this time, my mother left Lyubar and came to live with my husband and I. My brother Srulig stayed in the house with his wife and son. My sister at the time was about 20 years old and also moved with my mother into our house. She found work in the post office. The military provided all of our necessary housing. In 1940, my sister met a man named Fima AVERUN. He worked as a typographer for the newspaper, but it was in a different town. In that year, she moved to his town, Ruzhin, and married. This is how our whole family broke up around the country. We continued to live without our loving father. His place at the table was always set and no one ever sat there. Although many years had gone by, the pain remained, and his memory was not forgotten.

My husband respected my mother and she reciprocated. My husband worked daily until 3am, but every night he came home, he would come into the house and check to see if my mother was OK and sleeping comfortably. My mother thought of him as her own son and always respected his opinion. My sweet life didn't last. The 22nd of June 1941, Germany invaded Russia. The Second World War began. At 3am in the morning, a bomb landed on our building. I grabbed my 3-year-old daughter and mother and ran outside dressed like I was without extra clothes and without food. Since my husband was military, he was immediately called out to work, and I never saw him again. I went to live with a neighbor. Once in a while, I spoke to my husband on the phone. I never went back to our home, since it was destroyed, and everything I owned was gone. On the 4th of July 1941, my husband called me and told me that a train was departing the city and that we had to immediately leave on the train. My mother did not want to leave. She didn't believe that the Germans were killing the Jews. My husband called her and told her to immediately take the children and leave the city. On the 4th of July, we left. The trains were open. We traveled on these trains that were used to move cattle. I remember that my mother was sick, and she had trouble reaching part of the train, so she stood on my shoulders to get onboard. There were many people and everyone was pushing. We did not know where we were going. There were rumors that the train was heading towards Almata. The trip for me was very difficult. The train took a whole month to arrive, and all along the trip we were bombed. We had no food and water. I remember standing on the side of the train and the driver would throw bread to people. I caught a piece once. My mother would use this food to feed the baby with water. Along the way, people could get off the train and get food, but I was afraid to get off the train, since there was no schedule and I could have missed the train leaving. This happened to many people. The train arrived in Lake Balkash, Kazakstan in August,1941. There my mother and daughter got off the train and we met up with a friend of my husband's.
We lived there for the next 4-5 years.

After the war between 1945 and 1950, we lived in the State of Dombask (now modern day Donets'k) in the city of Artemivs'k. The Russians never thought that we would loose this city to the German occupation because this is a city where the Russians mined for gold and other valuable minerals. Another friend of my husband's named NAYMAN owned a family house and worked in Donets'k as the head of the NKVD (KGB). We rented a room from NAYMEN to live in and I worked as a bookkeeper for the government mining company. My daughter, Zena was already 7 years old and I sent her to school there. This was the third time I had to start all over.

I found out that Srulig was no longer left alive. His wife Frieda, son Yosef, and a new baby girl (who we named Chaya bat Israel after her death) were killed. Her daughter was 7 days old when she was killed. My sister Ruchel died as did her husband Fima. I also found out that my husband was killed on the front. He was promoted to the equivalent of a Colonel in charge of Pinskaya Morskaya Flotilla (Russian). This Flotilla stood on the Dneiper River in Kiev. On September 7th, 1941, the Nazis surrounded the Flotilla and destroyed it, killing him and everyone on it. Kiev was overtaken on the 17th of September.

Moshe KARGER was the first one to find us from the American relatives. I received his first letter and package when I got back. He found us through an organization that helped people find their relatives by couriering letters. The organization was called Bogo Ruslav. He helped us financially. After his letter, we began to receive letters from my brothers and family. This began the exchange of letters for many years. In about 1953, I went to Lyubar to visit the cemetery where my father was buried. But I did not find the gravestone. Everything was destroyed. My father's house where I grew up was destroyed. I even had trouble finding the place where the house stood. There I met a gentile Russian family who were friends of my husband. The family name was CORDIA. They tried to save Srulig's family during the war. They took them home to their house. At the time Frieda was pregnant and it was at their house that she gave birth to her daughter - no name was given yet. The neighbors told the Nazis that there was a Jewish family living at the CORDIA house. In the night, the Nazis came to the CORDIA family and took Frieda and her son Yosel. They killed her unnamed baby daughter by throwing her against the wall. CORDIA showed me the wall where the daughter was killed and the bed where Frieda gave birth. I did not find out what happened to my sister Ruchel. She lived in Ruzhin and was also pregnant during the war. I only know that she did not leave the city and was killed by the Germans. I do not know how or where she is buried. Her husband Fima was killed fighting in the war. I never told my mother about the details of her children Srulig, Ruchel, or Frieda's deaths. I did not want to upset her.

I continued to work, but I had no family. My husband's family was also all gone. I lost over 50 people in both my husband's and my family. I worked long days (12 hours), stores were empty, times were difficult, but I once again worked in a company where I could get food. My family did not feel hunger as I worked for Stalin's government. In 1950, the Ministry of Commerce transferred me to the city of Kiev where I began to live my life again. My mother was 78 years old. My daughter was 12, and I was 36. Everything started over again; a new home, new friends, and new job. I had to support the family.

In Kiev, I was transferred to the Ministry of Trade. This being the capital of the Ukraine held a lot of opportunities, and I was made the head accountant in charge of 60 bookkeepers. The only thing that I had to keep my sanity was my work. My daughter Zena was 12 years old and I had to support her. Housing in Kiev was difficult. In order to get a private apartment in Kiev, people would have to wait 10 or 15 years. This is why we stayed with a friend of the family named ROMANOV. Her name was Sofa. Before the war, she worked with my husband Boris. Her husband was also in the military, but he survived. After the war, they moved to Kiev and wanted to help me. My mother, daughter, and I stayed with Sofa, her husband Serge Petrovich, and Ludmila their daughter. There were 6 of us in a one-bedroom apartment. With these difficult housing arrangements, we lived. My daughter entered school, I began my job, and we lived this way for 2 years. Slowly my life began to develop. After two years, I found a private apartment, paid money to get the apartment quickly, and moved in. I lived there until we left the country. My work in Kiev held a lot of responsibility. For every little thing, I was accountable and the smallest mistake could send me to jail. I would work 10 or 12 hours a day without holidays. My mother would always wait for me at night and would worry when I came home late. She was also alone, and she worried at all times that something might happen to me. In 1953, I decided to go to Moscow to get permission to move to America. I got denied at the time.

After some time in Kiev, I met a man named Yakov KAPER. He was my sister-in-law Frieda's cousin. Yakov KAPER, also from Lyubar, told me that in August 1941 he was wounded and that the Nazis captured him. He was then put into a camp for POWs. They transferred him from there to Babi Yar. In the late 1940's, Yakov testified against the Fascists in Germany where he recognized Nazis that had committed these crimes against him. He wrote a novel, "Thorny Road", about how he ran away from Babi Yar. In this novel, he writes about seeing my brother Srulig in a Jewish P.O.W. camp in Kiev. My brother Srulig saved him one time when he was getting beaten. Srulig told Yakov that the Germans were not feeding them, and that they would all probably be killed. Yakov gave my brother some bread and he ate it very quickly. Yakov and Srulig then shared a cigarette. Other prisoners came by and asked them to blow the smoke out from their mouths to share the taste. Srulig very much wanted to get a drink. Srulig opened the window and yelled, "Those who want a smoke, please bring water". People were packed in so tightly that anyone that died did not fall. My brother Srulig would have to stand surrounded by these dead people. He was told that they would load up the trucks with people and take them away. The trucks would then come back with only clothing and no people left inside. The prisoners realized that they would all be killed this way. Yakov then told my brother that he would get on one of these trucks and try to escape. Srulig said that he would wait. Srulig at this time was very weak and he would have difficulty running. Yakov got in a truck full of dead people and when they tossed the bodies, he got tossed along with them. From that pile, he got up and ran.

At the proceedings when Yakov testified, he recognized a lot of the Nazis and asked that in return the Russian government build a memorial in remembrance of the Jews that were killed in Lyubar. In 1970, they built a memorial. When I returned home from meeting with Yakov, I didn't tell my mother anything about her son Srulig, since I did not want to upset her. My mother passed away without ever knowing about how her son was killed.

On Dec 16, 1956, my mother passed away, and I then felt that I was alone. She was 84 years old and is buried in Kiev in Lukyanafka Cemetery. This is not far from Babi Yar. After my mother's death, I began to work very long hours, and always dreamed about connecting with my American relatives. Zena was already 18 years old and was old enough to take care of herself. I found out about my older brothers. Isaac and Paisy were no longer alive. Aunt Dvoira and Morris KARGER had passed away. The only brother that was left alive was Pinya. I always dreamed of seeing him. This was always only a dream. In 1973, people began to go to America through an Israeli Visa. We decided to do the same. We obtained an Israeli Visa, filled out the required forms, and sent them in. Our friends in Kiev thought of us as selling out on our country and abandoning our background. At this time, my daughter was already married. Her husband was Zorik VORONA. They had a son Dima who was 2 years old. We left everything: the apartment, my daughter's apartment, our furniture, and clothing. At customs (Chopa), we had to give up the rings on our fingers, as they wouldn't allow us to take anything with us. This was the third time that I had to loose everything and start all over again. In 1973, we arrived in Italy by train. The Israeli Jewish Council met us. They held us for 3-4 months in order to obtain a visa and then they sent us by plane to Israel. In Israel we were put on an Ulpan. We were fed, taught Hebrew, and lived there for 6 months. After the Ulpan, we were given an apartment in Bat Yam. In 1973, the Yom Kipper War began with Egypt. After that. we decided that we needed to leave the country. After the war, Jerry SHINDELMAN came to visit us as a tourist. He was the son of my brother Paisy. I felt much joy when I saw him for the first time. This was the first person I saw from my American relatives and he encouraged us to come to America where there was a big family. While in Israel, we also saw Marilyn CHANDLER, the great granddaughter of my mother's sister, Dvoira.

Obtaining a visa from Israel to America was not easy for Russian immigrants, so we decided to leave on a tourist visa. We arrived in 1974 and were greeted by many relatives. All of the children and grandchildren of my three eldest brothers Isaac, Pinya, and Paisy were there and so was Pinya himself. He later died in 1978 from a heart attack. Paisy's daughter, Edna KAPLAN helped us find a permanent residence in Springfield, NJ through HIAS.

Having never learned English before arriving in America, at age 60, I attended Lafayette Language Institute for English and received a certificate for "Excellent Progress" in August of 1975. Later, I attended a secretarial school in E. Orange, NJ for bookkeeping and accounting. I received an "A" upon completion in January of 1976.

I found work as an airport bookshop manager in Newark, NJ, responsible for taxes, salary and accounts payable. In 1975, I was initially paid $2.75/hour as a part-time bookkeeper 2 days a week, and then moved to full-time at $3.75/hour. During 20 years working in America, that increased to $11.00/hour. In 1979, I became a citizen of the United States of America.

I met Sam GORELIK, a refugee from Belarus, while attending HIAS. We were together for almost 20 years. Sam died in March of 1999 at the age of 88. My grandson Dima married an American girl named Heather ARENT in February 2002 and they had a baby daughter named Madison on December 23, 2002 in NJ. She is named for my mother Malka.

Editor's Note: Bronia SHINDELMAN died of natural causes January 24, 2004 in Springfield, NJ. She was 89 years old. I named my first-born daughter, Cameron Brianne KOWITT (Chava Brucha), born in 2004, after her. Bronia's only grandson also named his second-born daughter, Brooke Rebecca VORONA (Brucha), born in 2005 in her honor.

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