Lyubar KehilaLinks



Lyubar, Ukraine

49°55' N /27°45' 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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Perl KANTOR 's Memoir "After All" as Published in Vesti Newspaper April 27, 1995
Translated from Russian by Dr. Mark FISCHER

After All - Judith AGRACHEVA

My name is KANTOR. KAUSHANSKY is simply the name under which I lived for many, many years. I was given the name in the ghetto. My name is Perl. In Israel I tried to go by the name Pnina, but the translation didn't stick. I decided to remain who I was: Perl KANTOR. From sundown to sunup the NKVD investigator, shining an intolerably bright lamplight in my face, asked the same question over and over: "Why were you left alive? Why?" I have thought about the answer my whole life. I think that now I can tell the story. In the Ukraine, in Vinnitsa oblast, there was once a little town. Its name was Lyubar. Why did it exist? For all that is left of the old Lyubar is a name. And a gravesite in the woods. The world that perished there was Jewish. So many Jews that Russian words are not enough to describe that life or for a story about the people who lived then. Back then when I was born. One of my grandfathers was David BONDAR. What can I say about him? He was a very good Jew. The other grandfather, Sholem SHOICHET, was not only a very good Jew, he was a supporter of Jewish culture. All Jews in Lyubar lived according to the commandments of the Almighty. Sholem SHOICHET was a servant of the Almighty like everyone else, and a little bit more. He cared most of all about his family. Nevertheless, when his son Shloimke revealed that he was in love with Blumka MAZUR, the daughter of David BONDAR, Sholem SHOICHET became very angry. Then Shloimke left home and married Blumke in Ostropol, all of seven kilometers from Lyubar. But after that, Bobe Rokhl, Sholem's wife, said all her life that Blumka was more her daughter even then Shloimke was a son. And the first granddaughter was for everyone a "pearl." How then could she be named anything but Perl?On the day before the pogrom, Bobe Rokhl had a dream. She dreamed that in the garden she tended, everything was trampled and destroyed. Only one cucumber was left intact. Bobe Rokhl awoke, took me by the hand, led me into a room where nobody was about, stroked my hair with a soft, warm palm and said, "If only you, Perele, turned out to be that cucumber!"There was no real ghetto in Lyubar. So why was one created in a matter of days? And who gave the order to shut in the Jews if even the Russians in Lyubar had forgotten they were Russians? Mother looked out the window and saw terrible men in black helmets, cried "Perele!", tied a kerchief on my head and without further ado took me out of the house. I fled into the garden and cowered there without a sound for a day and a night. First my mother, sister and grandmother were taken from the house, then right past me they took my father and grandfather, and then killed them all…I would not escape from the Salkhov ghetto on my own; I was not convinced that I should. But a boy I knew told me, "Perele, we have to get to the front lines." I thought, "Maybe he's right." Later he escaped to hide in a [grain] elevator. I watched him go, waited a bit, and then went back to the ghetto, back to the Jews. From Salkhov they sent us to Ulanov. From Ulanov, they picked out those who could work and took them to Kordalevka in the Kalinin District, to a concentration camp. There we built and built an airfield. How long? I don't remember.any dates from those times, for Lyubar was no more. Swollen, covered with lice, at night, obeying God knows what, I crept under the wire through the cesspool, and made it to Chmelnik. On the night before the pogrom in Chmelnik I---not Bobe Rokhl, but I!---had a dream. I dreamed that I arose and went through a lane I had never seen before, came to a fence, moved aside a plank that was there seemingly just for me to escape through, descended into a ravine, ascended some steps hammered by someone and was free.I awoke, left the house, found the lane, and the fence, and the ravine, and the steps. Thus I left Chmelnik. In Zhmerinka, to get to the Jewish ghetto, one had to pass for a local. Some kind people sent me to the family of AVREMELE the confectioner (in peacetime he really did make candy, to the delight of all) and there they took me in as their daughter and named me KAUSHANSKY. From Zhmerinka many Jews migrated after a while to Mogilev-Podolsky, and there we were liberated.We were very thin, very ill and utterly exhausted. But when I could understand that we were free, I jumped for joy. Maybe you don't believe it. Maybe you think that I rose off the earth even a centimeter? No, I, the living, graceful Perl, tore myself from the ground and took flight. I hung from the ceiling, looked around at my dear ones, Jews who had escaped death, and flew no more, but came back to earth to stand shoulder to shoulder with my people…The survivors talked for a bit and then started to gather for the trip back to the places from which they had been driven out. Some people suggested that I be their daughter, other promised me their hand and heart [?; made offers of marriage?]. How could I promise to be someone's faithful wife if I was not sure that I had been spared so as to live a human life? I went to Chernovtsy because they promised to feed me there…I eat, I drink, I think, but around me there are none of the people who taught me to eat, drinkg and think. The world that gave me, Perl, life, has died…My closest friend, David BERGELSON, had a memoir, "Noch alemen" (published in 1913 in Russian as "Posle vsevo" ["After All"]). In it, the girl Mirl, beautiful and kind, sees the Jewish community dying. But what can she do? And with whom should she share her intangible trouble? Mirl's friend, a poet, calls himself the Guard of a Dead City. He walks the deserted streets and meets only one woman. The woman, who is clad in black clothes, presses a doll to her bosom and says, "This life is a masquerade." What was it about being survivors that left them brimming with spirituality? For her, in this new, present, masked-ball world, there was no escape…Do you know what I did? I wrote a letter to David BERGELSON. If he really existed, and not just in my soul, I thought, well then, a remnant of this Jewish world has survived. Do you know what David BERGELSON did? He sent for me, Perl from the village of Lyubar, the poetess Riva BALYASNY. In Moscow, only one Jewish school had been preserved: The Theatrical Studio. Its director was Solomon Mikhailovich MIKHOELS, and the [artistic] director was Moisei Solomonovich BELENKY. How beautiful our teachers were, talking about the theater, literature, art! What great people came to the shows and sat in the first row, watching and listening to us students. And we were given free admission to the Writers' Center to see evenings given by friends of the studio, to the Gorky Theater, to the Maly Theater…And one night, after a performance of Madame Bovary at the Chamber Theater, I and Syoma [dim. of Semyon]---then a patient and faithful friend, and later my only beloved husband---couldn't find a streetcar or a bus to get to the dormitory at Trifonovka. We waited for a streetcar and were late for the bus. We waited for a bus and missed the streetcar…I thought this was so funny that I started to laugh, and would not have noticed what happened but for Syoma. He looked me in the eyes, and whispered in a trembling voice, "Perele, du lachst, du lachst!" "Perele, you're laughing!"Before that night, no one knew that that was possible. Everyone frightened me; I avoided people. I never told anyone anything about myself. When my future mother-in-law first laid eyes on me, she cried, "Oh my God, what an awful, angry old goika!" [?; perhaps a Russified colloquial form of "goy"] Once only did I resolve to bear witness to my experiences. This was in the BERGELSON house, with David and his wife Zipa. No one interrupted me, and no one said anything when I stopped. Only when we were saying our goodbyes did the head of the house tell me, "Perl, you must write it down." Should I? David BERGELSON would not deceive me. I set to work. Writing about it was as difficult as living it. But I had been asked to by my idol. I gave him a fat notebook filled with my story. David tried to edit it, but eventually threw up his hands and said, "It can't be edited. We'll print it just as it is." He said this at the end of 1948. BERGELSON once wrote a story called "Yohrzeit licht" ("Yahrzeit light"). Doctor Soifer is sitting by the sickbed of a patient who had been blinded in the war. He no longer could see "his family, his town, or his world." But Dr. Soifer in the same war had lost everything that he had seen: Family, hometown, world! Only no one had taken into account how deeply wounded he was. An orphan who has lost his mother and father is pitied. Dr. Soifer had lost his whole people. But no one had ever heard about his loss.Everything ended again. Jewish writers, teachers and directors were arrested, and shot. The Theatrical Studio was closed. We students still did a graduation show, in a different theater. Not one person on the [?graduation] committee knew Yiddish. There was not one Jew in the hall...It became necessary to leave the capital [Moscow]. In Penza, where my husband's parent's lived, I tried to do Russian drama. My husband tried to help me by breaking every sound down into cues. I repeated them, but grasped the sense of the phrases poorly. Nevertheless, Victor ROZOV noticed me and offered me a part in his play, of the secretary of a school Komsomol organization. How hard it was to pronounce correctly sentences that said nothing to me practically in a foreign language! One day during a tour in the Ukraine, I met Nusia, a girl with whom I had been in hiding during the war. We sat together , the three of us, frightened, and one other girl, Miriam, rocking, whispered prayers, and we envied her, because we did not know them by heart. And them Miriam very softly sang "Kinneret sheli"…I did not recognize Nusia. And I would not have recalled that time at all, had she not sung, very softly, as had Miriam once, "Kinneret sheli." Nusia's husband was the head of the art department at Blagoveshchensk-on-the-Amur [River]. So Syoma and I went to live in that distant town. I worked in the theater and my husband worked in the regional newspaper. When after many years we returned to Penza, we were, so to speak, big people. We were paid various honors. Only none of it was real---a masquerade. Even when the earth was burning underfoot, I sought out Jews, I looked for my own people: the great, funny, noble and clever Jews, without whom there was no breath of life. In the most fearful of times, I did not knock on others' doors. If I did not come upon Jews, I kept going.In Penza the community was so small, and the Jews had forgotten so much that their grandmothers had taught them, that I, Perl, a survivor of perished Lyubar, was treated like a rabbi. They came to me asking what they could and couldn't be eaten and when, and what shouldn't be done…You know, I can tell you now why I lived through it all after I was not killed. I can tell you how I managed to endure after the death of my home town. I think only in Yiddish and dream only in Yiddish; I learned to love and never forgot how…only in Yiddish.

The Newspaper Vesti, April 27, 1995

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