A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE: THE PIATAGORSKYS IN PAVALOCH
(From a taped interview with Anna (Chana) Piatagorsky Rivkin in October 1995 by Debra Katz)
LIFE IN PAVALITCH
Pavalitch was not just a "little village", it was a real town. A cobblestone highway passed through it and the population was over 3,000. There was a small river nearby which the local children had fun diving into. Once a week, people from the surrounding farms and villages came into town and turned a huge empty dirt lot into a marketplace. The costumes of local peasants were especially memorable for Anna.
Anna's grandfather Issacher (Suchar) was very old by the time Anna was born (1911). Although he died before she left for America (1921), Anna remembers him fairly well. He was always coming and going from town (she'd thought it had something to do with avoiding the police or army). Anna knew he had several wives and many children much older than her father, Yudel. Anna remembers that when Suchar died he was laid out on the dining room table at her house and people came in to pay respects for days. There was much crying and lamenting.
Yudel owned a hardware and paint store on the main street of Pavalitch, alongside of several other businesses. The family lived in back of the store in rooms with wide walls that could be heated by setting small fires within them! Farmers from the surrounding area sometimes came by at 3 or 4 am and knock on Yudel's bedroom window because they needed a new plow or some other item repaired.
In late 1909, Yudel's sister Chaje came with her husband Ruben and their baby (youngest daughter Tzivia) to say good-bye as they were about to leave for America. Anna remembers her mother saying that it was a very upsetting tearful time for all of them.
Anna herself attended "scola", the Russian-run school in town. A Hebrew tutor came in to teach her brothers and Anna would eavesdrop and learn the lessons. The tutor realized she had natural ability and went to Yudel to say that he would teach Anna for free. So unlike most girls at the time, she became fluent in Hebrew.
Anna's mother's family (Weiners) were from Berdicev and Anna visited there often. (She says they pronounced the town "Ber-DEE-chev") It was the "big city" with cobblestone streets, horse-drawn streetcars and running water in the homes! She remembers going into nearby poppyfields there and eating the seeds..."now, if that's what they make dope from, well we didn't know!"
Military activity was common in the Ukraine around Pavalitch. Anna describes it that "governments were always taking each other over." She remembers one time in particular, about 1916, when a Polish general (name sounding like "Peclure") was trying to take over parts of
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Russia. He was a short man, she recalls. One day, Anna and some other children were playing down at the river when they hear machine-gun fire. They scurried out of the river, but found themselves on the wrong side, opposite from the town and on the main road where soldiers were descending upon them. Anna had a non-Jewish girlfriend whose home was on that side of the river and they ran there to hide.
Yudel had no idea where his daughter was and was worried sick. As luck would have it, the general and his troops were in retreat and passed right through town without stopping to cause any trouble. When it was quiet again, Anna ran back across the river and burst into her own house to the surprise and relief of her parents.
In 1919 the incident occurred that convinced Yudel he must get his family out of Russia. What started this pogrom in Pavalitch, they never knew. But suddenly mobs of peasants were roaming the streets, breaking into homes to vandalize and loot. (Anna noted that the marauding peasants were mostly younger men, not the older farmers who'd been longtime friends and customers of the family.) As the mob approached their house, Yudel and his oldest daughter (Edith/Ita*) climbed into their attic to use a secret passage to get to the next-door home of Yudel's half-brother Chaim. (Yudel knew that adult males and young women usually suffered the worst of the mob's attack.) In the process, Yudel hurt his leg badly, although he did manage to escape the mob.
Meanwhile, Yudel was counting on the fact that the marauders would take pity on his second wife Tamar (Thelma) and his three youngest children. They stayed in the kitchen to face the intruders. Anna remembers that all the kids were crying and the men threatened to kill Tamar. The men then knocked out all the lights and were screaming "yeni! yeni!" , which meant "money." Tamar said she had none. Then one of the men said, "Look she just has a bunch of crying little kids, let's go!" And they all left.
As soon as Yudel's leg healed, he announced to his family they were going to leave Russia for America.
However, the Russian revolution and World War I delayed them a bit.
ESCAPE FROM PAVALITCH
In early spring of 1921, Yudel Piatagorsky and his family (Edith and Chaim (Hyman) from his first wife Ruth, and Chana, Moishe and Pesse from his second wife Tamar)---along with several other families from Pavalitch---set out for the long trek to the border. (They stopped in Berdicev
first to bid a tearful goodbye to Tamar's family.) They could only travel at night and were on foot, so the going was slow.
They finally reached the Nyesta River, the border with Romania. They had to bribe officials on both sides to be allowed to cross. The river was frozen but as they got close to the Romanian side Anna remembers it got slushy and difficult to walk on. The family then began hiking across
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the Carpathian mountains, a journey that Anna found very harrowing and felt she could barely make.
They came to a town where they could stay the night in a big indoor hall. When they awoke the next morning they found they had been robbed of most of their possessions, including some treasured silver goblets and a candelabra. With no choice but to push on, they trudged to Yassa, Romania where they found a hotel to stay in.
Probably for lack of funds to pay the passage, Yudel and his family stayed in that hotel for 3 months. They were very near a big modern city---"Kashinov" as Anne recalls---in Bessarabia. Hyman developed a shoulder cyst and although Tamar made poultices for it, she felt he needed to see a doctor. So Tamar, Anna and Hyman all took a train to Kashinov for a few days. Tamar then left early to be back with Yudel for some sort of Jewish holiday, but Anna and Hyman stayed so that Hyman could finish his treatment. They had fun together...Anna remembers eating walnuts, cantaloupe and papaya for the first time and they would sneak aboard the streetcar that ran on rails.
Eventually the family all moved from the hotel and traveled to Leipzig, Germany where they stayed a few days (Anna remembered the feather bed!) and then went on through Czechoslovakia to Antwerp, Belgium. It was going to take 9 months to get a VISA, so Yudel decided to make up a story that Anna, Hyman and Moishe were orphans, because that would let them leave sooner. He contacted his sister Zlata's family (they'd emigrated to Chicago much earlier) to tell them to expect his children.
ARRIVAL IN AMERICA
Thus in December of 1921, Anna(now 10) and Hyman (now 13) and Moishe (now 7) set sail, steerage class, aboard the SS FINLAND for New York. It was an unpleasant voyage as Anna recalls. Tamar had asked a Jewish man to help keep an eye on them...but all he did was drink the wine Tamar had put in their wicker luggage as a gift to the family in Chicago. They had to sleep in a small room with double bunk-beds that smelled.
When they got to Ellis Island they all had colds and were detained in the hospital there for several months. Finally their aunt Szlata was able to get them and take them to Chicago. Anna stayed with Slata's son Nathan for two years. (Then she went to Los Angeles to rejoin her parents and sister Pesse who'd finally made the trip over in October 1922) Hyman stayed on in Chicago, living with Szlata's son Meyer. Moische (Morrie) was a bit of a mischievious trouble-maker...he lived with Szlata.
Additional Note:Anna remembers that Gregor Piatagorsky was indeed a "cousin" of Yudel's...he studied in Europe and so the family never saw him.