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  vyshgorodok Diary

Sunday, 16 September 2007

As the propeller plane began to come out of the clouds, it got windy. Very Windy. There was a group of teenage girls sitting with me in "business" class, giggling with every pitch of the plane. Funny, I wasn't really frightened, although, perhaps, I should have been. It was the bumpiest, most unstable landing I've ever experienced, but it was fine in the end, and that's all that counts. Propeller planes, I guess, are more maneuverable than jets, but maybe that's what we tell ourselves to feel better.

It was grim in that little Communist-era terminal in Lvov. The stern-looking officials, glowering at me, as if I should know that arrivals must fill out the departure side of the card they gave me. There were no pencils or pens, no little tables on which to write. My luggage and handbag were then passed through an x-ray machine before I could pass into the impossibly-crowded waiting room. I found my guide, who was busy talking to someone. I remembered his face from an IAJGS meeting. He was holding a sign with my name on it.

My tour began with Lvov's rynek (market square), the site of a former synagogue, followed by two old Jewish quarters. Lvov is a pleasant-looking town, reminiscent of Krakow in its feeling. We drove a short distance out of town, past the killing field where the Nazis and their minions shot 200,000 Jews [The Jewish population swellled to 240,000 in 1940 as Jews fled Nazi-occupied Poland after the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact], and up a hill to the camp entrance where a monument has been placed. I could almost see the victims being herded from their homes, forced to walk up that hill to the camp where they would await their fate - shot like dogs in front of the pits that became their grave.

Lvov Holocaust Memorial

Later, I went to the best restaurant in Lvov, where I enjoyed herring, duck breast, and eggplant topped with mozzarella and tomatoes, washed down with Georgian white wine.

Monday, 17 September 2007

We set out for Vyshgorodok a little after 9 a.m. The driving in Lvov is insane but, since no one can go very fast, I found it tolerable. On the open road, however, the pace picked up considerably; drivers do not seem to follow any rules, creating an appearance of chaos. On the road, a two-lane highway, we passed old Soviet-era trucks, new Audis, an occasional tractor, and horse-drawn carts carrying passengers.

It took us almost three hours to arrive in Vyshgorodok. It did not look like much, that's for sure. My guide and I drove along unpaved roads searching, with little success, for Jewish-associated sites until we took a dirt road, Shevshenka Street, leading off the main road. Shevshenka Street felt shtetl-like, and I just got "that feeling" of being projected back into pre-war Vyshgorodok.

We came across a cluster of picturesque old houses. They seemed similar to the house in a 1930 family photograph that I took with me with the hope that I might find my family's house; I could not make a definitive match.

Roykhman family of Vyshgorodok

Unsuccessful, we returned to the main road, where we saw an elderly woman. We stopped to talk with her.

Yes, she said, she remembered the Roykhman family; Roykhman was my grandfather's surname. The old woman told us where the Jews had lived. This turned out to be primarily along today's main road. The old lady also told us that of two Jewish cemeteries, one was gone, but the other still existed; she gave us directions to it. She also confirmed my "feeling" that the road we had just left was, indeed, where Jews had lived. Finally, she directed us to an elderly man who might remember more about the Jews who had lived in Vyshgorodok.

Jewish Street

We found this man. He, too, remembered the Roykhman name. He stated that they had sold textiles.

But the sole surviving family member from that generation told me that at least some Roykhmans had been in the grain business. The elderly gentleman went on to say that he had studied with Jews in the town's only school. That the synagogue and several prayer houses had been destroyed by the Nazis. And that the location of the town's supermarket and bus stop had been the site of Jewish houses and stores.

town center
supermarket on right

And the old man confirmed that there had been two cemeteries. An old one, located in a grove of trees, was gone. He directed us to the "new" cemetery, down a muddy lane. This cemetery is in a large, wooded area. It still has some upright matzevot (tombstones); most had toppled over. The cemetery also has many horizontal, cement tomb-like structures that I could not identify.

I wondered whether my great-grandfather Zelig was buried there; he probably was. I wished I could find his grave. Too many of the tombstones, however, were either face down in the dirt or were illegible. The upright, legible headstones were beyond my ability to read, as I do not know Hebrew. Tears came to my eyes. I could not find my great-grandfather Zelig. Yet, I was at peace knowing he was near.

Jewish Cemetery

I left Vyshgorodok and continued on to Volochisk, Ternopol, Kamenets Podolski, Vinnitsa, Uman, Odessa, and Kiev. These were the towns and cities of a culturally rich but now lost world of my ancestors.

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  The Goldfarb History


My great-great-grandfather, Yosef Chaim Goldfarb, produced eight children – five sons and three daughters. In order to avoid the draft, each son took the last name of a childless couple. This is how my great-grandfather Elchanan Goldfarb became a Kuter.

Great-grandfather Elchanan had eight children, one of whom was my grandfather Azriel Kuter. Grandfather Azriel, and his wife Rachel Goldfarb, were cousins. They, in turn, had six children; five of these children and their families perished in the Holocaust. The sixth child, my father Avrum Kuter, immigrated to America on 17 June 1935, where he "Americanized" his surname to Cutter. A brief history of his family follows.

Abraham Cutter ha-Levi

Abraham Cutter née Kuter was born at home during the winter of 1908 in the village of Vyshgorodok, Kremenets Uyezd, Volhynia Gubernia, Russian Empire. Today, the village is part of Ukraine.

During World War I, Vyshgorodok's birth records were lost. Abraham's parents took advantage of this loss. They recorded their son's year of birth as 1909, so as to delay his future army registration by one year. [ed.: Abraham was six years old when World War I began.] Once a male reached the age for army duty, there was still an opportunity to avoid service, as such service was contingent on a lottery; Abraham did not have to serve in the army.

Abraham's father, Azriel, managed the estate of the local lord in the town of Verbovitz (Wierzbowiec), about 4.6 miles northwest of Vyshgorodok. The family lived on the castle grounds until Abraham was three years old. In 1912, rumors of revolution made the Kuter family, being Jewish, uneasy about living on the lord's estate. The lord gave them a piece of land adjacent to the palace where they could build a house. However, the local townspeople protested this decision – Jews were not allowed to own land. The lord threatened action by Cossacks if the townspeople persisted in their protest; the house was built and the Kuter family lived there many years.


As Abraham matured, he became active in Zionism. Abraham collected funds for Keren Kayemet [ed.: Jewish National Fund raised money to purchase land in Eretz Yisrael to create a Jewish Homeland]. His fundraising activities did not endear Abraham to the townspeople. He was not dissuaded in his efforts and Abraham's pushkeh [ed.: Yiddish word meaning "little coin box"] filled up.

Abraham also was active in organizing groups of chalutzim [ed.: person who moves to Israel to help establish modern agricultural settlements]. Abraham was destined to become an ambassador of good will for the fledgling Jewish State. He worked with Menachem Begin, Vladimir Jabotinsky, and other Zionist leaders in training and preparing young men for aliya [ed. immigration to Israel].


At the age of sixteen, Abraham and his cousin Laeb Goldfarb, went into business together. They sold agricultural products from honey to grain. In 1926, Abraham travelled to Vienna to purchase a threshing machine. For eight years beginning in 1926, Abraham ran his business in the region between Russia and Poland, referred to as the "buffer zone". Businessmen enjoyed tax-exempt status in the "buffer zone".

Abraham's business was based on the Polish side of the border. In 1933, he received a notice from the Polish Taxing Authorities for back taxes, interest, and fines for the previous six years during which he had operated in the "buffer zone".

Abraham went to court. The government's claim was that the law had been changed years before Abraham had arrived on the scene. The case took two years to wend its way through the Polish legal system. The Polish Supreme Court decided that Abraham was to pay the back taxes he owed, but the court waived the interst and fines. A partial victory.

By 1935, the atmosphere had changed. Hitler came to power in 1933. The anti-semitism of the people of the "buffer zone" became virulent. Abraham, like millions of others before him, craved freedom, equality, and prosperity. America, "Der goldene medina", the land whose streets were paved with gold, beckoned. Abraham sold his Diesel threshing machine, paid his debts, and left Poland.


Abraham's wife, Sarah Waxman, had earlier departed for America. Abraham left his family and joined his wife. He arrived in America on the SS Kosciusko, a ship of the Ggdynia line. It was 17 June 1935. He would never see his Polish family again; they perished in the Holocaust.

When Abraham came to America, he knew no English. He set out to remedy this deficiency by enrolling in night school despite only having an elementary education. Abraham received his Certificate of Literacy on 5 October 1942. He had earlier, on 30 September 1941, become a citizen.

Abraham and his wife Sarah lived with Sarah's parents, Rachel Vertzman Waxman and Beril Waxman, in a small Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment. In the 1940's, this section of Brooklyn was populated by Orthodox Jewish immigrants. Initially, Abraham and his wife had to sleep on chairs.

Abraham's first job, as a garment presser, earned him five dollars each week. Not satisfied with this arrangement, and ambitious, Abraham began his own garment waste materials business. He bought waste cuttings from garment manufacturers, and sold the cuttings either for recycling or for rags to wipe industrial machinery. His business was a success, allowing him to move his family to Flatbush, Brooklyn, at that time a better section of Brooklyn.


In the old country Abraham had involved himself in Jewish affairs. He continued this involvement in America, becoming active in a wide spectrum of Jewish communal affairs. He was President of Chevra Mishnayoth Shomrei Shabbat, President of Agudath Achim of Midwood, vice-president of the Federation of Wolynian Jews, and a generous supporter of the United Jewish Appeal.

In 1958, Abraham was instrumental in having his Chevra donate a Sefer Torah to a new Israeli settlement synagogue. Again, in 1973, he was scheduled to fly to Israel to present another Sefer Torah. The Yom Kippur resulted in the cancellation of all commercial flights. Not to be deterred, he used his connections to secure passage aboard a miltary transport. Uon arrival in Israel, Abraham presented the Sefer Torah to Rabbi Goren, Chief Rabbi of Israel.

Abraham became involved at the 1951 inception of the State of Israel Bond Drive. Bonds were fifty dollars, and the drive was attempting to get a foothold in the Jewish community. Abraham soon became treasurer of Israel Bonds Fraternal Division for mobilizing fraternal and landsmanshaften [ed.: social group of people from the same shtetl]. He was also a member of the State of Israel's prestigious Prime Minister's Club Award, given to honor and recognize philanthropic deeds for the state of Israel. Abraham raised more than a million dollars.

New Beginnings

Abraham had experienced the horrors of pogroms during Tsarist times, and lost to the Holocaust those memebers of his family that remained in Europe. Jews had been perenially scapegoated for the social and economic ills of Europe. It was clear that the Jewish People needed a Homeland of its own, free from abuse and economically secure.

Abraham's decision to immigrate to America turned out to be a fortunate choice. Those of his family that remained behind were consumed by the flames of the Holocaust. His choice guaranteed a future for the remnants of his family.

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