A Personal Recollection
My name is Yechezkel Zins. I was born on February 7, 1920, in Poland in the town of Zurawno, in the District Zydaczow, Province: Stanislawow.
Zurawno is a small town with a small community of Jews, about 1,000, on the banks of the Dniester, Swiczy and Krechowa Rivers. Zurawno is the birthplace of the poet and writer, creator of the Polish language, Miko_aj Rej. [Father/ founder of Polish literature, who helped shape a vernacular, everyday language into a literary instrument. I.K.]
The town became famous in the annals of Polish history because of the famous battle that took place [nearby] between the king of Poland, Jan Sobieski, and Turkish and Tatar invaders, a battle that ended in a peace treaty.
The Jews of Zurawno made a living from trade and crafts such as carpentry, metal work, tailoring, etc. There were also Jewish doctors and lawyers, educated people, and writers such as Feder and his sister. And poor people were also not lacking who in order to prepare for Shabbat had to borrow money to buy fish and meat. The wealthy Jews sent their children to the big cities and abroad to study, mainly medicine. It was not possible to advance one's education in Zurawno, since there was not even a gymnasium in the town.
Jewish life in Zurawno was very vibrant. That is, it was an active community in all senses of the word: Talmud Torah, Hebrew school, Tarbut School, where most of the children learned Hebrew, after studying in the compulsory Polish elementary school. Hebrew teachers would come to us from Tarbut and teach the children, organize performances, plays and especially on Hanukah and Purim, 26 Tamuz [Herzl's yartzeit], etc. The first Tarbut teacher was Peretz Bark. He came with his wife and children After him Friedman came. After him came the teacher Ehrlich and in the end, Schechter with his wife and children: Yaffa, Moshe, Esther and his two sons.
I remember that there were also Zionist youth movements such as Hashomer Hatzair, Betar, and others. There were also in our town Hachshara of these youth movements, that is, preparation for aliya to Palestine. Young men and women would come from towns further away to work and prepare themselves for cooperative life. [The ideal of] Jewish labor was difficult for these young people, who had never even held and maybe even never seen a saw or an ax, to work as lumber jacks, in a flour mill, on paving roads, and all sorts of difficult work, just to get used to working so they could get a "certificate" and go to Palestine.
The big river, the Dniester - that flowed to the Black Sea - was used by the inhabitants of Zurawno especially the young people, mainly in the summer, when they could bathe, swim and relax on hot days.
In order to cross to the other side of the Dniester, the people of Zurawno and the surrounding area used a small ferry boat called a parom since for many years there was no bridge.
Agricultural produce was brought to Zurawno from the villages, especially on Wednesdays, which was the market day; this was the day for trade, which all of the town's inhabitants looked forward to.
On the other side of the Dniester there was a mountain, Bakotzin, which was a very important place for us teenagers. We would go there to hike, to get together, and in the winter to sled; and mainly it was an ideal place for lovers to meet. On Bakotzin Mountain there was also a "treasure," a marble called alabaster [was mined there] and there was a factory there where they made all sorts of statues, writing implements, and other sorts of products from this stone. Aside from the factory on Bakotzin Mountain there were also a lot of small workshops in Zurawno, where all sorts of products were made from the alabaster, which were exported to many countries all over the world.
Introduction of Shlomo Steg by Yechezchial Zins at Ben Gurion University, April 14, 1996
April 14, 1996
In the name of my fellow townspeople from Zurawno in Galicia Poland, I would like to express my appreciation to you Shlomo and to your wife. We wish to express our gratitude for your generous act of donating scholarships for the Ben Gurion University. I would like to take this opportunity to remind my friend and those present about the noble deeds of Moshe Shteig. In our town the Shteig family was a very special family. In their traditional home the only language that was spoken was Hebrew, which in the Diaspora in those days was very unusual indeed. You and I together Shlomo and your cousin Ruthie started to study Hebrew with your uncle Mordechai, who was the renowned Professor Tur. When he came to Palestine before WWII he was one of the founders of the cardiology department at Beilinson Hospital and served as its director.
I will never forget your grandfather, Mendel, a wise and proud Jew, your uncle Nuchi, your father, mother, and sisters. And your Aunt Miriam - pretty, wise, and educated - who perished together with the rest of your family, our family, and all the Jews of Zurawno during the horrible events of the Holocaust. People said that your Aunt Miriam wrote with her blood on the walls of the synagogue in Stry the words "revenge revenge." And we, a tiny handful of friends who survived the persecution and hardships in the forests of Zurawno in the expanses of the Soviet Union, in the Polish army, and the Red Army, are proud of you and wish you Shlomo and your wife an abundance of good health.
I hope and pray that we will enjoy many more good years, years of good health when we will meet, only on happy occasions, in our beautiful land where peace and prosperity will reign.
Yechezkel Zins, April 14, 1996
Yechezkel "Chemush" Zins celebrated his 94th birthday at his home with his family in Bat Yam, Israel on February 7, 2014. His daughter, Carmela, gave a speech. He also spoke about his life. His nephew, Moshe, interviewed him.
A. Carmella's Blessing:
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To our dear father,
Another year has passed, and we have come to celebrate your 94th birthday in your house, as you wanted. You and mom sit in your armchairs, and around you is the large tribe that you founded and still another great granddaughter, for whom we waited so long, will soon join us. We are happy and proud that your reached such a wonderful age, that you are lucid and smart, and that you are interested in asking how we all are. You read the paper, you are engaged in the world,1 and you listen to the radio, because it is important for you to know what is happening in Israel and in the world. And without having a say,2 you watch the TV programs in Russian that mom loves so much. We appreciate your memory very much. Even the grandchildren know well the story of your childhood and your adolescence in the shadow of the terrible Holocaust. We are proud of you, and we walk in the path of honesty, pragmatism,3 assisting [others], and love of truth that are disciplines, which we inherited from you. True, it is not easy for you and mother to function, and every day is harder, but you have dedicated caretakers and Natasha here. Molly and I, the pensioners, and your dear, terrific grandchildren, who always try to make light of all your disciplines. We are all hoping that we will celebrate still many more birthdays and other happy occasions. We wish that you will be healthy together with mom for many, many years. We love you very much–the daughters, the sons-in-law, the grandchildren, the great grandchildren, and the whole family.
B. Chemush Zins Relays his Life Story:
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My dearest ones,
I thank you very much for the blessings, wishes, and presents that I received from you for my 94th birthday. I thank my dear daughters, Carmela and Molly, very much along with their husbands for the help that they offer us with all their abilities, being thoughtful about our age and our health. Thank you very much to my aide Natasha for her dedicated care. Thank you very much to my dear grandchildren and their families. Despite that they work and they are always busy, they call and worry about me and ask about me. For this, we thank you very much.
Thanks especially to my dear and sweet wife for the care and worry and also the help that she offers me. Despite that sometimes she sucks the life out of me [laughs], she puts it right back [laughs].4 She puts up with me nevertheless, because she doesn't want to be alone.
The ninety-four years that I lived through were not easy. I felt anti-Semitism as it was violently spreading in Poland. When I was growing up and was being educated in Zionism, I was influenced very much, so that my hope was to go to Israel and to help with the building of the birth of Jewish nation. I learned Hebrew and construction. My hopes were disrupted in '41 when a huge war started, World War Two. [Moreover,] the terrible Holocaust came wherein six million Jews met their end, and among them were my parents and seven brothers and sisters with their children. I was saved and remained alive.
In great despair I was separated from my family and went deep into Russia. There I suffered greatly from the cold, hunger, and hard labor. In the end, they drafted me into the Red Army, and they sent me to battle the Germans. Near Konigsberg, I was badly injured, and I was put in a field hospital to recover. Before the end of the war with the Germans, they took all our army with the field hospital with me among them and sent us to the Far East, Mongolia, to fight against the Japanese. When the Americans dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, the Japanese surrendered and the war ended. They released me in April '46 and I traveled to my town, Zurawno, with the hope of finding someone still alive from my family. To my great despair, I did not find a single person alive. Everyone met their end in the Holocaust.
With despair and grief I traveled alone to the big city Lwow, and there I started a new life. I started to work, and I met a pretty Jewish girl by the name of Tzila, and she became my wife. We fell in love and did not wait a year or many years —
Participant: Twelve days – twelve days in all.
Chemush: – and we were married in Lwow.
Participant: [You're married] until today!
In Lwow, we had two sweet daughters, Carmela and Molly. At the first opportunity in '57, we went to Israel. There I also met with my brother, Simcha, and his family — the only survivors from the family. I sit happily today with my large family, and my only hope and prayer is to merit another year at least, and to be with you all together, everyone healthy, joyous, and happy.
Moshe: At least. At least.
That's what I said. Now, a few [more] seconds. In another couple of days, my dear granddaughter Navit, an artist, will be celebrating her 31st birthday. In honor of her birthday, I wish much health, pride, and joy in life. And together with her husband, may they raise their daughter in peace, happiness, good health, and pride for the family and the state of Israel.
C. Interview with Chemush:
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Moshe Zins: What's your name? Your full name?
Yechezkel "Chemush" Zins: Yechezkel.
M: Family name?
M: Where were you born?
M: Exact date of birth?
M: Exact date of birth? Perhaps more?
Participant: The seventh of February.
C: The seventh of February.
M: Ok. The first question is: What did you–you came from Zhuravno?
M: You were born in Zhuravno?
M: You lived until the war in Zhuravno. The question is: what is the memory from your youth in Zhuravno until the war that you remember best?
Participant: What do you remember?
M: Something that gives you the most–
C: I remember that from my childhood I went to learn Hebrew, and we had a school for Hebrew, where there were teachers of culture, who came, and I learned Hebrew from them.
Participant: What do you mean by culture?
M: Yes, culture is – my grandfather was a teacher in –
Participant: His father –
M: The intent was: Was there anti-Semitism that you recall, some incident in particular perhaps?
C: About anti-Semitism, I have many [stories]. I mentioned to you my most striking memory of anti-Semitism. I was together with your father, Simcha, in the Polish school, where the non-Jews jumped us, and the Jews irritated them [in return]. Your father went and hit one of them and drew blood. So they took your father and me and threw us out of the school. They didn't let us enter until my father came and begged and requested forgiveness. Then they returned us to that Polish school.
M: Okay. The second question I want to ask you – by the way, my name is Moshe, Moshe Zins. You are my uncle. I am the son of Simcha Zins. The second question that I'm asking you is: What is your most notable memory from the years of the war when you were a soldier in the Red Army?
C: What I remember best was when I was wounded. I was sure my life was over, because the wound was very serious. They took me to the surgical field hospital, and they saved me. I was thrilled that I was alive.
M: When was this? The date? Do you recall the date of this perhaps? When was this?
C: Yes, I remember. That was on the first of February in 1945.
M: With what rank did you finish your service in the army?
M: What rank?
C: Rank? – I – I didn't aspire to a high rank. I didn't have a high rank.
M: Okay. The next question is: The war ended on May 8/9, 1945. What was it like between the time the war ended until you were married to Mrs. Tzila? [Tzila Zins is Chemush's wife.]
C: The end of the war–There are no words for the great joy [we had] that the war ended. However, we knew that no one remained from the Holocaust. We didn't know exactly [whether anyone survived]. For that reason, after they discharged me from the army in Mongolia in the Far East–when they discharged me I went to–I didn't want to–I had friends who wanted to take me immediately to a train to Poland. I said, "I'm not going." I'm going to my town, Zhuravno, to see if anyone from the family survived.
M: And did any survive?
C: Not one survived.
M: The town was totally erased? Or were there some people who remained alive?
C: No one survived. No one lived. No children. No one. Just one relative from the family, Berta, who lived in America, and your father, Simcha, about whom I knew nothing, [were still alive]. [There is some dialogue here clarifying that "Simcha" is intended by "father."] I was sure he [Simcha] also died in the Holocaust or the war, because he was in the army. He was in the Russian army near Leningrad. He was saved somehow.
M: Okay. You reached Lwow. What do you remember from what followed? [There are some interjections about how he already discussed this.]
C: This I can tell briefly.
M: Yes, a few words please.
C: In short, I went with my sweet wife to the movies, and I see a Jew looking at me, staring and staring–why is he staring? I tell him, "Why are you looking at me?"
Participant: –because he knew you were Jewish.
C: Why is he looking at me? In the end, he came up to me and said, "Sigmund! What are you doing here!?" I was scared to tell him. I looked very similar to my brother, and he thought that I was him.5
M: And the final question: When did you decide to make Aliyah to Israel?
C: When [Władysław] Gomułka6 came to power in Poland and gave people permission to go to Poland and from there to Israel. We left Lwow, and we went [to Israel].
M: Uncle Yechezkel "Chemush" Zins, thank you very much! May you have good luck! [May you live] until 120 [years old]!
1. Literally, "utilize reality."
2. Literally, "with a choiceless heart."
3. Literally, "existence; reality."
4. Literally, the expression in Hebrew is "She takes out my soul," which means something like "She drives me crazy" or "She takes everything from me–even my soul." Chemush wittily adds to this by saying, "She puts it back in me." This is a clever, playful twist on the expression.
5. Chemush thought that his brother was dead, and it was only at this moment that he learned that Sigmund (Simcha) was alive and in Israel."
6. "Gomułka was the de facto leader of post-war Poland until 1948, and again from 1956 to 1970." Władysław Gomułka
Yechezkel "Chemush" Zins had a dream about the Yiddish Theatre group in Zhuravno. He reminisced about it on January, 26 2015.
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I am Zins, Yechezkel, born in 1920 in the small town of Zhuravno near Lwow; survivor of the Holocaust; casualty in the war against the Nazis; [current] resident of Bat Yam.
In my dreams and my many memories of my early childhood from the past, I am not able to forget the Zhuravno theatre group, "Yiddishe Dramkeis,"7 which I organized and managed with great success. When the Red Army of the Soviet Union conquered Poland, they also took Zhuravno. The Yiddish language and self-organization were permitted for the Jews. I and a handful of others–
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A talented Jew also lived with us in Zhuravno. He was an enthusiastic Yiddish poet and author, and he was also a dramaturge, and his name was Leib Feder. He wrote dramatic books, songs. We succeeded to convince him to join the group and manage the artistic side. The first plays that we chose were The Two Kuni-Lemls,8 The Dybbuk, and Dos groyse gevins by Sholem Aleichem. The plays were successful. The Jews of Zhuravno enjoyed them very much and praised us. We also performed these plays in small towns where they spoke Yiddish. The last play we chose was Der Mahlzeit, "The Meal,"9 by Peretz Markish, the well-known Jewish poet. We were already at the end of rehearsals for the play when suddenly the war began on June 22, 1941. From then, the terrible Holocaust started, wherein six million Jews of Zhuravno, my parents, my brothers, and my sisters with their children, and all the members of the Yiddishe Dramkeis theatre group with the manager Leib Feder met their end. The poet Peretz Markish was murdered by the Russians along with many other artistic Jews that were not liked by those in power.
7. Phonetic spelling.
8. An 1890 play by Abraham Goldfaden.
9. Chemush translates the title of the play as "The Feast."