5th July 2012
Leaving Tel Aviv for Lvov on Air Ukraine is a very strange feeling on a number of levels.
Our Boeing 737 will whisk us there in approximately three hours.
Our cousin, the late, Zvi Roi describes in his memoirs how, as a youngster, he took the train in the late 1930s from Boryslaw via Drohobycz then the train to a port. If I remember correctly it was Odessa on the Black Sea and then he proceeded by large ocean liner (The Polania) to Haifa, a trek which took several weeks.
We have a video, converted from the original 8mm silent film, of our grandfather’s brother Joseph Waldman z”l taken in Boryslav in 1936. The jerky and poor quality film shows scenes from the main street of Boryslaw and the wooden bridges across the Tysmenytsia river. It also shows our cousin, the late, Kuba Nadler leaving Boryslav by horse and cart, probably to the local train station and then a similar voyage to Palestine.
That was three years before WWII started. The film has wonderful and rare video shots of Boryslaw in that era and later of the boat arriving at Haifa plus various clips of Palestine in those early days. I cannot help but feel a familial closeness to Joe who left us with a rare window on life in Boryslaw. I am on my way, 76 years later, to close the circle and record a very different life in 2012. To view Joe’s film :
Then we have the family picture (below) in Boryslav below showing our grandmother (Rose) Waldman who travelled with her daughter, the late, aunt Batya Rok (nee Waldman) from Tel Aviv to Boryslav in 1938. I think the caption is wrong and it was actually 1936. The picture shows members of the late Zvi (Henek) Rok’s family plus members of the Linhard family. Six of those in the picture did not survive the holocaust including the Klara Linhard and daughters Batya and Lucia, Yetka (nee Linhard) and her husband Rosenberg and Henek’s mother Mrs Rok. See Waldman and Linhard family trees.
Those trips took weeks and now many years later – in three hours. This will be more than a physical journey and I am feeling very emotional.
On another level, time is a relative commodity and besides the physical distances involved and different modes of transportation, over 80 years that separate the two worlds I am bridging today with so much family and world history. Yossi Rand from our group would later talk about us travelling through a “time tunnel”.
Cousin Ruthie Meidan (nee Rok) sent me some pictures / postcards from a booklet her late parents had in their possession – depicting Boryslav in the 1930s. The message in Polish on the booklet to the recipient is dated 1934. To see album of these old pictures click here
This is one picture of the main high schools in Boryslaw circa 1930s – known as the Gymnasia
And here it is in 2012 during our visit.
I am the son and grandson of Boryslavians, born on “almost another planet” called Harare (Salisbury) Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and have lived in Israel for the last 39 years. My personal cultures and languages are world’s apart from the destination I am heading to. Hearing the strange words spoken by most of the passengers and flight attendants on the plane creates a sense of confusion and dislocation at the start of this adventure. I am travelling to a place of my roots and yet feel like a total stranger.
Without sounding melodramatic the age-old question pops into my thoughts. Who am I ? What part of my DNA originates from this part of the world that has changed “hands” so many times – Austrian – Hungarian, Polish, Russian, German, Russian and now Ukrainian ?. What about the Jewish history that lies behind my ancestors, some, who it seems originated from the Area of Sudetenland ( according to Bezalel Linhard’s book) and lived in the area of Galicia ( first Birdechev and then Boryslav ) which was Poland and is now Ukraine ?
I have read the memoirs of my late mother Lala (nee Waldman) who was born in Boryslav and late father Les (Bloom) and the memoirs of cousin Zvi Roi (Zeman) who was also born there and left at the age of 14. I have also read cousin’s, the late, Jack Waldman’s memoirs and the book by Bezalel Linhard called “I believed I would survive“. I have read countless other articles and stories on the Internet written by former residents of Boryslaw. I listened to nearly 3 hours of audio visual evidence given by Holocaust survivors Mordechai Merkel and Shmuel Wachtel to Yad Vashem and the Drohobycz Boryslav website. They were both born and brought up in Boryslav and nearby Schodnica and survived the holocaust.
I have poured over maps – some dated from the early part of the 20th century, some from the 1930s and others from current sources like Google Maps.
When cousins, Gaya, Ilan and Avital Linhard travelled last year on a similar trip to Boryslav I went to see them (once with my brother Phil) and listened to their accounts of their trip. I had so much wanted to travel with them on that visit and hear first hand family- related accounts of life in Boryslav especially during WWII. It was not to be and a year later I am travelling with a group of people I have not met before.
The Linhards gave me copies of all their photos and video clips and helped me to mark on a map the key places to visit. I have a lot of material with me – both printed and on my iPad – I am ready to go…
But am I ?
Am I ready to encounter the home and physical location of some of our ancestors – a place which turned, in a short few years, from a secure and relatively prosperous world into a place of evil beyond words ? A place where children grew up in vibrant Jewish communities – educated in Polish, Ukrainian and German plus worldly subjects of mathematics and history as well as Jewish studies. A place which eventually turned on them and destroyed their young lives and those of whole families.
The Linhard family story includes that of Yaakov and Klara Linhard and their two daughters Basia and Lucia. This whole family was murdered by the Nazis. Yitzhak Linhard and his wife Rachel were murdered as was Yetka Greenberg (nee Linhard) with her two children. Most of the Linhard family were murdered except for Bezalel and his sister Clara (children of Yitzhak and Rachel) and Shoshana (my grandmother). See family tree.
On my grandfather Moshe Waldman’s side of family who were also from Boryslaw – the four children of Yitzhak and Sarah Waldman moved to Palestine (Moshe, Bronia and Charna) and the U.S. (Joseph) from the 1920s onwards and their father Yitzhak followed to Tel Aviv in the 1930s. Moshe belonged to the Zionist movement in Boryslaw and as a young man had a strong desire to help setup the Jewish homeland. He would become one of the founders of Israel’s fledgling Electric Corporation and work on the hydro-electric project on the Jordan River (Naharayim) and then in a senior position at the new power generator in Rehov Hachashmal in Tel Aviv. My mother Lala, born in Boryslav, grew up in the family home on Rehov Hachashmal, Tel Aviv. We don’t know much about other wider members of the Waldman family who may have remained in Boryslav and what became of them.
How will I feel to walk the streets, alleys and forests of Boryslav and think of the many full lives that were snuffed out and the evil that raged through these same places ?
It was the beginning of July 1941 ( exactly 71 years ago) that the first “Aktsia” (pogrom) took place when nearly 200 Jews were slaughtered – many at the footsteps of the Ukrainian horse-mounted police station. Bezalel Linhard describes (see reference to his book) that his home for a fews years, after the Russians controlled Boryslaw, was directly opposite the police station. He heard the anguished cries and the gun shots as people were murdered. The following morning he joined the crowd that came to witness the aftermath and take their loved ones to be buried.
He describes at a later stage going to the huge warehouse at the Boryslaw railway station where his father Yizhak had been taken in one of the largest “akcia” (pogrom) . How he thought he may help to free his father and in the process he was caught by the Germans and thrown into the same warehouse. How the German Leopold Beitz managed to persuade the German guards to release Yitzhak “as a key worker in his factory” and how by a miracle both he and his father managed to escape the fate of many Jews (possibly thousands) that night who were loaded onto cattle cars and taken to be slaughtered in the Nazi gas chambers. Beitz was a young version of Schindler and was later recognized in Israel for saving Jews.
Bezalel writes how his uncle Yaakov was shot by Germans ( or was it Ukrainians) through the basement window of his cake/pastry shop. How his father Yitzhak was told of the incident and rushed to see what happened. How Yaakov’s wife Klara and two daughters Basia and Lucia were loaded on a German truck that same night and how Yitzhak managed to plead with the Germans and save the two girls from being shot ( check the full details of the story). Later, in another “akcia” the two young girls and their mother were slaughtered by the Nazis – probably buried in a mass grave on the outskirts of Boryslav.
Bezalel returned to Boryslav with members of his family in 2011 for the first time and found the building and confectionery at No 31 still intact where Yaakov had lived with his family.
On entering the main door and being led down the stairs to the basement Bezalel found the original sign of the pastry shop ” tzukeria” (confectionery) named “Lido” on the roof of the stairwell. He found the basement itself in ruin and being used to store pickeled vegetables.
I have a picture of the building which is located less than 100 meters from the bridge which ran across the river and which divided the town.
What will I feel seeing this same building ?
Or the area in Boryslav called the Koszary work camp where Yitzhak, Bezalel and his sister Clara Linhard were held and used as slave labor ?
Or the mass graves in the Brenica forest on the outskirts of Drohobycz where it is believed that Yitzhak Linhard is buried. At the memorial known as the “slaughterhouse” outside Boryslav are believed to be buried (Rachel, Basia, Lucia with Yetka and her two children.)
We landed at Lvov and at their spanking new airport – built for the EuroCup which just ended last week. All went smoothly and we met our guide Angela. I met some of the group for the first time – seemed very nice. One man I know from past meetings of Boryslavians is Zeev Henefeld father of Israel’s famous basket ball player Nadav Henefeld. I knew Zeev’s mother Dora who had lived in Boryslaw until the age of 22 and came to Palestine before WWII. I had sat with Dora on a few occasions and listed to her stories of Boryslaw. On one of these meetings I recorded her on tape. I also met the Margalits and Chaim knows my brother Phil as they are both in the psychology profession. Small world. Chaim’s family is originally from Schodnica, the neighbouring village to Boryslaw.
We loaded up our minibus at the airport and started the drive to Schodnica where our main hotel would be for 5 nights.
First impressions are always quite strong. We noticed the terrible driving along the route (including our own driver), overtaking on solid white lines and blind curves. Some of the roads particularly in the outlying areas are unbelievably bad. Pot holes in many places and often there is no tar at all. It reminded me of this image I had seen of a man sitting by a pothole with a fishing rod (trying to see the humour in an otherwise sad situation).
En route we took a “pit stop” for a sandwich and drink and I realised how few people speak English. There are no signs in English or any other foreign language. Are there no foreign visitors ? We continued south through holiday town called Truskewejc – famous for its mineral spas. This town has quite a number of hotels (some modern but many in the old soviet “block” style) and restaurants. Later in the week we would walk through its central park which is very attractive.
From there it is a couple of kilometers to Boryslav en route to our hotel in Schodnica. I felt a rush of excitement at the first glimpse of the town I had heard and read so much about. My first impressions were of a very poor town with run-down buildings and where most side streets off the main road are dirt tracks. The main road out of town going south to Schodnica was extremely bad with hardly any tar surface and full of potholes, slowing our bus to a crawl.
Another drive through Boryslav with background commentary in Hebrew.
The air conditioning in the bus wasn’t working and together with bouncing around the potholes and the extremely hot and sweaty windowless vehicle (the temperature on the dial showed 32-34 degrees inside) – we arrived at our hotel in Schodnica after a rather symbolic “shaking up and sweat bath” into our new reality and the start of an adventure into very different world.
After a one hour break and freshening-up we drove around the village and went to a couple of water springs ( one sulphur tasting) and one sodium tasting. Very primitive affair but plenty of local people standing in line to drink and collect the water which are supposed to have some curative characteristics. We had been told about the poor health care facilities in the country and low longevity rates which explained in part why people sort out these “natural” springs as potential elixirs for healthier lives.
Our guide Angela saw an old lady sitting at entrance of her home and asked if we could come in…she was very friendly…not a tooth in her mouth…conditions in her home were really bad. The lady said she was 93 and remembered having Jewish neighbors. Very touching to see how she lives and I took some pictures. Shmuel said that the cooking and plumbing facilities in her home were typical of life even in the 1930s. Hard to know what role she may have played, or not, in her youth in getting making the area Judenfrei (free of Jews). These are the kinds of thoughts I have seeing this older generation of Ukrainians.
See some initial pictures in this album
On the drive down from Lvov we saw that there is a lot of rich agricultural land in Ukraine…a country of 42 million people, average life expectancy is apparently in mid 50s and they have negative population growth. The farming is generally small scale and the equipment (tractors etc..) is not in good shape. We often saw horse and carts and predominantly women doing manual labor like cleaning streets and working farms. These statistics remind me of parts of Africa where I grew up.
One thing that does stand out while viewing the countryside is the wealth of the Church. Ornate buildings dot the landscape with the typical Russian Orthodox domes in bright gold or silver apparently the churches are in fact of the Greek Catholic orthodox persuasion and fall under the Pope in Rome ( info from our terrific guide Tanya).
On the drive through Boryslaw we had a glimpse of the Koszary work camp where Jews were kept in a forced labor camp by the Germans. One other general impression was that the town is in quite a hilly situation – being at the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. Lots of lush greenery around and small forests or tree groves in the middle of town. I don’t know why but I always thought of it as flat.
We saw quite a few old and not working oil rigs but also one that was still working. These are the more modern hydraulic machines ( חרגולים ) than the wooden towers seen in old movies and pictures.
Our first generation participant in the group Shmuel Wachtel told us a few stories from his childhood in the area ( mainly Schodnica) but also Boryslaw.
The football ground in the village (still there) was the site of many football matches and there was an active league with competitors at all levels and from far and wide. He even remembers a team of Hapoel Tel Aviv from Israel coming to play in the 1930s. Life had been good.
He said most homes had electric lighting and one Jewish entrepreneur operated a generator to supply the town. This man would charge his customers based on the number of light bulbs that were in use in the house. He would go around the town at night checking how many lights were on in each home.
He said that during the Russian occupation 1939-41 they did treat Jews well and provided universal education, social and medical services. They did confiscate most of the private businesses and created coops instead which were totally inefficient and people were not motivated to work. Standards of living dropped sharply during the Soviet occupation but the Jews did not feel threatened.
He said the term for Jew was changed by the Russians from Yidden (Polish derogatory term) to Ivrei and was less intimidating than the term used by the Poles/Ukrainians and of course later by the Germans.
At supper I sat with Shmuel – a first generation who survived the war…lots of interesting stories. He had a good childhood and had some positive things to say about the Russians mainly because he had been young and not directly affected by the confiscations of properties and businesses by the communists.
(Please remember to visit the website of the Drohobycz, Boryslaw and Surroundings to read and view much more material – mainly in Hebrew)