July 7th 2012
We started the morning with a one hour walk in the hills around Schodnica with a group of about six of us…..again led by Shmuel Wachtel. At 83 years – he is an inspiring man in both his physical and mental approach to life.
As we were walking back to the town we saw a long line of people standing in a queue and only after getting closer did we see that they were standing in line for water…mineral water that is. Each person with a plastic bottle. It appears many people believe strongly in the healing powers of the mineral waters of Schodnica.
Our day started in Urycz with the larger group to hear the story of Shmuel Wachtel’s family who were murdered in the grounds of grandparents house along with approximately 200 other Jews. It is a village located a couple of kilometers east of Schodnica and set in beautiful green hillsides. The family home is still there and he persuaded the old woman living there to let us in. According to Shmuel the inside of the house had not changed very much and the woman still used the original large stove with its heavy plates and side oven for baking. She appeared to be living on her own with a cow as a main source of income and sustenance..conditions in the house were very basic….hard to described the messy conditions she lives in. Interesting to see the wash basin with no running water. See photo album . Shmuel took some of our group down into a valley where the executions of his family and many others took place – a kind of surrealistic situation with such greenery and beauty surrounding us.
We then drove through Schodnica and went to visit the original Synagogue in the town – now converted to a Baptist Church. A nice young woman with her baby let us in…the place has been well kept and refurbished…she said they only have a small congregation of under twenty people. The only sign we found of any connection to Judaism was the marks in the one old door frame where the Mezuzzah was nailed. Shmuel remembered the place well from his childhood.
We then travelled the few kilometres to Borislaw and first a visit to the “mounted police station” on the main road which was opposite Bezalel Linhard’s home on the main street of the town. The following clip in English and Hebrew explains the background to this place.
From there we located the “colloseum” or local movie house nearby where thousands of Jews were jailed under horrific conditions during other “aktziot”. The front half of the building is now a church. From this building Jews were taken into the nearby forests to the north and south and murdered in self-dug mass graves. Yossi Rand has a special connection with this place where his father was forced to leave his three-year old sister to her fate – one of the most heart-breaking stories we heard from our group. There is a horrific and detailed description of the conditions under which the Jews were held in the colloseum in a book by Chaim (Imek) Segal – pages 55,56,57
. before they were sent to their to deaths.
We visited the local municipal records office. We were schlepped in only be told that they have no records of the Jewish community and anything they did have was taken to the archives in Lvov. The woman was totally disinterested in helping us. The whole experience was quite sinister.
We then went to an old oil refinery which apparently was owned by the grandfather of Ronit Alperin from our group. We ended spending an hour there after she met some local who seem to run the place – now making oil products for insulation. Ronit seems to have a local guy who is willing to record the history of the place and put up a suitable plaque. She was very excited at the prospect of this happening.
It began to strike me how widely spread out Boryslaw is…a few very long streets running north to south so that one end to the other probably takes 20 mins easily by car. Of course with the bad roads ( our guide said that “Ukrainians don’t have roads they have directions”) the trip would take longer.
We then went to the memorial just outside Borislaw fittingly called the “slaughter house”. One of our group Yossi read a very emotional piece he had written about his older sister who was killed and probably buried at that spot. See video of explanations by Tanya the guide and tribute by Yossi Rand …
You can also watch Bezalel Linhard with his connection to this memorial – a film taken by his son Ilan on a similar tour in 2011.
I read kadish and afterwards explained which of the Linhard family had probably met their fate at this place. This include my great uncle Yaakov’s wife Klara and two daughters Basia and Lucia plus my great aunt Yetka Linhard and her husband. They had been murdered in Borislaw and probably brought for burial here. Yaakov was killed in his confectionary / home in Borislaw. Yitzhak was murdered in Drohobycz and his wife Rachel was killed in Borislaw. Despite the distance of family and time I felt very emotional at this site – it seemed to be a culmination of all the horrific information I had learned about the fate of members of my family and the emotion swept over me…choking my words.
You can see from the video above how powerful the experience was for Yossi Rand and Bezalel Linhard.
I later read the book by Chaim Segal
(co written by Julia Drinnenberg) in which he describes in great detail the cold-blooded murders of Jews at this place. Read pages 80/81 of his book
for a chilling description of how he was shot (but only slightly wounded), fell into a mass grave and later, when the Nazis had left, managed to climb his way out through dead bodies on top of him. I also recommend the books by Natalia and Daniel Hochman
and also that of Meir Chameidis.
These books are all in English. Bezalel’s Linhard’s book called “I believed I would live”
is in Hebrew. They are difficult but important to read.
Continuing our tour of Boryslaw
We then tried to find a few homes of members of our group in the suburb of Debry…not very successful. Borislaw is a very poor town…roads and most infrastructure is in bad shape. Many old houses have not been touched or fixed up for many years and in-between a smattering of newer buildings. There isn’t one cafe or restaurant in the town to speak of.
We had lunch in Boryslaw in what looked like a small wedding hall…disgusting food and the place felt like something out of the surrealistic Black Cat, White cat movie (about Gypsie families) a theme which I find often going through my mind as I witness this place.
We found what was known as the colloseum (movie house) where Jews were taken during one of the largest akziot (roundups) before being taken to the forests near Boryslaw and murdered. One building is now partly a Catholic Church.
We stopped to see three working oil wells on the southern exit of Borislav.
Then we stopped at the Koszary work camp and Shmuel told us of his experience living there as a young boy. He had been hiding in the forests in a “bunker” and was not in great shape from lack of nutrition and from hiding for longer periods in small cramped conditions so he found his way to the work camp called Kusharim on the southern end of Borislaw , just before the climb into the Carpathian foothills. His father was in the camp and managed to hide him in the camp and literally get Shmuel back on his feet.
Here is Bezalel (Salek) Linhard describing the Kushary work camp in Hebrew. This film was taken by his son Ilan Linhard on a similar trip in 2011.
The camp was guarded by Ukrainians and was not hermetically sealed so Shmuel and others could come and go reasonably freely. The big challenge was to avoid the surprise inspections by the Gestapo and their “Appel ” parades where they counted everyone and checked their papers. Those who were not allowed to be in the camp and were caught – were taken for execution. Workers had special armbands (R was the highest importance) and of course Shmuel had no status as a worker so his life was constantly in danger.
There were women and men in separate dormitories and his father was in the camp at the same time which helped. Watch this clip of Shmuel’s (aged 83) report in Hebrew….
You can also watch Bezalel Linhard’s (aged 84) description in Hebrew of the Koszary camp and how they planned their eventual escape – film taken by his son Ilan on a similar tour in 2011.
It is almost surrealistic to be standing in the courtyard of the buildings which constituted the labour camp and try to imagine what life was like for the few hundred people that stayed here. The buildings ( or at least their shells ) are intact including half of a pedestrian bridge which ran between two main buildings. The same intact courtyard where we were standing 71 years laters where all the “appels” ( inspections ) took place and where some were caught and taken to their deaths. The proximity of the camp to the forest is evident and we were told how some people would leave the camp at night to build their “bunkers” ( hiding places). Some would save themselves from being murdered by the Germans.
Towards the middle of 1944 and the advances of the Russians towards the area the Germans stopped killing Jews and life became slightly more tolerable, said Shmuel. He was eventually liberated by the Russians in the summer that year.
He went back to school and reports that the Russians were very good at organizing schooling and social services.
See another film clip of Bezalel Linhard with additional explanations in 2011 at the location of the Koszary camp.
Just to give you a sense of the natural beauty of the area of Schodnica and Borislaw – here is the panaromic view from my hotel balcony. The Respect hotel in Schodnica is on the southern outskirts of the village probably 2-3 kilometers as the crow flies to Borislaw.