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Translation of chapter
Testimony About My Life in Yanov
Sefer yizkor le-kehilot Trembowla, Strusow ve-Janow ve-ha-seviva
(Jewish Communities of Trembowla, Strusow, Janow and Vicinity)
Published in Bnai Brak, 1981, Trembowla Society
[Pages 174 - 178]
By Yitzhak Kahana
Translated from Hebrew by Hadassah Bar-Yakov
I am Yitzchak Kahana, the son of Berle Kahana, who was born in Tarnapol, and the son of Sovina Landau, who was born in Yanov.My parents married in Yanov, and that's where I was born as their oldest son. Five years after I was born my brother Aharon was born.
In fact, we didn't even live inside of Yanov, but about a kilometer outside of the city. We lived in a Christian environment, but most of our time we spent in Yanov. There was a big wooden bridge that connected where we lived to the city.
In my eyes, as a young child, the city of Yanov was like a paradise. There were lots of forests around, there were big rivers and great waterfalls. The city was considered a Yiddish shtetele which means a little Jewish town. The Jewish population was about 300 families. The city had very few very rich people, had some affluent people, and a lot of poor people. My family was part of the middle class Jews.
The Jews in the town worked especially in tinsmithing and blacksmithing. There were tailors and shoemakers as well, and they all barely made a living. The rich people in the town made a living from trade. My father had a grocery store, and you could find anything there from a small box of cigarettes to kerosene or whitewash which were kept in the basement. All these items were purchased in Tarnapol, and my father would hire a gentile person who had a wagon, and he would go about once a month to bring in the merchandise.
Very few people had electricity, no mater how much money they had. A radio could only be found in two places--Gross and Ephraim Erde had one. The Jews in the town lived as one big family. I remember a lot of family relatives, and they helped each other out. I remember especially that my father used to help the poor people.
In Yanov there were four places where people learned. The first was called Kelvis (which literally means a little old fashioned room). This was the old and run down Bet Midrash where the poor people went to pray and learn. The second one was called Neye Midrash, which means the new Bet Midrash, and that is where the Jews who had a higher place in the community went. The third one was the Alte Bet Midrash, which is the older Bet Midrash, and that's where the workmen went to pray. The fourth one was called a sheel and that was the oldest Bet Midrash and the nicest one. It was built out of wood, and it had a lot of nice woodwork, and it was electrically illuminated. That's where anybody from any level of income could go.
In the beginning our family used to pray in the Neye Midrash, and then we went to pray in the sheel. My father, blessed be his memory, used to read the Torah in the Bet Midrash on Shabbat and holidays. He was also a Hazzan. Whenever there was a need, he was also a judge. My father was a very religious Jew, as were most of the people in this town, and he used to pray with two pairs of Tfillin.
Shabbat in Yanov was a very special time--it was Shabbat kodesh--the holy Sabbath. On Shabbat evening everyone would stop working, and everybody as one would go to the Bet Knesset to accept the Shabbat. On Friday afternoon, before Shabbat, my father would have a routine of going to the shower house (Bet Merhatz) which was far away from our home, and that's where they used to cleanse themselves from the week and make themselves holy for Shabbat.
We would wear our nicest Shabbat clothes and make our way with the rest of the people in the city to the Bet Knesset. We would only come back home after it was dark. At home, there was a festive feeling of Shabbat. The Shabbat candles were lit in silver candlesticks. On the table there was a round Challah and a long Challah. They were called a bilkye falatz and a queelitsh. They were covered with the Challah cover that my mother had made. And there was a bottle of raisin wine for Kiddush. And as an honor my father used to let my grandfather do the Kiddush because my grandfather lived with us for several years. When I was seven, my grandfather passed away. After Kiddush my mother would set the table for the festive meal of Shabbat, which we all loved.
On Saturday morning, in the early morning, my father used to wear his nice clothes and attach to his pocket his golden watch with the golden chain. He would drink a soft-boiled egg so that his voice would be nice for being the Hazzan, and he would wear on his head a round hat, which is a Zilinder hat. He would take his Tallit for Shabbat that had a silver lining woven into it and leave the house with me. I would be carrying the Tallit, and I would guard it as best I could.
In the afternoon we would make our way back home from the Bet Knesset where we had another festive meal waiting for us which we didn't eat until my father did his Kiddush on vodka and lekach. After lunch we would sing Shabbat songs, and we would rest for about half an hour, and then we would go for a walk along the river. There we would meet almost all the Jews of the town because all of them also went out for their Shabbat walk. Some would prefer to spend the Shabbat in the green forest, which was so beautiful I can't even describe it. Other people would spend their time at the waterfalls. The young people among us used to go to the plaza to bathe in the river water. Everybody was calm and serene as if they forgot all their worries for the next day. After this walk we would go back home for another light meal and from there to the Bet Knesset for Minchah and Maariv. When Shabbat was over, we would go to my aunt's house, and that's where my father used to light a cigarette, which for me symbolized the end of Shabbat.
When I was about four, my grandfather, Zalman Landau, blessed be his memory, used to show me the first letters of the holy language. Then he decided it was time for me to go study with a melamed who was a teacher. My first melamed was Shirala. He was a short person who had a pointy beard, and he used to come to my house. The gentile children would throw stones at him and would tease him, and that's why, when I was five, I went to study in the Kelvis. Here my melamed, tall Heskele, would wait for me. He had a long white beard, and from his mouth I learned wisdom.
When I was six or seven, my parents enrolled me in the elementary school. That's where Jews and gentiles, who were Ukrainian and Polish, learned together. That's where I met a lot of Polish friends. The language that we studied in was Polish, and that's why I continued willingly to study with my melamed the holy language which was Hebrew. I studied Humash and Rashi with about 20 other children. Here we studied with a different melamed. His name was Leiv Neta from Budzanov, and he had a small shul. Every Thursday he would come to our house to get paid the amount of two zlotys, and he would test me in front of my father. When I didn't answer the way I was supposed to, he would say to my father that I do know it, but I am just confused because I've been studying in the Polish school, and that makes it hard for me to say the right thing in the Hebrew language. And then he would still get what he was supposed to be paid.
In the school I encountered some anti-Semitism several times. The Jewish children were more successful in their studies than the gentiles, and that's why they were jealous of us, and they didn't like us. As I said, I lived in an area of gentile people, and so most of my friends were gentiles. They didn't touch me, but I used to protect other Jewish kids because the gentile children would bully them. I liked the life of the gentiles around me. I was especially drawn to the agricultural life, and I liked to help the gentiles when I had time off. I would ride the horses and work in the fields with them, but I always remembered that I was a Jew, and I kept to my Jewish religion. I liked my gentile friends just as much as I liked my Jewish friends, and I believed in them. I did get equal treatment from them until the Second World War began, and then I learned that actually they weren't my friends as much as I was their friend. When the war broke out, they turned their backs to me as if they never knew me, and I found myself alone. And I wasn't able to understand how people that I had lived with and was neighbors with, friendly with, had turned their backs to me. They didn't only disown us, but some of them even turned us in and killed us.
On the 22nd of March 1944, I was 15 years old and liberated by the Russians. We then came back to Yanov, and I enrolled at the same school. The anti-Semitism toward us was even greater because we had survived. Out of the tens of Jewish children who were in the school before the war, there were now only three left: I, my brother Aaron, who was 11, and Adzo Spitzer who was 12. The gentile children hated us more after the war, and they would ask us questions like why did we survive, and why did we stay alive. And that would make me so angry I would hit them as hard as I could to try to get back at them. And then I knew what it meant to be a Jew.
After a short time we moved from Yanov to Trembovla. It was the end of 1944. I enrolled at a Ukrainian school because I was more accustomed to that language. I was in the 5th or 6th grade. My brother Aaron studied in a Polish school in town because his friends, who were his age, also went to that school.
The way the Jews were treated in Trembovla wasn't any better. I was the only Jew in class, and the Ukrainian teachers, who were local teachers, didn't hide their hatred for the Jewish people who survived. I can remember only one teacher, the German teacher, who was the only one who treated me fairly. And I remember the daughter of my math teacher, who was from Russia, who was in the same class as I was, and she was the only one who wasn't anti-Semitic to me, and she stood by my side. On the breaks the gentile children would gather around me, and they would hit me, and I was alone against them, so I had to fight back with sharp instruments. The teachers would stand on the side and did nothing.
A lot of Jewish people who survived the Holocaust and other Jewish people who came from Russia and had been officers or army soldiers, or had worked with the secret police, like Bombik Flashner--an officer in the Soviet army--would risk their lives to get back at gentile criminals who had killed the Jews. I, too, wanted to join them to get back at the killers, but I was too young.
At the end of 1945, two months after the end of the war, I went with my mother and my brother from Trembovla to Shlonsek, and then to the town Bitom, and from there we knew that we could continue to Israel. There, too, we encountered a lot of anti-Semitism, and they used to kill the Jews for no reason at all. The Jews were organized together in kibbutzim so that they could stand against the gentile bullying and be ready for the move to Israel. I was a member of a kibbutz called Dror, which means freedom. And I studied electricity. In 1950 I made Aliyah to Israel on a ship, and in Israel I opened a new chapter in my life.
[Pages 178 - 180]
By Yakov Koenigsberg (New York)
Translated from Hebrew by Hadassah Bar-Yakov
Trembovla was surrounded by a lot of villages. Every village had a few Jewish families living in it who had good relationships with their Ukrainian neighbors. The people of the city called the Jews the dorpsyoden (which means village Jews) and they would treat them in a bit of a condescending way because they weren't as refined and as educated as the other Jews who lived in the city. But actually the village Jews were equal to the city Jews if not better than them. Still the village Jews would always aspire to settle within the city Jewish community so as not to be separated from them. This was not possible for financial reasons.
As far as doing the mitzvot, the commandments, the village Jews were more independent. The different villagers would get together and have a minyan on Shabbat and holy days. The competition for the shul's honors was fierce, no less than the struggle for the daily livelihood. I distinctly remember an argument for the Aliyot that were given to Hatan Torah and Hatan B'reishit on Simchat Torah. The people at the shul couldn't reach an agreement, and the minyan separated into two groups, and a second minyan was held in Samnov. I remember well the minyan in Zalnazha and the nice voice of the Hazzan Mosheh Greiya ZL and the way that Shmuel Milgroum ZL read the Torah.
Financially, the situation of the village Jews was pretty good, and they could participate in everything that the city communities did, but their influence was limited. Still bringing somebody to burial in Israel was promised for every Jew, even for the poor ones, as was the promise for the village Jewish children to study with Rabbi Damta.
When a gymnasia in Trembovla was opened in 1904, there was no village Jew who went there. The village Jewish people saw it as a foreign thing that would lead the kids to destruction. I still remember that they used to refrain from buying wine for Pesach from Nahman Briler because he sent his kids to the gymnasia.
Among the village Jews there were very smart and learned people, and I will say the names of some of them: Yakov Dovid from Malov; Mendel from Rozdvinani; Meir from Samnov; Shmelke and Visman from Valiza; and Shalom from Krobinka. I know that some of these people were participants in choosing the Rabbi of the town. When they were going to say that Mosheh Baabad ZL was going to be the Rabbi of Trembovla, it was Meir from Samnov who sounded his deciding opinion about this appointment.
Most of the village Jews would come to the city about twice a week--on Tuesdays which was the market day, and on Friday which was the bathing day for Shabbat. Some of the city Jews would have the village Jews come to their houses, especially Shmeril Melner and Nachman Sofer.
With heartache and with a tear in my eyes I say the names of these dear Jews and I will remember them forever and hope that they will be remembered for generations.
Moshe Samnover (from Samnov), Bilokoptnick, as the farmers used to call him, would choose the grooms for his daughters from the Yeshivas. He would choose the smartest and most extraordinary students.
His visits to the Yeshivas were frequent and long. But in the end it was worth his while, for he was able to find a very good man for his daughter Shendel. He was a tall man, good looking and most importantsmart. His name was Heskel. Heskel was from Yasi in Romania. His family lived close to Stanislavov.
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