November 01, 2013
By Halina Yasharoff Peabody
My long-term memory is full of blanks. I had hoped that revisiting the places of my childhood would help bring back some of the memories, but this has not happened. Until age seven, I lived in Zaleszczyki, Poland (present-day Ukraine), a small historic vacation town on the frontier with Romania. The town was very picturesque and almost completely surrounded by the Dniestr river, which served as the natural border between Poland and Romania.
My family lived through the Russian occupation, which began in September 1939, and the German occupation until the end of World War II. We were thrown out of our home under both occupiers but managed to survive in another part of Poland called Jaroslaw, where we lived as Catholics under assumed names. I cannot remember any people from the early years, but I have been dogged by one horrific memory. It was first “action” carried out by the Germans. Over 800 Jews were ostensibly taken on a work detail. They never came back. I was only about eight years old at the time, so my mother tried to soften what happened, but she couldn’t avoid telling me that they were all shot.
Years after the war, I found myself volunteering at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is a repository of so many memories and the history of what happened during those terrible years. By sheer coincidence, I found a photo of two sisters from Zaleszczyki and, through the good offices of the Museum, was able to connect with them. They, in turn, connected me with a few other survivors from my town. We had the strangest reunion because I did not remember any of them but they all remembered my family very well. It was a very moving occasion, and I found out that they, too, remembered the unmarked grave of Jewish friends and neighbors who had been murdered. In fact, they were working on putting a monument at the murder site.
In April 2011, along with my son, my sister, and my sister’s four children, I joined a small group of families who went to Zaleszczyki to place a monument on the unmarked grave. We had a ceremony, which the whole town attended. A cantor said kaddish as we commemorated the loss of all of those buried there. It was a very important event for my sister and me for many reasons. We brought our children with us to show them where our families came from. We also educated the town by teaching them what had happened to the Jewish community that no longer existed. Like in many other parts of Europe, the schools in Zaleszczyki were not teaching students about the Holocaust. Now, they will.
©2013, Halina Yasharoff Peabody. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.View All Blog Posts