A Shtetl Mystery Yet To Be Solved
A mass grave hidden in my family's shtetl has a small memorial plaque marking the spot where Jews where buried alive by the Germans and Ukrainian collaborators during the Holocaust.
The Yiddish inscription on the plaque reads as follows:
To Remember the Casualties of Hitler’s Murderers
Todrus the shochet
Shalom Yosef Yarovitch
Shimon the tailor and his wife
Upon close study of the inscription, I noticed misspellings and crude formation of the Hebrew letters. For this reason, some people whom I have shown the pictures to believe that the person who chiseled this memorial plaque was not Jewish. Rather, they suggested that perhaps a Jewish person commissioned it and provided a non-Jew with a written copy of what he wanted inscribed.
Since the language on the memorial plaque is intimately familiar, it is believed that the Jewish person giving the words for the plaque either witnessed the events or knew these people. This would explain the listings "Todrus the shochet" and "Shimon the tailor and his wife". While only eight people are listed on this plaque, it is believed, given the testimony of a Ukrainian woman who witnessed the events, that many more people were buried alive in this location.
I matched the eight names on the plaque with the Pages of Testimony in the Yad Vashem's database and found two matching names:
1) Chaim Master
2) Ze’ev Milman [Recorded as "Volf" MILMAN in the Yad Vashem records]
Attached above the memorial plaque is a picture of an elderly man with a hat and beard. I don’t know who this man is, however, I believe he might have been the man who commissioned the plaque and had his picture attached as a symbol to others that he survived. Needless to say, this is only a hypothesis.
Rabbi Zalman Alpert, Reference Librarian at the Gottesman Library of Yeshiva University responded:
Very interesting. Obviously one can never know who did the actual work. I presume the text was written by a simple Jew. In my experience reading Yiddish letters in cursive, many Jews could not spell especially when it came to lashon kodesh words. They spelled them phonetically rather than they are spelled in Hebrew (no vowels). Under Communist rule things got more confused . White Russian and Ukrainian Jewry had an extensive system of Yiddish schools and newspapers, etc. The orthography of Yiddish was again phonetic in regards to Hebrew words. No final letters like NUN or MEM were used. This was the case in the USSR until 1990. The "Sovetish Heimland" and the "Shtern" all used this spelling. In our case the inscription reflects this. The spellings are wrong , the spellings of the Hebrew words are wrong. In addition look closely its Todrus the shochet as many of the letters were not accurately carved by the workman.
The Jew in the photo is dressed in a cap that few Jews wore in Russia after the 1930's and even fewer after WW2 (Reb Mendel Futerfas and some very hard core Chabad people did wear these caps) I doubt that he was the person who put up the monument after 1945. Maybe he is Todrus the shochet? In Russia under the Communists it was common practice for Jews to put up pictures of the niftarim on the tombstone (against the halacha, but what can you do, and this practice continues in the United States among Russian refugees and I have tried to stop this in New Haven, but alas to no avail) So I think its a picture of one of the kedoshim. In summary, many Jews could not spell especially Hebrew, confusion reigned also because of the Soviet Yiddish influence using vowel letters. My hunch is that the letters are a result of this and that they were written by Jews and even carved by Jews.