Friday, January 06, 2006

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

Chaim Master
Zvi Mendel
Ze’ev Milman
Todrus the shochet
Shalom Yosef Yarovitch
Leizer Lemberg
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.



I am at brick wall in my research on this and do not know how to proceed.

--

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.

12 Comments:

At January 6, 2006 at 7:18:00 AM EST, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

I agree with Rav Alpert's assessment -I would think it was an uneducated Jew who did the engraving, rather than a non-Jew. And I would also imagine that the picture is of one of those buried there, perhaps a relative of the one who commissioned the plaque? Is there a reason to assume it was Todrus the Shochet as opposed to any of the others? Did you try and contact those who submitted pages of testimony for those who were murdered? Did any know of the memorial? Did the Ukranians whose home the memorial is in back of not know how the memorial came to be there?

Interesting that Rabbi Alpert makes reference to "A Simple Jew" - perhaps he is a blog reader... :)

 
At January 6, 2006 at 7:45:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

MCAryeh:

You asked: "Did you try and contact those who submitted pages of testimony for those who were murdered?"

I tried, but was unable to get in touch with anyone.

You aslo asked, "Did the Ukranians whose home the memorial is in back of not know how the memorial came to be there?"

No. I think because it is the children of the original owners.

 
At January 6, 2006 at 8:23:00 AM EST, Blogger Mirty said...

What a sad sight. My husband's father,z"l, survived a massacre at his Polish town and was one of just a handful of people alive from there at the end of WWII.

 
At January 6, 2006 at 9:10:00 AM EST, Blogger torontopearl said...

A little piece of interesting history in this post...and the librarian's interpretation.

I, too, guessed it to be a photo of a Jew. And you said "elderly" -- often, if you look at these sepia-tinted photos of the early 1900's (1910-1940)people in them appear older than they are. The man in the photo might have easily been only 55 years old or thereabouts.

 
At January 6, 2006 at 10:37:00 AM EST, Blogger Hirshel Tzig said...

A greysen Daynk ASJ and Reb Zalmen for the post.

In today's age of mass Holocaust-denial, especially in the Arab press, study and rememberance of the events in the Holocaust is vital.

 
At January 6, 2006 at 11:10:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Mirty: Where in Poland was it?

Pearl: Interesting thought.

Hirshel Tzig: Thank you. I certainly agree with you.

 
At January 6, 2006 at 11:16:00 AM EST, Blogger Tamara said...

What amazing and sad pictures. It drives home the absolute barbarity and evil of the Nazi's and their collaborators.

This kind of research is so important, I'm glad you're doing it SJ.

 
At January 6, 2006 at 12:18:00 PM EST, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I agree with the others, it was very common for Jews of the time to spell poorly and phonetically.

When you then have to try to spell out into English to access computer records it becomes even more difficult to track things down. Same problem I had with the Ellis Island database.

 
At January 6, 2006 at 12:20:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Tamara: Indeed. In this shtetl the local residents certainly collaborated with the Germans.

On the Yad Vashem, Page of Testimony for Moishle Dinnerman, who was murdered in 1942 (his mother Sura was killed by a Ukrainian neighbor) was the following annotation:

"Eldest brother was an officer, Mulka Dinerman. When he returned from the front, he killed the
person responsible for killing his relatives."

I have found this entry to be extremely interesting since it appears that a Jew was able to take revenge on a Ukrainian collaborator after the war.

 
At January 6, 2006 at 1:05:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Psychotoddler: I too have run into that issue with the Ellis Island database. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

 
At January 8, 2006 at 11:29:00 PM EST, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

That was very interesting.

 
At January 9, 2006 at 6:35:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thanks Jack.

 

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