Yakov Driz

Kiev, Ukraine

Yakov Driz
Kiev
Ukraine
Interviewer: Ella Levitskaya

 

My family background
Growing up
School years
During the war
Post-war
Anti-Semitism
Married life
Glossary

 

My family background

I was born in the town of Tomashpol, in the Vinnitsa region of
Ukraine, on 3 July 1937. I was given the name Shloima-Yankel, in honor of
both my grandfathers. The origin of our family name Driz is as follows: In
the 1700s my great grandfather was to enlist in a 25-year term of service
in the tsarist army. Such military service was very difficult, and so to
spare him this hardship, his family decided to hide him somewhere far away
from Tomashpol. Since he had no education and could barely write out
Gaisinskiy, his last name, they decided to give him a new last name. They
just made one up, and all his descendants were called by this new family
name - Driz.

Shloima Driz, my father's father, was born in 1860. All I know about
him is what my parents told me, as he died before I was born. My
grandfather was an educated man for his time. He could play the violin, he
loved music, and he read a lot. He owned a store that sold all kinds of
merchandise - from food products to fabrics and shoes. My father worked as
a clerk in my grandfather's store. From time to time my grandfather took
business trips abroad. He usually traveled to Poland, where he purchased
fabrics. In 1920 the Soviet power expropriated my grandfather's store. My
grandfather couldn't overcome this shock. He contracted tuberculosis and
died in 1921.

My grandmother Eheived (this was her real name, and she was also
called Eva), born Averbuch, was a modest, religious woman. The family lived
in Tomashpol, one of many Jewish towns in the Vinnitsa region. My
grandmother was born the same year as my grandfather. My grandmother
Eheived starved to death in 1933 during the famine in the Ukraine[1]. Like
my grandfather, she was buried at the Jewish cemetery in accordance with
all Jewish traditions. She gave birth to ten children, eight of which
survived. My father, Abram Driz, born in 1884, was the oldest. The youngest
was Boris (Borukh) Driz, born in 1904. The difference between their ages
was 20 years. I can't remember all of my father's brothers and sisters, but
I can tell briefly about those I knew. One of his brothers, Nuhim, was an
active revolutionary and a Komsomol activist[2]. In 1919 he was killed in
Kiev while trying to escape from prison. He may have been killed by a
Denikin gang[3]. Another brother, Shmul or Samuel, was a poet. He and two
sisters who were dentists moved to the United States of America in 1919 or
1920. My father was not able to move to America with his brother and his
sisters, because as the oldest of the children, he had to support his
family by working, and did not have the opportunity to continue his
education. My father had only a primary school religious education. There
were two other brothers - I can't remember their names. One of the brothers
lived in Odessa. I don't know what he did to earn a living. In 1941 he and
his family - his wife Rieva and his daughter Tsylia perished in the Odessa
ghetto. His second brother - I don't remember his name - lived in
Privokzalnaya Street in Vinnitsa. Like my father, he was uneducated, and
worked as loader and carrier at the market to support his wife and two
children. They were killed by the Germans in 1941. Boris, my father's
younger brother, served in the Soviet army and then resumed his
agricultural studies, graduating from Moscow's Academy of Agriculture. He
enjoyed farming. Later, he became director of the first vehicle and tractor
maintenance facility in the Ukraine, located in the Odessa region. When the
war began he went to the front. In 1945 he served in the Soviet army in
Eastern Prussia. From there he was transferred to the Japanese front.
Later, the Ministry of Agriculture requested his return, as he was an
experienced specialist. He became director of the selection facility for
grain crops. He became Chief Agriculture Specialist in the Ulianovsk
region. Boris spent his last years in Ulianovsk, where he died in the
1960s.

Yiddish was spoken in my father's family, which was religious. They
always celebrated Sabbath and Jewish holidays and strictly observed all
Jewish traditions. My grandmother, Eheived, followed the kashruth and often
went to the synagogue. My father told me that they had beautiful Pesach
dishes in the house.

My parents married in 1917. My mother's name was Tsypa; her family
name was Zeltser. She was born in the Jewish town of Miastkovka - now
Gorodovka - not far from Vinnitsa, in 1893. The only thing I know about my
mother's parents is that her father's name was Yankel. After their wedding
my parents moved to Tomashpol. My mother's parents died before I was born.
My mother often told me that she was a granddaughter of the Miastkovka
rabbi, even at that time when it was dangerous to mention such facts. They
had three daughters in the family. My mother was the youngest. Their oldest
daughter, Haika, born in 1890 moved to the village of Velikays Kostnitsa
near Bessarabia, in the Vinnitsa region, on the Dnestr River. My aunt's
husband worked at the local mill. They had no children. At the beginning of
the war Aunt Haika's husband went to the front. There, he fell in love
with a nurse and never returned to my aunt after the war. She moved to
Tomashpol and lived there with my parents until she died. The second sister
was born in 1892. I don't remember her name. She and her husband David
Krivoviaz died during some epidemic. They had a daughter named Manya. My
parents took Manya to live with us, and she stayed until she got married.
We spoke Yiddish in our family. The daughters were educated at home, and
didn't go to school, but had private teachers teach them to read and write,
as well as the rules of conduct in society, good manners and foreign
languages - German, French.

My mother was very well educated for her time, she could read, write,
and even knew Latin. She worked at the drugstore before she got married.
She had beautiful handwriting. My mother learned to play the guitar before
she got married. When I was small Mama liked to sing a certain song in
Yiddish, accompanying herself on her guitar. This song was played at her
wedding. I remember some rhymes from this song in Yiddish: "Der shnei ist
geyongen drai Teig der Hanond", which means "It snowed 3 days in a row...",
etc. Later this guitar lay broken in our attic, but my mother couldn't
bring herself to throw it away. My mother didn't have a perfect voice, but
she was very musical.

My parents met in a very typical manner for their time. My mother was
living in Miastkovka and my father lived in Tomashpol. At that time, there
were people called "shathen" in Yiddish, who were engaged in matching
couples. They told my father's parents about a girl from a good family who
was of age to get married. My parents were introduced to each other and
soon married. They had a traditional Jewish wedding with a huppah. My
father was a shy, hard-working man. My mother told me that she liked him at
once. After the wedding, my father worked at grandfather's store for some
time. Later, after the store was expropriated, he went to work as a laborer
at the Tomashpol sugar factory. My parents had no children for almost ten
years. I was born on 3 July 1927 when my father was 43. In two years' time,
on 25 June 1929, my sister Polia was born.

Growing up

I remember my town, Tomashpol, since about 1933, when I was six. My
grandmother died at this time and this was during the period of famine in
the Ukraine. I remember seeing in the streets people swollen from
starvation. Some were still alive, but couldn't get up, and others were
already dead. All corpses were put on a horse-driven cart and taken away.
We were very poor. I remember my mother going to the market on
Sundays. She used to buy one glass of sour cream. We spread it on slices of
bread in very thin layers. But that sour cream didn't last long, and too
quickly, my sister and I found ourselves looking forward to the next
Sunday. My father continued working at the sugar factory. I knew the way to
the factory, so almost every day, mother sent me out to bring lunch to my
father. With spades, father and the other laborers packaged sugar in bags,
sealed them and loaded them on racks. At night, to earn some extra money,
my father worked as a night watchman.

In 1932, to save the family from starving to death, my parents had to
move to a village in the Kryzhopol district. There they got a job at the
mill. Father was paid with grain and this saved our family from starvation.
My sister and I stayed behind with grandmother and grandfather in
Tomashpol. My grandfather left us a house. There were three rooms and a
cellar where we kept food products and wood. It was a solid, warm wooden
house. My grandfather also left us some furniture. I remember a huge
cupboard with bunches of grapes carved on the doors. There was a shed in
the yard. During the occupation, when we were moved to the ghetto, our
houses remained empty, and people from neighboring villages removed windows
and doors and everything that was left in the houses. Later, the remains of
our house were removed to serve as firewood for heating the German and
Rumanian commandant's offices. It turned out that they sent people from the
ghetto to do this work, and I was among those who were sent to remove our
house. We were to take the wood to the gendarmerie. Chopping this wood was
a very difficult job. The house was made of hard oak beams and we had only
blunt saws with which to chop the beams into firewood.

My parents were religious. They went to the synagogue once a week, on
Friday. I remember there were two synagogues in Tomashpol. The big one was
called "Bes midrash". When I was five or six years old the authorities
closed and then removed this synagogue. But people kept coming to this
place like to the Wailing Wall to pray. The other synagogue was smaller
and was near our house. It was a long, one-story building with a basement.
On holidays they took the Torah out of this basement. Children carried the
Torah on holidays. My father had a thales and a tefillin at home. When I
reached the age of thirteen, my parents arranged a Bar Mitzwvahu for me,
and the rabbi conducted the ritual. We had many people at home on this day
- many friends and relatives came to the party. My mother lit candles every
Friday to pray. My father also prayed.
We also had ceders, everything that a traditional Jewish family would
have. I asked my father four traditional questions. I remember them until
now.
We observed all Jewish holidays at home. I especially remember Pesach
and Hanukkah. Pesach was a very festive holiday. When we were small they
took special dishes from the attic for Pesah festivities and we always
looked forward to these days. We got used to our dishes in the course of
the year and it was so exciting to view patterns on our Pesah dishes. A few
days before Pesach my parents and I went to buy flour - one and a half
pounds (one pound - 16 kg). We took this flour to the house where they
baked Matzoh. Jewish women worked there. They made dough and baked Matzoh
in big ovens. We always looked forward to eating Matzoh. We took a big bag
of Matzoh from the bakery home. During Pesach we helped our mother to make
flourt from this Matzoh. Later, Mama made delicious biscuits, cookies, and
pancakes that were called latkes from this flour. My mother cooked
traditional Pesach dishes: stuffed fish, clear chicken soup with dumplings
made from Matzoh and eggs, chicken neck stuffed with liver, and strudels
with nuts and raisins. We also had seder dinners at Pesach, everything that
a traditional Jewish family would have. I asked my father the four
traditional questions[4]. I remember them even now.

I also remember Hanukkah - my sister and I got some change from our
relatives on this day. We could buy some ice cream or toys with this money.
We always looked forward to Hanukkah, because, as I said, we were poor. And
some small change to buy an ice cream or a ticket to the cinema was a quite
an amount for us.

About 80% of the population in Tomashpol was Jewish. There were
Ukrainian villages near Tomashpol: Tomashpilka and Beloye. We children
went to one and the same school. Many Ukrainian children from the
neighboring families and my classmates knew Yiddish. They often came to
our house and we talked in Yiddish. There were no Jews left in Tomashpol
after the Great Patriotic War. Many of them were killed, the rest of them
left, but many people living there still speak fluent Yiddish and remember
Yiddish songs. We cared not about the nationality in those years. I mean,
we were aware that we were Jews and they were Ukrainian Christians and
there were gypsies nearby, but we never focused on it.

School years

In 1934, when I was seven, I went to the Jewish school. Children were
supposed to start school at eight, but I was eager to study. My cousin
Manya decided to help me. Manya was older than I and she studied at school.
She took me to the director and said that my mother had typhoid and had
asked her to accept me into the first grade Of course, this was a lie but
Manya told me to keep silent about it. Manya said that I was eight years
old already, but that we couldn't bring my birth certificate as it was
under my mother's pillow. The director didn't want to see my birth
certificate after she heard that my mother had typhoid. So I went to
school. I was the youngest in my class, but I did well in all subjects. All
subjects were taught in Yiddish. We even read the books of Russian writers
translated into Yiddish. However, we didn't have any subjects related to
Jewish tradition or history. We studied all the typical subjects taught at
any other Soviet school. Our school was the best in the neighborhood.
Teachers paid much attention to our involvement in after-class activities.
We had three orchestras, a choir that had Jewish and Ukrainian songs in its
repertoire, and a theatrical studio. We had a club where we had concerts
and performances. There were two Ukrainian schools in Tomashpol - secondary
and primary. Schoolchildren from these schools often came to our club.
There was no national segregation.

I studied for four years in the Jewish school. Unfortunately, in 1937
my parents transferred me to the Ukrainian school. The majority of children
from our school went there, too. There were no schools where we could
continue our education in Yiddish. After finishing Jewish school one had to
enter a Ukrainian or Russian institution for higher education. At that time
we didn't quite realize that it was the policy of our state to destroy
nationalistic priorities. I was successful at my Ukrainian school as well.
All pupils from the Jewish school spoke fluent Yiddish and Ukrainian. We
had a benevolent reception at our new Ukrainian school. Half of the
schoolchildren in our class were Jewish and the rest of them were
Ukrainian, from Tomashpol and the surrounding villages. I had both Jewish
and Ukrainian boys as friends. I still have a Ukrainian friend from my
childhood - Tolya Pokynchereda, who now lives in Chernigov.

I was eager to become a Pioneer. I didn't become a Pioneer while
attending the Jewish school, but when I went to the Ukrainian school I put
on a red necktie and from then on I acted like a Pioneer.

My mother was a rabbi's granddaughter and she wanted me to become a
rabbi's pupil, to study Hebrew and prayers. Rabbi Yankl came to our house
two days at week to teach me. I knew Yiddish and there is some resemblance
between Yiddish and Hebrew. I learned to read and then the rabbi began to
teach me to translate. I was learning some prayers by heart. I still
remember them. It lasted until I bumped into an astronomy textbook for
senior students, where I learned more about the world, and where what I
learned didn't quite agree with what the rabbi was telling me. I believed
that God created the world in six days but I also knew that there were
other planets besides the Earth, and other galaxies. The rabbi wasn't
always happy with what I was learning, but he continued to visit us until
he grew too old. Thus, we terminated our classes in 1936.

In 1936 disaster came to our family. I mentioned already that we were
very poor. Once Mama said that they would be selling the cheapest black
cotton in our store. We were standing in line the whole night taking turns.
A few hours after the store opened my mother came home, bringing 10 meters
of this cotton, with which she intended to make some clothing for us. In a
month's time someone suggested that my mother should sell this cotton for
20 kopecks more per meter than she had bought it. We needed money, and so
she sold the cotton. But someone informed the local authorities, and my
mother was arrested and taken to court. It was an open court, to show
others what punishment people would be subject to. For selling 10 meters of
cotton, my mother was sentenced to five years at the camp in Kem in the
Kolskiy peninsula in the North of the Soviet Union. I was in the second
grade then. My sister Polya didn't go to school yet. Aunt Haika, my
mother's older sister, took Polya into her family. I stayed with my father
and my cousin Manya. Then a new judge was appointed. His name was Fedyuk.
Manya arranged an appointment with him and told him that my mother had been
sentenced for nothing, actually, and that my father was left alone to take
care of two children. My father could hardly earn enough money to feed us.
The judge came to our home to see how we lived. He asked me whether I could
write. I told him that I was in the second grade and could write. Then the
judge said that we should write a letter to Stalin. He dictated the letter,
and I wrote "Dear Mr. Stalin ...." I wrote that my mother was sentenced to
five years in prison for selling some fabric, and that our father was
raising two children, and told him how poor we were, etc. At the end of
this letter I was asking Stalin to release my mother. A few months passed
and my mother returned home. She had spent about nine months in the camp.
She was very thin and took to smoking. We were happy to have our mother
back. However, my sister was living with her Aunt, and liked it there, and
stayed. Until 1940 there were four of us: my father, my mother, Manya and
I. In 1940 Manya married a young Jewish man from Tomashpol and moved in
with him. Then before the war my sister Polya joined us at home.

We heard on the radio and read in newspapers that Hitler had come to
power in 1933. The Jewish population of Tomashpol, especially the
intellectuals -people who remembered pre-Revolutionary Germany - were
continuously saying that they didn't believe that Germans could kill people
and that they were cultured people. We leaned about what was happening in
Germany from radio programs and newspapers. Later we watched movies. I
remember "The Swamp Soldiers" and "Professor Mumlock". These movies
described Hitler coming to power, the attitude towards Jews in Germany, and
the pogroms. The radio mentioned the "Crystal night" in Germany and the
massive riots against Jews.

The year 1937 is known for the arrests and obliteration of the best
representatives of the intellectuals[5]. Some of our acquaintances were
repressed, too. Judge Fedyuk, the judge who helped me to write the letter
to Stalin was arrested. He was a very nice and kind person, and he helped
many people. I was in the 6th grade then, and I remember my classmates
crying at school in the morning because their fathers had been arrested the
previous night. We believed that their parents were enemies of the people
- that was what we were told to believe - so we didn't sympathize with our
classmates.

At school, I was fond of painting. I liked to paint portraits. I made
portraits of great physicists: Galileo, Ohm, Volt and others. I made
drawings because my parents couldn't afford to buy paints. Once in 1940 I
was awarded a prize for my drawings. My mother wanted me to study music but
we couldn't afford it as we were poor.

During the war

In 1939 the war with Finland began. I saw people who returned from the
war to our town Tomashpol. There were many Jews among them. Among them were
victims of frostbite, others that had been wounded, and some who had lost
legs or arms. I remember this war. I also remember our army "liberating"
the Western Ukraine and Byelorusse. Of course, the official version was
that we were liberating our land in Western Ukraine and Western Byelorusse.
The population was enthusiastic about it. There were posters everywhere
with our Soviet soldier in hardhat embracing a Western Ukrainian peasant.
When Germans occupied Poland, we had a feeling of the inevitability of war.
We felt it, but we couldn't quite imagine the upcoming war. We watched such
Soviet movies as "If there is a war tomorrow..." and others, and all of
them stated that if the enemy attacked us we would put an end to him
promptly and on his territory. We were convinced that we were strong and
that nobody could defeat us. I remember a song from this period "If there
is a war tomorrow and if we have to leave tomorrow - you must be prepared
today!" Then they executed a Non-Aggression Pact with Germany[6].
Ribbentrop, Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited our country and
we read about it in the newspapers. We were all happy that there would be
no war and Germans would not advance further than Poland.

On 20 June 1941 I passed my last exam at school. I finished the 7th
grade and was 14 years old. 22 June[7] was Sunday. Our house was near the
market and many people passed by our house. One of the passersby said, "Did
you hear on the radio the announcement about the war? The Germans bombed
Kiev and attacked the Soviet Union". It came as a complete surprise to us.
Then Molotov[8] spoke on the radio at noon. However, nothing changed in
Tomashpol in the first days. Then we heard that they were going to evacuate
the sugar factory. The Party and administrative authorities were gradually
leaving town. However, in Tomashpol common and religious Jews were the
majority. We were waiting until our turn came to evacuate. The Germans were
advancing rapidly. After all the officials had left Tomashpol, we got horse-
driven carts and prepared to leave on them. Several families were supposed
to leave on each cart, so we couldn't take a lot luggage with us. This was
the middle of July. All these carts headed to the east in the direction of
Vinnitsa. We were about 15 km away when the bombing began. The planes
dropped two bombs. Nobody was injured. We moved on. We met a group of
military motorcyclists. They stopped and asked us where we were going.
Someone in the head cart replied that we were evacuating in the direction
of Vinnitsa. Then the man who had asked this question told him that
Vinnitsa was already occupied by the Germans. So we had to return to
Tomashpol. On 20 July 1941 Germans quietly entered Tomashpol. We saw their
troops on motorcycles, horses, cars and bicycles. They were the front
troops and they didn't touch the population. A German soldier came to our
house and asked my mother to give him some water. She did. He drank the
water and said to my mother that he wanted to give her a present. He took
his wallet out of his pocket and showed my mother a picture of a young
woman standing beside a rose bush. The German soldier told my mother that
this woman was his wife. Then he took out a dried rose wrapped in paper and
said that his wife gave him this rose for good luck and that he wanted to
give it to my mother. He also wrote down his address and invited us to
visit him after the war. His name was Alfred Klemmer. After he left, my
mother said that those people that warned that Germans would do us no harm
were probably right.

In 3 days Paraska Shpileiko, our Ukrainian acquaintance living in the
neighboring village came to see us. Her family were friends of my parent's.
She told us to hide because Germans were killing the Jews. It turned out
that the front troops were followed by other military troops that were
grabbing Jews in the streets and from their houses. They got over 120
people and chased them to the Jewish cemetery in the outskirts of
Tomashpol. They forced them to dig up a grave and shot them all. My
classmate Fira Shwartz, Tomashpol Shoihet and many others perished there.
In the 1980s a monument was installed at this location. There is an
engraving on the obelisk on the common grave, which reads, "To the citizens
of Tomashpol, brutally shot by fascist occupants on 4 August 1941". We
escaped, firstly, because our house was in the outskirts of town, and
secondly, because Paraska let us know in advance. We hid in the cellar,
locked up our house and stayed in our shelter for two days. The Germans
left in two days, and they appointed my classmate's father, Slobodianyuk,
to be a village warden.

At the end of July this warden came for my father. My father told us
later that he and several other men were sent to bury the corpses of the
Jews that were shot. The corpses decomposed during all this time so that
they were unrecognizable. My father smelled so much of putrefaction that it
was hard to wash that smell out.

The shops and the market were closed. We were able to get some food
from local peasants in exchange for some clothing. At the beginning of
August people elected the Jewish council that was responsible for sending
Jews to do work at the direction of the village warden. It consisted of
older people. Young people all went to the front.
After the Germans, the Rumanians came to the town. There were two
Germans left to give orders to the Rumanians. The Jews were ordered to wear
bands with David's hexagonal star. In two weeks they cancelled this order,
because the policemen also wore white armbands and it was unclear from some
distance whether one was a policeman or a Jew. With one day's notice, we
were then ordered to sew a yellow hexagonal star on the black background on
our clothes. We had some black fabric at home, but no yellow cloth. Our
neighbors had a yellow undershirt and they tore it to pieces and shared
them with all neighbors. Two weeks passed and we were ordered to move to
the ghetto. They fenced one street and all Jews from Tomashpol and the
surrounding villages were moving there. There were several families living
in each house. Our family got accommodation in the basement of a wooden
house. This basement was formerly used to store coal and wood. We moved
beds from our house and took apart wardrobes for wooden planks to install
on the ground floor. My parents, my sister Polia, a distant relative from
Yampol, Manya and I lived in this basement. There were over one thousand
people in the ghetto. Half of them starved to death or died from diseases.
On 19 May 1941 Manya gave birth to two twin girls: Polia and Dora. Manya's
husband and his two brothers went to the war where they perished. Manya and
her children lived in this ghetto for two years and eight months. We lived
behind the barbed wire fencing with no money or food. It was so hard to
raise these baby girls. Manya died in 2001 and her girls are still living.
Of course, the years they spent in the ghetto had an effect on them; they
are sickly, but they are still alive.

Before the war, I learned from our neighbor, a tinsmith, how to make
buckets and other tin goods. This helped us to survive in the ghetto. Every
day we went to work chopping wood or carrying water to the commandant's
office. In the evenings I made buckets and my mother and sister gave them
to peasants in exchange for food. Once a week they opened a gate to the
ghetto. Rumanians with guns and dogs and policemen were posted at the gate
to the ghetto. The inmates of the ghetto were allowed to go out to the
nearby market for one hour. We had only this one hour to buy or exchange
something and come back. We didn't need to be watched. We had yellow stars
on our clothing and couldn't run away. There was no place to run. We
thought of the ghetto as our last shelter. We tried to be back on time. If
somebody was late Rumanian gendarmes beat him or her with whips, as they
were not trusted enough to be given guns, at least, at that time. On our
way back we tried to get a potato or a beet, or to pick an apple to put in
our pocket. This supplemented our food supply. Tomashpol's Ukrainian
population sympathized with us. When the policemen turned away, the
Ukrainians tried to give us food. Paraska, the woman who told us to hide
when the Germans were approaching, came to the ghetto on Sunday and waited
for Mama and my sister to give them some food.

We did all kinds of work. We shoveled snow in winter. When Germans
occupied our town they ordered me to take off my boots. I was 14 years old
then. After I finished the 7th grade my mother had bought me new boots.
This was quite an occasion in our family. But that German ordered me to
take them off, so I did. I didn't have any shoes until our liberation in
March 1944. In summer I walked barefoot and in winter I wrapped my feet in
rags tying them with a rope or even with wire. I came back from work
starving and frozen. We didn't get any food while we were at work. I still
have rheumatic pains in my feet at night. I also got abscesses on my legs.
We had no medications to treat them. No iodine or bandages, and no medical
facility in the ghetto. However, there were doctors and nurses among the
inmates of the ghetto. We tried to hide our ailments from the
administration of the ghetto, especially when the diseases were infectious.
My former schoolmate Tolia Pokynchereda sent some iodine to me in the
ghetto.
I collected tin to make buckets near the houses. The tin was old and
rusted and this rust seeped into my sores when I was busy making the
buckets. Soon I couldn't walk at all. At that period they stopped sending
me to work. However, previously I was sent to work almost every day and we
had to work promptly. If somebody fell the supervisors beat him or her with
a whip. Often, my mother could not go to work. She was not young and often
felt ill. Women did all kinds of work: they peeled potatoes, washed the
floors, cleaned up, and carried wood. When I couldn't walk any more my
father replaced me at work. Rumanians rarely came to the ghetto. The
policemen and the Jewish council were in charge there. The Rumanians were
afraid to enter the ghetto due to the terrible sanitary conditions. They
were afraid of catching infection. Many people in the ghetto got ill and
died.

The policemen raped girls, but the girls' parents tried to hide this.
And every day somebody would say that he knew for sure that the next day we
would be all shot. So we were living with the fear that every day was to be
our last day. Members of the Jewish council often came to pick up some
valuables to bribe the Rumanian gendarmes.

We didn't hear any news from the outside world. Later, Boria
Slobodianyuk, my former schoolmate and the son of the Tomashpol warden
started sending me newspapers, and we could read about the war, but this
was towards the end of 1943.

There was a rabbi in the ghetto. Religious people got together in
secret to pray. My father also went to some house of prayers to pray. They
got together a minian[9] of at least 10 people.

Young people were falling in love. Life was going on even under such
difficult conditions. We celebrated Pesach, although we couldn't have any
Matzoh.

In the fall of 1942 we learned that the administration was planning to
get all Jews between 16 and 55 yeas old. I was 15 and my father was 59, so
we were relatively calm about it. I was not on the list, but just in case,
I decided to hide in the attic of an empty house. My sister Polia knew
where I was hiding. The Jewish officials announced that people had to take
enough food to last for three days, and some warm clothes, although it was
still warm outside. On this day, policemen came to our basement to enquire
about my whereabouts. My parents said they didn't know where I was, and the
policemen beat them up with their whips. They threatened to shoot them if
they didn't inform them where I was. Polia ran to find me to tell me the
whole story and I went home. As soon as I entered, the policemen whipped me
so hard that I fainted. My mother got me some food to take with me: a few
apples, some bread, cereal and a bar of soap. And she gave me my jacket and
a hat to take along with me. My father gave me his old boots. They were
sewn up with wooden pegs that hurt when I put on the boots. Nobody knew
where we were heading from the ghetto. I was waiting for our departure when
all of a sudden a Rumanian soldier called me to the exit door. My father
was there and he took my bag from me and went in. I went home. The soldiers
put all the people onto a truck and drove away. At home they told me that
my parents asked some Jews from Bukovina who spoke Rumanian to talk to the
Rumanian soldiers about replacing me with my father. My parents were afraid
of what was awaiting me. Besides, I could make buckets and provide for the
family, but my father couldn't earn anything.
Half a year passed, and we didn't know where my father was, or whether
he was still alive. Then we heard a rumor that those that couldn't work any
more were coming back. And they did. They were in terrible condition.
Previously healthy men looked like old people, so exhausted were they. They
told us that they had been working in the Nikolaev region. Germans were
building a strategic bridge across the Bug and the construction itself was
performed by Jews and captives. The Jews lived on the bank of the Bug. They
dug holes in the ground and put in some hay to sleep on it. By the way, the
father of my sister Polia's future husband was also there with my father.
He died there because fleas ate away his eyes. My father told us later that
the hay was stirred up by fleas. My father said that they got potatoes that
were boiled, unwashed and dirty for meals. Many people were dying but my
father survived. Later a commission arrived to inspect the progress of the
construction. German engineers were in no hurry to complete the
construction. They felt more comfortable in the rear. When the commission
asked what the reason for the delays was, the engineers blamed the Jews,
saying that they were lazy and didn't want to work. The commission then
gave the order to hang ten people from each crew. All Jews were lined up
outside, and asked which of them wanted to go home. A few people stepped
forward. Soldiers took them away, and the following day carpenters
installed gallows in the square. Ten people were brought back in front of
the line of Jews. Jews from the crowd were to put nooses around the necks
of the sentenced and push the boxes they stood on out from under their
feet. If somebody refused he was hanged as well. If somebody approached the
barbed wire fencing, the Germans shot them, too, and their corpses were
hung on the wire for several days.

My father was also supposed to return home with the first group of
people, but he was not among them. We thought he must have died on the way.
But my father had gotten off the train to go to the toilet and fainted
there from exhaustion. Only on the following day did the cleaning women
find him. My father was sent to prison in the Balta Odessa region. He
shared a cell with a communist who was later hung. He gave my father his
leather belt and my father brought it home to me. He was getting some food
in prison and his condition improved. When he was released from prison, he
went home. He got on the train that headed for Yampol instead of Tomashpol.
The Rumanian commandant sent my father to the "Pechora" camp 2 km from
Tomashpol. This was a horrific death camp. About 10,000 people starved to
death there. This was already 1944. Kiev had been liberated, but we were
still under the occupation. The security guard in the camp was loosened and
people could go out at night to get something to eat in the surrounding
villages. In this way, my father survived.

I remember our army coming to the village. The Germans and Rumanians
were running away in retreat. We saw two tanks with young men sitting on
top of them. They asked us where the Germans and Rumanians were and
suggested that I go with them to show them the way. I grabbed a German
rifle - there were weapons all around - and charged it. I was showing them
the way. It was on 16 March 1944. The regular Soviet army was at the
Vapniarka station then. These tanks were an investigation group. They shot
at the retreating Germans. I also took a few shots. Later, our army and
partisans entered Tomashpol. One of the partisans was a young Jewish girl
riding a horse. I asked her, "Have you and the Soviet army come here
forever?" and she answered, "Yes". I felt sad because my father wasn't with
us and we thought that he had perished in the camp.

One particularly horrible event occurred during the liberation of
Tomashpol. A young man, one year older than I, a blacksmith's son and a
blacksmith himself, fell in love with a very pretty girl in the ghetto. She
loved him, too. When all of us came out to meet our armies, this young
couple was also out there. A cavalryman saw them together and cried out
"What?! You are strolling around when we are going to war?!" and he shot
the young man, who had survived all the horrors of the ghetto and
occupation, only to be killed by a Soviet soldier. I don't know what
happened to the young girl afterwards.

We temporarily settled down in an empty house. My mother asked the
military to sell her a pair of boots, as I had nothing to protect my feet.
And they gave me yellow American boots as a present. We were living all
together: my parents, my sister Polia, Manya and her twin daughters. A
little later my mother's sister Haika also moved in with us. In 1944 I went
to the army. Later my parents rented a room. They never had their own
apartment and lived a very poor life. They didn't have any furniture, just
some boxes they used as furniture.

My father returned home before I went into the army. Our neighbor's
daughter came to tell me that my father was coming home. I didn't believe
her, but went out anyway, and saw an old, old man, exhausted, in some gray
clothing, barefoot, though there was still snow on the ground, and carrying
a stick. It's difficult to express what I felt when I knew that the man was
my father. As I said his clothing looked gray, but it was gray from the
fleas that it was covered with. This was horrible. We took off all his
clothes and burnt them. My father was ill for a long time afterwards.

After Tomashpol was liberated, the mobilization of young people over
17 to the front began. Young people under 17 were mobilized to the so-
called fighter battalion. We had trophy rifles and bullets and were helping
the military to guard the captives or transport them. Once we even were
ordered to look for parachute forces in the woods.

I also went to school and studied in the 8th grade before I was
recruited to the army. We went to the military registration office in
Vinnitsa, from where I was sent to the Far East. This was in the winter of
1944. We traveled across Siberia for 43 days. In the Far East I was sent to
the Pacific Ocean Navy. I participated in the war with Japan.[10] After the
war we stayed in Port Arthur in China. We were liberating China, Korea and
Manchuria from the Japanese. We stayed to serve there after the war. My
service lasted six years. Later, this Pacific Ocean fleet separated into
two fleets - number 5 and number 7. My service was in fleet number 5, which
spread from Vladivostok to Port Arthur. . Photo # 7 I had friends there and
still meet with them annually. They are Jews, Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars
and members of many other nationalities. Ivan Khometsky, a Ukrainian, was
my closest friend then. We spent time together talking about our plans for
the future and about our lives.

Post-war

Those were difficult years. I remember the famine of 1947. I was in
the service then and I didn't suffer hunger - we were getting our meals and
life was not as bad as it was for civilians. But I knew that my parents
were suffering a lot. My father's body swelled from starvation.
Fortunately, his younger brother Boris took him to Ulianovsk. My mother and
sister survived this famine of 1947. In 1948 I came home on vacation. As a
gift, I brought my parents half a pound of rice (8 kg) - this was all I
could get.

My father and mother were still religious after the war. But there was
no synagogue and minians got together in private prayer houses. My father
always went to pray. The rabbi died in the ghetto. One man who knew the
prayers well led the minians for many years. Old people got together in
this way and the authorities didn't persecute them.

The struggle against cosmopolites that started in 1948 had an impact
on our family. Ovsey Driz, the son of my father's cousin and a famous
Jewish poet, wrote his poems in Yiddish. They were translated into Russian
by the famous Russian poets Mikhalkov and Marshak. In the early 1930s when
Ovsey Driz was beginning to write, a very famous Jewish poet, Lev Kvitko,
was helping him. Many of Ovsey's books were published before the war. After
the war no books in Yiddish were published. Ovsey's Russian was excellent
but when I asked him why he didn't write his poems in Russian he said that
he could, but then they wouldn't be his poems. When the struggle against
the cosmopolites began Ovsey couldn't provide for his family. His books
were not published and he was about to be expelled from the Association of
Writers of the USSR. Ovsey turned to the Soviet poet Marshak for help, but
he couldn't do anything for him. When I went to Moscow I often stayed at
Ovsey's home and was the first to hear his poems. Ovsey died in 1971 .

By that time, my sister had married our neighbor Abram Gedrich, a Jew.
She studied for seven years at school and then took a course in accounting.
She worked as an accountant in the Tomashpol hospital until her departure
to Ber-Sheva in Israel in the early 1990s. In 1962 Elena, the daughter of
Polia and Abram, was born. Lena and Polia live in Israel now. Lena
graduated from a music school in Vinnitsa. She has a daughter Asia, born in
1984.

I demobilized from the army at the end of December 1950. They wanted
me to stay for an additional term and offered me an apartment in Port
Arthur. But I couldn't stay, as I knew that my parents were living in
poverty. In 1951 I passed my exams for ten years of secondary school. At
that time I worked as a lab assistant at the physics laboratory, as I just
had to be earning money. In 1951 I entered Kiev's mining college. I chose
this educational institution because, as a participant in the war, I could
enter this school without having to take entrance exams. They also paid the
stipend that enabled me to study and live. I also had 2-3 months training
sessions in Donbass, which enabled me to support my parents as well. I
worked as a miner and was paid well. In 1955 I finished my studies in the
electromechanical department of this college. At first I couldn't find a
job. My eyesight was poor as a result of my experiences in the ghetto, and
to get a job as a miner I had to go through a medical examination. The
medical commission didn't issue me a work permit. I had problems finding a
job.

Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism at that time was both on the state and everyday level. I
obtained my diploma without a mandatory for that time job assignment, and
returned to Kiev. I went through job announcements and found one for a
foreman in the electric shop at a certain plant. I arranged an interview
with the manager of the human resources department. We discussed the
vacancy and then he asked me to show him my documents. He took my passport
and saw that my nationality was a Jew. He immediately told me to call back
in 2-3 days. I came back in two days and he said they had no vacancy for
the position of foreman, only for an electrician in that same shop. He
didn't expect me to agree to take this job. But I thought it would only do
me good to go through all levels, from beginning to end, to gain
experience.

In 1957 I got a job as a foreman at a military plant. Later, I was
promoted to Deputy Manager of the electromechanical shop. In few years I
became Chief Engineer at the plant. I worked there for 24 years and had
excellent performance records. I received a two-room apartment. But still I
felt some discrimination towards me, especially during the last year. In
particular, when the manager of the maintenance shop went on an extended
business trip for two years and I was offered the chance to replace him.
But I also had to keep my job responsibilities. I agreed. After some time,
the assistant accountant asked me about my salary rate, which I didn't
know. But I hoped that it would at least be equal to that of the former
manager of the shop. I asked the director, and it turned out that besides
not being paid for doing two jobs, I had a lower salary than my
predecessor. The director had realized that I would have to accept and was
taking advantage of my situation. If I quit this job, it would be difficult
for me to find another due to my Jewish nationality. And I had to stay at
this plant. In 1978 I got a job offer from another plant and agreed to take
it at once. I was appointed manager of the electromechanical shop at this
plant and from there I retired in 1987. But I decided to continue working
and got a job as a communications specialist. I quit finally in 1999.

Stalin's death in 1953 was a shock for me. I didn't believe the
country could live without him. People were crying. I think, these were
sincere tears. Later we recovered and life went on. Our thinking was
changing gradually and denunciation of the cult of Stalin and the speech at
the Party Congress[11] was kind of expected event.

Married life

I got married in 1956. My wife Tamara Batenko is Ukrainian. Tamara was
born in 1934 in the Fastov Kiev region. At the time we met, Tamara was a
student in the Economics Department of Kiev University. We met at a party
and fell in love. Contrary to my expectations, my parents had nothing
against my marrying a Ukrainian girl. They must have changed their attitude
to such mixed marriages, regardless of their religiosity. They liked Tamara
very much. My mother always called Tamara her little daughter. Tamara got a
job at the Institute of Public Economy after graduating from the
University. Later, she obtained a job at the Academy of Sciences. But,
unfortunately, she was very sickly and had to retire because of poor
health. In the fall of 2002 we shall celebrate the 46th anniversary of our
wedding. On 20 July 1957 our son Alexander was born. He was born into a
mixed family and got no religious education. He is an atheist and a
cosmopolite - a man of the world. He obtained his education at the Kiev
Communications College. He is a colonel now and works at the army
headquarters. as chief editor of military TV broadcasting. His wife
Tatiana, a Ukrainian, is a housewife. We have two granddaughters: Katyusha,
born in 1984, and baby Mashenka, born in 2002. Katia is finishing school
and is going to continue her studies. My son's family live separately, but
every single day they call us or drop by for a chat.

In 1963 my mother died. She was in poor health after the years she
spent in the camp and in the ghetto. My mother was buried in Tomashpol in
accordance with Jewish traditions. My wife and I decided to take my father
to Kiev. By that time he was almost blind - he had cataracts in both eyes.
He lived with us for almost 15 years. After two surgeries, he could see
again. My father admired everything that we had: the tap with running
water, the TV and telephone. My father put on his thales and prayed twice a
day: in the morning and in the evening. Only in the last years of his life
he couldn't do it: he was too old to remember the prayers. My father died
in 1979 at the age of 95. He was buried at the Jewish cemetery in Kiev.
There was no rabbi at his funeral and I said Kaddish, which I remembered
from childhood.
My sister Polia moved to Israel. Unfortunately, I didn't dare to go.
My wife isn't a Jew and I was afraid that she would go through prejudiced
attitudes in Israel similar to the ones I experienced in the Soviet Union.
I have been to Israel twice and I now realize that I was wrong. But we are
old people now and it is too late to change our life so dramatically. I
liked Israel, our country. I admired the blooming Israel - the country
where ancient history and modern life have entwined so organically. It's
hard to imagine all the hard effort involved in turning the desert into a
blooming oasis. I respect and feel grateful to the people of Israel. I
visited my sister Polia in Ber-Sheva. She and her family enjoy living in
their new Motherland.

Many things changed after Ukraine gained its independence. Of course,
it will take some time before life improves, but I can see big changes.
There is no or almost no anti-Semitism in the new Ukraine. There is none on
the state level, and if there is some remnant of it, it comes from older
people. Young people have different outlooks. Jewish people hold management
positions and nobody has anything to say against it. I am not a religious
person, and do not visit the synagogue. A Jewish way of life is also
restoring. We have Jewish newspapers and magazines in Yiddish and in
Russian. I receive "Jewish news" and it is free for me. There are Jewish
performances and concerts. Hesed does a lot to support us physically and
spiritually. I attend very interesting lectures about the history of the
Jewish religion and celebrations of Jewish holidays. This is just
wonderful.

I don't want you to think that the life of our generation is a chain
of calamities. We lived through a lot of terrible things: famines,
repression, war, struggle against cosmopolitism and suppression of the
Jews. Many members of our family perished. At that most difficult time we
used to say that if we survived - although we didn't believe we would - we
would only talk about what we had to go through for the rest of our life.
But the years went by and I came to understand that people forget the bad
things and remember the good ones for a long time. I would like to address
all those who are going to read my story to try and do everything we can to
prevent any repetition of the past.

 

Glossary

[1] The artificially-created famine of the Stalinist period that killed
millions of people in the Ukraine. It was arranged by Stalin to suppress
protesting peasants who would not accept Soviet power and join collective
farms. 1930-1934 - the years of the dreadful, forced famine in the
Ukraine. The Soviet authorities took away the last food products from
farmers. People were dying in the streets, whole villages perished.

[2] Komsomol - a Communist youth organization, created by the Communist
Party to enable the state to take control of the ideological upbringing and
spiritual development of Ukrainian youth almost up to the age of 30.

[3] The White Guards, a counter-revolutionary gang led by general Denikin.
They were famous for their brigandage and their anti-Semitic actions all
over Russia; legends were told of their cruelty. Few Jews survived their
pogroms.

[4] According to Jewish tradition every junior child must ask four
ritualistic questions related to the history of Pesah and its celebration.
A senior member of the family leading the seder must answer them.

[5] In the mid-1930s Stalin launched a major campaign of political terror.
The purges, arrests, and deportations to labor camps touched virtually
every family. Untold numbers of party, industrial, and military leaders
disappeared during the "Great Terror". Indeed, between 1934 and 1938 two-
thirds of the members of the 1934 Central Committee were sentenced and
executed.

[6]The nonagression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union, known as the
Molotov-Ribentrop Pact. Engaged in a border war with Japan in the Far East
and fearing the German advance in the west, the Soviet government in 1939
began secret negotiations for a nonaggression pact with Germany, meanwhile
continuing negotiations, begun earlier, with France and Britain for an
alliance against Germany. In August 1939 it suddenly announced the
conclusion of a Soviet-German pact of friendship and nonaggression. This
pact contained a secret clause providing for the partition of Poland and
for Soviet and German spheres of influence in Eastern Europe.

[7] 22 June 1941 at 5 o'clock in the morning fascist Germany attacked the
Soviet Union without declaring war. On this day the Great Patriotic War
began.

[8]Molotov (Skriabin), Viacheslav Mikhailovich (1890-1986) - a Soviet
political leader. During the October Revolution he was a member of the
Military Revolutionary Committee. He belonged to the closest politicians
surrounding Stalin, and was one of the most active organizers of repression
in the 1930s to early 1950s. In the early 1950s he spoke out against
criticism of the cult of Stalin.

[9] According to Jewish tradition, in order to celebrate any holiday or
Sabbath a minian - a minimum of 10 religious males were to be present at
the synagogue or at a prayer house. A congregation including fewer than ten
males had no right to address God with their prayers.

[10] In 1945. the war in Europe was over, but WWII continued. in the Far
East, where Japan was fighting against the countries of the anti-fascist
coalition and China. The Japanese army incurred great losses at the hands
of the USA and Great Britain in 1943-44. However, Japan was still strong.
The USSR declared war against Japan on 8 August 1945. Japan signed the act
of capitulation in September 1945.

[11] At the %% Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 195,.
Khruschev publicly debunked the cult of Stalin and lifted theer 1945.

[12] At the ?? Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 195,.
Khruschev publicly debunked the cult of Stalin and lifted the veil of
secrecy from what had happened in the USSR during Stalin's leadership.

Country: 
City: 
Kiev

Interview details

Interviewee: Yakov Driz
Interviewer:
Ella Levitskaya
Month of interview:
June
Year of interview:
2002
Kiev, Ukraine

KEY PERSON

Yakov Driz
Year of birth:
1927
City of birth:
Tomashpol, Vinnitsa region
Country name at time of birth:
Russia
Occupation
after WW II:
Chief power engineering specialist

Additional Information

Also interviewed by:
Survivors of the Shoah visual history foundation
Date of interview:
1998

More photos from this country

David Ryvkin
Lev Mistetskiy with his brother Mikhail Mistetskiy and sister Polina Mistetskaya
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