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elvira kohn

I am Jewish and feel Jewish, and I always say that. I'm a member of the community and pay the membership fee. Nowadays I don't go to the community because I'm a bit old, and I walk slowly. I'm not religious because I wasn't brought up that way, and now I'm too old to change my life. Most of my friends have died, but I still have dear people who care about me. And I still have memories that I cherish and that help me in my old days.
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There was a Jewish community and a synagogue on Zudioska Street. I think there were about one hundred Jews in Dubrovnik. I didn't take part in the life of the community that much. I always attended the services and celebrations on main holidays but that was about it. It was a Sephardi community.

Dubrovnik was a small town and everyone intermingled; I didn't feel that I needed to be part of the community life. I felt Jewish, declared myself Jewish, had Jewish friends but didn't feel that I had to do more. On Saturdays I worked so I didn't go to the synagogue but sometimes I went to the services Friday night. My mother was more involved in the community life because she had more free time. She was very friendly with other Jewish women and they often visited one another.
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There was a Jewish community in Vinkovci and in general there was a rich and lively Jewish life. We celebrated Chanukkah and Purim together and had parties on holidays. Those took place in the cultural center in Vinkovci, not in the community building.

I assume that there wasn't enough space in the community building for such celebrations because a lot of people came to celebrate. The Jews were the ones who organized and participated in the celebrations, of course. We gave performances on Chanukkah and Purim. It was customary to dress up and put on masks for Purim. We danced, sang Jewish songs and socialized with other Jews, our friends, and always had a good time.

Within the Jewish community there was also a Jewish Youth Club and I was a member. We used to meet in the community building and talked, learned some Hebrew and some Jewish history, exchanged knowledge and ideas, or just spent time together. Sometimes we had visits from the youth of the Jewish Community Vukovar or from other Jewish communities, or we went to visit them.

Then we interacted with our fellow Jews and spoke about Jewish life in other places. That was always interesting and I enjoyed meeting with Jews from other places. We had many lectures and discussions on ideas about creating a Jewish state. I suppose that we were Zionist-oriented and nurtured the Zionist ideology. There were no summer camps, not that I remember, but we organized inter-town visits and exchange.
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I attended public school, the regular elementary and high school in Vinkovci. There was no Jewish school. There were pupils of all kinds of religions and nationalities in this school and my friends were Jews and non- Jews alike. In my class in particular, there were 30 pupils, of which 13 were Jews, around 10 Eastern Orthodox because there were many Serb villages around Vinkovci, and the rest were Catholics and maybe some Evangelic.

Although there was no Jewish school, there was Jewish religious instruction, which was obligatory. Every Sunday we had religious classes and received grades; it was part of the school curriculum. We had a religious instructor whose name was Pollak. He taught us Hebrew, the Talmud, the Torah, some Jewish history and traditions.

On Saturdays we didn't have to attend classes in school, but we had to go to the synagogue. We also had to obtain a written statement signed by Rabbi Frankfurter saying that we were at the service on Saturday morning, and we had to bring this statement to school. It was like a confirmation that we were in the synagogue instead of being in class.
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baby pisetskaya

There was a hotel near my grandfather's house. It collapsed during an earthquake in 1932. Actors of the Jewish Musical Comedy Theater of Fischson stayed in this hotel when the theater was on tour in Uman. I still have the paper with the advertisement about it. Clara Yung and Beba Yunesca, actresses of this theater, used to rehearse in a big room in my grandfather's house. We had no piano at home and a violinist came with them. I was five years old then and attended all their rehearsals. Then we organized family concerts at home for ourselves where I sang arias from musicals. Our family was fond of music and we always had a lot of fun at home.
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Jankiel Kulawiec

A Jewish theater was organized. [Editor's note: the Gerson Duo Amateur Jewish Theater occupied the former German army cinema auditorium on Nowy Swiat Street for a few years after the war.] I remember that we set it up out of our own pockets and with our own work. It had been a military cinema, German, and then Russian. There was this large auditorium, and we built this super-smashing stage, and it was a fancy theater. Actors would come from Warsaw and Wroclaw. I remembered once they played 'The Fiddler on the Roof.'

There were various different Jewish events, there was an active Jewish choir in the same place. I belonged to the choir myself at the beginning of the 1950s, before I started working in the foundry. The chairperson was Roza Gottlieb. There was an amateur drama club. And there was a club house, where you could chat, read a book, a newspaper - both in Yiddish, e.g. Folksztyme [22] and in Polish. It was open every day, and there was a buffet there too.
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I remember that I liked going to the cinema. The cinema was owned by the town authorities, and it was in the fire station hall. That was the largest hall in town, and I remember that they divided it in half. The firemen stayed in one half, and in the other they put benches, and they'd built a kind of outhouse on tall posts for all the apparatus. And that was where we went to the movies. A lot of Jews used to go, and I think there were about three Jewish films too, in Yiddish. I remember two that I saw. One was 'The Dibbuk' [Dybuk, directed by Michal Waszynski, Poland 1937], and the other was 'Yidl mit dem Fidl' [Yidl with the Fiddle, directed by Joseph Green, Poland 1936]. At first they were silent movies, you see. The first film with sound was that Soviet one, 'Vesola Rebyata' [Vesyoliye Rebyata, directed by Grigoriy Alexandrov, USSR 1934] in the original, or in the Polish translation - 'Swiat sie smieje' ['The World is Laughing']. That was in around 1933-34.
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Mico Alvo

The boys would have their circumcision within the first week of birth. And the doctors had to check and make sure that the boy is strong and can go through the procedure. The surgeon was Jewish; he was like a special doctor, specialized in circumcisions, and he was the one that also slaughtered the animals, so that the meat would be kosher.

So a specialist would perform the circumcision. He wasn't a rabbi, but he was probably of the clergy, because he was learning things. Sometimes it would be the rabbi himself, and he had the special tool, it was a small and very sharp knife.

After the circumcision, a big celebration would follow. The circumcision I watched was my cousin Tori's, my aunt Lily's son. It seemed to me very strange: a baby there screaming and shouting. The circumcision was a very festive celebration.

Some of the rich would even hire bands to play music in the house, to play the violin. The mother would sit on the bed and the relatives would come by to congratulate her. And after the circumcision they would take the baby back to his mother. During the circumcision someone was holding the baby; it was usually the grandfather or the father. In Spanish he was called 'kitador.' That means: he who takes out the baby.

The procedure would be done really well and really quickly. In the beginning they would get the baby dizzy with a bit of wine, but of course when they cut, he would scream. The whole ceremony would last a whole morning, about three or four hours. Friends and relatives would come around and congratulate the family. It was a very joyous event.
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They have been celebrating the Remembrance Day [the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust] in Thessaloniki for many years now. All the authorities would come, the representative of the Metropolitan Church, of the 3rd Army Force, of the Navy, the Police Force, the Fire Department and many others. The synagogue is full, I must say. There is not enough space either on the ground floor or on the balcony.

This is what used to happen at the first anniversaries after the war. There were some authority representatives but not as many as there are today. But we always had some people representing the authorities. At least the municipality would always send someone. On the Day of Remembrance they first recite a Kaddish for the 65,000 local Jews that were killed. Then we light the six candles for the six million that got killed, one candle for each million. It is usually someone that was in the concentration camps that lights them up. Then someone holds a speech. Most of the times a Christian Orthodox holds the speech. In the evening they go to the cemetery and they put flowers on the monument.

One of the first people that comes to attend the Day of Remembrance is the German Consul. I He always comes to the cemetery, too. What I can see is that as time goes by we have more non-Jewish people from the authorities coming than we have Jews.

In the beginning they completely ignored the role the Jews in Thessaloniki had played in the city. They didn't even say that they existed. People don't know about it. They ask me, 'Alvo, where do you come from?' So I reply, 'Maybe your father came from Drama, while my ancestors have been here for 500 years.
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I went to a wedding, too. I remember when Aunt Ida got married. I was a bit older then. The wedding didn't take place at the synagogue; it was at the Matanot Laevionim. Matanot means 'presents' and Laevionim 'to the needy,' so presents for the poor.

There was a special room for ceremonies. You would pay and with the money they would maintain the establishment. After a wedding there would usually be a dance. The dance would be at the Matanot, and if the wedding was at the synagogue, the dance could still be at the Matanot. Because it was a very large hall and could accommodate many people. It had an orchestra with a piano and violin. They used to dance the waltz, tango, foxtrot, dances of the time.

The married couples would always go on a honeymoon trip. And many times, in the wagon the loss of virginity would take place. Many used to go to Constantinople [today Istanbul, Turkey] and Vienna and Paris. Those were the favorite destinations.

Uncle Daniel went to Paris after he got married. I remember his wedding, too, because we had a large house and my uncle used to live upstairs and we used to live on the ground floor, and the bride left from our house. She was from Volos and they had brought her to our house. And she left from our house to go to the synagogue where she was going to get married.

From my uncle's wedding I remember that we really liked the sister of our aunt. She was younger than her sister but she still seemed very old to us. She too was very beautiful. There wasn't any difference, like they say now, for example, that at a first class marriage all the lights of the synagogue will be turned on and the large chandeliers, and if it's a second class marriage there would be fewer lights lit. No.

There was only one way and the wedding lasted the same length of time. In the end the rabbi gave the newly-weds wine to drink, and the bride, I think, or the groom that steps on the glass, I cannot remember. It is a quick and very joyful ceremony, and there are many songs.

In order to have a rich wedding and to have a social event, one had to have more flowers. Also, there were many synagogues at the time and depending on the wedding it would take place in a certain synagogue. In other words, not everybody could get married in the Beit Saul synagogue, because it was more expensive. There were smaller synagogues where the ceremony was simpler. What they read was exactly the same, it would take less or more time, it would be identical.

The bride wore a wedding dress, of course. And it would be a great story, how the wedding dress was made. And Father would get a new suit or a tuxedo. The whole family would be restless, to make their dresses and the men's clothes and the rest of it. The bride had a very nice wedding dress and a great flower bouquet that the groom would give her. This wedding dress was white, similar to the Christian wedding dress. And they had small children holding the tail of the wedding dress.

We don't have best men, we have witnesses. They sign, too. They used to say that if the bride was a virgin, then the wedding ring had to be all gold. The rabbi used to show the ring to one of the witnesses and say 'gold ring' no matter if the bride was a virgin or not.

I remember my aunt Daisy's friend, who was very naughty, and would go to the doctor all the time so he would sew her up again, and at some point the doctor tells her, 'What will we do with you, put a zipper and stop.' If they had lost their virginity they had to sew it up, so that on their wedding nights they would appear to be virgins. So they would go to the gynecologist, who would do that. In fact, I can even remember on some occasions that the wedding would take place and the day after there would be a divorce because the bride was not a virgin. And that was a serious reason for a divorce. You can imagine the shame for the girl and her whole family.
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The religious ceremonies were the bar mitzvahs and the weddings. The girls didn't have a bat mitzvah as they do today. I remember my bar mitzvah. I was thirteen years old. As soon as you are thirteen you can have your bar mitzvah. Some do it later. I remember I had a teacher from the time when I turned eleven and he would come to our house for two or thee hours a week. He first taught me the Hebrew alphabet and later what I had to read. For every single week out of the 52 weeks of the year, there is a part in the Old Testament that you read. I can still read Hebrew, but I cannot understand it.

I never learned Ladino or the Rashi alphabet [47]. Some others learned it. My father knew how to read in Rashi. I wasn't interested in learning it. No one in the family told me to do so. So why should I have done it? It was already out of date. It wasn't even Hebrew. Rashi was being read here in Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey, where the Sephardic Jews were. The language quickly disappeared, but in the book those that went to the synagogue had to read many parts that were in Rashi, so they read them in Spanish.

I had my bar mitzvah in the Beit Saoul synagogue. The ceremony was like this: you go to the synagogue and read. You read and then you give a small speech. You say: From now on I am an adult Jew. I can participate in the ceremonies and I can be one of the ten men that are needed for a minyan.

You would read, and all the time someone would get up and sit next to you. He would pretend to check whether you were reading correctly and when he would go down, he would give his donation, to honor the family. There would be friends and relatives getting up. First it would be the grandfather, then the father and after them all the rest.

They were donating money to the institutes. The Jewish Community had many different institutes. Usually they would firstly donate money to the synagogue and the rabbi and after that to other organizations of the Community.

The bar mitzvah ceremony took place early in the morning, at the time that the daily ceremony starts. It usually starts just after sunrise, let's say at about 8 o'clock. The bar mitzvah would start around 9. Its duration varied. If there were many people that wanted to get up on the stand, it would last longer.

When there weren't so many that wanted to get up and read, then the rabbi would read faster. But usually after your speech, the rabbi gives a speech and tells you that you should now be a decent human being, as you are now an adult, you should follow your religion, the rules etc. At around 11 or 11.30 the ceremony was over. In my case, it lasted about that long.

Then we went home where we had a meal that the closest relatives attended. And later people would come and visit, with many presents. I remember everyone that came had a present. I then got my first bicycle as a present from my father. I also remember a nice school bag that my uncle Joseph brought me. They used to bring quills. And they also used to bring sweets. They would send flowers to the synagogue or to our home. One of the best presents that I got was the big Meccano. I got the biggest one, number 7. It started from number 1 and it went up to number 7. The number 7 really was a full course of mechanical engineering and it interested me very much.
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Rafael Genis

My Constantia is the best helper in all community activities. On Sabbath and on holidays she cooks a treat for the whole community and the Jews join us in celebration. We chat and recollect family stories. We celebrate holidays according to the tradition. I feel under the weather lately and I have to look for a successor as I understand that I have heart trouble and had an operation recently. I hope that my successor will be Petras, who will come back to Lithuania and help me.
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Usually on Saturday, after the synagogue, we went for a walk in a park. I loved singing. When I grew up, I joined a children's choir organized in the synagogue by photographer Poser, a passionate lover of singing. On Saturday after the service and lunch we had our rehearsals or just sang in the synagogue.
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Margarita Kamiyenovskaya

During World War I, my father was a battalion doctor in the tsarist army. His unit was positioned in Kiev for a while. He met my mother somehow and they got married in Kiev on 22nd October 1915. They must have had a traditional Jewish wedding as my mother's parents were religious. When the unit, where my father served, was transferred to Kharkov [440km from Kiev], my mother left with him. I was born in Kharkov on 28th July 1917. I was named Margarita. I wasn't given a Jewish name. When I turned one, my father was demobilized and my parents moved to Tallinn. I don't remember where our family lived upon our arrival in Tallinn. My parents didn't stay together for a long time. Shortly after moving to Tallinn, my father was drafted into the army again.

In late 1918 the Estonian War of Liberation [6] was unleashed and my father was drafted into the Estonian People's Army. The Estonian army fought with the Estonian communists, who were supported by the Red Army. In 1919 Estonia was attacked by German troops and they had to struggle against them. My father was a combat doctor and he took part in the battles. In 1920 Russia recognized Estonia as an independent state [see Estonian Independence] [7]. The period of the First Estonian Republic [8] commenced. My father told me about his military service. He was a battalion doctor and saved many lives. The soldiers gave him a large silver glass-holder with an engraving. He told me funny stories about what had happened to him during his service. Once, their unit had stayed at some station for a long time. There were no toilets and the soldiers had to relieve themselves wherever they could. The entire territory was contaminated. My father submitted a report to the battalion commander who gave an order to build a toilet. It was a long wooden barrack with a huge pit with wooden planking with 25 holes. When it was ready, my father and the commander looked at it admiringly. A soldier was passing by, whistled approvingly and looking at the toilet squatted nearby.
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Dina Kuremaa

When Father died, we gradually started speaking Estonian, not Yiddish. Mother spoke Yiddish, and my sisters and I mostly spoke Estonian. Mother kept Jewish traditions. It was hard. There was no place to buy kosher food, we had to stand in a long line even to get ordinary food. There were times, when there was no place to buy matzah for Pesach and we baked it ourselves. Then the municipal authorities gave the community a small wooden house, which was turned into a synagogue or, more precisely, a prayer house. Matzah was sold there.

On Friday Mother always marked Sabbath in accordance with the tradition: lit candles and prayed over them. Mother was the only one who was able not to work on Saturday. At that time Saturday was an official working day and people had to go to work. We tried to mark Jewish holidays the best way we could. Mother loved cooking Jewish dishes and taught me how to cook them. Even now I often cook such dishes as gefilte fish, tsimes, salted beef tongue and others. My family likes them a lot. We always fasted on Yom Kippur. Almost every Sabbath, Mother went to the synagogue. All of us went there on Jewish holidays - my mother, sisters and I.

There wasn't such a tough struggle against religion [30] in Estonia, as it was in the Soviet Union. It was safe only for elderly people to go to the synagogue there. If it was found out that a working person went to the synagogue, he could be fired. Nothing like that happened here. All of us were working and were not afraid to go to the synagogue. I went there, even when I was a party member.
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