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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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I lived with my mother until her death in 1977. The two of us were very close, and it was difficult for me when she died. I was left alone; I had no relatives, no family of my own. I was also in a dilemma as to how to bury my mother. It was a very difficult decision for me to make.

Many JNA officials and my co-workers came to my mother's funeral. Some gave a speech. I couldn't have a rabbi bury her in front of the party members. And I couldn't have the party members speak in front of a rabbi. The two don't go together. So at last I decided not to have a rabbi at the funeral. It wasn't easy, but there was no other choice. I wasn't allowed to have a Jewish funeral for my mother.

But I did something else. I arranged with the community that for the whole first month after my mother's death, the Kaddish was recited for her every Friday and Saturday. That was something I could do. Even though all the officials knew that I was Jewish, and that my mother was Jewish, I couldn't have both, the Party and the rabbi, at the funeral. And even though I had been retired since 1964, and my mother died in 1977, I was still in the same circle of people, shared the same spirit, and thus wasn't allowed to. That was the spirit of the time.
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During the communist times, I was in the JNA, I was a member of the Party. I worked and socialized with others who were in the Party; that was my life, that was my world. Today people say terrible things about communism, but it wasn't so bad after all. Maybe in certain aspects it was better than it is today; only, we aren't allowed to say that, it just doesn't sound right.

Immediately after the war, I went to the Jewish community on Palmoticeva Street to become a member. Through the community I re-established relations with my aunt Adela in Brazil and my cousin Zlata in Israel. I've never been to Brazil, but to Israel I went several times.

The first time I went in 1950 to visit Zlata. It wasn't easy to get permission to leave the country because I was among the high-ranking officers in the Party. At last, after many attempts and rejections, I spoke with one officer-general who helped me get a permission to go to Israel. I left from Rijeka on a boat, and arrived in Haifa. It was an amazing trip because there I met with Zlata and her family and I also saw many people who had been interned on Rab with me. But, I never developed any deep feelings for Israel. I was also invited to Zlata's son's bar mitzvah and I went.

Then there was her son's wedding, and I went again, and I think I visited Israel another couple of times. Had I not been in the JNA and the Party, I would have considered to move to Israel. But I was in the army, and I was very much connected to it, and I couldn't help myself. In addition, my mother wasn't so young any more, and it was a risk to go because I didn't know what kind of job I could get there. The Party never criticized me for going to Israel. Everyone always respected me because I always openly admitted that I was Jewish and never hid my origins.

Both my mother and I became members of the Jewish community. I attended celebrations for holidays, if I was in Zagreb. Because I traveled a lot, I couldn't become more active in the community. The fact that I was in the army and went to the community at the same time had no consequences. I never directly told anyone in the army that I went to the Jewish community; that was my personal and private business. If I was in Zagreb for Chanukkah or Purim, I went to the celebrations.

I took my mother to the synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and waited outside. I didn't enter because I didn't want the wrath of the Gods, so to speak. There were services for holidays that my mother always attended, and I know that there were people who went, and the people who conducted the services, but I'm not in the position to say much more about it. When I went, I mostly went to the afternoon meetings and tea parties, or to the meetings organized by the women's department.
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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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Jankiel Kulawiec

And before, when Anna was younger and healthier she used to go to the TSKZ with me to various Jewish events, and it never bothered her.

Now I go to the congregation alone on Saturdays. My wife can't get about well enough to accompany me.
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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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For a long time I didn't have much contact with Jewish institutions here in Legnica. When the congregation was forming on Grodzka Street, I didn't go, because I'd never been religious. And I didn't want to have anything to do with the Jewish committee, because they were all crooks, and I've never kept company with crooks. I've never had anything from Jews here, and I came to Legnica from Russia as poor as a church mouse. And I had a wife and small child, a two-year-old boy. Only when I retired did I start coming to the congregation here more regularly to keep up contact with other Jews. And I go to Ladek-Zdrój on holiday, where that Lauder Foundation [21] has a center.

But I did keep up close ties with the TSKZ. Thanks to that institution Jewish life in Legnica was very active.
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None of that, as I remember, evoked particular panic. The community in Losice was close, more left-wing, and looked out for its own.
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nisim navon

Before the war I wasn't involved in political life. Jews had their own
cultural organization that belonged to the synagogue. I was a member of it.
I was a Zionist. Each house in Pristina had a blue cash-box in which we put
money each Friday. A delegation of three people from Belgrade or another
European center came once a year to collect the money, which was used for
buying land, kept by Arabs, in Palestine.
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Kashrut (dietary law) was strictly observed in our household. There were
separate dishes for milk and meat and these two were never to be mixed. Our
grandmother and our mother made their own goat cheese. Before the onset of
winter, a milkman delivered a large quantity of milk, and we used it to
make a barrel full of cheese which lasted the entire winter. In preparation
for winter, we also made our own wine, collected winter staples such as
onions and garlic, and pickled vegetables. We would buy meat in those
butcher shops which sold meat that Rabbi Zaharija Levi slaughtered and
koshered. There was also a closet for Passover dishes, which was only
opened for the Passover holiday. There was no kosher restaurant in
Pristina, so eating in the local restaurants and cafes before the war was
something we simply did not do.

Shabbat was observed each week in our family. No one worked from sundown on
Friday until sundown on Saturday and we did not use lights. However, if by
some chance we needed to do one of these things, we would go out to the
street and look for a non-Jew to do it for us. Friday the women would
prepare food for the entire Shabbat. The meal usually included fiuzaldikas,
pastel (cake), fidjoni (cooked beans) and pitijas, an airy bread that
served as challa. The members of our family living together gathered each
Friday evening for the Shabbat meal. Our grandmother and the other women in
the house would light candles. Usually this was a bowl of oil with a bunch
of wicks, some of which were lit in memory of dead people. Our grandfather
Jakov would make kiddush (the prayer over the wine). Each Shabbat morning
we went to synagogue and back to the house for lunch. Our mother's father
gathered the children at his house to make havdalah (prayer service marking
the end of Shabbat). We called the spices barmut.

All of the holidays were observed by our family in a similar matter to
Shabbat, all at home. There were few communal celebrations. For Rosh
Hashanah we used to eat apples and honey. For such occasion my uncle Muson
had a roasted head of lamb on the table, and I cannot remember if our
grandfather also had one. The shofar (ram's horn) was blown in shul either
by Rabbi Zaharija Levi or by Jehuda Judic. Before Yom Kippur we would buy a
chicken and our grandfather would perform kaparot in the yard of our house
and then give the chicken to Zaharija Levi who would then give it to the
poor in the community. (Kaparot, literally meaning "atonements," is the act
of swinging a chicken over one's head and asking that its death substitute
for the death of the one making the prayer.) Our family always built a
succah (harvest festival booth) in the yard.

Before Pesach the women would buy wheat and take it to a water mill where
it would be ground into flour. They would gather in our grandmother's yard
and would make both matzot and bojas outside in the garden where she had a
bread oven. The women also ground some of the matzot to make matzo flour.
The Passover Hagaddah was read by all the family members in Hebrew. We
would go around the table taking turns reading. During the reading of the
Hagaddah, one child would sling a satchel with the bojas over his shoulder,
then all the other children would follow him around the table, recreating
the exodus from Egypt.

During the week of Passover, we would eat inhaminadus, bemulos de massa,
cuftes, sivuikas, pitas from matzo (with spinach, meat, leeks, etc), meat
patties with leeks or spinach, sweet matzo pitas, etc. I can still smell
those roasted onions stuffed with ground matzo and meat and hamin, cooked
wheat and meat, that we ate for Passover.

For Purim, the community would have a small masquerade party for the
children in the Jewish community building. After shul on Purim day, the
children would return home in their costumes and hang small white cloth
bags around their necks. They would then go to visit their relatives and
each one would add a few dinars to the little bag around the child's neck.
At the end of the day they would count up the money to see who had
collected the most. Baklava was frequently eaten on Purim, and presents
were given to the poor people in the community.

There was a small metal box in the house where coins were put before the
Sabbath, holidays, and other times during the year. Once a year a Jew from
outside Pristina (maybe from abroad) would come to open this charity box
and take the money, which was being collected for Israel.
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Mico Alvo

And there were a lot of dinners. For two or three days, we would have guests and dinners. These dinners held after a bar mitzvah weren't anything special, anything different. They used to give you sugar plums like they do today at baptisms. My parents were pleased, especially my father.

His friends would come around and his customers. Christians would also come to ceremonies like this. Not many of course, but they would come, at least about ten of them. The ceremonies were completely open, and friends and customers would come to the synagogue, because they would be invited. 'On this day we will celebrate the coming of age - the adulthood -..." You see, they didn't call it a son's bar mitzvah.
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The first time that the Community was subsidized was after the earthquakes. I was in the council then so I know. When the big earthquake took place the Community's offices were seriously damaged and especially the main synagogue. So they said that we should repair it because it had become very dangerous. One couldn't get in.

The Minister of Public Works was a guy from Thessaloniki whom I knew very well because he used to be a customer of the shop. The Community didn't have much money at the time. So two members from the committee, I and another guy, went to ask him for a loan so we could repair the synagogue. He looks at us and says, 'You must be kidding, the Ministry will repair it!' And so it happened. They did the whole repair without asking for one penny from the Community. He was an old resident of Thessaloniki, and knew the Community. Nevertheless it really impressed us. It was the first and maybe the last time the Community was subsidized by the state.
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Until the Colonels' Junta interfered, the Jewish Community's management was really in the hands of people who were taking advantage of it in a terrible way. All the people that were righteous didn't want to get involved because they would say, 'They are all thieves in there, trying to see who can get more in his pocket.' We were very busy, too. When you have to go to the shop in the morning and the evening you don't have time to get involved in other things such as communal affairs. We had good friends and great friends. I can say that most of them were Christian.
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