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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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Mico Alvo

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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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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Rafael Genis

According to the law on restitution we were given back the former premises of the prewar Jewish community. I sold that house and used the money to help poor Jews. Actually, the community is based in my house. I am the bookkeeper. I distribute the sponsors' aid coming from the Joint [18]. We celebrate Sabbath and Jewish holidays. I fulfilled my task: I put the monuments to the perished Jews on the places of their execution. I mostly used my savings for that as well as the money from the sponsors, collected by the relatives of the perished.
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Even though I was almost blind, I worked for many years. I retired in the early 1990s. Though since 1945 I have been getting a pension for the disabled, it is miserable. All those years my wife and I had been going to the places where Jews were executed to commemorate them. I thought of how to mark those places and put the monuments there. Besides, I couldn't feel indifferent towards those Jews, who survived the war, and now are scraping through. I decided to found a Jewish community in Telsiai and went to Vilnius to see the chairman of the United Jewish community of Lithuania, Alperavichus. He supported me. The community was founded in 1993 with me as a chairman.
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