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elvira kohn

There were a lot of Jews in Zagreb who were on Rab with me, and with them I had contacts. Most of the people I socialized with were my work colleagues, or neighbors, who weren't Jewish. What deeply affected me was that Tudjman [14] and his government didn't financially valorize participants of the National Liberation Army.

The government reduced material incomes that we received during the communist regime. The partisans were all of a sudden not recognized any more. And I claim that, if it hadn't been for the partisans, there wouldn't be a Croatia today. And I'm not afraid to say that.
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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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My mother came to Zagreb, along with the hospital and the pharmaceuticals, three weeks after me. In the meantime, I stayed with a friend from Dubrovnik, a non-Jewess, in a house on Buliceva Street. When my mother came, I found a bigger apartment for the two of us, and we moved to Stanciceva Street. After the war, the defense and army headquarters of the JNA [10] was formed, and I was appointed by the supreme headquarters of Croatia to work in the newly established defense and army headquarters.

At first, I had to organize the photo laboratory, collect the necessary equipment, cameras, and so on in order for the photo department to function. I also gathered the people who worked with me, as I soon became head of the photo department. I supervised the work of others in my department but I also took photos myself. My love for photography and for capturing important and interesting moments was still very strong.

I usually attended party meetings and took photographs; there were various events that took place, like meetings or celebrations of 8th March, 1st May, 25th May [11] and other party celebrations or commemorations. I had to travel a lot and I was really quite busy, but I enjoyed doing my work. I was very lucky to having found a profession that I loved.

In my work, I often met JNA officials and important people; once I met Josip Broz Tito [12]. The photos that I took were mostly published in local newspapers, such as Vjesnik and Naprijed. Often, I took photos for my own pleasure: shots of nature, the people that I loved, my friends.

I continued taking photos of small children, usually my friends' or just children that I saw on the streets. Even after I retired in 1964, I continued taking photographs privately and enjoying photography as an art form. I donated my photographs and negatives to the Croatian History Museum, and they are still kept there today.

I never married. It is my love for photography that should be blamed for this. I was always away; I spent three days in Zagreb, then five days on a trip working, then I was in Zagreb again, then working away again. It was hard to find someone who would have tolerated this! One suitor once told me, 'You love your camera more than you love me!' True, I loved my work, and I dedicated myself and my whole heart to it.
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baby pisetskaya

My grandmother's brother was a communist. He was the chairman of Ternovka village council and was killed by bandits in his own office in 1919.
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My father's older brother Yakov was born in Odessa in 1899. In 1917, after the October Revolution [see Russian Revolution of 1917] [3]. Yakov was attracted by communist ideas. He became a communist.
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Jankiel Kulawiec

I joined the party [PZPR] in 1951, when I was working at Dobrobyt. It was Jews who persuaded me. They said that if I wanted to achieve anything, I had to join. But before that I'd steered clear of the PPR and the PZPR. And I belonged to the Bund, and I'd gone there as a member of Zukunft. They had their headquarters here in Legnica on Piastowska Street, and I used to go there to meetings. That was a bit more of a democratic party, you see, and Jewish through and through. But in the PZPR I wasn't such a keen activist, I didn't get particularly involved in their affairs - I had to so I did, no more.
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Rafael Genis

A Lithuanian, Vaytrikele, who was sitting at one desk with my sister Tsilya, was the inspector at the party committee. She asked me if I kept in touch with my relatives in the USA [14]. I said that I did and mentioned that I had recently got a letter from them. My case wasn't discussed for a long time, they turned me down and I made no further attempts.
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At that time all the leading positions required either Communist Party or Komsomol [13] membership. I couldn't join the Komsomol in the army as my relatives were living in the USA. When I became an engineer of the commodity base, one of the inspectors at the Ispolkom said that my title envisaged that I should be a member of the Communist Party. I applied for party membership.
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In 1947 I was on a business trip in Moscow and saw a sign on a building downtown - it was the representative office of the Lithuanian SSR in the USSR. I went in and was stopped by the guard. I started asking him to let me in for me to see an authorized representative. The guy was compassionate. He asked me to take my military coat off. I told my story to Bachunas, the authorized representative. He made a couple of telephone calls and gave me a document for my management in Lipetsk. When I arrived, I was dismissed right away.
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There was one truck in our unit. I drove it - I had recently learnt to drive. I drove three members of the party, the commanders. I remembered one of them: Vaikus. In general, I was lucky to be able to drive and was ordered to take the Communists. There was no gas and I could not fill the car up. We went to the district town Telsiai. I was worried about my relatives, but I had neither a chance nor time to go to Rietavas. People weren't permitted to go there any more. Rietavas was closer to the border and the Germans had already occupied my town, besides my passengers were getting nervous and made me hurry. We arrived in Telsiai. I saw a large truck by the building of the district administration, where the leaders of the district, party members were sitting. My passengers joined them. I didn't think long and also jumped in the truck and we headed off.
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At times I helped my master with anti-religious propaganda. I think he was an underground Communist or a Communists sympathizer. At times he gave me flyers to disseminate. There were times when we tied red fabric to stones and flung them at electric wires, there was a blackout and the fabric was torn into pieces. The next morning the whole town was strewn with small red flags. I did it unquestioningly just satisfying my master's request and fortunately I wasn't caught, otherwise I would have been arrested like many other underground Communists.
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My elder brother was a member of Betar [3] and enrolled me there. I didn't attend the meetings of Betar, where the methods of foundation of the Jewish state were discussed. Our Grandpa made brown shirts for me and my brother. I became a member of Maccabi [4], we often arranged all kinds of sports game and contests. We still celebrated Jewish holidays and Sabbath at home and we did it not to hurt our parents. On holidays I went to the synagogue with my father though I didn't believe in God at that time.
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Janina Duda

And how did it happen that I ended up in jail? Long story. When I was twelve, in Lublin, I was influenced by others to join this Zionist organization Hashomer Haleumi [17]. It was supposedly a religious organization, but I didn’t feel it. But the family of this Hebrew teacher, Gorzyczanski, they influenced me, especially their daughter Malka. So I dropped out of Hashomer Haleumi and I became involved with communist youth. Why? Mother made some food and took me with her to Ruska Street, to some old, sick people who lived there, sleeping in holes in the ground. This shocked me. So I thought: these dreams of our own state, kibbutzim, that’s a beautiful thing. But who will help these people from day to day? This system has to be changed.

This was a basic problem: should we look for a future for the [Jewish] nation in Palestine, even though there was no talk then of getting land there to form this state. Even as young people we knew this was necessary, but there were no possibilities, it was a utopia then. So I liked the fact that here we could all change our fate. And that was what attracted me, not some Marx. [Marx, Karl (1818-1883), German philosopher, economist and revolutionary. The system of beliefs he created was the basis of the ideology of socialist and communist parties.] All I knew about Marx was that he had a beard. Really, you do have to be a complete idiot to convince young, 17 or 18-year-olds that they’re Marxists. It’s just some idea of social justice. The fact that I went to school hungry, that I sat on the other side of the door, because my tuition wasn’t paid… All that influenced me. This is why I became involved with communist youth and then with socialist youth in Lublin, with TUR [Towarzystwo Uniwersytetu Robotniczego] [18]. And these last few years before the war, between 1935 and 1937, I was very active in TUR. When they told me to distribute leaflets, that’s what I did and… nothing more.

I met fantastic, young working class people in TUR, especially from 1 Maja Street. A group of students from KUL directed TUR at that time. There was Feliks Baranowski, later the ambassador of Poland in Germany, in the GDR, the minister of education, Jozef Kwiecinski, who was in Anders’ Army [19], sailed on a battleship and drowned when he was leaving Iran for England. There was Stanislaw Krzykala, after the war a professor of history at Maria Curie-Sklodowska University. Is it strange that there were students from a Catholic university in a leftist organization? Well, but there was only one university in Lublin – the Catholic University of Lublin.

There were different student groups there. There were student corporations influenced both by Sanacja [20] and ‘endecja’ [Endeks] [21] and socialist groups. TUR was a group of socialist students, mostly sons and daughters of railroad workers from Lublin. When we organized some events, for example ‘no more war,’ we were afraid that police agents would spy on us. So the mothers of these students made sure strangers wouldn’t come up to us.

Communist youth and TUR were very close in Lublin. They took advantage of the fact that TUR was legal. I remember the pavement-makers’ strike. The trade union of pavement-makers had a place, where they had a ping-pong table. Felek [short for Feliks] Baranowski and I played ping-pong there, but I used to go there with a pan of food for the pavement-makers. We brought food for those who were on strike. I also remember how, during 1st May demonstrations, students from the most radical corporation waited for us, for the TUR demonstration, with clubs, ready to beat us. So we brought clubs as well, to fight back. There were many Jews in TUR. There weren’t any problems. We were all Polish citizens. That’s how it was in TUR in Lublin.

And I was accused in the trial of TUR in Lublin. Accused of communism. They were playing a bigger game, the supervisor of the school district Mr. Lewicki and the Polish authorities, which were becoming pro-fascist after 1935. He was connected with the supporters of Pilsudski, with Sanacja and also had PPS [22] roots. So his daughter, Wanda Lewicka, was accused of communism. So what this was all about, speaking in plain terms, harassing this Lewicki and his family.

When TUR was dissolved, PPS protested – you have no right! So TUR was reopened, but the entire board was put in jail, including some of the young people who could be accused of communism. And this is how I ended up in the so-called ‘Trial of 40’ in Lublin [one of the numerous so-called show trials]. To make this trial more communist, they dragged in from Bereza Kartuska [presently in Belarus, 300 km east of Warsaw] where in 1934 the Polish government created an isolation camp for prisoners, primarily political, Franciszek Jozwiak, pseudonym Witold, who was the chief of staff of the AL [23] during the war and later the commander of militia.

I have to say that this entire indictment, at least to the extent that it concerned me, was not true. All the accusations were fictitious. They just took three boys, Okonowski, Durakiewicz and one more guy and they signed a declaration; they signed everything that the police gave them. This is how the indictment was drafted and there wasn’t a word of truth in it. And there were sentences. I finally got four years, just like others from TUR. [Mrs. Duda was in jail from 1937 until the day of the commencement of WWII, 1st September 1939.
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