Children of Dolhinov: Our Ancestors and Ourselves » Chapter 1-The Silence of a Noisy Past
THE SILENCE OF A NOISY PAST
”Do not despise the lore that has come down from distant years; for oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.
The very first building on the west side of Connecticut Avenue north of Chevy Chase Circle, the serene, grassy border between Washington DC and Maryland, once housed Mrs. Libby’s school. An unusual low white stucco structure, today it is a post office, but a half-century ago it was where I attended kindergarten and first grade. There I learned to read and write. We rode stick horses around the small yard during recess and when Queen Elizabeth came
to America we all wrote her letters.
That’s literally everything I remember except for one other thing, a project assigned to my first-grade class in 1957. Everyone was asked where his family came from and when they’d arrived in America. Even before the contemporary mania about diversity and multiculturalism took hold that was a pretty standard exercise in American schools. We were to ask our parents, then make small paper cutouts of that country’s shape with the date when they came to the United States. Then, they were all pinned into a world map hanging on the classroom wall.
My family lived in Northwest Washington, DC. Across the street was the home of Senator Lyndon Johnson, and on January 20, 1961, I watched him head off to his inauguration as vice-president. Around the corner was the modest house of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover who, in turn, was across the street from the Peruvian Embassy. That was a long way from being a recent immigrant to America.
I asked my mother in the den of the house—strange to remember that scene so vividly among so much forgotten–and she said “Poland, 1909,” just those two words, no more extended story or invitation to find out more. So somehow, I made a remarkably accurate cut-out from yellow construction paper and turned it in. My curiosity ended there.
And yet, inexplicably, holding that small piece of colored paper in the palm of my hand somehow remained one of my strongest memories when virtually every other such assignment during a dozen years of schooling evaporated. Remarkably, my mother got the date right, though in fact none of my direct ancestors had actually ever lived in an independent Poland and that was not the country they had left behind. Moreover, none of her ancestors had lived in that country or arrived to America in 1909 but had come from Austria-Hungary two decades earlier. Still, what she told me was still basically accurate.
As I write these words, it is almost to the day 100 years after Chaya Grosbein and Yaakov Yeramayahu (Jacob Jeremiah) Rubin stepped off boats in Philadelphia, and precisely 50 years since I did that homework assignment. But for 95 percent of my existence, everything I could have told you about my life long before I was born—to coin a phrase–was contained in those two words, “Poland 1909.”
If I had not embarked on this journey that statement would be still true today. I knew not a word, not one word more—not even the actual names of my grandparents–and every word that follows here is what I have learned through painstaking research and extensive travels. All the more remarkable was that it was possible to discover such things so many long years afterward. But the stories wait patiently for us to find them. They have all the time in the world, even if we don’t.
The second seed that would lead to my walking amidst the orchards of a town I’d never heard of before, was planted by my step-grandfather, equally ironic since he was in no way related to me in genealogical terms and had nothing to do with that place either. He carried out the most brilliant scheme to preserve himself in memory I’ve ever heard, though I wonder how consciously he did so. In honor of that gambit, I here record his name, Hyman Eckhaus. He married my grandmother some years after my grandfather had died in 1933.
And just as the ancestral school project is the only such young academic endeavor I recall, this is the sole thing I remember him ever having said to me. One day when I was visiting—which my mother encouraged by small payment rather than a lecture about the importance of family, something all too typically and destructively modern—he was looking at a Yiddish newspaper. I asked him what he was reading.
Hymie fanned the newspaper forward into his lap and said in his moderate accent, “It’s a story.” He paused, like a good storyteller waiting for his prompt.
“What is it about?”
“A man dies and comes back as a ghost to find his wife and family and everyone he knew fhad forgotten about him. It is as if he’d never existed.”
Even as a nine-year-old, that story struck me hard as the saddest thing I’d ever heard. To see first-hand that all those you’d cared for had no regard for you, that your life weighted naught, to have the message shoved in your face: You are a nothing. You do not and never have mattered. Your existence has been erased. What could be more possibly painful than that?
Somehow the fearfulness of such a fate struck me with full force. And if the suffering was on one side, the shame was on the other, of those who were such ingrates, so brutally blind and selfish as to forget. How could I ever behave like that?
Yet for decades, while sporadically feeling guilty about it, that is precisely what I did. And with some little remove, this is the overwhelming, taken-for-granted normal behavior of the modern society in which I grew up and in which we all live. It glories at cutting itself off. Still further went the contemporary, post-modern version which ridicules continuity, lambasts tradition; reclassifies our ancestors as fools at best, criminals at worst.
It is, in a more metaphysical way, like the witty exchange in the film “Casablanca”:
Yvonne: “Where were you last night?”
Rick: “That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.”
Yvonne: “Will I see you tonight?”
Rick: “I never make plans that far ahead.”
But I didn’t forget the story Hymie had told me, the second experience that would set me on my course.
And the third was what had happened to me in Paris.
When I attended one-day-a-week religious school at Washington’s premiere Reform synagogue, we were told that Jewish history began with the discovery of the New World. Hebrew was taught without any reference to the existence of the state of Israel. The textbooks featured a group of children taking a journey to the center of the earth. It was an apt analogy for driving memory and identity underground but without ever getting to the core of things.
Such attitudes were common to most Jews and many others. And, of course, there are always individual circumstances. In my family’s case, the fact that one of my grandfathers had been a ne’er-do-well, possibly a drunk and minor con-man, provoked shame and hence concealment to a near-total extent. I can’t remember a single word ever being volunteered about family history, not a single anecdote. There was a vast vacuum.
When my mother died in an auto accident and I had to clear her house and examine every object accumulated, there was hardly a single letter which predated my birth and perhaps a mere half-dozen photographs—none of which I’d ever glimpsed before–from either side of my family’s background before my parent’s marriage.
The same silence applied on the most obvious absence, the almost total lack of relatives. Except for a sister and her children on my father’s side and a sister of my grandmother and her descendents on my mother’s side, I had not a single relative in the world. Told that we had no relatives who died in the Holocaust, I could only attribute this to low birth rates rather than mass murders in Europe.
This misleading information was due partly to ignorance and partly to what can only kindly be called amnesia. Since then, however, I have identified two dozen closer relatives and 150 more distant ones who’d suffered that fatal fate, along with another dozen reasonably proximate kin who’d immigrated to America beforehand and another half-dozen who survived and went to Israel.
Before this long investigation, however, so felt was this lack of family, that on one birthday my wife assembled a host of old photographs purchased in the Tel Aviv flea market into two framed faux-family montages. I was very touched with that gift which continues to hang in a prominent place. None of those shown in the pictures were actual relatives but they do look much as those people must have appeared.
This situation, though like so much in life taken for granted, was still most peculiar. It was an absurd contradiction yet one that many people, especially intellectuals, live with. In my case, it meant having a PhD and teaching history, researching the lives of others in archives, having read thousands of books on history, and yet not having the slightest inkling of my own history or how it fit into that broader narrative.
How much more dramatic, though, could the story have possibly been, albeit a rather slow-moving by contemporary standards. In 70, the Temple destroyed, the Jewish rebellion crushed, the Romans enslaved thousands and deported them to Italy or southern France in order to extinguish the Jewish people forever. Yet they did not give up their religion or civilization. The Empire fell and the lights of civilization went out. Over almost one thousand years, their descendants moved ever northward and eastward, through the French-speaking lands into the German-speaking lands.
And after almost another five hundred years of prosperity alternating with persecution, they went on again, northward and eastward into the Polish and Lithuanian-speaking lands. There they sojourned another five hundred years, often of grinding poverty and sporadically of serious oppression. Then, again they were on the move but faster and farther than ever. Some to lands unknown for most of that time, North America and even to Australia and South Africa; more still back to the Land of Israel, full circle two millennia after they were supposed to cease existing, back to almost the precise spot from which they had set out.
However long I’d waited to learn my own prehistory, I’d promised myself to do so some day. At last, almost the age of my grandparents when I knew them and buoyed by the amazing resources provided by the Internet, I set off on the journey. To decide to write any particular book is not a choice lightly made. It will determine how one is going to spend several years of one’s life, places to travel, the people one will meet.
If the journey is to succeed, one requires a guide, and I was lucky enough to find the proper one. Before his retirement, Leon Rubin was a physics teacher in Givatayim, literally “Two Hills,” Israel, a suburb just east of Tel Aviv, a place well-off but certainly not rich. If Tel Aviv is Israel’s New York, Givatayim is northern New Jersey. A physics teacher is a man of precision. He knows how things work; no mystery, no nonsense; no mystique, just time and space, objects in motion, the history of the universe made as clear and plain as state-of-the-art science can do.
Leon’s life changed during a lecture given at his school on Holocaust Memorial Day, April 2000. He has a free hour; no classes to teach; all papers corrected. So why not, Leon thought as he passed the auditorium, go hear the speaker. Inside, it was completely quiet,
The kids filling the room were attentive, not exactly the norm for Israeli high school students. The man on the small stage, slender, white-haired, vigorous in his 70s, is named Koppel Kolpanitzky, a retired army major.
Leon settled into a chair. Kolpanitzky, his voice breaking with emotion, recounted that he was sole survivor of the once-800-member Jewish community in Lahva, Poland. Escaping to Israel, he had fought in the War of Independence and stayed on in the army until retirement. He had never returned to Poland, which was for him only a land of ghosts and bitterness. Even if he’d wanted to do so, Israeli officers were discouraged from travelling to the Soviet bloc, hostile states that were the main diplomatic and military backers of Arab armies trying their inadequate best, with Moscow’s help, to wipe Israel off the map.
Then, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. Kolpanitzky, now in his 60s, decided that he must return. That it was his duty, because there was no one else to remember the dead; to take care of the cemetery; and mark the place where his family, neighbors, and playmates, everyone he’d known and seen every day of his life growing up, had been murdered.
There’s a cherished piece of wisdom in Judaism, from that remarkable philosophical-behavioral collection of sayings called Pirkey Avot. Rabbi Hillel, most respected of sages, said, “Uvimekom she’ein anashim hishtadel liheyot ish,” which is usually translated as meaning: If no one else is going to stand up, take leadership, and do what’s right, you must do it.
Here is the situation of this Kolpanitzky, that of the man on whom the choice of uvimekom she’ein anaashim is laid because there literally is no one else. Lahva was a place for whom there was no one left. No one else on the world, of a half-dozen billion people, could take up the task he faced. And so he accepted that yoke. Returning to Lahva on visits, he, tended and repaired the cemetery, did everything he could to keep the memory alive, lectured, and wrote a book about his experiences.
Leon was stunned because Kolpanitzky’s experience related so much to his own life. “I thought that if he could do it for a community of 800 Jews in Lahva, I can and must do it for the massacred 3000 Jews of Dolhinov.” He never saw or spoke with Kolpanitzky again. But he did see the faces in his mind of those whom fate had assigned responsibility to him for respect and remembrance.
He was equally aware of having been the most fortunate of his people. At age six, he’d marched with his family for weeks on end through Nazi-occupied territory, escorted by armed Soviet partisans, to safety in the eastern USSR. His parents, two brothers, and sister—the whole immediate family—survived the Holocaust, though his mother had died in Siberia during the war.
After the war, they were all, except for one brother who had already made his way to Israel, stuck in the Soviet Union, prisoners of the Communist regime there though as Polish citizens they should have been able to leave. They even returned to Dolhinov, now part of the USSR, where he grew up among the last Jews there. From where he lived, from where he attended school, it was only ten minutes’ walk to the cemetery where his ancestors, including his grandparents, were buried, to the killing field where his playmates had been massacred. The thought of going to those places never occurred to him.
Was it too painful? Yes, that was part of it. But it was more as if everything that happened before was behind a closed door, ancient history, another planet. In the USSR, history was only what the government said; just as in American society the word history for so many students is a subject they consider irrelevant, boring, and of no connection to themselves.
In Dolhinov, Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, and in the USSR generally, no one ever spoke of those things airbrushed from memory. While schools, newspapers, and the speeches of leaders talked incessantly of the Great Patriotic War, they never mentioned the Holocaust, the specific suffering or any element in the history of the Jews, or the USSR’s own role—both positive and negative–in the tragedy.
For me, all those events had never happened; for him, they’d happened and been taken away, brainwashed out of his memory.
Leon became the leader of the Young Communist unit in his class at school. But within the family, the desire to get out of the Soviet Union, which had basically kidnapped them—like all the other Dolhinov Jews stuck there–despite their being Polish citizens, never dimmed. In 1952, the antisemitic upsurge triggered by the Soviet leadership threatened to escalate into mass deportations. And when well-dressed KGB officers began to arrive in Dolhinov to survey the handful of remaining Jews there, it was too reminiscent of how SS officers had done the same thing just before massacres had been carried out precisely ten years earlier.
Stalin’s death may alone have prevented a new officially sponsored pogrom. Leon graduated from university in 1958, at about the time when a Soviet-Poland deal finally allowed the ethnic Poles and Jews with Polish citizenship to get out. Leon finally arrived in Israel in January 1960, first worked at Israel Aircraft Industries, then in 1988 taught physics, until 2001 when he retired.
But retirement is only a relative term for someone who is a white-haired “bulldozer,” a Hebrew slang word for someone who lets nothing stand in the way of achieving his goal. His deeply lined forehead has five furrows across it, and his large ears are a common Dolhinov Rubin trait. As a teacher, he speaks authoritatively, forcefully, and fluently, in Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish, English, along with some Polish, too. An incredible linguistic ability, out of necessity in living in cultural borderlands and ultimately in many lands, is one of the things we’ve usually lost from our ancestors.
What particularly startled me, when we began speaking consciously as relatives with a common interest in my ancestral and his actual home, is that we’d met before. He had caught my eye as being in the audience of several lectures I’d given on the Middle East over the years. Why had I remembered him among so many people? Perhaps there was some subconscious recognition of certain traits as being from the same genetic make-up?
That inspires one to think, how many people we pass by walking down the street or engage in brief conversation, or encounter on chores or business, without realizing that they are relatives or friends or neighbors of a hundred or thousand years ago? There is nothing mystical in that reflection, on the contrary, that’s what makes it remarkable: because such things actually did happen.
Which makes this an appropriate place to recount one of many remarkable encounters and experiences along the journey of research, a path that can be as colorful as any safari, as exciting as a boat trip down a river’s rapids, and as challenging as scaling Mount Everest.
One day, my Russian-language researcher, Katya Minakova, called me from Jerusalem. She had been listening to the radio routinely on a call-in show when a woman telephoned. Her name, she said, was Galina Rubin. For 20 years after emigrating from the USSR, the caller explained, she had been looking for family in Israel but had never found any. And where was her family from, asked the program’s host? Oh, she continued, a place no one had ever heard of, Dolhinov.
As fast as possible, I arranged a meeting. She, a retired math teacher, and her husband, a surgeon, were living in a high-rise in a Tel Aviv suburb. In her 60s, Galina was exceptionally kind and very excited to be making this connection. We talked, her in Russian-accented and me in English-accented Hebrew. She pulled out old family photos, a 1911 identity card from Dolhinov signed by the Czarist police chief there, and we drew charts on paper using my detailed databank of all the Rubins in Dolhinov, accurate at least from 1765 to 1857, after which Russian bureaucracy was less effective.
What we were able to establish, with a high degree of certainty, was this: that 150 years earlier, my orphaned great-great grandfather and his sister were taken in by her ancestor—his uncle–and raised. That was a debt of gratitude that my double-great grandfather no doubt felt all his life, and now it was given to me to reconstruct it and to say thank you once again.
At the end, I pointed out to her that Gabriel was the most important first name in our family’s history. Remarkably, not knowing that at the time, I had named my daughter, Gabriella. She had never known that either, Galina said, but her parents—perhaps equally unaware—had wanted to name her Gabriella, too. That name, however, was not on the Soviet-approved list, so they had to settle for Galina.
Every day I learned new things. My net of acquaintances widened from people born there and their children; to the biographies of rabbis, Polish refugees, ancient Lithuanian and Swedish chronicles; the passenger lists of ships leaving Hamburg and docking in America. History unfolded, details I never thought would be possible to recover.
If you work hard enough, apparent coincidences will happen. I’m sitting in the back of a car driving through Moscow on my first visit to that city. Next to me sits a colleague at the university, Tsvi Magen, former Israeli ambassador to Russia and Ukraine, now a researcher at my university. Born himself in the USSR of Polish Jewish refugee parents, he explains Russian politics to me and the wonders of Moscow.
At some point, when the conversation lags, I recount my genealogical research to him and ask about his family. On his mother’s side, they, too, come from eastern Poland. “My grandmother even had a brother who went to America, to Washington, but we have no idea what happened to him.”
“What’s his name?”
Amazed, I replied, “Oh, I know him! I have news for you. Your grandmother’s brother married my grandmother’s sister, and our families of that generation remained close friends all their lives.”
Once a year, the children of Dolginov and their descendants gather to remember. It is the sixty-sixth anniversary of the 1942 massacre by the Germans and their helpers. There were 3000 Jews living in Dolginov when World War Two began in September 1939, 75 percent of the population. In March 1942 there were still about that number; though many had fled, refugees had arrived from further west. Two months later, there were none left alive in the town.
Then how is it that the long, low-ceilinged hall in Tel Aviv’s Vilna House is full to capacity, with about 150 people, survivors and descendants of those who had perished or fled? Why had this particular shtetl been kept alive with a special kind of communal spirit? “There are more people here,” said Arie Rubin, one of them, “then at the Vilna memorial meetings,” even though Vilna had many times more Jewish residents.
Virtually every single survivor made his way to Israel though for some that took more than 15 years. It has been rightly said that for a long time after its founding, Israelis did not want to talk about these events, partly for ideological factors (the focus on the new Jew and on the building up of the land; partly for psychological reasons (it was just too painful).
This era is long past. Or is it? I was guest at the home of my distant cousin Victor Rubin, hearing the story of his families’ half-horrifying, half-inspiring survival during World War Two. As German soldiers searched for the family, they hid in a hole they’d dug. An uncle had sacrificed his life to seal the hideout from the outside with a pile of camouflaging potatoes. They’d listened as Germans hunted for them, urged on and guided by Polish neighbors. They watched through breathing holes as the Germans were showed the hiding place next door and threw in a hand grenade to kill everyone. After the massacre ended, the Rubins emerged to find that their neighbors’ six-year-old son, Haim Grosbein, also a cousin of mine, was still alive among the bodies. They took him in and saved him.
Listening to all this, I was seated at their simple table with Leon and Victor Rubin; Victor’s wife, who came from a near-by town, their daughter and son-in-law. The lunch includes noodles and potato pancakes, bread (Israeli traditional meals are heavy on starches, perhaps another inheritance from the old country), sauerkraut, and pickles.
When he came to story’s end, Victor’s daughter, in her late 30s, said casually to her father, “”Oh, I always knew you were close to Haim Grosbein and his family but I never knew why.” I was floored: she’d never hear the story before.
Some in the younger generation now want to know more. At the memorial meeting, it was there for all present to see. A Russian film was shown about Dolhinov, made by a Soviet Jewish filmmaker named Yaakov Kaller who had met the daughter at school in Moscow of one of the Soviet partisan officers who’d help save the remaining Dolhinov Jews. It was a shock to see Haim Grosbein, a rather jovial and very well-preserved man I’d met before, describing on the screen how he had survived three years in the forest as a wild child, living on snakes and live fish he caught by hand.
Watching all this, my elderly aunt, who had seen the bodies of her parents and older brother, able only to snatch three photographs from their house before fleeing, dissolved into tears to be comforted by my teenage daughter. In Dolginov, some of my relatives had been in Hashomer Hatzair, the left-wing youth group, and in Israel had worked at the Histadrut, the trade union federation. Others had been in Betar, the right-wing youth group, and Menahem Begin had attended their weddings. That wasn’t so important after all.
These people sitting in the hall were the people who make up Israel, along with the Sephardic Jews who have their own stories of dispossession and flight. Almost 90 percent of the Jews of continental Europe were murdered; well over 90 percent of the Jews of the Middle East were turned into refugees.
And these are the people daily demonized around the world as monsters, told by well-paid academics, intellectuals, and journalists, that Israel had no right to exist or was some kind of mistake.
The meeting ended with Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem. When we sang the words, “As long as the heart of a Jew beats and his eye is turned to the east,” I thought of these people who had marched—unarmed, impoverished, pursued, close to friendless—750 miles eastward. They had rebuilt their lives and brought up their families, not wasting time on bitterness or seeking revenge but acting constructively.
When we sang the lines, “Our ancient hope is not lost, the hope of two thousand years,” I thought of what these people had hoped as they trudged through the forest, with horrors in their thoughts and trying to believe there was some hope at the end of the journey.
Professor Yehuda Bauer, the great historian who practically founded the field of Holocaust studies, once told me about a conversation he had with one of Israel’s founding leaders, a man frequently in government cabinets during the country’s early years. He explained to Bauer that he could simply not believe in his heart that six million Jews had been murdered in Europe, that somehow they were still out there and some day ship after ship would appear off the coast carrying them home.
It is important to understand that Israel is not merely a product of the Shoah, a consolation prize handed to the Jews by a guilty world but rather the result of its people’s desires and labor. Whatever sympathy the Shoah mobilized for Israel was far exceeded by the damage that it did to that cause. For what marvels we could have achieved, as Bauer’s interlocutor continued, if we had the energy, strength, and either direct presence or support of those murdered millions?
Similarly, for the Dolginov Jews, stuck in the corner of the corner of a forgotten back alley of Europe, Zionism and the land of Israel was not something they dreamed up merely as a result of the Shoah. They thought of their lives as good before the war but knew where their future lay, and they had already sent about 50 of their children there. Others were to follow in order to, in the words of Israel’s national anthem, “Be a free people in our land.”
Standing there in the hall of Vilna House–amidst photos of vanished places in Europe; next to those who had survived, rebuilt, and fought with all their varied lifestyles, religious beliefs, and characters—never had the words of “Hatikvah” seemed more meaningful, nor living up to that heritage more essential.
But the history of Eastern Europe and of Dolhinov goes far beyond that of the Jews alone. If it were larger, Dolhinov’s story would be a tale of three cities, including the Poles and Byelorussians. The idea that Jews were “outsiders” in Dolhinov or purely a religious group would have been an absurdity. In this multinational, multicultural town: The Russians spoke Russian and were Russian Orthodox in religion. The Poles spoke Polish and were Catholic in religion. The Jews spoke Yiddish (literally “Jewish”) and were Jewish in religion. The Jews were every bit as much of a nationality as were the other two, and indeed if Israel did not exist in the nineteenth century as a country, neither did Poland.
Unlike in places further West, the Jews had not yet explicitly made their ultimate choice of national identity. If Jews had become Russian, they would have been hated by the Poles, and after 1918 to be a Communist would be to choose Russia, no matter what the blah-blah. Yet relations were complex, there were friendships and respect and business relationships and also dislikes in a balance necessary to preserve the town, unless power relationships altered or outside forces intervened. Each group was a community unto itself and each put its own people first.
Yet there was nonetheless a close connection among these neighbors, as I learned in meeting the descendants of ethnic Polish Dolhinov. Through a group of Polish refugees and deportees from eastern Poland, I met Alexandra Weldon, whose mother had been born in Dolhinov, deported by the Soviets, and watched two of her sisters die of illness in Siberian exile before making it long after the war to Buffalo, New York.
Alexandra was also researching her family history and there was much for her, too, to discover. When I was in Dolhinov, I met an elderly Polish woman and gave her name to Alexandra, who contacted her only to discover:
“She went to school with my mother and even remembered her nickname, as well as many other family details. She is living today in one of the houses my family was taken from by the Soviets in 1941. To think that after almost 70 years, in a town which was almost depopulated from the deportations, extermination of Jews, and Polish resettlements to the west, that someone could still [recall] my grandfather. My mother was laughing today when she told me how peasant women would insist on paying my grandfather with eggs or chickens when he helped them with paperwork.”
By contacting the priest in a nearby village, Bella Rubin, secretary of the Belarus Jewish community, found a woman in her 80s named Anastasia Sinitska. Bella asked Alexandra, “Do these names seem familiar to your mom?”
Familiar? Absolutely, as Anastasia Sinitska’s husband was a cousin whom the family had not heard from for almost seven decades. Long-lost doesn’t mean forever lost.
But that was only the beginning of our crossed history. Alexandra’s uncle, Henry, a leader of the Polish underground in Dolhinov, had been arrested and thrown into jail by the Soviet secret police. One of his cellmates was also from Dolhinov, a Jew and a pharmacist. Unfortunately, the man had died during the forced march where Soviet agents had shot hundreds of Poles. On visiting one of my cousins on my mother’s side, Asia, I suddenly realized from her description that the pharmacist was her father, and he actually had escaped, gone back to Dolhinov and helped rescue my grandfather’s sister and her two little boys, at least temporarily.
The pieces fit together, far better than I’d ever dreamed possible. And this was despite the fact that I was very tough on myself, re-examining each piece of information to make sure that it was true, not just a good story.
When I had to condense everything I have written here into a single sentence to explain it to the modern-day children of Dolhinov, standing in the town’s Jewish graveyard, it came out like this: If we don’t respect those who came before how can we expect anyone to respect us?