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Reporter visits family village site of Nazi attack

My grandmother's small village is in northwestern Ukraine near the present-day border with Poland and Belarus.

When my grandmother was born in 1911, the village was a thriving Jewish community with three synagogues.

This is the region where the story for "Fiddler on a Roof" is from. I've always been fascinated with traveling to this village, which my grandmother never understood because of the painful memories associated with the location.

Life was hard for the Jews of the village — they faced job and property restricted. Even before the Nazis, Jews were routinely rounded up and killed in pogroms.

My grandmother left the village as an orphan. My grandmother and her one surviving brother arrived in Ellis Island in 1922. My grandmother passed away last year at the age of 96.

This summer I decided to visit the village to get a better understanding of her history, which wasn't easy.

There were few records before WWII in the city hall and at the site of one of the old synagogues, there is now a convenience store.

After talking to some local residents, I was told I needed to meet this man, one of the few in the town with Jewish roots.

He was born shortly after WWII and he invited me into his house for coffee. He told me no one in the town remembers what Jewish life in the village was like before WWII. He took me to meet a 77-year-old woman, who was 11 when the Nazis came.

She told us terrible stories about what happened here, how the Nazis rounded up 3,000 Jews from the surrounding areas into the middle of town and the non-Jewish villagers did little to help the Jews, and some even took an active role in making sure they wouldn't escape.

The Nazis marched the Jews into the forest and I found that spot of the mass grave. The Nazis forced the Jews to strip down naked and lie in the grave, and they shot them.

I finally understood why my grandmother never wanted to return to her childhood home. I'm glad I came here, but I wouldn't want to go back.


From PRI's The World ©2015 Public Radio International

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