Return to ATM Online Collections  > AHEYM: The Archive of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memories  > Khmel’nyts’kyy

 (09-010.21-F) -  Shelf Number: MDV 474

No streaming derivative is available.

Date: May 26, 2008

Participants: Vaisblai, Semyon Aronovich. Interviewed by Dov-Ber Kerler, Moisei Lemster.

Location recorded: Khmel'nyts'kyy, Khmel’nyts’ka Oblast', Ukraine

Language: Yiddish, Russian

Culture Group: Jews, Yiddish-speakers, Ukrainians

 Recording Content:   

This recording consists of a formal interview with Semyon (Yisrul) Aronovich Vaisblai (b. 1930 in Chemerivtsi). (Part 1 of 2. See MDV 475)

Cities and towns mentioned on this tape: Chemerivtsi, Khmel'nyts'kyy (Proskurov), Kam”yanets’-Podil’s’kyy, Dunaivtsi, Kupyn, Smotrich, Poltava, Dubinka, Chernivtsi, Zakupne.

00:00:00 This tape consists of a formal interview with Semyon (Yisrul) Aronovich Vaisblai (b. 1930 in Chemerivtsi). The interview begins with Vaisblai sharing his basic biographical information and speaking briefly about his experiences during the war. The researchers also briefly explain the mission and methodology behind the AHEYM Project.
00:02:36 Vaisblai states that there was a synagogue in his family’s home when he was growing up before the war and that he has worked as “gobe” (administrator) in Khmel'nyts'kyy’s contemporary synagogue for many years. His father Avrum (known more commonly as “Umenyu”) worked as a cap-maker who was paid in potatoes for his work. His mother Nunye worked as a housewife until her death in 1937. Vaisblai’s paternal grandparents, Pesye-Rokhl and Biumen had thirteen children.
00:09:03 Vaisblai then describes his hometown of Chemerivtsi in the years before the war. According to Vaisblai, there was a synagogue in his family’s house because his father was crippled by an injury he received in a Petliura-led pogrom. Vaisblai describes the poverty and hardships of his youth, stating that although his father remarried a rich woman who bought food for shabes (the Sabbath), he and his two siblings often went hungry.
00:12:28 Vaisblai discusses the education he received in his childhood, emphasizing the fact that when the other children played, he stole their food and ate their scraps as he was so poor and hungry. Vaisblai tells a more detailed story about how he used to steal food.
00:14:04 There was a Jewish kolkhoz (called “Karl Marx Kolkhoz”) in Chemerivtsi where Vaisblai worked in the fields to get extra food. Non-Jews also worked in the fields in the place of those Jews who did not want to work or were physically unable to do so.
00:15:25 Vaisblai discusses the different types of people in his town and the class differences between them. He also comments on the education he received before the war. A religious teacher named Dudye would come to his home to teach him “alef-beys” (the Hebrew alphabet) and other traditional subjects, but the teacher would often fall asleep during the lessons and Vaisblai would run off to go find food. Vaisblai learned formally in Soviet Yiddish school as well.
00:16:39 When Germans entered Chemerivtsi, Vaisblai reports that the town’s rabbi said the Jews had to “go to the slaughter” because they had sinned. Vaisblai states that when the Germans came to his town, they first took all the Jews’ money and then forced the Jews, including his family, into a ghetto in Kam”yanets’-Podil’s’kyy. Vaisblai describes the hardships and the hunger in this ghetto. He states that there were in fact two ghettos set up: an “Old Ghetto” for “undesirables” such as the elderly and the infirm, and a “New Ghetto” for those who were healthy and able-bodied. Vaisblai then begins the complicated narrative of his wartime experiences. Initially, Vaisblai would escape the ghetto during the day in search of food, but would spend the night there. Vaisblai details how he eventually left the ghetto and fled from town to town, encountering and receiving help from Jews and non-Jews across the region.
00:27:30 Vaisblai eventually reached the town of Kupyn, but, as he relates in great detail, kept on moving from village to village, helped mostly by non-Jews and surviving through a series of narrow escapes.
00:36:58 Vaisblai eventually returned to Chemerivtsi, where he personally served a German soldier. He was then placed in a ghetto in the town of Smotrich, staying there briefly until he was forcibly returned to the ghetto in Kam”yanets’-Podil’s’kyy. Vaisblai was able to escape the ghetto again, returning to some of the towns he had visited previously. He describes how various people helped him survive and the harrowing conditions and circumstances under which he lived. Continually fleeing, Vaisblai eventually reached a kolkhoz in the village of Dubinka. There he was caught as a thief, but a couple of non-Jews who knew him from Chemerivtsi falsely testified that he was their nephew so that he would able to stay there. Vaisblai remained in the kolkhoz until 1945.
00:43:53 After the war, Vaisblai returned to Chemerivtsi. With the exception of two families, none of the kolkhoz residents knew Vaisblai was in reality a Jew. Once he returned to his hometown, Vaisblai’s former neighbors allowed him to live in his grandmother’s old house. Vaisblai then describes his life in the postwar period, working various jobs in different towns.
00:49:50 Vaisblai returns to the subject of prewar Chemerivtsi, describing the town's butchers, synagogues, rabbis and teachers, as well as its Yiddish School. Vaisblai also briefly describes his childhood home life and how his family spoke Yiddish at home.
00:52:22 Vaisblai states that he knows many songs, some of which he learned before the war from his father and others which he learned after the war from demobilized Jewish soldiers.
00:53:30 Vaisblai states that it was Rabbi Dudye who said that the Jews of Chemerivtsi “must go to the slaughter” (“me darf geyn af der shkhite”) for their sins.
00:56:08 Vaisblai briefly describes holiday celebrations from before the war.
00:58:44 He sings “Fraytik af der nakht” (Friday Evening) and “Oy iz dus a Rebenyu” (Oh is that a Rabbi) and “Rebe Reb Shneyer” (Rebbe Reb Shneyer).
01:01:45 End of Recording.