In the absence of some 99% of my mother’s and my father’s family, all murdered by the Nazis during World War II Holocaust, I was deprived of the normalcy of family life.
Perish means to suffer death, typically in a violent, sudden, or untimely way.
The book “These We Remember, Survivors’ Memoirs, Yizkor Book of Ivenets, Kamin, and Surroundings, A Holocaust Memorial Book” is in fact one more Memorial Book – Yizkor Book of the Holocaust.
This one is Survivors’ Memoirs of the Shtetl Ivenets, today located in Belarus, where my mother was born and lived till 1935.
In this book is my Mother, Rachel Katz’s testimonial. It pinches my heart and sheds my tears each time I page through it. The book is about life in the shtetl, Ivenets, the Ghetto and the Holocaust.
Having Cut Legs of Family Roots
My mother, Rachel, had one sister, Chaya, whom I dearly loved. I do not know how many brothers and sisters my mother’s parents, my grandparents had. I never met any family of my grandfather, Yosef Katz nor my grandmother, Rivka Gurevitz-Katz. They all lived in Ivenets and other places in Poland. The Nazi atrocities cut all of their lives short.
My father, Yisrael Gringer had two brothers and one sister. I also know that between my grandfather Leib-Arye Gringer and my grandmother Chaya Lipchitz-Gringer they had seventeen brothers and sisters. None of them survived the Holocaust, and I never met any of them. My father’s entire family, except for his sister, Riva, all perished in the Holocaust. Riva managed to escape the Nazis into far northern Russia, and one of my grandfather Leib’s brothers, Avraham, survived the Holocaust, but his wife and children did not.
I had the privilege to know only my dear aunt Riva and uncle Avraham.
So in fact I ended up born to a family whose family roots were badly severed.
I grew up without having grandparents. My minimal “extended” family reality was two aunts and two uncles. But the rest of the extended family was missed, other than being mentioned so very often by my parents.
I grew up in a Holocaust survivor home and the longing for those who perished in the Holocaust was felt in our daily life.
My mother and father are no longer alive but their presence is always with me. However, the presence of the entire family has been an ongoing enigma for me.
I needed to do an exploration of my family roots. I wanted to come closer to the roots of the family bedrock of my mother and my father. I visited my mother, Rachel’s birth place, Ivenets, today a small, remote town in Belarus, some 2 hours’ drive from Minsk, the capital city of Belarus. I visited the city of Vilna-Vilnius, formerly in Poland, today Lithuania’s capital, where my mother’s family moved in 1935.
I visited Warsaw, Poland, where my father grew up. However, while exploring my father’s family roots it led me to take a trip to Łódź, a city in central Poland, where the Gringer and the Gurevitz families had very deep roots.
It appears that much of Ivenets has remained as it was for decades before most – or all – the Jews who lived there were murdered by the Nazis.
These We Remember
In 2021 I wrote about my emotional trip to Ivenets.
The book “These We Remember” in a chapter by Racher-Katz-Gringer she wrote:
Page 169 – “My Town Ivenetz”
“In these passages it is my wish to bring up several links which have been a whole chain of events in the lives of the Jewish community and their customs. Hundreds of Jewish communities were scattered throughout Poland before World War II, some were near large cities, which influenced the customs of the small town. However, there were towns at a distance from the large cities and there life flowed on still water. The lifestyle of the Jews there was simple. It was a constant struggle for them to keep up material and national existence in hostile unfavorable Christian surroundings.
“One of these shtetls was Ivenets. Now that I remember Jewish life there, I understand that it was not different from other ‘shtetlach’ in Poland.
“Ivenets was located not far from the Russia border with Poland and that proximity influenced the Jewish people Yiddish spoken language pronunciation.
“I see my Shtetl through my eyes and my soul. The market with its line of shops; I see before my eyes the shopkeepers in front of their shops, standing and waiting for a customer to come, since shoppers were few during weekday, and with lack of what to do the merchants would go to the neighbors and the gossip would roll from mouth to mouth. Nonetheless, the pace of life was different on Wednesday – the day on which market day took place. On that day, the peasants from the entire area would gather in the market with their merchandise. And in the shops there were large crowds, commotion and competition and no end to sales.
“An additional image is painted before my eyes; Shabbos (Shabbat) is taking over our town. A holy awe hovers over all; early morning Jews are flowing to Beis HaKnesset (Synagogue); Jews’ entire week’s faces changed. Peace and harmony spread on their faces and the Divine Shabbos presence hovered above them.
“In the evening the Jews go out to the streets to accompany the Shabbos Queen; I see the rabbi, ad his chaperones strolling; with peaceful awe, his path was cleared. And the weal wealthiest men were walking with importance on the streets of the town, telling or discussing daily events.
“Typical were the relations among the large and extended families, such as my father, Joseph Katz’s family. As I grew up I began to understand an extended family’s relationships. Great was my joy that here and wherever I will turn I will meet a family member.”
Page 333 – “We were left remnant”
“In 1935 my parents moved to Vilna. However, the link to Ivenets remained: we still had our father’s sister and her family there and who have moved to live in our house. We also traveled there at every opportunity and people from town would come to visit us in Vilna.
“A few years later we got into the large city rut as the skies of the world grew increasingly darker. The Nazis conquered country after country and the media was filled with horror stories, but no one believed the rumors because they could not be believed.
“The year is 1939. The war broke out, Vilna was bombarded and the Russians conquered it. The city was full of refugees from Western Poland. We were lucky.
“The Russians left the city shortly afterward and handed it over to the Lithuanian administration. Life returned to normal. However, the calm did not last. In 1941, after the Germans conquered Poland and most of Europe, they also invaded Russia and carried out destruction and devastation.
“The Jews of Vilna were on the edge of extermination. We were imprisoned in the Ghetto, and the extermination began. I recall that event before we were Ghettoized, one of the land owners near Ivenetz contacted my father and proposed to him that we move to his property and hide out there. This man was prepared to accept the entire risk and to assist us. But my father hesitated and we remained in Vilna.
“We lived in the Ghetto for two years; two years of fear, despair, and hunger. However, the liquidation of the Ghetto also arrived. Some of the Jews were transported to labor camp; others to the Nazi extermination camps. They separated my sister Chaya and me from our parents, without us ever knowing whether we would see each other again. When we were separating, our thoughts turned to our family still in Ivenetz.
“We were in a concentration camp. Oppressive work, hunger, and torment were our lot. We saw the extermination of the European Jewry with our own eyes.
“We were lucky to stay alive. We returned to Poland as orphans, with no home and wounded souls and body, with a spark of hope that nonetheless someone from our family may still be alive. These were vain hopes. We had to start from scratch to rebuild independent lives with the knowledge that everything was destroyed. No parents, no family, no friends.
“We were told dreadful stories about the heroism of Uncle Leib Doarrer. Some consolation that was. However, it was difficult to get used to the idea that no one remained alive from a large and extended family, such as ours.
“The ground burned under our feet. We could not remain in Poland, which had helped the Nazis to exterminate the Jews. Every stone cried out: Escape! Escape! But we felt Poland’s hatred and we headed toward the Land of Israel, the only place where we could rebuild our lives.”
Lost Contact With The Past
My mother passed away. This is the mother I had, an orphan with a wounded soul and body. Her memories longing for Ivenetz of all its streets and alleys, for its gardens that bloomed in the summer and its snow in the winter. She could never get it out of her mind.
In Ivenetz, where they toiled hard and made a living in poverty and hardship from Shabbat to Shabbat, they had great wealth in spirit and education, in their love for the Land of Israel.
The family roots exploration I conducted in Ivenets was rather gloomy. There is no Jew to be found there. The Jewish community my mother so vividly described is no more.
As a post-Holocaust human product, the Holocaust that took place on my mother’s generation’s watch is vivid with me even though I have not experienced it. I am very cognitive of the dreadful event.
The life my mother experienced in Ivenets is almost surreal. It is blaring away fast as the horrors the Jews of Europe faced in the late 1930s-to-1940s are fading fast with the expiry of that generation.
Family roots run deep, but sometimes they end prematurely.
The resounding slogan ‘NEVER AGAIN’ is the hope that life in a shtetl like Ivenets will never fade away fait accompli.