Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sonia Bajcz Diamond: Growing up in Horochov (1922-1935, part 1)

This is the first in a series that summarize an interview of my grandmother, Sonia Bajcz/Beitch Diamond (then Sara Bajcz), from about 20 years ago.  This talks about her growing up in Horochov, Volhynia, Ukraine (then Horochow, Wolyn, Poland), what the city was like, and her schooling.

I was born in the city Horochow (in Polish) or Gorochov (in Russian) in West Ukraine; in Yiddish it was Horochov.  Wolyn was the name of the state (Lara's note: it is now in Volhynia Oblast).  I lived on Pilsutski Street, I think number 120.  We led a normal life.  We lived between different nationalities-Ukrainian, German, Czechoslovakian.  In the street we spoke Polish; in the house we spoke Yiddish between ourselves.  I also learned to speak a bit of German and Czechoslovakian from friends in my class.  The city was not a big city like Warsaw or Krakow.  But we had a mayor and a governor, doctors, a hospital, some banks.  The city was very nice with wide paved streets and a variety of stores--food clothing, fabrics, pharmacies.  The gentiles would mostly live outside the city.  Near the park were mansions for the high officials (mayor and governor) so they would not live with the Jewish people.

Horochov had many organizations.  There were some Zionist organizations: The Chalutz, Beitar that Jabotinsky organized, Shomer HaTzair which was a small non-religious group.  Beitar was the biggest of the groups, and most of the wealthy people belonged to Beitar.  The Chalutz was a nice and friendly group with more modest people.  I liked it because they'd sing and talk and dance and talk about what was then called Palestine.  We couldn't become members because the school didn't let; parents also didn't understand and wanted us to concentrate on our studies.  Some of my friends' brothers and sisters were members, and we would sneak in with them.  Many of them would go on hachshara to Israel.  They would go to Warsaw and other big cities and work and gain the ability and confidence and would be told what was expected in Israel--hard work in fields, drying swamps, building roads.  They were willing to do this, and they would go from the big city to Israel.  They went to kibbutzim.

There was a Jewish dairy about 10 miles outside of town, and every morning he'd bring lots of products to town--milk, cheese, sour cream, etc.  Everyone would buy fresh vegetables from the Ukrainians and dairy products from this man.  They also had big barrels filled with water with live fish.  They'd catch the fish with a net and sell it to the people.  If a fish fell to the bottom, no one bought that fish, and it would be fed to the animals.  You'd buy a live chicken, bring it to the shochet, and you'd have fresh chicken.  Nothing was sprayed with chemicals.  They would paint the trunks of trees with special pain so animals wouldn't climb up the trees.

There were non-Jews who would bring their cows to the market.  We'd go with our own buckets and the peels from the potatoes, and while the cows were eating the peels, they'd milk the cows into our buckets.

As a child when I went to public school, when there were state holidays, we marched in parades, particularly on May 3.  We dressed in a certain uniform, and we had berets and the emblem of Poland with the eagle and the grade number you were in on your outfit--from fourth grade on.  We would march into the city's theater and stand on the stage and sing.  My class was mixed--Jewish kids, Polish, Ukrainian, and we had to speak their languages, too.

My house was one room.  My father, my mother, my bubby, me and my sister, and we all made place for everything.  I did schoolwork on my dining room table, beds in a certain corner.  We were happy--even when I saw other places with lots of rooms that were very fancy, we were satisfied, and we were able to see poorer people who had nothing.  We had a big brick oven with a door made from tin that you could put food for Shabbos inside to keep warm.  On the other side was an opening for coal where you could put food as well.  There was a special handle to direct the fumes outside of the house.  A girl would come start the fire on Shabbos morning, and we'd give her a piece of challah.  Then on Sunday we would give her 10 cents.
Malia Bajcz
My sister was 2 years younger than me.  She also attended public school.  I asked her to come with me to Tarbut, the Hebrew school where everything was in Hebrew and I was jealous that other kids went there and spoke Hebrew--even today I regret that I missed something that I would like.  My sister didn't want to go since I wasn't there, so she came to my school.  My sister's name was Malia (note: emphasis on the first syllable).  She was a very quiet girl.  Any time there was a children's sickness, with her it became very bad and she would suffer a lot, while I would get well quickly.  We had a nice relationship, as we were all the other had.  We had a little brother, but he died before he was a year old.  We couldn't even play with him because he had very soft bones, a sickness called the English Sickness (note: rickets).  At a year old, he couldn't sit up, he couldn't stand up, and then he died.  It was very sad, and my father really wanted a son.  The baby's name was Herschel, the youngest in the family; before him, my mother had a miscarriage.  The death of my brother was very shocking.  It happened in the middle of the night, and I heard my mother scream and cry.  We were still very young when he died--I think I was 6 years old and my sister was 4.  We felt the tragedy, but there was nothing we could do to help and ease my mother and father's pain.

So we tried to go on, go to school and learn--I loved school.  No one had to tell me to do homework.  Even when snow was up to my waist (and we had to walk from one end of the city to the other with bookbags on our back and bottles of ink in our hands) and icicles around our face, we went to school.  We had sports and all kinds of activities in our school.  In winter, we'd take our sleds to the park and go down the hill.  In summer while school was still open, we had a big open space in front of the school for sports, and we would play a game like basketball.  There was a big field divided in half, and half the girls were on each side at the beginning.  And you wanted to get your team to take over the field.  I was usually the last one on the field.  I was a strong healthy child, and I loved sports.  We did all kinds of calisthenics on the same field as well.  Academically, I was always looking for something more.  In 6th and 7th grade, we learned more than the United States did in high school--I learned physics, geometry, hygiene, and all of the capitols in elementary school.  When I later went to a Russian school, it was on an even higher level.  We had Polish teachers who were very harsh and mean.  Even if you deserved a high grade, you didn't get it no matter how hard you tried--you had to go above and beyond to get the right grade, because they didn't like the Jews.

On Shabbos there was school, but the Jewish kids didn't go.  I had a Ukrainian friend who would go to school, come to my room and then mark down what we had to study and write down notes from class, and on Sunday I'd pass it off to my Jewish friends so they'd have the homework, or else they would fail.  They didn't care if you didn't come, but you had to do the work. After the war, I was on a train and I saw this girl who had helped me dressed up really fancy, and I came up to her and said hello.  She looked at me and said, "You mean to say that Hitler didn't kill you?"  A good friend like this, who I'd go to her house and her parents would welcome me; they always felt bad that I couldn't eat there because their food wasn't kosher, and she often ate at my house.  To go from such a relationship and to later have such a hatred was unbelievable to me.

School days ended at 1:30 or 2:00, and then we'd go home and do homework.  Two days a week we'd have to go back from school from 6-8.  We'd do sewing, crocheting, knitting, and embroidery.  We had a special teacher for this.  The boys would learn to do things with wood and other things.  Twice a week we'd also have a Hebrew teacher who would come and teach us Jewish history.  He was a very nice person.

From first through fourth grades, I went to a school closer to my home.  When we had breaks in between classes, we would go outside and play hopscotch and dance.  Then we were transferred to the city's main school which was the long way to walk.  Girls sat separately from boys, and there were maybe 25-30 students in each class.  The classes were about 50% Jewish.

Math was my favorite subject.  I loved arithmetic the best, although I liked every subject except Polish History.  They talked about the kings and queens which sounded silly to me.  I tried to do well so I'd have a good report card anyway.

To be continued.  The next part will talk about her parents, friends, and how they celebrated holidays during this time period.


  1. you're transcribing the whole video! wow! Kol hakavod, as we say. Susie

  2. My name is Mollie Beitch! I would be very interested to see if we were related! My email is molliebeitch@gmail.com

  3. Its a great life story. Gorokhiv is my motherland. Its fantastic for me read about my ancient town and great Sonya story. With respect, Yuriy Fesina.