Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sonia Bajcz Diamond: Growing up in Horochov (1922-1935, part 2)

This is the second 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), her family, friends, and how they celebrated holidays.  Part 1 can be read here.

My mother was one of the finest women--quiet, honest.  Her name was Batsheva Fine Bajcz.  She was born in Shklyn, a nearby village, and when she married my father she came to Horochov.  When my mother was born it was Russia, but by the time I was born it was Poland.  She worked very hard to make sure that we girls dressed like the richest girls in town.  She would buy fabrics and copy from the other girls.  We had a very close relationship.  She looked up to me because I went to school and could read and write.  She taught herself how to read and write, so she was very happy that I had the will to learn. 
My father was a hard-working man.  His name was Avraham, and he was born in Horochov, but in his time it was under Russia.  Most of the week he was on the road.  He would buy and sell things.  It was hard for him because he didn't have an education.  He would go out to the villages to buy things and then bring them back to the city to sell them.  The only time I'd really see my father was on Shabbos.  We went with him to shul, along with my mother.  And he wasn't too happy that he didn't have sons, so I'd try all the time to do things like I was a boy.  So nothing was too hard for me to do so that my father would be happy.
Bajcz Family.  Left to Right:  Malia, Avraham, Batsheva, Rania, Sara/Sonia

My grandmother lived with me.  I was very close to her.  Her name was Rania Lazovnick Bajcz.  She had lost a daughter, the only daughter she had, in the first World War from typhus.  My aunt (her name was Etia) was known as the prettiest and smartest in the city.  Losing a child like this was very painful, so my bubby took her love from her lost daughter and gave it to me.  If my parents told me I couldn't have anything, my bubby said, "Oh yes, she'll have it."  If a show or a circus came to the city, or I wanted to go to the movies, she would go with me or buy two tickets so someone could go with me.  If I forgot my lunch at home, even if I was embarassed by my friends, my bubby brought my lunch to school.  I told her not to worry, but she didn't want me to be hungry.  My mother was not a strong woman--she had problems with her legs--so she couldn't do things like my bubby could.  My bubby was always on the go.  She'd go with a friend--they'd dress in Shabbos clothes--and they'd go out into the city to make money and collect food for the needy.  Those two women were caterers who would prepare for as if for weddings--the nicest cakes and food--to help children who needed to go to special camps for children who couldn't afford to pay.  They had these camps in open fields so the kids had a place after a year's hard work in school to relax and enjoy the fresh air.  

There was one really mean Polish man--no Jew was allowed in front of his house or even nearby.  One time he scalded his body, and whatever the doctors would do, it would not heal.  Someone told him that my bubby had a certain medication she makes, but he wouldn't allow a Jew to come to his house.  Then his skin became rotten from the burns, so he told his wife to go call the Jew.  In the beginning she didn't want to go because he was so mean to the Jews.  The man's family came and pleaded, so she went.  She was afraid to even go into his house, he was so mean.  My bubby went and made the medicine, and she put it on, wrapped it up, and it healed his skin.  For his appreciation, he said she could come in whenever she wanted to.

My father's father I never met because he died very young, when my father was not even Bar Mitzvah.  I don't even have a picture of him.

My other grandmother I didn't know well because they lived out of town.  She was not such a well person, and she passed away.  My zaidy I remember very well.  He was the kindest person.  He would take off his shirt if you just said you needed one.  He was so sweet.  He would tell me stories--take me on his knee and tap and sing me songs and tell me stories about the Japanese War, the First World War, and I'd look at him (a short little man) with an open mind.  His name was Moshe Dovid Fine, my mother's father.  He had a big garden, so I learned how to grow vegetables there.
Moshe Dovid Fine

I would make my own toys.  We couldn't afford to buy toys, so I made my own dolls and their dresses.  We played hopscotch.  Whatever we could make we'd play with.  Shabbos afternoon the parents would rest, and we kids would go to a big park, and we'd sing and dance.  Of course we couldn't pick flowers on Shabbos, though. 

My best friend was Chana Tzin (who was in my class), and I was often in her house.  And Fisch who would live in the heart of the city.  Both were killed.  Another friend Kitzes who survived.  We would do homework together, and we'd meet on Shabbos and holidays, and we'd go together to the park.  In class, we sat together on the same bench.  We had a good, close relationship.

I was also friends with a Czechoslovakian girl.  She was very nice.  Her mother had died, and she lived with her father and sister, and she liked to come to my house, and I'd go to hers.  She would learn how to prepare meals from my mother.  The Czechs were much nicer to the Jews than the Ukrainians were at that time, with less anti-Semitism.

12:00 Friday everything closed.  They'd clean the streets and polish shoes before Shabbos.  There were about 6000 Jews in town--and the town was mostly Jewish.  We would clean our house before Shabbos very thoroughly.  We had an oven where we would put our food, and we would cover and seal it so it would stay hot, and at the back of the oven was a special place to put bottles--for tea and coffee, and then cover it with heavy blankets to keep it warm.  Near the oven was nice and cozy. We'd set out the table with candlesticks and bathe.  Everyone cleaned the streets in front of their own homes.  My father would get dressed and go to shul, and we'd have our Shabbos meal.  We always had gefilte fish and chicken soup with noodles.  We made the noodles ourselves.  We had chicken not roasted--from the soup.  We had a kigel from noodles or potatoes, and also cake and tea and often compote.  The whole week whatever we ate, for Shabbos everyone had something special.  Even in the poorest home where they didn't have enough bread on the table, they had a piece of chicken for Shabbos.

Every holiday was a favorite because we all got dressed--new clothes, shoes, socks.  And we had a seder which was small, just our family.  Here I like to make big seders; I don't like to go away.  We were 5 people in the house.  

On Erev Yom Kippur, the women dressed in black with a lot of jewelery--once a year they would put on all their jewelery with a ring practically on every finger, and they would cry.  Not everyone knew how to read from the machzor or siddur.  So one lady in a loud voice would read, and they followed her.  When she cried, they cried.  In our shul, the women were completely separate, and on top were a few windows that we'd open.  You could hear but not see what was happening on the other side, but we kids could run back and forth.  Before Yom Kippur they would have a special place with sand in boxes, and everyone brought candles made from brown wax.  They didn't light them at home so there wouldn't be a fire hazard.  Everyone brought according to the amount they could afford.  You could find all sizes of candles there--and there was an odor from all the candles, and you could get doped up from all the smoke.

On Purim, there was a wall, and they painted Haman, and the boys would come with sticks, and as soon as they mentioned Haman, they'd bang on the wall.  We had a gragger which was really big, made from wood, that made a lot of noise.  We had a lot of fun.  The elderly people couldn't stand the noise, but they knew this had to happen, so there was a compromise.

On Sukkos everyone built their sukkahs outside, and we kids would decorate as we could.  We didn't buy ready-made decorations.  We made paper chains and made flags and drew on papers.  On top of the sukkah, the schach was pine greens.  Sometimes they had lillies they grew in the waters, and they'd dry them, and some people would put those on top as well.

On Simchas Torah, we got a flag with an open window, and you could see the aron kodesh with sefer torahs and men carrying the sifrei torah, all on the flag.  There was a tip of the flag that you would stick an apple on, and then you'd put a hole in the apple and put a candle in it.  Here it's a fire hazard, but no one said anything there.

In Shavuos, we kids went near the water where they grew forget-me-nots.  We would pick them and put them on a plate filled with water, and overnight they'd stand up, and the plate would be filled with flowers.  We'd also pick all sorts of flowers and clover and make rings and put them on the candlesticks.  We spread lily greens on the floor.  You'd walk into the house and smell the aroma of all the flowers and greens.  We'd have new spring dresses with ruffles and light colors, and we kids had no worries at all.

The only thing I remember about the Rabbi is that a few kilometers outside the city was a wealthy couple who never had children who wanted to do something that the city would remember, particularly our shul.  They decided to write a sefer torah, and the made a big banquet at night.  I went with my parents and my bubby.  Not every home had electricity, but they had electricity with beautiful big chandeliers.  I was maybe 9 or 10 years old.  And right away when elderly people saw a young child, they would ask multiplication facts to make sure you were a good student.  There was lots of food and drink, and then they took the sefer torah, lit torches, and then we walked the 2 kilometers to the shul.  At the shul, the men came out with the sefer torahs already there to greet the new sefer torah, just like a groom greets his bride.  This remained in my mind, and I told my board at the shul here in Baltimore, and we wrote a sefer torah just like this.

Coming up:  The move from Horochov to Shklyn.


  1. As I commented on your part one, this is so special to have these remembrances written down. Absolutely one-of-a-kind.

  2. Enjoying and learning from every word. Especially noted earlier the rigors of school at the time juxtaposed with today's coddling American culture.