17 June 2013

Polonne, 16-17 June 2013

We began yesterday's visit to Polonne with a stop at the local museum. Turns out, although it was a Sunday, it was closed. At the entrance, however, we met a man who knew Semyon Bentzianov, a journalist who compiled the Polonne Yizkor book translated online on JewishGen. He took us to his house.

I was interested in meeting Semyon and asking him about an 1897 metrical book he had worked with at the Polonne ZAGS office (the office for more contemporary records, i.e., earlier than 1935). Ellen Shindelman had written about this book in a February 1999 article in the Belarus SIG newsletter. 

Semyon mentioned the metrical book to us and showed us some abstracts he'd made several years ago. Semyon spoke Russian with Alex. Alex told us that that many Jewish people in Ukraine prefer to speak Russian rather than Ukrainian. 

Of greater interest was the Zabarsky connection. Semyon was born in 1928. He did not seem to recall many people from my family shtetl, Labun. But Alex asked him about all my family surnames. Apparently, Semyon's wife, also born in 1928 in Polonne, was named Anna Zabarsky. He did not recall either Perl Garber Zbarsky (my grandfather's sister who was murdered in 1941) nor her husband Izaak Zabarsky. He did tell us (and we confirmed this with his sister-in-law Sonya) that his wife's father was Josef Zabarsky and her mother was Ester Rimoynim. I have not researched the Zabarskys, so this information may be ultimately helpful.

Our contact with Semyon led to contact with Faina Martzinishyn, former director of the Peretz Markish Museum and head of the Jewish community in Polonne. The Jewish community is about 40 families, many of whom are of mixed marriages. Despite the fact that she was busy planning a 25th birthday party for her daughter, Faina offered to take us to the Polonne ghetto, two murder sites, and the old cemetery. We decided to leave her to her party preparations and arranged to meet with her the next day.

Today, 17 June, we began our Polonne visit at the ZAGS Office. We arrived around lunch time and the very pleasant woman at the desk offered to look through their indices for the family names I provided: Garber, Malzmann, Mazewitsky, Zabarsky, and Galperin, in post 1935 records. She found nothing. She told us that they had sent an 1894 book to the Khmelnitsky Archives. This may well be the one Semyon mentioned.

With some time to spare, we visited the museum, which is undergoing some rennovation. I was curious about the production of porcelain, which once had been Polonne's claim to fame. The factory no longer operates and no porcelain is now produce in Polonne. They do, however, have several nice pieces on display at the museum. The man at the museum told us that they are preparing a major exhibit space for displaying their large collection of Polonne porcelain pieces.

We met Faina a little before 2 o' clock and proceeded to the old cemetery in Novo Polonne. The newer cemetery is easy to locate in town. While not well tended, it is walled and access is off of a main road. We visited that one the previous day. The old cemetery is located behind some houses. In fact, one has to access it through a private yard. Faina told us that the lady who owns the house watches over and protects the cemetery.

She also has a yard of beautiful flowers.

I photographed several stones and then we headed to the murder site in Polonne. Faina told us that until Semyon had conducted interviews with survivors, no one in the Polonne Jewish community realized that Jews had been killed at this site. Apparently, the Jewish people from Polonne and surrounding villages (including many from Labun) were in the  ghetto in Polonne. Those less able to work were killed at a site in the forest. Those who were not killed in the forest were later murdered here.

The ghetto area is now developed with several buildings and out buildings. It is difficult to imagine how it might have looked in 1941. The people who were forced to live there worked in the nearby quarry and occasionally were taken to the Jewish cemetery to knock over stones.

We drove out on the road to the forest murder site, but, due to the heavy rains the past few days, could not access the site. This is what the access road looks like from the main road. Alex and I would have walked in the estimated ten minutes to the site, but Faina didn't think she could make it past the huge mud puddle and thought that there would be additional obstacles on the route in. Over 4,000 Jewish people were murdered at the forest location.

I asked Faina, whose family goes back several generations in Polonne, how her family made it through the occupation. Her father was in the Russian army and her mother, who worked at the hospital, was evacuated with her family to continue hospital work away from the front lines. She, of course, had several family members who died in the Polonne actions.


  1. The contacts you are making with local people are very interesting.and I am intrigued that a Jewish community still remains. I'm enjoying following along on your journey. Thanks for taking the time to share it amidst what sounds like a very full trip. Please pass on my hellos to Alex.

  2. Thank you, Susan. Alex says, "Hi," back.

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  4. Dear Emily,
    I too visited Polonne recently, the home of my paternal grandmother who emigrated to Boston in 1902. Last May I had only one day to travel back and forth from Kiev to Polonne, so my time there was very limited. I also visited my grandfather's shtetl, Gritzev, located about 45 minutes away. I would like to send you my diary for the visit if you are interested. It was an extraordinary experience because of the people I met. I actually had very little time to visit places unfortunately. I do plan to submit it to the Jewish Gen SIG when I have edited it a bit, but would be happy to share it personally with you now. Your blog post brought back a flood of memories.
    George Bresnick

    1. George,
      Thank you for your comment. I, too have interests in Gritsev where some of my Malzmann relatives lived. We'll have to compare notes.


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