неділю, 25 жовтня 2009 р.

СПОГАДИ СТЕЛЛИ КРЕНЦБАХ – «ЖИВУ ЩЕ ЗАВДЯКИ УПА». & Memoirs of Stella Krenzbach – «I Am Alive Thanks to the UPA». English translation



Нагадуємо: слова "жид", "жидівка", "жидівський" у Галичині (як, зокрема, і в Польщі) ніколи не мали й не мають ані неґативного, ані принизливого відтінку.


I Am Alive Thanks to the UPA

By Dr. Stella Krenzbach

[Originally published in V Riadakh UPA: Zbirka Spomyniv buv. Voiakiv Ukrainskoi Povstanskoi Armii (In the Ranks of the UPA: A Collection of Memoirs by Form[er] Soldiers of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army), ed. by Dr. Petro Mirchuk and V. Davydenko, Prolog Association Library No. 1052, New York: Society of Former Soldiers of the UPA in the USA and Canada, 1957; pp. 342-49].

I attribute the fact that I am alive today and devoting all the energy of my thirty-eight years to a free Israel exclusively to the Almighty and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). To the Almighty, for giving me eyes like the cornflowers of the Ukrainian fields and golden hair like the vast wheat fields. That He did not limn on my face the eternal brand of Israel and that I grew up without resembling my ancient forebears, Rachels and Rebeccas. On the contrary: I was no different from Marusia, Orysia, or Olia, the girls of the Ukrainian land. I often wondered why Jehovah had a hankering to create me completely unlike my mother, the red-haired and green-eyed Sarah, or my father, the black-haired rabbi of the town of B. in Western Ukraine, with his Semitic nose and payes, the side curls prescribed by the ancient laws. Today I understand. His Great Holy Will wanted me to work for the glory of Israel, for whose freedom I had prayed my whole life; that Promised Land of Moses to which one-half of my heart belongs, because until my death the other half will remain full of love for the land where I was born, where I grew up.

I was born in that town of B., which lies seventy-five kilometers from Lviv. My father was respected not just by the Jews of that town. He was an extraordinarily honest person, who lived his life in keeping with the Divine Commandments; who loved his own culture but also respected others’. It was nothing out of the ordinary for my father to be on friendly terms with the local [Ukrainian—Transl.] Greek Catholic dean whom he often visited for discussions about the Old Testament. Olia, the priest’s daughter, was my best friend since first grade. After I completed public school, my father sent me to the local Ukrainian high school, even though there was also a Polish state gymnasium in the town. My father said that I would experience less humiliation in a Ukrainian school. But he was very mistaken in using the word “less.” During my eight years of study in the Ukrainian school I did not experience any indignities whatsoever. My girlfriends considered me their equal and they treated me like a Ukrainian girl. In high school I mastered the literary Ukrainian language and became familiar with the spiritual grandeur of Ukrainian literature. Thus, in time I began to hate the enemies of Ukraine and to love its friends. At home I was raised according to the customs dictated by the ancient laws. We did not speak dialect [i.e., Yiddish—Trans.] but pure Hebrew. When I was still a child, my parents began instilling in me a love for Israel, which was the same enslaved fatherland as Ukraine. Once I began delving into the depths of my soul, I saw that my heart was divided into two equal parts. In one part burned a love for Israel and in the other, for Ukraine. Perhaps my statement will strike some people as an absurdity; there can be only one mighty love, they will say. But when I analyze myself again today, now that any weakness is out of the question, I can say boldly that both loves were and are equally great and equally powerful!

I matriculated in 1935 and wanted to enroll in the medical faculty in Lviv. But my application was rejected along with the applications of thirty-eight Ukrainians. I was the only Jew who was not accepted. Then I enrolled for philosophy. That year my parents left for Palestine, and I was supposed to join them after completing my studies. In June 1939 I finished my studies and obtained my doctorate. On 28 September a ship was supposed to sail to Palestine, for which I had a reserved ticket. But the war broke out on 1 September and I was unable to leave Lviv. At first, the new masters—the Bolsheviks—treated the Jews in a friendly manner. I immediately found work in a high school, obviously not revealing my social origins. But no more than a year had passed when one morning militia men [Soviet policemen—Transl.] appeared in my house and ordered me to pack for a journey. What journey? I asked quietly, thinking that there must be some mistake. I showed them my passport and all the required certificates. But there was nothing to be done. The order had come to deport all the Jews to Siberia, and that was that. I began to pack all my belongings, put on my best clothing, and thought about submitting to my fate. Before leaving, I asked to go to the toilet. I was given permission. Salvation awaited me there. I lived on the parterre, and the window in the toilet looked out over the courtyard. I jumped through the window and escaped through the gate to another street. Until the Bolsheviks’ retreat I hid the whole time at the home of my friend Olia, the daughter of the priest from our hometown. Olia was working as a bookkeeper in the food department and was barely able to feed the two of us. She shared the last crust of bread with me and was like a sister to me. In risking her life, she never let me feel the fear that she was experiencing because of me. Just like me, she had no one. She had lost her mother when she was a child. During the war her father had been killed by the Poles, members of the so-called Legion of Death, which consisted of criminals who were sent out to burn down Ukrainian villages and murder politically aware Ukrainians.

When the Germans entered Lviv, I was probably the only Jew who was happy about their arrival. I thought that they would establish a Ukrainian state and fight the Bolsheviks. How painfully I was disappointed! My joy quickly turned to horror. What the Germans began doing to the Jews, and later to the Ukrainians, was nothing more than a continuation of the Bolsheviks’ savagery.

I continued living with Olia and was working as a seamstress in Ukrainian homes. I had documents issued under a Ukrainian name, my face was not suspect, but my nerves were not holding up. Every day I saw huge columns of Jews going submissively to their deaths, escorted by several policemen. Their submissiveness made me furious. I shut my mouth to stop myself from shouting to them: “Go ahead and kill those few policemen. There are more of you. You’re going to die anyway, but die like heroes, not like slaves!” I often talked about this with Olia; she told me that Jews are not capable of heroic feats. At the time I agreed with her.

Oh, Olia! If I could only tell you how the sons of Israel know how to fight and die heroically, but you probably know this already…

Life in Lviv was also becoming dangerous for Ukrainians. After dealing with the Jews, the Germans began arresting Ukrainians. The prisons filled up with young people, intellectuals, and eventually—politically aware peasants. Frequent executions, arrests, and deportations to concentration camps in Germany were part of the daily agenda. But the Ukrainians were not submissive like the Jews; they avenged blood with blood and death with death. News about the UPA in Volyn was already reaching me at this time. I guessed that Olia had links to the UPA because one day a typewriter appeared in our house, on which Olia typed all kinds of propagandistic materials. Sometimes Olia would disappear, always on a Saturday evening, returning at dawn on Monday, often muddied and tired. Boys and girls whom I did not know began to visit us. They sat for a long time in Olia’s room or came only for the drugs that Olia would bring home from the pharmacy, where she worked as a laboratory assistant. The concierge of our building was a Pole. He noticed that a lot of people were visiting us, and he began to watch them. One day his wife blurted to me that our neighbors had their eye on us. I told Olia about this, and the visits to our house became somewhat less frequent. But we were already under suspicion. I felt that one day we would be arrested (perhaps this was a psychosis), and I was overcome by a new wave of nervous fear. I decided to sign up for work in Germany; I though that it would be safer there. I told Olia about my plan. She discouraged me from going, but I insisted, explaining that I had no other choice. Then she proposed that I join the ranks of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Olia’s suggestion seemed like salvation to me, and I accepted it with great joy. My entire being was electrified with hatred of the enemy and a desire for revenge. And where could I get revenge better than there? It was 7 November 1943. “How did you describe me—as a Ukrainian woman or a Jewess?” I asked her while we were walking along a path through the fields leading to a meadow near the forest. “Rest assured, they know everything about you, and you can be yourself among them. They do not divide people into races, only into honest people and dishonest ones.” Relieved, I continued walking; Olia’s words had cheered me up. That day I became a member of the heroic UPA.

Until July 1944 we hid in the forested areas near Lviv. There I completed a six-month medic’s course that was taught by two Jewish doctors and one Ukrainian. In our group I counted twelve Jews, eight of whom were doctors.

In July 1944, when the Bolsheviks returned to Western Ukraine, I received an order to go to the town of R. and work in the local militia. For eight months I worked as a secretary to the head of the militia. He was a Jew, a communist, and a stalwart party member. In his presence I pretended to be a communist sympathizer. Fabricating all kinds of stories about life in the “ghetto,” I called the Bolsheviks my liberators, etc. The head sympathized with me and even made friendly overtures to me. I pretended that I was in love with him, and he was under the impression that our relations were sincere and friendly. Meanwhile, I was in constant contact with the insurgents, informing them about everything of importance that I managed to find out at the militia.

But one day the militia head caught me by surprise at a designated meeting place with a courier. He seriously wounded the courier, and thinking that he had killed him, left the area and drove me to the prison. Meanwhile, the courier regained consciousness and with his last shreds of strength crawled away to his people and told them about my arrest. I sat in the local jail, which had once been a military barrack. The prison was mostly filled with peasants, and elderly ones at that. All the young people were in the UPA. Over a period of five weeks I was interrogated fifteen times. I was tortured and beaten. To this day my body bears the obvious marks of those tortures. I kept silent the whole time. I did not utter a single word, and they began to test me with some sort of horrible apparatus to see whether I had become mute. I could not stand the pain and cried out. My only reply to all the interrogations was yelps of pain and groans. Nevertheless, one day a trial took place and I heard my alleged confession. Sentenced to death, I accepted the verdict with relief. They put me into a cell with condemned prisoners. There were twenty-four of us in a small room that could barely hold twelve people. Among the condemned were a seventy-year-old granny and a twelve-year-old girl. The latter had been sentenced because she had been grazing her cow near the forest allegedly in order to provide milk to the insurgents.

Each of the condemned female prisoners had been indicted on an absurd charge. When the light was turned off in the corridor, the women decided to spend the whole night in prayer in order to meet their death in the morning with dignity. From her neck the old granny removed a small black cross on which glowed the Crucified Christ made of silver. One after the other they kissed the cross and then began whispering prayers. I prayed earnestly with everyone. Although the religion of my parents teaches that Christ is not the Almighty, only a great prophet, that night I became convinced that Christ is the Almighty. I don’t know how much time we spent in prayer when suddenly we heard shooting and a commotion in the corridors. There was an exchange of gunfire and we did not know what had happened, but a kind of hope crept into our hearts. After a time the door to our cell opened and standing there were boys that I knew from the forest. At the time the town of R. was in the hands of the insurgents for four days.

From the day of my release from prison my life became closely linked to the life of the insurgents. With them I moved from one place to another, whenever I received an order. Our group consisted of seventy soldiers, doctors, three nurses, and four other women. In the summer of 1945 we crossed into the Carpathian Mountains, where we joined up with two other groups. At first, the Bolsheviks did not go into the mountains and for a time we lived unmolested. But by late autumn battles began taking place with increasing frequency, and then our hospital filled up and there was a lot of work.

One day—it was 7 January 1946, Ukrainian Christmas Day—the Bolsheviks surrounded us in a triple ring of encirclement. There was no escape. The commander gave each of us a hand grenade so that we could kill ourselves at the last minute. The battle was fierce and unequal; it went on and on. For three hours the chaplain of our hospital, an elderly crippled priest, prayed in front of a wooden cross, and all that time he beseeched: “Help them, Christ! Don’t let our souls perish in vain!” All of us prayed together with him. And then a miracle happened. From the other side of the Carpathians a large group of insurgents came to our assistance, and after attacking the Bolsheviks from behind, they broke through the encirclement. The commander of that group said that they hadn’t known anything about our situation. But a young boy had come to him with a message asking for help. We never found out who that young fellow was, where he had come from, or who had sent him. He couldn’t have been from our group because we were surrounded. Then we began talking about a miracle. I thought about this incident for a long time and finally came to the conclusion that if the Almighty had performed miracles in the days of the Old Testament, why couldn’t He perform them in modern times?

In the summer of 1946 our group was completely smashed. There were ten times more Bolsheviks than us. My friend Olia died in a battle at this time. Our hospital was very well concealed in a huge mountain crevasse and despite thorough searches, we were never found. Eight of us survived: the hospital doctor, the old priest, two invalids each missing an arm, two without an eye, one with a smashed jaw, and I. For three weeks no one came to us, and we didn’t know what was happening. We had no communications. This meant that no one knew about us. We began running out of food, although I managed it very frugally. One day I was horrified to see that there was only half a sack of flour in our pantry. Another week and we would be facing death by starvation, and we were still cut off from everyone. Then our Rev. Volodymyr announced that he was going to contact someone. We did not stop him, although no one believed that this seventy-seven-year-old man with a stiff leg would reach his destination. After he left, two more weeks passed. The potatoes were gone, and we had not eaten anything for two days. The doctor, a native of Kyiv, poked fun at himself, saying: no one can hide from death. His parents had starved to death, but he had fled to the city and saved himself. Yet thirteen years later death had come for him all the way over here. That very afternoon we were visited not by death but by a courier, who brought us food, money, and an order to go to the West. Father Volodymyr had reached a group and sent help to us. We left the very next morning. We had already covered some distance when I remembered something and went back. The doctor was angry at me, saying that our trip would be unlucky. But our journey went miraculously well. The article that I had gone back for was the wooden cross that had saved our hospital so many times. Who knows whether without this cross we would have crossed three borders, which were already very well guarded?

On 1 October 1946 we reached the British zone of Austria. There I said goodbye to my friends. How I reached Palestine is not part of my reminiscences. But I must mention my reunion with my elderly father, who, after hearing my stories, asked me in a trembling voice:

“Did you, perhaps, convert to Christianity?”

From this question I clearly understood that my old-law father would have taken the news of my death easier than my change of religion. But I still think a lot about Christ’s religion, and I cannot banish Christ from my heart. But neither do I have the strength to be my father’s murderer.

After ending up in a new homeland, I promised myself that I would inform the world about the Ukrainians and their heroic UPA. However, for a long time there was no opportunity to do this; I was an obscure individual and the world does not listen gladly to such people. But now that I have begun working in the ministry and my name is well known to many diplomats, I am doing my duty. In concluding these short reminiscences, I appeal to the freedom-loving international community with a warning not to underestimate the Ukrainian question and not put it on the backburner, because only a free Ukrainian State will be a guarantee and proof of a just peace in the world.

Translated by Marta D. Olynyk.