Coming to America
by Ducie Fishman
On Sept. 7, 1915 I, Ethel Tulchinsky
was born to Myka Zornitsky and Moisa Tulchinsky in Trostyenets, Bratslav
Podolie, Russia. I was the third of six children, two older and one
younger brother died as children. My story starts in Odessa during
World War I. Russia had been fighting on the German side when the
revolution started. There was a civil war raging and in addition the
Allies (America, France and England) were blockading Russian seaports.
There was hunger and illness and fighting in the streets of Odessa,
a major Black Sea port. The years of war and revolution had completely
disrupted the economy. The fields were not planted, most of the trains
were not running, there was no one in charge of the country. Odessa
was being governed by the Red Army, they had set up bread distribution
centers where the children were given pieces of bread. My older brother
Borie and I would stand in line waiting our turn. We would eat part
of the bread and bring the rest home.
We lived in an apartment house several stories high built around a
central courtyard where the children played and mothers could keep
an eye on them. In a 1976 visit to Odessa we saw the same or similar
houses still standing. My parents were gentle loving people, well
educated for Russian Jews. My father worked in a bank and my mother
read Russian poetry to us. Through all the terrible years I cannot
remember a harsh word or a hand raised in anger.
My brother Borie and I were very good friends--we were both carrot
tops and for several years the only children in the family. The oldest,
Mytia, had died from diphteria before I was born. Borie, probably
two and a half years older, named me Educia (a name he liked belonging
to a girl he liked). I am still known by a shortened version, Ducie.
I know that there were happy times in our early childhood, I remember
getting sunburned so I know that we visited the beaches on the Black
Sea. Memories of a bear riding a bicycle means that we went to the
circus when it came to town. I am sure that we had visitors and that
we probably celebrated birthdays and holidays, but I remember the
good times as if they happened to someone else. I only heard about
them, I did not live them.
It was during this time that our lives started to race in triple time.
Borie died and shortly after that my baby brother, Joseph, died and
word arrived that there had been a pogrom (massacre) in Trostyenets;
my Aunt Sura's husband and only son had been killed along with all
men and boys over the age of 13. How to explain a pogrom? Even now,
more than 70 years later, anger and helplessness fill me at the memory.
Pogroms were used by "the Little Father," the Czar, as a means of
diverting the anger and frustration of the peasants from their own
miserable conditions to the Jews in the villages. Stories of ritual
slaughter of Christian children and of other atrocities would be circulated,
especially during very hard times. Groups of peasants would follow
an anti-Semitic leader to a Jewish village, where they would pillage
and rape and round up all men and boys over age 13. Sometimes they
would be content to beat the men or kill only a few as an example
to the others.
This time they came as the White Army. They rounded up all the Jewish
men and boys, conscripted the local peasants and their wagons and
moved these Jews several miles out of town. The Jews (possibly with
the help of the peasants) were put to work digging a very large hole.
When the hole was finished the White Army proceeded to fill it with
all the slaughtered men and boys, some not yet dead. Several weeks
later a half crazed man returned to the village. Although wounded,
he had managed to crawl out of the grave; traveling at night, hiding
during the day, he came to report the tragedy.
I am not sure of the sequence of events or the time involved but it
must have been shortly after this that we left Odessa and traveled
by train to Trostyenets. At about the same time we stopped speaking
Russian (the only language I knew) and started speaking Yiddish. The
year was probably 1920 and I was not yet five years old. In this village
lived or gathered my Grandmother Dvoira, my just-widowed Aunt Sura
and her five daughters, and my unmarried Aunt Tuba plus relatives
and friends whom I did not know. I do not know what negotiations were
involved or how much time it took but eventually we left the town
and Russia illegally and in the dead of night.
We traveled only at night and spent the days in grain fields hiding
and resting and waiting for the night to start another day's journey
toward the west and the Rumanian border. It was summer and very hot
and we were dependent on the farmer, in whose field we rested, for
food, water and protection. I remember the brightness and the heat
of the sun and that I had to remain absolutely quiet.
It was very dark the night we reached the Dnester River and as we
got into row boats my mother held my hand. Mama had sewn a pair of
cloth slippers for me and as the water seeped into the boat I took
them off to protect them. When we reached the bank and disembarked
we had a small hill to climb and someone held my hand. It turned out
to be a stranger and until we reached the top and sorted out who belonged
to whom my parents and I panicked. We were now on the Rumanian side
of the river and still had to make our way to the refugee camp in
or near Kishenev, Moldavia, at that time a part of Rumania. Some place
between the Dnester and Kishenev my Aunt Tuba and two young women
cousins were arrested. I never learned what law they broke or how
they were freed, but I suspect that money was involved. There was
panic among the adults and now that I am older I understand the reasons
for their worry. They eventually were reunited with the rest of us
and arrived safely in the United States.
A German Jew, Baron Maurice de Hirsch, founded the Jewish Colonization
Association to resettle East European Jews as agricultural settlers
on land purchased in Argentina. After his death in 1896 the association
continued his colonization efforts settling Jews wherever they could
buy land, including the United States. The association had set up
this refugee camp in an effort to help East European Jews escape.
We spent two years in this camp, my sister Sara was born here. There
are only a few things I remember. I remember small cabins, lots of
rain and playing in the running water, my father shaving my head because
of the prevalence of lice and the fear of epidemics and a fairy tale
parade when Queen Marie came through Kishenev and my father took me
to see it. A Cinderella carriage, horses and riders, more glorious
then I can describe.
My mother had three brothers and two sisters already in New York;
they were accumulating money and getting the necessary paperwork ready.
My grandmother and aunts had already left for the "golden land" (goldena
media) where the streets would be paved with raisins and almonds.
Our turn soon arrived.
This piece is copyright by the
author. It may be forwarded electronically, provided this notice is
kept with it, but may not be otherwise reproduced without permission
from the author. Thanks.
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