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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.

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