There were more people there than last year. Shammai's son Zvi was there with his kids, so we were fine for a minyan.
David, the son of the late Chaim Braunstein - the leader of the Skalaters for many years - was there for, I think, the first time.
Henia showed me a book about her mother, Tonia Kaczor Winter, which had been ghost-written for her, including a large collection of photographs from Skalat. Her uncle had been a professional photographer in Skalat, so this is not a trivial collection. You can page through the book here. Tonia herself was there as well, with an aide, who comes from Poland, but walking and looking well.
Zvika Sarid, Yocheved's son, has been leading the program since Chaim Braunstein fell ill a few years ago. He spoke of the visit that a group of them - about twenty people, many from the Sarid family - made last year. He gave a very detailed report on the state of the two monuments, how they are being maintained, what money is needed, etc.
Chaim and Shammai had a fund for maintenance of the monuments and Zvika recently authorized the release of about half of it for immediate needs. The fund needs replenished and anyone who wishes to contribute can send a check to Zvi Sarid (on his name), Kevutzat Yavne, DN Evtach, 79233 ISRAEL.
The mayor of Skalat spoke of refurbishing the shul and making into some kind of museum, but Zvika told them that the amounts of money involved were far beyond any possible benefit to anyone. It's not as though Skalat has much in the way of tourists or other visitors. The physical shul building is deteriorating, much graffiti etc, but we must all accept that this is the way of things. Perhaps the condition of the building can best be seen as a mark of shame for the local Ukranians.
We said more Psalms than usual and everyone said kaddish. Motel said the memorial prayer.
Zvika also told the story of his uncle Herschel Weissman, the older brother of Motel and Yocheved. Herschel had been in a work camp and after Skalat was liberated by the Red Army, he decided to forgo making aliya and instead joined the Russians, as a guard for German prisoners. "I want to find opportunities for revenge," he told the others.
He ended up working in a prison camp near Sverdlov and for a few years the family had some kind of contact. Apparently he took too many liberties with his revenge plans and found himself in prison. After awhile they never heard again. Yocheved's late husband Yitzhak decided that Zvika was to be named for him.
Recently, Yocheved retired from her job on the kibbutz and used her new free time to go through all kinds of things that she and Yitzhak had collected over the years. In the process, she found a letter she had never seen before. A Jewish woman who worked in the prison had written that Herschel had died. No one but Yitzhak had ever seen this letter and no one had ever known the details contained in it.
Now the Sarids are talking about going to see his grave in Sverdlov and perhaps bringing Herschel back for burial here.
The group that made the trip last year published a book with photographs and narrative from their trip. Lots of Skalat of course, but also other places on their itinerary. Oddly enough, there was a section on Podkamen. My great-grandfather was almost certainly born there, to his mother who was from Skalat. Turns out, Yocheved's husband Yitzhak was from Podkamen, hence the Sarid family's interest. I asked them how I can get a copy and they said they'd let me know.
Next year will be seventy years.
Also please note, I will be speaking - in Hebrew - on Sunday, 10 June, 20 Sivan at 7 PM - at the Israel Genealogical Society's Giv'atayim branch, on the subject
BEYOND A DOUBT
What We Know vs. What We Can Prove
at the Shazar Center, 30 Yavnieli Street, Giv'atyaim. There is a small charge for non-members.