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The small town of Majdan is located approximately 50 miles south east from Ushorod (Ungvár) in the Ukraine, thus on the other side of East Slovakian border of today, in the district of Máramaros of these days.

Mount Werchobina is rising 4200 feet high on the one side of the town and the stream Rifinka is flowing at the other side of it. The appearance and the characteristics of this little town is very similar to the small places described by the Jewish writer Scholem Alejchem 1) in his books.
Unfortunately, I cannot describe Majdan from my own view. My family had left it already when I was five years old. As far as I know, 73 Jews lived in Majdan in the year 1830. These Jews founded the Jewish Congregation and in the following years they constructed there the first synagogue as well. Previously to that they performed their prayers in a simple hut. The census of 1941 shows that at that time 830 Jews lived in and around Majdan.
Shortly before that Hungarian troupes occupied Karpatho-Russia with German support. The Hungarians even surpassed their German partners by deporting in 1941 most Jews to the Polish city of Kamenetz-Podolszki 2) where most of them perished.
The local language was Ukrainian. The Jews conversed between themselves in Czech or Yiddish. Many non-Jews understood Yiddish.
The district had a varied history. Prior to First World War, it belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Following the Peace Treaty of Trianon, it was transferred to Czechoslovakia 3). In 1939 it was occupied by Hungary and after the II. World War it was attached to the Soviet Union. Since the decay of the Soviet Union it belongs the area belongs to the Ukraine.
I was born in the little township of Majdan on July 13, 1926. I received the name Shlomo in memory of my great-grandfather, Shlomo Silber.

1) Schalom Rebbinowitz (1859 Perejaslav-Chmenitzkij/Ukraine – 1916 New York)
Classic of Jewish literature
2) City is the Ukraine (southwest from Winniza) scene of mass-executions; the victims were mainly Hungarian Jews
3) June 4, 1920

Grandfather Itzhak Silber
(Reb Itze)

My grandfather on my mother’s side Reb Itzhak Silber was better known by his pet name “Reb Itze” He was born in 1859 in Berzan (Galizia, Poland). Orphaned at the age of eight, he grew up under the care of the Rabbi of Berzan. In the course of the time he succeeded in securing the benevolence of the Rabbi’s supporters, as he devoted himself to the intensive study of the Talmud.

In addition, he studied the elegance of the holy language. Although his mother-tongue was Yiddish, he conducted his correspondence mainly in Hebrew, As a youth, he slept on a bench and got up quite early to take part in the lessons given by the Rabbi. Already as a young man he was honored and respected because of his erudition and learning. In worldly subjects my grandfather was a self-thought person and proved his increasing inclination to the art of foreign languages.

He married Sara Leah, daughter of Abraham-Josef Steinmetz from the small town of Dibowa (in the district of Majdan). They had nine children: Alter, Shlomo, Jakob, Ezra, Hana, Malka, Zwi-Hershel, Baruch and Rivka.

The sons soon left the house of the parents in order to take up study in a Jeshiva. IN addition to the studies of Talmud, they also obtained worldly educational qualifications and knowledge of foreign languages.
My grandfather was an extremely handsome man, I remember him when he was sixty. With his portly appearance he fascinated everybody, including the non-Jewish neighbors. His long, well cared-for white beard gave his appearance especial dignity. His sparkling blue eyes radiated benevolence and kindness. He was well respected and popular in the neighboring small townships. Grandfather wore the attire of the Chassids 4). He had a broad-rimmed black velvet hat, with the seam of his small black cap just protruding from below his hat, a black caftan with the small tallith 5) below it, and trousers stuck into white socks. He always took care of his clean appearance.
When in the Twenties the Rabbi of Majdan passed away, the congregation did not look elsewhere for a replacement. They did not need one; “Reb” 6) Itze fulfilled all the requirements. He also acted as a (kosher) butcher, sanitary meat inspector and mohel, a man qualified to conduct circumcisions for Majdan and the district.

If he was asked to perform a kosher butchering in a village in the district, he usually rode there on horseback. He stuck the knife box into the leg of his boot. On cold winter days he wore a fur coat and a fur hat, like the local peasants.

Grandfather had the reputation to be a versatile person with a multitude of functions. For example, he mixed herbal medications from natural ingredients and had prepared a powder to stop bleeding. He used this powder when he performed circumcisions as a mohel. During the First World War, the same powder came to good use in the treatment of the wounded. Whenever he passed the streets of the town, he was greeted by Jews and non-Jews alike, like a “holy man”.
Among East-European Jews it was customary not to call immediately a doctor to a sick child. First, the opinion of a highly respected man – a Rabbi, a person well-versed in the Thora, or the kosher butcher was asked, in order that he should exorcise the possible effects of a curse, the malicious glance. Mostly my grandfather was called. He sat down next to the sick child, and threw glowing coals into a glass of water. If the coals rose to the top, then this indicated that the child was not suffering from the effects of malevolence. But it was bad news if the coals sank to the bottom. People tried to protect their children against the malicious glance. At every expression of praise or compliment, they hastened to add a formula of speech “ without malevolence” (“Unberufen”.)

Grandfather had a handbag, similar to the one doctors take with them to house visits. The bag contained a set of cupping glasses and other utensils. He placed the cupping glasses on the back of the patients suffering from bad colds or backache. The wise comments among the Jews went somehow as follows: “S’ wet helfn wie Toiten Bankes” (It will help like cupping glasses for a dead man) however, the Goyim considered him as a wonder healer who was the only one who was able to help the sick.

One day, a peasant turned up at my grandfather’s house, accompanied by his daughter. The young girl sobbed and groaned with pain, she was hardly able to stand on her legs. The peasant asked my grandfather for his help. My grandfather referred them to town’s doctor. But the peasant insisted upon my grandfather, He should treat his daughter. As my grandfather realized that he cannot simply get rid of them, he asked the girl to lay down on the wooden bench. He immediately saw that the girl was suffering from a dislocated foot. He rotated her foot left and right, constantly probing. “Does it hurt?” Does it hurt?” He got hold of the aching foot , rotated it and heard it to crack. The girl stopped crying. My grandfather suggested to her to rest for a week and promised her she’ll soon get better. The peasant wanted to pay for the treatment but my grandfather refused to accept anything. Next day, the peasant’s wife turned up with a basket full of foodstuffs that she put down in front of my grandfather’s door as she knew it very well that he would not accept it anyway.
My grandfather was also a talented artist who could draw very well. One of his many works was a map, showing the occupation of the Holy Land by Joshua, drawn on a piece of parchment in 1883, when he was 24. On one side of the map he described the 108 locations from the Desert Zin to Jafo. On the other side of the map he represented the area of settlement of every biblical tribe with a different color. He made up the dies himself from natural ingredients.
At the time when he still visited the Jeshiva, he had to get up very early to benefit from the Rabbi’s words. As he did not possess an alarm clock at that time, he decided to make one for himself. He carved the components of the clock out of wood, inserted an alarm mechanism and attached to ties to it. One of them was tied to a clock’s weight, the other to his own wrist. The weight dropped at the preset time and the tape pulled his wrist, so he knew it was time to get up.
He visited the Jeshiva when he was 15. The Head Teacher recognized his abilities. One day he told him he wanted to show him something. He conducted him to his room and pointed out to him one single grain of wheat with tiny letters written on it. The Head told him a story. A Jewish traveler came to the Jeshiva from a faraway country and instead of a “Kwittel” (a slip of paper) he handed over this piece of wheat. (It is to be known that a Jew on visiting a Rabbi, brings along a slip of paper with his request and hands it over accompanied by a small donation.)

The Rabbi asked my grandfather: “ Itzele, can you too make such a work of wonder?” Itzele remained silent but one week later he handed over to the Rabbi another grain of wheat with even smaller letters written on it.
Many years passed since the story with the grain of wheat. My grandfather became the kosher butcher of Majdan. On reading a religious book, he came up an intriguing question. Is it allowed to keep in the house a grain of wheat as a decoration during the Pessach-week? True enough, the wheat corn was not for food, nevertheless… Them he suddenly remembered the corn of when of his youth and decided to make a similar corn. He wrote on it the Hebrew names of each day of the week, the 12 tribes, the three forefathers and his signature. Altogether 114 letters. He kept this piece of miniature work in a glass display cabinet.
Majdan was occupied by Russian troops during World War I. The soldiers searched for food in every cottage. Had they found anything, they confiscated the lot. They also called at my grandfather’s house. The officer leading the search party discovered a trap door in the floor and asked my grandfather what was hidden behind it. “Old books”, answered my grandfather. The officer commanded his men to evacuate the hiding-place. In doing so, the discovered the glass cabinet with the miraculous corn of wheat. The officer immediately realized war kind of treasure he discovered. He took away the cabinet with him and remarked: “This will be passed on the Museum in Kiev!” 9) To be sure, Kiev was the capital of the Ukraine.

His son Shlomo served in the Austro-Hungarian Army, of His Majesty’s the Emperor’s Franz Joseph 10) during World War I. He fought in the front lines and received the appropriate military medal. Having not heard anything from him for a long time, the family was very concerned lest he became a prisoner of war. At long last a telegram arrived from him telling the family that he received a short absence of leave but not allowed to come to Majdan as the front lines moved very close to the little town. At any rate, he was allowed to travel to the Hungarian town of Sátoraljaujhely where his brother Alter lived.
My grandfather decided to travel to Sátoraljaujhely as well, in order to see his son. Grandmother said she wanted to come too. After all, she was also entitled to see her son. But Grandfather did not want to take her along. In that year the winter was exceptionally severe, heavy falling snow, snowstorms were impairing visibility. In addition, their little daughter Rivkale was still breast-fed, so she would have been taken with them as well and the next railway station was 30 miles away from Majdan.

But all the efforts to persuade her came to nothing: my Grandmother and Rivka accompanied Granddad on his travel to Sátoraljaujhely. The only possible means of transportation was a horse-drawn sleigh. Grandfather hired a two-horse one. Bricks heated up in the fire were placed on the floor well wrapped up, to keep the passengers warm.
They arrived to the Railway Station Voloz by the evening. It turned out that there was no place for them in the train as all seats were taken. With the aid of some acquaintances, which they met at the railway station, they obtained seats in the I. class compartment. The Jews belonging to the passengers of this carriage got together to say their evening prayer. My Grandmother used her chance to breast-feed Rivka. My Grandfather went to the toilet before the prayers, and by opening the toilet door he heard a loud whistle. In the next moment, the train collided with the one coming the opposite direction. Grandfather was thrown out and hurt his leg. The cries of the injured people were terrible. Grandfather crept along among the people expelled from the train by the force of the collision. He discovered Grandmother’s robes but when he saw her body, he realized the full extent of the dreadful tragedy. A little farther alongside, he heard a little baby crying. He crept along in the correct direction and found his daughter Rivkale. As she was well wrapped up, she survived the fall.

The news of the tragedy soon reached the two sons Shlomo and Alter. They arrived soon to the scene. They wanted to accompany Grandfather to the Hospital but he declined to go. He was afraid that he’d be forced to desecrate the Sabbath and/or to eat unclean, not kosher food. In addition, he wanted to take part in his wife’s funeral.

Observant Jews dislike to see a respectable man, like Reb Itze live without a woman for a long time. After three years of being a widower, he was suggested to remarry and to take Haja-Etja Prisant, born Eisner, a war widow and a mother of six children as his wedded wife. Shortly before this marriage, Grandfather gathered around himself all his family and declared that he’ll now remarry and asked his children to accept his new wife and to call her “Mime” (Aunt).
Grandfather Itze dressed himself in a festive attire on the day of his wedding, He put on his festive fur cap, his “Streimel” and traveled to the little town of Lipshina in order to go under the wedding canopy i.e. baldachin. He returned home after the wedding with his new wife and her smallest son Mendele. The rest of her sons visited already the Jeshiva and her only daughter lived with her aunt. Mime’s six kiddies immigrated in the Thirties together with my Uncle Zwi to Palestine and opened a prosperous joinery that became later the well-known factory of cabinet-makers, “Prima”. Grandfather’s marriage was blessed with three more children; Mottele, Sassil and Dresel. Everyone loved Mime, like a real mother. My own mother was in close contact to her, until the start of Shoah.

I was brought up at the house of my Grandfather until my age of five. I can still recall some of the events that occurred. I had great respect for him and I was full of joy when I heard that Grandfather shall visit us in Nyirbátor and that I can see him after such a long time. Grandfather had first visited his son Shlomo in Debrecen and then came to spend the Sabbath with us. My mother was livid with excitement because of the expected visit, she polished the house until everything sparkled and prepared Grandfather’s favorite meals. On Friday, we went to the railway station to pick up the guest. My mother was moved to tears when Grandfather exited the train. We got his luggage and rode in a horse-drawn carriage home. After a short rest, I went with my Grandfather to the Mikve 11). Having arrived to the Synagogue to be present at the Divine Service, my Grandfather’s old friend Rabbi Naftole said a few hearty welcoming words to him and offered him a place of honor,. During the traditional third Sabbath meal at the end of Sabbath he was honored by Rabbi Naftole’s request to talk about the Weekly Section. 12)

Short time after my Grandfather’s return to Majdan, I found my mother in tears upon my return from the Cheder, the Jewish elementary school. First, I could not understand what was the matter with her, why was she so upset, until she told me that my Grandfather died.

My Grandfather died at the age of 74 years. Blessed be his memory.

4) The “Devout”, a member of the Chassidim, a religious movement founded by Israel ben Elieser, the Ba’al Shem Tow (approx. 1700 to 1760 in today’s South West Ukraine)
5) a white shawl with fringed corners worn under the outer garment
6) “Sir”; Jewish form of address applied to men
9) In the meantime, a splendid, spectacular Museum had been opened in Kiev in the honor of the “Great War to protect our Mother Country” (the Second World War).
10) 1830 through 1916 (1848/ 1967)
11) Ritual bath to submerge
12) Section from the Five Books of Moses to be read on that certain day



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