When Yehuda (Lewis) Karbatznick fled to England in 1903, he thought the only thing from which he was escaping was conscription into the Russian army. And when he saved enough money to send for his wife Leah in 1907, he had no idea what his three young daughters – who travelled to a new life in London – were escaping. If they had stayed in Dokshitz…….
This is the story of the family of Nachman Glickenhouse, Leah’s brother. Most Jewish residents of Dokshitz left in the early 20th century; Nachman stayed.
Nachman had eight children, two of them from his first wife: a boy, Avram, and a girl, Bella. When Nachman’s first wife died, Leah Karbatznick looked after the children in Dokshitz until she emigrated to England.
In 1993, perhaps 90 years after Leah looked after Nachman’s children, Dora Cramer – Leah’s daughter – told her grandsons Simon and Alexander a story about that time in Russia. “My Uncle Nachman was a widower and had to work, so my mother cared for his children. One day, Avram, who was just a young boy, broke a window by accident. In frustration, my mother shouted at him, ’Avram, I’ll kill you’.
“Avram ran off. By nightfall, he still hadn’t returned. My mother was sick with worry and asked villagers to help find him. Eventually he was tracked down to the cemetery, where he was curled up in tears by the grave of his mother.
“My mother took him in her arms and cuddled him as if he was her own. He told his aunt, ‘You said you were going to kill me, so I went to the cemetery’. Mother cried as she replied, ‘Avram, I would never harm you’.”
And Dora cried as she told her grandsons that story, retained for posterity on DVD.
No-one knows what happened to Avram. In 1926, aged about 21, Bella was sent to live with some uncles (brothers of Leah and Nachman) in New Haven, USA, to find a husband. That journey from Russia probably saved her life.
Nachman remarried. He and his wife Blooma had six more daughters and lived in Dokshitz, where he ran the family’s grain mill. World War II changed everything.
One of those six children was Chaska (Anne) – born in 1917 – who fled Dokshitz just before the Germans arrived; Anne became the only survivor of her entire family and this is her story, told by her daughter Iris Kleister Frank.
“When the Germans marched into Dokshitz in 1942, they marched the Jews to the cemetery, made them dig their own mass grave and shot them. My grandfather Nachman and most of my mother’s family, including two of her sisters who had children, died that day. One of the sisters had six children; all of them were gunned down.
“One sister of my mother had gone to Israel to build a kibbutz but, several weeks before war started, returned home to raise money for the kibbutz. She was murdered along with her husband.
“There is a Dokshitz Society here in the US and they have built a monument to those killed that day.
“Before the war, my mother’s first husband, Myron Rasnick, was a Communist. They had a baby boy [my half-brother]. When the Germans first came into the area, Myron thought they would kill him because he was a Communist, not because he was a Jew. Myron, my mother and several friends and relatives left immediately and went to Uzbekistan.
“Another sister died in front of my mother. On the road to Uzbekistan, they were bathing in a lake when the Germans started dropping bombs. Her sister drowned.
“They walked, fighting with the Russian Army along the way. My mother was sick, so Myron left her in Uzbekistan, where their son died. Mom stayed in Uzbekistan for several years working in a bakery and as a postman. At the end of the war, Myron came back for her and they travelled with friends by rail to Germany to be under the protection of the US Army.
“Myron and my mother had heard of the murders in Dokshitz. My grandfather Nachman’s property, and that of other Jews, had been seized by locals and it was feared that any Jew who came back to claim it would be killed.
“Fighting with the Russian Army had gravely affected Myron’s health. At the border of Russia and Poland, Myron had to be taken off the train because he was very ill. My mother’s friends got off and stayed with her. Myron was in hospital for several days. One morning, my mother went to see him, and his bed was empty. He had died in the middle of the night.
“My mother was devastated and wanted to remain in the town where he was buried. But she was very sick and had malaria, so her friends would not allow her to stay; they carried her onto a train headed for the American German Sector.
“When they arrived, they were placed in a Displaced Persons (DP) camp in Poking, Germany. Mom was alone with no-one to care for her. She was never a healthy woman, even before the war. She was born with a collapsed lung and had chronic bronchitis. No-one thought she’d even live to be an adult. The other five sisters were healthy, my mother wasn’t – but she survived. During the war, Bella in New York thought the only sister who would not survive was my mother.
“My mother didn’t know about the British family or even how to contact her half-sister Bella. One day, she asked someone in the DP camp to help her write an envelope in English with Bella’s name, a street name [but no house number] and ‘New York City, USA’. We never figured out how the US Post Office delivered the letter to Bella, but they did.
“Bella began corresponding with my mother. They were desperate to see each other and Bella tried everything she could to get mom to the US. Leah Karbatznick had died in 1936 but Bella contacted British cousins – Leah’s children – to let them know about my mother and they corresponded with mom. They sent her several packages of food and clothes.
“After the war, it was almost impossible to get papers to come to the US and my mother was all alone and sickly. Leon Karr (son of Lewis and Leah Karbatznick) had volunteered to marry mom and bring her to Ireland, but she had met my father, Benjamin Kleister, in the DP camp and as they were both alone – my father was the sole survivor of his family of three brothers and two sisters – they married.
“My parents lived in the German DP camp from 1945, met in 1946, married in 1947, had my sister in 1948, and in 1951 were able to come to the US. I was born after they had settled in America.
“The US Navy transported refugees who had immigration papers to New York City free of charge. My parents (and my sister who was born in the German DP Camp) travelled in a Navy ship. Any expenses (such as putting them up in a hotel for a month when they reached New York and $100 for my father’s carpentry tools) were paid for by a Jewish organization called HIAS, which is still in existence today.
“Leon was generous to my mother. In the DP camp, he sent her food and some money. In the US, he sent several gifts to help her get started. I still have a woollen blanket that he sent her when she first arrived in the US (I treasure it). Leon had sent two of these blankets to my parents; when my sister and I married, we each received one.
“I remember Leon sending Irish sweepstake tickets every year, and some Irish linen handkerchiefs – which I still have.
“I recall that when I was a kid (around 1962-63), Leon and two of his sisters visited us. They had been touring the US. Even now I can remember that Leon gave me a clown doll that he had won in a Las Vegas dance contest. I treasured that doll.
“Leon Karr was revered in my family; his name was sacred. He and my mother often wrote to each other. A highlight of my mother’s life was meeting Leon when he travelled to New York. If I had a child, it would have been named after Leon.”