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VALENTIN DROBNER


Date of birth - 1928

Place of birth – Zhmerynka, Vinnytsia oblast, Ukraine

Interviewed - 18 August 2011, Toronto

Video interview

Language – Russian


(Excerpt):


Interviewer – How would you describe the relationship between Jews and the Ukrainian and Russian population?


VD – I was a child back then, and I didn’t really understand. I didn’t even know that I was Jewish. We were a non-practicing family, and at home we spoke Russian. I didn’t know Yiddish or Hebrew. We never talked about any of these questions, until the Germans came.


I don’t remember any excesses, either in school, or at work. Moreover, my father was a very popular doctor, and villagers from all around came to him for treatment and diagnoses. Very many peasants, Ukrainians, knew him very well. To the point where, to make a parallel, when Zhmirynka was already occupied, there were Ukrainian police. Former komsomol members became police officers, and started to run things, rob, and so forth. One day, my father was returning home from somewhere, and the police took him away, and he was gone for some time. Later, when he came home, he was very anxious, and he told us, that [in the police] there were young men from Zhmyrinka, and also from the surrounding countryside. The ones from Zhmyrinka all knew him, and behaved more or less tolerably towards him. But those who didn’t know him beat him, and one told him, I remember this as if it were yesterday, my father had a gold crown on his tooth, one [of the policemen] said, “Let’s knock his tooth out.” The Zhmyrinka locals, who knew him, didn’t support this idea, and it ended there. When they harassed him or tried to accuse him of something, he told them, “They know me here. In my life, I haven’t hurt a fly.” That was the scene.


You understand, different people treated us in different ways. Some locals, who had treated us well, continued to do so. Others, obviously, tried to get jobs with the authorities, and so forth. There was an episode, on the first day they opened the ghetto – there were many Jews in the ghetto from Bukovyna, from Moldova, mostly from Chernivtsi. One of the many who ended up there was a dentist. That dentist left the borders of the ghetto, they killed him, shot him in the head, crucified him, hung him up, and wrote a sign, “This fate awaits anyone who leaves the ghetto.” So when I was telling you that I left the ghetto a few times, illegally, we were always risking a bad end.


I will give you an example in Bryilov, in Mogil, this has been described and written about many times, where they buried people while they were still alive. And the ground moved. Some of the people who ended up in the Zhmyrinka ghetto, from Bryilov, from Mezhirova, the next town over, from Praskurov, from Vinnytsia, where there had been mass and total executions, they lived in the Zhmyrinka ghetto. In 1942, the commandant of the Bryilov ghetto demanded that the Romanian commander send back all the Jews that had managed to survive. He didn’t demand other Jews, but the ones who hadn’t been murdered [who were from Bryilov, he demanded that they be returned. I was an eyewitness to this from the first to the last moment. The Romanian police commandant said that there would be an inspection of registration papers. Everyone gathered at the square, the Romanian police surrounded them, and herded them into an unfinished factory. Everyone could see that this was a deadly set-up. People started to cry and scream, and after five minutes, under Romanian police guard, they began to walk them out of the ghetto. They turned them over to the Germans, but I didn’t see this, as this was beyond the walls of the ghetto, they brought them 5 or 6 km to Bryilov, where graves were already dug, and they murdered them all. These were two of the worst moments in the ghetto – the first, when they crucified that dentist, and when they murdered all the Bryilov Jews.


When we had to move to the ghetto, another magnificent person came to us, who I will never forget, Luka Ivanovych Palchevsky, he was an old teacher, who was friends with my father. He often came to our home, drank tea, and discussed various questions on literature, philosophy, everything, except, obviously, politics. So, Luka Ivanovich Palchevsky took all our furniture to his place, and told us, that if we manage to survive, he will return it all to us. His family also, when I came to them several times during the two and a half years we were in the ghetto, they fed me, and gave me food to take back to my parents, and so forth. And Luka Ivanovich, at my father’s funeral, spoke very warm words. He was an intellectual, an old, intelligent teacher, who taught at a school, and taught me after the War.


Nadezhda Frantsivna Mashorina, was the first woman, despite the fact that she was German, was the first non-Jewish woman, who, when we lived in the ghetto, whom I will remember all my life with gratitude. When I could sneak out of the ghetto illegally, whenever I came to her, she always fed me and so forth. Because she knew German, she was able to get a job at a German company, and worked as a translator, and other technical work. I think that this was a time in her life, after the arrest of the colonel [her husband], this was the period in her life, when she lived the best, because she received food as well as a salary. But she wasn’t involved in anything. And when the city was liberated, obviously, the KGB persecuted her. You know, there needn’t have been much of a reason for a person to disappear. They harassed her and harassed her, but couldn’t pin anything on her, and finally left her alone, and she lived out her life peacefully.


We spend two and a half years in the ghetto. The city was liberated mostly without fighting. The fighting was mostly at the train station. So the liberation was more or less quiet.


excerpt from the Interview with valentin drobner
UKRAINIANS ASSISTING JEWS DURING THE HOLOCAUST

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