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  • Koen and Volodya
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Holocaust survivor will soon make Aliyah

Koen Carlier - 11 October 2018

Volodya Garber was born in 1932 in Mogolov-Podolsky, a town in the South West of Ukraine, near the Moldavian border. We have known him for many years. Every day he faithfully goes to the small local synagogue for prayer.

He is also always there when we come with participants from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany during the working trips, to listen to the stories and pick up his food parcel. The end of September was the last time that he arrived to pick up his food parcel, because Voloday Garber will make Aliyah together with his daughter and son in law at the end of November. Even for me this was a surprise.

Volodya was nine years old when he ended up in Pechora, together with his mother and 3 brothers. This concentration camp was about 60 km from Mogolov-Podolsky. Most of Ukraine was occupied by Nazi Germany, but only a stretch between the two rivers Dniester (on the Romanian / Moldavian border) and Southern Bug in Ukraine, was dominated by the Romanians. This piece of land in Ukraine was called Transnistria.

Transnistria

Here the Jews were not killed by bullets, as in other parts of Ukraine. In Transnistria, the Jews from various cities, villages and shtetl’s, were collected in stables, ghettos and concentration camps and left to their fate. Tens of thousands died due to deprivation, diseases, hunger and cold, but in Transnistria you did have more chance to survive as a Jew.

The mother of Volodya managed to escape from Pechora camp with her four sons and fled to her hometown Mogolov-Podolsky. There they all stayed in the ghetto until the end of the war. They survived the war, except for their father, who was then called (even as a Jew) to serve in the Red Army. He was killed on the battlefield.

Volodya married after his studies and the family was extended with a son and a daughter.  He worked almost all his life in the local metal factory, where almost everyone from the city worked until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Hundreds of factories stopped working overnight. The fall of the Soviet Union was a major setback for the economy.

A few weeks ago we brought Volodya and his daughter and son-in-law to the Israeli Embassy in Kiev for an interview, to enable them to leave for Israel for good. His son is already in Israel and lives in Beer Sheva. His granddaughter also lives in Israel, in Ashdod, and now the rest of the family goes.

We had a talk when he picked up his last food parcel. I asked Volodya how he felt now, leaving his hometown permanently at the end of November. I thought that it was a must for him to go, because his son is already in Israel and now his daughter goes too. However Voladya said, while his face was radiating: “I made that choice myself.” He continued: “Koen, you have come here for years to support the small Jewish community and told everyone about Aliyah and that everyone is welcome in Israel, young and old. For years I heard that message but every time I thought to myself that this was not for me, let others go. Until now… now I realize that my time has come to go home to Israel.”

He told me that once 70 Jewish families lived in his apartment building near the former ghetto. Now he is the only Jew there. All have left over the years. We said our goodbyes, and Volodya shook my hand and did not let go, looked at me and said: “don’t forget to pick me up at the end of November!”

Sunken in thought, I walked back to the local synagogue. I thought about Babi Yar in Kiev, where we were a few days before. A big ravine of more than 2 kilometers long where thousands of Jews were shot. There at Babi Yar, we read Psalm 106: 44-47, with participants of a working trip from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. And I thought about the conversation I just had with the now 86-year-old Volodya Garber, who had survived the hell of Pechora and the ghetto of Mogolov-Podolsky as a little boy.

Nevertheless He looked upon their distress
When He heard their cry;
And He remembered His covenant for their sake,
And relented according to the greatness of His lovingkindness.
He also made them objects of compassion
In the presence of all their captors.

Save us, O LORD our God,
And gather us from among the nations,
To give thanks to Your holy name
And glory in Your praise.

Psalm 106:44-47

 

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