Tuesday, July 23, 1996
David Kozinski, my grandfather, was a scoundrel and a bootlegger. Worse, and unheard-of for a Jewish man of his time and place, he was a philanderer who neglected his wife and three children, unless it was to beat them. Because he got into trouble with the law in the Polish village of Dzurov (now Dzurovia, Ukraine), he fled to Romania in the early '30s, leaving his wife, Reizl, and his four children, Ruth, Lisa, Moses, and Malka, behind.
For three long years Reizl toiled on her own to raise the children, putting bread on the table by running a grocery store from her tiny hut. Eventually, she learned that David was in Bucharest, and one day, the family, disguised as peasants (Jews were not allowed to travel without a permit), left Dzurov for good. Moses spent most of World War II in concentration camps, but survived. After the war, he met my mother and they married. I was born July 23, 1950.
Those my family left behind in the small Jewish community of Dzurov were awakened on the night of Dec. 7, 1941, by Nazi troops led by an Ukrainian named Zemjanjuk. Jewish families were pulled from their houses, which were then burned. Jews from Dzurov and surrounding villages were loaded onto trucks and taken to a field outside Zablotov, the regional center. There they were marched, single file, to the top of a rise and shot. Their bodies fell into a pit dug for that purpose. About 400 Jewish men, women, and children died that day.
As I was growing up, I heard stories about life in Dzurov, about my grandfather, my grandmother, my father, and aunts, and their life there. For decades, Dzurov was off-limits behind the wall that was the Soviet Union. Two years ago, I got a call from my cousin Arnon, Malka's son, who lives in Tel Aviv. "Cousin," he said, "we must go visit Dzurov while there might still be living memories of our family there." Always a man of action, Arnon had gathered maps and travel information and had set a date. He would go with me or alone. Of course, I went.
We arrived in Dzurov a few weeks later. The village, it turned out, was not all that different from the way our parents described it. Ruth, who was still alive then, had drawn a map, showing the location of the Kozinski hovel by reference to the village church. We followed the path, hearts beating, and there it was: The house where Moses and Malka were born. It consisted of three rooms--a bedroom, a combination dining room and kitchen, and, in between, a tiny alcove where Reizl plied her wares. We also found Maria Nikoforos, 87 years old, who remembered the Kozinski children and my father in particular. "Oi, Moishale, Moishale," she sighed as she told us how my father used to bring goodies from his mother's store to share with the village children.
We also talked to others in the village, many of whom had vivid memories of the night of Dec. 7. "There was a Jewish family living right over there. They were nice people; we always had good relations with them," one woman told us, tears in her eyes. Another woman, Elena, led us to the killing field outside Zablotov. "I was hiding behind some bushes, and I saw the trucks arrive with people dressed in black. They stood in line and, right there, on top of the hill, they were shot. One woman ran away, but I saw her body on a cart a few days later. All the bodies, they dropped right over there. You can see the depression in the ground." And that's all that's left of the Jewish community of Dzurov and surrounding villages, except a cemetery, untouched by human hands for over half a century.
On this, my 46th birthday, I contemplate the vagaries of fate. I think about those who died in villages like Dzurov, deaths made all the more tragic because no one was even left to mourn. And I think about David Kozinski, the scoundrel who, despite his many faults, was the reason the Kozinski family left Dzurov in the nick of time. And about Reizl, that courageous woman, who maintained her family without a husband and took them out of harm's way. And about my father, Moses, a brave and decent man, who brought his own small family out from behind the Iron Curtain, so his son could grow up in America. And I sigh.
To read an article about Moses Kozinski, written by Alex Kozinski on Moses' death, click here