Submitted by Allon Yisaschar, Pinchas’ great grandson
The man wearing the big skullcap (kippa) is my maternal great grandfather. His name was Pinchas Shreyer and he was born to a wealthy family in Drohobycz at the end of the 19th century. We were always told that Pinchas was a very smart and curious child. He was very happy when at the age of 12 he was sent to a prestigious yeshiva in Budapest.
When the family business went bankrupt, there was no choice but to return Pinchas back Drohobycz. As a result, Pinchas became very depressed. He disappeared from home for two days and there was a real concern that he committed suicide. He was found and overcame his depression.
In time, the smart, self-taught boy became a rabbi, slaughterer and one of the leaders of the Drohobycz Jewish community. He married couples (among others his own two daughters), gave sermons, and was an intellectual, a real “book-worm” who delved deeply into the Gmara, Talmud and other scriptures. In 1942 he was asked to conduct a funeral and say “Kaddish” for a Jew that passed away. Although he knew that a major Aktion was taking place, he insisted on going to the cemetery to perform a mitzvah. He was captured and murdered that day right there, in the cemetery.
The pretty woman in the photo was Pinchas’ second wife Rosa (Reisel) Frymann, my great grandmother. My mother is named after her. Pinchas’ first wife was Hinda, Rose’s sister. Hinda passed away during the Spanish influenza pandemic that caused millions of deaths during 1918 – 1919. As per the religious law (Halacha), Rosa, who was a sales clerk at the family butchery, married Pinchas. Pinchas, Hinda and Rosa had six children.
On June 22nd, 1941, a few days before the German invasion, the four Shreyer sisters (Feiga, Luczka, Hella and Ida) boarded the last train headed east to Russia. Luczka was eight months pregnant at the time. All four sisters were communists and one of them was even jailed because of her affiliation. The sisters fled because they heard that the Germans murder communists. At the time, they did not know about the murder of Jews. The two Shreyer brothers – Feivel (Shraga) who was an accomplished artist and was Bruno Schultz’s student and Yankel were drafted into the Red Army.
Pinchas and Rosa did not want to leave. That June 22nd day, they hurried to the train station trying to find Ida, their youngest daughter. In spite of the mayhem in the station they were able to find her and begged her to stay with them. Ida refused, as she was convinced that the Germans would kill all the communists. Having no choice, Pinchas gave his daughter his blessing saying: “I don’t want to see your death”. Just like in the movies, the train started to move and Ida boarded at the last moment. She was an 18 years old girl, watching her parents in the distance and wondering if she would ever see them again.
In December 1942 Rosa was hiding with her aunt at the home of locals. With the assistance of a local informer, the Germans found both of them and they were murdered. We do not know if they were sent to the Belzec extermination camp or murdered in the nearby Bronica forest where thousands of Jews were murdered. 15,000 Jews lived in Drohobycz before the war. Only 400 survived.
The four sisters continued their escape eastward. Luczka gave birth to a baby boy in August 1941. With a newborn baby, they continued their wondering into and around the Caucasus. Suffering hunger, cold and other hardships, the sisters supported, helped and watched over each other. Years later, that baby became a general in the IDF, proudly telling everyone that he actually had four mothers. Feivel and Yankel survived too. There were six Shreyer siblings and they all survived. When they returned to their home after the war, they found a Ukrainian family living there. All their furniture remained as it was before the war. On a kitchen chair, Ida spotted a towel with the initials R.S. embroidered on it. She quickly sneaked the towel into her pocket. It was the last keepsake from her mother Rosa Shreyer. My memory of Grandma Ida is stuffing a growing boy with enormous amounts of food and scolding him to “clean the plate”. When the boy grew-up and developed a healthy appetite, Grandma Ida would watch him, with a little smile radiating unmatched joy.
Yes, I remember. I Remember and do not Forget. And every Holocaust Remembrance Day I peek again at the pictures, and burrow again in the drawers of my memory for the same stories and memories, fearing they will disappear into oblivion. And there are other things I Remember and do not Forget: I Remember and cannot Forget the hypocritical and heartless politicians who speak nicely in state ceremonies and polish their tongues and swords in the same time, while tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors are scattered throughout the country with little food, without a warm blanket, without money for medications, sinking into their loneliness and agony.
I Remember and cannot Forget that the Holocaust was indeed the largest mass organized genocide in modern times, but that genocide and persecution of other people took place in the world, before and after the Holocaust: The genocide of the Tasmanians by the British, the Cherkasy people by the Russians, the Namibians by the Germans, the Armenians and the Assyrians by the Turks, and the genocides in Rwanda, Nigeria, Cambodia, Bengal, East Timor, Guatemala, Kosovo, and Darfur. I am sure I missed a few. Incidentally, the term "genocide" was coined by a Jewish jurist named Raphael Lemkin in 1944 after he fled from Poland to the US. After the Holocaust, the United Nations decided to adopt the definition of Lemkin and in 1951 the nations of the world signed the convention for the prevention of genocide and the punishment of its perpetrators. About half of the genocides I mentioned were carried out after the signing of this convention. These days we are witnessing a huge humanitarian disaster due to the civil war in Syria and also know for a fact of the existence of concentration camps in North Korea.
I Remember and do not Forget that the Holocaust did not start out-of-the-blue, but rather it evolved continuously during hundreds of years of hatred, from old antisemitism to new antisemitism to Nazism.
I Remember and do not Forget that there is a thread connecting the stages of the evolution of the Holocaust, and it is also evident in the other crimes of genocide. This thread is called indifference. Genocide is indeed committed by determined evil forces, but perhaps also mainly: because of good and indifferent forces - People who stood by and kept their mouths shut. Because it was not convenient, or it was not right for them to raise a finger or raise a voice, or they just had a crisis in their nice little life, or the daily routines swept them into inaction in the face of the madness that was taking place before their eyes. As stated - indifference.
I Remember and do not Forget that the human race is capable of so much evil but also so much good, and that goodness depends on the will of an individual, on each and every one of us, and on our relationship to others, to the ones who are different, who are weak. It is this goodness that depends heavily on insisting on moral principles of justice and compassion.
I Remember and never Forget - never be indifferent. Do not be silent, do not give up. Raise your voice against wrong doings, get angry, demonstrate, protest, and argue. Never be indifferent.