01 August 2009

Philly 2009: A search in Galicia

Judy Maltz has a first-person account of her Galician search in today's Jewish Exponent.

"In Search of a Shared Past in East Galicia, With Camera in Hand" covers her visit to Sokal, where her father was born and her grandpaents lived.

It's one of those many little towns in the area known as East Galicia that every few years seemed to change hands. When my grandparents were coming of age, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire; between the two World Wars, it found itself on the edge of Poland's eastern border; during the Second World War, it was occupied by Nazi forces; and after the war, when the border moved west, it became Ukrainian territory.

But unless your family happens to have roots there -- as I've discovered -- most people have never heard of this part of the world.

For years, I'd try to imagine what it must have looked like. I'd picture the little farmhouses along the Bug River, the town square with its lively marketplace, the majestic synagogue where the Jews would gather each week for Shabbat prayers.
Judy Maltz entering Francisca Halamajowa's home at No. 4 Street of Our Lady for the first time; Maltz has made a documentary of her experiences.
Two years ago, she finally visited the town as she arrived to film a documentary on how her family had survived the Holocaust.

Before the war, some 6,000 Jews lived there, about 50% of the population. At the end of the war, only 30 had survived.

Maltz's film, "No. 4 Street of Our Lady," tells the story of Francisca Halamajowa, a Polish-Catholic woman, who risked her life to save 15 of these Jews, including eight members of my own family.

She hid two families -- the Maltzes and the Kindlers -- in the hayloft of the pigsty behind her house, and another family, the Krams, in a hole dug under the kitchen floor. For almost two years, she fed and cared for her Jewish boarders, even while German forces had their tanks parked on her property and had moved into her tiny two-room house.
Her grandfather, Moshe Maltz, kept a diary of those years which offered details of daily life. she was able to locate the house where three families had been hidden, using the diary as a guide. She also found the old Jewish ghetto, the three-century old synagogue ruins and the old Beit Midrash. Everything else had vanished.

On this journey, Maltz has discovered an international network of friends and others who have Sokal in common. Connections were made on the website for the film.

Among her new friends:

- Alan Charak of Sydney, Australia, whose father survived as a teenager working at the Sokal train station, where Maltz's great-uncle Shmelke watched out for him.

- David Zugman, a hidden child from Sokal, shared his extraordinary tale of survival from FLorida.

- New York Times' former executive editor Max Frankel's mother was from Sokal, and still remembers a trip there as a 6-year-old.

- Poland's first full-time Reform rabbi, Burt Schumann's great-uncle was a neighbor and friend of Maltz's grandfather.

The film will be screened at Philly 2009; check out the online program to see the schedule.

Read the complete article at the link above.

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