Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wartime Memories of a Jewish Boy in Uzbekistan

The former rabbi of my shul, Rabbi Laufer, told a story of his boyhood in Uzbekistan.  He teaches a class every week to a Bukharian congregation of orthodox Jews in Brooklyn. (Bukharians speak a dialect of Persian, not Yiddish.) In addition, he makes financial contributions to the upkeep of their synagogue. One day, one of the Bukharian congregants asked Rabbi Laufer as follows.
“You are from Poland. You speak Yiddish. Why do you come here to a congregation of Jews from Uzbekistan? What is your connection to us? Rabbi Laufer told them the following story

At the age of seven in 1939,   I was living with my  family in Poland. When Germany and the Soviet Union split Poland up( due to the Soviet German friendship treaty of 1939), we were on the German side. To save our lives, we escaped to the Soviet half of Poland. Our entire family was deported to Siberia. As presumed enemies of Germany, which was  then a friend of the USSR, we were deported to Siberia. In 1941, when Germany attacked the USSR, we were transferred to Uzbekistan, where food was scarce but the climate far more benign than that of Siberia.
As religious Jews, we immediately started a secret synagogue in a basement. We had no  sefer Torah( Torah scroll) and one Jewish book. It was the book of Leviticus, with the  weekday prayers bound in together with it. With time, the congregation was able to acquire a few prayer books. Going to synagogue was dangerous. One Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year) my father was arrested in front of the entire congregation, taken away in his talis and kittel. (Prayer shawl and white robe) Congregating for prayer was illegal, and there was plenty of room in labour camps for those who didn’t care that it was.
Before Purim, we always tried to read Parshas Zecher, preferrably from a Sefer Torah .(The portion dealing with wiping out Amalek, the sworn enemy of the Jewish people) We had no Torah scroll. A few short years ago, we had been back in Poland, with an openly functioning kheder (Jewish school) and a synagogue full of seforim. (Jewish books) It felt bleak.

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