Warning! The text retains the original spelling of surnames and place names by an Israeli researcher; in many cases it may not be correct. Fragments that could contain current personal data have been removed from the interview.

 

Name of Interviewee: Dina (Donia) Pikholtc [Pickholz] Ostrower, b. 1923;

father's name: Mates (Matityahu) Pikholtc, son of Baruch and Yocheved;

mother's name: Scheindel nee Pikholtc, daughter of Toibe and David Shmuel;

brother's name: Liba, Gitel and Yitzhak;

husband’s name: Josef Ostrower.

 

Life before the War

Baruch Pikholtc, an orthodox Jew, was the manager of the agricultural farm named Folwark, located nearby the village Synowicko Nizne [Nyzhnie Synovydne], at the feet of the Karpatian Mountains. (Nowadays belonging to Ukraine).

Baruch Pikholtc and his wife Yocheved gave birth to four sons and two daughters. One of the sons, Mates (Matityahu) also lived in the farm with his wife Scheindel and helped Baruch in his task of the farm.

The farm was spread out on an enormous area, all along the railways' track reaching town, up to the River Stray [Stryi].

Mates and Scheindel gave birth to four children: Liba (1921), Dina whom everybody called Donia (1923), subject of this interviewee, Gita (1926) and Ytzhak (1927).

Except the Pikholtc family there were only 3 Jewish families more in the village. Baruch and Yocheved were very religious and at their home all the precepts were carefully kept. At the same time Baruch and his son were very industrious and they made a living from their hard work.

The children of the family were also educated in the same spirit and started working in agriculture from an early age.

One of the main purposes of teaching them how to work the soil was that if and when the time would come for the children to immigrate to Israel (then Palestine), they would already be prepared and trained in agricultural work.

The Pikholtc family enjoyed a good financial situation and used to donate and help (secretly) the pour people. They invited guests to eat at their home on Shabbat eve and Jewish holydays. One room of their house was dedicated to serve as a Synagogue for the small congregation at the village (the Pikholtc family and the additional 3 Jewish families, who lived there). Grandfather Baruch even purchased a 'Torah Scroll', which he held in the Holy Arc at his Synagogue.

After Donia finished the fourth School grade at the nearby village, she began to learn in the school at Stry [Stryi], traveling on train every morning.

Since half of the population at that school was Jewish, there were no anti-Semitic demonstrations. But back in her hometown, Synowicko Nizne, some pupils used to call her humiliating names. There were also threats from the local inhabitants on the Jews' lives and even blackmail like the time grandfather Baruch was compelled to pay 500 Dollar ransom to a group of Ukraines, who threatened to murder his family.


Life under the Soviet rule (1.9.39-22.6.41)

On 1.9.39, on the day of the war outbreak, rumors spread around that Stry was bombarded by German aircrafts. The Pikholtc family moved to the house of a Ukrainian friend in the country and they stayed there until things became quieter.

Towards the end of September the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty was signed and the village was transferred to the rule of the Soviet soldiers. The German danger had moved farther away.

After the Soviet regime nationalized factories, bakeries, flourmills and big houses the Polish currency was abolished and the population remained without any circulation means.

In spite that the Pikholtc family was not the owner of the farm, nevertheless in the eyes of the village inhabitants they were "Kulaks", meaning wealthy farmers who exploited their workers and were opponents to collectivization.

The family, being aware that their farm will soon be nationalized, hurried and left the village and the farm, moving to live in Stry. Mattes transferred two cows to their house so the family should have some livelihood.

Under the Soviet rule everybody had to work. Mattes found for himself employment as a guard in a big laundry. Grandfather Baruch was already too old to work. Liba, the eldest sister had a part-time job as an accountant. Gita, Donia's younger sister resumed her studies at her school in Stry.

Ytzhak [Yitzhak] the younger son started to learn at the boys' elementary school. Donia, who was 17 years old and was still considered a student, began to deal at the black market in order to help with the family maintenance. An acquaintance of her parents, whose leather factory was confiscated by the authorities, had hidden a great amount of leather, which Donia started selling on the black market in Levov [Lviv]. She traveled 3 times a week by train to Levov, smuggling leather pieces on her body and passed them on to the representative of the factory, who paid her for the risk she took on herself. With the money she received, she bought products, which were scarce in Stry and her father sold them with a nice profit.

Life under German occupation (June 1941-May 1945)

Upon the German invasion to Russian territory, the Russian soldiers left Stry. The Ukrainians began immediately to carry out pogroms against Jews. After a period during which the Ukrainians had a free hand and freedom of action, the Germans announced that there should be no actions against Jews without the approval of the authorities.

The cows of the Pikholtz family were confiscated, as well as the laundry where Mates worked. Towards the end of 1941, a Ghetto was established in Stry and the 'actions' began. The Pikholtz family was already sensing the shortage of food and started to sell various belongings in exchange for wheat-grains. Grandfather Baruch and Donia's father worked for a meager salary in collecting bodies of Jews who died of hunger and diseases at the Ghetto and bringing them to burial.

The situation worsened. Donia began working at a leather-factory with which she had been trading during the Soviet period. She was allowed by the German factory-manager to grow a vegetable-garden at the factory yard. She gave the vegetables that grew there to the manager's wife, and also managed to secretly pass on some of them to her mother.

During the 'Action' perpetrated in October 1942, the entire Pikholtz family was captured. After three days of being held at the synagogue-yard with the rest of the people caught, they were led on a truck to the train-station and were put on cargo-wagons, squeezed together and suffocating. The crowding was so terrible that people fainted from lack of air. It was impossible not to step on bodies of those who collapsed. The train began moving to an unknown destination (which turned out to be – Belzec [Bełżec]). All the wagon-passengers understood that they were being led in their last final road to extermination.

Encouraged by her father whose last words she still remembers, Donia decided to jump off the riding train to save herself. "Jump, my little girl, maybe thanks to you some memorable trace will be left of our family", said Mates to Donia. She wished to live and decided to jump through the barred ventilation opening at the wagon. When the train slowed down on one of the road-curves, Donia jumped and landed on the ground. Several of her teeth were broken, but her body remained intact. After waking up from her fainting, she began marching back to Stry. After marching three days, Donia reached the Ghetto and met her uncle Josef Heller (her mother's brother) who was still there. She was in a very difficult state of mind, torturing herself for leaving her family and staying alive while the rest of her family was murdered and perished.

She even thought of putting an end to her life. Uncle Josef decided to try and save Donia. With the help of a priest from his birth village Torchanow [Trukhaniv], Josef obtained documents for Donia on the name of Afrozyna Skoblek, a local girl who was Donia's age and had died.

Her uncle tried to persuade Donia to use those papers in order to save herself, but Donia was apathetic. "What happens to everyone, shall happen to me too" she said. It was only after the intervention of Rabbi Perlow, the Rabbi of the town Bolechow [Bolekhiv], that Donia was convinced to escape from the Ghetto.

Donia heard from the manager of the factory where she worked that a Casino was opened in Bolechow for German soldiers serving in town and the surrounding area. She decided to go and find herself a job at the Casino. "No one would think that a Jewish girl dares to hide right inside the Lion's mouth" she thought to herself. Her decision ripened when she heard about the plan to close the ghetto finally and hermetically. The night she escaped, she parted with tears from her uncle Josef and his wife. At morning she left their house for the last time. After finishing work at the factory, Donia tried to hide all the physical characteristics indicating that she was Jewish, replacing them with the figure and identity of the Ukrainian girl, Afrozyna Skoblek.

When Donia reached the casino in Bolechow, she introduced herself as an orphan who grew up in an orphanage, now waiting for her fiancée, who was in Germany. She was immediately admitted by the Casino lady- owner, who lodged her in a room at the attic and provided her plenty of food.

At morning she started working at the casino's kitchen. At first she sensed insecure, as she had lived such a long period in uncertainty and being chased all the time, but soon she understood that she should stop feeling inferior and start to show confidence, in order not to endanger herself.

She worked devotedly and diligently doing every work she was asked to do. In order to avoid annoying young men to approach her, she took every opportunity to tell about her so-called boyfriend, supposedly named Wasko, and their plans to get married when he should return from Germany.

Several months after Donia was taken to work at the casino, another girl called Marika was accepted to work there. Donia suspected also Marika was Jewish, but she didn't dare expose herself and tried to keep distant, in case she was wrong and the girl was Ukrainian after all. She also avoided going outside the casino area, which she regarded to be a safe place.

Donia heard what went on at Ghetto Bolechow from the Casino's bookkeeper, a Jew called Syomka Reinherz, who was sent there from the Ghetto by the City Mayor once a week to help the casino-manager with the accounting. Donia didn't reveal her identity to him as well and showed no feelings of empathy to the Ghetto-Jews.

But the things she was told and her constant tortured conscience for having saved herself and her "daring" to stay alive while knowing that Ghetto Bolechow will be soon liquidated - brought her to the decision to perform a good deed.

She decided to do everything in order to save Syomka Reinherz and his wife. She took the step of sharing her plan with Marika to test her reaction and find out if she was Jewish. Marika collaborated with Donia. In spite of that, they still didn't mention their real identities. After coordinating with Syomka and his wife Malka, Donia and Marika prepared a hideout for both of them on the roof, above the casino-toilettes, which were at the yard. It was a small space that enabled the couple just to sit or lie-down on the straw-mattress prepared for them. Near that building was a pigsty, which enabled the girls to bring food to the hiding couple under cover of going to feed the pigs. The noise and the stink spread by the pigs also helped to disguise their hideout.

About a week after the Reinherz couple settled in the hideout, all the Jews at Ghetto Bolechow were exterminated. At a certain point Marika decided to move and work at the nearby orphanage. She could not stand the tension involved in hiding the Reinherz couple but continued to help Donia.

In spring 1944, the rumors grew about a close defeat of the Germans. Many Ukrainians and Poles left and escaped to Poland, fearing what would happen to them after the war. Around two weeks before being liberated by the Red Army also the casino's lady-manager left, and Donia remained alone to manage the place.

The day the Red Army entered Bolechow, Donia and Marika revealed to each other that they were Jewish. Marika said that her real name was Frieda Last. The Reinherz couple left their hideout after 13 months of being hidden there by the two girls.

Marika decided not to return to Judaism. She parted from Donia and returned to her birth-village to go on with her life as a Ukrainian. Since then Donia heard nothing of her.

Donia returned to Stry with a slight hope to find her uncle Josef Heller and other acquaintances, hope which proved to be false. Ten months later she travelled to Krakow [Cracow], from where she continued to Bitom [Bytom]. Within the framework of the Zionist Youth movement "Noham" (United Zionist Youth) she moved with a youth-group to Czechoslovakia and from there to the 'Displaced-persons' camp Liebheim in Germany. From Liebheim the group continued to Italy, to the Rivoli region where they stayed at Villa Prajino [?] near Lago Majore [Maggiore].

One night the group was transferred to an island at the South of Venice and they boarded the illegal-immigrants' ship named "Kadima". When the ship approached the coast of Israel (then Palestine) it was stopped by the British navy and after a chanceless fight, the illegal-immigrants were sent to a detainees' camp in Cyprus.

Seven and a half months later, Donia arrived in Israel (Palestine). Since she had no relatives or acquaintances there, Donia rented a bed at the house of a couple, who agreed to get paid for the rent after she finds work. Donia started working as a shoemaker, earning enough to pay for her bed.

Donia met in Cyprus her husband to be, Josef Aostrover [Ostrower]. The couple got married in June 1949. They rented a room in one of the southern neighborhoods of Tel-Aviv. Joseph, who already in Poland had learned to be a turner, was immediately accepted to work in the army, where they badly needed such professionals.

[…]

Josef passed away at the age of 91, in 2007. Shall his memory be blessed.

Donia, (may she live a long life), is still living in her nice apartment in Ramat-Gan being lively and lucid.

Malka (who changed her name to Miriam) and Siomek Reinherz, the couple whom Donia hid and saved during the Holocaust, immigrated to Israel together with their daughter Gila, in 1950. The bond between them and Donia was kept until today, since such a bond is stronger than a blood-bond.

Print