“Hey, Moniek. You will be a thief this time. Take off running into the castle and the Cossacks will come after the two of us.” It was Grigor, a Ukrainian school chum, who wanted me to take his side in another game of Cossacks and Thieves, roughly equivalent to what American kids call Cops and Robbers. The castle was a real one—the ruins of a centuries-old Turkish fortress built here on the bluff above the River Zbrucz. It was one of the principle landmarks in our little town of Skala-Podolsk in the borderlands territory of 1930s Poland...
Quotes from this chapter
I was one of about 80 Jewish survivors from Skala—80 of about 1600 of our landsmen who lived there before the Shoah.
The melamed walked around and watched over our shoulders. If you made mistakes or worked too slowly you could expect a jab in the ribs or a rap on the knuckles.
I opened the Chumash textbook to today’s lesson and set to work hand-copying the Hebrew words of the text.
The Chortkover and Vizhnitzer communities each retained its own religious functionaries—rabbis, ritual slaughterer, shammes, mohel—so there were two of everything.
From the beginning, I wasn’t one for following rules or instructions. I was curious, independent, and already street-wise.
My last name at birth was given as Engelbach, which was my mother’s maiden name, apparently because my parents were married within the synagogue but not under Polish civil law.
“You should not be playing with the Polish and Ukrainian kids. Do you know what that makes you? A zhulik,”
Book excerpts about the people, places and events mentioned in the book
Jewish journalist and interfaith activist; co-author of Live Another Day
Skala survivor and community leader who passed away in 2018
Educator and survivor who wrote the history of Skala’s Jews
The author's mother who urged him to "Run, my child."
The author reflecting on life
The author's stern Hebrew school teacher
Waterway that formed an historic border
Former feudal estate where the Wehrmacht was quartered
Ruins of Ottoman fortification where Munye played as a child
Michael's childhood home until Skala was declared "Judenrein"
Father's workshop was where the family business began
Polish border town where Michael was born and experienced his ordeal
The only child of a tinsmith and seamstress had a large extended family
Munye's grandfather died of natural causes and was laid to rest in the cemetery he had tended