Keeping a sacred trust

Keeping a sacred trust

There are different kinds of monuments, some structural, others less solid but perhaps longer lasting. The Ukrainian village of Hosht now has both.

According to Fair Lawn resident Irving Sklaver, president of the U.S. Society of Hosht, not only does a stone structure stand in testimony to the Jews killed there during the Holocaust, but a local teacher — the descendant of a Ukrainian woman who sheltered five Jews for nearly two years — has begun to tell her students about what occurred in their village during the war.

In July ’00’, The Jewish Standard chronicled the building of a monument in the forest near Hosht in memory of the 1,015 Jews who were massacred there between 194′ and 1943. Among the supporters of the monument were Sklaver and Irving Gelman, a former Fair Lawn resident.

Gelman and four others, including his wife, Rochelle, were saved by a Ukrainian woman who kept them hidden in a cave-like structure beneath her field for 16 months.

According to Sklaver, the Gelmans have kept in touch with the woman who saved them.

"She told them that she had children after the war, even though she wasn’t able to have them before. She thinks that maybe it was a reward for what she did," says Sklaver, who recently received a letter from the woman’s grandson, enclosing a photo demonstrating that he was taking good care of the monument. The young man had promised to watch over the structure and put fresh flowers there.

"I was very excited about the letter," says Sklaver. "Her grandson, who’s now a policeman, says that his wife is a teacher in Hosht and that she is teaching the children about what happened there."

Sklaver’s wife, Sonia, who translated the letter from Russian, adds, "She says the children are finding it hard to believe what happened, that children were killed in the forest."

"Every survivor of the Holocaust has a story to tell," says Sklaver. His story, like Sonia’s, revolves around their escape from Hosht.

Sklaver says he "left the village on a bicycle at age 17, riding 600 kilometers to Kiev behind the Russian army."

Sonia, 14, managed to flee the Nazis and escape from the village after her mother and sister were killed. A Polish farmer took her in, and she remained with his family until the end of the war.

"I called the priest in Hosht after the war," says Sklaver. "He was a neighbor and used to come in to my father’s hardware store."

Learning from the priest that only a handful of local Jews, including Sonia, had survived the war and that it would not be safe for him to return, Sklaver set out to look for Sonia, a former classmate. He found her, they married, and the couple came to the United States in 1949 to begin a new life.

The Sklavers are glad that the truth is finally being taught to the children of Hosht and hope that it will do some good. While they have no interest in returning to Hosht themselves, they point out that a delegation from the Hosht Society in Israel goes each year to hold memorial services. There are approximately 70 members left in that group, and about the same number in the American branch, which awards scholarships to the children and grandchildren of Hosht survivors.

"It’s a good thing," says Sklaver about the young teacher’s efforts to keep history alive. "It shows that things can change."

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