"Two months ago I was standing on a single dirt road in a tiny village in Ukraine. No cars were in sight; horse-drawn wagons passed by. People were pumping water from wells in front of their homes. Horses were pulling plows in the fields. The town was Maydan, where my father grew up. My sister and I had returned to our roots."
Meyer Tannenbaum died nine years ago at 93 and had told many stories of the old country to his daughters. His sister Chana (Betty's Tanta Anna) is close to 100 and added to the memories.
"My father was the youngest son in a family of five boys and two girls in Maydan. They were one of three Jewish families in a village of 65 Ukrainian and Polish homes. His parents operated a tavern, which had been leased to the family for generations by the government. In addition to the tavern, they owned rich farmland, fruit trees, livestock, and were quite comfortable. Running the tavern required hard work and long hours."
Salz recounts her family's stories about Emperor Franz Josef's visit to the village and the kiss he bestowed upon Chana's cheek when she offered him a cup of water from the famous well. She covers her father's and aunt's school days, their mother's cooking, "secret" stories told in whispers, World War I and immigration to America, where the last relative to leave Maydan arrived in New York in 1928.
"No guide, no books, no stories could have prepared me for the emotional impact of stopping at the crossroads of Maydan and Gologory; for driving down the same dirt road my father walked every week; for the first sight of the storied town well, the source of joy and life for Maydan. A flood of my father’s childhood memories came rushing back to me. It was overwhelming when my sister and I drew water from the well and packed it up to bring home.
"Maydan, a village of 70 families, has changed little these past 100 years. The single road in town is still used by horse-drawn wagons. As we strolled into the village, the chickens were running free near the houses, the apple, pear and cherry trees were blossoming, and the beekeeper was gathering honey, all exactly as my father and aunt had described."
Salz also mentions guide Alex Dunai, well-known in Jewish genealogical circles, who located the oldest man in the village prior to her arrival, and who provided much information.
"Then Ivan took us to the site where my family’s tavern stood. The house had been rebuilt, the only new one in the village. The sturdy tin roof of the tavern was now on a neighbor’s house. The family that resided in the house on the site of the tavern came out to the yard. Nothing could prepare me for this meeting. Upon hearing my aunt’s name, the woman cried in recognition that her mother, who died 20 years ago, always talked about her best friend, a girl named Chana. They had gone to school together across the street from their homes, the very school we had just stepped into."
Salz recounts more of her four-week journey: the cemetery in Gologory, the larger town of Zloczow and its synagogue, Majdanek and Auschwitz.
Says Salz, "Every family has stories to tell – but every story needs listeners so that they can be passed on as a legacy to children and grandchildren."
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