Od redakcji: publikujemy poniższy tekst w języku angielskim, z powodu dużego zainteresowania naszą stroną także za granicami naszego kraju. Tekst w języku polskim ukazał się w 13 Zeszycie Specjalnym „Głosów Podolan”, który poświęcony był Zaleszczykom. Dziękujemy pani Hani Fedorowicz z Salzburga (Austria) za propozycję umieszczenia, i jego przesłanie.
Pearl Singer was a maverick for her time, a Jewish businesswoman and mother who held a central position in the fabric of Zaleszczyki’s commercial and community life.The Jews of Zaleszczyki had a thriving business community in which Singerowa played a pivotal role. Prior to WWII,the population of Zaleszczykiwasat least 40% Jewish, with a vibrant community life going back hundreds of years.
Pearl Singer, nicknamed “Pepi”, the youngest of her siblings, was born March 1878,the daughter of Nachum Ochshorn, a wealthy lumber dealer in Zaleszczyki,and Sara Rivka Axelrad. The Axelrad family was from Jagielnica, a townnear Czortków.Nachum Ochshornwas the son of Josef and YettaOchshorn.
Pearl‘s first marriageto Mr. Kleiner ended without children.Her second marriage was to Leon Arieh Singer, born in Monasterzyskain1874.Leon emigrated to his wife’s city, an unusual decision in the early 20th century, when it was still customary for a wife to live near her husband’s family.The couple was married in 1900.
Pearl and Leon’s children were: Nachum1902, Sala 1904, Fancia 1909, Frida 1911, and Itka, 1915. Born after Fancia, Motel died in infancy. The oldest, called Nunio by his family, contracted meningitis in infancy, making him a challenged but happy boy who worked as an adult in his mother’s shop.
Faniamarried attorney Yitzhak Sternberg and had a daughter,Ruth. At the outbreak of World War II, the familyescaped to Chernivtsi, Romania, accompanied by Fania’s father Leon. At the end of the war, they left for Eretz Israel where Ruth lives to this day.
Sala, who married Moshe Pressner, had 2 daughters: Fella (my mother) and Rita.Following her husband and his family’segg export business, they moved to Paris. When the war broke out, they evacuated to Marseilles. They escaped Europe via Lisbon on the SS Serpa Pintato CubaNovember/December 1941 andflew from Havana to Miami April 1944, settling in New York.
Frida married engineer Norbert Shraga and had a daughter, Janina Francesca, born in 1938. When the war broke out, she and her husband joined underground partisan forces. They left their one-year-old daughter in a convent and were later captured and executed.To this day we do not know what happened to Janina.
Itka, the youngest daughter, studied languages at the Sorbonne, as her older sister Sala lived in Paris. She returned to Zaleszczyki when the war broke out.Pepi sent Itka on her bike to bring money and jewelry to her sister Fania who had just left. Itka rode to the bridge and crossed over to Romania. Soon after, the bridge was blocked by Soviet tanks, preventing her from returning home. She joined her sister. Later, she reached Israel, married, was widowed twice, and had two children: a son, Alan Rubel, and a daughter, Margalit Fanger Navon.
As a child, Pepi stood out with herintelligence andhighly developed sense of responsibility.Her daring and business smarts in a masculine world led her father to purchase with her marriage a franchise of the Eastern Galician electricity company, simply called „The Elektrownia.” The Pressner family of Zaleszczyki was also connected to the Elektrownia.
Pepiowned a populargeneral goods storelocated on the main square which sold farm implements and other hand tools, sewing machines,and bolts of fabric, as well asedibles and art materials. Singerowa’s store was an innovative initiative, where one could purchase the newest building materials, furniture, and household items – the first commercial store in the region.
Pepi’s extraordinary personality traits were reflected in every area of her life.
On the one hand, she was an elegant woman and a shrewd and prominent businessowner in the community.On the other hand, she was a warm, loving, devoted and liberal family woman who agreed to have a traditional Jewish home by marrying Leon, a deeply religious man who studied Jewish text assiduously. Their daughter Fania (Fancia) followed in her father’s footsteps and was religiously observant and Zionist.
A friend of the family, Mila Sandberg-Mesner, recalls that Singerowa attended the meetings of the Women Circle for care of the Poor and Sick, also attended byMila’s mother. Singerowa was very active in charitable activities and contributed generously to the fund for impoverished citizens.
Nunioandthe other children helped at the store.In time, the shop on the town square became too small for the diverse products paniSingerowawanted to offer and especially for the iron goods, building supplies and farm machinery, such as tractors. Later, she built a much larger place at another location.
Pepi was known by everyone in town given that the use of electrical power was something completely new in the 1920s. One of the jokes in town during power outages: Singerowamust have fallen asleep and forgot to turn on the power switch.
Electricity was only available in the evenings, once it was getting dark, as the appliances that needed it were lamps – also later streetlamps – and especially radios. People were glued to their radios to get information from afar. These were some of the first steps of modernization.
Pepi’s openness was legendary, drawing customers to her shop from all religious and ethnic groups in town. Zygmunt Fedorowicz, born in Zaleszczyki in 1925, was recently asked by his niece, Hania, if he remembers paniSingerowa who had a shop on the rynek (main square). He immediately started to smile and go back in time: „Of course I remember her. She was quite a personality.””So, what would you buy there?” „Oh, all kinds of different stuff.” „What do you remember?””Before I could buy anything, I always had to give her a big kiss first!”
Another example of her openness was shownin the welcome Pepi showed her youngest daughter Itka’sboyfriend Friedel Turnau who was not Jewish.Friedel’s maternal grandmother,of the Brunicki family, had converted to Catholicism after receiving a title of nobility from the Austrian emperor, Franz I in the first half of the 19th century.However, she was born a Jew and according to Jewish law, Friedelwould have been Jewishas well, despite his grandmother’s conversion. Had it not been for the war, they would have married and remained in Zaleszczyki.
Pepi was an exceptional employer, caring for the many Jewish families who worked in her business. At the Elektrownia, for example, there was a group of painters who specialized in painting dams and later ironworkswith a new type of anti-rust paint she imported from Austria and Germany throughher building supplies business. In her home she employed a staff of workers and her daughters had nannies. The family could afford to travel in Europe, going to Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, Vienna, and Paris.
She also had real estate interests, constructing the family home on a large plot of land on Kilinski Street.Later two more houses were added for her daughters Fania and Fridaafter they married.
Pepi alsocared for adopted children:Chipka, who was an orphaned by her mother, became the sixth child in the family. She perished with Pepi in the first Aktion carried out by the Germans after taking over Zaleszczyki in June 1941; Dunia Gertner who was a distant relative whose mother was ill and whose father could not raise her. At the age of 18, Dunia married Moshe Hitler (yes, that was the groom’s name). They both perished in the same murderousAktion.
I learned fromMila Sandberg-Mesner that the Elektrownia was a central feature of life in Zaleszczyki,and with it, paniSingerowa. Mila vividly remembers the fire at the Elektrownia which must have happened when she was 4 or 5 years old, about1927 or 1928. Workers rushed to prevent an explosionby throwing canvases over a cistern that was filled with oil used to run the electrical factory. Meanwhile, Mila’s father was on the roof of their house, just across the street from the Elektrownia, catching flying sparks and extinguishing them. After the fire, there was no electricity for an entire year, and people had to use naphtha lamps again. Mila remembers the wonderful day when the electricity returned, and the naphtha lamps were carried to the basement.
In time, a volunteer fire department was organized. The Elektrownia would provide a warning signal: lights flickering on and off three times in the whole town meant volunteers should run to the point of assembly to go fight the fire. Since the lights were only on at night, the alarm signal was sure to be noticed.
Mila remembers that on Sept. 1, 1939, everyone in Zaleszczyki woke up surprised, as the lights were on in the daytime.Singerowa had given the exceptional order to turn the electricity on in the morning, so that everyone could listen to their radios.
War had begun.
Pearl Singer died 11 November 1941 in Zaleszczyki in a German Aktion, along with her son Nunio.Zaleszczyki native and eyewitness Israel Shechter documented the fact that Pearl and her son were murdered by the Gestapo, aided by local collaborators. They were shot, along with several hundred other Jews near the officers’barracks, ODW, and buried in a mass grave which was filled in by unknowing Jewish residents.
As Mr. Schechter told the assembled at Bet Keren Hakayemet in Tel Aviv, on October 29, 1950:
“There we were handed shovels and were brought to a large field which was big and snowy in which there was a large hole in the ground. We were ordered to lower the outer circle of that hole, and with the dirt that was dug to cover the hole and flatten the area…” “…we didn’t even imagine that when we were digging in the hole near the barracks, that we were digging and walking on hallowed ground, that was made holy and pure by the blood of our innocent loved ones who were killed too early in this mass grave…”
The actual site of the mass execution has been built over; a multilingual engraved stone monument nearby commemorating the 800 Jewish victims of November 14, 1941, was unveiled in May 2011.
Although Pepi’s life was cut short, she had 72 descendants living all around the world, several of whom are named for her.
Leon Aryeh Singer died December 30th, 1949, in Ramat Yitzhak, Israel.
As of this writing in October 2021, there is a project underway to create a memorial landscape at the site of the former Jewish cemetery in Zaleszczyki, located near the railway bridge and overlooking the Dniester River. After the war it was abandoned and thendesecrated by Soviet decree in the 1960’s and 1970’s, however 200 macewaswere inadvertently saved from destruction: they were used to pave a drainage ditch at the elementary school and willnow become part of the memorial.
Elected officials, educators, a landscape architect, clergy – Jewish and gentile, and diasporic descendants of Zaleszczyki families have come together to commemorate members of the vibrant Jewish community that existed before the Shoah.Their memory is not defined by how they died, but by how they lived and thrived, as an integral part ofpolitical, economic, and cultural life in Zaleszczyki.
Jordan Friede, great-grandson of Pepi Singer
New York City, October 2021
Thanks to my cousin Margalit Navon and my aunt Rita Pressner Cohn for helping to reconstruct family memories.