Dear readers, we present to you a bilingual edition of the memoir of a Jew from Rohatyn in Ukraine, Jack Glotzer, I Survived the Holocaust Against All Odds. More than fifty years after the end of the Second World War, at the request of his family, the author spoke about what he had to experience in those dark times in human history.
This publication continues the book series Library of Holocaust Memoirs of the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies. It is very important for us to publish the memoirs of people who survived the terrible horrors of the Nazi occupation of Ukraine’s territory during the Second World War. These publications create space for understanding tragic personal and family history, and the fates of specific, real people. The stories enable us to sense the historical context of the era, to try to comprehend what happened, and to grasp the challenge to remain human in inhumane conditions when faced with the total dehumanization of Jews by the forces of German National Socialism. These texts are especially important for us in Ukraine now as the modern Russian criminal political regime is waging war against Ukraine – dehumanizing Ukrainians and Ukrainian culture, identity, and statehood. Modern Russia is following examples of hatred and killing from Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.
Jack Glotzer was one of the few Jews who survived the horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust in what is today western Ukraine, in the region that has been known for many centuries as Eastern Galicia. In the first part of his memoir, which deals with the period between the First and Second World Wars (1918-1939), we see features of Jewish life in Rohatyn through episodes with his family – his parents, his brothers, and his many other relatives – whom he remembers with great warmth. The interwar life of the Jewish community of Rohatyn was quite colorful and interesting, despite rather strong manifestations of antisemitism, which was unfortunately characteristic of the Polish state which governed Rohatyn and its region at that time. Reading these memories, we can feel the spiritual and cultural atmosphere, meticulously preserved, of a typical large Jewish family in one of the many towns with Jewish populations in Eastern Galicia of the interwar period. On the other hand, in the territories of Central, Southern, and Eastern Ukraine, which in the same period were within the borders of the USSR under the rule of the Stalinist regime, the spiritual and cultural traditions of Jewish communities were already under threat as a result of the brutal communist policy of assimilation of Jews, Ukrainians, and others. Jewish families in Soviet Ukraine lived in constant fear and gradually lost their national and cultural identity, or kept it in secret, unlike the Glotzer family in Rohatyn.
Another notable feature of life in the Jewish communities of Eastern Galicia at that time as seen in Jack’s memories of Rohatyn, was the embrace of Zionism which fostered the Jewish national movement. Along with participation in Zionist youth, educational, military, and sports organizations, there was a persistent dream among especially the younger Jews to return to the historical homeland in Eretz Israel.
Jack also recalls the complex knot of relations between the three main ethnic communities of Rohatyn and all of Eastern Galicia of those times: Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians. There are of course many subjective points in the author’s story, in particular in the chapter which describes life under the Soviet occupation between 1939-1941. However, that subjectivity is precisely why these personal, family memories are valuable – even priceless!
It is worth describing very briefly the quite complex historical context of the era for the inhabitants of what is now Western Ukraine. No matter the ethnic community, it was a tragic period for all.
In the territory of Western Ukraine in the 1930s and 1940s, local Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians became victims of ferociously brutal terror by two totalitarian regimes – Nazi and Communist. From 1939 to 1941, the Soviet authorities deported tens of thousands of residents of Eastern Galicia to Gulag camps, as untrustworthy and dangerous persons for the Stalinist dictatorship. Then, from 1941 to 1944, the Nazi authorities mercilessly destroyed nearly all the Jewish communities in the towns of Eastern Galicia. The Holocaust in these Ukrainian lands was one of the most terrible crimes of the Nazis. Some Jews, including a significant number of Rohatyn Jews, were deported to the death camp in Bełżec. Some of the Jewish communities were destroyed on the spot; in Rohatyn the majority of Jews were killed on the outskirts of their own town. Overall, more than 400,000 Eastern Galician Jews were killed by National Socialist Germany in Eastern Galicia. Poles and Ukrainians were also subjugated by the Nazis.
Near the end of the Second World War and following, from 1944 to 1947, the communist regime also abused the remaining local population. Poles were forcibly deported from the territories of Western Ukraine. Brutal repressions began against the Ukrainian national movement by punitive units of the Stalinist interior ministry and secret police (the NKVD). Ukrainians in the region were persecuted by the Soviet regime for cooperation with the Ukrainian nationalist political organization (OUN) and participation in its paramilitary formation (UPA), and even people who did not participate in any organizations but simply survived the war on these lands were oppressed. Mortal danger threatened people during this period just because they were Ukrainians. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the NKVD sent thousands of Ukrainian families to the camps, accusing them of the most terrible crime in the eyes of the communist dictatorship: “treason against the Motherland.”
The most difficult pages of Jack’s memoir, and at the same time the most valuable for documenting the history of the Holocaust in Rohatyn, are the pages covering the Nazi occupation, the killing of local Jews, and the life and death of the Rohatyn ghetto where Jews were imprisoned. Seventeen-year-old Jack Glotzer experienced the greatest tragedy of his life – he saw with his own eyes his mother and a brother being murdered. He also witnessed the death of the entire Jewish community of his native Rohatyn. He later wrote, “It was a very traumatic experience that I shall never forget.” During the Holocaust, Jack learned that some people are capable of terrible deeds, but thanks to other people who were kind-hearted and sensitive, he remained alive.
Later, Jack was drafted into the Red Army and by 1949, after great wanderings, he reached America. During his travails, Jack had dreamed of seeing his father, who had gone to America for work before the war, but his father died shortly before Jack arrived, evidently unable to bear the grief of losing his wife and sons.
It is important to bear in mind that Jack Glotzer’s memoir, like many other accounts of Holocaust survivors, is based on his own personal, mostly tragic experiences; it is ultimately subjective, as any memoir is. Within the tragedy there are other, likewise subjective experiences of Jews who survived the German occupation, which they remember with respect for the Poles and Ukrainians who saved their lives; there were many such people. However, if we want to know the full truth about those times, we must research and publish diverse personal stories and experiences, even the most difficult and unpleasant ones for us.
Finally, I sincerely thank those without whom this edition of Jack Glotzer’s memoirs about the Holocaust in Rohatyn would not have seen the light of day: Marla Raucher Osborn and Jay Osborn, who were the initiators and great motivators of this edition, and Vitaly Bobrov, coordinator of educational programs at the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies, who managed the preparation and scholarly editing of the book. Many thanks as well to the organization Rohatyn Jewish Heritage and the Ukrainian-German project Connecting Memory for supporting this publication of Jack Glotzer’s memoir.
Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies
 See for example, Humanity in the Abyss of Hell, Zhanna Kovba, published by Spirit and Letter, Kyiv, 1998.
Published by the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies, (UCHS), Kyiv. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.