Words in Progress.

Dubno Remains.

A memorial outside the old Dubno airport where 22 family members were murdered on May 22, 1942.

A memorial outside the old Dubno airport where 22 family members were murdered on May 27, 1942.

Today I travel to Dubno. We ride a car from Lviv, past the countryside, beetroot and potato plantations and forests. Before taking off, my grandfather gives me names to look for: his old school, his address growing up, the river he swam in during the summer and ice skated on during the winter.

After two hours in the car we arrive. We see the river, Ikva. It’s still there, the Dubno castle tower behind it, intact. It’s a warm day but there are no children playing outside. I imagine what it might’ve looked like as a young boy playing with his friends.

A horse carriage on a dirt road in Dubno: a common sight.

A horse carriage on a dirt road in Dubno: a common sight.

We drive to his old school, where my grandfather would walk to, about 3 or 4 kilometers, each day. He wasn’t a great student, he’d told me, but loved history, physics and geography. Math, not so much. The building, to our surprise, is still there. The outside is almost intact. But it’s an abandoned building. Weeds grow around the edges; windows are cracked. No one uses it anymore.

We find a woman, Ludmila, who studied in the same school as my grandfather. She was a year older, she tells us, and studied with an older class. Ludmila, who’s 89 or 90, has kind eyes and invites us inside her home, where she shows us photographs of her class. Unfortunately, she can’t remember my grandfather since he was a year younger. When we go back outside we see a horse cart on the dirt road carrying supplies, a common sight here. I imagine the old village doctor my grandfather had told me about, the only person in Dubno with a car back in the 1930s: “One time his car stopped and he got his gun and shot the engine,” he told me laughing.

Dead sunflower fields on the outskirts of Dubno.

Dead sunflower fields on the outskirts of Dubno.

We find my grandfather’s old street and look for the house where his family once had a garden and grew cucumbers, radishes and other vegetables. This street is paved now, but some houses look like they could still have a separate bathroom outside, some look like the walls are barely hanging on.

We go by the large Dubno synagogue, which is still standing in the center of town. Windows are boarded up and we see ruins on the inside through the cracks. A drunk man walks over to us and says something our guide refuses to translate. There are 20 Jews left in Dubno, our guide tells us. But no synagogues remain active today.

The remaining shell of the largest synagogue in Dubno.

The remaining shell of the largest synagogue in Dubno.

When I told my grandfather I was coming to Dubno, his birth town, he first asked me why. There’s nothing to see, he said. Twenty-two members of our family were murdered, including his mother, Zysl, and his younger sister, Mania.

I wanted to see where he was born, how he managed to reinvent himself, recreate a life, thrive from ashes. I’m discovering that everything he left behind stayed more or less frozen in time, deteriorating.

4 Responses to “Dubno Remains.”

  1. Susan Green

    Keren, I went to Graded a few years with your Mom. I am really enjoying your adventure. How lucky to have so many facts to recreate this journey. My German grandparents immigrated to Brazil also and I really wish that I knew more facts to take such a trip. I think that they were Germans and ashamed so kept secrets. What a gift you have….although sad.

    Susan Keller Green

    Reply
    • Keren Blankfeld

      Thanks so much for reading, Susan, and for the comment. It’s been amazing to meet 3rd and 4th generation Poles who are coming to terms with not knowing their family’s stories.

      Reply
  2. Asher Ziskind

    Keren, both my parents were from Dubno and I grew up with their stories of growing up there. One of my favorite was about the doctor who had the only car in Dubno and how he pulled out his pistol and shot it when it wouldn’t start! And how they would go to the castle on Sundays for picnics, the long escape tunnel leading to the river. That is the castle where Taras Bulba died because he returned to find his lost pipe after losing it during the battle. A lot of Jews died too because the Poles would not let them into the castle, leaving them to the Cossacks. Would love to know if your grandfather knew either of my grandparents!
    Asher Ziskind

    Reply
    • Keren Blankfeld

      Hi Asher — it´s so exciting to read your comment! I read it to my grandfather, who recognized the name Ziskind. When did your parents leave Dubno? What are their first names? I can imagine folks enjoying picnics by the castle, it´s very beautiful, especially by the river. I would love to hear more of your parents´ stories! – Keren. Feel free to write me directly at kblankfeld(at)gmail(dot)com.

      Reply

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