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Yakov Biber

Matsiov, Ukraine

Yakov was the youngest of four children born to a poor religious Jewish family in the village of Matsiov in Ukraine. Six years after Yakov was born, Matsiov was ceded to Poland. When Yakov was 14 his mother died and he had to quit school in order to work. Yakov was a Zionist and hoped to settle in Palestine [Yishuv].

1933-39: In the Young Pioneers, a Zionist group, I directed the dramatic productions we put on to raise money for the Zionist cause. It was in the Young Pioneers that I met Chava, whom I married in 1939. Antisemitism in our region had been increasing since Hitler's rise. In Matsiov elderly Jewish men were afraid to go out because their beards might be ripped off by hooligans. In 1939 the Soviets took over our village.

1940-44: By 1941 the Germans had occupied the region and, aided by the Ukrainian militia, began murdering the Jews. For several months Chava and I and our 2-year-old son, Shalom, hid with the help of some local peasants. One Saturday afternoon, as we were hiding in the woods, we suddenly heard: "Run! Militia!" Bullets rained. Grabbing Chava and the baby, I ran. Shalom screamed and when I tried to cover his mouth, I lost hold of Chava. As I turned to grab her again, a bullet hit Shalom and he fell out of my arms.

Shalom was killed. For the next three years, Chava and Yakov remained in hiding. After the war, they started a new family. The Bibers emigrated to the United States in 1947.



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