I Am the Granddaughter of Ukraine Refugees…

back view of a young girl protesting against war
Photo by Matti on Pexels.com

Attached is a link to a school project my 16 year old granddaughter, Kami, produced and wrote three weeks before the Russian invasion to the Ukraine. At the end of her presentation is a video of my Bubbe telling us about the day the Bolsheviks invaded her town, in her words—My Bubbe, Ruchela Anne Zupnik Glabman

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1d5caeIpomDYGHN1TzxhJTv2CPM6RsUrX/view?usp=sharing

1917: Zlotopol, Ukraine, a village outside of Kiev

My Bubbe, Ruchela, was an unusual Russian girl for her day. She was raised in a wealthy home and was educated in the gymnasium (Russian high school, not the yeshiva).

She and her four older siblings lost their parents by the time she was nine months old. When I asked her how they died, she didn’t know. While the three older siblings went to live with their maternal grandparents, and she didn’t know where, she and her sister Eve went to live with their paternal grandparents. Once separated, the children were to never see each other again.

How a Jewish girl in Russia, in the Pale of Settlement — A western region of the Russian Empire where Jews were allowed to maintain a permanent residency — was blessed to live in luxury and be educated was beyond the norm for most Jewish families who lived a bleak economic life. Bubbe described that she did not have to draw her own bath (they did have indoor plumbing and electricity) nor did she have to comb her long red hair because the maids did it for her.

Bubbe’s Zedeh was not only the rabbi of their shtetl but also a merchant who traveled throughout Europe to buy and sell bolts of cloth, books, jewelry, toys, pots and pans, handcrafted Judaica and other tchotchkes. He was often gone for long periods but that never stopped his strong hand in the upbringing in his two granddaughters.

Bubbe’s grandmother, her Babushka, was an educated woman. Bubbe described her: “She was young, educated and beautiful. She liked to cook, was kind to the servants and was an outstanding rebbetzin. She was always there to help anyone who needed food, medicines or a shoulder to weep on.”

When it came time for Bubbe and Eve to go to school, their Babushka was their biggest advocate. Zedeh really didn’t want the sisters to be around “Boys who might be desiring of them,” and it was a harder argument because the gymnasium was a secular school. But Babushka won out and the two sisters were educated in math, history and literature. My Bubbe loved literature and until she became cancer ridden in 1984, she was always reading. When I was a child, she would tell me about Tolstoy, Pushkin and especially Chekhov: The Cherry Orchard.

When you listen to the attached video, sadly, you will hear my Bubbe’s story that is not much different than what is happening in Ukraine today; frightened people running for their lives with little more than the clothes on their back.

Bubbe had made a friend, Mae, in the gymnasium and for the rest of their lives would be connected through their experiences and as family. Babushka told Bubbe and Eve to run from the Bolsheviks, so Bubbe ran to Mae’s town. When I asked Bubbe how far she had to go and how long did it take, she fluffed me off with a wave of her hand in the air as though it did not matter, “I don’t know! What does it matter? I just ran!” She described hiding between burning buildings, running from men on horses screaming at the town’s people to leave or be burned to death, she hid in doorways, under bushes until she reached the home of the Glebman family. (At Ellis Island the name became Glabman).

The family took her in. Several times she went back to her town to try and find her grandparents and sister. After many tries, Zedeh and Babushka were finally located in “An old folks home!” she yelled at me, “They weren’t old! Why would they put them there?” Over weeks of visiting them, one day an attendant stopped her from going to their room to tell her, “I’m sorry but your grandparents died last night.”

A sentence that enraged my Bubbe. No one could tell her how they died. But if I thought during her story-telling to me was filled with anger at that information, she then went into outrage when she told me that her beloved grandparents had already been buried in a corner of the local Jewish cemetery. “How do they bury such a distinguished rabbi and rebbetzin in the corner of a cemetery? It’s a Shanda!”

What I didn’t say to my Bubbe at the time was that after three years of Confirmation classes, I learned that being buried in the corner of the cemetery is s sign of committing suicide. I’ve lived this reality because my husband committed suicide and was buried in the corner of the cemetery. I knew Bubbe would not do well with this bit of Jewish education so I kept my mouth shut.

Eventually, Bubbe married one of Mae’s brothers. Soon, a rich uncle in Chicago sent money for the entire 20 member Glebman family to come to the US. Bubbe said they all  walked to Poland (yes, she told me “We walked” and for the first time, I now believe her as I see in 2022 refugees walking to Poland!) They were held up in Warsaw for six months because the remaining traveling money had not yet arrived. They were blessed that good Jewish families took all 20 Glebmans in. The money finally came and they left Warsaw and all “walked” to Le Harve, France, to make their voyage to America. Bubbe was pregnant at that time but miscarried on the ship. And my Grandfather was kept from getting on the ship because of pink eye.

Eventually, they were reunited and my Grandparents lived in Chicago and Los Angeles. Life was tough for this lady who was educated and brought up with privileges but she and my Grandfather made a living and raised three children. Sadly, in 1960, her middle son died from heart failure and in 1962, tragically, my parents were killed in a car accident. I don’t know how my beloved Bubbe lived the rest of her life with so many losses. She got up every day to raise me and my two younger brothers, cooked and cleaned, shared many stories of her life, read a new book and hugged us.

She would tell us: You live for the living. You cry, you mourn, you start to eat again and then you laugh. If not, you emotionally die.

I must share a miracle that happened in 1958. First let me say that my middle name is Eve, a memorial to Bubbe’s sister Eve. Out of the blue, Bubbe received a letter from her sister from the Ukraine! We couldn’t believe it! She thought Bubbe was dead, as we thought she was dead. A few more letters came after we sent her letters and care packages. Then, abruptly, they stopped. The Cold War. Very sadly, there was never any communication again. Many years later, I realized I was named after someone who was actually alive.

A Woman of Valor, my hero. My Bubbe. I am the product of a refugee from the Ukraine because of her experiences and wisdom that I hold dear to my heart. She taught me strength, resilience, faith and how to smile tomorrow.

My blessings go to the people of Ukraine for safety and resilience to build a new life. I know it can happen.

2 Comments

  1. I appreciate your response! It feels good to keep my Bubbe’s memory alive by sharing her stories and life!

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