Allan Auerbach, z”l was the beloved gabbai of Chabad of Hunterdon County (NJ) for many years. I had known of him previously when we were both members of the Flemington JCC (NJ) but never had the opportunity to actually get to know him. That all changed, however, when we met up later at Chabad about seven years ago. Since then, every shabbos I became a privileged benefactor of Allan’s deep torah knowledge, patient spiritual guidance, and poignant recollections of his early childhood in the Ukraine during the holocaust. With Allan’s untimely passing in December 2014, I and the community lost a great friend, mentor, and leader.
To honor Allan, I decided to embark on a mission to locate his birth town, travel there, and “walk in his shoes.” Those who knew Allan would likely agree that, had I undertaken this mission during his lifetime, he would surely have been very disappointed with me, as he was the epitome of humility: he never wanted to be the center of attention, much less the basis of a trip to the Ukraine, and never considered himself anything other than ordinary. By doing so, however, and through postings on this blog, I hope to convey to you some of the extraordinary life of the truly extraordinary man I came to know, admire, and respect. Allan, this blog is for you: may your neshama have an aliya, and your memory be a blessing to your family, the community, and all of Israel.
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Where in the Ukraine is Zalozce? Nestled in the hills of the Zboriv district of western Ukraine, about a two-hour drive east of Lvov (Ukrainian: Lviv) and about a 35-minute drive northwest from Ternopil, along the Seret river, sits Zalozce [alt. Zalosce] (the Polish name; the town is known by several other names depending on which country ruled the region and who you speak to, including Zaliztsi [Ukranian], Zalozcy [Russian], and Zalozitz [Yiddish]).
Today, a town of approximately 2,700 people, Zalozce had a Jewish population alone of nearly 2,400 in 1900. Frankly, I never heard of Zalozce and during all the time that I spent with Allan each shabbos, listening to his recollections of his childhood, not once did he mention the name of his birth town. In fact, when I had inquired one time, he refused to discuss it. I suppose his reluctance was due to the dark memories that the name of his birth town would conjure up, memories of how he and his family had to flea his home without notice and hide in the forest when the Nazi’s entered his town, and of how the Nazis burned his home before the Soviets entered. For me, though, discovering the name was my first opportunity to see the world through Allan’s eyes. But where do I begin?
*** Additional updates to this post forthcoming – be sure to check back often!***