Remembering Chana Mrocki
Earlier this week we mourned the passing of one of the true treasures of the Bund and SKIF community in Melbourne, Chana Mrocki (Korman). On behalf of the entire community in Melbourne and across the world, we wish long life to Moishe and the entire Mrocki-Korman family.
איר זאָלט מער נישט װיסן פֿון קײן צער
.כּבֿוד איר ליכטיקן אָנדענק
The hesped below was written and read by Chaver Doodie Ringelblum at the funeral and minyen.
מיר קומען זיך צונויף צו געדענקען און אפגעבן כבוד חנה מראצקי – א געטרייע טאכטער, א ליבע ווייב, אן איבערגעגעבענע מאמע,א טייערע שוועסטער, אן אומפארגעסלעכע באבע, א באליבטע שוויגער, אן אויסגעצייכנטע לערערין, אן אינספירירנדיקער העלפער, א זינגער, א קולטור טוער – אבער דעראיקר – א מענטש אין דעם העכסטן זין פון ווארט.
Khane’s biography isn’t just a recitation of dates. The echoes of the lives of her grandparents and parents and her own childhood, returned again and again as her life played out.
Khane was a hug. A warm and enveloping hug. Not a polite, stand-offish, formal 2 second hug, but a hug that enveloped you with love and affection and made you feel special and cared for and felt like it would go on forever. The hug of a woman who having been deprived of so much in her early life, wanted everyone around her to know no deprivation.
Khane Korman – was born in Warsaw, on April 8th 1938, the oldest daughter of Edzhe Gryfenberg and Yidl Korman.
Her father’s family were of modest means. Her paternal grandfather was a baker of cookies and khalles. Nonetheless, they were freethinkers and the solitary light in their home became a meeting point for people to read a variety of secular literature.
Her mother’s family were much more religious and were well to do merchants with a haberdashery and fabric store. All up, they numbered fourteen children including several sets of twins that died young. Her mother was the youngest and one of only two girls. Of the fourteen children, only the two sisters survived birth, infancy and then the Holocaust.
Khane’s father Yidl, was a carpenter; her mother Edzhe a shop assistant. They met through a mutual friend in the union movement and even before the war, her mother moved into her father’s family home – a subject of scandal.
Maybe that is why, thirty years later, Khane was amused at the reaction of other to the scandal of she and Morry moving to Beaumauris.
Both her parents were Bundistn. Though her grandparents weren’t, her paternal Grandfather would march alongside the Bund on May Day. It wasn’t his world, but he knew a new world was coming, and he chose to support the youth, without joining the party.
In turn, Khane, embraced and supported her children and grandchildren in everything they did. They have all travelled paths of their own choosing. Often, they haven’t taken commonplace professional or personal paths – but from Khane they got only support for their choices and lives.
Yidl was taken to work in the forests for the Soviets. He saw the preparations for war and he sent a telegram to Edzhe saying to flee as quickly as possible, take as much as possible and warn as many khaverim as possible. Edzhe, with Khane in her arms, left Warsaw in 1939 and fled East. As Khane’s parents did not want to take Soviet citizenship, they were sent to Siberia, and that was where Khane placed her earliest memories. She recalls her mother collecting apples in Autumn to make compot which she would sell by the cupful to the soldiers on the trains that would stop nearby.
I wonder if it was the sweeping plains of the Siberian steppes that shaped her love of the outdoors and the beauty of nature. I mentioned to Morry yesterday how one of my earliest memories was clinging to Khane as she dinked me on her bike down to the beach of Beaumauris. And so many people have mentioned to Freydi their first experiences of nature were tied in with Khane.
Released from the Siberian gulag in 1941, they with other married couples were sent to Kazakhstan and so the family settled in the Uzbekistan/Kazakhstan region finally living in Djumbool.
There Khane recalls the whole family was always hungry. They lived in daily fear whether Yidl would return from work. Edzhe would to go Tashkent to trade on the black market in tobacco, spirits and oil, hiding under her clothes a belt with a cork that a friend had made for smuggling. While her mother was away, her father contracted typhus and was sent to hospital. Khane recalls the kindness of the Frenkl family, who took her in to care for her, despite the risk that she was sick and would infect their young baby. And indeed, a week later, she came down with typhus and was sent to the same hospital as her father, where she lay on a straw mattress on the floor, while snow blew in every time the door was opened. Somehow they both survived.
Kindness to both friends and strangers became a central theme of Khane’s life. Perhaps because of her experience as a stranger in such a strange land; perhaps because she only survived through the help of others. Perhaps because on occasion she did encounter hatred and hostility and that made her all the more devoted to caring for the welfare of everyone she came in contact with.
When she returned to the Frenkl home after the hospital stay, she had the luxury of her first hot bath. Usually she bathed in the river and had to remove leeches by salting them ….when they had salt.
Life in Kazakhstan was hard for adults, let alone a child. One morning she went outside and found her dog, frozen solid. The toilet was a huge hole in the ground and she trembled with fear that she would fall in. Flies were everywhere. Despite all these hardships, her family never complained – they shared what they had with other Bundist families, accepted life as it came and knew that others were even worse off.
As soon as war was over and they were allowed out, they escaped as quickly as possible, arriving in Lodz, Poland in 1945. There she was the victim of anti-Semitic violence and abuse which was commonplace towards the returning Jews. Her family home became a meeting point for refugees and up to 20 people slept on the floor of their home.
Though they waited 6m for papers to the USA or Canada they received a visa to Sweden and moved there as soon as able. They lived in Salsjabadn from 1946 to 1949, (where she added Swedish to her list of languages, Khazari, Uzbeki, Russian and Polish – but not Yiddish which she had forgotten.)
Khane recalled a girl approaching her as she came off the gangplank with a brown paper bag in her hand, and offering her an orange. Khane had never seen, let alone tasted an orange before, and this act of generosity was enough for her to feel that she was genuinely wanted and welcomed in this land.
Indeed, they would have stayed there but Swedish law mandated living there for 19y to become citizens and her father didn’t want that uncertainty. So they waited and waited for the USA or Canada to grant a visa for a family of three. With excitement the consul finally greeted them one day with news that he had received permission for a family of three to emigrate to the USA …. except that by then they were a family of four, for Benny was born in November 1947. And so when they were offered a visa to Australia, Yidl wanted only to look at a map to be sure that it was far enough away from Europe. A bonus was when he learned there was a Bundist circle already active in Melbourne.
After living for a few months in the Warsaw Centre – a mansion rented by Polish Jews who lent out one room per family for newly arrived migrants, they moved in with the Chizik family in Hawthorn. When they finally moved into their own lodgings, her father announced “No more Polish! We will speak English and Yiddish.” She learned English at Aubern South Primary school, Camberwell Central School and Camberwell High but needed coaching through private Yiddish lessons with Pinye Ringelblum before joining formal Yiddish classes at the Peretz school. From him, Yosef Giligitch, Berl Rozen and others she learned aleph-beyz, then language, grammar, literature and Jewish ethics.
Whilst devoting herself to her studies, she also devoted herself to her brother Benny. With both her parents working, she was sister, babysitter, carer, friend and mother to him, and even, on occasion, his vocal defender against malicious teachers. Perhaps what she learned in raising him as his second mother, influenced her career choice to become a teacher.
Through Yiddish, through Sunday School and through SKIF she found both her identity and her social circle. She met Morry via SKIF and Tzukunft, even if initially their dislike was mutual. She didn’t like his weight, and he didn’t like her plaits. Eventually she cut the plaits….he kept the weight… and they fell in love.
She attended Burwood Teacher’s College 1957-58 but this was not the beginning of her teaching career, which had begun two years earlier under the tutelage of Yosef Giligitch at the young teachers’ seminar at the Peretz school. She taught at Peretz in Carlton from 1958-69 except when having children and Giligitch – himself regarded as one of the finest teachers of the generation – described her as “A got gebentshte Lererin”.
Khane was a voice. Not just with singing, which she did exceptionally, but with how she used her voice as a teacher, as a reciter of poetry, as a reader of text. And to each of us, she used her voice melodiously, lilting up and down when she spoke about nearly every topic with passion. Her diction and her intonation were flawless – but her use of pauses and silence were at least as eloquent. What she said, how she said it and what she didn’t say were equally important in what we heard from her.
She was dedicated to the ideals of the Bund. She was one of the first SKIF lageristn in 1950/51, and then a youth leader until 1959 when she became engaged. In October 1959 she married Morry and they have been devoted to each other for the past 58 years.
She continued her work for SKIF behind the scenes for another decade.
Meanwhile she gave birth to three children – Freydi in 1960, Lionel in 1962 and Lex in 1964.
Khane was a face of beauty, elegance and style. In how she wore her caftan dresses, in how her skin radiated, in how she carried herself in sickness and in health – she epitomised grace. Her face beamed at everyone she met – only occasionally punctuated by a well-deserved scowl. A smile from Khane would uplift even the saddest of hearts.
She devoted herself in equal measure to family, to Bundist work and to her career. She taught at Sandringham Girls Tech and then after maternity leave at Mentone Girls High, Beaumauris Primary school and then 13 years at Black Rock Primary. A fabulous teacher beloved by students, colleagues and parents alike.
Khane was an eyebrow. With one disapproving glare, with one raised eyebrow, she could crush you and bring you to heel. She could make you feel guilty about wrong doing, ashamed of failing to do your best or live up to an expected standard. Whether as a teacher, parent, grandparent or friend, her ethical compass was strong and clear, and demanded not perfection, but decency of behaviour at all times.
Her devotion to community was near-limitless. She worked on the Holocaust Exhibition committee that was the forerunner of the Holocaust museum. She worked at the ethnic radio station for five years preparing the weekly Yiddish children’s program. She worked with Morry for three years on the translation of the History of the Bund in Melbourne. She was a member of the Sholem Aleichem College Council from 1987 and together was Morry was a member of the initial Board of Governors from 2009-2017. Her dedication to the school was so great that she even took on the job of voluntary principal for the school in Term 4 1994, during a period of crisis, then taught prep in a voluntary capacity the following year, including teaching Rebecca Shonberg, Reyzl and Dvora Zylberman – all of who are now Yiddish teachers at the school. Who knows how much it was her influence that led to the current generation of passionate Yiddish teachers.
Lex died 2009. Like the character Bontshe Shvayg, from her beloved writer I.L.Peretz, she was silently stoic. She later said she couldn’t weep. The pain was too much. If only, we could have achieved in a smile for her, what her smiles offered us.
Khane will be remembered for many, many reasons. Her devotion to her own parents; her awe-inspiring love and relationship with Morry; her dedication to her children and her passion for her grandchildren; her achievements as a teacher and as a SKIF helfer; her commitment to the school and to Yiddish and and to Jewish culture. She was the most loyal and devoted of friends.
Perhaps because of her upbringing, perhaps because of the dislocation of her childhood, she could befriend anyone and saw in everyone their essential humanity.
We have gathered here to remember and honour Khane – a faithful daughter, a loving wife, a devoted mother, a dear sister, a unforgettable bobbe, an honoured mother-in-law, an outstanding teacher, an inspiring helfer, a singer, a cultural activist – but above all – a mentsh.
Her achievement is not that she typified almost everything that we think about when we use the word “mentsh”. Her achievement is that what she did for us and with us and to us, made so many of us into mentshn.
Her legacy is the better world that we have worked for because of her teaching and example; the world we can create to serve as her memorial and the world we must make to give her the honour she so deeply deserves, because of her impact and influence on us all.
Koved ir likhtikn ondenk.