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GUESTS FROM FAR AWAY: A COLOURFUL RECOLLECTION

From the July 7th, 2008 edition of Klos

Translated from the Ukrainian by Mila Sandberg Mesner

It all started with the book Light from the Shadows, a gift to the Mayor of our town Zaleszczyki. The author Mila Sandberg Mesner was born in Zaleszczyki, and now lives in Montreal, Canada. The book was published in English, in Montreal in 2005. This edition includes 130 pages, and 16 photographs. In this book Mila shares her recollections of her beloved city Zaleszczyki, memories of her family, and memories of the horror of the German occupation in the ghetto in Kolomea.

Mila Sandberg Mesner was born in Zaleszczyki on November 22nd, 1923. She lived here at #9 Kosciusko street. The place where her family home used to stand is presently a playground for children, located on Bandera Street, across the street from the villa (#7). Before its demolition, the Sandberg house was used as a dorm for the students from the local technical school.

Mila's parents settled in Zaleszczyki in 1918. Her father was born in the village of Nowosiolka, and her mother in Jezezany. Her father used to lease farms from the count Dunin Borkowsko. Her father was also the owner of two mills in Kasperowce. Zygmund Sandberg and Fanny Elberger had three daughters Rosa, Lola, and Mila. Mila attended high school in Zaleszczyki for four years (1935-1939). She also attended the Ukrainian high school in 1940 for one full year. Hala Raczok, Ana Ivanyszin, and Wladimira Kociborska were among her high school classmates. Mila remembers a music teacher Francizek Holowaty who organized a mandolin/guitar orchestra in which Mila participated with her mandolin. In 1940, the Sandbergs moved to Kolomea to live with Zuta (Rosa) Wasserman.

On the invitation of the Director of the Regional Museum, Mila and her husband Isador (Izio) Mesner born in Pszemysl Poland in 1920, visited our city between the 15th -17th of June this year. Our Canadian guests visited the Regional Museum, the local Museum of History, the Agricultural School, and the Military Heritage Museum. Our visitors signed the guest books with the following beautiful words:  "I am very much impressed with the exhibitions collected and displayed in these museums" and "In memory of my return to my beloved city after 64 years".

Before retiring, Mila worked at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Mila was very moved to find on the walls of the Regional Museum, her school picture from the fourth year of her high school years, with her name on the bottom of the photo. 
One of the most poignant parts of the visit was the meeting with the Mayor Mr. Vladimir Beneviat in the City Hall, with whom our guests visited the 'Babi Yar' of Zaleszczyki, the place where in November 1941,  the fascists killed closed to 1000 Jews. Mila recalled that many of her friends, relatives and neighbours were buried in this mass grave. Among them Dziuna Schwebel, Sabina Stettner, Dziuna Hackmajer, Toni Majer, Berta Wenkert, Pepka Wenkert, Cila Barat, Minki Elberger, Frima Wenkert, Jancio Elberger, Ester Berkowicz, Mania Katz.. Mila lit a candle in memory of all the victims, of the horrible barbarism and tragedy that occurred in this place. She also mentioned, that on her return to Canada, she will collect money to erect a monument in this place in memory of all the victims murdered by the fascists. Later our guests visited our regional library where Mila donated her book Light form the Shadows. She donated another copy of her book to the Regional Museum, as well as a booklet written by professor Holowaty, recording all the details and events of the 1938 school year along with some pre-war photographs of our city.

Mila promised to pay for the translation of her book to Ukrainian in order that more people in Zaleszczyki and Kolomea would be able to read it. The members of the Regional Museum organized for the Mesners a tour of the city and the surrounding places of interest. The Director of the Museum pointed out some Jewish relics left behind by people who used to live here, such a Star of David and a palm leaf ornamenting a building at the centre of the town.

Our visitors expressed an interest in seeing the foundation of the Baron Hirsh School that is presently in front of the monument of Taras Schevchenko.

All the relics are important to the history of our town and the history of the people who lived here. It is a fact that at times the Jewish population here was larger than the Polish or Ukrainian population. According to the records from the year 1929, there were 1300 Poles, 3080 Ukrainians, and 3800 Jewish people living here.

The Mesners also travelled to the village of Kasperowce where they visited the  ruins of the stone mill that belonged to the Sandberg family. On the wall of the building near the roof still remain carved in Polish the following words: "W imie Boga 1922" (in God's name 1922). They also visited the Jewish cemetery in the village of Kasperowce, where Mila's grandfather was buried. There was much more to see and more places to visit but there was not enough time left, and so with sadness, the Mesners had to leave us, promising if health permits, to return again next year to their native land.