In Cellars, Pits and Attics
Mykola and Maria Dyuk
Clara Safran her son Roald, her brother Samuel Rosen and his wife Josefina from Zlochov (then Poland, today Zolochiv in Ukraine) were hidden for 15 months – from January 1943 until June 1944 – in the schoolhouse of Mykola and Maria Dyuk in the village of Uniow (today Univ). Mykola Dyuk was a teacher and the principal of the one-classroom school. He and his wife lived in the schoolhouse.
At first, Dyuk hid the family in the attic of the schoolhouse. It had one window, from which Roald would gaze at the children playing below. Standing at the window he could only watch them secretly, but never join in their games. He later described the experience in a poem entitled "Fields of Vision." Confined to the narrow space, Roald would also pass the time by playing games with his mother. Hidden in the attic in the small village, they would imagine travelling from Uniow to San Francisco.
“To get from Uniow to San Francisco/ this is what you do, mammi; first/ you walk out to the road that ends/ near the church, you wait a while/ for a peasant to give you a ride/ for a few kopeks, to the main road/ the one where you said father/ built the bridges. There you wait/ for the bus. In Zloczow you catch/ a train….” ["Games in the Attic," 1943]
The attic roof was cracked in places, and the room was exposed to all kinds of weather. The family was therefore moved to a windowless storage room. Thus Roald was now also deprived of his precious views of the village.
Maria and Mykola Dyuk had three little children, and by hiding Jews in their schoolhouse, they exposed the entire family to great danger. After the war, Clara Safran-Hoffmann related how Maria Dyuk was at first opposed to sheltering the Jewish family. Faced with the possible consequences of giving shelter to Jews, she was understandably afraid for her family. But Mykola convinced her to go along with his plan, and she agreed to care for the Jews and prepare their food.
On 23 September 2007, Yad Vashem recognized Mykola and Maria Dyuk as Righteous Among the Nations.
From the testimony of Roald Hoffman:
The attic was a false attic above the real one. There was one window, and through that window I could see the children in the school – this was a schoolhouse – playing outside. And I felt – I still feel – the pain of seeing these children being free to move and I couldn't move out…
Then I had to keep quiet. That must have been difficult. That's a great tribute to my mother – she kept inventing games to play with me for 15 months – from January '43 until June '44. Games – I remember some of the games…
The ones I remember best were geography games. They were games like… my mother would specify some spot around the world like San Francisco, and I would have to say how I would get from Zloczów to San Francisco, exactly how I would travel: I would take the railroad up to Danzig, get on a boat, and then I would have to name every sea that I passed… that was lots of fun.
Games in the Attic, 1943, by Roald Hoffmann
To get from Uniow to San Francisco,
this is what you do, mammi; first
you walk out to the road that ends
near the church, you wait a while
for a peasant to give you a ride,
for a few kopeks, to the main road,
the one where you said father
built the bridges. There you wait
for the bus. In Zloczow you catch
a train (maybe we could visit
Grandma Sabina, when the Nazis go)
to Lemberg, wait a few hours, on
to Warszawa, still by train to Gdansk.
Then you get on a boat, go out into
the Bay of Danzig, the Baltic,
through öresund, Kattegat, and...
I forgot the third one, around
Denmark, but maybe you can cut
across by the Kiel Canal. Out
to the North Sea, the English Channel,
out to the Atlantic. Then, because
we have time, like here in the attic,
we can sail the longer way (do you
want me to tell you all the names
of the islands we pass, mammi?) around
South America, through the straits
of Magellan, near Tierra del Fuego, up
the long coast of Chile and this island
of Robinson Crusoe — please, I want you
to read that story again — up further
past Panama, where there's a canal
that could have saved us time, up
this long chicken leg that sticks out
of Mexico, to California. Here's a bay,
here's San Francisco. How did I do,
mammi, did I get it right, mammi?
Near San Francisco, 1989
(Quoted with permission of the author)
Fields of Vision by Roald Hoffmann
From the attic the boy
watched children playing, but
they were always running
out of the window frame.
And the weathered shutters
divided up space, so
that he couldn't often tell
where the ball Igor kicked
(he heard the children call
Igor’s name) would end up.
The boy was always moving,
one slat to another,
trying to make the world
come out. He saw Teacher
Dyuk’s wife with a basket,
then he saw her come back
with eggs; he could smell them.
Once he saw a fat goose,
escaped from her pen, saved
from slaughter, he thought. Once
he saw a girl, in her
Vest. He couldn’t see the sky,
the slats pointed down; he
saw the field by the school,
always the same field, only
snow turned into mud into
grass into snow. Later
The boy grew up, came
to America, where he
was a good student, praised
for his attention to facts;
he taught people to look
at every distortion
of a molecule, why
ethylene on iron
turned this way, not another.
In the world, he thought, there
must be reasons. His poems
were not dreamy, but full
facts. Still later, he watched
his mother, whose eyes were
failing, move her head, the
the way he did, to catch
oh a glimpse, the smallest
reflecting shard of light
of our world, confined.
(From Roald Hoffmann, Soliton, Truman State University Press, Kirksville, 2002. Quoted with permission of the author)