Zyga Elton (Elbaum)

Title: Destination Buchara
Author: Zyga Elton (Elbaum)
Publisher: Dizal Nominees
Place of publication: Melbourne
Year of Publication: 1996
Location of Book: Rare Books Collection, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Poland: Warsaw, Grodno, Lodz, U.S.S.R.: Brzezany, Voroshilovgrad, Kuibyshev, Buchara
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative

Elton presents an autobiography dealing with the hardships of growing up in Poland and the tremendous dangers he faced fleeing Germany’s eastern front. The first 100 pages deal with his life in Warsaw before the onset of war, including his involvement with various political youth movements. The next 100 pages deal with his escape to Soviet territory and his continued flight from the advancing German army. Pages 192-258 detail his struggles for employment in Buchara while the final chapters outline his repatriation to Poland and subsequent exodus to Italy. The book was written late in life and was intended to record his wartime experiences for his daughter’s children. It was published in Melbourne in 1996 by Dizal Nominees.

Zyga Elton was born in Warsaw in 1920. The first section of his book deals with his life in pre-war Poland. Elton presents a moving story of his education, both in the classroom and on the streets of Poland. We share his love of literature, soccer and other school experiences such as friends and girls. As political activity intensifies, Elton is exposed to different political ideologies. Whilst still at Cheder, his interests lead to participation in the Betar organization. Later switching to socialist movements, the ideas of equality and the betterment of the less privileged in society became embedded in Elton’s consciousness. Indeed, Elton’s reflections on his changing political ideologies permeate the book.

Soon after the German occupation of Warsaw, Elton, along with countless other Jews, fled eastward. This was the beginning of a tremendous emotional and physical journey as a Jewish refugee. Elton describes his journey of migration through places such as Grodno, Brezezany, Kuibyshev with intense feeling and passion. His temporary imprisonment in Lvov was one of his most terrifying experiences.

In order to finance basic travelling and living expenses, Elton quickly made friends and connections in each town and tried to continue to work. Everyday, his struggle to find adequate food proved challenging, however luckily he was able to avoid the common illnesses which were epidemic in the cramped trains and densely living populated living spaces. Another major interest is Elton’s involvement in the Red Army. Elton and his friend Joseph were assigned tasks to dig trenches behind the front line. Here, amongst all of this turmoil, he found his first love.

Elton’s migration to Buchara was a turning point in his life. Being a skillful and academic man, he quickly found work in a cotton factory. No longer was he starved of food and clothing, and he had a reasonable place to live. In the relative safety of Buchara, Elton spent the remaining years of the war. Towards the end of 1945, news reached Buchara that Jews would be repatriated to Poland. His return home to Warsaw flooded him with emotion and feelings of distress as he discovered his family had disappeared. Soon after, he was finally given the freedom to leave Poland and to start a new life elsewhere.

The book is detailed without being heavy. Characters and places are introduced with thorough description, yet the book remains a fast paced read. His story is very personal, but great attention is paid to the surrounding geo-political forces shaping his experience.