David-Horodok isn’t a person. It’s a small town in southwestern Belarus that in 1940 was home to more than 4,300 Jews. By the end of 1942, almost all of them had been murdered. About 100 escaped. One was Beatrice Gaduzk Sonders.
Sonders and some of the other survivors made their way to Detroit, where they were welcomed by their landsmen, other Jews whose relatives had come from David-Horodok much earlier.
In 1919, the previous arrivals started an organization, David-Horodok Juniors, which raised money to help immigrants in Detroit and in Palestine. It evolved into the David-Horodok Independent Ladies Society and then into the David-Horodok Organization, the name it still uses. Its members represent 600 families.
Beatrice Sonders often shared stories of her life in Europe and her remarkable escape with her grandson, David Salama of Huntington Woods. Like his grandmother and his mother, Rita Salama of Farmington Hills, he regards himself as a “Horodoker.” His three sons, Elliot, 12, Ari, 9, and Oliver, 8 months, are Horodokers, too.
Sonders was only 16 on Aug. 10, 1941, when local Nazi sympathizers killed 3,000 men and teenage boys in the village, including her father and brother. The women and children were confined to a ghetto, but a year later, nearly 1,300 were murdered. Sonders and her mother fled to a nearby town. When the ghetto there was liquidated, her mother was killed but she was able to hide.
Sonders, who now lives in the Hechtman Apartments in West Bloomfield, remembers Horodok as a thriving town with five synagogues and a “Tarbut” school focused on Hebrew language and Jewish culture. It was one of the best in Eastern Europe, said Salama, an anesthesiologist at St. John Providence and Providence Park hospitals.
“My grandma attended this private school along with her younger brother. She learned to read, write and speak Hebrew, something she can still do to this day at 93 years old,” he said. “The students were instructed to speak only Hebrew, even outside of school.”
He said he sees his own education at Hillel Day School, which his older sons now attend, as continuing that style of secular, Hebrew and Judaic learning.
“My grandma gets a lot of nachas [joy] watching my children read Hebrew at the seder table or performing in Hebrew plays,” he said.
The local David-Horodok Organization, in coordination with its Israel branch, arranges trips to their ancestral village every few years. Salama and his wife, Pauline, participated in 2016. The group has also gone to Cuba, and a trip is being planned to Argentina. Wherever they go, they look for Horodokers.
The group also sponsors an annual memorial service for those killed in 1941 and 1942 and raises funds for various organizations through an annual dinner.
Salama is recording his grandmother’s story in book form. Through genealogical research, he has discovered branches of the family tree that were established in Detroit before the war, including some descendants of his grandmother’s aunt.
“Some are members of the David-Horodok Organization, and I didn’t even realize they were family!” he said.
His grandmother was so traumatized by what she’d been through and so focused on building her own family that she didn’t think to look for relatives in Detroit, he said.
“I’m beyond grateful that I still have my grandma and that she is so willing to talk about her experiences,” he said. “It is heartening that a small sliver of what once was in David-Horodok has miraculously reconstituted itself here in Detroit and in Israel, and that we can come together to remember and give tzedakah to do good in the names of all those who were lost.”