No. 16/2000 - 13. August 2000
by Michael Goldberg
9/29/16 Ė 10/23/93
My father was born Moishe Mordechai Goldberg, son of Yakov and Feyge. He was the oldest son in the family of 6 - there were also two brothers and 3 sisters. When the time for his birth came near, his parents were forced to evacuate to the nearest village of Okhovo. Pinsk became the front-line between the advancing German Army and the Russian Army. He was thus born in the village of Okhovo on September 29, 1916. He said many years later how ironic it was that he was delivered by the German doctors.
He returned to Pinsk at the age of 3 and would be forced by his father to leave with the Russian Army in June of 1941. He recalled his fatherís words to him many years later. Upon hearing the advent of the Germans, my grandfather said "This will be the end of us!" and insisted that my father leave because he would have a better chance to survive the war instead of remaining with the family. My grandfatherís words proved prophetic Ė my father survived excruciating years in Siberia and fighting the war in Europe with the Third Battalion. His one sister, Yetta survived and is now living in United States. His father, 2 brothers, two sisters, his wife and infant child were murdered in the Pinsk ghetto.
In 1990, three years before he died, he sat with my sister and dictated his memoirs. It was an extraordinary feat for him, only because it was so difficult for him to speak about his family. It became a loving collaboration and something for us and the next generation of Goldbergs to have. The short stories were added as an addendum to his books entitled "Memories of a Generation" and my sister and I very happy to share them with others.
New York, August 2000
My memories would not be complete without paying tribute to my friends, especially to a remarkable man who played a role in my education from 1934 until 1941. In my growing years I had many friends from different layers of society. There were students, workers and intellectuals from all parts of Pinsk. I was like a magnet which attracted all kinds of people. I must have been doing something right. I want to first mention two special fellows who were very close to me.
One was called Tevye Perchik, whom we called "Red", for his flaming bush of hair. He came from a small town of Morochno, what we called "from under the river", the marshlands. He worked as a tailor, and soon we became the closest of friends. Tevye spent all his free time in our house, until my mother suggested he move in with me. She said she had six children already, so it will be seven. Teveye was like a brother to me. In 1938 he was drafted into the Polish Army. He died in the German-Polish war in 1939.
The other fellow from our trio, in the only photograph that survived, was a tall blond teenager named Wolf Fucksman. He was a blacksmith like his father, a neighbor from my street, a boy with a golden heart and tremendous physical power. During all my political activities, I always found time for these two apolitical fellows who cared only for having good times. I was very close to Wolf until the spring of 1941 when a strange thing happened. In March 1941, under the Soviet rule of Pinsk I was called up in the Soviet Army. Wolf, who was also a cabinet maker, built a plywood footlocker for my personal belongings. I reported to the assembly place and by some never explained turn of events was dismissed. By some magic twist of fate, Wolf was called up at the last moment as if to take my place. I remember handing over that footlocker with provisions over to him, as he had nothing with him when was called up in such a hurry. Wolf went on to the Brest Citadel, where he was killed in the first Nazi attack on June 22, 1941.
Besides these two dear to my heart friends, I had a variety of ideological pals from different and extreme political viewpoints. For Polish Jews in the late thirties there existed three main political powers. There were the illegal Communist Party, the Zionist Movement for the emigration to Palestine, and the Bund, a Jewish workers' socialist alliance which believed in the fight for a better society in Poland and which always struggled bitterly against Zionism.
We established a large group for educational purposes. It is to the people in this group that I want to dedicate this fragment of time. Terrific guys such as Shimon Rubach, a skinny little fellow with glasses, the loudest in debates, with a brilliant logical mind; the two brothers Tilimziegez, Lyova and Moishe; Yosif Epstein (the only survivor besides myself), Michael Tukiel, Shachno Mishalow, and Isaak Grinberg, who was also the center forward on our soccer team. We had brilliant educators such as a graduate of the University of Vilna, Gabriel Deneberg, who majored in sociology and economics. He was of a wealthy family in Pinsk who became an organizer in the illegal Communist Party. The all shared everything they learned.
In 1937, by a sudden order from Stalin, the Polish Communist Party was disbanded because Moscow believed that the Trotsky opposition controlled it. We were left on our own and decided to affiliate our group with the Socialist Bund, on a cooperative basis, as an independent body. We then met the chairman of the Bund, Aaron Yudel Shliackman, who took over the furthering of our education. He was a man who merits description. He began his revolutionary life at the age of 15 in the 1905 Revolution against the Russian Czar and became a professional revolutionary for life. During the uprising he lost an arm in a bomb factory. After the failed uprising he spent long years in Siberian exile until 1914. In exile he was educated by the great Russian leaders of Socialist-Marxist movements. After the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, Shliackman found himself in Pinsk, where he settled and became the leader of the Jewish Bund which believed in the socialist system but was opposed to Communist dictatorship. He became the administrator of the cityís old age home which was controlled by the Bund organization and lived in an apartment on premises. In his home our group found a place and an excellent teacher. There we gathered several evenings a week. We called Shliackman our professor due to his tremendous knowledge of politics and economics. Our gatherings began to look like sessions of a parliament, with heated debates with our lecturer because of our ideological differences. To us he looked like a reactionary with his theory of peaceful socialist evolution. However, we loved him like a father, a very wise father.
By the beginning of 1938 our big circle of friends began to diminish. Most of us had to join the compulsory Polish military service for two years. I parted with many good friends, whom I never saw again. I most missed my dear friend, Isaak Grinberg, with whom I used to discuss every lecture, he used to walk me home, then I walked him home, and this used to go on for long hours, until we parted. He became like an extension of myself. As for our dear teacher and mentor Shliackman, after the Soviet takeover of Pinsk in the fall of 1939, he was questioned by the new rulers as to his intentions, and told them that what he had been fighting for his whole life, they had brought on their tanks. He was left in peace, but only for a short time. To the Communist authorities he was a menace, and after several months he was arrested and executed in the cellars of Stalinís secret police as an enemy of the state, the name given by Stalin to all human beings with free spirits.
In this terrible span of time I lost my loved ones, and people whom I respected with all my heart, to the Holocaust of Hitler and the bloody terror of Stalin.
Purim in Izhevsk
In the winter of 1941-42, by some twist of fate we found ourselves a large group of young Jewish men from Pinsk in a work battalion in the north of Russia. It was the first winter of the Second World War. When we were brought to Izhevsk in September 1941 it started snowing and that Siberian cold seemed to last forever.
By March 1942 it looked as if winter had begun to settle in for a long spell. For the seven long months of suffering and misery ahead, we suddenly became organized in a small circle of natural leadership, unselected but chosen. It is a natural phenomenon that a mass of people in distress looks up to someone for support and help. Our small group had for a spiritual leader a young rabbi named Rubinstein, a native of Pinsk who had chose to leave the town with the retreating Russians rather than find himself under Nazi rule. He was a modern man who combined strong Zionist and religious beliefs. I think he was the main force behind the existence of our group.
We started to meet and discuss ways of bringing hope and encouragement to the desperate people in the work battalion. One day Rabbi Rubinstein told several of us that the Purim holiday was approaching and it would a good thing if we could celebrate that symbolic event of a miracle for the Jews. We found an unoccupied barrack in an unfinished stage and on Purim night assembled all the trusted activists, who numbered about 20 persons.
The rabbi recited the entire Megillah of Esther from memory and we listened raptly to the magic words which none of us had paid attention to during our growing years. After reciting the prayers, Rabbi Rubinstein spoke to us. He spoke of our suffering and the desperation of our people. He said that our nation always came out from the worst situation alive. As an example he brought up Haman, with his three-cornered hat, who tried to annihilate the Jews and whose destruction we lived to see. He spoke of the Polish oppressors with their four-cornered hats whom we also outlived. He told us that we would outlast the modern Hamans; Hitler with his eight-pointed swastika and Stalin with his five-pointed star. That evening I understood that our people were able to survive thousands of years of Diaspora throughout the corners of the globe because fanatical religious preachers like our Rabbi in Izhevsk kept our nation together and that fate and belief will bring us through our hardest times. We came out from that Purim celebration with a determination to carry on that hope and the will to survive, and to try to inject these feelings into our brothers during this most trying time of our lives and these terrible conditions.
I personally realized that up to this day I had been trying to serve someone elseís gods and that no amount of assimilation would help us because the Christian world would not permit us to forget our Jewishness. This was my final cure for my youthful illusions, and I had a clear vision of my goals in the future.
Several days after our Purim gathering, our beloved Rabbi Rubinstein was taken away by the security police. To our shame we found out that we had an informer in our midst and all that transpired during our celebration had been reported to Stalinís police. Rabbi Rubinstein was tried as an enemy of the state for subversive activity and was sentenced to 20 years hard labor.
His beginnings, however, did not continue without results. We had established a leadership which provided help for years to the Izhevsk community to survive this horrible time. Most of us survived. Rabbi Rubinsteinís predictions came true for him as well. He survived the gulag and in the exodus of Polish Jews in 1945 came to the West. I found him years later alive and practicing as a rabbi in Israel. We had witnessed the death of the modern day Hamans, Hitler and Stalin.
Copyright © 2000 Belarus SIG, Francine M. Schwartz
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