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In the Kovno Ghetto
and Stutthof Extermination Camp (cont.)

With Yaacov to Eretz Yisrael

At the end of July or the beginning of August, they came and told us that we were being returned to Lithuania, to our “homeland”. However, in actual fact we were transferred to work camps.

One day we learned that there was a concentration of refugees in Lodz, and that a Lithuanian fellow was the director of a kibbutz hachshara (training commune for life in Eretz Yisrael). Before dawn, my sisters and I slipped out of the camp and secretly set off in the direction of Lodz. If the Russians had found us – and we learned that they had searched for us – who knows what would have happened to us. We arrived in Lodz tired, worn out and frightened, and there we told them that we were being pursued by the Russians.

From there, we moved to Saint Otilia[10], where we remained for about a year. In the meantime, Ben-Gurion had come from Eretz Yisrael to meet with the survivors. My sister Itale went to the meeting, which took place in Landsberg. When she returned she told me that she had also met Yaacov Rabinowitz there. One day Yaacov actually did appear riding a motorcycle, and I will never forget that meeting. He looked so handsome; it seemed to me that he was dressed like a prince!

Yaacov and Olieski set up a vocational school in Landsberg, and with the support of the Joint[11], they also established a school in Munich, in which Jewish children, refugees from the camps, were concentrated. They taught them the basics, starting with the alphabet. I joined Yaacov in Munich, and we were married in a modest ceremony. My sisters remained in Saint Otilia.

In November 1947, Yaacov received an invitation from his brother to come to Australia. We arrived in Marseille, and there we discovered that the Yugoslav ship Partizanka, in which we were supposed to sail, was being repaired and sailing was delayed. We were surprised to learn that we could board it in another two weeks from Haifa. We immediately took advantage of the opportunity and sailed to Eretz Yisrael.

We arrived in Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet in December 1947, and I will never forget the meeting with my friends and the people from my shtetl. More than ten years had gone by since I had last seen them, and it seemed like eternity. I remember touring Haifa with friends, and there was already shooting as well as bloody riots in the country.

From Haifa, we sailed to Australia where we remained until October 1950. We knew in advance that our stay would be a short one, as our purpose was to immigrate to Israel. We did “make aliya” to Israel. My sisters immigrated to Australia, and I frequently have painful thoughts and difficult moments, moment of loneliness without my family…

 

   
Itale Lipes (Slovo) with her children Gabriel and Liza, Australia
 
Sonia Geide (Slovo), Australia

 

Slowly, Slowly, Stone on Stone

I remember a saying that I heard, in Yiddish: “In goles hot men gehat a hoiz, a dire; do iz doch die gantze gas unzere…” (In the Diaspora, we perhaps had a house, or an apartment; here the entire street is ours.) Truly, when I arrived in Israel I was so excited to walk around Tel Aviv, an entirely Jewish city, a goy nishto of a refue (no Gentile for variety)… The most moving feeling, however, was to see the elderly traditional Jews, since after the war none had remained among the refugees.

Acclimatization in a new country is usually hard, and here in Israel it was especially difficult. The suffering was great, but if we had to suffer – let it be here! It is hard for me to understand how children who were born here, and whose home is here, can get up and leave. You have to understand that a building takes half a year, a year, two years, to build. To build a nation, however, that requires time! The building must be done very slowly, stone on stone, and not all at once!

About Yaacov Who Is Gone

… It is quiet and empty in the house. Only the classical music station on the radio is broadcasting the drama of Peleus and Alessandra, taking me out of the feeling of absolute loneliness which is all around me.

The separation from the beloved man who was everything in my life is hard, and hurts me deep in my heart. We were together for thirty-seven years. We went through the Holocaust bowed down with sorrow and grief, and tried to overcome the tragic burden that each of us bore within himself or herself, the loss of all he or she held dear. Our hearts pined and our souls were wounded, but we tried to rebuild our family life, and gathered courage. A long time passed before we slowly reached the stage in which we could enjoy what we had built for ourselves.

Today, as I take stock, I find that we had good years. Yaacov worked in many important areas for the advancement of our young people in the ORT schools. How proud he was of the students who studied technical, mechanical-electronic subjects, completed their studies and afterwards succeeded in serving in highly important positions. He would return from work in an elevated frame of mind, and I experienced all this with him. I wasn't even bored with housework, knowing that by giving him devoted care he was able to do his job more successfully.

Logic says that this chapter in my life will never return, and now one must be ready to accept one's fate, to accept the loneliness and yearning within oneself. I have friends. Right after Yaacov's death, many people visited and phoned me. Over time, this has decreased. I also belong to Bnei Brith, and the club's cordial sharing of my mourning touched my heart. I am still not capable of making plans for the future.

Perhaps I will find satisfaction in some kind of volunteer work. Time will tell.

Rachel with Yaacov Rabinowitz, Holon 1967

Bella Rosenberg-Gurewitz: I remember Yaacov Rabinowitz. I met him in Kovno before the war. He was a friend of my uncle (my father's brother), and he used to visit his girlfriend Chaya Pakentner (or Pakemtner) who lived in my grandma's home. And then I met Yaacov in the Kovno Ghetto, with Chaya and their two children Raya and Geula. Geula was born in the Ghetto. This little child was sent to be hidden with a Lithuanian woman. Both were handed over to the Gestapo. The woman was freed, but little Geula was killed.

When my stepsister Naomi was to be sent into hiding, I heard Raya say: “I too am ready to go to the goyim (gentiles).” This made me think that maybe there was talk about sending Raya to be hidden.

Alik Yoffe: Yaacov believed until his last day that Raya survived the war somewhere…

Children's Monument, Victims of the Holocaust
In the Courtyard of the Choral Synagogue Kovno

[Courtesy of Leuma Lerman, 2007]

Footnotes

  1. A rest and recuperation home for freed soldiers and the weak camp inmates, not far from Munich. Return
  2. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Return

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