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[Page 45 - Hebrew]

Memories of Family and Home

by Dov Eilat Elsztejn[1]

Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

As is customary for those who discuss their roots, I will begin with memories, starting from my maternal grandfather who died before I was born. My grandfather was a member of the Rabinowicz family of the regional city closest to us – Sierpc. My mother came from there, of course with the assistance of a matchmaker. I recall my grandmother from her role as the guardian of kashrut in the house. She would check the meat that my mother salted to ensure that it was done in accordance with the law. As a child, I recall that grandmother died without asking very much.

I never saw my paternal grandfather, for whom I am named. Despite this, I heard a great deal about him. He served as an accountant for many years, which was rare among us. He performed this task in the neighboring village of Brodnice. He had good relations with the gentiles. The villagers from the entire region liked him due to his honesty and common sense.

The villages continued to call his son, who was my father, after the name of grandfather Barak and not by his true name Avraham. During the time that we had the liquor store in our house, the relationships with the gentiles were good. This was especially true during the time of the war. Even the Germans who came to the town would frequent our house, having no similarity at all to the accursed Germans of the Second World War. Apparently, the police of a country have a great influence upon the image of a person.

I recall the enchanting personality of Yoel David Warszawski and his wife Zlata, who lived in our house. He served as the deputy mayor of the town. They were our closest neighbors, and perhaps this is why they are etched in my memory. As slightly more distant neighbors, I recall Peretz Gutenberg as an unconventional man. He had a store for watches and gold and silver objects. A smith who had arrived from the Land of Israel worked with him. He had a strange appearance and wore unusual garb. I thought that he was an Arab, but he claimed that he was a Jew who came from the mountains of Yemen.

Two large scale robberies in our house that changed the sources of livelihood and existence are etched in my memory.

A gang of thieves took advantage of the disorderly situation that was created after the First World War. On a rainy and stormy night, they broke into the wine and liquor store through the cellar, loaded everything onto a vehicle, and disappeared without anything being noticed. The bedrooms were on the second floor. In the morning, when we entered the store, we received a shock, and the police “helped” with sighs. What could one do? From what would we earn our livelihood? We decided together to enlist money from wherever possible. We had a nice house according to the conditions of that time, in the center of town. It had a large yard with wheat stalls. We asked and received rent paid up front for a year or two from the five or six tenants that we had, and from the three wheat merchants, including Father's brother Uncle Yosef. We also took out loans here and there. Father would travel to Warsaw to import various textiles so that he could open up a textile business. He hid the large amount of property very well in the vest pocket of all of his clothes. The diligent thieves took advantage of the cramped situation in the trains. With a razor blade they came to the location of the money, and succeeded in stealing everything, without leaving one coin. This was a pillage and a downturn. Father returned home.

Our petite bourgeois family became impoverished in the true sense of the term. What would we do from now? Mother, as a woman of faith, asked Father to go to the Rebbe of Otwock, our Rebbe, and to ask for his advice. Father agreed and went. However, his disappointment was great when he returned from there. In short, the Rebbe said, “It will be good, and G-d will help”. He also requested money for the advice! My Mother asked him what he thought. Father answered that he explained to him that he has no money. He told him to give him contracts, and with G-d's help he would redeem them. Mother said that there is no justice in this world, but just perhaps there might be in the World to Come.

How does one overcome the two wounds? There is no choice, one must find a way. Our large family which consisted of four sons and five daughters, no longer had young children. It was a good family without strife and discord. It was all for one and one for all. Moshe, the eldest, was born in 1898. I, the seventh, was born after five sisters. I was told that the joy was great when I was born. The entire family remained with the parents and became involved in jobs that earned income. What did we not do? Father returned to his tailoring profession. He purchased textiles, and we opened a tailor shop. Father was the cutter. There were two sewing machines operated by professional tradesmen. We would sell our products on the local market day which was Monday. We would also travel to fairs in other places. In one room in our house, we opened up a workshop for fur shawls. We literally made foxes with heads and eyes. This did not go badly. Chaya, the eldest sister, learned how to sew men's hats in Plock. She and two sisters opened up a workshop. We also made nets stretched over brackets, ropes, tablecloths and bedspreads (pila in the vernacular). Everyone worked, and our livelihood worked out well. It make sense to describe the Elsztejn family a bit, who were known entities in the town. Father was a wise man. People would come to seek his advice with regard to social and economic problems. He was a communal activist, and a man of faith, albeit far from fanaticism. He did not tolerate the extremist Gur and Aleksander Hassidim. He was a Hassid of Otwock. He exemplified the adage, “A man lives by his faith”. Along with this, he was an enthusiastic Zionist who bore the standard of Mizrachi.

He entertained the idea of making aliya to the Land already in 1925, at the time of the celebration of the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This was not a simple matter from a practical point of view. Mother, who excelled in rational thought, took this as a lovely dream and nothing more. There were nine grown children in the home, and one must think practically. There were five daughters who need dowries, and from whence would salvation come. The entire family was enthralled with the Zionist idea, but in practical terms they were far from this for various reasons.

Moshe, the eldest, belong to Tzeirei Zion, and he went out to agricultural hachshara[2] in the vicinity of Dobczyn. His future wife, Sara Hoffman, succeeded in making aliya as a pioneer (chalutz) along with Esther Krulik during the aliya of the chalutzim. They joined Givat Hashelosha. Moshe made all of the preparations for aliya to the Land and to join Sara. Moshe was the representative of the Singer machines, which formed a portion of the livelihood of the family. I had to replace him in his “work”. I was summoned home in the midst of my studies in Lodz. How great was the disappointment when Sara returned home due to the economic depression in the Land, with Moshe already having one foot “outside”. They decided to get married and to make do with their own means. They rented a modest dwelling in Lodz.

By means of a small dairy store, similar to a branch of Tnuva[3], they succeeded in supporting themselves in a meager fashion so that they could live together. A daughter was born to them, and they were able to find a corner for the girl's bed. The war broke out, and they attempted to escape along with our sister Tzipora and their good friend Yitzchak Grynbaum, her future husband. After many wanderings, they arrived in Zamosc. They left Sara and the young daughter temporarily, and continued on to Lemberg in the Russian occupation zone. When they decided to cross the border to return to Zamosc to get Sara and the girls, they were imprisoned at the border and sent to Siberia. They worked at backbreaking labor cutting down trees in the forests. After some time, they wandered to Leninobad in Tajikistan. The three of them lived together, and Rina, the daughter of Yitzchak and Feiga was born there. When they arrived in the Land, they called her Rina[4].

At the end of the war, they went to the camps in Germany, and continued on to a secure place in Israel. They first lived with our brother in Kfar Masaryk. They slowly acclimatized, and began working for a living.

Moshe was employed in the Wolkin factory, and Yitzchak in the Eskar factory. After some time, they were both offered light office work. They were not prepared to forego their role in building up the Land literally. They were Zionists in the heart and soul. Moshe got married to Rachel who had left the Massada Kibbutz. Both were happy, but to our sorrow, neither is alive any more. Tzipora and Yitzchak also live well. They raised a talented daughter, who was an excellent student. The daughter got married and gave birth to a daughter – a granddaughter to the happy grandparents. She also gave birth to a son and , but to our sorrow the mother and grandmother Feiga[5] were not privileged to see her, for she passed away.

The eldest sister Chaya had a unique personality. She was pleasant and good hearted, with an innate intelligence. She was a diligent student who read a great deal. She understood Hebrew, which she spoke at times, without being able to ascertain from where she obtained this skill. She did not attain higher education for she did not have the means. She was seriously Orthodox in the full sense of the term. She esteemed me for my desire to study, and I simply loved her for her unique personality. She would listen with great pleasure to my reading of the Hashomer Hatzair newspapers, which I obtained in Warsaw.

She learned her trade as a maker of women's hats in Plock along with our sister Dvora. She kept a fine house in the yard next to our store. She would receive orders based on samples from special journals, and she would set out on her journey. At times, she would bring manufactured hats to Warsaw. Chaya would go to Mlawa and from there by train to Warsaw. She always had a book in her hand on the train. Often, men tried to initiate a conversation with her, but for naught. It ended up being no more than a brief conversation. On one occasion she was listening to a conversation between two students from the Hebrew gymnasium of Mlawa. They talked Hebrew to each other, and were sure that she did not understand, for they saw that she was reading a Polish book. How great was their surprise when she deliberately bid them farewell in Hebrew as she got off the train.

Yehoshua Szaranski returned to Rypin from Belgium for the purpose of finding an appropriate wife and set up a family. His father Moshe Szaranski began to take interest in our acquaintances who were our relatives in Rypin. The youths met. They agreed that my sister Chaya would travel with Yehoshua Szaranski to Belgium, where they would get married. Thus it was. That had a son David and a daughter Marit. When they became successful, they brought my second sister Dvorcha to visit them for the same purpose. However, she was forced to return to Poland after a brief visit due to the impending war, prior to the German invasion of Belgium.

The parents gave over the two children to Christians until the wrath would subside. They themselves hid in their home with the agreement of the owners, and with payment to the gatekeeper of the building. He closed the entrance and doors behind them so that nobody would know that anyone was inside. He would send in food through a designated opening. They maintained their situation until 1945. They were turned in three months before the end of the war. Some people said that this gatekeeper turned them over to the Germans. Their fate was the same as that of our nation who were brought to the crematoria. The children were identified by a neighbor who had survived, and were transferred to an orphanage. From there, we brought them to Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk in the Land. They were educated in the Kibbutz along with my children, served in the army, and set up their own families. They live with us in the Land, in Rishon Letzion and Tel Aviv.

Now I will write about myself at length. I have been in the Land for 52 years. I will not write about this at this time, but rather about my life in Zuromin until my aliya to the Land.

I presented myself at Skorupa's school at the age of five, accompanied by one of my sisters. This was the first year of the First World War. They sat me at a desk and I wanted to flee. I became accustomed to it after a few days, and the older ones assisted me. My studies progressed as the years went on. My parents, who were not wealthy, did everything to ensure that their children would master secular knowledge along with religious studies, Hebrew and Bible. Hirsch Karpo taught us Gemara. With the influence of my sisters, I went to be examined at the Polish public school that was not far from our home. I was accepted to the fifth grade. I completed the seven elementary classes. With the influence of my family, I traveled to the city of Lodz to continue my studies (there was no high school in Zuromin). Uncle Yidel Rabinowicz, mother's brother, and his large family accepted me into their home. As I already explained, I stopped my studies after one year and returned home.

How did Hashomer Hatzair begin in Zuromin (to which the three brothers joined)?

Glinki, a village in the forest with a splendid view, was the summer retreat for entire families of Zuromin. When the entire family came back in 1925, there was noise and a tumult. The Hashomer Hatzair of Mlawa came there, with their crowds of all ages. They set up tents, forming an exemplary scouting camp. They wore special scouting uniforms. The camp directors, Chaikel Wyszynski, Zeev Jonisz and the Perlow brothers, were graduates of the Hebrew gymnasium in Mlawa. The entire summer camp, which was called the Moshava, left a deep impression, especially upon the youths. The pinnacle for us was the impressive parade that they made through the streets of Zuromin as they returned from Mlawa.

When I returned from Lodz in 1927, there was a noticeable awakening of the youth. Debates were conducted about the various paths of Zionism. We were influenced by the news of Hashomer Hatzair of Mlawa, the movement that marched in the front. At our request, two of them, Hillel Grabia and Paula Gluzman, came to us. They made an excellent impression and their influence was great.

The group that founded Hashomer Hatzair in Zuromin included Shlomo Rizowi, Yerachmiel Drobiner, Yitzchak Rizowi, Nathan Lewkowicz and me. We rented a modest headquarters and conducted educational activities that were appropriate for the movement. We went out to summer settlements (moshavaot) to places such as Dlugosiodlo near Ruzen, Lidzbark, and Glinki. Shlomo Rizowi was the first to go to hachshara to Dobczyn and Bydgoszcz, and I followed after him. Some did not have the patients to wait until their turn would come for aliya certificates. The immigrated to Uruguay, Mexico and Brazil. Shlomo made aliya in 1935 to our Hayotzer Kibbutz in Nachalat Yehuda. He later went to Kibbutz Mishmar Zvulun that was being settled in the valley of Akko, and later changed its name to Kfar Masaryk. In 1933, I also set out for Hachshara in Bydgoszcz, where I met my future wife Chanka. After two years of hachshara, I had to move to the second flank of our kibbutz in Woloczlawek, and assist in running the kibbutz. Our situation there was very difficult, and we were helped by the “patronage” of several dedicated Zionists, headed by the Rebbetzin Kobalska, who did a great deal for us. I made aliya in the beginning of 1938 during a legal aliya, and I joined our kibbutz Mishmar Zvulun in Kiryat Chaim. As I mentioned previously, as it became settled, it changed its name to Kfar Masaryk in memory of the president of Czechoslovakia, who was a friend of Israel during his lifetime.

I have been here all of these years with my wife Chanka, who is remembered by many from her visit to Zuromin before her aliya to the Land. Our family is all together with us.

 

A group of Hashomer Hatzair in 1928

From right to left, top row: Meir Elsztejn, Moshe Rizowi, Esther Lichtenberg, Nathan Lewkowicz,
Moshe Popiol, Yitzchak Drabiczer, Zelig Bigoner, David Elsztejn.
Middle row: Chana Biton, Freida Holtzman, Leah Krulik,, Sheina Mitlo, Chaim Bieles, Esther Biton.
Bottom row: Liba Flato, Rivka Widenbaum, Rachel Leah Rizowi, Chana Lewenthal, Esther Hartbrod,
Chaya Kurtzman, Sheina Karpo. Kneeling: Leah Goldsztejn, Yerachmiel Drobiner, Foigl Mitlo

 

A group of Hashomer Hatzair in 1930

From right to left, standing: Zelig Bizoner, Moshe Kirszenbaum, Yosef Karpo,
Wolf Bieles, Yosef Tatz, Nathan Lewkowicz, Moshe Rizowi, David Elsztejn.
Sitting: Esther Lichtenberg, Hirsch Widenbaum, Freida Holtzman, Kina Landau, Foigl Mitlo,
Rivka Widenbaum, Chana Rizowi, Chaya Kurtzman, Dov Elsztejn (Eilat) (today in Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk).
Bottom row: Tzvi Elsztejn, Sheina Karpo, Sheina Mitlo, unknown

 


Translator's footnotes

  1. This story was written in awkward Hebrew, with poor sentence structure. Some parts may seem stilted – especially the sentences that describe family interconnections. Return
  2. Hachshara (literally, preparation), is the term used for activities meant to prepare youths in the Diaspora for making aliya. Return
  3. Tnuva is the Israeli dairy conglomerate. The author is evidently using as an example of something that he is familiar with. Return
  4. Although the name is the same in both sentences, in the first sentence in Hebrew, it is spelled without a 'yod', and in the second sentence with a 'yod'. Return
  5. Feiga is the Yiddish form of Tzipora – I expect that this is referring to the same peson. Return

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