Translated by Deborah Schultz From the dawning days of my upbringing in the Zionist spirit, my aspiration was always to make aliyah [immigrate to the Land of Israel]. I realized my aspiration in the year 1930; however, our family's contacts with the Land of Israel began many more years before this. My grandfather, may his memory be for a blessing, was still a young man when he decided one day that his place was in the Land of Israel. He was a pious, God-fearing man, studying Torah day and night, but this apparently did not satisfy him. His aspiration was to go up to Jerusalem and to be buried in the Holy Land. Before he realized his aspiration, he wrote a Torah scroll and contributed it to the synagogue. In our home they used to say that the city's rabbi told my parents: God willing, when the time comes to marry off your children, you will be able to point to this Torah scroll, and it will bear witness who was your father . . . Grandfather passed away at a young age, and was buried in the Mount of Olives; to my sorrow, I have been unable to find his grave.
I myself received, as said, a Zionist upbringing. I studied in the Toshiyah school, and my teachers were Guld, Meldung, and Peninah (Parlah) Yakub, may their memories be for a blessing. When I grew up, I joined Gordoniyah [Gordonist Zionist movement] when it was connected to Hitakhdut [Association]. Club Hitakhdut was an important center of Zionist life in the city; there, the people's aspirations were fulfilled, lectures were heard, and different cultural events were arranged. The chairman of Hitakhdut in my time was Yitskhak Glatshtein. Of all the activity in Gordoniyah, the souls of Purim and Khanukah are among the best-engraved in my memory. About two months before these holidays, we would begin preparations. I sang in the choir conducted by the Kaplmeister Leibelah Gutenplan, while my sister Brentshah and my brother Meni took part in the plays.
My brother and his friend Moshe Bentsher were merry young men. When their time arrived to stand for inspections, to read the call-up notice for the Polish army, the affair of the Histagfus [Mortification (of the flesh)] (Flagen) began; this was an old custom, old from the days of Austrian rule. The young men refrained from sleeping for entire nights in order to make their eyes red for medical inspections, as a segulah [remedy] for release from army service; the shetlers (recruits) would stay those nights in the synagogue. Early in the morning they would go from house to house, the musician Berl-eh Mutshkis at their head, playing under the windows a Serenadas Shakharis [early morning serenade]. Whoever won a morning visit like this was obliged to give the merry group an offering of money. Alas! Alack! to those who refused to give. The shetlers would move the wooden steps from the entrance to their stores, so that those going out their doorways in the morning from within the apartments were connected to the stores were generally falling upon the sidewalk. It seems to me, that more than causing mortification (of the flesh) for release from the army, it drew out of the mortified a good excuse for the pranksters among them.
I will tell more about some of the amusements that I was witness to in my childhood. By our house was a fruit garden. On Saturdays, my brother's friends would come to the garden, some to rock on the plank see-saw, and some to lie down on the net swing to read a book. In the yard was a well with tasty water for drinking. Many drew water from this well, and always a little water spilled from the bucket. In winter, the water froze, and by the well a mound of ice sprouted. Many times, those coming down from the well slid upon the mound and stretched themselves out upon it, or sat down with the buckets in their hands. We children, who saw this through the windows of our apartment, were bursting with laughter. Our parents remarked to us that it is not nice to laugh at the misfortune of others, but it was difficult to control ourselves and to not laugh.
In spite of the fact that my parents had no choice but to accept my decision to return to the Land of Israel, separation from them was one of the most difficult experiences that I ever had in the days of my life. The quality of the separation and the words that I heard on this occasion, I will never forget.
The Jewish young people in Kalush, whom I met on the occasion of my visit, made an excellent impression upon me. It is true that in Kalush there were also Communists, outstandingly anti-Zionist, who were of the opinion that salvation would come from the Internationale [a famous Communist anthem]; however, these were few. I tried to explain to them how much they were making a mistake, but to my sorrow I did not succeed. Opposite this, I was acquainted with numerous youths whose entire aspiration was to make aliyah [immigrate to the Land of Israel], and only the lack of certificates [of legal immigration] prevented them. The Zionist young people of 1937 reminded me, to a certain extent, of the days of the Zionist excitement of the Jewish youth in Kalush soon after publication of the Balfour Declaration [in 1917]. I remember still the demonstration of joy that was then in the city [in 1917]; it had seemed that the hour of redemption of the People Israel drew near.
The Jews of Kalush also expressed their connection to the Land of Israel without ties to Zionism. Just as in every other city in Galicia, there was a large number of the aged who made aliyah [immigrated to the Land of Israel] in order to live in it their last years. My grandmother, Reizel Dinah Kurts, made aliyah [immigrated] in the year 1912, and there were many more like her. My father (may his memory be for a blessing), used to send money away to her for subsistence. However, in the years of the First World War, her whereabouts became unknown, and I could not even find the place of her burial.
The orchestra of Leibeleh (Leon) Gutenplan was well-known in Kalush and in all the district. Among the orchestra's musicians were those who did not know how to read music; however, this did not detract from the beauty of their music, which touched the heart. In the days of the cinema, which is to say when silent movies were presented in the Sokol auditorium, Leon Gutenplan, an excellent violinist and a gifted musician, accompanied the movies with his music. After the age of talking movies began, Gutenplan's musical activities did not cease. His kaplah played at almost every important event, whether it was the wedding or party of a leading family, or a festivity or theatrical show. Those sending invitations would emphasize in their announcements that Gutenplan's orchestra would be accompanying the event.
Among the particularly well-known members of the orchestra were a father and son from the Yeger family; their nickname was Mutshka. Yisrael played the clarinet, and was also a music teacher, in spite of the fact that he was not very proficient in reading music. He gave violin lessons, and the first melody that he taught his students to play was Hatikvah [The Hope, which is now the Israeli national anthem].
There was not a man in Kalush who did not recognize Mrs. Ruzenberg, who was more famous as the nickname Makulnitshkah. She was one of the last vestiges of the Feltsherim, healers engaged in different medical employments, whose functioning was somewhere between medical assistant and medical doctor. She was a tall woman of great energy, performing her work with great confidence. She would extract teeth without hesitation and place leeches; also, girls came to her for a haircut. Her house, which served as her place of employment, was constantly lit. To the front of her display window stood a jar with leeches, and to the side was a copper dish. These were the marks of recognition of barbers and feltshers.
Among the most important members of the Toshiyah school committee was Rabbi Yehudah Veinrab, who filled the office of treasurer. A man with a grey beard, he was always dressed strictly in traditional garments, with a walking stick in his hands. His occupation was loaning money and the exchange of foreign coins (the Jews called this profession khashter); in addition, he was also very scholarly. Sometimes he was a visitor in school lessons. At his first visit to our class, he said hello to us [in Hebrew] in Ashkenazi [East European Jewish] pronunciation [SHO-lem]; later, he changed to Sefardi [Spanish, or more generally, Middle Eastern, Jewish, and now Israeli] pronunciation [sha-LOM]. From then on, I would greet him with shalom each time I met him.
In the consciousness of each man are engraved profoundly memories that are difficult to be released from; they return and come up again and again. When I want to recall my mother (may her memory be for a blessing), I see her opposite my eyes putting on the black scarf that she wore a few days before my journey to the Land [of Israel]. Tears fill her eyes and she turns and asks: To where? To what? What will be? And I turn and answer to her this reply: Don't worry, Mother, I will return. I did not return, and I was not privileged to see anymore my mother, my brother and my sisters, and their families.
I will tell about the house of Grandfather, Yaakov (Yenkl) Knol, who lived like us in Kalush. He resided outside the city, on the way to the train station. Always it seemed to me that it was distant, since between the city and his house was an area that was not built-up and where the land was tilled. Grandfather had a farm, and in it, cows in the cowshed and hens going around in the yard. Also a dog went around in the yard, and we children were very afraid of him. From afar, we would call out to Grandfather that he should chain him up, and he would always scoff at our fear. Beside Grandfather's house was an orchard, and in it were trees of apple, and of juicy pears bearing the impressive name Keizer-Bern (pears of the Kaiser). There were also very small apple trees, which were called Apples of the Land of Israel, and more of all kinds of fruits whose names I have forgotten.
Each Saturday afternoon we walked, the whole family, to visit Grandfather, and this was always an exciting experience. Grandfather, a tall and handsome man with black eyes and a white beard, would always meet us with a smile upon his lips. Upon our arrival at Grandfather's house we, the children, would run immediately to the hill nearby, upon which grew fruit trees. From the top of the hill we would roll down upon the grass, straight to a small garden of juicy red berries.
Just before evening, Grandmother would serve us cream with homemade cheese products, and berries or small fresh radishes, cucumbers, or green onions, according to the season and all from their vegetable garden. All the family members, uncles, aunts, and cousins, who came like us to visit Grandfather and Grandmother, would sit down in company, eating and talking.
From the whole large family, I alone remained, I who had made aliyah [immigrated to the Land of Israel] before the outbreak of the war. All the rest of them were destroyed in the Holocaust.
It has been a full 40 years since I came to the Land of Israel. When I made aliyah [immigrated to the Land of Israel] by ship, I did not even consider that I would never again see my home and the majority of my family. I did not at all make aliyah [immigrate] with the understanding that just three months after I would leave Poland, it would be conquered at the hands of the Nazis, thus awakening the destruction of the magnificent Jewry of which my family was part.
I recall our township, which was small, but beautiful and clean. In it were pleasant streets and one-floor houses, as well as two- and three-floor houses. I remember the most pleasant street of all, in which the wealthy Poles lived: Stanislawowska Street, with small houses and well-tended gardens.
We ourselves lived in Boznicza Street in a two-family house. The street was a street of synagogues; about 10 synagogues were in it. The street was near the center of the township, near the Catholic church and the Greek Catholic church. Because of this, we were afraid to go out to the street on Christmas and the Christian New Year. We did not want to clash with celebrating Christians (who were half the city's population) who might be drunk. While we were rooted in the life of the city, at the same time we felt ourselves strangers in it. Our relations with the Gentiles were generally relations of commerce only.
My father Yaakov (may his memory be for a blessing) was an excellent manager of accounts at the Bentsher Company, which was one of the largest in Galicia for marketing grain crops. He had mastered a broad secular education, and had also the same measure of profound knowledge in the teachings of Judaism. He was an enthusiastic Zionist, and like him were also the rest of the family.
For six years before I made aliyah [immigrated], I was in training [vocational training before aliyah/immigration] in Bielsko [Bielsko Biala, Poland?]. Despite all my striving, I did not achieve a certificate [of legal immigration] during the course of all those years. In the end, I decided to make aliyah [immigrate] illegally. My family, with Father at its head, encouraged me to do this in hope that I might pave the way before them. I made aliyah [immigrated] in May 1939, on the ship Colorado. Three months later, as is well-known, the war broke out.
When I left home, my two older sisters, my older brother (a married man and father of two daughters), and Father remained there. (Mother had passed away several years previously from a severe illness.) My younger sister was then in training [vocational training before aliyah/immigration] in Sosnovitz [Sosnowiec, Poland?], and my brother in Warsaw. There was only time for me to receive one letter from them. My younger sister wrote that she was getting ready for aliyah [immigration], and Father asked me to send him a citron.
And then the war broke out. Despite the fact that we knew the urgency of the situation, we did not want to believe that war would actually break out. With this, I remember my oldest brother crying when I parted from the family at the train station in Kalush, as if he felt that we would never see each other again.
I heard about my family's fate from the mouths of Holocaust refugees. Father apparently died a natural death. My older brother was taken out of the barbershop at the hands of Ukrainians and murdered in the street in the year 1941. My younger sister disappeared, and her whereabouts are unknown even today. So also with the rest of my family. Only my younger brother, Avraham, who fled in wartime to Russia, was saved. Today he lives in the United States.
Numerous were the Jews in Kalush who benefited from the help of their relatives in America. The help was given in different ways, generally expressing itself in a green banknote that was attached to a letter. Several dollars were sufficient sometimes to save an entire family from hunger in the course of the days of a month.
The locked gates of America did not completely kill the hope nestled in the heart of many, to one day reach the Blessed Land. In order to realize their hope, they took different measures, and sometimes succeeded. When, in the year 1936, F. D. Roosevelt was elected to his second term of office as President of the United States, a thought grew in the mind of a resident of Kalush, Shmuel Gertner, to send to the president a letter of greeting. In his letter, Gertner noted that he himself had worked for several years in the United States, that he had relatives there aiding him in his livelihood, and that his position in recent times had grown much worse. His wish was that his only daughter would be able to join her brother and her relatives in the United States. When Gertner told his acquaintances in Kalush about the contents of the letter that he had sent to Roosevelt, they laughed at him and said what a pity it was to waste money on paper and stamps, and that the President of the United States has worries enough that he does not have free time to occupy himself with requests like those which Gertner had referred to him. How great was the surprise when it became clear within a short time that the scoffers had made a mistake! In January 1937, Gertner received a letter from the United States Consulate in Warsaw, in which [the news] was delivered to him that the President had agreed to his request. His daughter would be permitted to join the family in America outside the quota; he had only to provide the consulate all the documents [necessary] in order to advance the matter of her journey. There is no need to describe the joy in the Gertner home. The affair was the talk of the whole city, which was astonished by the ingenious idea which had been floating in the head of this simple Jew. Jews of Kalush who were present became aware of the correctness of the wisest of all men when he had said, Send your bread forth upon the face of the waters . . . [Ecclesiastes 11:1].
In that year, in which good luck illuminated the face of the Gertner family, salvation would come from America also for the rest of the Jews of Kalush needing help in their livelihood. From the Society of Former Residents of Kalush in New York, the Relief, we received a letter signed by the hand of Mr. Harry Lilienfeld, secretary of the Relief. In it, [the news] was delivered that the Kalushers in America were getting ready to organize an enterprise of aid to their poor and needy brothers in Kalush. Thus, they requested to set up in Kalush a committee of all the Jewish organizations in the city, which would report to the Relief, and would describe in detail the severe state of the Jews of the place. Efforts of the community were harnessed at once, and committees of associations of women, merchants, and craftsmen assembled. Chosen from among them was a coordinating committee with Mrs. M. Shpindel as head; the remainder of the members of the committee were: Y. Nagelberg, M. Felkman, M. Shverts, A. Shrager, Y. Shpindel, and M. Talenfeld. The committee began to act, collecting material and sending a detailed report on the state of the Jews of Kalush, for the Relief in New York. To our sorrow, there is not in our hands any information about the fate of this joint undertaking of activities by Kalushers in America and in the mother city. However, certainly great was the hope then in Kalush that soon it would be easier for the poor of the city.
In the third week of the war, the Russians arrived in town. [People] were dancing from great joy, and cheered for the Red Messiah. However, the days of the Messiah lasted only a short time. In town, shortages prevailed; the stores became empty of merchandise, it was difficult to get bread and sugar, and long lines appeared in front of the stores.
It was a comfort that [those] days were over quickly, which were only a time of transition until the Soviet regime was arranged. The Soviets arranged elections, and the community went to vote in happiness and to the sounds of music. [But] after the elections began the purging. Independent Jewish professionals, among them Master Friedlender and Dr. Fentser, and also distinguished Poles, among them the mayor, were expelled by the Russians from the town. Also, my husband and A. Lang were banished as so-called traitors to the Communist Party and the Soviet regime. They were led away like sheep to slaughter, and until today I do not know their fates. According to the rumor, most of them were murdered by the N.K.V.D. [Soviet secret police, preceding the K.G.B.]. I remained alone with a baby one-and-a-half years old, but I was still in Kalush my town, in which lived my extended family.
On the 22nd of May, 1941, at the hour of four in the morning, we heard knocks on the door of my apartment. Two men of the N.K.V.D. entered in uniforms. I shook from terror and begged them to leave me alone, but my plea was to no avail. They helped me pack a few things, among them a blanket and a pillow, that saved me and my little child from death in frozen Siberia. When we went down to the street, a cab was waiting for us, and in it we drove to the train station. It was made clear to me that I was not alone; many people were sent the same day from Kalush to Siberia.
My parents, who accompanied me to the train, cried bitterly, certain that we were sent to die. Yet behold, fate ran otherwise. They, all my relatives and almost all the Jews of Kalush, were murdered in cruelty at the hands of the Nazis, and I with my child, sent to Siberia, remained alive. There is no evil that in it, there is no good.
After we returned to Poland in the year 1946, I looked everywhere for anyone from among my relatives, or at least somebody from the Jews of Kalush, but in vain. However, in Vrotslav [Wroclaw, Poland?], I met by chance a Polish woman who was until the war a cashier at the cinema. She told me stories of the horror that the Nazis, may their names be erased, did to the Jews of our city. She herself was in her own words a witness to cruelty by children towards a Jew, who lived opposite to the Catholic church and occupied himself until the war in the sale of whitewash. The children competed among them in plucking the beard of the Jew, and together with the hair, they plucked out pieces of skin. In deep pain, I separated myself from the woman, because I could not listen [anymore] to the description of the horrors.
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