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[Page 152]

Figures, Remembrances and Pictures



Reizele and Moshe Berkensztat

by Y. Sh. Herc

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Reizele was born in about 1902 in Czenstochow, her husband Moshe – around 1894 in a small community in the vicinity of the city. Both were killed by the Nazis during the Second World War, along with their two children. [Translator's note: Their daughter Hinda perished, but their son Aizik survived.]

In 1912, when a general illegal meeting of leather workers took place in an attic room in the poor streets of Czenstochow, Moshe Berkensztat was one of its organizers (he was a gaiter maker).

During the First World War, they both joined the movement, which was concentrated around the S. S. [Zionist Socialist] party and later Fareinkte. In 1922, when Fareinkte together with Dr. Boleslaw Drobner's group built the Independent Socialist Workers' Party, they both, already as husband and wife, moved to the Bund, where they were involved in managing the office: Moshe as Leader and Secretary of the Bundist Organization in Czenstochow, Reizele as librarian of the Medem-Library.

Moshe Berkensztat was a child of poor parents. In his eyes burned the great light of joy of a young and needy Jewish life, which he, and hundreds of others such as he, symbolized and embodied. His dealings were distinguished with modesty and tenderness. The calmness of his face and the smile on his lips were never lost.

She, Reizele – née Fiertag – was a child of the “Yatke (butcher shop) Street,” a daughter of Nute the butcher. However, she was like a bright star in her surroundings, completely out of the ordinary. She lived in a world of books. In the Jewish workers' movement and particularly in the Jewish workers' school, she found her reward. She was among the first group of Jewish girls, who were Froebelians [Translator's note: Friedrich Froebel was a German educator who was the originator of kindergartens], teachers in the children's home and was one of the first founders of the Y. L. Peretz children's home in Czenstochow. The Jewish child and the school were the new substance of her life.

After, she herself became a mother and her first son, Aizik, was raised and grew up in the school that she had with such motherly devotion created. A second child was born. Moshe and Reizele with extraordinary devotion served their ideals and worked for the movement.

A second world war came. The German murderer's army took Czenstochow. On the 6th of June 1941, the Gestapo arrested the married couple in connection with the arrest of Maria Szczensna, a Polish courier from Tz. K. of the Bund underground. What they had had to bear from the Gestapo was later told by Comrade M. Kusznir, who was also arrested in the same matter and was a witness of the torture during the investigation:

“The worst pain” – he related – “was for Comrade Reizele Berkensztat, when the women Gestapo pressed her breasts in a door of a tavern. I, they lay bound with my head under a faucet and every second a drop of water from the tap dripped in the middle of my head. They did the same with Comrade Berkensztat. Thus they tortured us from 6 in the morning until late at night.”

After a range of efforts, Reizele succeeded in wrenching herself from the nails of the Gestapo. Her husband, swollen and with punched kidneys, was sent to Auschwitz, where he was killed. Reizele later suffered the fate of the vast majority of Czenstochower Jews.

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