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[Page 82]

Memories of a Survivor

by Chanan Burstein
Recorded by B. B. and P. A.

Chanan received us with a smile on his face and enthusiasm, as he was sitting on the porch of his residence in Kiryat Eliezer. He reluctantly reviewed and described to us the cruel era of our generation, and all that happened to him until the present.

When the war broke out, people started to flee in all directions. The heart prophesied – and knew about what it was prophesying – we had a sense of the impending disaster. The Russians entered our area in 1939… A young “shegetz” [1], a Communist by the name of Pristufa Vinka, was appointed by the authorities as head of the city. He treated everyone equally. The Ukrainians and Germans murdered him along with Wolf Danik, the Bikov brothers, Hershel Boxer and Jozek Torgowicki.

The Russians and Ukrainians began to collect the agricultural produce into a central place, from where they sent it to Russia. The youths were drafted into the Red Army.

Feivish Nudel, David Wahze, and I were drafted into the same combat unit, and transferred to the Klinsk region. It is difficult to describe the time period that we were in the army. Our interest in our town and the lot of its inhabitants was for naught. Despite the fact that we met Jews of the area during our wanderings, we never succeeded in obtaining any piece of news, for they also did not know about the destruction of their town. I attempted, as a citizen and Russian soldier, to find out about the fate of the town, its inhabitants, and my family through the means of the government. Their answer was curt, “Things took place and their fate is unknown”. Then I clearly knew that all hope was lost…

The setbacks on the front caused the attitude of the authorities to change with regard to the former citizens of Poland and Ukraine. They liberated us from the army and transferred us to work in the forests, where we remained until the end of the war.

I returned to Poland and the end of 1945. The destruction that was perpetrated by Hitler's soldiers was exposed in all of its severity and cruelty. We decided not to build our future life upon the ruins.

My face was set toward the Land. At first, I joined the “Dror” Kibbutz in Kleck (Lower Silesia). After a few months, I “stole” over the border to the city of Ulm in Germany, for there was a “Dror” group there.

After Hachsharah of a year and a half, I succeeded in making aliya to the Land on a boat that brought illegal immigrants to Israel.

Apparently, the quota of tribulations had not yet been filled. The boat was exposed to the British government, who turned the boat in the direction of Cyprus. In Cyprus, I merited in hearing the declaration of the establishment of the state by Ben Gurion. This news was a full requital for all of the wandering, suffering, and tribulations that I endured.

I met my wife Chava in Cyprus. Together we made aliya to the Land and built our family as free citizens of the State of Israel.

{Photo page 83: Internment camp in Cyprus.}

[Page 84]

Reb Moshe Shia's Wahze

Reb Moshe was a good Jew, jolly, with a broad smile lighting up his face. He always had many cheder students. He taught some of them Chumash and Rashi, and others Gemara. He prepared some of them for their Bar Mitzvahs and taught them their “lecture”. He organized a choir. He was involved in hundreds of matters, and his livelihood diminished on account of all of his involvements. He always found the time to listen to the thoughts of any person, despite the fact that he was very busy. Everyone knew him, and he knew everyone.

He always made time to participate in Brisses (circumcisions), weddings, and, on the other hand, funerals, at which he recited the “Kel Maleh Rachamim” prayer.

All of his acquaintances and admirers weep over his death. May his memory be a blessing.

Reb David Schlein

Reb David was the Torah reader in the Beis Midrash. He was a dear Jew of the old style. “Righteous people after their deaths are considered alive”. His image continues to live in our memory. He observed the Torah and commandments, and was as careful about small commandments as he was with great ones. He pursued peace and loved his fellow man. He was content with his lot. May his memory be blessed forever.

Reb Shmuel Geier

The adage “learning is not the main thing, but rather deeds” was fulfilled with Shmuel Geier. Reb Shmuel was a grain merchant who conducted business with the landowners around Pechikhvosty and Zgais, where my uncle Menashe Yentis lived. He was a pious, G-d fearing man. The goodness of his heart prevented him from being a zealot. He also understood life, and was proficient in the ways of the world. He attempted as much a possible to protect his children with fences, and prevent them from breaking through the gate [2]. His generosity was a typical expression of his character. He always had a guest for the Sabbath, and concerned himself with his comfort. May his soul be bound in the bonds of the life of the nation.

Reb Yankel Gedalia's Wahze

His voice broke forth in his prayer, “And He being all merciful forgives sin” [3]. Everyone was silent and then repeated after him… and then it was clear that the holy ended and the weekday began. Reb Yankel was a mixture of holy and secular. On the Sabbath day it was not recognizable that this jolly Jew was preoccupied during all the days of the week. At “Shalosh Seudot” [4] his voice could be heard in song. He believed with deep faith in Rebbes, Tzadikim, and good Jews. He honored scholars, and ensured that others would honor them as well. When a preacher, author or ordinary guest appeared in town, his home was always open. He brought them in and honored them as a king, assisted by his wife Malka. His observance of commandments did not stand in his stead, and he perished along with all the people of the town. May his memory be blessed.

[Page 85]

Reb Mottel Zelis Deutschman

Reb Mottel was our neighbor. He was an old-time splendid Jew. He was a builder by profession. He was proper and upright, and always tried to fulfil the will of his fellow man. Reb Mottel loved his profession and always would say, “If there is no grain, there is no Torah” [5]. He spent most of his free time in the Beis Midrash in the shadow of scholars. He drunk up their words with thirst. His fruitful and accomplished life was cut of in an untimely fashion. May his memory be blessed.

Monia Gershfeld

Was their any person in Druzhkopol who did not know Monia, Brana and their sons? He was not numbered among the wealthy, but he was always content with his lot. His words of wit are still told over in his name. The Tarbut and Young Pioneering schools were located in his home. He was the first who was brazen enough to involve himself with Zionist activity. Often, when my mother would complain to him, “What should I do with my shegetz?”, referring to me, Monia would answer, “Ziofa, don't worry”. “The boy is no shegetz and no gentile is not a thief, both of them do it out of laziness”. This Jew had a great deal of life wisdom. He was an interesting character, with a refined personality, and the ability to be able to speak to everybody. His home was always buzzing with the young people who were friends of his children.

His end was like the end of all the people of our town. He and his family were murdered by the enemy, and are buried in the communal grave. May their memory be blessed forever.


To my agony, the paper is too small upon which to write, even with measured lines or in a general fashion, about all of the personalities who should be included in these pages of eulogy. I have to suffice myself with mentioning the names of several people, who were dedicated to Zionist activities with all the strands of their hearts and souls:

Shalom Hochberg, Herschel Safra, Mendel Kipper, Yankel Fishman Fruchmel, Moshe Schlein, Avraham Reiz, the Gorenberg brothers, Shlomo Weingarten, the Geier brothers, Noina Yentis, Yisrael Mordechai Furman, the Hochberg sisters, Izak Goldenberg, Yekutiel Klatz, L. Guz.

My heart, my heart goes out to them and all the pure, upright natives of our town, who gave their lives in sanctification of the Divine Name. May their memories be blessed forever, and may they never leave all of our hearts for eternity.

Buni Shargil

[Page 86]

{Photo page 86: Reb Avraham Leib and Ziofa Shargil of blessed memory.}

Eicha [6]

by B. Shargil in memory of his parents

How can I sing and hum about life and love
At the time that bitter exile went up in flame
An evil one! Plotted to thrust us into oblivion
Will we be once again sent away?
From where? To Where?

To lift out the head from the hole we would be afraid
Footsteps would be heard! Our breath will be stopped
Death stalks outside.

Cramped in bunkers, we would ponder
We could be separated at any moment
And all would be lost…
Fear? Our hearts weep and everything joined our weeping,
The furniture, the floor, the walls.

Footsteps are heard outside! …
How the wind howled?
See like a baby, the moon blowing
The mass of silence is saturated with tears
We will wear clothes of mourning on this day
At the sight of our disaster.

The memory of the frightful nightmare that robbed our sleep
We will not forget our dear ones.

[Page 87]

A Memorial

Dedicated to the memory of a friend and dear man Abrasha Mzurak of blessed memory

By Avraham the son of Zalman Aryeh (Boxer)

Translated by Bunia Adiri

“My sins I recall today;
There is no righteous person in the world who does good and does not sin.”

Introduction

When I think about what Abrasha Mzurak did, and what he did for me – and I constantly think about that – I justify all of the tribulations and tragedies that came upon me, and I accept everything with love.

Even the heresy which is in me, and my denial of “Divine providence”, which repays us, so to speak, for anguish and pleasure, and the reward is – punishment.

I do not need all of these; my thought is that it is the iniquity that causes the punishment!

The feelings of desolation, regret and self abnegation – that is the punishment.

All of these thoughts are only an introduction to the tragic story, that very many of the people of our town known well. However the adage states, “Time erases everything”, and the generation that follows us will not know at all that there once was a good and upright man, a righteous person who did only good – who literally saved my life and liberty!

And I, with my narcissism and egoism putting me to shame, treated him as wicked…

I am very remorseful about this, and I wish – a day before my death – to repent… Therefore I drew this story from my autobiography, and I wish to dedicated it to the memory of a friend and dear human being – Abrasha Mzurak of blessed memory.

Who is Abrasha Mzurak?

Abrasha had a grandfather
And grandmother in our town.
One of the honorable families
And prominent ones. This was
The family of Reb Lipa and Tauba
Zukerman, may their memories be holy

May their souls be bond in the bonds of eternal life.

He, Abrasha himself, was born in the city of Dubno to his parents Mania and Mechli Mzurak. He concluded the Gymnasium in Dubno and university in Warsaw. He was a student of politics and law.

He would come to visit our town during breaks from school and the summer vacation. He often spent time with us in our home, a place where many of the youth of Druzhkopol gathered. Thus did friendship blossom between us, and we called each other “friend”.

The story of Janusak or the Priest (Ksiadz) Nowak

In Druzhkopol there was a Polish priest named Nowak. He was from the N. Z. (Enzek) party, and a staunch anti-Semite. He was not afraid of the authorities, and never hesitated to arouse his audience at church on Sundays with his speeches that were full of incitement and hatred against the Jews, something that was forbidden by law to do in a holy place. He succeeded in a known measure to incite the Christian population against the Jews.

Then the tragedy took place to me, a tragedy through which the town was saved from a large pogrom only by a miracle. This took place in 1932, two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, at 5:00 p.m. I was going for a walk with my wife and my two-year-old son Yaakov. This was my eldest son who perished in such a tragic manner. He was murdered by the Arabs on January 15, 1948 on the way to Haifa… However, then, in 1932, it was our final walk…

During our walk, we met our friend Nachum Yentis, with his wife Sasia and their two young children, about the same age as my son Yaakov!

Our walk took us past the Russian Church near the river. There, many Jews of the town were walking.

Suddenly, Christian shepherds with their flocks from the field came up alongside us. Farmers with large wagons laden with hay that was just harvested also arrived. This was after the second hay harvest.

Dust was raised up around us on account of the trodding of the flocks and heavy wagons. We walkers were forced to make way for them. We went up to a nearby field that had just been harvested. They hay was bundled into large, pointed bundles.

We approached one of the bundles to wait until the way was clear again. We had no idea that the field that extended from behind the Russian Church to the river now belong to the Polish priest Nowak, whose home and church in which he served were located on the opposite end of town.

As we were engaged in lively conversation, Gusta Januszak, the servant of the priest, suddenly appeared, and broke out in wild screams. He uttered the common curse “pies-krew' (blood of dogs). He fell upon me furiously with the pitchfork that was in his hand, and beat me soundly.

The child that I held in my arms slipped out of my hands and fell.

As he attempted to beat me over the head for a second time with the pitchfork, I anticipated him. I grabbed the pitchfork with both of my hands and struggled “for life and death' with the strong gentile who attacked me with his great strength. The entire town was afraid of the power of his arms, and here I was measuring up with him. It was like David and Goliath. His strong fist fell upon my head like thunder. My thoughts were darkened from fear of death at the hands of the murderer and the fateful struggle, and I did not realize at all that the people in the vicinity fled without offering me any help. Even Nachum Yentis and his family disappeared.

I do not remember for how long the fight between us took place, but I suddenly found myself with the pitchfork, and Januszak was laying quietly on the ground…

I do not know how this took place. My first thought was to turn myself in to the police. I ran with the rest of my strength, as I was dripping with blood. Someone chased after me. I thought that Januszak regained consciousness and was chasing after me…

Despite the fact that the police station was nearby, I arrived there half dead. I heard two words from the farmer who chased after me: “Zabili Januszka” (he killed Januszak). Then my power of speech returned to me, and I said to the policeman: “Mr. Gabrunyk, I killed him, arrest me.”

“Go home and rest in bed”, the policeman said to me, “You yourself are seriously injured. When we need you, we will find you.”

The Court Case

The next day, Sunday, the residents of the town were secluded in their homes. The stores were closed. No Jew ventured out onto the street. Fear of revenge and recompense from the gentiles fell upon everyone.

Farmers gathered from nearby villages. The Polish church was filled to the brim with worshipers. The priest Nowak preached a very religious sermon. He proved that the Jews were bringing great tragedies, so to speak, upon Poland. They, the Jews, took everything from the Poles. They pillaged their property, including the property of the government. For example, in Lublin, the Jews murdered a Polish student. Even here they wish to destroy us, for yesterday, they attacked the poor guard, Gustav Januszak, as he was sleeping. They stabbed him and tortured him. They drew his blood to use for ritual purposes…

A deep mourning fell upon the town. The Jews were enveloped in constant fear. It was literally the mourning of Tisha BeAv!

A Jewish delegation consisting of several important people, including the rabbi, Soborowski the pharmacist, my brother Yosef and others went to the priest. However, they returned as they had come.

Here is not the place to described the suffering of the two years of the court process. I wish to tell of it only because it has a connection to the matter of Mzurak. On account of my sins, of which I cannot make peace with myself, and as every person does when the time comes, I conducted a self-examination. A person cannot do more bad and iniquity to his fellow and it was not necessary later to have regrets and to be afflicted with pangs of conscience, since it is already too late, and impossible to rectify the iniquity. For this refined and friendly soul is no longer here…

Until this day, I do not know his fate. Did Abrasha Mzurak perish in the Warsaw Ghetto, or did he fall as a hero in the revolt in that city?

I will return to the matter of the judgement (process in Polish).

They did not permit any Jewish witnesses. A Christian boy and girl testified that they saw, so to speak, how I, Nachum, and several other Zhyds attacked Januszak as he was sleeping the sleep of the innocent, and wished to slaughter him.

The doctor of the village hospital held Januszak for 21 days in the hospital. He only suffered a light wound in his head as a result of the fight.

When he left the hospital, Januszak received the following report:

  1. That his skull had been pierced.
  2. That he was crippled for life.
  3. That he is no longer fit to work.
  4. That death was awaiting him…
The matter was transferred to the regional court.

The police chief Morawski was a good man who wished to write the truth. However, he was dismissed from his job, and Captain Ambrosowicz, a fervent anti-Semite, took his place. He himself conducted the inquiry and declared me to be guilty and deserving of the maximal punishment.

The verdict against me and Nachum Yentis was issued in the regional courthouse in the city of Luck. I was sentenced to three years of imprisonment and hard labor, and Nachum was sentenced to one year.

The appeal was to take place in the city of Lublin.

I will not describe this segment of the saga in my story. This is a story unto itself. I will reserve this for my biography.

After the appeal, our punishment was mitigated. Nevertheless, we made an appeal to the highest tribunal, to the Supreme Court in Warsaw. We lost this appeal! The Supreme Court in Warsaw upheld the verdict…

During the two frightful years of the legal proceedings, I lost all of my money and also the money that I borrowed from other people. The defense and bail payment cost a sum of 15,000 Zloty. I was assisted greatly by the elderly defense counsel Mr. Garek of Kovel, the brother of the well-known defense counsel of Lvov, who is his time defended Szteiger in his case. He, Defense Counsel Garek of Kovel, gave me of his personal money to enable me to pay the bail and through this made it possible for me to flee to the Land of Israel at the last moment. Of course, I repaid the money to him with an expression of gratitude.

The Escape

After some time, I left my beloved town of Druzhkopol. I moved to the town of Mlinov in the region of Dubno. My objective was to work out my plan of escape in a place where I was less known. It was one Wednesday evening in November, after the fair. The cold grew, and in my heart, there was emptiness and despair, similar to the evening, icy and dark…

Suddenly, my landlady appeared, with a postcard in her hand. The postcard was signed by the defense counsel who defended me in the supreme cart. Measured words were written in the postcard, as follows:

“Mr. A. Boxer (I was called by that name then)!

Do not weep, do not mourn. Do not forget that you are the husband of a wife and the father of a child. Believe me, I have fought like a lion, but to my dismay, have not succeeded in proving your innocence. If you behave well in jail, they will be good to you. Be strong!

Your friend”

Shortly after I received this postcard, they brought me the Heint newspaper. I remember as if it was today that the number of the newspaper was 255. There, they briefly described my case. I was described there as a terrible murderer, who murdered, as it were, the servant of the count, and perpetrated other such wild acts. My hair stood on end as I read the frightful lies. I only found this out later from my dear friend Abrasha Mzurak. I only had to write a letter of denial to Heint, refuting the lies that never were, that this man that I apparently “murdered” was alive and well.

My time was very limited. Every minute was precious to me. I did not have anyone with whom to take counsel. Therefore I traveled to Dubno to get advice from a lawyer about where and how to obtain an identity card (passport). The lawyer listened to me quietly and answered me with only three words, “Cannot be done”.

At 10 p.m. I traveled to Luck, to visit the chairman of the aliya division. The next day, at 7:00 a.m., I was already in his private home. He did not make me wait very long. he dealt with me politely, and even invited me to breakfast. He gave me all the needed papers for aliya, and added a personal letter to the aliya division on Warsaw, in which he described my situation, and said that it was literally a holy obligation to authorize me immediately, even without a meeting, and provide me with the formal recommendation from my sister Sara that was sent on my behalf from Jerusalem.

I was armed with many letters from all sorts of institutions, including Keren Kayamet, Gemilut Chasadim, Bikir Cholim – all, of course, with the signature of those institutions. I also had recommendations from Rabbi Yentis and Rabbi Wolicker that I was one of the good, and upright Jews, and I was falling victim to anti-Semitism. Therefore, it was a great mitzvah (commandment) to save me.

I had everything. Only I did not have one coin in my pocket.

I arrived in Warsaw on Thursday at midnight, and remained in the train station until dawn. Frozen from the cold and tired from my “night of watching” I arrived at the aliya office at 8:00 a.m. on Friday. I did not succeed in getting things done. I ran from official to official until 2:00 p.m., when the office closed.

It was the Sabbath. Time was passing. It seemed like an eternity. I awaited the next day.

I was already on my feet at dawn. I searched for activists from the various factions. I was treated warmly and politely by Mr. Grynberg, the head of Mizrachi. He promised to help me, even with money. I gave him all my papers, and he declared that he would do everything in his power for me. However, he did not stand by his word. He forgot all that he promised me, and even lost all of my certificates! He himself also disappeared, as if the earth swallowed him. Thus, I lost another week. It was already Wednesday, and the following Monday at 9:00 p.m., the train was supposed to leave from Warsaw to Constanta [7].

Thus I wandered around Warsaw as a stranger and foreigner, without any acquaintances, without a coin in my pocket, and without any certificates.

I was hungry and tired, and a frightful thought went through my mind: What about that Grynberg, did he indeed lose my papers and all of my important letters. Perhaps they would fall into the hands of the police, and then, Heaven forbid, all of Druzhkopol would end up in jail… Indeed, what to do?

The only thing I succeeded in doing that week was “catching up” with Mr. Grynberg. To all my questions, he only answered the cruel answer: “I do not know where your papers are. Apparently I lost them!”. And he disappeared.

Somehow, I arrived at the secretary of the aliya office (or the aliya division), the Palestine Office. He did not let me speak very much. He said, “We know that your certificate has been approved. However, do you have a passport? And in what name are you appearing?”

I stood literally as a stone.

“Indeed, on what name shall I travel? You yourselves tell me…”
In a state of despair, I entered his poor home, the small room of Abrasha Mzurak of blessed memory. I received his address from his grandmother Tauba Zukerman of Druzhkopol.

Abrasha Mzurak

He was a fine young man, with a long, polite face, large eyes, and a pure, innocent gaze, as a young child. His soft, long hair was combed upwards, exposing his high forehead. His entire essence exuded wisdom and good heartedness like his father Mani of blessed memory. He had been a wealthy man, a hops merchant, one of the honorable resident of Dubno. There were few like this man, Mani the father of Abrasha.

Imagine for yourselves. Suddenly, he distributed all of his property to the poor, turned his home into a sort of guesthouse, and ran a kitchen for all those who had nowhere and nothing to eat. Every day, he went from house to house, from store to store to gather bread, meat and fish for the poor. Every day, he dragged heavy baskets laden with vegetables and all sorts of good for his poor guests.

His family lived a modest life, and his children studied without his assistance.

Imagine for yourselves who such a dear man is called in his city… But it did not matter to him that he was called “Mani the crazy”. If only we would have many such “crazies”. The refined Mani was not able to support in a sufficient manner his son Abrasha who was studying in the faculty of law in Warsaw. Abrasha also did not request this of his parents. He toiled day and night with his own energy. He tutored students who had difficulty in understanding. He also did not desist from difficult physical labor. Despite this, he appeared refined and delicate, as a beautiful youth. Abrasha completed his course of studies, and received a law degree. He began to write articles in Yiddish. After some time, he stopped this and began to write in Polish.

Abrasha's soul desired to be a judge for young offenders. He took a job at the orphanage in order to follow the development of orphan children from up close.

Abrasha traveled twice a week to Sesia (Wzdowa) as the secretary of the regional court. He received a salary of twenty Zloty a week. He was able to live on this meager sum for a half of a week. For Abrasha, it was no problem to fast on Mondays and Thursdays. Suffering and hunger did not keep a heartening smile from him. He, like his father, shared his bread with the needy.

When I came to him, he received me as a brother, and after he heard about the horrendous situation that I was in, he began to comfort me and to remove my tension. First, he told me that we should eat, and then he began to delve into the matter of how to “make” an identity card for me. Abrasha promised me that the matter would be arranged with the assistance of a man who is an expert in such problems, who is well connected with him. He told me only not to worry and not to be afraid. He spoke to me with excitement and confidence, and he believed that the goal would be attained. I was literally convinced by him. Hope brightened my heart. I forgot all of my problems, and ate with an appetite the bread and butter and cup of tea that he served me. After we ate, he immediately went to this “activist” (who produces forged documents). My certificate was “made” in Warsaw. I was presented as a citizen of Plinica next to Otwock, with my true name. This matter would cost 250 Zloty. In a few days, on Monday at 9:00 p.m., the train was to leave from Warsaw to Constanta, and on Wednesday of that week, the ship was to sail to the Land of Israel.

I now had both the passport and the certificate. Now the money problems began. The travel fare was 350 Zloty, plus 250 Zloty for the passport. What to do? I sent an urgent letter to my wife who was in Mlinov asking her to telegraph me 600 Zloty. I received a response from my wife, and a deathly fear fell upon me.

My wife did something foolish. After I traveled to Warsaw, my mother-in-law and father-in-law, that is her parents, came to her from Dubno to Mlinov to convince her that the police are liable to search for me in Mlinov, where I had lived most recently. If I disappeared from the home, they might take her instead of me. She was terrified. She packed bags and suitcases of shoes from my shoe store, and fled from Mlinov to Dubno at night. This flight in the middle of the night was liable to be suspicious to the police, and she did not take into account that I might travel to Dubno to obtain money.

Time did not stand still. It was already Thursday. Everything had to be ready and arranged by Monday. There was no equal to me in my worries. From where would my help come? To whom should I turn to obtain this large sum of money, and how could I now appear in Dubno?

I broke out in bitter weeping, as a weak child. I poured out the bitterness of my heart in a sharp letter to my wife. I reminded her that Eve brought death upon humanity, and wretched she did a similar deed. It was forbidden for her to actualize the flight without consulting me. Her parents were well to do and they would be able to lend us the money. I sent this letter. I dried my eyes from tears. What can be done further? Abrasha did not say anything. This time, he was not so brazen to comfort me, and he stood next to me with a lowered head…

The door opened in the midst of the eerie silence and the daughter of the landlady entered. She was a pretty girl of sixteen or seventeen. She turned to Abrasha, slightly embarrassed. Mr. Mzurak, here is a letter with a money draft. Abrasha stretched forth his delicate hand to take the letter from the girl. He read it quickly. His lovely eyes filled with joy as he smiled and told me: “You have luck. There is for you exactly the amount of money needed for the certificate, 250 Zloty.” He ran quickly to get it.

On Friday morning, I already gave the certificate to the aliya department, and they gave me the train ticket from Warsaw to Constanta. Abrasha kissed me and wished me Mazel Tov. He told me to travel immediately to Dubno and explain to my wife's family that there is no time to think very much. They must give me the 600 Zloty.

Indeed, I had to hurry. I had to return to Warsaw from Dubno no later than Saturday night. Abrasha wished me a successful journey, and told me not to make myself stand out…

I was interested to know from where the 250 Zloty came, and I urged Abrasha to reveal his secret. What type of generous hand became involved in my fate, so to speak. It was exactly the amount that was needed for the passport. “I won't travel from her until I know whose money this is”, I said. “Don't worry”, Abrasha told me, “The money is mine”.

“As you know”, Abrasha told me, “I wish to be a judge of young offenders, and to this end, I work in the orphanage and study the psychology of homeless children. I wrote a book on this topic, and this work had a deep impression upon the “juridicial world”. I received a letter of thanks from the editor of Mali Przeglian who published my work, with a check of 259 Zloty as a payment of my salary. The editor requested that I continue to produce a second volume, despite the fact that I did not tell him that my work will be in two volumes.”

We kissed and parted. Abrasha added with a beaming face, This is my first honorable income. My first coin.” He clasped my hand, and I set out on the train.

I arrived in Dubno on Friday evening at midnight. The light knock on the window frightened my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, my wife and child. We talked until dawn. I explained them the entire situation, that everything should have been arranged, that there are only two or three days left until the journey, but they are treating me kindly and waiting until I obtain the needed money. (At that point I did not yet know that I would only receive my certificate in Romania, for a certain man from the agency was holding it for me.)

All of my explanations were for naught. My wife was silent, pale as whitewash. My father-in-law also did not talk much about the matter. Only my mother-in-law continued to claim, “We do not have now more than 350 Zloty.”

How can I return to Abrasha without returning him his money? The Sabbath was very sad. It became evident that my pleas were for naught. On Saturday night at midnight, I set out for the return trip to Warsaw. The thought that I did not have the money to return to Abrasha tormented me the entire journey. In lieu of money, my wife gave me a letter for Abrasha promising to return the money shortly.

I arrived in Warsaw at 2:00 p.m. Imagine for yourselves my situation, in that I had to go to Abrasha without the money to return to him. My mouth was, so to speak, cleaving to my palate, and I could not utter a word.

Abrasha greeted me politely as usual, and hugged me. He immediately noticed my worried face and asked me, “What happened to you, Avraham, do you not have money? Today at 4:00 p.m. is the last time to pay the 350 Zloty for your trip to Haifa!”

With great effort, I informed him that I have the 350 Zloty, but I do not in the interim have the money that he lent me. I took out the letter of my wife from my pocket and put it in his hand.

“My mother-in-law did not wish to give me money”, I added.
His face became very serious, and changed completely. His lower lip trembled. His hands trembled, and the letter from my wife fell from his hands to the ground… We looked at each other for several minutes, and afterwards, two clear tears fell from his eyes and dripped onto his cheeks.

When I saw him in that state, I was at a complete loss. I was ready at that moment to bow down on my knees before him, to beg his forgiveness for the iniquity that I perpetrated against him, and to explain to him that I had no other choice, and that he should only believe me that the money will be returned to him.

Suddenly, Abrasha began to talk as if to himself, without feeling my presence as he paced nervously back and forth in his room.

“All my dreams and desires have come to naught. All winter I desired to purchase a blanket. Several times I stood in the display window looking at the blanket. This blanket costs only 9 Zloty, but I never had 9 Zloty. For how many days did I not eat to satiation. I did not permit myself to buy a roll with butter for breakfast. I waited, and hoped for a break, and at the moment that I succeeded in seeing the fruits of my labor, my first earnings, a strange man came to me, called me a 'friend', and took from me all of my money without mercy. And for what? Only because I have a grandmother in his town? …”
After I heard Abrasha's “monologue”, I became very angry at him. Just as I had wanted to get on my knees in front of him and beg his forgiveness, I felt a slight with my egoism, with my narcissism. I became humiliated and lost all self-control. I quickly forgot all that this man had done on my behalf. I turned into an animal literally, like humans who indeed have animal natures. You could lend them money ten times, and do them various favors, but the one time when you receive a refusal from your benefactor, you do not believe that in truth he can do good for you, and you forget all that he did for you.
“The truth is good, but not always pleasant”, states the adage.
What was so terrible that in a moment of despair, he exposed his feelings and revealed what was in his heart? I did not answer him. I grabbed my bags and left his dwelling without bidding him goodbye!…

It was snowing outside. My head was dizzy with all the events that took place in the last period, especially that day. All of the houses on Nalowki Street, the street where Abrasha lived, flew before my eyes like a dream. Snow covered my glasses and hid the route. I was completely covered with thick snow and looked like a snowman. I wandered from street to street without knowing to where I was going. I carried my bag over my shoulder. My sweat oppressed me. My coat stuck to my body. I felt as if I was completely drained of strength, and I could not continue on. I stood at the edge of the road and waited. I do not know why I waited. I felt cold envelop all of my bones as I stood there. My sweat froze upon me, and I broke out in a shiver. I began to take account of my situation. I glanced at my watch. It was 6:00 p.m. What should I do now? To whom should I turn in this large and strange city? I raised my eyes, and a wagon was traveling. I stopped the wagon driver. He was a Jew. “Perhaps you know a cheap hotel?”, I asked him. “Come aboard” said the wagon driver, and took my bag from me. Soon enough I was once again on Nalowki Street, among our fellow Jews. I entered a hotel that was called “Furnished rooms”. It was cheap. It was full of bugs. I could not shut my eyes, on the one hand because of the “red brigade”, and on the other hand because of my gloomy spirit. I awaited daybreak. I was already in the Aliya office the next morning at 8:00 a.m.

That day, on Monday, I fasted, and I hoped that I would not have to fast also on Thursday… I did not go anywhere that day. I had heard many frightening stories about people such as me, who fled and were taken off the train. A chill passed through my bones… I do not want to be noticed… It is a terrible feeling when a person feels that everyone is staring at him. I wished to shrivel up. Everything frightened me and caused my blood to freeze. As it became dark, I summoned a wagon and asked to be taken to the train. The train station was dark. Many people were wandering around. I had my ticket in my pocket. Shortly the train would set out, but every moment seemed like an entire year.

Hundreds of people who were traveling on that train were accompanied by their mothers or fathers, brothers and sisters, lovers and friends. They bid farewell with tears or laughter on their lips. Nobody was as forlorn as I. I searched for a dark corner, put down my bags, sat down, and my heart was full of woe… I heard a bell and a call that the train to Constanta was departing immediately.

I looked around me and saw Abrasha standing next to me. He took hold of my bags and said, “Come, the train is departing in fifteen minutes. I searched for you all day, and I already lost hope in finding you. Come quickly!”

We were pushed between hundreds of people who were waiting for the trip. Aside from Abrasha, Mr. and Mrs. Mlinek were waiting for me. I had met them and became friendly with the in Kranice. Mrs. Mlinek gave me a kiss and stuffed some money and sweets in my pocket. I took leave of Abrasha without words. He was so close to me, and simultaneously so far… The train departed. I waved one last time to those who came to see me off, and their images disappeared from my eyes.

The travelers had set places, but nobody sat in their place. I gave my seat to a couple with a young child. I remained in my seat until Constanta. I received my papers only in Romania. I held myself up well, and all of the travelers got to know me. From Warsaw to Constanta I sang, “Mazel Tov to you Jews, I am traveling home.” Everyone certainly saw me as a happy man, and perhaps I was indeed thus?

I did not fulfil that which I had taken upon myself. I intended to kiss the holy ground as I arrived in the Land. However, as we arrived in Haifa on Monday, December 9, 1934 [8], torrential rain was falling, and I had such a great headache that I was not able to stand.

Nobody came to greet me. I did not even inform my sister who was in the Land of my arrival. I forgot everything and did not kiss the ground, for I simply did not see any ground before me.

When I arrived I the land, I forgot the person who treated me in such a humane fashion. My own egoism and love of self-honor guarded the slight, especially the words, “A strange man came, called me a 'friend', and took, without mercy, my last coin… And for what? I have a grandmother in his town…”

I did not write even one letter to Abrasha, despite the fact that I wrote to my wife every day. I even forgot to ask her if she sent her obligation of 250 Zloty to this dear man.

Despite the fact that my wife is very upright, and she assures me now that she returned the money to Abrasha with gratitude, and even repaid the money that Mrs. Mlinek had put in my pocket as I was departing – despite this, my heart drips blood over the iniquity that I perpetrated against Abrasha in return for his sublime good deed of giving all of his property to a stranger at a time that he himself was suffering from hunger.

I assume that Abrasha perished in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. May his pure personality serve as an example for all of us.

May his holy memory be blessed. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A derogatory term for a gentile. Return
  2. Euphemisms for protecting his children from challenges to Jewish observance. Return
  3. The introduction to the weekday evening (Maariv) service. Return
  4. The Third Sabbath meal, toward the end of the day, and often partaken of with the congregation of the synagogue. Return
  5. A quote from Pirke Avot, the Mishnaic section known as Chapters of the Fathers. Return
  6. Eicha literally means 'How', in an expression of disbelief or dismay. It is the Hebrew name for the Biblical Book of Lamentations, as well as a common opening for elegies of lamentation associated with the Tisha BeAv fast day and other occasions of grief. This poem begins with the word Eicha, and the first letters of each line form the following acrostic: Avraham Leib Ziofa Shargil of blessed memory. Return
  7. A Romanian Black Sea port from where ships would leave for Palestine. Return
  8. December 9, 1934 was a Sunday – it is probable that the record is off by a day. Return
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