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[Page 6]

There Was A Town

 

Committee of Former Jeziernians in Israel

Professor Menachem Doul, Pesach Altman, Yitzhak Harap, Azriel Zamora, Dora Gottfried,
Shloma Gottfried, Dora Gilad, Chana Yardeni, Shimon Kritz, Lippe Fischer, Yaakov Segal, Aba Katz


[Page 10]

Acknowledgements

In January 1966, under the initiative of Professor Menachem Doul and co-operation of Pesach Altman, Yitzhak Harap, Lippe Fischer and Shimon Kritz, a committee of former Jezierna residents, a landsmenschaft, was formed, which undertook activities to commemorate the martyrs of the shtetl.

The committee dedicated a memorial plaque on Mount Zion [in Jerusalem] and published this memorial Yizkor Book.

The committee's appeal for help was answered by many former Jeziernians in landsmenschaf (communal organizations) from Israel and abroad:

The Jezierna group ‘Bnei Shlomo’ (Sons of Solomon) in the United States, headed by Yosef Zilberberg, secretary.
Union of Traditional Jezierna Jews and its secretary Moshe Fuchs

Among the many individuals are:
from the USA - Yosef Fuchs, Lotta Frankel, Rivka Schwalb, N. Kelman.
from Canada - Ethel Spindel, Chana Katz, David Kurzrok
from Australia - Pepi Scharer and daughters, Helena Fuchs
from Brazil - Yitzchak Wolf Katz
from West Germany - Dr. Norbert Kalafer, Dr. Benzion Rosenfeld
from France - Yaakov Katz, z'l

And in Israel:
Dr. Reuven Avineri, Beno Shteiger,, Dvora and Shlomo Gottfried, Dvora Gilad, Yoel Harap, Rosa
Herman, Regina Ginzberg, Michael Altman, Magister Sofia Heliczer-Anderman

May they all be blessed.


[Page 11]

Jezierna Jews

by Yehoshua Fuchs (Sam Fox)

Translated by Lily Fox Shine and Cyril Fox, daughter and son of the author

Donated by David Fielker, for this article which was previously
published in Shemot (JGS of Great Britain), September 1999

The Shtetl of Jezierna is situated on the road from Zborow to Tarnopol in East Galicia. The Jezierna Rav - Rav Zelig Optavitzer was connected through his family with Zborow and Tarnopol.

The Jezierna Rebbe - Rebbe Levi Yitzhak (Monaszohn) was connected to the famous Hasidic Rhiziner dynasty and had a greater Hasidic court and mansion than the Rebbe of Tarnopol and other nearby towns.

About 200 years ago the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria annexed Galicia which became a crown colony in her Empire. There she sent some of her Austrian Jewish population to settle among the gentile Ukrainian and Polish peasants of the area, not a very easy exile for them. The shtetl had a kind and helpful Crown Representative, a Jew by the name of Mendel Yimfeler. He led a good and observant Jewish life. He owned a large area of land which included a stream and a mill; land which was rich in arable fields. He organized the construction of a large synagogue which was the pride of the town. There was also the Rebbe's beautiful Court with its great ornamental gates. Another large communal building where young men of the shtetl could learn Talmud and study in the Beth Hamedrash was constructed by a wealthy Jew, Jehoshua Flaum. Examples of typical and prominent Jewish families were the families of Fuchs, Karp and Gottfried.

My father was called Chaim Fuchs and my mother was Feiga Fuchs. My paternal grandfather Avrom Moshe and my maternal grandfather Yitzhak Shlomo were related, both with the name Fuchs. Both great-grandfathers were from the early settlers sent by Maria Theresa. My father travelled through the surrounded neighbourhood and traded with gentile peasants. We are now three brothers, our fourth brother Hersch Volff Fuchs was annihilated with other Jews of the area by the murderous Nazis in 1942.

My older brother Avrom Moshe Fuchs is a well-known Yiddish author who now lives in Israel. Our youngest brother is I.A. Lisky (Itamar Yehuda Fuchs), the editor of the London Jewish Weekly, The Yiddishe Shtimme (The Jewish Voice). He also writes poems, short stories and essays. I left Jezierna in 1914 and have settled in London since then.

The Gottfried family, to whom we are related by marriage, also emigrated to London at the turn of the Century. Their ancestor Reb Avrahom Gottfried also came with the early settlers from Austria. For many years he was the gabbai of the large shul.

The Karp family, was also well known in the Shtetl. People would stay in their home when visiting the Rebbe. It was always a noisy and lively house because of this.

Another family Karp, who lived in a more "enlightened" manner, held court to a group of our society comprising Dr Hirshhorn, Mordechai Marder, Ludwig Mainz the chemist, and Shimra Imber the Hebrew teacher at the Baron Hirsch state school - a brother of Naftoli Hersch Imber and father of Shmuel Yaakov Imber the Yiddish poet, of the famous Imber family of poets (one of whom wrote the words of Hatikvah). Also there was Jacob Blaustein, the Director of the school, and Josef Feldman the Polish instructor at the school, and their sons and daughters. These were the more intellectual group of our community.

When I left Jezierna in 1914 there were a few hundred Jews. I was told that only one, Yitzhak Pollak, was left after the Shoah 1939-45.

May my memories be bound up with the souls of good innocent Jews of Jezierna who were mercilessly slaughtered by the Nazi murderers in World War II, 1939-45.

Sam Fox, London, 1968-9.

Sam Fox (1892-1969) came to London in 1913. He had been apprenticed as a sheet-metalworker in Jezierna, and in the late 1920s opened his own business in London. During World War 2 his factory was largely given over to work for the War Office. He was still working up to a few days before his death at the age of 77.


[Pages 13-14]

The Tzaddik of Jezierna

by Gavriel Herman Green, Buenos Aires

Translated by Pamela Russ

What are years? Years are like waves. A person always tries to swim upstream, but the years always run downstream and they disappear farther and deeper into the past.

This is how many, many years have already disappeared. I have already experienced and wandered through many, many lands, and many years have already passed since I have planted my tent here on the shores of La Plata's estuary. Nonetheless, I remember my shteteleh Jezierna, or as the Jews called it, Ozerna. That's where I was born and where I lived until my tenth year of life.

Of all the hundred and maybe thousands of cities and towns through which I wandered in my youngest years, my place of birth, Jezierna, stands out, and when I remember it, I actually see it in my mind. I see the crooked, wooden houses, the broken wells that often swallowed victims, and I even see the church spires that stretch out in a distance, as if they were calling: Come, go out of this town, look at the world. If you would want to return, you will not get lost, we will show you the way…

I was a child, a poor neglected child, an orphan, so I wandered around the town, rummaging through things, and I saw everything; and most of all I saw the poverty, with which I was very familiar.

There were many Jewish stores in Jezierna, and the Jewish trade was lively in the marketplaces. But no one said that the Jews in Jezierna survived by trading, because according to my childish understanding, I heard only that the Jezierna Jews survived only thanks to the Jezierna Tzaddik (righteous man), Reb Schloime Charap.

Reb Shloime'le was not from a rabbinic lineage. He was the son of an innkeeper, but he was a genius and a scholar, and he very quickly became reputed in the region for his knowledge. Once, when there was a fire in Jezierna, and house after house was destroyed and blown away with the smoke, and the wind blew the fire to the Jewish street and to the courtyard, then (this is what I heard tell) Shloime'le stood himself up and began to pray to God - and then a wondrous thing happened, even though the wind blew to the side where Shloime'le was standing, one could clearly see that the fire was struggling with the wind and could not advance; it was even retreating…

There were even people who said that they themselves actually saw how it was as if a supernatural hand was driving the fire back into the wind, and everyone was certain that these powers were a result of the prayers of the young Tzaddik, Reb Shloime'le, who struggled with the wind. That's how the entire Jewish population of Jezierna was saved from the terrible fire.

Since then, Reb Shloime'le's name became famous, and Jews from Hungary, Bessarabia, and Romania came to him with notes requesting blessings. Later on, it became known that Reb Shloime'le was not only a brilliant scholar, but he was also brilliant in worldly matters, because Reb Shloime'le was a wise man who gave sage advice to all those who came to see him. That's how everyone knew that the town would long ago have been destroyed by the fire, but thanks to Reb Shloime'le the town survived and the resident Jews earned money from the Chassidim who came to Shloime'le for blessings and forgiveness.

How my Jezierna later developed I do not know because it's already been more than half a century since I left there. But one thing I know, that a great-grandchild of the Jezierna Tzaddik Reb Shloime'le today is President of the Galician Society in Argentina - that is the President Shloime Kweller - who is actually named after his famous great-grandfather, Reb Shloime'le.

(Note: Shloime Kweller originates from Kozolow - M.D. )


[Pages 15-19]

From Jezierna to the Land of Israel

by Hannah Marder-Yardeni, Kiryat Bialik

Donated by Ronit Yardeni-Gura and Ori Yardeni

There once was… well, that's how all legends begin. The Holocaust made the Jewish communities of Europe into legend - a tragic and horrific legend at that. They once were, and are no more.

There once was the city of Jezierna, where we were born and raised… the city of our mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters. And behold - they are no more!

Jezierna was a lively city, a microcosm of an independent country, complete with its cultural life, its diverse social classes fighting for their survival, its lay leaders, its charity treasurers, its rank and file citizens, its political parties with their battles for the hearts and minds of the publics, and the task of choosing between them. There were the city's 'shining youth' - young people who were working or studying.

I can still remember the small three-room house that stood on a hilltop. It was the center of intellectual life, where battles raged over different interpretations of the Zionist idea. The largest room was used by HaZionim Haklali'im faction, the General Zionists. My father, Mordechai Marder, of blessed memory, was their head spokesperson and their life and soul. HaNoar Hazioni youth movement, the natural heirs of the aging Zionim Haklali'im, was under their auspices, and was led by personalities like Moshe Altman, Moshe Kelman, Villik Laufer, Mania Hazelnuss and Munio Motzborov. All of them, of blessed memory, were eradicated during the Holocaust. As for myself - may I live to a ripe old age - I was the youngest child of the chairman of the Zionim Haklali'im. In the other two rooms, two other groups would convene: the Hapoel Hazair youth movement, or the 'Gordonia', and the revisionists, in which my brother-in-law (who was married to my older sister Sarah) was active. So it was that we would be seated around my father's table for a Sabbath or holiday meal, and polemics between the representatives of these three factions from the house on the hill would rage on. When my mother would remind us that it was the Sabbath day and that it was unseemly of us to argue in deference to the joyous spirit of the Sabbath, we would all respond with “what do you care… this is what we enjoy doing”…

 

A Zionist Household

This was indeed the epitome of a household in a Jewish town, complete with its conflicts of opinion. My father, who was born in Zborov, was brought up by his devoutly religious parents, who were determined to raise their only son to be a rabbi and a Torah scholar. He had, however, his own unique perceptions and judgement, as well as a gentle, poetic soul. As a youth he had already rebelled against his parents' principles. Secretly, while studying Gemarrah, he would read the literature of the Haskalah, the Enlightenment movement. He reveled in the works of Goethe, Schiller and Zola, and would even quote chapters of their books. Thus my self-taught father would come to acquire a general education, and he was drawn to the Emancipation movement, which had been spreading throughout the enlightened world during his lifetime. He defied stereotypes and he was always following what was going on in the broader world around him. Fueled by his passion for his beliefs, and using his natural gifts of persuasion and eloquence, he even began convincing his friends and other young people to espouse these views.

My mother, of blessed memory, was raised by progressive parents. What was unique about her household was that a private tutor was brought in to teach the four girls in her family. This was very uncommon, especially since the educational program included studying a foreign language in addition to Polish and learning the foundations of social etiquette and cultural norms. My mother's education produced results that were immediately apparent; her peace of mind, her wisdom of life, her nobility. My mother always looked neat and well groomed, though she didn't always lead 'an easy life'.

The extraordinary blend of contrasts in my mother and father found its expression in their childrens' upbringing: intellectual awareness, sensitivity and overachievement attitude from father, on one hand; peace of mind and life wisdom from mother, on the other. Together, these traits produced warmth, culture and vitality - qualities that touched every corner of our home.

Under the influence of his prominent friend Yehoshua Redler-Feldman, otherwise known as the writer Rabbi Binyamin, my father became an ardent and passionate Zionist. For years the two worked together in the town, and later they exchanged letters up until the war and the Holocaust. From then on, my father dedicated his entire being and his passions to the Zionist movement. He would valiantly fight in its defense against the religious right on one hand, and the liberal left on the other.

He was particularly active during preparations for the distribution of shekalim, membership certificates, and elections for Zionist congresses.

At that time my father would muster all his energy and prepare himself for the struggle ahead. During elections he would invite well-known lecturers to speak to voters in the assembly halls, though his opening remarks at these assemblies were passionate and fiery. His heartfelt words penetrated the hearts of his peers and recruited them to the ranks of his party.

I remember once, during election day for the Zionist congress, my father discovered that two people who had promised him their votes were not in the town; they were: Rachel Shalita, the daughter of Rabbi Shalita, and Frimeleh Feuerstein's grandfather. They had both gone to Zborov. My father promptly rented a wagon that was to be sent to Zborov to bring these two to the ballot station. He would also distribute membership certificates free of charge, and would later replace the money out of his own pocket. It wasn't that he had too much money- he was simply so concerned about the results of the elections, that he was willing to give up on his own needs and those of his family!

 

The Clandestine Immigration

My father would level criticism at Zionist leaders in the diaspora, saying: “Who is a General Zionist (zioni klali)? Someone who takes money from another Jew and sends a third Jew to Israel”

To prove his devotion to the idea of immigration, he planned his family's immigration to the Land of Israel. First, he dispatched his eldest daughter - my sister Sarah, her husband Yitzhak Harap, and his granddaughter, whom he treasured so dearly. Next was his second daughter, my sister Lotta. Still, it stands to reason that what made their sacrifice so great in terms of the pain and suffering they endured, was to take leave of me, the baby of the family, when I emigrated to Israel. After a difficult and emotional struggle, I was given permission to begin pioneer training, which wasn't a common activity in those days. I was our town's first representative to this program. Certificates for legal immigration didn't exist, so I decided to enter the country illegally. My parents didn't bar the way, but the hardships that I endured and the distress that I put my parents through were unbearable.

When we arrived in Costanza [Constanta], Romania, I, as well as a thousand others, were loaded onto the 'Katina', a small cargo ship meant to carry potatoes. The ship couldn't even hold 500 people. It didn't have the facilities necessary for passengers, including proper latrines. After trying to approach the Israeli shore for two weeks and then fleeing back towards the sea- having been repelled by the British navy- our ship washed up on a sandbar near a desolate beach on the Isle of Crete. The ship sank just as we managed to get ourselves onto the beach.

Our sirens and SOS signals attracted the attention of another ship of illegal immigrants, called 'Gipo'. Seven hundred people were packed together on board that ship and we joined them- all one thousand of us.

Seven hundred women, children and elderly people, who possessed nothing but the shirts on their backs, managed to reach the shores of Israel. Members of the Haganah, who had awaited our arrival throughout the rainy and foggy night carried us in on their backs. The rest of the passengers were destined to continue their wandering.

We soon found ourselves in a packing house. We were wet and shivering from the cold, but we were given food to eat for the first time in a month of wandering, fresh bread and halva, and even hot drinks. The next day we enjoyed a hot bath and cooked food, provided by representatives of the various movements who came to welcome us and send us to the places designated for our absorption.

All throughout that period, my mother and father were anxiously awaiting news from me, and they were worried sick. At that time, they had been hearing rumors of ships of immigrants that were attacked by the British, and that some of the passengers had been killed when the ships sank (and our ship had indeed sunk). They heard about a ship that was burned. When I reached my sister's house in Israel, I found a pile of letters from my parents. They had written to me every day, begging for some information on what had happened to me. Here's an excerpt from one of their letters, which exemplifies my parents' dedication to immigration - a process that was also their source of solace during times of trouble:

“According to the legend, the return to Zion during the times of the Messiah will be accompanied by gilgul mechilot, rolling in the underworld's tunnels and chibut hakever, torments of the grave. It appears that this was decreed - that it would not be easy for the Jews to return to their land. Their pains and torments are great, and we know that illegal immigration has elements of rolling in the underworld's tunnels. Every day we feel horror and astonishment, and we ask ourselves if we have wronged you by letting you set off on such a dangerous path. We don't sleep at all at nighttime, and can't bear the burden of these feelings of concern and fear. Still, if we are fated to suffer during our own immigration to Israel, we'll accept our fate with love…”

My father devoted his life to the ideal of resurrecting the people of Israel in its own land. My father and mother's dream was to join their children in the land of their forefathers, but they never had the chance to realize that dream…


[Pages 20-24]

The Last Will of our Martyrs

by Menachem Doul, Haifa

Translated by Ornit Barkai

Our Martyrs left us their last will “Remember! Never Forget !”

Never to forget the slaughterers of our people; to gather all our might to expose their true faces to the world; to expose their crimes and bring them to justice.

We heard this from the victims on their way to the slaughter. Similarly we heard this even from the Judenrat members just moments before their death, when they finally realized the tragedy of their own people.

The both of us, Tzila Heliczer and myself, gathered all our strength to seek and find Richard Diga, the murderer of the Jews who were imprisoned in what was known as “Jezierna Labor Camp”, and bring him to trial. Tzila worked with extraordinary dedication towards this goal.

As soon as the war was over and we were expelled from Brzezany to Silesia, I started to search for Diga. I knew that this murderer was from Bytom in Silesia. So I relied on the security forces of Katowiec, Warsaw, Wroclaw, and the Ministry of Justice in Warsaw.

In 1947, while living in Zabkovice (Lower Silesia) , my wife and I were summoned to testify in court about Diga's crimes in Jezierna. In answer to my question, the judge replied “the killer must have been captured already if you were asked to testify.”

Months went by and I hadn't heard a thing about Diga's case. I started to ask in the various authorities to find out what happened with the case, but did not get a response. Even the judge did not know anything, but suspected that Diga had escaped to Germany.

* * * * * * * *

During the Nazi era, Tzila Heliczer was quick to understand that escape was the only way to survive, especially after she witnessed the horrific crimes committed by Diga against Jews in Jezierna. She left town with fake Aryan documents identifying her as Ukrainian, and was lucky to survive while moving from one place to another.

After leaving town she embarked on the wretched life on the road, the constant fear of being discovered, identified and turned in. She changed her address often, even moving to new neighborhoods, but to no avail. In the end she was caught, spent several months in jail withstanding the dreadful Gestapo interrogations and was finally transferred to forced labor in Germany.

Tzila, the daughter of a hand-wringing, caring mother, went through the seven circles of hell. Listening to her hair-raising story, it's hard to believe that a person could survive this. I only bring this up as a fact. It was Tzila who had to tell her story. Her whole life passed in front of her eyes even after the war, and the memory was never erased.

After the war, when Tzila Cymer, maiden name Heliczer, lived in Aachen, West Germany and met with a lawyer to discuss reparations, she told him about what happened to her during the Nazi regime and Diga's name was brought up. Upon hearing his name the lawyer told her that the police were looking for evidence against a war criminal named Richard Diga, and he passed along to the police the information he received from Tzila.

Coincidentally, in 1959, when the Cymer family was looking for an apartment, Tzila stumbled upon the name Richard Diga on an entrance to one of the apartments. Her blood curdled upon noticing that name and her heart pounded hard. Could it be the same Diga, slaughterer of the Jews of Jezierna who lived there? Was he living here peacefully with his family? These thoughts rushed through Tzila's mind. Anxiously, Tzila hurried to the police station. The story had already been reported to the police by her attorney. As it turned out, the man was the cousin of the real Diga, the commander of Jezierna labor camp.

And in a tiny town near the Swiss border, in a beautiful villa, lived Richard Diga with his family. He didn't lack for silver, gold or dollars. In fact, he was swimming in gold and precious items. He was not afraid of anyone. Who would have recognized him there? He lived “like a god in France” as the old saying goes. He had eliminated the Jews, so who would tell on him and turn him in? He knew that eventually the war crimes' statute of limitations would expire and so would his own crimes, and then he would leave the small town and settle in Berlin, or move back to Bytom as a hero.

But finally Tzila was summoned to the prosecutor Dr. Engleberg in Waldshut. He questioned her in great detail and showed her a photo of Diga, which she identified right away. He suggested that she accompany him to the town where Diga lived. And so, accompanied by the prosecutor and the police they left on the fast train. One can only imagine the fear and joy that engulfed her. There, she will finally face that murderer. She would identify him and he will be arrested on the spot.

They arrived in town after a 24-hour ride and went directly to court. They had to wait a while before Diga was brought in. Tzila recognized him immediately and in a state of uncontrolled emotion a scream escaped her lips: “There he is - the murderer of the Jews! ” Diga stood there as white as death. He too recognized her. That Jewess, that “dirty Jewess” was standing now in front of him. He knew that there could be no arguments or any nonsense; he was identified and arrested. Later he was transferred to Waldshut, to “a retreat.”

We were now faced with the daunting task of collecting testimonies and gathering proofs. Several testimonies were presented by Tzila on the spot. Tzila fulfilled the last will of the Jezierna martyrs.

Her immense courage to undertake a 24-hour long trip surrounded by strangers, and above all Germans, to look the murderer straight in the eye and to recount his crimes, was unfathomable. That is heroism without a doubt, and the driving force behind it was the testament to “Remember! Never Forget!”

This all took place in 1959, 14 years after the war and 16 years after the annihilation of the Jezierna Jews.

Mrs. Henya Helizcer, Tzila's mother, informed us of Diga's arrest. And so, with help from Yad Va'Shem, we began collecting testimonies. This is the list of the witnesses we found:

Australia: Mrs. Peppe Sharer and her daughters Bronia and Frieda.
Cuba: Dora Blaustein - Cyna Blaustein's daughter.
Israel: My wife and I, Mr. Ryski (Engel) - Yiddish actor from Poland who was interred in our camp.
USA: New York, Brooklyn: Inzesh(?), Isidor Steinberg from Borszczˇw who was in the camp.

The major and most significant testimonies were given by Tzila and her mother, but at the request of the prosecutor in Waldshut we all gave our evidence about what happened to us, and in all the testimonies Diga was accused of the horrific crimes he committed. However, his case never came to trial. The prosecutor informed Yad VaShem that Diga hanged himself in jail.

That was the end of the man, who for over two years murdered about 20,000 Jews in Jezierna, in a horrible way and in cold blood. He probably did not want to face the few surviving Jews and give them the satisfaction of bringing to trial “The Chief Diga”, dressed in a prison uniform, and recounting one by one his horrendous crimes.

May his name and his memory be obliterated.

 

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