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[Page 341]

Our Teacher Nachum Okser,
Brody's Janusz Korczak

By Joseph Parvari (Leiner)

Translated by Dov Biran

We all remember him, our dear teacher Nahum Okser. We met him in the twenties, at the Jewish Community School on Koznowski Street (opposite the Catholic Church). The Austrian Monarchy had fallen apart, and our town Brody, in the north of Galicia on the previous Russian border, had become a Polish city after 150 years of subjugation. But the city atmosphere was from the old days, and we felt this at school. Our first teachers, Wildholz and Okser, still clung to German culture, and their lessons were in that language.

Other teachers, such as Arnold Moscisker and his wife, and the school Headmaster, Philip Ashkenazi, already preferred Polish and even forbade [us] quite firmly to speak Yiddish.

The first to captivate our hearts was Mr. Nahum Okser--an elderly person, short, fattish, but with a beautiful face, pink cheeks with a little white pointed beard. Behind his gold-rimmed spectacles were his good, merry, smiling eyes. Such was our teacher for Scriptures and Hebrew (Loshen Kodesh). He used to start his lesson with a literal translation (from Hebrew to German) from Genesis: “ In the beginning God – Elohim – created – bara' – heaven – ha'shamaim – and earth – ha'aretz – " and we, his little pupils, repeated after him word for word. In teaching Hebrew he also had a special method, with questions and answers, such as: "I am standing. What am I doing?" "You are standing." This was followed by exercises in grammar, such as: "My book, your book," etc. And indeed, the two basic subjects we learned from Mr. Okser were the Pentateuch and the Hebrew language.

Among the city's public institutions such as the Jewish community school, the people's kitchen, the old-age home, and the hospital, the Orphan Home was the most prominent. This was due to the management of its Director, Mr. Nahum Okser. For Mr. Okser was not only a teacher at the local school. His main activity was the Orphan Home at 25 Goldhaber Street. At noon, when school lessons ended, Okser would assemble his pupils and, just as he had brought them to school in the morning, he would take them back to the Orphan Home, at which he was both Director and educator.

I remember the Yiddishes Weisenhaus [Jewish Orphan Home] of Brody: A large building with a kitchen, a spacious dining-hall, two separate sleeping halls--one for the boys and one for the girls--the management office, and the living quarters of Mrs. Okser and the lovely Ms. Sarah Ehrenkranz. Sarah had grown up in that very same Home and remained as economic manager. Eventually, she married Mr. Okser when his first wife passed away. Although there was a great difference in age between them, they managed an exemplary family life and together were dedicated to their common goal, namely the education of the orphans, for whom they cared with much love just like the love parents give their own children.


[Page 346]

Through the Window

by Hadassah Esther Nathan (Weiss)

Translated from the Hebrew by Beverly Shulster

My small window
Is my whole world here
Through the window I will look
and see the cherry blossom.

The world is bright with color.
Flowers fall from the tree
Becoming white. Green
the small blackberry bush.

In the morning the nightingale will sing
And towards my window he will cry
Oh, I'm sad, sad am I
About your sad and painful life.

The locust, the musician of May
On the glass will burst into song
Oh, my child, it will buzz,
The time of your youth has passed.


[Page 350]

Fanya Zorne:
The Polish woman with whom I hid told me about an “Aktsia” (Action) against children aged 3-5 in Radziwilov (near Brody). All the children were thrown in sacks and the Germans shot into the sacks, after which they were buried in the ground. The ground continued to move for a while thereafter.

Alas, German Mothers

by Fanya Zorne

Translated from Polish to Hebrew by Zvi Natan

Translated from the Hebrew by Beverly Shulster

Alas, German Mothers
Who so love their children
They give not a sword
But bread with butter.
They fill their bellies
While our children die--
Not even a slice of bread
Like cats sick with hunger,
In ditches, in ghettos of death
to fill quotas.
With no excitement
You hear this news,
No twinge in your heart.

If were taken from you
Your beloved children
Your blonde-headed children . . .

Apparently, here have returned
The days of the Tartars!
If you could hear the screams go up
And then see the piles of bodies;
If you could feel the pain of the mothers
Torn from their babies--
Would that in strange lands,
In camps, in ghettos
Burning with longing
You'd die at forced labor
In poverty, misery.

Alas, German mothers,
You cannot feel.
Your hearts are stone.

April, 1943


[Page 353]

In Memory of My Parents Simcha and Yasse Weiser

by Shoshana Weiser

Translated by Shmuel Herold

Donated by Brian Blitz

A picture of the new synagogue in which my parents had worshipped all their lives, and where my late father had served as beadle, provoked in me a strange reaction.

In front of me, I saw this sanctuary in 1918 after the First World War. It stood out as a tombstone, a sort of monument, surrounded by its four walls, its broken windows looking out to the horizon, without a roof, thistles growing between its walls, pasture for the goats.

The [fortress] synagogue had served as a stable for the horses of an enemy at a time when the war raged on both sides of the town, and invasions of two enemies had turned it into a desolate wilderness. Desolate too was the “new synagogue” [a study house], and just a few Torah scrolls survived and remained in the Jewish district.

As soon as we returned to the town, before we had a roof over our heads, my late father decided to restore the former glory of the [fortress] synagogue. Repair of the roof and the removal of weeds were his first actions. Despite the poverty of the population, the donors did not disappoint and contributed generously. The synagogue was rebuilt, the restoration of the holy ark and the eastern wall were carried out by a renowned craftsman without payment, and the Polish government dispatched a special group of people from Warsaw to see the wonderful work of his hands.

Shortly before the High Holy days, when the synagogue had already been completed, a wrinkled lady arrived dressed in tatters with a donation. She [was a woman who] used to sell candy at the entrance of a building in the street by the station. Her name was Rosa. She had just one request – that her 14-year-old son should act as cantor on Simchat Torah. “He sings beautifully,” said the woman. “He is very talented.”

The mother hadn't exaggerated. This wonder-boy was Jonah Furman of blessed memory. This was his first public appearance. He continued to be the cantor there for many years.

 

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