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[Page 341]

Chapter Five

Images and Eulogies

 

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 347]

Samuel Weiler
From Publications of the Partisan Fighters Museum,
Tel–Aviv, Tevet 5732 – December 1971

By Joseph Parvari (Leiner)

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Rafael Manory

One of the last commanders of the Beitar organization (In Hebrew the acronym for “The covenant of Yosef Trumpeldor”[1]) in Brody was Shmuel Weiler, of blessed memory, great–grandson and grandson to a Rabbinic dynasty, a graduate of the Polish Gymnasium, a handsome youth, brave and fearless, and limitlessly dedicated to the national movement.

In 1941 he was a resident of the ghetto. Here, in Brody, despite all of the suffering and the horrible conditions in the ghetto he dreamt about rescuing his nations' honor and about raising the flag of the struggle against the invader and the oppressor of the Jews.

He was one of the few who survived the war. Based on his written testimony[2] that he provided to the Jewish Historical Institute in Krakow, one can assemble a short review of the fight of the local youth against the Nazi regime.

Shmuel Weiler, the commander of Beitar, together with several friends, including Shlomo Halbershtadt, a former member of the “Hashomer Hatzair”[3] movement, Yaakov Linder, a member of the “Komsomol” (The Communist Youth Movement) and the teacher Adolf Klar, established a fighting organization in the ghetto by the name of ZOB (Zydowska Bojowa Organizacja = The Jewish Fighting (or Combat) Organization), headed by Shmuel Weiler, which was the nucleus of the local partisan movement. The Jewish fighters contacted the Polish fighters in Lvov and asked for their help; however, the Poles refused to accept them in their ranks, and to provide any weapons. Thus, the organization, which was isolated from the outside world, decided to secure the needed financial means on its own, and to acquire the necessary weapons by purchasing it or by force. Among the few who were willing to assist the organization, was the Ukrainian Communist activist, Yashko Buraczek, a friend of the Jews, who has meanwhile passed away. The organization received the first handgun from him.

Weiler managed to contact an ethnic Pole, a soldier who served in the 45th battalion of the German army infantry (there were Poles from Pomerania, Silesia and Poznan who served in the Wehrmacht). This Pole told Weiler about the huge defeat suffered by the German forces headed by von Paulus, during the winter of 1942/43 in Stalingrad. The organization published and disseminated this and other news via leaflets. The news helped in raising the morale among the Jews and in forging their will to survive. However, the organization was not satisfied with only this type of actions. It decided to start open struggle, get out of the ghetto, and run away to the surrounding forests. They planned to join the partisans and fight against the Germans.

The organization continued its activities by performing sabotage actions. Near the village of Sukolovka, its members blew up a tar factory. Tar was a needed raw material for producing ammunition. The forced labor camp at the Sasov quarry was attacked too in order to get hold of dynamite for the production of mines. An underground member, the engineer Fauerstein, invented a mine for blowing up railroad tracks. The mine was placed about 40 kilometers from Brody between Krasna and Kolkosh stations and caused the derailment

[Page 348]

of a train locomotive, the destruction of two boxcars full of weapons and ammunition, and the death of tens of German soldiers.

Despite the harsh conditions and the never–ending lurking dangers, at every moment the fighters were also keen at preserving their cultural life even while in the forest. They organized meetings on Saturdays and evenings, in which they gave lectures on current events. Moishe'le Shapira stood out in these meetings in which he read from his poems about the Jewish people, its enemy and the fight against it.

At about the same time, it was announced that the organization was accepted into the ranks of the GL–Gwardia Ludowa–organization, the “Elite People's Guard,” the Polish underground leftist resistance organization in Lvov. The GL organization promised to provide commanders, as well as non–Jewish partisans and weapons.

When its funds had dwindled, the organization decided to rob the national bank branch in Brody. Twelve people set off to carry out this undertaking on 13th of May 1943. At noontime, the members heard that the force encountered a German army unit. A battle ensued, in which two of the group members – Bunyo and Izyu Reinhold, were slightly wounded. The group was forced to retreat toward the forest. The German succeeded in capturing two of the fighters in the swamps and they handed them over to the city gendarmerie. While their clothing were being searched, the fighters managed to draw their guns, kill a policeman and run away to the ghetto. The house in which they were hiding, was surrounded by the police force and its residents were taken out and shot to death. When the fighters saw that they do not have any hope of escape, they committed suicide.

At that point, it was clear that the time had come for an uprising. The organization called for active resistance against the oppressor. They encouraged the Jews to follow the example of Ghetto Warsaw, which fought heroically against the Germans. They appealed the people to escape to the forest and join the partisans. Many abided by the appeal. In order to sustain themselves, groups of members attacked the farms of rich “volkdeutsches” and confiscated meat and flour. They left a note in every place they raided, acknowledging the confiscation of the produce, stamped by the organization logo.

On 17th May 1943, a force consisting of two German army companies, Ukrainian police and the gendarmerie attacked a group of the organization members. The ensued battle lasted the whole day. Unfortunately, the attackers had the upper hand. Thirty Jewish warriors died a heroic death. The survivors returned to the city and hid in the attic of the ruined synagogue. The police discovered their hiding place and they were captured. After that incident, the head of the Judenrat demanded that Shmuel Weiler sign a declaration that he would not incite the youths to fight against the Germans. Weiler refused. The Judenrat then demanded that Weiler's mother sign in his name and she refused as well.

During the night of May 20/21, 1943, the ghetto was surrounded by S.S. units that arrived from Lvov, headed by Major–General Katzman, may his name be damned, and Ukrainian police forces that were mobilized from throughout the environs joined them. They entered the ghetto and forced out people from their homes and hideouts. After robbing them of everything they owned, they loaded them up on trucks and transferred them to the train station. From there they transported them in crowded and sealed boxcars to the death camp of Majdanek (one of the survivors testified later that the train bypassed the Belzac camp). Many tried to jump off the moving train, but only three managed to survive.

Miraculously, Shmuel Weiler himself survived. After the liberation by the Red Army, he and his mother moved to Poland and from there to France. In France, he continued his work in the movement and became

[Page 349]

the secretary general of the right–wing Herut–Hatzohar Union party[4]. He served as a journalist for the party's newspaper, “Herut”, in Israel and acted on behalf of and for the benefit of the state of Israel. He played a major role in organizing the weapon shipment via the ship Altalena. He served as a delegate in the Zionist congresses and visited Israel.

The author would like to mention that a group of Jewish partisans from the neighboring city of Radzivilov, was also active in the area of Brody during the conquest years (see article by Yekhiel Porochovnik in the Yizkor book for the city of Radzivilov–Sefer Radzivilov, pp. 232–250[5]. Shmuel Weiler did not mention the group in his testimony since most of their activities occurred after the extermination of the ghetto. Most of the members of this group later joined Russian units and fought in the ranks of the Red Army.

Shmuel Weiler passed away in Paris in 1962, at the age of 48, after suffering from a malignant disease. His mother, Adela Weiler transferred his body in December 1962 to Israel, and he was buried in Kiryat Shaul cemetery [near Tel Aviv. M.K]. Adela Weiler passed away in October 1971. She was a public figure and an industrious Zionist leader in Brody. She was buried near her son.

Her memory and the memory of her son would be forever bound in the bundle of the living among all of Israel heroes.

Translator's Notes

  1. Beitar–A Revisionist Zionist youth organization founded in Riga, Latvia, by Zeev Jabotinski (the leader of the Revisionist Movement, linked to the right wing Herut Party. The organization was named after the leader of Jewish settlers in Tel–Hai, Yosef Trumpeldor, who was killed in defense of the settlement. Return
  2. Shmuel Weiler's testimony was taken from the collection “Underground Movements in the Ghettoes and the Camps,” edited by Betty Eisenstein, 1946, published by the War Archives, the Jewish Committee in Krakow (in Polish). The testimony also appears in Brody Yizkor Book, pp. 170–174: (http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/brody/bro170.html) Return
  3. Hashomer Hatzair–Translated literally as “The Young Guard” is a leftist Marxist Zionist youth movement affiliated with a party by the name of Hashomer Hatzair–Workers Party of Palestine (later unified with other movements to form the leftist Mapam and Meretz parties). The organization was established in Galitzia in 1913. The movement is active today in Israel and internationally. Return
  4. Likud Party – Literally translated as “consolidation”, is a union of center–right wing parties formed by Menahem Begin. The senior party in the Likud is Herut (translated literally as “Freedom”) which was formed in 1948 as a successor to the Revisionist Irgun militant underground organization. The first union was formed in 1965 between Herut and the centrist Liberals party. Several other small parties joined in 1988. Return
  5. Radzivilov's Yizkor book: http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/Radzivilov/rad251.html Return


[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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