[Page 355 & 409]
In 1927, he left the Social Democrat Party and in next two years he was not involved in any political activity. He was just a member of the nature-lovers (naturfreunde) Club. In 1929 he left Brin for Teplitz and there joined the Worker's League for Eretz Israel. His first work in the League consisted of organizing a referendum on Marxism. In a short time he became one of the most outspoken leader in the Socialist Zionist Movement, which soon took over all of the branches of Socialist Zionism except for Paole Zion. In 1931 he married and left immediately for Prague to take over the Zionist movement there. He remained in this position until the office was closed right before the outbreak of the War.
In this renowned era of Zionist activity, he was deeply involved as a great orator in Zionist and Socialist circles in Czechoslovakia. In 1933 he represented the Zionist Socialists and Paole Zion in the Zionist Congress. He also was involved in the Zionist Congress in Zurich in August 1939, which was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1937, he was in Eretz Israel for barely half a year. He was very active in Keren Chesud in Jerusalem.
As the Germans took over Czechoslovakia, Edelstein was forced to cooperate with the Nazis in order to be able to evacuate as many Jews as possible from the occupied zone. In the winter of 1938, he was sent to England along with Dr. Zuker to help facilitate the arrival of Jewish refugees. In the same year, the Nazi authorities allowed him to go to Eretz Israel with the same goal in mind (evacuation of Jews) but they then took away his wife's passport, thereby forcing him to return to Czechoslovakia. As late as 1940, during the War, the Nazis permitted him to go to Trieste in order to find ways of evacuating Czech Jews to other lands.
In 1941, the Nazis embarked on making Czechoslovakia Judenrein. They concentrated the population in Theresienstadt, and from there the majority were sent to death camps. Edelstein was the leader of the ghetto and was responsible for everything that happened within it. Often he dared to sidestep the Nazi decrees, thereby saving Jews from certain death. Children were not allowed to be born within the ghetto, so he gave the secretly born babies the names of people who had recently perished. Soon the Nazis uncovered his scheme, realizing that this is not the way it was supposed to be. They arrested Edelstein, his wife, and his only son and sent them to Auschwitz. There they let him live from December 1943 until June 1944. On the 18th of June, they permitted the family to reunite, but then murdered his family before his own eyes, and then murdered him.
Many have written about Edelstein's proud and courageous actions in Theresienstadt. They knew him as a Zionist activist and as a leader of the ghetto. This is only a glimpse of the man, taken from the writings of Dr. Max Brod, written in 1947, the third yahrtzeit of the death of Yaakov Edelstein.
[Page 356 & 410]
Translated by Harvey Buchalter The 18th of June 1947 will mark the three-year yahrzeit of Yacov Edelstein's death in Auschwitz. Until now, very little has been discussed or written concerning our heroes in Theresienstadt. Generally speaking, the complete history of Theresienstadt has not been thoroughly documented. From 1939 on, Yacov Edelstein was the director of the Zionist movement's branch in Prague; later he took responsibility for everything having to do with the life of Czech Jewry. Some would say he caused Adolph's Eichmann's master plan to be delayed. And if the life of Theresienstadt's Jews contained some reprieve from total misery they even had a measure of cultural freedom this was all due to the tireless efforts of Yacov Edelstein and his assistants, Fritz Kahn, the engineer Otto Booker, and to this list of names I can proudly add my brother, Otto Brod. None are still alive. Their brave deeds cost them their lives.
Recently, the news of those days has been updated regarding the blessed work of Yacov Edelstein. He harnessed all of his power to shelter and protect Theresienstadt's Jews from the German oppressors, from the criminals who prevented Jewish women from giving birth in the ghetto. According to the Nazi decree, all pregnant women would have to have abortions performed. But he changed that and created conditions for children to be born in the ghetto. Every day Edelstein and his assistants "changed" the list of the people who were in the ghetto. The newly-born children were given the names of the deceased, or of those who had escaped from the camp. As far as the German bureaucracy was concerned, everything was in order. And the Jewish people lived on!
In September 1943 a change came. Some English soldiers had escaped from a prisoner of war camp and the Jews of Theresienstadt, who lived in misery and fear of death each day, hid the soldiers from the Germans. They might well have used this incident to our advantage with the British Minister Bevens, but as it turned out, it caused the death of leaders of the ghetto. The Germans figured out that the English soldiers had previously escaped; their tracks led to the ghetto. They wasted no time in finding them, and in the process also captured six Jews who had previously escaped. On November 11, 1943, the Germans took a count of all who lived within the ghetto. They took all of them, both young and old, to a meadow outside the ghetto and proceeded to count every one of them, from six in the morning to eleven at night. That is how they found out that Yacov Edelstein, the man responsible for everything that happened in the ghetto, had betrayed them. They also accused him of smuggling weapons into the ghetto. They took him to Auschwitz and kept him isolated in a separate bunker. His wife, his son, and his mother in law were sent to Birkenau, close to Auschwitz. On June 18, 1944, the entire family was brought to Auschwitz. As they were brought together, the Germans shot all three before Edelstein's eyes first his mother-in-law, then his wife, and finally, his son. Then the murderers shot him.
And so a Jewish hero left this world, a man who up to the end did everything he possibly could and never gave up. In his place, they installed as director of the ghetto, a vile personage, a certain Dr. Mermelstein, from Vienna. (He had even once authored a Jewish history.) He soon lived up to the Nazis' expectation of promptness and respectability. This meant as follows: every single day he drew up the requested total of Jewish bodies to be sent off to the gas chambers. (Among them was my brother.) In the time during which Edelstein was director of the ghetto, he obstinately defended the life of every single Jew, and he was successful in saving the lives of hundreds of Jews. Had the war ended half a year earlier, tens of thousands of Jews would have remained alive had not the beast, Dr. Mermelstein, counted them for extermination by the hands of the Nazis.
[Pages 357 & 411]
Translated by Harvey Buchalter Dr. Kohen was born in Horodenka in 1915. His parents were Aaron-Leib and Sophia Kahn. Aaron-Leib Kahn was one of the first Zionists in the town (he even had several letters written to him by Dr. Herzl). All of his children were fervent Zionists. They all had an outstanding character and were all comrades in the betar the youth wing of the revisionist Zionists.
Bertzieh, as his friends and family used to call him, was small and thin, with dreamy blue eyes. But he was extremely stubborn. He completed the folkeshule and mittelschule in Horodenka and he also graduated with honors from the Hebrew School. He arrived in Eretz Israel in 1936 intending to study philosophy at Hebrew University. But he was not able to sit still for long. In the middle of the war, as the first breaking news about the awful fate of Polish Jewry was being revealed, both pain and vengeance impelled him to action. He joined the ranks of the Irgun Tzvi-Leumi (the National Defense Organization) and took part in all of their operations in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. But even this did not satisfy his fiery nature, and so he volunteered for service with the British command that fought outstandingly on the African Front.
Dr. Kahn was exceptionally brave and was in all ways an exemplary soldier. In a very short time he was promoted to sergeant and was recognized and rewarded with a lifetime pension from the British government. Later he asked to serve and then re-enlisted in the Jewish Brigade and took part in some of the bloodiest battles.
While he was in Europe with the Jewish Brigade, following the defeat of Germany, he witnessed an almost unbelievable accomplishment. His brother, Mark Kohen, had somehow survived and his letters indicated that he knew the name of the Nazi officer who was in charge of the round up and extermination of the Jews of Horodenka. He resolved that he would find him and avenge the revered dead. He roamed throughout Germany. He searched, questioning everyone he encountered, until he found the one he was looking for. He had uncovered the German beast in human form and brought upon him the vengeance that he deserved.
After the war he returned to Eretz Israel, a famous and well-regarded soldier. Then he made a decision. As much as he wanted to study, he couldn't sit and rock back and forth as cheder students, as the rest of the Jewish world was in turmoil and was struggling for the right to absorb the remnants who had been saved. The Hagganah had given him important responsibilities in its hierarchy, but this made him all the more nostalgic for his days as a youth in beitar. He resolved to enlist in the Irgun. He commanded many successful military operations and acquired a new nickname: Gundir Shimsom, Brigadier Samson. When the British brought counter-insurgency operation against the Irgun, he was already one of the highest in command, as a military planner and chief of operations.
In his last appearance as a commander he directed the demolition of the prison in Acco, May 14, 1947. The operation was considered to be a great success, but he fell as he allowed his men to safely leave the battle zone.
We will always remember him as on of the bravest soldiers in the struggle for freedom for the Jewish people.
[Page 358 & 412]
Translated by Harvey Buchalter This lament is written for all of you who come from Horodenka, all of you who lived and grew up in our town of Horodenka! Let us all recite a collectively intoned Kaddish as we complete our reading of the Sefer Horodenka, whose last chapters read like the Book of Lamentations, a lament on the destruction in Jerusalem. As we recite the prayer of Kaddish let the tears fall from our eyes upon the pages of this book which contains all of the details of the crimes that spell out the tragic end of our town and our dear parents, sisters, and brothers. They made a life for themselves with sweat and blood in the centuries they lived there. They used their talents and their skills to build this town into a thriving Jewish community until the murderous hands of the Nazi regime laid claim on it and transformed it into a mass grave for all of these who once called it home.
By having read this Yizkor Book each of us has re-lived the years we spent in our old home, in times of happiness, in times of suffering. And in spirit if nothing else these memories have taken us one last time around the so-familiar streets, streets which have made such a deep impression on our emotions in the days of our youth. Let it be a final stroll on the Karzah, on the wide expanse of the green Tolliki, on the Katikivka with its abundant cane (pussywillows) in the summer. How these canebrakes instilled fear in our young hearts! And the forests ... the smell of which intoxicated all our senses. And Sobiks Taich whose flowing waters caressed our bodies as we swam on the hot summer days.
But our pain and suffering did not come to an end with the destruction of the town; there remains not even the smallest trace of Jewish life, even a Jewish grave marker, even if you seek it with tears in your eyes and bloody wounds upon your heart. With beastly cruelty the bloodstained hordes tossed the dead upon the ground earth that is now literally overgrown with grain and greens for the tables of the new residents, the inheritors of what was once Jewish. They are now more than content to be free of their Jewish neighbors once and for all.
Twenty-one years have already passed since we originally planned to erect this monument that has taken the form of Sefer Horodenka, the book that will reveal to the world the shameless history of the destruction of this small Jewish community in Eastern Galicia. Almost every chapter of the book reveals the pain of each soul of the murdered Horodenka men, women, and children who would never live on. But even the best description, one that was scripted by the most talented writer, would not be able to express the pain, the anguish, and the wounds that remain in the hearts of those left orphaned in our town. And none of us will ever again have the opportunity to go to the [Horodenka] cemetery, let our hearts unleash the sorrow and pain, and recite Kaddish in memory of our dear loved ones.
Therefore, let each of us, as we read our Sefer Horodenka, allow a tear to fall in the name of the revered souls of the Jews of Horodenka many of whom never tasted happiness in their days.
This is how we must fulfill our basic obligation to them, the Souls of Horodenka's Jews, who with their blood illuminated the epochs of Jewish life in Horodenka.
May their souls live forever.
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