The Aliya of the Chalutzim
Aryeh Mazal (Chaim Leib) and his Father's Household
Although 35 years of life have passed, his image still stands in front of me, as I saw him in my childhood, close to his aliya in the middle of the 1920's: squat, broad-shouldered, in the prime of his life, wearing a hard, black bowler. His fair face was full, meticulously shaved and embellished by a black Chaplin mustache, and expressing strength. He strode with a cane in his hand, that had a round ivory handle. His shoes were polished shiny and his whole being testified to glory and splendor.
When Aryeh Mazal made aliya, the foundations of the town's Zionist activities were shaken; Zionism was still in its diapers, and he was one of its leaders. Especially hurt was the Keren Kayemeth Le'yisrael (contributions for Israel) that he led for years. He not only preached Zionism and was the main spokesman for the Keren Kayemeth, but he did the foot work as well, going from door to door to explain and seek donations.
He suckled his love and yearning for Eretz Yisrael from two separate sources; The first was, of course, the fountain from which all generations have drank - the Bible, and the second, the one particular and real to him, alive and bubbling: his ties with his sister and brother who made aliya dozens of years ago and became rooted in the land.
He grew up in a house characterized by a tangible Zionist atmosphere. The conversations that took place in his parents' house about the land were not dreams and yearnings, but facts and reality.
in responding Keren Kayemeth Le'yisrael please mention Vilna Bureau no. 1920 Permit Comrade L. Mazal of the town Ilya, Vileika region, is a hardworking activist and for many years worked endlessly and faithfully for the benefit of Keren Kayemeth Le'yisrael, in his town. All national and Zionist institutions are asked to accept and recognize him. Keren Kayemeth Le'yisrael General Bureau in Vilna
Paper issued by KKL to Aryeh Mazal before his aliya
The frequent letters from his sister, who was one of the Petach-Tikvah firsts, told of life's conflicts and of a tough and pungent reality. The letters from the brother, the veteran Jerusalemite doctor, raised the particular problems of the eternal city. Therefore his zionism was less ethereal and more practical. This is perhaps the reason why he devoted most of his strength to the Keren Kayemeth, which was concerned with the large task of redeeming the land.
To Aryeh's praise we should say that he never believed the imaginary ideas of a redeeming revolution; even when his friends were burned with their faith - he was concerned only with Zionism.
Suddenly the Czar's chair was jeopardized and Aryeh Mazal was asked to go to the front to aid him. But our moderate and sensible friend did not get overly excited over the Czar's invitation and did not make haste.... Instead he decided to alter his identity: he grew a large beard, equipped himself with the papers of an old man, and disappeared from the scene. At first he tried to hide at his relative's in other towns, but when the searches were made more severe and the chimney, into which he inserted himself at the last minute, saved him from being captured as a deserter one time, he took a saw and an ax, bribed somebody, and appeared in a new identity: that of a forester....
|Aryeh Mazal as a forester|
The regime collapsed and the comrades assumed power. They now began an energetic and open search for draft dodgers and deserters and thus they arrived at the forest. The representative of the authorities -- apparently also from the seed of Avraham our father -- looked at Aryeh Mazal's face and asked: what are you doing here?; I chop wood -- responded our Aryeh. His visage is not that of a 'worker' -- declared the representative. I do not work with my face but with my hands, responded Aryeh, -- well, then, show me your hands -- commanded the representative. And when he looked at his hands he added: neither are your hands those of a worker.... After a moment's reflection he thundered: come with me!! But Aryeh escaped once again.
His Zionist activities, began before the First World War, was cut short and renewed only after the end of the World War when he and his friends in action, younger and older, returned from great Russia and the renewed Poland.
The days were those of post-war hardship, hunger and suffering. Aryeh Mazal, returning to his home at the end of the war, was found suitable to head the community and was elected to this position unanimously. From now on he devoted his time to the problems and worries of the collective: organized the project of Brother's Aid of the United States, intended to ease the hunger, took care
|Community stamps and the stamps of the chair and the secretary - 1920|
of the organization of medical service, with the kind help of Oza. He was elected to the position of the community leader, and re-organized community life.
|Aryeh Mazal in his years
as head of the local community
Since he fulfilled his job with decency and honesty he sometimes was forced into confrontation with the authorities, but he did not recoil, and as a result was arrested and put in jail.
When he made aliya along with his father's household , his parents, Moshe and Tibel Mazal, and his sister Yocheveth, settled in Petach-Tikvah, while he was absorbed in Jerusalem. There he gave assistance to his brother the doctor in easing the pain of the elderly in the United Elderly Home in Jerusalem, in their last years.
He now rests from his life's labor in Jerusalem and is still strong, clear, and active, and contributed generously for the erection of the memorial for the town.
Tuvia Ben Chefetz, may his memory be blessed
At the end of June 1959, in the early hours of morning, I was startled by a discordant buzz of the door bell. When I opened the door, there stood my childhood friend Yonah Riar. In answer to my question of what his sudden visit so early in the morning might mean, he responded: I need to find out something urgent from your wife. While they were talking, my heart predicted that something unusual has happened, some disaster occurred. As they were whispering and consulting on now to tell me of the disaster, I surprised them by guessing what has happened.
Tuvia! Dear Tuvia is no longer with us. We are left stricken, astonished, depressed and shocked, gloomy, widowed and orphaned. Surrounded by mourning and abysmal grief - we cry over the biggest loss and the tragic and sudden death of our town's member, our friend, Tuvia Ben Chefetz, may his memory be blessed, who left for the house of his creator, for God has taken him away.
Only yesterday he glorified with his image, his appearance, and his astonishing stature, the streets of the eternal capital; only yesterday he spoke from the stage of Beit Ha'am in Jerusalem and educated the public; the day before yesterday he eulogized on Kol Yisrael -- the Israeli Broadcast Service -- the martyrs of the most horrible Holocaust in the history of our people; only yesterday he still walked among us and glorified with his presence our town's assembly; only yesterday he was alert, and alive, and as full as a pomegranate with plans for action in the future -- but modest, humble and shy. And now? There was a man, and behold: he is no longer, Before his time he has died, and the poetry of his life was stopped in its midst;
|The late Tuvia Ben Chefetz
I was a small child of maybe four years of age, and he a tall lad of 19. Only his tall stature is engraved in my memory of that time -- he was taller than the rest of the people. …Then he disappeared from my sight. When I grew up I discovered the astonishing and tumultuous story of his life: the shaking off of the illusory revolutionary ideas; the leaving of his mother's household; the thirst for knowledge and wisdom; the conquering of cultural and scientific values and the aliya to Eretz Yisrael.
Like many young people of his generations, who cultivated foreign fields in their youth, Tuvia became addicted to lofty and illusory ideals of freedom with his entire tumultuous soul. But fate decreet that he would be liberated from these illusions, although not without inner-conflicts, sufferings, hardship, disease and imprisonment.
Tuvia began a new life upon his release from prison. First and foremost he desired Torah and knowledge, and with all his youthful energy he plunged into the fountains of knowledge and drank until he was saturated. First he was a student at the Polish gymnasium, through the Hebrew seminary for teachers in Vilna. But this did not suffice; the desire to plunge into the sea of knowledge and science brought him later to the university of Berlin, where he studied law and economy, but he turned to Zionist activity as well, this time to Po'alei Zion, first in Vilna and then in Berlin. He thus shaped his fate with his own two hands and found his way towards life in the land of Israel.
While in Switzerland, recovering from a serious illness, he met his future wife Victoria. He made aliya to Eretz Yisrael, settled in Jerusalem, and build a nest for his family. Fate wanted him to serve the Hebrew public and educate it with his ideas, to preach for faith and vision in the State of Israel - a far cry from the ideas he worshipped in his youth. For thirty years he stood at the head of Bet Ha'am in Jerusalem and lit an eternal fire of deep faith in the hearts of the masses with his enthusiastic speeches. For thirty years he walked the streets of the capital, until he became a virtual part of the scenery, a rock among its rocks: salient, sculpted, strong, tall and exalted.
When the horrid tragedy of the Holocaust was discovered, the extermination and mass destruction that included Ilya, his home town, and its Jews; when her scorched remainders, burned by the hellish fire of the destruction, began to assemble in independent Israel, he made an appearance among them. He stayed with them, encouraged them, and induced them to commemorate the town and its martyrs, by publishing a memorial book. It was the talented and educated Tuvia, of course, who undertook the weighty task.
Suddenly, we were orphaned. Although he tried to make haste, he was not privileged to begin the project that he so wanted to create. Now he is gone, and the heavy task fell from his wide shoulders to ours, but his will shall be done. We will try to be worthy of it, and will do the best of our limited abilities. And may God help us.
Tuvia Ben Chefetz, the elected and the glorious member of our town in Israel, was plucked away suddenly, and his grave was dug in the mount of eternal rest.
May his soul rest in peace.
Nechama Rogozinski - Meirovich
If you were to ask our town Ilya's people for Nechama, I promise you that the majority would not know who you are referring to. Some might not even know that you are speaking of a girl from the town. But if you were to ask for Nechemka - I swear by my tzitziyot, that every single member of the town would stand up and exclaim: of course! Which is to say, everybody called her Nechemka, her friends as well as her foes. There must be something special about her temperament. She is hard to argue with. This is how I remember her as a twenty-year old in our town, and this, or similar to this, is how she still responds today, after so many years. In one phrase: an eternal youth.
I knew her father well and admired him. An educated man, he was of a beautiful spirit and free in his opinions. In his youth he cultivated foreign fields and carried to the Jewish street the fervor of the revolution. With the rise of Poland he stayed on that side of the border, a fact that determined the rest of his life. Although his opinions were already shaped, he was tolerant to the opinions of others; he listened and he considered, and debates with him were easy, free and pleasant. When I visited his house I was still a lad and Motke his son was of my best friends. Fate was cruel to him. Still a newly-wed, his wife died and left Nechemka, still a baby, and Motke, an infant, to the grace and mercy of providence.
He married, went into commerce and succeeded, and thus allowed his daughter to have an orderly high school education - something very few of our town had.
There was no considerable age difference between us, only a few years, but we were of two different worlds. I was a small boy and she already a blooming and attractive young woman: her face contours very alert, her hair golden and a bit curly, her eyes small, blue and smiling, her mouth tiny and arched, an eternal laugh rolling charmingly over her lips. Despite her small stature and her round body she was proportionate, agile and quick. Her intonation was clear and her voice carried to the distance.
The father's success in commerce did not last long. The educated, the revolutionary and the merchant do not often combine in one body. Despite his tumultuous past, he was a very naive man, and his partner cheated him of his share of the business. Thus the decline began, and forced Nechemka to stop her studies and come back to town. And the father was forced to return to his previous occupation -teaching, and he taught Torah to Israel's children and raised a whole generation of Hebrew speakers.
Years past and the Zionist movement made its assault, and conquered every house, and our Nechemka was taken captive. The next development was natural: joining the Chalutz, undergoing training, and then aliya to Eretz Yisrael.
After a pause of a few years, Nechemka was the first olah from our town in the beginning of the thirties.
Esther Laberferb - Barzovitz and Yehoshua Lapidoth
When I go back to the aliya made by Esther and Yehoshua I recall, inadvertently, the creation of the aliya fund. It was not acceptable in these days to have a fund-raiser or a raffle and to dedicate the income to an intended purpose, but this time we diverted from the town's customs. We transferred our action to the surrounding towns, although each of them had their own numerous problems. The mere novelty of our approach guaranteed its success, and indeed we achieved good results. If you were to ask my friend, Yonah Riar, he could tell you about our trip for days, about the experiences and adventures that he and the writer of these lines went through. It was a courageous and unforgettable project.
Esther and Yehoshua are cousins, friends, and members of my generations. They joined BEITAR when it was established in our town in 1929. From there they went on to training, in order to be among the lucky who get to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael. Although each got his or her training in a different time and place, they were both among the first; she as a woman and he as a man. Thus they got to go to Eretz Yisrael under the first aliya permit that was given to BEITAR in Ilya.
The bloody events of 1929 against the small Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael, shocked the Jewish Diaspora and especially the Eastern European Jewry. The effect of the riots was the opposite of what the murderers had hoped for. The life danger did not deter anyone from coming to Eretz Yisrael; on the contrary: it strengthened and reinforced the Zionist movement - and pushed it a step forward, but the desire of the masses to aid the assaulted little settlement, was met with closed gates.
At that period, the Covenant of Trumpeldor, or BEITAR, appeared in the Jewish street, aiming to turn the five fingers of the weary hand into an iron fist that would protect life and property and will make way for a life of independence and honor.
Among those that answered that call were Esther and Yehoshua, both on the brink of adulthood. Esther: a jolly, blonde, tall and pretty girl, that attracted everybody's eyes. She was smart, social, and had a sense of humor. She was blessed with a rare ability to find her way on the roads of life. Yehoshua's image was completely different: short, slim, but muscular and strong. He was quiet, and a son to an obstinate race that gave birth to fanatics and warriors, who treat everything seriously, do their work whole-heatedly, advance with persistence and courage, and whose belief never flinches.
A man's character is his fate. Both found their way in Israel according to their character. Esther was married, whereas Yehoshua joined the BEITAR recruit and was his character was forged. During World War II he joined the British Transit unit, and then fought with the commando troops of the British army throughout Africa while, at the same time, being active in the Jewish underground resistance. He participated in the storm of revival of the War of Independence.
Even today, when he hears the trumpet summon - he is prepared.
Ahuvah Solominski - Teitelbaum
Ahuvah deserves that we tell of her harsh, fierce battle over her rights to participate in the Chalutz, to go to training and to make aliya. Encouraged by the conquests of the Zionist movement and its permeation into all circles and classes of town, Ahuvah began a struggle with her parents over her right to go to training. Even earlier she was forced to fight for her right to join the Chalutz, but the latter confrontation was nothing compared to this one.
Daughter to wealthy parents, among the proprietors of the mechanized flour mill of the town, who tragically lost their older daughter Roshka as she was giving birth to her firstborn, they could not imagine, even in their nightmares, that they would have to part with the younger daughter, Ahuvah. The strong and bitter struggle continued and exacerbated every day, but the sides would not concede in the slightest. At the decisive moment, Ahuvah was revealed in all her astonishing perseverance and strong character. Rather than stay at home, she chose to sever all ties, albeit not without scruples.
She went to training and made aliya, and at the very last moment the two parties reconciled.
|The late Rabbi Eliyahu Solominski
- her father
As the parents of Ahuvah stood in front of their open graves and the machine gun was activated to take its death toll, they probably thought of Ahuvah and felt blessed by her strong character and her wise perseverance.
Tziporah Riar - Korveinik
Rabbi Noah Riar's household was joyful and lacking in worries. The general atmosphere decreed that happiness was of primary importance. Five out of the six children knew how to sing well, and did so willingly and enthusiastically. On wonderful summer evenings, as the sun set, their romantic voices, accompanied by the guitar and the mandolin, were carried as far as the meadows and the river. The mandolin was the national instrument in this home, and all the children, excepting one, played it and accompanied their hearty singing by it. Although none of them could read music, they used the number method and got hold of every new song after only a single hearing. These shared inherited talents: cheerfulness, absentmindedness and humor, were not part of our Tziporah's character. She was different and separated, a kind of a dissonance in the loud orchestra of the house. Unlike her brothers and sisters she was quite, serious and focused, and when she opened her mouth her speech was weighty and wise, the result of much deep and practical thought. The character differences were so marked, that one felt them immediately. Undoubtedly, this was partially the result of her passing her early years outside her parent's home. This injected much seriousness and independence into her blood.
She joined the Zionist movement and the Chalutz on the brink of adulthood. She took the path of visionary fulfillment when she stayed in the town Vishniva outside her parent's home, and went first to training and then to Eretz Yisrael.
The Ma'apilim ( illegal immigration)
Aryeh Koplovitz - The First Ma'apil
The sun had already set, the evening's darkness was spreading from horizon to horizon, and I, descending from the bus, dragged my weary feet, but my heart was filled with joy. I had just arrived from the regional town Vileika, and a day filled with strenuous activity and endeavors was behind me. Only my Chutzpa helped me in my difficult situation. It seems that sometimes presumption is worth it... Only this morning I was oscillating between hope and despair and crying like a little boy, when the clerk that handled my affairs postponed my departure for another week, while my ship was setting sail in three days. I begged and explained that I had already completed my military service, but received no response. I felt my anger rising in me, and that in another minute I was going to explode. I got up and left, and went towards the office of the regional supervisor to complain. But imagine my surprise when on the two sides of his door stood bully-looking guards, that detained me politely. I repeated the tale of my woe, but they only nodded their heads in sympathy, and could not help me beyond that. I decided to take a courageous step and force my way in, and I succeeded. The guards still shocked, I slipped into the supervisor's room running, and, my breath quickening, stood in front of him and said: Sir! I behaved inappropriately when I barged in here, and for that I am sorry, but I met with much hostility and did not have, technically, the time to reach you through the proper channels. Please forgive me. I told him my story, and added: Men in Poland nowadays call for 'Jews to leave for Palestine,' but he who attempts to do so is detained, what could that mean? The day after tomorrow my ship sets sail, but the clerk who handles my departure permit rejects me repeatedly.
Tension rose between us... I gazed at him and saw that his face sobered... I failed, I thought. But I was wrong....the tension was eased. His face slowly relaxed and a fatherly smile appeared instead. He came over and took my hand in his, and walked with me across a long hallway, to the right and left of which were offices, until we entered the room of the clerk in charge: grant him the permit immediately! the supervisor muttered, and turned to leave the room. I hurried after him to thank him for his humane consideration, and shook his hand with warmth and gratitude.
The way back home went by quickly. I was engulfed deeply within myself and hadn't noticed at all when I reached town. I exited the bus and approached home quickly. I reflected on my parents who had stood in my way and tried to dissuade me from my determined decision in various ways: gifts, prayer and warfare. First they tried to convince me by proposing only a temporary delay, until the situation clears up, until the wrath subsides. Then they were not reluctant to use the persuasion methods of a youth group. They used friends and relatives to try and soften me up. But I knew that their fate was in my hands, and deliberated on how to deliver to them this bitter pill with tact and discretion. But despite that, I could not control my excited spirit. When I got home and found my parents, sister, and cousin Shlomo Koifman, seated around the table, my first utterance was: I succeeded.
A deep silence spread in the room. The last shreds of hope to detain my aliya were gone. My mother gazed at me with tearful eyes and my father's gaze was paralyzed. My sister, who encouraged me all this time, lowered her gaze and cousin Shlomo began: so you succeeded, huh? can you be held accountable for your own step? How can you, an only son to your parents, abandon them and get entangled in the web of illegal immigration? Haven't you been reading in the newspapers about ships stranded in the middle of the sea and in them the hopeless youth of Israel? Abandoned, with no food or water, and all near-by ports shut. Do you not know about lost and wandering ships that led the youth of Israel and eventually sank? Are you ignorant of the fact that the tremendous British fleet guards the coasts of the country vigilantly, that the Royal Air Force scans the Mediterranean sea, that the British Intelligence operates in every departure port? Under these conditions, is there the slightest hope of reaching Eretz Yisrael, is there even one chance out of a hundred?
That is true, I answered. Indeed, the present conditions are tough, but despite them one must
try. Perhaps we would be able after all to break through siege. This is my life's dream we are talking
|My sister Malkah,
bless her soul
about. For this opportunity for aliya I've been waiting for years. In my opinion, this is the last hour to leave; it is five minutes to midnight. If not now, who knows if there will be another opportunity. And I have another important reason, that partially cannot be explained and surely will not be convincing, since it has to do with emotions and my inner- feeling: the war is coming. Who knows better than you do that I willingly enlisted in the Polish army and fulfilled my duty as a citizen of this country, loyally and with devotion. And, of course, I would not be willing to fight and die for Poland, I concluded excitedly.
The initiative was again at the hands of our cousin, Shlomo Koifman, known for his wisdom and sobriety, who added: you claim that the skies are gradually darkening and the tumult of war is at the horizon; first, I must correct you - this is completely false. There will be no world war whatsoever. On the contrary -read closely the article written by your spiritual guide, Ze'ev Zabotinsky, whose every word is law to you, and then you would be convinced that your assumption is wrong. There will be no war. But even if there is a glimpse of truth in what your claim, that the skies are darkening, you need not panic. You know the saying: the dog bark and does not bite. As for your claim that this concerns your feelings and intuition - well, that is a different matter. Although one cannot argue with emotions, I will nonetheless try. Let us suppose that what your heart predicts is solid and true and war will break out, do you really think that in our region, near the border, a mere 10 kilometers away from the Soviet Union, battles will be fought? You see, in ten minutes the Soviets would take over the border regions. Not only will the Polish not have time to muster their forces, but they would not even have time to say a final prayer. Have I convinced you? It doesn't seem like it. Let us, then, continue along with your line of reasoning; let us assume that war does break out, do you think that the great battles will take place on anciently defined, settled and used lands in Europe, whereas the Eretz Yisrael region, where you hope to seek asylum, the Middle East, rich with oil fields and the site where the real interests of the powers of the world intersect, will be a paradise on earth? Is that not naiveté?
I was convinced by the strength of his reasoning and his healthy logic, but did not capitulate. I responded: Clearly logic is on your side, and maybe even truth, but in matters of intuition one cannot be convinced. But not only that: I do not know where or how the war will break out. Maybe it is closer than we imagine and maybe I am wrong. But if it does erupt, it will burn in different parts of the universe, and maybe the Middle East as well. I have decided one thing, though. If it is decreed that I should fight or die - I pray that this would happen in Eretz Yisrael, my ancient homeland that is being rebuilt and resurrected.
The day after tomorrow I leave town. On this opportunity accept my gratitude and recognition of your effort to dissuade me. I part from you peacefully. May God preserve us all.
For weeks now over 800 youths, men and women, from Poland, Romania, Belgium, France and the independent Danzig, have been rocking about on the small ship Prita on the Mediterranean, beyond the territorial waters of Eretz Yisrael. The ship is unbearably crowded. In the vault, where the suffocation is severe, triple-decked temporary beds were set up in an awfully crowded manner. It is thus natural that from dawn till late at night everyone is on the upper deck of the small ship, to breathe fresh air into their lungs.
In the Middle East the summer is now in its midst. From day to day the heat rises and increases and cruelly burns the olim. The sea's surface is smooth and quiet as a mirror. A few youths are lying on deck, sun-tanning in the scorching sun, as if they were in the Riviera, but their hearts are secretly worried. The journey that was planned to last 10 days has so far lasted about seven weeks. The light ships that were supposed to appear and liberate our ship for other journeys, and bring us to the shores of the homeland, have been indefinitely detained. For a while now we've been on the threshold of the promised land, but cannot reach it. In the mean time, supplies have run out, and the water is rationed, for drinking purposes only. The crackers, our daily portions, have been invaded by worms. Someone uttered a typical saying: it is better for us to eat the worms than to be eaten by them.
The situation worsens every day and every hour. The communications with Eretz Yisrael and with abroad completely deteriorated. The faith and enthusiasm that characterized us a week ago now evaporated. The percentage of skeptics and plain pessimists has increased. Attempts at incitement and mutiny against the ship's leadership became common. Although these were crushed with an iron fist, we faced anarchy; the food was gone, the water ran out, and the Mediterranean ports were shut with a lock and key. Attempts to enter the Turkish port, Izmir, to be equipped with food and water and reestablish communication with the emigration organization, met severe warnings of use of force, of opening fire and drowning the ship. We walked around gloomily, mournfully, our heads bowed down, without a shadow of hope and no purpose other than slow death. In this mood a crucial decision was made, intended to test the seriousness of the Turkish warnings to fire and kill those who approach the port. For that purpose 50 swimmers were chosen, who volunteered to swim ashore in order to gain the sympathy of public opinion and reestablish communication. Fate so desired that the writer of these lines was among the 50 swimmers - these bold youths, who were about to test with their bodies the severity of the situation and use their lives to salvage 800 lost ma'apilim. The time for the plunge was set for noon, and in the meantime banners and signs were hung on the masts of the ships, on which the Turkish words Bread, water and coal were inscribed.
At 11:15 in the afternoon the deck of the ship was cleared, and only the 50 volunteer swimmers that remained on board watched the yearned-for shore, with hope for salvation. Each sank in his own thoughts and prepared to make his final accounts.
As in a movie, there passed before my eyes childhood, youth, adolescence and adulthood. Childhood filled with learning and love of nature, in the forest and in the river. Early youth, accompanied by a budding yearning for Zion and membership in the Gordonia. In the days of happy splendor of my adolescence I was a student in a yeshiva, accompanied by my grandfather's blessing and his saying: there is no ignorance in our family. In the midst of my adolescence, on the threshold of the teaching seminary, I caught the romantic germs of the Zionist Movement and became drunk with its strong, addicting perfume. In the midst of tensions, events and developments in the Zionist movement, I was captivated by BEITAR. On the brink of adulthood I found myself leading a BEITAR training troop, in Oren near the Lithuanian border, from which I returned to years of activity in the branch headquarters. A tumultuous and unrequited love affair caused much suffering. Then, service in the Polish cavaliers, hoping to use the acquired knowledge for the benefit of my own people. All, everything and everybody, pass in front of my eyes: the town of my birth, my parents, teachers, my only sister, the large extended family, including uncles, aunts and cousins, friends far and close, and my comrades in the movement whose call I answered and that due to which education I am now here. Here...undergoing moments of nerve-shattering despair, on the brink of possible oblivion, or the longed-for realization...
A deafening noise disturbed my thoughts. A plane passed low in front of us. The longed for assistance has arrived -- my heart predicted, and the lips whispered: if only a miracle were to happen. The clock moved forward. Ten more minutes to action. Boldly we will plunge into the sea, to live or to die. 7 more minutes are left before the beginning of the crucial operation. Five more. Tension rose to new, never experienced, levels. Get ready - I heard the command.
And in the horizon a steam boat rushes towards us with all its might. Soon it will arrive, soon, and through the speaker we hear uttered in clear Hebrew: Stop! Stop! Stop! - help is on its way.
And indeed, help has arrived. Mr. Ben-Chorin from the immigration center in Eretz Yisrael, presented himself to the government bureau as soon as he got off the plane and informed them as to the purpose of his visit, to help out ma'apilim who are stranded near the Izmir port. The administration, fearful of a world scandal that would occur if the ma'apilim jumped overboard and were shot and killed, told Mr. Ben-Chorin of the developments of this critical situation and asked him to urgently come to the ship, supplying him with a car and a motorboat. Thus Mr. Ben-Chorin was able to prevent the sad outcome.
Relieved from the enormous tension that we have experienced, there we stood, the potential heroes, with the rest of the ma'apilim on deck, and watched him as he stood on the bridge with the commander of the ship, who informed us:
The small boats that were supposed to replace our big ship and free it for other similar voyages while bringing us ashore, have not arrived thus far and probably never will. We will therefore not wait any longer. As soon as today we will be equipped with food and water and row this ship ashore. In three days we will set anchor, in the middle of the night, near the Tel Aviv coast.
The night of August the 22nd, 1939, its lights turned out, our ship rapidly approached the shores of Tel Aviv. Two lights in both ends of the city pointed our way. With cautious silence, the deck empty in case of any surprise, we stood ready, holding our breath, and waited for the moment that the ship hits a sandbank or penetrates the shore's sand, a sign that we have arrived. The Israelites that accompanied us parted about two kilometers away from shore and rowed a boat in another direction, whereas we found ourselves stuck in the sand on the shore opposite hotel Kate Dan.
At dawn set anchor opposite the sleepy metropolitan, the waves rocking our ship incessantly. Those who had relatives, or any known address to turn to, slipped away quietly and swam to the safe shore. But the majority stayed, turned the sirens on, and signaled S.O.S. to hasten the approach of the police in order to finally get some rest from the weary wandering in prison.
In the morning we were surrounded by the police and the descent from ship began. For the time being we were concentrated in the garden of the cafe and were served some drinks, food and cigarettes. The WIZO women took care of us with exceptional warmth and devotion, by which we were very touched. But the excitement reached its peak when from the buses in which we were taken to the Tzrifin prisoner's camp we saw the entire population of Tel Aviv standing by the road and cheering us. Tens of thousands of voices were carried through the air: Do not be afraid. We are with you.
Our arrest lasted only seven days. On September 1, 1939, at around noon, we were released, and when we got to Tel Aviv, a huge newspaper headline was there to welcome us: War has broke out between Poland and Germany.
Today, after 21 years in Israel, as I am writing these lines in commemoration of my hometown and its Jews, the activities I was involved with since I arrived here come to the surface of my memory: enlistment in BEITAR, for agricultural labor, immediately upon my arrival; public service as the secretary of an organization in Netanya; contacting and becoming involved with the underground resistance movement; imprisonment in a British camp; participation in the War of Independence. And until this very day, helping the absorption of immigration and its settlement. Link after link in one chain of ideals that crystallized in my youth, somewhere in a home that was but is no more. I now recall that sharp, hurtful, tragic debate we had. A debate of this sort took place in thousands of Jewish homes in the Diaspora, and thanks to those who did not recoil from the hardship, the pain and the disintegration of the family, the vision of two thousands years has materialized.
How I wish you, my beloved parents, my only sister, and my dear cousin, could see our country and the state of Israel being built, developed, reinforced, as the survivors of the Holocaust stream in to build here their new home, a safe and eternal haven. Will the people in the Diaspora learn the bitter and rash lesson? I pray they would!
Devorah was a member of the Chalutz, devoted and active, whereas her two younger brothers were in BEITAR. That is the way it was in many of households in town, although I could not tell you why. Her brother, Shlomo Zalman, was my friend, and moreover my commander in BEITAR. Although there was only a slight difference in age, he was an adult and I was but a youth, and that was the determining factor. Later, when I, too, became an adult, we became close friends and there were no secrets between us. Devorah's other brother was Yechiel, a cadet of mine. He was a wonderful boy. We loved him very much, and never mentioned in front him how he spoke in his childhood, with broken words. As I was told, they both tragically perished in the horrid Holocaust.
About two months before Devorah's aliya, I ran into her in my parents store, as she was entering to do some shopping. When she finished her business and was departing, she revealed that she received an aliya permit and that she was leaving in a few days. We wished her luck, and I personally added: I hope that you come to one of the ports to welcome me in a few months, but she never came.
Now we know that Devorah did not use the aliya permit, but stayed in Poland another three months and only then, virtually on the eve of the war, she left as a ma'apilah to Eretz Yisrael. Although her trip did not last long, only around 17 days, it was very dangerous. The war has began and submarines were active where her deteriorating ship was rocking on the mediterranean. Upon her arrival she went to kibbutz Tel Yossef where she has been for the last twenty years. Devorah - the only one from our town who found her home in a kibbutz.
From Russia to Eretz Yisrael
The Balaks - Remez family
The aliya of the Balaks family in 1941 marks deep changes and great events that have occurred in the life that previously went on for generations over there; it emphasizes the sharp turn. We clearly felt that the familiar, regular way of life, within which we dreamt our best dreams, was sinking and disappearing in the horizon. Instead there now arose a new order, one that we did not know in yester-days, an order that uprooted the firm foundations of previous generations, and caused great suffering. With the arrival of the Balaks family I received greetings from home - a living but sad message. The Balaks family stayed at my parents' house for a while before coming to the country, and the message was direct and unmediated. It contained a gloomy and complete description of present life in town and the fundamental changes that occurred in a short period of time.
I was still a youngster when Soniah Remez married Leon Balaks, an artisan in factories in Simitits and Warsaw. He was a son to a family deeply rooted in Judaism, in Torah, in family tradition and in good deeds, and was a personality on his own accord. She left our town and followed the husband of her youth, and she left an empty space behind. She acquired a special position in town, not only because she was the daughter of Rabbi Damta, a great scholar of Torah, educated, noble and of a beautiful soul (and we will return to him in a separate discussion), but due to her own personality: fresh, cheerful and mainly beautiful, a rare and noble beauty that one does not come across often, not even one in ten thousand. All that saw her stood in their place to feed their eyes on her beauty, to enjoy the radiance of her complexion and to wonder over the fact that nature gathered the most beautiful colors, features and grace in one body. I will add no more - to add too much would be to subtract. Thus she remains in our eyes - the unforgettable.
We befriended Leon in Eretz Yisrael when he made his first steps here and had to start from nothing, having lost his property and undergone a rapid decline. He was approaching 40: an educated, gentle, God-fearing man, and a pleasant conversation companion, although he was modest, humble and shy. Even though he was sickly, this did not reflect in his calm visage and was not made apparent at home either. Conversations with him flowed; he kept track of his wife's town's people and their deeds and gave them advice from his ample experience. We loved and respected him.
Suddenly, his failing heart stopped beating. We all accompanied him on his way to eternal rest and his memory remains engraved in our hearts. We mourn the loss and will not forget.
Ya'akov Sinder - Ben Eliyahu
On a spring evening in 1942, as a group of us Eretz-Yisraeli friends were sitting in my apartment in Netanya and discussing different issues, a knock on the door was heard. To my invitation to come in responded Yenkel: tall, strong, and wearing glasses. His face reddish, long, embellished by a small mustache. He was wearing the uniform of a Polish soldier, those he wore leaving Russia and on his arrival here. I was very excited. We hugged and kissed. For three years I was completely detached from home. In my naiveté I though that Yenkel will bring me living and palpitating greetings from home. When I asked him how he found me, he quoted jokingly a famous Russian saying: the tongue will bring you to Kiev.
For a few more days he walked around in his uniform and proudly represented the army of refugees, until we found him a place of employment. Then we held a small ceremony and lowered the honored uniform to its grave. Instead, there now appeared a new Yenkel, as if he was born in Eretz Yisrael.
Yenkel, that is how we all call him, even today. Although in the last few years he does not see us often, his town members, for reasons that we at least, do not understand. He was my friend for years and together we studied and progressed in life. We separated for a short period of time, but fate let us meet again, this time in BEITAR.
In his youth he was multi-talented, full to the brim with knowledge. He was not attracted to having fun and to girls. He was always reading and memorizing. We called him a walking encyclopedia. He singled himself out as a talented writer and a pretty good public speaker, albeit a bit lengthy. He was familiar and comfortable with three types of speeches: Zionism, Judaism, and international politics. He knew that the comrades were impatient, but he continued to speak until he exhausted the topic. His Zionist speeches began with Genesis, and his international ones after the deluge, of course, with Noah's three sons. His patience knew no limits and neither did his speeches.
He was considered to be a fanatic in the movement and in the local Ilya branch. We called him Achimeir. He considered almost everybody to be too compromising, too lenient and pliable. He burned with the fire of Zionist faith, in his own way. He debated, proved, and called for a change of policy. He burned in the fire... until he was burnt. He became different when he returned from Russia.
Yenkel loved with all his heart and soul the freedom of expression and of speech, and that is also why he made lengthy speeches. Meanwhile, the times have changed and a new regime came to power, a regime in which freedom of expression is not highly valued. It seems like he had not felt the change and could not keep quite. Interestingly, that is how he was sentenced to live. He was summoned, convicted as a Zionist, and sentenced to 15 years of stay in a national pension house. He was taken - far, far away to the east. That is the explanation why he survived the Holocaust.
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