The Aliya of the Ghetto Survivors and the Partisan Fighters
I only got to know Shraga closely 4 years before I emigrated. Our personal meeting is tied to a special event during which a group of friends went to Vilna to hear a speech by Ze'ev Zabotinsky, who created a storm in the Jewish public in Poland in the summer of 1935. Those were the days of tumult, tension, and great conflicts in the Zionist movement, especially in the main center of Judaism -- in Poland. In his feisty speeches Zabotinsky captured tens of thousands of the young and the old.
Shraga was of the generation of the organizers of the Chalutz in our town, who were 5-8 years older than us. Since he was older, he broke the age barrier in our movement and opened the door for the enlistment of more older members. At one period we met in the local leadership and formed a strong bond. I respected, liked and cherished him. With my enlistment in the Polish army our relationship was severed, and renewed only with his aliya.
In the first German actzia, that is known in the language of our town's survivors as the first slaughter, Shraga was dramatically saved by hiding under snow for 24 hours, as the German guards were scanning and searching the area, stepping on his body. The ghetto was created only later, and in it were gathered the few Jews that survived, using a thousand tricks. Since he was supervising a mechanic flour mill that was necessary for the war effort, he received a permit to go to work and return. Thus he was able to smuggle food into the suffering, starving, under-siege ghetto.
He sensed the approach of the second actzia and the complete destruction of the ghetto by the increasing number of guards on his way back from work one day. He thus immediately strained his brain to find a safe shelter. With a small group he managed to survive, and from his hideout he saw the march of death. At midnight, when it seemed that all was quite again, he exited the shelter with others. They crawled to the fence, broke it and ran towards the forest, as German guards were pursuing them and shooting. Under the shelter of the night, and hopping between houses, they approached the river and crossed it to the forest, a temporary safe haven. Only fortune and blind coincidence led him to the partisan fighters, after a prolonged suffering in the woods, starving, pursued and tortured. For years the bitter yet redeeming struggle continued, until one day the greatest enemy was annihilated, the war ended, and light dawned.
Now he knew the road that he should take. The dream he carried in his heart in the dark days of blood and violence was about to come true. His main wish was to leave this huge European graveyard and to come to Eretz Yisrael. While still in France with a group of our town's survivors, he found his way to the ETZEL underground resistance, and in his heart was the firm decision to make it to Israel and fight its battles. But fate decreed otherwise. Instead of arriving to the country he was caught and imprisoned with his friends in the prison camps of Cyprus, where he was held for about a year. Only a short period before the Declaration of Independence did he arrive in Israel.
I have known Sioma since childhood; he was always chubby, tall, and broad-shouldered, in his childhood as well as in his youth. He was affable, and good-natured. Sioma was one of my cadets, and I used to affectionately pinch his cheeks. When I taught him Hebrew I noticed that he was a very talented writer, but Sioma preferred commerce to writing. I suspect that he sometimes secretly writes, or at least is attracted to it and will one day do so. When we parted before my aliya he said: if you succeed, I will follow you. And indeed he fulfilled his promise, although belatedly, but not due to him. In the period between the making of the promise and its fulfillment our town and its Jews were destroyed, the Jewry of Poland and a third of our people were annihilated.
With the change of regime Sioma made his way eastward, dedicated himself to work, and was considered one of the heros of labor. He was thus spared the suffering, terror and destruction that his friends underwent. The war passed Sioma by; he was far away from the town of his birth, from his parents, sister, and brother and their bitter fate. At the end of the war he returned to town and found it destroyed and empty of Jews. Only a large community grave testified to what has occurred here. A few wandering and lost survivors who did not believe the tales of horror came back to witness the degenerate cruelty of the beast in man. Here they gathered and began their journey west, across Europe, on their way to Eretz Yisrael.
As a BEITAR man he knew what he was supposed to do, and tried to get to the country in the shortest way possible. On Austrian lands he was surprised by a meeting with his cousin Ze'ev Rodnitski, who was considered lost, and took him along westward. In France he enlisted in the ETZEL and endeavored to quicken his aliya in order to join the fighters. He spurred his friends on and harassed them every day until he found himself on the ship La'negev, sailing on the mediterranean on the way here. The ship was stopped by the British navy and was forced to turn to Cyprus, to a British prison camp. He ground his teeth, but was forced to be content with directing his gaze eastward, towards Eretz Yisrael, and be cheered by the heroic acts -- the wonderful, bold and unforgettable heroic acts -- of the Hebrew underground resistance in Eretz Yisrael. In his letters, saturated with yearnings and anger, that I received from his prison, he lamented his misfortune that brought him to a place where he is forced to stand idly by while his friends are fighting heroically and spilling their blood on the alter of the ideals in which he believed from early youth.
Only in the beginning of 1947 did he get here. Immediately he enlisted in the forming Air Force, but as an excellent professional he was assigned to ground service, despite his will. His base and mine were close to each other, and our strong bond continued into the tumult of the War of Independence.
David was a young child when his parents moved to our town. When he grew up he found his place in the BEITAR movement. Unlike others who joined, whose reasons were mainly emotional, David came because of logical reasons: he was cool-tempered, logical, moderate, and unexcitable. When he was surrounded by emotions he knew how to control and terminate them, how to dissects things with his healthy brain as if with a sharp knife, and how to draw relevant conclusions. He was well-known as such. Only in moments of elevation he too was affected by sentiment and carried away by the stream of emotions, but these were rare moments.
When he grew up he was incorporated into his father's expansive business and left town. Only at the beginning of World War II did he return. At that time I was already in Eretz Yisrael, but as I was told, David underwent a revolutionary change and became a different person.
Now came the decisive and difficult days of emergency. David felt the changing tide, and was especially fortunate. His entire family remained intact in the first German actzia, and even afterwards they were not imprisoned in the ghetto. They were free to move about, him, his parents, his sister and his brothers. His father's tar plant was, as it seems, necessary for the German war effort and they let his family run it as if nothing was happening. Thus he stayed clear of the ghetto, but this impunity did not last. When the bitter news of the second actzia and of the complete annihilation of the ghetto reached their house, whilst the German guards were approaching their home to destroy them, David got up and left through the back door. He passed a short distance of a few dozen meters and was already under the cover of the saving forest.
Unimaginable suffering was the lot of the few Jews that wandered in the forests and were pursued for their lives. Even when partisan troops accepted one single Jew or another, because of ties from the past, they exploited him shamefully. He was assigned the most difficult and dangerous battle missions. Even if he succeeded he was envied and despised. Normally the hatred for Jews drove the partisans mad, not any less than the Nazi murderers, and they too wished them dead. Our David, too, had to pass this trail of suffering, as one of the first Jews that succeeded in being integrated among the partisans. Thanks to his courage and boldness, the ground was prepared for the acceptance of other Jews.
David undertook very dangerous missions and completed them coolly and courageously. He went through the seven circles of hell during the assaults and withdrawals in the Byelorussian forest, with complete success. By mere chance he remained alive after a farmer woman found him dying in the forest and mumbling: mother, mother in Russian. She though that he was one of us and called for help. Thus David was flown to a hospital in Moscow, where his struggled with death and triumphed. In the mean time, dawn arose, the Nazis surrendered, and the war was over.
Like other survivors of the Holocaust and the fighting, he too was drawn to Ilya, the town were he grew up and where he was educated. Although he knew what the situation was, his heart refused to believe, and only the facts of the terrible reality convinced him that what passed is past and will never return. Thus the survivors grouped and planned their way westward, to freedom and light and to the reunion with the rest of the survivors and the abandonment of the piles of ruins and the town of slaughter forever.
From hence on the goal was clear. Although it was a long and difficult way ahead, he and his friends marched on with determination and perseverance. In France he was integrated into ETZEL and joined the band of warriors actively. He tried to rush the aliya, but his ship La'negev fell right into the hands of the British fleet instead of arriving in the shores of Israel. He suddenly found himself under arrest in Cyprus, only to continue the suffering for another year. Only after the outbreak of the War of Independence did he arrive. This was our first meeting after years of severance. Our second meeting took place in the fifty-seventh battalion of the Giv'ati Brigade, both of us wearing I.D.F. uniforms, during the storm of the War of Independence.
Bat Sheva and Yonah Riar
I first met Bat Sheva during my childhood days in the Gordonia, when I was about 11. Bat Sheva was then elected to leadership, and I was a common member. I came to their house almost every day, and was treated like a part the family. Her brother Ya'akov Bronstein was one of my best friends (the talented and gifted Ya'akov was cruelly murdered in the Holocaust). Our ways then parted. Bat Sheva remained in the Gordonia leadership whereas the writer of these lines, along with other friends, organized the Hertzelia. These two Zionist youth movements shared a common fate, however. Neither one lasted and both marked a passing episode in the crystallization of youth movements in our town. We later met again, this time in BEITAR: more mature, developed and better integrated, we now were no longer content with carrying the Zionist vision in our hearts, but made an effort to actualize it.
I met Yonah later, perhaps at age 16 - in BEITAR, but our acquaintance deepened and bloomed into a strong and true friendship, that lasts to this day. We were very different from each other, and perhaps that is the secret of this friendship that withstood so many tests. Yonah is romantic, cheerful, good nature and affable. Even today, after a day of strenuous labor and hard work, Yonah picks up the mandolin and tells the memories of his youth through it. He overflows, and drags us all back to our young days, to romantic moods, that withered in the face of reality and are forever gone. Yonah became one of the pioneers of professional physical labor in our town, when he started to work as an apprentice for the goy blacksmith Viramei, while the richer boys wandered around idly. His main qualities are candor, honesty and simplicity, without any complications or presumptions. He does have one weakness, however. He is in love with public work of any shape and form. For this he would do anything, a quality he inherited, as it seems, from his grandfather the late Rabbi Eli Zondel, who loved to perform the public rituals in synagogue. If I were to tell you about Yonah in detail I would have to write a biography, or at least to tell a large part of the history of the BEITAR branch in Ilya, Yonah being one of its commanders, but that is not my task.
Yonah, who last worked in Warsaw, returned home with the outbreak of the war on foot and waited for further developments; what eventually developed astonished the world in its cruelty and dealt a blow to the Jewish people the like of which has never been known before, not even in the course of our blood and tear saturated history. In the selection before the first actzia the various artisans and their families were picked out, and among them Yonah, his wife and his child. That meant they were destined to live. Whereas the others, 99% of the Jewish population, were led like sheep to the slaughter house, to their death and destruction and were even forced to dig their own graves. Again, luck played its game. A day before the final destruction of the ghetto the few families of artisans were taken our and transferred to the Vileika ghetto, and Yonah and his family among them. Although death took its toll, the survivors continued to live and to hope for the moment when dawn will rise and with it the opportunity for revenge over the spilled blood. This moment was detained almost to no end, but finally arrived.
I will not detail the trail of suffering of Bat Sheva and Yonah: in the ghetto, in the forest, among the partisans, and so forth. They tell their story better, in the chapter that concerns the Holocaust. I would only like to mention in passing a few details:
|Yonah Riar, his wife Bat Sheva, and their son Yehuda,
at the end of the World War, as they left the forests
The war was over, and Yonah and Bat Sheva returned to the burnt, robbed and completely destroyed town of their birth. They discover that everything was gone: property was robbed, the inhabitants murders, and a history of hundreds of years of life, hopes, pain and creation, erased. Only common graves, appearing in the valley of death, testified to the heinous deeds of the murderers. Out of anger and desperation, Yonah and his friends took the path of revenge. Whoever was known to have been a murderer, or cooperator, was surrendered to the government, or gotten rid of by their own hands. But these are so many, who could overcome them? Yonah avenges the blood of his late father, who was cruelly murdered in cold blood by a Christian childhood friend. But revenge cannot be continued, for now the government has stabilized. Yonah and his friends, Zosman, Gitlitz, Shraga Solominski, David Rubin, Sioma Sinder, Isaac Chadash, and others who lived together, are forced to build a fence around the valley of death, to depart from the graves of their fathers, and to head westward.
Now Yonah and his family are in Italy. He is alert, active, and heading a BEITAR group who is training to start a kibbutz and waiting for aliya. Yonah is married and has two small children, therefore his aliya is postponed again and again. In the meantime he appears in front of committees and sounds his opinions. His eternal war cry is: Never forget to erase the name of the enemy from under the heavens.
He sends cousin Isaac Chadash here, his adopted son that survived after the loss of his parents and his entire family, and awaits the next opportunity for aliya. And, at last, this opportunity arrives. Yonah, his wife and his family make aliya to Eretz Yisrael.
Honor Be to the Brave Who Fell
Isaac son of Shneor Chadash - bless his memory
A few days after my release from the British prison camp in Latrun, as I was playing with my three year old daughter, Aviva, in our house's yard in Netanya, I suddenly saw two men approach the house. One of them was a youth of about 18 whereas the other was in his mid-thirties. They knocked on the door and entered. In a few minutes I heard my wife call: Aryeh, we have guests! I entered the house and there they were, sitting in anticipation. To my inquiry, the youth turned to me and asked, excitedly - don't you recognize me? I felt uncomfortable, but did not know with whom I had the honor. I turned to look at him and strained my memory. He is a bit familiar, I thought, but where from? Perhaps from the town of my birth, I thought, one of those that lived in a side alley and I hadn't run into on a daily basis. A child that grew up in suffering and trouble during the horrible Holocaust - but who is he? I returned to town in my imagination, and scanned the faces of the children of every house. Now my gaze passed Tetraska Street, and I noticed a child calmly playing near his house, and I remembered... I smiled and said: you are the son of Shneor Chadash, aren't you? - You guessed correctly, answered the guest. That is absolutely right. My name is Isaac Chadash. It was now time to introduce the man who accompanied him. Please meet my cousin, he said, who lives in Even Yehuda. We shook hands and exchanged a few sentences. I now turned to Isaac and showered him with innumerable questions. Where was he during the war? The holocaust? How did he come to Israel? when, from whence, etc.? Slowly but surely Isaac unfolded a long tale of suffering, fear and danger, that were his lot in those dark and terrible days.
|Isaac Chadash, bless his soul,
fell in the War of Independence
My father and I, he began, managed to survive through the first actzia by hiding in a hideout in our back yard, but at nightfall we crept away like shadows and escaped the town in the direction of my father's home town, since he assumed that there he would be able to hide better and for a longer period of time. We advanced at night and hid during the day, until we reached the place, but neither over there was our peace long-lasting. After a few weeks, when the Jews gathered to pray in public, and my father and I among them, we were surrounded by the German S.S. forces who shot everyone present. I was the only one who crawled under a closet and miraculously survived.
A new chapter in my life began then: the forest. Hunger, suffering and despair were my lot, but I shall not dwell on these because all those who survived had to go through this trail of suffering. They all oscillated between despair and hope. Hunger, disease, and fear from every passing shadow was their daily bread. Lost, stranded and hungry, I wandered in the forest, ragged, dishevelled, and feeding on forest plants. Gradually, more Jewish youths joined me, as stricken as I was....and so we reached the partisans. I will not fatigue you with stories of our suffering. We all had one option only, and that was to fight for our lives, to avenge and destroy the enemy. This lasted for 4 years, and those who made it to the day of liberation saw the end of the raging beast.
The purpose of my visit, continued Isaac, is of course to see you, but I also brought a letter and greetings from my father, your friend Yonah Riar, who is in Italy now - and he handed me a brown envelope. I was astonished and excited. I did not know that Yonah was still alive. I assumed that he, too, like so many others, was swept by the sea of death, and there he was, alive and well. Tears off joy filled my eyes. I stopped him from talking. Could you clarify? I mumbled, at first you said that your father has died, and now you deliver greetings from your father, Yonah. Yonah is not your father, but your cousin. How do you explain that? - You are correct, said Isaac. My father indeed perished, but your friend Yonah is nonetheless my father. To clarify that, allow me to go back a little bit.
With the surrender of Germany and the end of the Second World War, I decided to go back to my birth town, Ilya, to see whether someone from the family had survived. When I finally got there, I met Yonah and Bat Sheva. Depressed, mourning, orphaned, lonesome, I wandered by the graves of the Holocaust casualties, and asked Yonah and Bat Sheva to adopt me as their son, and they agreed wholeheartedly. Do you understand now? - I understand, I muttered, and a deep sigh escaped my throat. To my question: do you need any help? He pointed toward his cousin and said: in his house I found shelter, warmth, and employment, and there is nothing more I need. We parted, and good-bye was the last sentence I heard him utter.
And indeed Isaac needed nothing more. When he came here from Ilya, he was already a member of the ETZEL, and his arrival had definite goals: to fight for the liberation of the homeland and to triumph. There was no lack of opportunity for that. Isaac left everything behind him: a warm house, work and family, and threw himself into battle. The days were those of the beginning of the open fighting against the Arabs and the ETZEL troops fought in Jaffo, Yehudia, rosh-Ha'ayin, Ramle, and other places. The enthusiastic Isaac wanted to be on all fronts. A certain inquietude incited him to throw his body opposite the murderer's bullets, and during one assault he was left behind and was registered as missing in action, and probably was buried in an anonymous grave. Isaac did not have the privilege to hear the declaration of independence of the state of Israel, for which redemption he fought and gave his gentle and pure soul.
Rest, heroic brother, in your nameless grave, and we will tell your bold deeds to the next generations. Thanks to you, and others like you, our national independence was renewed.
Your memory will always be kept in our hearts.
Ze'ev son of Baruch Rodnitzki - blessed be his soul
At the end of 1947 I was suddenly called to the office of the factory where I worked. When I came in there stood Zevik Rodnitzki. When I left my hometown, he was still a boy, and now a young man of 18 stood before me. To my inquiry of how he got there, he began his story:
|Lieutenant Ze'ev Rodnitzki
- blessed be his soul Fell on duty
At the time of the regime change he was about 13 and entered the comsomol; when the war between Germany and Russia broke out he was taken east; In the meantime, he grew up and was drafted in the Red Army, where he was promoted to officer; with the advance of the Russian army westward he reached Germany; there he first heard the news about the destruction and ruin, about the lost survivors who are seeking their tomorrow, about the gathering of the survivors and their advance westward, about the goal and the faith in the vision of Israeli independence.
At a moment of excitement and elation, he stripped off his uniform; bed goodbye to the hammer, winked towards the pentagonal star, and took off.
We meet him again as an enlisted soldier, this time in an escape organization, where he specialized in transferring the survivors through the mountains on the Austria-Italy border, in the middle of the night, on their way to Israel. He devoted all his time and energy to this task, and performed it with love, dedication - untiringly and incessantly. This became his vision: to direct the survivors toward a safe haven. Although he was always in the center of action, surrounded by many people and keeping busy, he seemed shut from the world and sad. The sudden appearance of our cousin Sioma, as if he was resurrected from the dead, awakened strong familial emotions in him, and he joined him on his way to the west.
Like other town members, he too joined the ETZEL and sailed in the ship La'negev to Eretz Yisrael. Like his shipmates, he too was arrested by the British and imprisoned in the camps in Cyprus, though his imprisonment was shorter. Still a youngster, he escaped from Cyprus and appeared here at the end of summer 1947, while his friends and town people, with whom he came a long way, were still locked up behind the sharp barbed-wire fences of Cyprus.
We now went to my house where he found temporary shelter. But Zevik shunned off peace and quite. It was as if danger fascinated him. I do not know where or how, but I suddenly felt that he has managed already to renew his ties with the underground organization, and to be swept by the whirlpool of tension, blood and tears. When I commented to him that this may be too early, that he hasn't rested yet. He smiled and winked: this is what I came here for!
These were the days of the beginning of the open struggle for the rule of the land between the Arabs and the Jews, while the neutral British stood in the middle. The blood of the young Israelites was spilt in the battlefields as they defended national honor and the right to be and to live. Ze'ev left work and gave his all to this lofty purpose, his body and gentle soul. Now there were no more cheerful conversations between us, but mute tension. He stopped coming home at night regularly, and only rarely, in the middle of the night, he came back weary and tired, and only the sound of the water in the shower indicated his return.
The Hebrew Yeshuv was getting ready for the decisive battle and organized troops began to appear in the horizon. The ETZEL was annexed to the Israeli army and was sent to the front, and Ze'ev, now a platoon commander, fought bravely. We hardly saw each other now, each one of us, like other young Israelites, performed his duty somewhere in the land. Only rarely did he come home to show that he was alive, with a joke and a smile on his face.
The war was over, the older soldiers were released and returned to their private lives, but the young Ze'ev believed that the nation needs to reenforce its victories and that it still requires his military services. He thus enlisted in the regular army. And this is how things stood. The enemy that was defeated on the battlefield was licking his still fresh wounds and already planning his revenge. And if he cannot do it in the light of day, for fear that he would once again be defeated, he conspires in secrecy. The enemy's messengers are cowardly planting mines in the border regions and needlessly killing peaceful and laboring civilians, who, with their own sweat irrigate the soil of the resurrected homeland. The I.D.F., meant to protect civilians, is forced to send its best officers and soldiered to scan the borders and guard against terrorists. In spring 1950, on the eve of Passover, Zevik headed a mission to protect the homeland. His car ran over a mine that was planted by the enemy and crashed. Ze'ev returned his soul to his creator.
As we erect a memorial for our hometown, let us raise the memory of a cadet, a warrior and a friend, who sacrificed everything for the independence of Israel, and let us tell the next generations about him. His memory will be forever engraved in our hearts.
The Aliya of Devorah Rubinchik and Her Family
For a number of days I have been holding on to a message that tells of the aliya of Devorah Rubinchik, the cousin of my late mother, and her daughters, and I am somewhere in the south, with the Giv'ati Brigade, in the midst of the War of Independence. I therefore turned to my commander and asked for a leave of absence in order to visit the Pardes-Chana olim camp, and received a leave for Rosh Ha'shanah 1948. When I got the leave-pass the commander was handed a telegraph from the brigade headquarters and in it was an urgent message that announced that from 10:00 the brigade will start moving. In fifteen minutes begins Operation Ten Blows. But the commander did not detain me and said: you're lucky. If the telegraph would have been delivered before, who knows how things would have developed.
In Rosh Ha'shanah 1948 I was perhaps the only soldier on leave, and definitely the only soldier from the Giv'ati Brigade on leave. I somehow found a means of transportation, and with my four-year-old daughter Aviva, headed to the Pardes-Chana camp. The message that I received stated an address, but God knows how much effort is needed to locate it. Try to find an edifice in the jungle of 30 thousand olim and in a space of a few hundred acres. No one I turned to could give me directions. The numbers indicated that I was getting close to my target, but it seemed as if the edifice was swallowed by the earth. I tried to ask by family name, but out of the hundreds of people that I met no one knew of her existence, or, at least, that's what they told me. The clerk in the office where I turned for help located the family name, Rubinchik, but could not tell me where she lived. I detained people right and left, and asked for assistance, but to no avail. I felt helpless, because my little daughter was tired and cried. I tried to appease her and quiet her down by telling her we would soon find the aunt from abroad. We rested for a little while and embarked on our energetic search once again.
Suddenly I met a woman that with considerable patience listened to what I said, but instead of responding, started to inquire: why am I looking for this family? because they are my relatives, I answered. What kind of relatives? she asked again. I explained that this is my late mother's cousin. How many people are they? she continued her investigations with other direct and indirect questions. I assumed that the moment of salvation was nearing, that as soon as the investigation was over she would point to the edifice or lead me to it, but the end was much more surprising... I don't know them, she muttered, and moved on. I was boiling on the inside. Is my uniform to blame? I asked myself, do I seem so unreliable? But I could not change the situation. I patiently continued my search until I found what I was looking for.
We hugged and kissed. After exchanging the first bits of information I could hold myself back no longer and told her of the behavior of the people and the search that took two hours, and mentioned the incident with the investigating woman. I barely finished when the door was opened and a woman entered. Believe it or not, but I think you've already guessed... it was the woman who crossed-examined me. I couldn't contain myself and asked her to explain her behavior. She seemed unabashed and said, with determination: what you don't know can't hurt you. I understood.... This was the theory that developed in the reality of the Nazi death camps, and the woman before me still lived in the dark and terrible past.
Devorah Rubinchik need not be introduced; her personality does it for her: wise, sharp, smooth-tongued, she comes from a very lofty background. If there's such a thing as a Jewish aristocracy, then her father, Rabbi Efraim, was its main representative. His face was handsome and noble. His white beard, large and well-tended, added splendor and honor to his appearance. He spoke quietly, pleasantly, and his speech was smooth and sweet. Rabbi Efraim was the permanent honorary officer of the synagogue, and one of the most respected heads of household in town. He was the son-in-law of Rabbi Micha Ratner, may his memory be blessed, and that's why they called him Rabbi Efraim Michas. But the younger or newer town members called him (with Ashkenazi intonation) Rabbi Efraim Yechus. He was identified with the concept to that extent. When Devorah was a young woman I was not yet born, but on her actions in the October revolution legends were told; how she incited the masses of farmers with her speeches; how this thin and petite woman led the goyim by their nose, and they worshipped her. When she married the man of her choice, Eliezer Rubinchik, she gave up her revolutionary theories and stabilized her life according to tradition. Their economical situation improved gradually and they reached a stable financial well being. Devorah is a born public worker, and she thus found her place in the Zionist movement and especially in WIZO, to which she devoted most of her free time. Her life, although intensive in the public and economic realm, were calm in private. She reared two daughters and provided them with the best education. But the outbreak of the war put an end to her way of life.
The outbreak of the war and the subsequent change in regimes liberated the Rubenchik family from its property. She lost her husband Eliezer, his memory be blessed, in the horrible Holocaust when he was imprisoned in the Nazi death camps. She and her two daughters went through the trail of suffering and she miraculously managed to save her daughters from certain death. She now lives in Kiryat Motzkin and has settled down.
Pninah Zavodnik - Gutenberg
Their family consisted of three sisters and two brothers, who were deprived at a very young age of both their mother and father. The elder sister, Leah, emigrated to the U.S. when I was still a small boy, and my memory holds only a glimpse of her image. Next was the brother Eliezer, who emigrated to Argentina when I was on the verge of adulthood - his image still stands before me, almost clearly. In Ilya remained the younger children: Pninah, Moshe and Sarah.
Ever since I can remember they were raised by their old grandfather and grandmother, Meitah and Nehemiah. When they died, Pninah, Moshe and Sarah were left on their own, and they were still children. No wonder that under these difficult and cruel conditions Pninah, who was older than Moshe and Sarah, was forced to bear the heavy responsibility of raising and educating them. This had no little influence on the shaping of her character and personality.
Moshe and Sarah were my friends in the movement. They were born unlucky: born in grief, raised in suffering and orphanhood, and snatched by the Nazi devil while they were still young.
May these lines serve as an eternal light in their honor and as a bouquet of flowers on their unknown grave.
|Moshe and Sarah Zavodnik (Kompinski),
blessed be their memory
Pninah, too, belonged to the same organization and later transferred to the Chalutz - probably out of faith and the desire to hasten her aliya to Eretz Yisrael. But fate is fickle; it laughs at us and ruins our plans: Pninah indeed completed her training and was looking forward to immediate aliya, but for some reason was detained.
Pninah is clever, profound and traditional. Each one of her sentences is carefully weighed, thought out and measured. Her speech is quiet and unexcited, but always right on target. When she returned from training with her future husband, Chaim, she already saw herself as a potential citizen of Eretz Yisrael, although the conditions of aliya at that time were extremely difficult. Shortly after her marriage the war broke out, but she still did not give up her dream of aliya. The war was indeed an obstacle, but she did not pluck the dream from her heart. When new opportunities arose and some cracks were detected in the isolation wall, she did not hesitate and used them to get through to Eretz Yisrael.
Upon the change of regimes she moved east and fate, that separated her and her husband, allowed them to meet again soon. Here they underwent days of hardship and suffering, as all war refugees did.
As soon as the war was over they moved west on their way to Eretz Yisrael. She met her future husband, Chaim, in training, where he was, like her, due to the desire to make aliya. But his situation was singular: his whole family had been in Israel for a long time, and only he was detained in Poland. When Pninah returned home from training, he accompanied her.
My first meeting with Chaim took place in her home. Although 25 years have passed, my first impression hasn't evaporated: Chaim had loads and loads of humor. One needs to know him well to detect when he is being serious and when he is joking. That is the way he was, and hasn't changed to this day.
It has been twelve years since fate summoned us together to work for a common and lofty cause.
One day in 1950 I was told that Yossef, the son of Yechiel Yeruchevski, from our town was in Israel. When I met him he told me the story of his life: when the Russians came to town he was just a boy and entered the comsomol; During the evacuations he was transferred to Russia and tumbled from one work camp to the next; he suffered much during these cruel war days; in the camps he met a few of his friends from town and together they bore their suffering quietly; he was then drafted in the army and advanced with the Russian army to the west; when he heard of the survivors' going to Israel he stripped off his uniform - under his friends' influence - and deserted.
The escape organization to which he now turned helped him, and as a bachelor he was high on the priority list for aliya. In the beginning of the fighting that erupted immediately upon the establishment of the state he came to Israel. The situation in the front was difficult, and so he was immediately drafted and sent straight from the ship to the bloody Latrun front. After a short vacation he was sent along with reenforcement to Gush Etzion, where he fought for his life. Despite heroism and desperate sacrifices, the few were forced to yield to the many, and with the other warriors Yossef was taken prisoner of war. His suffering in captivity is unimaginable, and only after a year and half in prison was he released and returned to Israel.
After a few years it became clear that his father too had survived, and he too drifted along with
the stream of survivors that came to Israel. This is one of the rare instances in which someone from our town has had the privilege of meeting his living parent in the land of Israel. Yossef's father is old by now, and found peace in the MALBAN institution for the elderly.
Danchik, that is how we called him in town, because he was so small and thin for his age. He was dark, and had burning eyes. Although he was born in Warsaw he spent most of his youth at his grandmother Fridka's house in our town. It was after disaster struck and his father died. Since then he became a citizen of our town and moved in with his grandmother. One image of his orphanhood is especially engraved in my memory and is there to this day: Danchik saying his Kaddish prayer for the soul of his father. Since he was so small he was put on a bench, so that the Kaddish will be heard in public, and his voice echoed in the space of the synagogue.
Every once in a while his widowed mother would travel to visit him from Warsaw, when he was 13 he returned to hs mother and two sisters in Warsaw. When the war erupted in Poland ( 1939) he escaped with his oldest sister from the Warsaw ghetto and returned to town which was under Soviet control. Not before long the new regime drafted the young for labor camp and like others of his age he too was taken to the camps beyond the Ural mountains. There he suffered unimaginably from hunger and lack. Eventually he escaped from camp and using sophisticated means managed to be drafted in the Polish army where he spent the duration of the war. When he was stationed in eastern Prussia, holding a good, non-combat position, he found out the facts about the survivors and their reorganization toward aliya. By coincidence he ran into Ha'shomer Ha'tzair people in Warsaw, and they convinced him to desert and to join them for aliya. To this day Danchik gets excited when he talks about that incident.
With all his youthful fervor Dan devoted himself to the task of organizing and concentrating the survivors. The fire of love to Eretz Yisrael, now burning in his heart, made him restless, and he fought with the leadership to hasten his aliya. The struggle was persistent, because the leadership did not want to forgo the active, enthusiastic and persistent youth, but they were eventually forced to give him up and allow for his aliya. In the midst of the operation he met his future wife and mother of his children, and both crossed the border in the middle of the night on their way to Austria. There, a great wonderful surprise awaited his future wife - she found a large part of her family alive.
His Zionist action continued in Italy too, but on a different plane. Over there his daughter was born, and thus his aliya was detained for a while, and he only came to Israel after the second cease-fire.
As a new comer still living in an olim camp he was temporarily released from army service to allow his family to settle down. But immediately after being absorbed in Ramle he was drafted in the I.D.F. for two years. During his army service the army held retaliation operations against the enemy at the borders and Dan participated in those.
The Cheikin Brothers
Yechezkel and Mendel are brothers, but each has his own fate. They both arrived in the country after the establishment of the state, Yechezkel from the east, whereas Mendel came from the west. Yechezkel is among the Holocaust survivors who struggled for their existence and miraculously survived. Mendel, on the other hand, came from peaceful Uruguay, from a stable and fixed way of life, and from expansive public work.
They are very different from each other: in their character, personality and talents. Only brothers to the same parents can be that different and contrasting. They have no common feature, no inner or outer similarity.
In my mind's eye I see the house of Reb David Cheikin, his wife and his offsprings. The mother was born in Libau, in a wealth and progressive household, and had a German education in the positive sense of the term. She was captivated by the father, who in his younger days was apparently a handsome man. For his sake she abandoned a stable and rooted household and followed her heart's choice far away. Her education manifested itself in the house, the children, and their names. In our town everyone was named by complete Hebrew names, with no short cuts or nicknames - whereas in the Cheikin house Nehemiah was called Chamke, Zalman was called Zamke, Yechezkel - Chatske, Mendel - Mande, Leib - Libke, and Getale. We called our mothers Mame, and they called theirs Mama.
The family consisted of six children, five sons and a daughter. Most of them were talented: writers, speakers, organizers, they were persuasive and handsome. Wherever they went they attracted attention. Three of them were Chalutz members and three were in BEITAR, why I can't tell you, it's a mystery, but nonetheless a fact.
The parents, too, were split in their opinions. The father supported the Chalutz and the mother liked BEITAR.
Nehemiah, the elder son, combined the mother's and the father's characteristics: traditional and restrained, pleasant and handsome. Well-educated and cultured - he was one of the first Chalutz members and among the founders. He was a bookworm and devoted most of his time to books. Zalman had the same qualities, but he was more alert, more dynamic, a sharp and aggressive polemic, but short in stature. Zalman - Zamke - was one of the first victims to have been executed by the Nazis immediately upon their invasion, as if to punish him for his communist activities. Yechezkel was different. He didn't aspire to public appearances or to be a leading speaker. Whatever was assigned to him he performed faithfully and completely. Mendel was the spitting image of his brother Zalman in his talents, but is more tumultuous (a descendent of the Cohenim), more presumptuous and taller. He was fortunate to acquire much experience in public work and human relations. Libke was a disciplined soldier - out of persuasion. He honestly believed in the road that he took and was willing to defend it with his heart and soul. Getale, still young, was already felt to be more talented than all her brothers; her eyes burned with fire, her cheeks inflamed, her heart full of enthusiasm, her mouth emanates witticisms, - and her brain remains cold and analytical.
Mendel was a childhood friend of mine and with him I came a long way. In childhood we were both members of the Gordonia, where Mendel was a chief speaker. We then met again in Vilna - in Tomchei Tmimim Yeshiva. We then parted, and each followed his God.
When Mendel matured, he entered the Chalutz and became one of their active speakers. He went to training as a step towards making aliya. Since the gates of the country were locked, he went to Uruguay temporarily, and there began a broad public service. He stayed there for 20 years and eventually came to Israel.
Yechezkel and Mendel are the remainders of a widely branched Zionist family who drowned in the ocean of blood and tears.
Risia Sinder - Epstein - Toviashvitz
If we were to call her Risia, as her name appears on her papers, the majority of people would not know whom we refer to, and that is why we should call her by her known name - Rishka Yenkel Sheines, and all would immediately recall her special appearance: the red hair, both the Ilyites here and those abroad.
Rabbi Ya'akov Sinder, or, as he was better known, Yaniel Sheines was her grandfather, and the most famous butcher in town. He was an affable and pleasant man, organized and focused, and especially hospitable. He literally sought his guests out, and without them he was miserable. But let us not dwell on that, as our late friend Tuvia Chefetz will tell all this in his story. Before my aliya I thought he was in the prime of his life, but those who know better told me that he has passed that age 15 years previously. Despite that fact he was health and strong, and liked to joke around with members of the weaker sex, and the younger the better... One bright day he got married to a woman 50-55 years of age.
Later it was rumored... that he was complaining... that she is too old for him...
Naturally, Rabbi Ya'akov left the mark of his personality on the house: a cheerful house, known for its hospitality, frivolity and amusements. And no wonder. There were four children of the social age, two daughters and two sons, and each had his or her own friends. Thus the house was always full of guests and merry company. The mother Chava, although she was widowed at a young age, adjusted to the house and did not burden the children with her mood. The Sinder household was thus free, cheerful and hospitable, in short: the center of the town's social life.
Every age and its ways of having fun:
I was still a young boy when the Sinder family opened a bar in town, where one could get a variety of delicacies: beer, chocolate, sweets, ice-cream, and so forth. Everybody came to this house, to be impressed by it and, by the way, to taste the goods. The house become the social center of town and was full every evening.
Every once in a while new technologies and games were added to the bar, and among them - a radio. As far as I can remember, this was the first radio in town, a radio with earphones. Young and old, everybody came to see this seventh wonder and to wonder over the miracle, and by the way, taste the goods. My sister and myself, still young children, also were excited over this great miracle, called the radio. Later they installed a pool table as well. I was too young to participate in the game, but followed it with great concentration and suspense.
Every period and its ways of having fun. Later the bar declined from its position and a card club was formed instead; unofficial, but with all the rules and regulations. The writer of these lines too paid for his experience there dearly. It was an important social center of town at one time, but declined in the last years.
The young members of the household gradually got married, and as they left, the social center became empty.
|Shlomo Rapson, bless his soul.
Killed in Europe after the liberation
Risia's husband and the father of her children, Eliyahu-Yossef and Moshe, was Shefsal Epstein, an excellent soccer player in his youth. Then came the political change: the Russians came and left, the German-Russian war erupted, and the Holocaust began. Shefsal, who was a shoe cobbler by trade and necessary for the invading army and was allowed to live, along with his entire family, through the first
|Shefsal Epstein- bless his soul,
Risia's first husband
ghetto actzia. The artisans and their families were then concentrated in Vileika Ghetto and Shefsal and his family among them.
When rumors spread that this ghetto too would be destroyed, Risia spurred her husband to escape to the forest and join the partisans. But Shefsal, who saved his mother so far, refused to separate from her and leave her behind, and stayed with her to the bitter end. Risia, on the other hand, took her two small sons with her, and hid for years under the cover of the forest and the partisans.
The war ended, Risia and her children survived and searched for their father to no avail. When it became clear that he died, she decided that they needed a father and married Mr. Toviashvitz, who raised and educated them and taught them a trade. The family tried to settle in Russia, but the awful loneliness oppressed them and led them to make aliya.
Risia and her husband are happy and live in B'nai-Brak along with a young daughter that was born to them. The young son lives near Petach-Tikvah and supports himself honorably, whereas the elder son settled in Kiryat Gath and is very content. In short, they are glad that they made aliya.
Rosa (Bronstein) and Shraga Reznik
When I found out that Rosa and Shraga have arrived in the country I expected to find a young man and a maiden, but to my surprised I found a married couple with a child. It seems like time flies. Only yesterday... I remembered them as kids, and here they were, mature and with their own family.
I've known Rosa, I believe, since her birth. We were neighbors, and our parents' walls touched each others. A single fence separated the lots, a source of many disputes.
Rosa was still a baby when her step brother David, the first leader of the BEITAR branch in Ilya - became my friend. We were loyal friends, and called each other by historical and literary names. I called David - David of the Reuven tribe and he called me Leibush Libushizki, after a young historian.
The financial situation in his parents' house was grim. David, the oldest son, who dreamed of making aliya, made desperate attempts to attain this goal to no avail. He was thus forced to immigrate to Argentina with the hope that it will only be a temporary arrangement, and that from there he will head towards Israel. Some say that a temporary arrangement is the most permanent one, and it seems like this is true. More than 30 years have passed and David is still there. To this day I haven't heard whether he intends to make aliya or not. It seems that he has forgotten our last conversation, on the way to the train station.
|David Bronstein, Argentine|
If these lines ever reach David, his memory will most certainly be refreshed, and he will remember that conversation with longing.
Shraga, too, still stands before my eyes, neither a boy nor precisely a young man, sweet and clever. He wasn't born in our town but came to Ilya shortly before I met him. His father, who was widowed as a young man, married an elderly single woman from our town, and he brought Shraga along as his dowry. Shraga lived in the same house - the house of Chaim Avraham the hastrosta - where the BEITAR branch was located; and I, who spend many ours in the branch during daytime too, met the little urchin and exchanged a few words with him. When I returned from my service in the Polish army Shraga was already older and a BEITAR member; pleasant, serious, loyal and cultured.
When the extant Polish regime fell and the Russians arrived, all existing orders changed. Shraga, like others of his age, tried to be integrated into the new society. While they were still in the midst of the absorption process, the German-Russian war began, and changed the situation fundamentally. The approaching Germans spread fear, blood and fire.
Shraga, along with a few friends, decided to leave town for a few days, until the wrath subsided. But these few days lasted many years. Although he suffered from hunger in the Russian camps, he was saved from certain death in the Holocaust.
In 1942, while still in Russia, he was drafted in the army and served for 5 straight years - until his release. He married a girl form his town, Rosa, and started a family. With his discharge from the army he settled in Vilna and stayed there until the possibility of aliya arrived.
Shraga and Rosa now live in Chadera.
Hirshl (Tzvi) Berman
Hirshl was one of the last olim to come from over there - he only came recently. Although he was born in Ilya and lived there many years, a few years before the war he moved to the neighboring Horodok, due to his marriage.
During the war and the Holocaust he experienced much suffering, terror and wandering, but he was lucky. He was privileged to stay alive and make aliya.
Along with Hirshl, his brother was saved as well, Isaac Berman, who also left Ilya to get married and lived in Horodok. But he emigrated to Argentina, to join his brother, Tuvia, who has lived there for many years.
Hirshl now lives in Migdal Ashkelon, and is productive and content.
Leah, or Leachka as we called her, is the oldest daughter of Chaika Sosenoski, from Batorina, whose family settled in Ilya in the last years before the Second World War. Since I remembered her as a cute baby, whose cheeks I sometimes pinched, I was surprised to see that she was married, to Monik Meltzer. She was fortunate to escape the Nazi hell and to make aliya to Israel upon independence.
Monik, her husband, is a talented and social man, and progressed in life with much success. He was a faithful employee at the Histadrut institution. Later he was put in charge of managing the union of the tires factory Alliance in Chadera, a complex job full of responsibility. Suddenly we found out that Monik had a serious illness. We refused to believe that the 36-year
old man was going to leave us. He fought the disease with all his might, but it triumphed over him. Dear Monik returned his gentle and pure soul to his creator.
The young and cheerful Leah was widowed, her children orphaned, and her expression saddened. Although it has been a year since the disaster, she still has not recovered from fate's cruel blow.
Among the survivors who made aliya came also Isaac Dokshitzki. With the Soviet invasion of the Polish borders, Isaac grew wings. He believed in the ideal of equality and fraternity that was the law in the country on the eastern side of Poland, until he finally saw it in person, as it operates in daily reality. When he sobered up from his dream and was disappointed with the way it was realized - he came to Israel.
In Israel he built his home in a kibbutz in the Efraim mountains.
Chaya Tzimerman - Ladiselbovski
Chaya, the daughter of Shmuel and Altka Tzimerman, of the Kagan family, was still a baby when her parents left Ilya and moved to Smorgon. She was fortunate, and is the only one from her family who managed to escape the murderers and come to Israel. She married and raised a family. Chaya is the only remainder of a once widely branched family.
The Lavkov Brothers
The Lavkov family was blessed with many children, and lived in our town for many years until they ultimately moved to Smogon. During the Holocaust the parents, the younger brother and the older sister, Lobah, were killed. 4 brothers: Yisrael, Isaac, Avraham and Mordechai escaped to Russia, where they wandered until the end of the war and gradually all made aliya.
Nechama, their sister, was caught by the Germans and put in a concentration camp. But despite the suffering, she survived, and at the end of the war emigrated to the U.S.
Even though the Lavkov brothers left our town Ilya 10 years before the outbreak of World War II, their bonds with the Ilya residents remained tight.
Mr. Chaim Levin, who was born in our town and lived there in his youth, managed to evade, in his own gentle way, the telling of his story, arguing that it is of no importance.
All we can say, therefore, is that we are proud of him. He is now an old man and still retains his strength. He gave us a helping hand in collecting the material for Ilya's story.
Mr. Levin has been in Israel for 25 years and made Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh his home. He is still alert and active.
Along with all the sons of Ilya in Israel and abroad we bless him and hope that he will stay with us until he is a hundred and twenty. All the best.
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