Brajna Iglewicz-Majrowicz, Tel Aviv
Born in Ostrolenka, she came to Israel in 1946 (5706). She passed away on 18 Tevet 5715 (January 1956).
She was the daughter of Josef Nasielski, of blessed memory. They lived in the cellar at Thylim's, in the Old Market, near the bridge. Reb Josef Nasielski was a Torah scholar. He had four daughters and one son. They operated a bakery Ostrolenka-style: the chief baker was his wife, and he engaged in the study of Torah day and night. As father-educator, he devoted himself to the education of his daughters and introduced them to the world of Torah. One of the daughters was Pesia, of blessed memory. I knew her from Bejt Jakow and Bnot Agudat Israel, where we studied together. Even as a Bejt Jakow student, she excelled in her sharp perception and amazing memory. We said of her that she was a lime pit that does not lose a drop. Even as a child, she had a desire to learn and know. She always aspired to be among the first. If she happened to fail, and another student did better than she did, she was capable of bursting into tears in the middle of the lesson. Then she prepared for the next day, so that no one bested her. Of course, her father helped her a great deal. She also had a drive to read books or, more correctly, to swallow books. When she sat down to read a book, she did not get up until she had read it to the end.
As said, they had a bakery, where they also sold bread. When Pesia was alone in the house and someone came in, she was so immersed in her reading that she did not notice that someone was talking to her. Sometimes, a customer there stood for a long time, until she detached herself from her book. She remembered every book she read by heart. Pesia loved to talk about everything she had read and, when she did, she was like an overflowing fountain. She did not allow anyone to stop the flow of her words until she had finished.
Of course, for such a reader, the Bejt Jakow library was too small and sparse. She paid no heed to the censorship of the time (not all books were approved for reading by Bejt Jakow students), and acquired books from every available source.
In 1930, after completing her studies at Bejt Jakow and at the government primary school, Pesia went to Krakow and was accepted at the Bejt Jakow Seminary. Not everyone was accepted there. A few girls from Ostrolenka were candidates for study at the Seminary, but not all of them had the means. Pesia had not grown up in a wealthy home either, but her older sister, already a Bejt Jakow teacher, helped her. Although the level of studies at the Seminary was very high, Pesia was among its best students. She understood everything and knew how to express herself. Besides Torah literature, she was acquainted with the works of various writers, and knew how to utilize this.
Proof of her scholastic excellence is the fact that, immediately upon completion of her studies at the Seminary, without prior experience, she was sent to the city of Sosnowiec, to be a teacher in one of the largest Bejt Jakow schools. Later, she taught in Warsaw, and married a rabbi named Szereszewska. There, she fell into the clutches of the Nazi beast. Fate brought her to Auschwitz, where she drank deeply of the poisonous cup. Her husband and son were murdered, and she alone was fortunate enough to be liberated. Who is capable of describing what Auschwitz was for the Jews, and for her? It is doubtful whether history will ever be able to relate all the facts of that terrible Hell! The majority did not leave that place, and the few who survived are like dead bodies with live souls. The souls aspire to survive and see revenge exacted on the murderers. Pesia was among those who survived Auschwitz.
After her dead body recovered a bit, a creative spirit awoke in her. While still in Italy, she began recounting her experiences in public appearances, while establishing a warm home for all the orphans, to help them forget the horrors they had seen with their own eyes in Auschwitz. As soon as she arrived in Israel, she opened an Ohel Sara House in Bnei Brak, named after Sarah Schenirer, the founder of Bejt Jakow. This was a home for Bejt Jakow refugees. She devoted herself to this institution, attending to its material and spiritual existence. She had a strong will and extraordinary
powers of persuasion. Nothing stood in her way, as she went about reaching her goal. Overseas, she told of frightful death camp episodes and roused people to join her fundraising projects. Anyone who heard her wonderful lecture at HaBima in Tel Aviv appreciated her rhetorical powers. She spoke to a large audience, including ministers and representatives of foreign governments, telling the truth about Auschwitz. She was the youngest speaker, and brought them all to tears.
Unfortunately, there was no remedy for the poison she absorbed in Auschwitz. After a short time in Israel, the bacteria hidden in her body began their deadly mission. She was hospitalized in nearly every hospital in Israel Beilinson, Tel HaShomer and others. The greatest doctors invested enormous efforts to keep her alive, but did not succeed in destroying the germs that had penetrated her bone marrow. Even on her deathbed, her will to live and create was strong. At the height of her flowering, in her 30's, Pesia was taken from us.
May her memory be holy and blessed!
I had the privilege of meeting her personally in the light of the burning crematoria, and was shocked to the depths of my soul. All around, the crematoria burned and the gas chambers worked full out. The abyss swallowed the last of the holy sparks in men, and she bridged the abyss with a bridge of loftiness and holiness that amazed all who saw it. With dedication, she organized a cell of friends that preserved the image of God in the inferno's depths. She comforted, encouraged, supported and helped. She reproved young girls who stumbled, and spurred them to overcome obstacles. She injected life wherever she turned and was a mother, sister, teacher and guide, a queen, whose every word was a command. Even the angels of destruction accepted her authority. They felt the influence of her personality and stood amazed before the charm abundant in her radiant character. It may be impossible to believe, but anyone who knew her can confirm the fact that she was a princess, even on a devil's island.
I once saw her praying in the attic of the S.S.'s laundry in Auschwitz. If someone else had done this, they would have killed her immediately. They did not harm her. They did not disturb her. We all believed that her prayers protected everyone, without distinction, devils and men alike.
She was wonderfully talented, thought deeply, knew the Pentateuch by heart, was familiar with all the literary currents and spoke a marvelous, idiomatic Hebrew. I think that that was the first and the last chime of Hebrew in that cursed corner. She spoke about everything, but primarily liked to talk about matters of faith and belief. Original books of ethics were commonplace on her lips. She was dreamy, with an emotional soul. She was excited by every revelation of a glimmer of light in camp life. She once heard a Jewish daughter call out the Shema [Hear, Oh, Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One], burst into bitter tears and did not restrain herself. She cried many times, not from sorrow, but from emotion. She also kept a diary and, in that book, collected every morsel of light she came upon in her way.
Pesia Szereszewska was a noble and pure character who sanctified Heaven in the hell of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
When Pesia emigrated to Israel, she became wellknown to many, due to her shocking testimony about the extermination. An audience of thousands burst into tears when Pesia stood on the stage at a special conference of the Fund for Recruitment and Rescue, organized in Tel Aviv in 1946. She did not shock her listeners with descriptions of the horrors, but with her stories of the supreme heroism of the Jewish martyrs, who preserved the embers of faith in that terrible death camp. I was not at the conference where Pesia spoke, but was fortunate enough to hear her tell stories of
holiness and bravery at another opportunity. After a time, she became ill. The sufferings of Auschwitz came out in her body, and she came to the convalescent home in our village to rest and recuperate. She told of a modest Hebrew woman, as beautiful as a queen, who maintained a Jewish life in the women's camp in Auschwitz. The woman came from Greece, with the rest of the women from the Greek Diaspora, banished by the Nazis to Auschwitz.
While she worked at the camp's laundry, she met the woman, followed her, and discovered that she maintained a sort of secret royal court, into which she admitted the Hebrew women from Greece on Sabbath nights. She lit and made the blessing over the Sabbath candles, and said prayers with them.
Pesia knew how to tell a story and describe things. The story about the Hebrew princess, who lit candles in Auschwitz and said prayers with the tortured and holy ones, stunned her listeners. The eyes of many were kindled with the light of this holy transcendence; tears flowed after ten years of petrification and stupor.
After she become famous, we did not hear much about Pesia. From time to time, stories from her tales about the lives of the Jews in the concentration camp were published, all of them testifying to the spiritual bravery of the tortured and of transcendency in that terrible furnace of pain.
For a few years, Pesia conducted educational ethics [lessons] for ultra-Orthodox girls in Bnei Brak, until she passed away after a protracted illness.
In general, few returned from the valley of death. Of those who did, only a few returned whole in their souls and bodies. Many failed and lost their humanity. Pesia was one of those few who preserved the Divine Spirit in the furnace of destruction. Her image shines out at us with a transcendent light. May her memory be blessed and her character be a symbol for future generations.
If a man's will is his honor, and if I feel unable to fulfill your desire, then it is probably worth asking your pardon from the beginning. What does the audience wish to hear, if the speaker is someone who came from there, from the Nazi hell? The request is modest. If you were really in all the camps, tell what you saw there. That is the trouble. I cannot do that. I would like to stress from the outset that I will not relate lamentations and moaning and woe; I will not speak of pain. We do not want the pain to become a course on a menu served to guests at a party, Heaven forbid! The pains are holy to us and we do not have the right to use them. Before the parting of the Red Sea, Moses Our Teacher said: The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace. The Early Commentators explain the verse. and you shall hold your peace is, in fact, the fundamental stipulation, in order to
understand important events in the life of the individual and in the lives of humankind. The sign of ascribing importance to this is receiving it silently, with internal comprehension, not with vociferation. Words can only cheapen the matter. And another thing. What you know until now is enough to bring about internal contemplation. Therefore, I will not touch on my gloomy past. I want to tell you about two acts that I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears, after our liberation.
We were liberated by the Americans, with the help of God, on the 5th of May 1945. On the first Sabbath, we gathered in our camp to pray and recite the benediction of deliverance. What we felt then is impossible to convey to you. In general, freedom can be appreciated only by someone who was once oppressed, who was once a slave. To breath freely, to drink water are these small things? The crux is dependence on our own will, and not the will of others.
We lived, about a thousand girls, in thirteen barracks. In all the windows, Sabbath candles shone. Once again, the Sabbath walked regally to the temporary homes of the Daughters of Israel. And lo, pure prayer was heard, immaculate prayer from the heart, coming to cleanse the filth that accumulated because of the cursed defiled ones. The praying ended, and kiddush [sanctifying the Sabbath or a holiday by reciting a blessing over wine] was heard. The Jewish slave became a prince.
I heard that the gate had opened. But this could not be. The American administrator promised that they would not disturb our Sabbath. If there would be something to announce, it would be postponed until Sunday. And now, a taxi entered. A man of about fortyfive quickly jumped out of it, dressed in a uniform I did not recognize. I saw this from my room, which bordered on the room of the Secretariat. I noticed that a change suddenly took place in the guest, when he heard the Shabbat Shalom sounds cleave the space of the camp.
He slowed his steps and his face actually went black. I approached him with the camp secretary. In German, I asked him who he was. He rebuked me: How dare I use that language?! He would not speak in the language of his enemies.
You are absolutely right, I admitted, but I do not know Russian. He showed the secretary all his documents. He was a liaison officer of the Red Army Command. Since there were 36 young Russian women in the camp, he wanted to talk to them, and prepare them for repatriation. He also showed letters of recommendation from the American administrator, requesting that he be assisted. He added that he would not permit the inclusion in the conversation of anyone except the Russian women. Even the presence of the camp administrator was not acceptable. I said to the secretary in Yiddish, Luckily for me, I will not have to listen to a sermon like this on the Sabbath. He did not reply, but his face reddened.
I went over to the Russian women to tell them the news. I have good news, I began.
What? They started to guess. Probably tomorrow and today there will be potatoes and cabbage, or maybe we will get a pair of American leather shoes.
Not news of this kind, I said to them. Someone from your government has come, and he is interested in your repatriation.
What's this? asked their representative, Katya. What was that word? It sounds like some kind of disease.
He wants to take you home, I explained. What terrible disappointment showed on their faces. They received the news with cold indifference. I thought: How different the impression would be if they sent to call us home to Israel
In accordance with the women's request, I went with them, although this was unpleasant for me. He began to make a speech. He was, apparently, a professional speaker. He spoke enthusiastically about liberation, about freedom, about the liberating Red Army, returning its sons and daughters home. He ended with exclamations in Stalin's honor. Indifference prevailed again. We will not go without shoes! they shouted. We are still free. If the Americans increase our food ration, it is worth waiting.
He promised them the earth, but they remained unconvinced. Finally, he began to threaten to send cars and take them, and that would be that! Once again, the thought came to my mind: When will they send cars to take us to our Land?
The officer went over to his taxi. I escorted him out of courtesy. As he was leaving, he spat out, I hate you.
When I heard this, I strongly urged him to come to the Secretariat, because I had something to tell him. He acceded to my request. I said to him, You see, these are Sabbath candles. Although they are already partly extinguished, I still want to say to you in their presence: You are a Jew! His face turned red and then paled by turns. Yes, I continued mercilessly, You are a Jew. I
have proofs that confirm my conjectures. When you heard us praying, your steps slowed. You spoke of freedom with the enthusiasm typical of a Jew, for whom freedom has always been lacking. When you said that you hate me, I thought how is it possible to hate someone you do not know? It can only be that as a Daughter of Israel, I was recognized by your conscience. I wanted to say that you hate your people, but this is not true. This only hides the inner connection existing between you and your people, from whom you are now estranged. Now, you must leave.
But he did not move, and burst into tears. This was not just crying, this was sobbing. In it, I heard the sobbing of all of Russian Jewry, which was suffocated, which longed to return to the Jewish People and to its Land. After a few minutes, I heard a shocking confession.
Yes, he began, I am a Jew. To this day, my old mother prays. Her wish is that her son should be a steadfast Jew. I was raised on the purity of Russianism. I have sacrificed the best years of my life for Russia. Until the Holocaust, I was happy. My good friend from the Ukraine showed the Germans the locations of my wife and my son. They were all burned, and my friends shouted 'Jude, Jude, raze it, raze it to its foundations ' I wanted to die.
During a battle, I met a soldier with a Star of David on his shoulder. I asked him which country he came from. He replied, 'From our country.'
Which 'our country'?
'The Land of Israel,' he said proudly.
'Why do you sacrifice your life?' I asked.
'To strike at our enemies and help establish a life of freedom and liberty in our land,' he answered. The Hebrew soldier asked me, 'Why do you sacrifice your life?' I, the orator, who always knew how to reply to the point, did not know what to answer this time. Why was I sacrificing my life? This question pecks at my brain like Titus's mosquito. I find myself between a rock and a hard place. If I do not return this morning, they will kill my old mother, who is even more dear to me now, after I have come to a full realization of my Judaism. On the other hand, my soul is with you. This idea is not only in our camp. It has taken wing. I feel that the subject of the vision of Israel, soldiers of the Land of Israel, has breathed life into these dry bones of Russian Judaism, and I say to you: he who we awaken, will continue to be wakeful.
The next day, I received a note: I am leaving. I am sending 1,000 liters of fuel. I would be happy if you would use it to travel to our land, Israel.
Any comment is superfluous. Here is the second deed:
The Shavuot holiday was drawing near. Our national holiday. This day, thou art become a people. We wanted to celebrate it properly. We wanted to have a party, to show that we were the daughters of a nation that learned, that man does not live by bread alone. Among us were fifteen girls, most of them from Hungary. They were brought to the camp about half a year before the liberation. We consulted with them about the program. Everyone said that we must show how we were burned, how we were suffocated in the gas chambers. I would not hear of this suggestion. How could we show these things? It would be a real desecration.
A girl of about thirteen years of age, the actress among them, sat at a distance. I asked her opinion, and she answered simply: My opinion is completely different. We should only show a picture of the built-up Land of Israel and sing songs of Zion. If they are our friends, the Americans and the English, they will be happy. If they are our enemies, they will burst. She justified the expression she had used, saying, Before my stay in the camp, I would not have used that word and bent her head. Her suggestion was adopted.
The party was held at the conclusion of the Shavuot holiday. The hall was decorated. Although we were dressed in prisoners' uniforms, a sort of festiveness anointed us all. Members of the American Army command came, about thirty officers. The curtain rose. After the camp administrator's words of explanation, Chanale came on stage, went over to a pile of broken stones and bricks, and put up a piece of paper, on which was written The end of ghettos, the destruction of the Diaspora!. Fervently and emotionally, she said, In the name of the youth that has survived, I declare, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, 'I give thanks to You, O Lord, for You were angry with me', for only then did I understand, that there is no place for us in the Diaspora. This was a sublime moment. We rose from our places. Quiet weeping was heard in the hall. The Americans were bewildered. They did not understand what had happened. When we translated her words, they also stood, and then, as though ashamed, sat down. We sang songs of Zion and presented scenes of life in Israel expressing the joy of creativity and work. With the song HaTikva, the party ended. In the name of the American
Command, a high-ranking officer conveyed an American flag to the camp administrator, and said, Things like this are conferred only to governments. As a symbol of recognition, we are giving it to you. We are highly impressed. We want to select young women from here to go to New York as Magen David Adom nurses.
Where is this? In which country? From the United States?, we asked.
Sir, I said, cosmopolitanism is wonderful, but it is not right if only Jews are its supporters. We, too, want to go home. We have a country, and its name is Israel. You will be doing us a favor if you help us and hasten our departure. I saw an officer standing before me, tears flowing from his eyes.
The next day, he came over to me and said, All of you are absolutely right to want only to go to Israel. In free America, there is a law in colleges of numerus clausus regarding Jews. In addition, if a Jew wants to [use his influence and do] someone a favor, he must masquerade as an American.
I understood his words. It is not worth mentioning names. As the Gemara says: Your friend has a friend, and your friend's friend has a friend
These are the two deeds.
An invitation was sent to us, the survivors, to return to Europe, which was soaked in our blood, to rebuild it. The style of the invitation was thus: You Jews are like the dust of the earth you are always trampled underfoot like dust. But this dust of the earth is excellent building material. The Jews should contribute their share to the rebuilding of Europe.
Our vehement, unflinching answer is: No, we will not return to build. We did not destroy and we will not build. Let those who destroyed build. We want to go to Israel. Do not think that our strong love of Zion is the consequence of anti-Semitism, and that because there is no place for us in the Diaspora, we want to go to Israel. No, it is not a negative reason. And negation comes only from the positive. We want to go to Israel because our home is here. Even if your invitations were wholehearted, even if anti-Semitism disappeared completely, even if the earth did not burn under our feet in the Diaspora even then we would not return to the Diaspora, because without the Land of Israel, we cannot exist. It is impossible for an independent Jewish soul to live among the Gentiles. Our desire is to come here, to live as Jews among Jews in our land, according to our holy Torah, because the Torah has taught us the love of Zion. Through it, love for the Land of Israel grew in us. We could smell the scent of the Cedars of Lebanon in the words of the Torah. In the words of the Torah, we heard the deepest secrets of the waves of the Jordan. In the words of the Torah, we felt the dew of the Hermon, and the vigor of the Land of our Fathers, who bought it with their hearts' blood.
In the words of the prophets, where they are serene and quiet, as well as sublime, the beautiful skies of our land were reflected back at us in all their splendor. Now, we want this to be not merely longing. We want to come to this reality. It has been made clear to us that we must not rely only on Our Father in Heaven. It is clear to us that we must turn to you, the Jews. Do you know that after the Liberation, approximately 3,500 Jews died in the camps? If there had been a warm hand to take care of them, they could have lived. When we talk about the annihilation of six million, it is impossible to comprehend the number 3,500. All these numbers are beyond human comprehension. There is only one way to understand these losses, even a little. According to the Gaon, Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, Head of the Hebron Yeshiva, we must consider the words of Amos, and I will make it as the mourning for an only child. There is no one in Israel who will not have a share in the destruction. His part in the mourning is that of a man for his father and his mother. A man for his brother and his kin. A man for his teacher or his student, a man for his friend and lover. Let each make for himself mourning for an only child. Then perhaps he will grasp a small part of this sorrow. How is it possible not to do anything? We explain to ourselves that our kinsmen remain in the camps and, after all the troubles they went through, now, after the liberation, the danger of illness, of atrophy, of death await them. We were educated and raised according to If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning. We must understand that the time requires us to think: If I forget the Diaspora, let my right hand lose its cunning. Our fellow Jews await our help. Will we not answer them, Heaven forbid?
The Diaspora demands that every Jew lend a hand in the rescue, because this way, every Jew will be saved. The love of God, the love of Israel this is the decisive obligation. When they asked the Agudat Yisrael delegates at the investigatory committee if they, as Torah observers, preferred the entry into Israel of Torah-observant Jews, their answer was, Every Jew, as a Jew, has a right to enter. This is the correct and proud reply. We feel the love of Israel for every Jew. Soon the
stony heart will be removed from the free [nonobservant] Jew, and he will return to the Source. Is it impossible to demand the love of Israel for a Jew who is true to God? The time has come to destroy all false polemics. What is essential is rescue.
The survivors' opinion is: if the Hebrew heart will open fully, the gates will open. They have empowered me to say to you, in the words of Micah: The breaker is gone up before them; they have broken forth and passed on by the gate, and are gone out thereat. We are the children of kings and have the right to break all fences and gates. We have been disappointed by every promise of the Gentiles. For us, the steadfast words of God live and exist, received from his prophets, and we will soon see their fulfillment! On that day, I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up its breaches, and I will raise up its ruins, and build it as in days of old And I will plant them on their land, and never again will they be uprooted from their land which I have given them, says the Lord, your God.
It was during the time of the war. I chanced on one of the refugee camps in the forest near Bari, Italy, a place of concentration of refugees moored in illegal ships A dark night, drizzling rain. I applied to the Secretariat, and inquired about relatives, in accordance with requests from people in Israel. Pesia was also on my list.
Pesia? She is here. She is our mother, they told me. She immediately appeared. She did not look at all like a mother, nor could it be seen that this young woman had gone through so many hardships, as I discovered later. I gave her greetings from her relatives and her eyes shone with tears of joy.
Highly educated, a religious woman, gifted, possessed of a wonderful oratorical talent she was a mother to all the refugees in the concentration camp.
I tried to have her transferred to the first boat due to sail. After three months, I returned to Israel from Italy. I rushed to meet her. The meeting was very emotional. I became even more agitated when she told me how she got to Israel with what hardships and pains, how she withstood them and how she strengthened the spirits of her fellow passengers on the boat. I invited her to spend the Sabbath at Degania. I gave her directions to get there, but she already knew them. When we passed Mount Tabor, she read out verses from the Pentateuch, and everything that had been said about Mount Tabor. She abounded in Torah and knowledge. At the Sabbath gathering, she told us about everything that had happened to her and what she had seen in the concentration camps. We were both horrified and charmed. The next day, I asked her to speak to our children. I was concerned about our Sabras, who do not like speeches. She spoke for a long time, and they were rooted to their places. When she finished, I asked my young son, Nu, so, did she speak for a long time? What do you mean long?, he replied, I wish she had kept on talking.
For some time, she was seen at gatherings on behalf of the Recruitment Fund. She founded a religious institution for children. She belonged to Agudat Yisrael, but she was far from identifying with them politically.
From time to time, I met her. Every meeting was an experience for me. She was holy, in the most exalted meaning of the word.
She married and went to the United States for a short time. She did not enjoy many good days. Everything she went through in the camps left a mark in her body, and she suffered a great deal from her illness.
I was told that in the last days of her life, she bore in her heart an idea that she wanted to discuss with Yosef Shprinzak and me. I regret that I was too late, and never saw her again.
But I number among the thousands for whom she was a mother.
We here did not know her and her origins. Only those of the Brigade who met Holocaust refugees in Europe were the first to know that such a pearl existed.
To us in Israel, she was revealed in her speech at the public meeting that took place at HaBima, a gathering on behalf of the Recruitment and Rescue Fund in December 1945.
This revelation surprised and stirred hearts. It was not a speech, nor was it an outcry by one who bore on her arm the number that was both cursed and holy. It was a wild declaration, a celebration of the testament of the six million who were annihilated
And in the testament was a command to life, to a renewed Zion. The testament was to the survivors, who should become rescuers that they should sanctify the lives of the nation and the building of the Holy Land, so beloved by Pesia.
And in her speech a supreme expression, fine words, the like of which we had almost never heard.
Her revelation to us surprised and agitated hearts.
Later, when we came to know her personally, she enchanted us with the charm and grace of her soul, with her character and her flurries of emotion.
Whoever knew her felt that this woman was born to an exalted mission for her nation and her land. Wisdom, understanding and knowledge nestled in Pesia's soul. She was all vitality and lively initiative.
Her great culture, both Hebrew and general, her idiomatic speech, her literary talent ensured her special place among the important women of our day, in the age of Zionism and national revival.
She was extremely religious, however, this religiosity was independently hers. Instead of religious, it is more correct to define her as believing. Belief radiated from her being. Perhaps she was the comely symbol of the notion of the welfare of Jewish beliefs. This religiosity, both universal and national, captured the hearts of the non-religious as well.
She was a Zionist from the strength of her belief and fervent hope for the future of her people. Every time I encounter the concepts of daughter of my people or daughter of Zion the figure of Pesia arises before me.
I saw her altogether once or twice in my life. But that was enough for her image to remain always before my eyes.
It was about 16-17 years ago, at the time of a meeting of the Jewish Community of Ostrolenka in Israel Committee, when we tried to lay the cornerstone of the first idea of publishing a Yizkor book. As soon as I saw her, I was charmed by the splendor of her radiant, noble face. I heard her talk and talk, and all of her words were brilliant, to the point and weighty with her drive, her deep wisdom and her sharp erudition After that, I did not see her again. Due to certain difficulties, and because all beginnings are difficult, years passed and the book still did not come out. Serious efforts were made only in the last two years, and we achieved what we did. The book was published, but Pesia did not get to see it.
Her death shocked us. It landed on us like an unexpected blow, because we were unaware of the entire progress of her illness, which drew the life out of her tortured body. A refugee from the Nazis' death camps, Pesia Szereszewska (Nasielski) was unable to bear the final cries of her sisters and brothers in Hitler's valley of murder. The echoes reverberated for a long time in her gentle, Jewish heart She called for the love of the Jewish people, and turned to all the Jews of the Diaspora to help transfer the Jews in European refugee camps to Israel as quickly as possible. She lived long enough to witness the establishment of the State, to
which she was bound with every fiber of her religious- Zionist soul.
Pesia did not win her personal life-and-death struggle against the destructive bacteria of the Nazis, planted in her body at the time [of the war] and revived after a brief interim, bringing about her death. She fell, like a hen that managed to fly, mortally wounded, from the hands of the slaughterer, and dripping blood, fluttered her wings, took a few steps and collapsed!
Pesia Szereszewska's radiant soul cast light into the hearts of every Ostrolenkan who knew her. She was destined to be a distinguished religious leader. We must study her words, so full of content, as pure, true Torah.
May her soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life.
With the passing of Rebbetzin Herzkowicz, may she rest in peace, not only her children and her family were orphaned of their mother, but hundreds and thousands of her students as well, spread all over Israel and the Diaspora. For she was not only an educator, but a loving mother. Besides Bejt Jakow students, whom she took under the wings of Torah education, many women mourned her, for Rebbetzin Herzkowicz, may she rest in peace, roused them to Judaism.
Indeed, she was a lofty and noble figure, an exemplary personality.
The Bejt Jakow movement knew very few women of her caliber. For Sara Schenirer, may she rest in peace, it was hard to find another student to help so many others realize the Bejt Jakow ideal, as did Rebbetzin Herzkowicz, may she rest in peace. For more than thirty-five years, this woman was one of the pillars of the Bejt Jakow movement and ultra-orthodox education in Israel.
She came from Polish Ostrolenka, from the home of her father, the Chassid and teacher, Reb Awraham Josef Nasielski, of blessed memory, head of the Rabbinical Seminary of the yeshiva of the Admor, Rabbi Aharele Hofstzejn of Kurzeniec, may God avenge his blood, a prominent Gur Chassid. Reb Awraham Josef was a very God-fearing man, a fervent Chassid, who studied Torah day and night. He raised a fine family. He had only one son and several daughters. This Chassid invested great efforts in his daughters' education. His daughter, Basia Lea, left her father's home equipped and permeated with knowledge of Judaism and enormous erudition in the Sayings of Our Sages, with fervor, enthusiasm and an inexhaustible treasure of Yirat Shamaim [fear of Heaven].
From this splendid home also came her sister, Pesia Szereszewska, may she rest in peace, the well-known ultra-orthodox community worker and author.
Rebbetzin Herzkowicz, may she rest in peace, saw her life's mission, her exalted and highly refined ideal, in her work for Bejt Jakow. Even in her youth, she began to be prominent for her rare talents, her captivating rhetorical ability, her ardor and influence. When she was only sixteen years old, she spoke before an audience of ten thousand people in the Warsaw city hall square, and made an enormous impression.
She was a devoted student of Sara Schenirer, and a partner in her great life's work. When Mrs. Schenirer went on a campaign to capture [hearts and minds] all over Poland, with the intention of opening Bejt Jakow schools in every city and town, she took Basia Herzkowicz with her to help promote the idea. In her, she saw huge educational and persuasive power, despite her very young age. Once, during one of their trips, when she spoke many times during the course of three days, she was invited to speak again on Wednesday. She maintained that this was beyond her strength. Mrs. Schenirer, however, did not give up: You begin and God will help you to continue
She completely devoted her days and nights and her talents to the exalted Bejt Jakow mission. She traveled from city to city, established an ultra-orthodox school in Ostrolenka, the city of her birth, and in Poltusk, and worked with Mrs. Chawa Landsberg, may she rest in peace. She took upon herself the task of administering the Bejt Jakow in Chelm. She married her husband, the Gaon and Chassid, Rabbi Szymon Aron Herzkowicz, may he live a good, long life (now Rabbi of the Agudat Chachmei Slavita in Bnei Brak), and they established a splendid Jewish home. Despite the pressures of home and their children's education, she did not desert her position at the educational front for a moment.
In 1932, she and her husband emigrated to Israel. He was appointed Rabbi of Tel Amal near Haifa, and she found a broad field for charitable work in the children's institutions of the area, and at the Tipat Chalav clinic [drop of milk well-baby clinics in Israel]. After a time, her husband became the administrator of the Torat Emet Talmud Torah in Haifa.
She worked very hard and invested all the fervor of her soul in the students' development, and as an extremely devoted mother, loving, affectionate and dedicated.
After a number of years, they moved to Tel Aviv. There, she taught in a Beit Yakov Seminary and left her impression of hundreds of students, instilling in them the spirit of Torah and Yirat Shamaim. At the same time, she served as Chairwoman of the Women and Girls of Agudat Yisrael in Tel Aviv. Her limitless dynamic power found an outlet in educating the generations. She organized women's circles and parties, and gave speeches and lectures. She especially excelled in Torah commentaries and Tales of the Sages. Whenever they heard her speak, her listeners were amazed.
She took care that her children received a good education and, for this reason, the family moved to Jerusalem. The War of Independence came and Jerusalem was besieged. During this period, the figure of Rebbetzin Herzkowicz, may she rest in peace, shines with additional radiance. She excelled in marvelous acts of charity. Her devotion and care for others knew no bounds. Every day, she cooked tasty meals for those who could not leave their homes to get food. She was not deterred by the shells exploding around her, but refused to allow anyone else to accompany her and endanger himself as well. She was stringent only as it concerned herself, and was lenient concerning others.
She had a strong, flinty sense of confidence and absolute faith in God and His help. She also knew how to instill this feeling in others. With the end of the battles and the liberation of Jerusalem, she took an educational system upon herself again. Rebbetzin Herzkowicz ran about, exerting herself, utilizing every way and opportunity to acquire for the Beit Yakov Seminary the big house on Givat [Hill] Shahin, in the Katamon neighborhood, from the military government. Her mission was successful. The house was transferred to the seminary and thousands of future mothers were educated there. For a number of years, she filled the role of educator at the seminary, inspiring her students with her grand spirit and creating an environment in the spirit of Sara Schenirer. She was also prominent in community work, as a speaker who captured hearts in election campaigns for the First and Second Knesset assemblies, and as a superb lecturer on subjects of Judaism in women's circles and religious organizations.
More years passed. The family moved to Bnei Brak. Her husband, the rabbi, was one of the city's prominent Torah personalities. He established Torah lessons, spoke and sermonized in public and published important books about Jewish law. She dedicated herself to the establishment of an ultra-orthodox school for girls, which she administered, making a supreme effort even during the year of her illness, until the last months of her life. Her illness became more severe and she was taken to Jerusalem. On Sunday, November 5, 1961, she returned her pure soul to her Creator, at the age of 51.
Alas for those who were lost, and will not be forgotten!
He was born in Ostrolenka (Poland) in 5641 (1881).
When he was very young, his father, Reb Natan Cwi, a book seller, sent him to learn with the Gaon Rabbi Awraham of Soczaczow, and then with Rabbi Eliahu Singer, the Rabbi of Kalisz.
Still a very young man, he was certified for instruction by Rabbi Milchael Tenenbojm, author of Divrei Milchael; the Rabbi of Lomza, Rabbi Mosze Nachum Jeruzalimski; the Rabbi of Kielc and Rabbi Szymon Dow of Siedlce.
His first rabbinate was in Czerwin, in the Lomza region, Ostrolenka district (1908-1914). Then he was retained as Rabbi of the city of Chorzel. After a short time, however, World War I broke out and all the Jews of the city, which was near the German border, were expelled. He arrived in Warsaw as a refugee, and remained there for two years. He devoted himself temporarily to community work and was one of the heads of the refugee assistance committee. In 1918, he was appointed Rabbi in Ciechanow, and served in that rabbinate for twenty-five years, with the exception of two years (1922-1923), when he was in America on a mission for the community, together with Rabbi Trojb of Kutna.
When he was in America, he also served as the rabbi of the synagogue of the Lubavitcher Chassidim in Chicago.
In 1939, about two months before World War II broke out, he went to England, again on a mission for the community. Because of the war, he decided to remain there for a few years, until he could emigrate to Israel.
In Poland, he was considered among the great rabbis. He was a Torah scholar and very active in community work. For many years, he was a member of the executive committee of the Polish rabbinical organization. He was liked and accepted in rabbinic circles, and was an intimate of the courts of the Admorim. Although he was an Alexander Chassid, and was even related to the family of the Admor of Alexander he was a loyal Zionist, and one of the first Polish rabbis who united around the Mizrachi organization. He was very active in the movement, in writing and speech. He also filled roles in the movement's administration. For a time, he was a member of the executive committee of the Mizrachi organization in Poland. The Assembly of Mizrachi Rabbis in Poland was established at his initiative and he headed it. During his stay in England, he served as Vice President of the Mizrachi there and participated in conferences of World Mizrachi and in the 12th, 13th and 14th Zionist Congresses.
He visited Israel in 1926 and 1936. He settled there in 1943, and was appointed Rabbi-Av Beit Din of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. He served in this position until his last days. He was also appointed Chairman of Religious Education in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. After the passing of the Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, of blessed memory, he was active in the Mizrachi movement in Israel and spread Torah. He published many articles in periodicals in Israel and abroad: HaMizrachi, Die Yiddisher Schtimmer, HaTzofe and others. He wrote many books about Jewish law and homiletic literature, many of which remain in manuscript form.
The following appeared in print:
Otzar HeChaim, Piotrkow 1930, new interpretations of Jewish law and Aggadah; Omar u'Devarim (1935), sermons on the Torah portions of the week from Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus (the rest in manuscript form); Stirat Z'kenim (1948), about the Sayings of the Sages regarding Jewish law and Aggadah (an additional portion still in manuscript form).
He also published Jewish law articles to clarify the
question of milking on the Sabbath (1946) and Traveling on an Airplane on the Sabbath, Sinai, Volume 14, pages 129-135, with particular attention to problems of the time and the need to build a renewed Jewish settlement.
In the bibliography:
Netiva, booklet, January 1936;
Tel Aviv Municipal News, Nissan-Iyar [Hebrew months] (19th year, Edition 9-10), page 144;
Bamisila, April-May 1950, page 16;
HaHed, Booklet 6, February 1950;
HaTzofe, 30 August 1943, 26 February and 5 March 1950, March 1951;
Encyclopedia of Religious Zionism, published by Musar HaRav Kook, Volume A, pages 385/87.
He had a reputation in the rabbinic world as one of the most important rabbis (writes Y. Beharav in HaBoker, 10 Adar II 5703, 17.3.43), and one of the rarest figures of the scholarly world.
A fervent Lover of Zion, he did much for the good of building the Land. He was among the heads of Mizrachi in Poland. It should be mentioned that he wrote the declaration of the Mizrachi organization in Poland.
He also excelled as a sermonizer and speaker who knew how to blend homilies with the modern style of preaching. His books on matters of Jewish law and Aggadah made an enormous impression on the world of the rabbis and exegesists.
His ability in rulings is seen in the pamphlet, Mayim Chaim, appended to his great book, Otzar HeChaim, where one discovers his marvelous expertise in the Early and Late Commentaries, his precise perception of every detail, and delving into every aspect of the heter v'issur [permitting and forbidding].
When World War II broke out, the rabbi was in England on a mission for the community, and was retained as Rabbi of the city of Leeds. He was also appointed Vice President of the Mizrachi organization in England and Ireland, and was a member of the Jewish Council for the Jews of Poland.
He did great work in all areas there, too, in particular, for the emigration to Israel of yeshiva students who had fled to Vilna and other neutral places.
To this end, he established a special committee and was in constant contact with the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, the righteous of blessed memory. Many articles were published in Jewish English newspapers regarding Rabbi Braunrot's activities to save Jewish survivors in Europe.
He stood resolutely for the honor of Torah and the rabbinate.
In his article, On the Question of the Communities and the Rabbinate (Yerushalayim, a monthly rabbinic anthology, Warsaw, September 1936, published by Knesset HaRabanim HaMizrachiim in Poland), he wrote:
And this ugly negotiation on the rabbi and rabbinate is not always done in the same way and in the same coin, but sometimes for money, sometimes by bartering, sometimes by verbal agreement But sometimes it happens that it is done without any possession of Torah. Sometimes, it has other kinds of benefits: sometimes because the candidate for the rabbinic seat whispers the prayer said after receiving a blow, sometimes because he professes the unity of God's Kingdom in secret and so on.
This trading for the rabbi and rabbinate has emptied communities of their sanctity and they continue to backslide, continue to be destroyed. Who will make a fence? The new community elders? And who will stand in the breach? The new member of the community?
When he served as Rabbi-Av Beit Din of one of the important courts of the Chief Rabbinate of Tel Aviv- Jaffa, he delved into the problem of rabbinic judgment concerning the Israeli legal structure since the establishment of the State (written by Rabbi Y. P. Tchorsz, HaTzofe, 15 Adar 5710, 5.3.1950). He published articles concerning matters of Torah law and, in his thinking, formed a perfect plan to organize the rabbinical law courts in general, and to arrange a system of statutes and laws according to the Torah in particular. By nature, he was good-tempered and loved the Jewish people. Love of peace was part and parcel of his soul; fairness, sensitivity and nobility were characteristic of him.
In the Mizrachi movement, he mediated between youths and the elderly. He pursued peace and loved harmony and perfect work. He was agreeable and accepted by all his colleagues and the entire public. Although still young in spirit and fresh in his actions, his continual work in the law court irked him greatly. It resulted in severe heart disease, which shortened his end; his life was stopped in the middle of its song. He passed away in Tel Aviv on 7 Adar [February 24] 5710 (1950).
Alas for those who were lost, and will not be forgotten!
May his soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life.
Writer, teacher and educator.
Reb Israel, of blessed memory, lived for many years in Lomza, the city where I spent my youth. He was a close neighbor. He lived on Rzondowa Street, where my family also lived.
Great interest drew me to the Lewinski family home. I was like a member of the family there while still very young. I saw in him a person of solid character, a man of deep ethics, who clung to truth and justice. The founding of the Improved Heder and other things attest to this. It is interesting the writing ability he had, he bequeathed to his family. He waited patiently for his time to come. Although he was a reserved person, his candor was sometimes limitless. He was a fervent Zionist. It may be said that he was a die rather than transgress Zionist, who lived both the good and bad aspects of Zionism. When he arrived in Israel, he was prepared to begin everything anew. A Jew of the old generation, youthful desire always pulsed in him. He was always vigorous. When I visited him during the last months before his passing, I was surprised at his assertiveness and alertness. Again, he proved the idea that the soul is as eternal as the sun; it never ages in man, not even for a day or an hour. The soul leaves the old, broken body while it is still young. When I asked him why he had begun to write and publish so late, he answered, Late? It is never too late He was alert until he reached advanced old age. He remembered the reckoning of every little thing. He bore his Jewishness and his humanity with pride to his last days.
He was born in Kadzid³a (Ostrolenka district) in 1871 (5631), the son of Efraim Jehuda and Rachel Lewinsky (Lewita), and descended from the author of Tosfot Yom Tov (therefore, many of his family members bear the name Yom Tov). Until the age of ten, he studied in Kadzid³a or Myszyniec. By the age of eleven, he studied with his eldest brother in Myszyniec and, later, in the Lomza Yeshiva. After four years, he went to Vilna and studied general studies. When he reached army age, he was sent to the Grenadierów Division, located near Moscow. He was quickly released because of near-sightedness, and married a woman from the city of Zambrow. His father-in-law promised to support him permanently, but a fire broke out in Zambrow and destroyed all his father-in-law's property. Then he went to the city of Wachock and became a teacher. From then on, he was fated to be a teacher and educator. He was examined in the gymnasium [secondary school] in the city of Poltusk and, there, received his license to teach. In Zambrow, he taught Russian in heders. His reputation preceded him. He came to Lidowna (Jedwabne) and established a Hebrew school there. Later, he was called on to teach in Lomza. There, he established the Improved Heder (the Torah Vedaat School), wrote in the newspaper of the time, the Lomzer Schtimmer, and gave Hebrew classes in the evenings to adult women. His lessons excelled because they were unique and unusual for heders at the time. Besides Hebrew, he taught Pentateuch and history. Thanks to him, the Improved Heder developed. After only a short time, it employed four teachers. Acceding to the demands of his children, he emigrated to Israel in 1935, and lived in Tel Aviv. Here, the writer in him suddenly awoke, and he wrote serialized children's stories, as well as scientific articles in children's newspapers, such as Davar LeYiladim, HaBoker LeYiladim and HaTzofe. Like an overflowing fountain, writing ability sprung up, which had been hidden inside him all his life. While still in Vilna, he took an active part in youth publications in
The Red Book by Avraham Litwak, called Yisrael Ostrolenka. He was also active on the editorial staff of the Yizkor book of the Lomzans. He wrote, translated and helped publish it. In the Yizkor book of Ostrolenka, as well, he wrote an article called Kadzid³a, where he was born. Although he reached a ripe old age (93), his desire to write, to learn and to live was like a young man's, worthy of admiration.
Apparently, there is an end to everything and every person. Suddenly, he fell on hard ground, was seriously hurt and taken immediately to the hospital, where he passed away. He left three sons (one of whom is the folklorist, Dr. Yom-Tov Lewinsky) and a daughter. They all reside in Tel Aviv.
(Known by the name of M. Graf)
He was born in 1908 in Ostrolenka, the son of the Rabbi of Sziadowa, Rabbi Menachem Meir Grabie. He studied in heders and yeshivas, and in Tachkimoni for general studies. In 1928, he began to publish stories in the Orthodox newspaper in Warsaw, Der Yod. Later, he was one of the editors of the daily newspaper, Heintike Neies, in which he published his light feuilletons. From 1935-1937, he also worked at the Warsaw Heint, and traveled on behalf of the newspaper to Jewish settlements all over Poland, publishing interesting articles about them.
I do not know of his later fate. At the beginning of World War II, Note Grabie disappeared, and no one heard of him anymore.
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