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[Page 266]

About my City Podhajce,
About my Parents and Brother who Perished in the Holocaust

by Menachem Ettinger

Translated by Jerrold Landau

May G-d remember the soul of my revered father Reb Aharon Shmuel Ettinger and the soul of my revered mother Chaya Ettinger, and their young son Abba Ettinger, who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis, and the souls of my brothers Gedalya and Yitzchak who went to their eternal world.

I was ten years old when I first left my native city of Podhajce. I fled to Hungary along with my mother, my eldest brother and my grandfather, on account of the tribulations of the First World War, and especially on because of the fear of encountering the Russian Cossacks. The fact that our journey, along with the journey of the rest of the refugees, was arranged by the Austrian government, or as we used to say – by the Kaiser Franz Josef himself – is etched in my mind. At that time, my father was serving in the Austrian Army, and had been sent to Czechoslovakia.

We returned home after about four years. The town was almost completely destroyed. The good name of Franz Josef was again mentioned as the one who gave the money to restore the ruins. Slowly, life returned to its normal course, but I had become a different person. I no longer had the calm of a child living under the wings of his parents. The feeling of lack of security grew in me day by day. I would often say to my father of blessed memory: “I cannot remain here, for here there is nobody we can trust. The Poles are on one side, the Ukrainians on the other side – (These were the residents of Podhajce in addition to the Jews), is it possible to believe that we can trust them?” I did not realize at that time how correct my words were, not only with respect to the situation that pervaded after the First World War, but primarily with respect to the great Holocaust.

I remained with my parents for only another two years, and I tried to assist them to the best of my efforts. However, I finally decided to actualize my desire and to leave the place. I set out toward Vienna, the capital city of Austria.

My father of blessed memory accompanied me to Lvov. As we sat on the train car, he said sadly, “Who knows if I will see you again?”… My dear father was indeed correct! However, I did not think at all about that at the time – that I would never visit my native city again nor see my beloved family again, Mother, Father and my brothers.

They stand before me as if alive: Father with a refined countenance and melancholy nobility etched on his face. Sadness peered from his good eyes even when he would smile. Indeed, from where would the happiness come? He lived with the constant pressure of the livelihood of the family, especially when we returned to the town after the war. In order to sustain his family of seven – five sons and a wife – he had to toil very hard. The livelihood of the family came from a store which stood in the market, in one line with similar stores owned by Jews. The store sold shoes and hides, merchandise for the farmers of the region who would come to this center for purchases, especially on the market day, which was Thursday. Every storeowner attempted to attract the purchasers, to speak to the gentile in the language that he would understand, to make promises and lower the prices – for the most important thing was to sell and to receive cash. Father spent most of the hours of the day in the store, and often also the evenings. The Sabbaths and festivals were dedicated to Torah, for my father was a scholar, who could understand the small letters. I can see him sitting next to the table in the large room, with a Gemara opened before him. He would study the page quietly, without raising his voice. My late father had a very sweet voice. Father was the regular Torah reader and prayer leader in our synagogue, the Temple. Father would often stir up the hearts of the worshippers with his prayers, for he understood the content of the prayers and would worship with deep religious emotion. He would often move the hearts of his listeners to the point of tears.

Mother of blessed memory was a typical Jewish mother, “A Yiddishe Mama”. She would help father in the store with all her strength, as is written, “a helpmate for him”[1]. In the home she was a merciful mother who spread her wings over her five sons in order to warm them and protect them. Poor mother did not succeed in saving them from their bitter fate! My mother spent all the days of the week with my father in the store. However, after the market day on Thursday she would spend all of her time, day and night, preparing for the Sabbath. She would bake challas for the Sabbath every week, and prepare special delicacies that we loved – puddings, dumplings, stuffed fish, and of course cholent. Nothing was lacking on the Sabbath. The food was like that of a king, as if she wanted to pacify us on account of the ordinary food of the week. She also cleaned the house on Fridays. Everything was shiny and polished in the house. How did she have the strength for all of this? We never heard any complaint from her mouth, not against us and certainly not against father. The relations between them were of honor and love, and they served as an example for us.

I recall my eldest brother Gedalya very well. He had a difficult fate. He became seriously ill in his childhood, and he suffered for many years. Whenever he had the strength, he tried to help our parents, but at the end of his life he could not even do this. Only one mercy came to him – he died a natural death during the first year of the Second World War, and the hand of the cruel enemy did not touch him.

I did not know my two young brothers in Podhajce; for they were born after I left the town. However, the bitter fate did not pass over them, even though I succeeded in bringing them to the Land while there was still time. My brother Fishel remains seriously handicapped after being injured during his service in the brigade. My youngest brother Yitzchak perished in a fatal accident while he was fulfilling his duty as a captain in the Israel Defense Forces.

I did not know my youngest brother Abba at all. He was the youngest child in the family, and was brought with my parents to the death camp of Sobibor. He perished along with them at the age of 21.

How and when did this take place? It seems to me that there is no accurate testimony about this to this day. I only know what is known to the rest of the people who lost their dear ones in Podhajce. On the eve of Yom Kippur of 1942, the Gestapo surrounded the Jews of the city who had gathered for the Kol Nidre prayer, and took them out cruelly from the house of prayer, to take them on their final journey…

The prayer hall from which the worshippers were taken was in the home of my parents in the ghetto. Father of blessed memory, the regular cantor of the Temple synagogue, stood on his duty, fulfilling his final task.

Thus do I remain as almost the only survivor of a large family that was cruelly killed.

I remain, to remember everything – and I will not forget anything.

May G-d avenge their deaths.

pod267.jpg
The Ettinger family in 1928
From right to left: Reb Aharon Shmuel Ettinger of blessed memory,
his wife Chaya Ettinger of blessed memory, and the sons Abba of
blessed memory
and Fishel, may he live. Standing, the eldest son
Gedalya of blessed memory, and Yitzchak of blessed memory

 

[Page 268]

 

pod268a.jpg
pod268b.jpg
Berta Enis of blessed
memory (nee Kleinrok).

Wife of Dr. Enis. Murdered
during one of the aktions
Moshe Erde of blessed memory.
An important Zionist activist.
Perished along with his wife Klara
(nee Velger)
, and their son David

 

pod268c.jpg
Blumenstein family
Most of them perished in the Holocaust


Translator's Footnote

  1. From Genesis, the description of Eve's relationship to Adam. Return

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