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[Page 504]

Dr. Yitzchak Nehmer And His Wife Fani

 

Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

 

The man and the community worker

Yaffa Lerner

Dr. Nehmer was not born nor did he grow up in Sanok. However, when he settled here and began his practice, the town became a home to him, and its Jewish residents were like the people of his own birthplace. He quickly set down roots and established connections with the local Jews.

As a man and a Jew with a warm and caring heart for community problems, he reached, through his social work, the level of leadership within a short period of time. He was chosen to head the Jewish community in town, and was elected chairman of the Zionist organization in Sanok.

He was, by nature, a quiet man, performing his work quietly and calmly, with carefully thought-out steps, but with firmness.

Dr. Nehmer's house was a gathering place for the members of the Zionist movement in town, a place of meeting and deliberation concerning matters of the movement and the community in general. On Sundays, when his attorney's office was closed, the town's communal workers gathered in his house for consultations and discussions. He was always at the center of things, dispensing advice in his calm, clever manner. Every Zionist leader or communal worker that voted in Sanok in matters of the Zionist movement was received by Dr. Nehmer and his wife Fani and welcomed into their home with the proper respect. Fani too, was an enthusiastic Zionist activist and served as the president of WIZO in our town.

I had the pleasure of having a close relationship with him. I worked for him for several years, and learned much from him. I will never forget his genteel appearance, good-heartedness, honesty and purity of soul.

His strongest aspiration was to make aliya and settle in the Land of Israel. He expressed this aspiration to me in the many letters he wrote to me after my own aliya. He was not satisfied with communal work alone. He also strove for the realization of Zionism. To our regret and tragedy, he did not live to fulfill this.


His personality

Zosia Kempler-Leif

He never spoke in a loud voice. I cannot recall ever hearing him laugh out loud. Everyone remembers how he was able to hide his feelings each time he bade goodbye to someone who was leaving for the Land of Israel.

[Page 505]

The last time I saw him cry like a child was in one of the fateful days of September 1939, when the Nazi murderers occupied our town. A tax was levied upon the Jewish community, and bitter fate placed upon Dr. Nehmer the tragic and difficult responsibility of collecting the money from the population. I remember the moment when he came to my parents' home. Instead of saying something about the amount we were required to pay, he burst into tears, and we all cried with him. His quiet weeping broke hearts, maybe because of his own impending fate.

We do not have precise details about his final days, and absolutely no idea about the circumstances, place and date of his death. I am convinced, however, that even the last steps at the end of his life were taken by Dr. Nehmer with his characteristic calmness, with gentility and with honor.


Aizik Wenig

Yisrael Lembach

An idealist, a halutz [pioneer], descended from a distinguished family of merchants. He did not want to follow the trade tradition of his parents, because he saw no purpose in it, neither for himself nor for the Jewish people. The era in which he lived was a stormy one, with battles for the rights of the working person and for a Jewish home in the Land of Israel. He was able to combine these two goals and created of them a synthesis. He set for himself the goal of establishing and building the Land of Israel as the Jewish home through physical labor, and not remaining a theoretical fighter for these ideals. He brought them to fruition in his actual life, rejected the wealth of his home, left his parents and travelled with other halutzim to the Land of Israel to realize the dream. It was not easy to enter the country. The gates were closed. The work was difficult. Illness dogged their every step. We are not even discussing the Arab attacks. He worked through every level of labor. He built houses, roads, worked in the fields, was sick more than once, was unemployed, and hungry many times. The years of hard work in the Land broke him down physically, made him sick and forced him to return to Poland in order to support himself and regain his health. During this period of enforced respite in Poland, he did not abandon his work for the Land of Israel. Within the framework of his party, Poalei Zion, where he was the living spirit, the chairman, the secretary and the caretaker, he continued his battle for the right of the Jewish worker, for free aliya and build-up. He participated in all aid organizations for the Land of Israel, financially and ideologically. He never thought about his own future, about having his own family life. More than once, he heard bitter words about this from his family. His consolation, as it was for many others, was that he would once again return to the Land of Israel, but the facts struck down his illusions.

[Page 506]

Dr. Shmuel Ohrenstein and His Wife Zahava (Oren)

Dr. Julius Ohren

My father, Shmuel Ohrenstein, was born the 20th of June, 1877 to Moshe and Matilda, wealthy merchants in Zheshov (Rayshe). During the '90's of the last century, a severe crisis developed in their family, and my father, who was very young at that time, had to step up and begin working in order to ensure the livelihood of the entire family. This help was also necessary later, on a larger scale because it was also extended to all the brothers so that they could complete their education.

As a youth, Dr. Ohrenstein became part of the Zionist movement. Throughout his entire life, he was deeply involved in the Zionist idea, in the all-inclusive concept of the revival of our nation, and in the building of the Land. From then on, his consistent path in both thought and life, especially with his family, was giving his children a Zionist education in a deep Zionist spirit which filled his home, and sending his children to the Land of Israel. Apart from that, he was involved in the Zionist activity, both in the organizational aspect of the town's community work, and the benefit of the national funds in which he excelled, not only as a speaker and fund-raiser, but also as one who made generous contributions, being one of the wealthiest Jews in town.

Most especially energetic was Dr. Ohrenstein's activity for the strengthening of the aliya to the Land of Israel. As chairman of the organization Ezra, whose task it was to help immigrants by financing their aliya, he was especially influential. Many halutzim from our town and surrounding areas benefited from help from Ezra in realizing their aliya.

Dr. Ohrenstein was also active in other social areas of our community. During WWI, with the sudden rise in need and hunger which engulfed us, he actively participated in organizing a kitchen for the needy. During the typhus epidemic, he, his brother, Dr. Isidor Ohrenstein, Dr. Rammer, and Dr. Herzig, with the help of rich Jews in town, founded the hospital. Helping those who were sick was his foremost concern. Following the war's end, when it was necessary to help the surviving orphans, he was very influential in the establishment of the orphanage. All of his free time was devoted to this institution, in which he was active as treasurer and bookkeeper. He did the work with enthusiasm, devotion and precision, and he was well regarded in the financial circles.

[Page 507]

Therefore, it almost became a tradition that during all public evenings and gatherings benefiting the institution, he was always entrusted with the money.

After WWI, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell apart, and the Polish power began to mount anti-Semitic pogroms, Dr. Ohrenstein and his friends organized a self-help which consisted of demobilized Jewish soldiers. He himself spent many nights standing guard, armed only with a stick, but more than once he managed to rescue Jews from the hands of the hooligans.

Over a period of many long years, Dr. Ohrenstein was chairman of the community in Sanok. Thanks to his leadership, the community was successful in reducing its deficits. As a lawyer and proud nationalistic Jew, he was always careful to safeguard the professional ethics and also protect the special Jewish interests. Therefore, even outspoken anti-Semitists valued and respected him. He especially excelled in the area of real estate, and knew how to make the necessary effort on behalf of the side that he defended. In addition to all of this, he had the reputation of being honest and trustworthy.

After the outbreak of WWII, he left for Lemberg [Lviv] along with his family. The Soviets chased him away into deep Russia together with his family. Because of his advanced age, he was exempt from hard physical labor. However, even there he remained true to his principles: justice, righteousness, clean hands, feeling of responsibility and love for Israel. In all of this, he worked more than his strength allowed, even in conditions of need and hunger. He did not look for easy ways, as did many others, to improve his desperate condition. He wanted to be with his brothers at the time they were in need – a true “brother in need.” He died in 1942 through loss of his strength due to his troublesome times in Russia. “May his soul be bound in the bond of the living!”

Zahava Oren (Gusta Ohrenstein)

Gusta was raised in her father's house, a Maskil [a man with general education, in addition to his Jewish studies] in Yaroslav. She received a Jewish and general education, studied languages and also gained a broad knowledge of piano playing. She loved music, and loved reading a good book. She knew how to be influential in her surroundings. This helped her to achieve status in her relationship with people, even during the bitter times that struck the Polish Jewry, and especially her family in Russia, where they virtually suffered hunger.

Her community activity, beside her husband, Dr. Shmuel Ohrenstein, was unbounded and untiring. Following the outbreak of WWI, when many Jews lost their means of livelihood, and hunger became a frequent visitor in their homes, she began to help in setting up the

[Page 508]

Jewish people's kitchen. With enthusiasm and love for the orphans, she joined the efforts to establish the orphanage along with her husband. She was also active in WIZO, where she often presented readings on current Zionist topics and maintained a letter-writing contact with Dr. Meyer Ebner, the well-known Zionist activist, Jewish senator in Rumania and leader of the Bukovina Jewry.

After WWII, when Polish citizens who had been sent in 1940 to Russia were repatriated, she returned to Poland as well.

Several months later, she began to prepare for aliya. This was not an easy task. She crossed the Elsa River, not without danger, and also crossed the borders through the Alps, knowing full well her goal, to reach the land that was always in her dreams.

After long wanderings, she arrived in Italy, and immediately found her place in Kibbutz Via Latina in Rome and contributed with her blessed and useful work.

One year later, she boarded the old and decrepit ship Moledet, which sailed from the small Italian port of Mata Fonte with illegal immigrants. The ship was very crowded. Instead of several hundred people, there were 1,500 Jews on the ship. Right after setting sail, a serious defect developed in the engine, and “we began to lurch over the waves of the stormy ocean.” At that time, as well, Mrs. Oren helped to strengthen the immigrants in their confused situation. Suddenly, several British warships appeared and the illegal immigrants were taken away to Haifa, where they were gathered together on one ship and transferred to Cyprus. They declared a protest strike. Zahava too, did not eat for two days. In Cyprus a place for them to sleep had not been prepared, and Zahava, already a woman of 67 years, lay upon the cold floor, without a quilt or blanket. Yet she was always optimistic and served as an example of courage for everybody.

When, through the efforts of her children in Eretz Israel, she was granted a certificate, she began to study Hebrew in earnest. She also changed her name to a true Hebrew name. During all her years in Israel she felt fortunate in that she had been successful, and she would say “I was privileged to experience so much good fortune: the establishment of the State, and living here together with my children.”

[Page 509]

As the last act for the benefit of the community, she willed her dead body to the medical faculty of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, so that medical experiments could be conducted upon it – not before she discussed the matter with the rabbis, to make sure that her decision was not in contradiction with the Jewish religion. Zahava Oren passed away on Sunday, first of the intermediate days of Sukot [16 Tishrei] 5717, and was laid to her eternal rest at Mt. Serenity in Jerusalem.


[Page 510]

Tales from Sanok

(Some Sanok Characters)

Written by Berel Rabach

Translated by James Raff

A Pair of Sanok “Types”

 

“Isaac Boy” (a true story)

There was in Sanok a religious older boy. His name was Isaacle (Little Isaac). He did not wish to get married because he was shy with people. He would put up a “chupah” (wedding canopy) and he used to say, but only in a cellar where one couldn't see. But on Shabbat, to the services, he would wear a “shtrammel” (hat with fur foxtails). This was a rarity for a boy. Little Isaac was a great artist in three occupations: an engraver, a sign painter and a monument carver. His talent was acknowledged in a widespread area. Little Isaac was self-employed, cooked for himself, and ate by himself. One time, being already 65 years old, he became very ill. Then, good men and women brought him food and a clean shirt in honor of the Sabbath. He got well, remained a great homebody, and involved himself in various enterprises.

It is told that Isaac Boy (Isaacle) came to a rich man he knew, with a bank-note of 50 Austrian Kroner in hand, and said the following: “Reb Moshe, here is a 50 Kroner bank note; give me a loan of 20 Kroner but I beg of you, please don't give away the 50 bank note, because I treasure it as a souvenir I received from the old countess of Linsk. You hear, Reb Moshe? Remember, when I earn some money again, you will return the 50 Kroner bank-note to me.” Awhile later, Little Isaac came back with 20 Kroner and asked for the return of the 50 note. Immediately, he received back the bank note. But the rich man was astounded when Little Isaac, in front of his eyes, took the 50 Kroner bank note and burned it entirely over a candle!

Little Isaac alone had made the bank note with his own hand, so perfectly, that the rich man did not detect that it was a counterfeit.

 

[Page 510]

“Bruche the Mid-wife” (A Fine Kosher Lady)

A tiny, round lady the ever-present large heavy wool shawl, with fringes. She would stride quickly through the small Sanok streets to the pregnant ladies to deliver a baby. Therefore, she never had any rest, from one she ran to the second to “deliver a baby”. From the poor, she took no money. Where there was a house, where there was a street and where there was a child, she was known: a whole town! Two generations of people she helped to arrive into the world! And now how many candles does she have in heaven? Because, according; to the legend, in every Jewish home in which she delivered a baby, angels immediately lit a candle in heaven. Now imagine - how many candles did Bruche the mid-wife have in heaven?

But in time, they stopped lighting candles in heaven. Bruche in the passage of time left this earth, and in all Jewish houses in Sanok her passing was mourned.

 

[Page 511]

“Boruch Hershele, the Tailor”

A small thin little Jew, “skin and bones”. His skin yellow as wax and thin and you could count his bones and yet: a lively Jewish tailor was he! He sewed mostly for women. He knew nothing of centimeters. Everything cut by eye only. If it worked out it was good, but if not, it was also good! With the tailors of Sanok, if they made crooked seams in the garments they would tell their clients, that they were making “Boruch Hershele's strokes”.

But in the tailor's synagogue? There Boruch Hershele did not make any crooked seams! At 3 in the morning summer and winter he was already standing at the reading stand in the small tailor shul and saying prayers and after the prayers he started the morning worship! Therefore his fellow worshipers would say to someone who came early; why did you arise so early? Did you have to go to Baruch Hershele's minyan?

With his wife he led a separate life. He cooked for himself, and if he received a few dollars from his children in America he would sew the money into a wool vest (undergarment) so that no one would find his hidden treasure. One time he forgot to put on his woolen vest, went to pray, came back found to his horror: In the interval his treasure had been discovered, and his housemate (wife) had mad a “bedikas chometz” (search for chometz, as in Passover) and the wool vest was left devastated.

From that time on, he slept with the vest on him went with it summer and winter.

Boruch Hershele was also a useful and active member of the “Chevra Kadishe” (burial society) of Sanok. He showed his concern ad caring at the funeral and the monument erection of every deceased. Perhaps because of this he was in luck: He died a natural death. The beastly Hitler did not reach him, and the members of the “Chevra Kadishe” (burial society) accorded him the respect he had given to his burials.

 

[Page 511]

“Michel Gafen”

An old Jew with a red beard, a running(?) blood-red eye dressed summer and winter in 3 coats which were with their hanging bottoms swept all the streets. He was the first in the morning at Boruch Hershele's minyan (quorum) in the tailors' synagogue. Every Thursday and eve of a Yom Tov (holiday) he took his two woven baskets full of hens and geese belonging to rich women and went to the shochet (slaughterer) to slaughter them. And he made a living thus. A part of his living also came from reminding people that “tomorrow you have yarzeit”. His memory was phenomenal. He knew exactly when who had “yahrzeit” tomorrow, and for reminding them they gave him a few “groschen” (pennies). Also, the chupah (bridal canopy) poles, which he use to carry to weddings, also earned him something.


[Page 519]

Jewish Life in Sanok During the Time of the Nazi Occupation

by Hadassah Herzog-Lezer

{This Yiddish section is equivalent with the Hebrew section on page 327}


[Page 523]

Every Hour, Every Day

  Every hour, every day –
There is no more any hour,
There is no more any day.
There was an altar prepared for you, with skeletons
Where it may consume everything that you feel, that you see,
And you still sing hereby, when you consume alone.

Avraham Sutzkewer
(Songs from the Ghetto)
April 27, 1943

 

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