Expulsions, Wanderings And Suffering In Exile
by Menahem ben Moshe (Holon)
Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
On the eve of the Sukkot holiday 5700 (fall 1939) at an order from the Gestapo, approximately 70% of the Jewish population of our town was driven out of town. Each person was permitted to take with him a small bundle of food and clothing. Those who did not leave the town within 24 hours were threatened with the punishment of death. The sick, the elderly and the children who could not leave under their own power, were carried by relatives in their arms and on their backs. Jews were forbidden to ride in any moving vehicle. These unfortunate people who only yesterday were still in their homes, although with fear in their hearts, suddenly became refugees, dragging themselves through the heavy rain, across the highways, on the road to Alkhavitz and on the slopes near Tirova Valaski. In this area of Tirova, we encountered our rescuers, the Red Army soldiers, dressed in rags and armed with old weapons from the times of Czar Nikolai. Sanok Jews, who knew the Russian soldiers from the First World War, were not able to see the difference between them and the Red Army soldiers whom they now encountered, except that instead of the Nikolai button on their hats, they now had the five-pointed Russian star.
The Jews of Sanok began to wander from town to town. They searched for a relative or an acquaintance with whom they could find a place in which to rest their weary feet. A number of families settled in Tirova, others in Birtcha, Dobromil, Sambar, Striy and Lemberg. When the Germans retreated from the Przemysl-Samor-Ustrzyki-Linsk highway, several families settled in these towns with relatives. Within a very short time, all the wealthy of Sanok were reduced to the level of those Jews who used to go to others' homes at the beginning of every month in order to wish the shopkeepers a good month The first victims among the refugees were in Ustrzyki, where the following died: Ascher Horowitz and Israel Strenger, the son of the bakery owner. In all of these towns, they immediately began to establish aid-committees for the refugees. Jews from Linsk, Ustrzyki, Sambar, Kyrov, Drohobitch, Barislov, Striy, Dolina, Przemysl, Lemberg and from other cities and towns, worked while endangering their own lives and did everything in order to help us. Nevertheless, our condition was a terrible one. We became discouraged and began to think of going home even though the German murderers were there. I heard with my own ears people say: instead of suffering so much we better go back there and die right away.
Then there began the registration of the refugees. The majority of us declared that they would rather return. A small portion, most especially those who had found a place to live with their relatives received passports and automatically became Soviet citizens.
The concern about earning a living was the greatest worry. Everyone became a merchant, dealing in whatever he possibly could. Every little item that was almost worthless under normal conditions, here became an item of value, and an object of trade. People wandered about with nothing to do. We met frequently with friends and discussed one subject only: what will happen to us? When will the war end, when will we be able to return home? And this is how the days stretched, with constant discussions about the situation. The waiting depressed the spirit even more. There was absolutely no hope of improvement of this situation. At that very time, the rumor reached us about the death of the well-known Zionist, leader of our town, Dr. Shlomo Rammer, our old community head that was loved and respected by everybody. If I remember correctly, his death occurred on the first of May. He died of a heart attack in the town of Dolina near Striy where he had lived as a refugee.
On the Sabbath, the 30th of June, 1940, in the middle of the night, we suddenly heard loud banging on the outside door. They were N.K.V.D. who had brought with them a Draconian decision to transport all the refugees from our place which is a border-point, to a different place, one hundred km further inland.
They allowed each person to take with him whatever was possible. Wagons were already waiting outside to take us to the train station. The station was filled with refugees and N.K.V.D. The shouting reached to the sky, children were crying, wagons with people and bundles did not stop streaming, without let-up. Immediately they ordered us to enter the cars that were already waiting on the train-tracks and to take our belongings. Inside it was easy to recognize that these cars had usually transported pigs. In every car, they shoved in approximately 80 passengers, children, elderly and even the very sick. The heat was unbearable. Very quickly, the cars were sealed shut and locked. All physiological needs had to be taken care of in the cars in special holes that they made with the permission of the guards. One shielded another taking care of his needs. There was also no water. Finally, 18 hours after herding us into the cars, they took one person out of each car and gave him two pails of water while at the same time two guards armed with rifles in their hands watched them from both sides prepared to shoot.
An entire 24 hours passed before the train began to move. Jews in Galicia and Podolia heard about the tragedy, and they came to meet us and to throw in through the windows of the locked cars food and other necessary articles, and medications. They understood immediately that our trip was much further than 100 kilometers. Helping the refugees was strictly forbidden but their Jewish hearts did not permit them to abandon us. They didn't consider the danger. The behavior of the Russian guards towards us was brutal. I cannot forget this picture: a young woman with a small child in her arms begged with tears in her eyes to be permitted to get closer to her husband who was in the other end of the car, so that he could kiss the child before the separation. The guards absolutely did not allow this and angrily pushed the woman and little boy to her corner of the car.
It is easy to understand how our situation looked in all aspects. This trip took 30 continuous days in crowded conditions without air and water, without minimal hygienic accommodations, without disinfection methods to protect against the stench and filth, without protection against the lice that ate us and the diseases they spread.
On the 30 th day of our travel, in the late night hours, the train came to a stop. The doors were opened and we were ordered to exit. This was in Siberia, in an open field. In this cold Siberian night, we stood the rest of the night. In the morning, trucks arrived, taking us across planted fields, not on a highway so that we would not know the way back We traveled through huge stretches of land for the entire day. We stopped to spend the night beneath the open sky. As soon as day began to dawn, little wagons arrived drawn by
horses, for continuing our journey. We placed our bundles on the wagons. The elderly and sick were permitted on the wagons, the healthy were not. This was a distance of no more than 6 km so they told us. The trip however, lasted from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. without any break. Suddenly, we found ourselves in the Siberian Taiga. In the forest, barracks were scattered about, with huge distances between barracks. Russian and Austrian prisoners of war had lived here during WWI. Waiting for us in the barracks were N.K.V.D. personnel and doctors. They examined us, and of course they found everyone healthy and strong and fit for all kinds of work, except for Leib Maier, the construction contractor in Sanok, who because of his physical problem was exempt from work. Right after that, the elderly were sent to a special camp where, within a short while, all died from cold and hunger. There, among others, were the following people from Sanok: Avraham Epstein and his wife, his brother Moshe Epstein and his wife, Yitzchak Schnitzler and his wife, Moshe Fischer and his wife, Leib Maier, the daughter and son-in-law of Eliezer Hurt and others. One of the few who got out alive and even made aliya to Eretz Israel was R'Avraham Hochdorf, an active and gifted communal worker in the Sanok community (about him see p. 456). The work in the forests of Siberia was difficult, more difficult than the work of our forefathers in Pharaoh's Egypt. Our people were taken to chop down trees 20 meters tall and of a width which three people could not encircle. Many of those who worked at cutting the wood became permanent invalids, several of them today live here in Israel.
This bitter life lasted until September, 1941 until they reached the Shikorski agreement, concerning our release from forced labor (officially we had been automatically sentenced, without trial, to 10 years of forced labor in Siberia). After the release we began to wander from one place to another, seeking work, so that we could earn a livelihood even in minimal conditions. A great number of Sanok people settled in central Asia with the hope that it was easier to go from there to Eretz Israel. This, however, was a fruitless hope because in order to immigrate, it was still necessary to wait many years and even to return to that cursed country of our tragedy and, in addition, pay dearly with victims like Yosef Dim, Leibish Birndorf and Bachman's daughter, may God avenge their blood!
At the end, we must mention the names of those who died in the Siberian and Central Asian exile at least the few about whom we know: R'Simcha Dim son of our rabbi, the great scholar R'Natan-Neta-Yacov Dim zl, R'Pinchas Solomon, R'Chaim Schwert the ritual slaughterer, the young man Moshe Pessel son of R'Meier Pessel, Moshe Meier son of R'Hirsch Meier, Herman Filler and his wife, Yechiel Silber, his wife and his son Yosef, Yacov Tieger and his daughter, R'Baruch Lerner (well-known matchmaker) and his wife, and many more about whom we do not know or have forgotten them. May their souls be bound in the bond of the living!
Pesach Springer zl (New York)
Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
The first organization of the Sanoker Landsleit (compatriot-circle) in America was organized during 1913-1914 with the name First Sanoker Society, numbering 150 members. Their president is now Avraham Ascher.
After a short time, the second Sanoker Landsleit organization was founded with the name: The Young Sanoker Association. From this name it is understood that the younger Sanoker generation belonged to the second organization.
The goals of both associations were to help Sanoker Jews in America in the event of illness, poverty and other tragedies.
The Young Sanoker Association could not survive any length of time and after a while it ceased to exist.
In 1914, the Sanoker Landsleit organization was founded with the name of Progressive Sanoker Society. The goals of the organization: helping the sick, keeping a loan-bank for the needy, and also taking care of a joint cemetery. This organization had 150 members. Those in charge of the Sanoker Progressive Society were: Mordechai Freind, (Itche Treger's son), Yehoshua Weiss (the Redemer melamed's son), Eliving Werner (Mordechai Werner's son), the brothers Mordechai and Mendel Baruch (the sons of the former shammes [caretaker] of the Sadigora Kloiz in Sanok), Frank Lustig and his brother Harry, Fani Baruch, Benny Koifman, Shlomo Wolf and David Braver. The president is now Moshe May and secretary Yakov Ebert.
The Sanoker Progresive Society in New York, besides the above-mentioned goals also helped during both world wars by participating actively in the Relief organizations to help the Jews in Europe. The organization participates actively on behalf of Israel to construct a building in Israel and to help with money. It also participates in distributing charity before Pesach and helping individuals as well as various institutions in America. The Progressive organization also helped the orphanage in Sanok with money until the outbreak of WWII.
The Sanoker Progressive Society helped to organize a women's organization which did important work for Sanoker Jewry and assisted in fund-raising for the Sanoker orphanage.
Among the active women of the women's organization, it is worthwhile mentioning Mrs. Schultz, Helen Fellstein, Frieda Kaufman, Gussie Lustig, Gussie Freind, Sarah Lustig, Sadie Baruch and others. They organized various balls and evening events and all Sanoker enjoyed themselves and always also managed to make a nice profit.
The third Sanoker Landsleit organization which exists in America today is the United Sanoker Association, organized in 1928, when the Young Sanoker Association ceased to exist.
The United Sanoker Association had the same goals as the Young Sanoker Organization. We also established a loan-bank by the name of Benevolent Societies Bank.
In the United Sanoker Association, I had the honor of being president for seven years. The current President is Yakov Goyko (Yakov Rabinowitz). The organization holds a gathering once a month, a meeting of the important active members, approximately 35. Today, we have in America three Sanoker Landsleit societies. Organized members in the above-mentioned societies, number approximately 2,000. The majority of the Landsleit are located in New York.
It is our duty to mention here our honored landsman of the United Sanoker Association, Mordechai Jonas zl, a great philanthropist, who generously supported Sanoker in America, and greatly helped the Sanoker Jews when he visited Sanok in 1928. Thanks to him, the Talmud Torah in Sanok was almost completed, and he also helped to build a new orphanage. Regretfully, the outbreak of WWII destroyed everything. In America as well as in Sanok, Mordechai Jonas was popular because of his friendliness. Honor to his memory.
In 1940, the writer of these lines was successful in uniting all those above-mentioned Landsleit associations, just at the beginning of the great destruction of European Jewry. With joint efforts, we strove to help the Sanoker who managed to save themselves but were still in Europe. The Sanoker Relief organization was created to help those who survived the war and the Holocaust. The working committee of the relief organization included the above-mentioned friends, and also Yakov Jacobowicz, David Beer and Leibusch Jonas zl.
Pesach Springer was elected as president. We were able to create a fund of $40,000 which was divided among various countries and cities, wherever Sanoker Landsleit are found.
Lately, we also helped Sanoker Landsleit in Israel, especially the Sanoker loan bank in Israel as well as support for the construction of a building in Israel, with our contribution of $2,500.
Let us hope that the three Sanok Landsleit societies in New York at some future date, unite and create friendly ties with all Sanokers in America, as well as help Sanoker Jews wherever they are in the whole world.
Being a Zionist from Sanok and coming to America in 1913 with other Sanoker Jews, we visited the Austrian-Hungarian Zion Association, where many Yiddish writers were members, and came to the gatherings. But the new Sanoker immigrants did not feel comfortable in the Austrian-Hungarian Zion Society. For that reason, we decided to found our own Zionist association with the name Tikvat Yehuda Zion Association [The Hope of Judea Zionist Association]. The founders were mostly Sanoker Landsleit: Benyamin Feit, Shlomo Wolf, Yakov Odze and the writer of these lines.
This association was established in 1915. Its first president was Benyamin Feit, the second Avraham Maier (from Chernovits), the third, Shlomo Wolf, the fourth Itche Greenbaum, and the fifth Pesach Springer (most of the presidents were from Sanok.)
Secretaries were women: Helen Neulinger (Chernovits) and Rachel Kuznits (my wife may she live).
Within a short time, our association became one of the most important Zionist societies in America, with a membership totaling approximately 250 (at that time that was a significant number).
Also in Keren Kayemet LeIsrael [Jewish National Fund], we Sanokers took an active part. As an example, Pesach Springer was president of the JNF for the Sanokers for a period of five years (1915-1919). We collected more than $2,000 a year. Also in the shekel committee we played an active part. For a long time, approximately 3000 shekels a year were sold.
In the Tikvat Yehuda Zion Association lectures were held from time to time in which the Zionists leaders in America would participate, such as Louis Lipsky (the president of the Zionist organization in America), Morris Rotenbach (judge and president), the writer Reuben Breinin, Menachem Sheinkin, Saul Raskin, Professor Nahum Slushetz, Dr. Newman, Gedalya Bublik, the editor of the Jewish Togblat [Jewish Daily], William Edlin, Editor of Tog [The Day], Dr. Margoshes and others.
These mass gatherings, with the participation of Dr. Shmaryahu Levine and Dr. Stephen Wise, had great influence. We also had the honor of having in our Sanoker Tikvat Yehuda Zion Association the daughter of the Judge Louis Brandeis, with her great Zionist speeches.
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