Naomi Goldfeld Fogelman
Edited by Sandra Krisch
The memorial monument for Katowice's Jews who were murdered by the Nazis, and for the city's temple, was unveiled on Tuesday, June 27th, 1989. The great synagogue was burned to the ground in September 1939. This ceremony was attended by some remnants of the original community, many of whom were then young people and managed to survive. Also present were representatives of the second generation sons of the survivors. An organized group came from Israel, under the leadership of Mrs. Cila Katriel. Its members included Dr. Naomi Goldfeld Fogelman, daughter of Katowice's last Rabbi, Dr. Mordechaj Fogelman. Dr. Leone Chameides, son of Rabbi Chameides traveled from the United States to participate, and there were participants from Australia as well.
The idea of the monument was brought up by Yehudit Meir of the Pilcer family, whose contribution made the project possible. Many local citizens attended the ceremony, and the municipality prepared the statue's foundation. The monument was placed at the city's center, right where the great temple once stood.
Rabbi Ychezkel Beser from the United States, Attorney Israel Tajtelbaum and other distinguished persons from Israel spoke with emotion in remembering Katowice's extinct community. Israel's flag was raised, a memorial torch was lit and bouquets were laid around the monument. Hatikvah, Israel's national anthem, was sung in loud and clear voices, a sound that had not been heard in Katowce for 50 years.
A board was set nearby, with a large picture of the synagogue in all its glory, and next to it a Photomontage of the fire. A brief history of the community in Katowice was placed next to the photos. The ceremony was recorded for broadcast on Polish television, and was widely covered in the Polish press. The place became a memorial focal point for the tragedy of Katowice's Jews.
The Jewish cemetery in town is still intact, and during the reception, the Israeli delegation was informed about the renovation plans that were made for it, and the intention to turn it into a museum of the city's past great Jewish community.
speaking: Rabbi Chaskiel Beser from New York
Edited by Sandra Krisch
A happy childhood, my early blossom
In my city of Katowice,
in my dreams- you are my companion,
A calming cradle after a long road
That was heavy with despair and disappointment.
In you, there's a resting place for my feverish head,
I return to you, my past and dreams,
As I float in between folded thoughts.
I'm looking for myself:
My eyes look up to see and grasp
Things of past and present times
Birds singing in trees,
Songs and prayers,
And my soul is calling,
My mind is in heaven.
Fathers are covered in talitot, in the temple, that is inside a garden
The fathers' talitot catch the wind,
Return to my dreams, sweet childhood dreams,
I am still a little girl,
My home still lives in my dreams!
Dr. Nathan Grinboim
Edited by Sandra Krisch
Had I the ability to predict, as a boy, the happenings in my life during the past 45 years, I'm sure I would have imprinted faces, events and experiences into my heart, absorbed sights and speeches, and drawn names and sounds into my memory. Then I would be able to reconstruct them after nearly half a century, and view them living again in a different world and a different reality.
As adults, we are used to looking back into the past; as young people- we usually build hopes and aspirations for the future. We lose too much of life's depth and richness, however, when we don't add to our hopes and dreams a deep sense of absorbing the present.
Meir surprised me with his wild imagination, as usual. The phone rang at midnight:
Heinusz is coming from America, it's a chance to bring together all of our old friends from Katowice, the few that had survived the great fire. We'll meet next Tuesday at five, in the Beit Hasofer restaurant.
I put down the earpiece. What was he talking about? Who is Heinusz? How many people of my home town actually live in Israel? Who managed to survive, anyway? It's been 45 years since I left Katowice. In these long years I haven't met even one friend from back then. I spent time with these kids- went to school with hundreds of them, attended youth group meetings with dozens, played with them in the streets, and in 45 years, haven't met a single one of them this must be a mistake. I did meet one man who went to the same school as I did. It was in 1947, after I'd already been living in Israel for five years, that I was sent to Europe as an undercover messenger of the youth department. I had to reach the refugee camps in Germany, which were inhabited by Holocaust survivors. Chance brought me to stay in Paris for a while before I was allowed to cross the border. Woznice was a common last name in our community. In Paris, I heard that several members of this family had survived, and now lived in Lyon. I had to go and see them. The meeting was exciting: we mentioned names and experiences, and I realized that a few of my friends had made it through. We went through the names, one by one, the memory remained fresh, and we had a few photos that Woznice kept to help us remember. The latest one of them was taken in 1939, our last year in elementary school.
The photos were of classes other than mine and I couldn't spot myself in them, still I recognized each and every kid in them and relished their memory. Woznice had two more photographs, both taken at the Hebrew school: one of them was a class photo, in which I could see Mr. Weiner, the teacher, with a black yarmulke on his head, and three rows of boys and girls, looking seriously into the camera. Many of them I recognized as neighbors, friends with whom I played and went to youth group meetings: beautiful Cesia Flor, Fela and her long braids; Hana Buchwald, who taught me the game of chess at her father's restaurant, and the Bloom kid with whom I went fishing. Through nine years of strife, I had forgotten many of my friends' first names, but their faces brought back the memories.
Another photo: All of the students of Katowice's Jewish Community Hebrew school, as the sign held by a girl in the middle indicates.
The younger children are sitting up front, and the older ones form a triangle behind them. At its apex stand the teachers, Winer and Schtein, and between them Rabbi Chameides. I spotted myself in this picture, wearing a beret and a pair of glasses and dressed in a sailor-style suit. Suddenly, I spotted the face of Joseph Green, my loyal friend Yosele. We were on the same team at the youth groups and lived in the same room during summer camps. We spent time reading together at the city library, and sang together in the temple's choir. We took long walks in the city's gardens and park, during which we had long talks about every subject in the world. We also made a secret a plan to go to Israel together and live in a youth village. We always played together during school breaks and occasionally tried to catch the girls' attention from the other side of the yard. I knew his family, and he spent many hours in my house.
Even as a boy, Yosele was an artist whose paintings hung on the classroom walls. He would a draw new masterpiece every class, drawings of characters and animals, landscapes and portraits, and his favorite was the Polish eagle. He would always start with the head, draw the pointy crown, then the beak and the lower body. He would then add the wings, and finish with the outspread legs and their sharp claws. I would regularly follow his movements with admiration and try to imitate his drawings. I was only capable of copying one drawing the eagle, ofcourse which I can easily sketch to this day. Yosele, my soul mate, where are you now? Were you burned with the rest of them? Are you still alive?
Woznice's photographs were an asset, an Archimedean point we could use to lift up an entire world: starting with an incident in school, during which the teacher got angry with one of the kids and called us all leprous little Jews, and on to the community life, the teachers and the childrens' society. Our reminiscing rolled into the night, through long hours of memories and impressions. I kept the copies of these photographs close to my heart. I carried them with me on my journey through the refugee camps, in youth group branches, orphanages, trains and cars. I would occasionally sneak a peek at them, in search of a familiar face among the thousands of people I've met. I searched and inquired, but wasn't lucky.
After two years abroad, I returned to Israel and got caught up in the sizzling stream of life: the army service, the university, getting married and having children, work. The years blurred the faces, and the photos ended up stuck in an album. From time to time, I would catch a rumor of a random survivor from my hometown who had come to Israel. The rumors came in bits and were spread over long periods of time. Their effect on me grew weaker, the mental connection was loosened, and by the time I visited Rabbi Fogelman previously a chief Rabbi in Katowice, who became the Rabbi of Kiryat Motzkin- -there was nobody to talk about. One person I did remember was Meir, who was my counselor in the youth group in Katowice. Meir came to Israel back in 1943 through the Youth Aliyah with the children of Teheran. He was appointed a counselor but left after a short while. I would meet him every couple of years; he would simply emerge from nowhere and vanish back again, mentioning a random name of an old friend who had survived, but never with specific information concerning time and whereabouts.
As if from a dying candle, the flame was sparked again. It happened during my third mission abroad, in Philadelphia. I received an unexpected phone call from Cina, who then lived in New York. She was the sister of a friend from the Youth Aliyah. Mark was a tall, handsome boy. He came to Israel on a rough and long journey through Russia, as I did. He was lucky enough to come with his mother, and had a warm, loving nest from which to start his new life. I would often join him in his visits to his mother's small apartment in Tel Aviv. His sister Cina joined us in our walks throughout the city, and her presence added a little femininity to the dullness of our life at the time. Mark and Cina's father escaped from Poland to London, and he waited there for his family to come and reunite. Soon after the war ended, Mark's family traveled to London, and our friendship was interrupted.
We would meet every couple of years, when Mark visited Israel. In one of these visits, Mark told me that his sister had moved to New York. It had been 25 years since the last time I saw her, and so Cina's call was an extraordinary surprise. She told me she was honored to invite me to her daughter's wedding. Her brother had given her my address, and she said she would be very pleased if I would attend the wedding. I didn't know how to react, and out of excitement asked her who the groom was. A decent man from New York. She replied. I asked for his name, and she answered briefly, Akiva Beser. I felt as though a thousands hammers had come down on my head. My eyes watered. Akiva was a neighbor and a classmate, the only boy in class who grew his peyes long and proud. The memories flew instantly, and the old flames burned my insides just like before. Akiva stayed alive, and saw the marriage of his son. I will be a best man for both sides, then.
Fifteen years had gone by. Life went on: war after war, terrorism and hijacks, social and economical difficulties, spiritual and geographical changes and political revolutions. My children grew up and raised their own families. My grandchildren became the center of attention and my leisure was dedicated to them. I met many people and made new friends.
My personal history was pushed to a corner of my heart. In contrast, public awareness of the Holocaust grew stronger, but that disaster of the Jewish people remained largely unexplained, both from the victims' and the killers' sides. The survivors had begun to express themselves; writers wrote and researchers uncovered new facts. Memoirs and diaries, plays and movies, testimonies and compilations all revealed the terrible truth and broadened knowledge of the diabolic plan and execution, as well as of the heroism and humanity that were shown in those hard times. The general overshadowed the personal. My own pain for friends and family who were gone was merged into the national grief, engulfed by the flowing river of public strife and loss. Then came Meir's announcement of the meeting, and stirred everything up. Who will come to this meeting? Will there be no one but closed hearted characters, wearing sealed expressions on their faces? Will I meet any close friends at all?
I was restless for a few days. Emotions were on the loose, pictures and memories running through my mind. I felt like I had to do something, and didn't know what. Suddenly an idea came to me: the photographs! I will take them with me, and maybe someone will recognize himself, or even just friends or family members. I went through my drawers and checked every album, until I found the photos. I looked at the faces in them for a long while, especially into those of Yosele, my dearest friend. His name was the only one I could still remember.
I arrived early. The restaurant was still empty, with chairs stacked on tables and no one to be seen. I turned around and returned to the street. It was broad daylight, and I could feel the dazzling summer sunshine on my glasses. Was I wrong? I took the note with the details out of my pocket, and realized it was all right people were simply not used to coming on time to such events. I walked the streets, and somehow arrived at the city's auditorium. I bought myself a newspaper and sat on a bench to read, but the letters didn't make sense. I was cruising to a different time in my imagination.
I returned to the restaurant after a while, and noticed two people in a corner of the room, whispering to one another. They didn't even look at me. A woman came in, turned around and stood next to the counter. A single man entered and hesitantly walked up to the whispering couple, and asked them in a trembling voice whether this was the Katowicers' meeting. It is, answered one of them, but there's hardly anyone in here. Are we really so few? A tumult was heard from the outside, and a loud group of people came in. I recognized Meir, and felt a little less of a stranger. I went to say hello to Meir, and he presented me to one of the men, blurting: This is Heinusz Krakowski, for whom wer'e having this meeting. The name was familiar to me. A picture suddenly floated in my mind, a picture of the street I walked every day on my way to school, and a store on it, above which hung a big sign, reading Krakowski and sons, Office Supplies. He went to school with us.
Heinusz recognized himself in one of the photos, and immediately asked to buy them all. We simply exchanged a few polite words, but didn't speak of the past at all. He was willing to talk about his life in New York, but the guests that kept coming eventually drew his attention away. I put the photos down on one of the tables, and soon a commotion started around them. People snatched them and held them close in order to see better, and occasional cries were heard: Here's our teacher, Mrs. Margulis! Right behind her is Mrs. Ringlerowna! Another man was deeply touched, and sighed with pain: Here's my cousin, he was burned in Belzec! One women cried: Oh, I'm fainting! Here's Anita, Anitka, my baby sister, she was taken away from me in the train station! A wailing sound was heard. Someone tried to calm the crowd down.
We were asked to sit at the tables, which had been set in the meanwhile. About 40 men and women rushed to the chairs. Meir had just gotten up to speak, when the door opened and a couple, a man and a woman, walked in. the man was bald, and wore a knitted yarmulke. The woman held his hand and searched for vacant seats. Joseph and Bella, Meir addressed them, there are two seats on the left side, you can sit over there, he said, and pointed at me. The man approached me, and before he sat down, he reached out his hand said: Hello, I'm Joseph Green from Katowice. My heart skipped a beat, my eyes widened and my mouth remained open. I wanted to present myself to him, but at that moment Meir knocked on the table and asked for silence.
He immediately began a long speech of greetings, but I couldn't get a word he was saying. I looked at my neighbor with attention, and finally whispered in his ear: I am Nathan, Natush Grinboim. His blue eyes stared at me blankly: Who are you again? What's your name? Natush, Natush your friend, I whispered back, and his blue eyes scanned me again from head to toe. What's your name? Where did you live? Then Bella intervened and quietly explained: Joseph can't remember much now, his memory has weakened. I bit my lip. With Meir's speech for background, I tried to make Yosele remember. I told him about the youth group, the temple's choir, the library, our walks, school. Every once in a while, I could see a spark in his eyes, and he was scanning me again with his eyes. The more detailed my descriptions became, the more concentrated his efforts were. He asked me many questions, and I replied quickly, but his sight was still blurry. Then I had an idea: I took a paper napkin from the cup in front of me, pulled out a pen and began to sketch a very familiar drawing: the eagle. I could feel Yosele's breath getting closer to me as I drew the lines. His face was very close to the drawing, and was suddenly turned to me. A pale smile showed. I continued to draw, checking for his reactions every once in a while. By the time I had finished the wings and was starting to add some feathers, Yosele gave me a slight push, and took away the napkin and the pen. With short movements he drew the legs, stretching 3 fingers for each one of them, and adding the claws. His face was glowing; his eyes twinkled with pure joy. I knew that now we could refresh our childhood experience, and have a long chat about friends, events and places of long ago.
Applause filled the room. Waiters began to serve the appetizers. Both of us got up and went out to the courtyard. Bella joined us. Yosele told me all about his wife and children, about his work, and asked me to tell him about my family. Every time I tried to divert the conversation to our memories, his expression sealed up, his looks turned contemplative, and he eyes were fixed at a distant point. The past was but a forgotten territory to him. The sudden cry of a flying eagle drew our eyes to the sky.
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