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[Page 625]

The Minsk association in Israel
Its beginning and activities

by Sara Obfire

Translated by Sharon Sullivan

From our early youth we were part of an organization in Minsk called “Poalej Zion”. My husband, Iccachar-Ber Obfire, immigrated to Israel in April 1933. I followed a little later, on the 21st of October, 1935. Almost at the same time the following people from our group immigrated, as well: Fajge Zlotolow, Shimon Rubinstein, Tsharne Miodowski, Binem Rotstein, Fajge Kiwajke and Noach Krajtman. Chaim Grinbojm arrived some time earlier than this – in 1925. Gershon Miedawski lived in Kfar Saba at this time. Shmuel Zilberstein followed after him. This was already a relatively large group. All of us had one fact in common, we all immigrated around the same time and we had all been friends in Minsk.

Without exaggerating, one can say that we felt like a family. Apart from coming on Aliyah there was the wish to build a life in a Jewish country that brought us closer together, as well as bad news from Minsk, like the murder of Isralke Zilech and the pogrom that followed. Almost every Shabbat we met in my apartment at 42 Shenkin Street or at Shimon Rubinstein's on the roof at 23 Nachmani Street to talk about what had happened. On a few occasions, a new immigrant joined us who had either received permission to immigrate or, alternately, had immigrated illegally into the country. Some examples of illegal immigrants were: Issche Goldman, Isroel Gutgold, Taube Glikman and others.

From time to time, we met with the Bibliarsz family. Almost the whole family had immigrated to Israel together with their grandfather, Lajb, who died shortly after arrival. Although it was not yet official, we felt that just being together had made us into an organization.

At the outbreak of war, any contact we had with our home country was sporadic. Even letters that managed to come through at the beginning of the war did not give an accurate picture of the situation. One thing was very clear: our families and friends were in great danger.

Once Pinchas Bibliarsz came to visit. He was a soldier in the Jewish Brigade and fought on the Italian front. That's where he met Rifka Grynszpan, who had survived the war in Germany. She was the first person that was able to flee Poland. She told him what had happened during the war, about the city, about the Jews and she also told him the first details that survivors had passed on to her. I can remember that we all sat together listening to what had happened. The description of these events seemed like messages coming from a different world. Instinctively, we thought that we should do something to help the people over there and bring them to Israel. We didn't know how and with what to accomplish this. Spontaneously, we started a fund through which, we could at least send food to Lodz. Soon after, we received the first letters from Rochman in Lodz. Those letters not only gave us more details, but the occasional greetings from someone who had survived the camps, returned from rehabilitation or from military services in Russia.

Pinchas Korman, Popowski, Goldberg, Mordechai Weissbrot and others came to us for help. They had somehow received our address. We met up and we helped them, as much as we could.

In 1946 the first people to arrive in the country were Basia Abramowski and Miriam (Mala) Formajnski. Baska came with her husband, and her child was born after arrival here. We helped her arrange the Brith – which was the first Brith of an after-war Minsker grandchild. Miriam married Aron Karmi, with whom she had immigrated to Israel. We all witnessed the first Minsker wedding in Eretz Israel.

Even if it wasn't official, the association of the former Minsker-Mazowiecki and its surroundings had already been established.

In 1949 some more Minskers immigrated to Israel, so that we decided to create another fund. This fund was named after people from Minsk that were murdered. One day we gathered together and donated 10 pounds per person. That's how the first amount was collected. The people that took part were Sara Obfire, Avraham Feldman, Bunim Rotstein, Sara Dambus Z”l, Noach Krautman Z”l, Chaim Grinbaum, Asher Geldman, Zeev Biblasz, Moishe Rodzanski and Shumel Zilberstein. Later on other people donated similar amounts. This allowed us to help almost all the new immigrants by loaning them money. The most important thing though, was that there was one specific address to turn to: every Minsker who immigrated to Israel turned to 42 Shenkin Street not only to look for relatives or friends, but to ask for help finding a place to live or even work. In many cases, we did not wait for the new immigrants to find us, we went out looking for them.

In 1954 I went to Paris to visit my cousin Yeheskel Mickner. Quite a few Minskers put their names down as members of our landsmannschaft. I informed them of our activities, especially about the creation of the fund. Brandes, who was very helpful, was particularly interested in taking part. He and other members of the committee asked me: “How much capital does your fund have?” – “One thousand pounds”, I said. “Well, we will give you another thousand”. The landsmannschaft kept its promise and transferred the sum in three transactions.

Min625a.jpg [37 KB]

Minsker Jews in Israel planting a grove in memory, called “Martyrs' Forest”,
in the Jerusalem Mountains, which belongs to the Keren Kayemet le-Israel (Jewish National Fund)

That's how the capital of our fund grew and within several years, fund had an outstanding ability to give out interest free credits. We have never refused a single applicant.

What we did know at the time though, was that our deepest wish was to keep the eternal memory of all our victims.

We were amongst the first group who erected a remembrance plaque in memory of our community in the “Holocaust Cellar” of memories on Mount Zion. Ever since, we have met regularly after the memorial service in “Bejt Zionej America” or the union of Polish Jews and traveled to Mount Zion in Jerusalem to say Kaddish and recite the “mincha” prayer by the remembrance plaque, which is the only gravestone our murdered compatriots.

When Yehiel Kirshenbaum arrived in Israel after the 6-Day-War he brought back a Torah scroll, which was rescued from Poland. This very Torah was donated to the “Tiferet” synagogue. On the cover of this Torah there is a dedication in the memory of the fallen Minskers.

A very special part of our organization was taking in compatriots who have come to Israel as visitors. We interested them in planting trees in the Minsk-Mazowiecki forest, which was financed by the Paris landsmannschaft. Many former Minskers who lived in Israel then, took part in the celebrations. We also participated in the donation from the organization in Paris, which was an ambulance donated to the Magen-David-Adom in Israel.

Our work has developed further due to the help of certain persons who put their heart and soul into the fund. These people were Welvel Biblish and Chaim Grynbaum. The latter opened an administrative section storing files about every Minsker. When Grynbaum became ill, Mordechai Weissbrot took over the chairmanship. A while back he was working in the “control commission” for a long time. Other active members were Chaim Szparsztajn, Goldman, Gutgold, Jankel Radzynski, Malkale Kirshenbaum.

Mordechai Weissbrot had the idea of editing a remembrance book, which was a project that we talked about for years, but had never actually carried out. For Weissbrot, who was the chairman of the organization this project turned out to be his life's goal. He included all the Minskers in the country, as well as, those overseas to help adding information to this work. Under his leadership, the initial capital for the publication of this book was collected. Furthermore, other material, including articles and photos were collected. It was his idea to close the charity fund. Unlike directly after the war, this fund was no longer of importance. The fund's capital was utilized for the publication of this remembrance book.

The practical work of editing the book actually started in 1973. Weissbrot began meeting regularly with the editor. He took care of completing the book, even after he had turned ill. He could tell that his life was drawing to an end and he collapsed, one day, on his way to work. His sudden death brought this project temporarily to a standstill. In the meanwhile, prices rose, and the capital that remained didn't cover the publication costs for a book like ours.

The administrative section of our organization had not given up hope, however. To still put the plan into action, our committee met again after a break of several months. We interested new people in our project. A meeting, which was held in our house in 1976, one could almost describe as a “historical meeting”. We voted for a committee whose task it was to collect the needed capital for the publication of the book. Furthermore, we organized a group of people to give assistance to the editor.

Yehiel Kirshenbaum became chairman of the committee. Thanks to his dedication and devotion we were finally able to realize our long-standing achievement. I, herewith, would like to make mention of a few Minskers who were especially active in the publication of this book:

Moshe Bernstein, Moshe Goldman, Avraham Feldman, Yakov Kaufman, Israel Gutgold.

In the task of perpetuating the Jewish communities of Poland, a Yizkor book of our own destroyed community should not be left out. On the completion of this book the activity of our organization of former Minsker and surroundings has reached its height in Israel.

Minskers, died in Israel

Min625b.jpg [16 KB] Min625c.jpg [17 KB]
Meir Reisman (Pelerman),
son of Shochet Yakov-Hirsh
  Isralke Stodolski

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