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Life and Folklore

by Mordechai Scheinfeld

Translated from Hebrew by Gabrielle Cooper

 

Yosl Nassias takes a beating from Asher Zelig

When I was 11 years old, it became my fate to be the breadwinner of the family; this was during the first world war. My father was dead, my two brothers were in hiding far from home in order to avoid being drafted into the army, and I was forced to help my mother run the business.

We owned the Town Hall building that stood on the hill in the middle of the town, and housed within it were most of the shops of Mizoch. Misters Nemirover, Pogorilzer and my uncle, Herzl Scheinfeld, began a partnership with us and merchandised everything they could lay their hands on.

As a young child, my job was to travel with the Ukrainian carters to the city of Slavuta[1], to buy and bring back oil for the public and the army. That work was considered easy enough and suitable for me. However, the truth was this was hard, exhausting, serious, and dangerous work. In addition to road trouble, frequent checks on behalf of police officers and the army, and the beatings I would take at every one of these checks, I had to watch the carters “with seven eyes”[2] so they would not drag me away from the precious liquid. On one of these trips I was able to bring brandy instead of petroleum. Our partners praised me greatly for this ‘operation’ and I successfully repeated it many times. The profit was large and considerable, and we all became very rich. Because I was the main cause of that success, I proved myself a knowledgeable and experienced trader, and I was given the trade in leather and in haberdashery.

The expert in these goods in our town was Yosl Nassias, and with him I arranged all of the purchasing. The goods were purchased in the nearby towns of Verkhiv[3] and Tuchyn[4]. We would travel there of course, but only in horse-drawn carts, on dirty, dilapidated roads, as was customary in those days. However, while it was possible to reach Verkhiv by direct roads, it was impossible to reach Tuchyn without crossing the Horyn River[5] on a floating bridge.

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To this day I remember the great impression crossing the river on the floating bridge made on me. I am always sorry that it lasted such little time. In almost every conversation I have, I mention the story of the floating bridge. I never tire of telling it; the horses standing harnessed to the carts, with their heads in their food sacks. They eat contentedly, and we sit on the cart, as we continue travelling…

On one of our visits to Tuchyn, we arrived at the hostel of Zlata, which we called Zlatopolska, to stay overnight. There we came across a young man and woman with their escorts who had arranged to meet there for an introductory matchmaking meeting. We invited them to our table and spun lively conversation with the other diners. The prospective groom sat silently, and hardly a single word left his mouth. I noticed his escort urging him to participate in the conversation and not sit like a dummy.

The first and almost the only speaker was of course Yosl. He didn't allow anyone else to lead the conversation. He spoke on and on, with and without a point, almost without stopping. The prospective groom, apparently wanting to seem like someone knowledgeable about matters of cities and towns, turned suddenly to Yosl and said it seemed to him that they had already met once in the city of Lvov[6]. It is possible that Yosl would have confirmed the words of the suitor, because he loved to seem in company like a worldly man. However, my presence interfered. He knew that if he confirmed that he had been in Lvov, I would immediately point out his mistake, because he had never been to Lvov before. Therefore, Yosl told that suitor that it was very possible they had already met in a different city, maybe in Odessa[7] or in another city, but that he was just getting ready to travel to Lvov for the first time in his life. I would have taken the opportunity of his admission to undermine him, but we were in fact travelling to Lvov in the coming days to make connections and trade with leather merchants in the city. After a few days we arrived at the train station in Ozerna. Yosl stood in line to purchase train tickets. He returned all radiant from happiness and told me that if it weren't for his ability to deal with the clerks, we wouldn't have obtained train tickets. I knew his weakness for boasting, so I added some praise and compliments on his great ability and knowledge…

Yosl also loved small and cheap pranks such as tying the tassels of prayer shawls together, so that they would slap the cheek or ear of a worshipper intentionally, and when they looked, he would make the face of ‘one who does not know how to ask.’[8] Or he would tickle the head of another while he was engaged in complicated calculations or looking at a book, or praying the Amidah,[9]

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and enjoy how the other would hit himself in rage, trying unsuccessfully to kill or repel the seemingly bothersome fly…

Once we were inside the train traveling to Lvov, he walked down the corridor, peering into all the compartments, searching for acquaintances or just other Jews to spin idle conversation with. I sat in the compartment next to the window and perused the newspaper. I enjoyed the ride itself, in the swaying and upholstered compartment. Suddenly I heard the ringing of slaps on the cheek, and the voice of Yosl begging for forgiveness in Polish. I went out and saw a burly goy[10] beating Yosl and shouting, “ugly, miserable Zhid,[11] I will teach you a lesson!” And in contrast, Yosl's weeping voice claimed: “but I thought you were Asher Zelig”. I barely got Yosl out of the hands of the angry Pole and brought him into our compartment. After calming down a little bit he told me that on his walk in the train corridor he noticed, much to his delight, that Asher Zelig from Mizoch was stretched out on one of the compartment benches, snoring. Yosl did not think much, entered the compartment, rolled up his right-hand sleeve, and with all his might landed a blow on the buttocks of Asher Zelig. To his astonishment - standing in front of him was not Asher Zelig, but rather an angry face with a large mustache … His explanations did not help. He shouted “but I thought that you were Asher Zelig” while enduring beatings.

 

The adventures of Lvov

We arrived in Lvov. It was early evening. The impression of the large city erased from our hearts the ‘Asher Zelig’ incident. We walked a little on the main streets of the city. When the shops closed, we started to look for a place to sleep. We did not know the city, and annoyingly, all of the hotels we wanted to stay in were full. At one hostel they promised us a place to sleep after 12 o'clock at night. Having no other choices, we agreed. Since there were four more hours until the appointed time, we again took to the streets of the city. By way of our walking, we arrived at the theater building. We bought tickets and went inside. Immediately at the entrance the usher stopped and said that he would take our coats to the coat-check. Yosl was wearing an expensive fur coat and was scared to leave it in unsafe hands. The ushers stood their ground, so Yosl handed the coats to coat-check, but he sat close to the door in the theater hall so he could keep an eye on his fur… the screen was raised and the show began. Here we realized we had fallen into a second trap; we thought that the show was in Yiddish (and how would it be possible otherwise?) but here everything was happening in Polish. Needless to say, we could not understand much from the show.

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And so, we had little interest in it. Yosl was obsessed with his fur which was in the coat-check, and every few moments he opened the door to glance at the fur in the coat-check. This annoyed the viewers, and as a result of their protests he was taken out of the hall. Yosl was pleased about this, because he received his precious fur in exactly the same condition that he had delivered it. We continued walking around the city until midnight, and then we returned to the hostel. We received for the both of us one wide bed in a single room. We undressed and went to sleep. Yosl did not let me fall asleep. He returned and said to me that without his knowledge of how to deal with the clerks, we would not be resting in bed now. When I asked him to let me sleep, he began to tickle me and fight with me. It only ended when the bed broke beneath us and we found ourselves on the floor… This scared both of us and we began to think about how to fix the appearance of the bed, at least enough for until we left the hostel. Yosl went down to the yard, found some bricks there, and brought them up into the room. We put the bricks in place of the broken legs, made the bed, lowered the cover to the floor, so the legs were not visible, and we lay on the floor… In the morning as soon as we heard the gate opening and the workers arriving, we paid and left the place quickly. After we ate breakfast, we went looking for acquaintances according to the addresses we had. At 10 o'clock we arrived at the apartment of a relative of Yosl's wife. On the main entrance was written: “the entrance is around the back.” We walked around and the door was locked there too. We jiggled the lock this way and that and the door did not open. Then Yosl said, “Mottel, give me a hand.” Together we pressed on the door and the door opened. A ladder used for painting was leaning against the door and fell. The ladder fell on a cupboard and broke the glassware inside it. There was a commotion. Women came out from the neighboring apartments, scared and shouting, and it was only by a miracle that we escaped from that place.

After we arrived safely to the street side our spirits changed, we decided from now on not to go anywhere alone. We had the address of one cafe, where we needed to meet with a trusted person, who would guide us in our shopping. We decided from now on to only travel in the city with this person. We barely found the place. There we ate our hearts out, met with the man we wanted, and with his help we left Lvov in peace and with successful purchases.

 

The Mischief of R.[12] Yitzchak Baraz (Itzik Chukralnik)

My cousin Chone loved sleeping outside on hot summer nights, on a cart padded with fragrant hay. The cart would stand down by the town hall, with stones or bricks under the wheels so it would not roll downhill.

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R. Yitzchak once came to that place in the morning, took out the bricks from underneath the cart wheels, and it rolled downhill and came to stand in the middle of the market. After a short time, the market was filled with local farmers and city women who came to purchase their necessities from the farmers. The noise that arose in the market woke up Chone and he thought that he was by his home. He got up from the cart, rolled up his shirt, took off his underwear, and scratched himself with enjoyment… The women were surprised at this sight and became angry: It was so early and already the circus clowns had arrived…

* * *

R. Asher was rich in assets and almost all the Jews in the city made a living from him and were dependent on him. His son, Yishayahu Gilberg, studied and trained in Odessa, saw the big world, and also acquired education and manners. Every time he came to the house of R. Yitzchak, he would complain and complain about the boredom in town, the lack of cultured society, and his longing for the big city of Odessa. R. Yitzchak decided to teach the young man Yishayahu a lesson, and prove to him that Mizoch was in fact a nice and interesting town, and that he too might miss it and its people.

One day when Yishayahu came to his house and started, as usual, to complain of boredom in the town, R. Yitzchak invited him to travel with him to a nearby village, where he needed to make arrangements for a trivial matter, and meanwhile Yishayahu could alleviate his boredom. Since R. Yitzchak promised that the trip would not last longer than half an hour, Yishayahu agreed to his offer willingly.

Instead of half an hour, the trip lasted half a week. R. Yitzchak walked around villages and towns and did not respond to any of Yishayahu's complaints or objections. Only when Yishayahu said that he missed Mizoch, and that all he wanted to do was be back home already, did he order the carter to return to Mizoch. Since then, Yishayahu has not spoken in condemnation of his hometown, Mizoch.

* * *

Mottel the Stingy was very rich. His stinginess was as considerable as his wealth. He was sparing with his words and dressed like one of the poor. In the town they whispered that Mottel only had one pair of long pants to wear, for both the weekdays and the Sabbath. R. Yitzchak decided to check this and did so as usual with a clever prank.

In the morning of a cool autumn day he snuck into Mottel's house and took the pants that were lying on the chair and stuffed them into the chimney pipe. After he returned home, Mottel woke up from his sleep and told him that he needed to go immediately out of the town with him in order to buy a cartload of grain at a very cheap price.

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One of his acquaintances brought grain for his competitor Katz, but since in his heart he had resentment for Katz, he appealed to the farmer to sell his goods to Mottel from now on. He urged Mottel to get dressed as quickly as possible and in the meantime, he went out to ensure that the farmer would not reach Katz. R. Yitzchak came out and Mottel jumped out of bed as quickly as a snake bites to dress and run to arrange the purchase. He did not find his pants in their usual place. He started to run around the room searching in all the crannies, and when he did not find the pants he called his wife for help, but to no avail. In the meantime, R. Yitzchak returned to the house and Mottel had to go back to bed, because he was ashamed to walk around the room in his underwear. When asked why he wasn't dressed he began to stutter and said that he didn't feel well. He was attacked by stomach pain which he felt in his head. R. Yitzchak pretended to be worried and said that he was going to get the Polish doctor. Mottel was forced to reveal the truth, for fear that R. Yitzchak would really bring the Polish doctor, and that his ‘cold’ would cost him lots of money.

R. Yitzchak advised that he should wear his Shabbat pants for a little while, since the deal would be worthwhile. Mottel's wife intervened and admitted that the pants that disappeared were the only ones that Mottel had… R. Yitzchak ‘found’ the pants under a cupboard. Mottel dressed quickly and they both went to the place where they were supposed to meet the farmer. They both searched and called the farmer's name aloud, but it was all in vain. Many days passed and Mottel continued to regret that the bargain had fallen into his competitors' hands because of the pants.

* * *

A tale of two ‘different things’

A home industry producing schnapps, called in Ukrainian ‘samogon,’ developed in our community during the time of the first world war. The whole population was very eager after alcohol became difficult to obtain, and started making it instead. Raw material was available, many jumped at the chance for an easy profit, and there were more than enough customers for endless products. We also became experts in making samogon.

The authorities of course prohibited making or selling samogon. First of all, they didn't want competition in this operation and second, they also feared for the health of the population. So, we produced samogon in hiding, far away and not seen by the community.

Our workshop for this illegal industry was located outside of town in the house of Rachel from the village Pivche (Rachel the Pivcher). We produced the schnapps at night and the waste liquid was stored in barrels.

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We could not spill the solution, because the smell would spread far and wide, and we would be discovered.

Once two pigs from a nearby village arrived and emptied a barrel filled with the solution. They got drunk from the solution and fell like the dead next to the house. We sensed this quickly and with the help of Zvi Truchler, we loaded up the drunk pigs into a sleigh, drove about 10 kilometers and threw them into the pit of the village Kunyn. Besides us, no one knew about this.

In the morning, a rumor spread in town that two ‘other things’ were found killed in the pit of Kunyn. The nickname ‘other thing’ in Mizoch was aimed at pigs and also at pigs that walk on two legs. Immediately the rumor said that it was two gentiles (goyim) found killed in the Kunyn pit. When the knowledge reached the police, a group of armed cops went to the place for investigation. Instead of dead people they found two fat pigs in a deep sleep… The policemen were very happy, brought the pigs to Lundowski the butcher and held a proper feast. In the morning the father of the police chief came and complained that two pigs had disappeared from his pen. However, no one saw the connection between the missing pigs and those found 10 kilometers from the pig pen of the complainant. Since then, the schnapps solution has been thoroughly guarded lest the pigs enjoy it.

* * *

Cancelled blessing

My Rabbi, the late R. Shlomo Finias, was a very devout Jew, hot-headed, and known for his obsessiveness. He customarily drank tea from the kettle that the Rabbi's wife prepared, at regular hours. He never departed from that custom. His favorite time to drink tea was the hour between the afternoon and evening prayer service. In that hour - while drinking tea - he would test our knowledge of what we learned in classes that day, and give us a proper beating for not knowing.

Among the students of Rabbi Shlomo, who rests in heaven, was the son of the town Rabbi, R. Hanoch - Mottel the Cat. Mottel was incredibly naughty. He would disrupt the life of the Rabbi and his wife, and each time the Rabbi put him back in his place he increased his naughtiness.

Once when R. Shlomo put the kettle on the table to drink tea during the hour of Mincha,[13] he was called outside by his wife. Mottel the Naughty grabbed the kettle and emptied his urine into it…

After a few minutes the Rabbi returned, and poured from the kettle into a hot cup,

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blessed aloud and sipped with pleasure. Immediately his face twisted and he started to spit. We burst into a huge laugh. After we had all received a decent beating, we told the Rabbi what Mottel had done. Then he grabbed Mottel's head and shouted: Woe is me! I have blessed in vain…

 

He got the final say

Hayim the Postman and Ashraka Olicker competed among themselves for a specific place in the cemetery “after 120.” After a prolonged quarrel about this, they agreed between them that the person who would get the spot would be the first to go the way of all flesh. Fate wished that Hayim the Postman die first and a large crowd attended the funeral, among them the ‘competitor’ Ashraka Olicker. After the sealing of the grave, Mottel the Mild-mannered approached and said to him: “Oh, Ashraka! He got the final say, ha!”

 

How Lukacs went from an enemy to a friend

The policeman Lukacs fulfilled his role strictly and it was impossible to bribe him. In his position as deputy chief of police he also oversaw with seven eyes the rest of the policemen behaving harshly toward Jews. He demonstrated his disgust toward Jews and in almost all conversations he introduced himself as a hater of Jews. My mother suffered especially from him, because the tavern that was under her management could not be in compliance with all of Lukacs' increasingly tough laws… When she was not given an explanation that made sense, and pleas and attempts to bribe him did not work, she decided to change him in a very unique way. Knowing correctly that Lukacs would not agree to dine at her table, she requested that a Polish acquaintance arrange for Lukacs, on her account, a feast fit for a king. Lukacs no longer knew how to distinguish between the cursed Haman and the blessed Mordechai,[14] and he was brought to our tavern. Here he sipped a few more cups of drink, which worsened him, and he fell helplessly to the floor. Mother then called to us for help, and we moved the drunkard into a special room and laid him down on a white bed, after removing his dirty clothes.

That night he was guarded by my mother. She cleaned and ironed Lukacs's clothes. Every time she peeked into his room to see if he had awakened from his intoxication.

In the late hours of the morning Lukacs awoke. My mother wished him a good morning and served him tea with lemon. In response to his question of how he got there,

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my mother told him that she had found him rolling in the street, dirty and screaming. She apologized that she had allowed herself to do what she did, but added that seeing him in that condition, which was unusual, apparently, he had had a drink too many and had gotten drunk. Since that was not according to his status, people that would see him would find it disgraceful, so she decided and dared to take him home, with her son's help. She assured him that besides her family no one had seen him drunk.

When Mother handed him his clothes, cleaned and ironed, he could not restrain his feelings and said that he was wrong in his attitude toward the Jews, that he had thought they were crooks, greedy, and hated goyim.

Since then, he has become a friend of ours and changed his hostile attitude toward Jews.

 

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Slavuta, approx. 60 km east of Mizoch. Return
  2. Seven is a recurring religious symbolic number, and ‘seven eyes’ appears multiple times in the Bible in reference to the Seven Spirits of God. Return
  3. Verkhiv, approx. 15 km east of Mizoch Return
  4. Tuchyn, approx. 60 km NE of Mizoch. Return
  5. Horyn River is found about 1 km west of Tuchyn. Return
  6. Lvov, now Lviv in Western Ukraine. Return
  7. Odesa, major city in southern Ukraine, on the Black Sea Return
  8. ‘The one who does not know how to ask’ refers to one of the four types of children present at the Passover seder, who is either too young or too uninterested to understand the religious significance of the seder. Return
  9. The Amidah is also called “the 18” and is part of the daily prayer service Return
  10. Gentile or non-Jew Return
  11. Derogatory Slavic term for Jews Return
  12. R., abbrev for Reb, a traditional Jewish title or form of address, corresponding to Mr. Return
  13. Jewish afternoon prayer service. Return
  14. Haman is the villain, and Mordechai the hero of the Purim story in the Book of Esther. However, this particular line makes reference to a verse from Megillah 7b:7 “Rava said: A person is obligated to become intoxicated with wine on Purim until he is so intoxicated that he does not know how to distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordecai.” Return


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How I Made Aliya
The Story of Noah Stein, the First Immigrant from Mizoch

As Recorded by Reuven Melamed

Translated from Hebrew by Ofir Horovitz, Eiden Harel Brewer and Noa Etzyon

It was in 1920; I worked then in the city of Ostroh as a blacksmith. One day I terribly missed mom, dad, and home so I decided to go to Mizoch for the Sabbath. I finished my work early, packed my things, and turned to go home, a 30-kilometer walk.

After a few hours of walking, I realized that I would not be able to make it home in the early hours of the night and decided to stay in Village N. with an acquaintance, a Jewish blacksmith.

The blacksmith hosted me nicely and offered me a job working for him, with better conditions and salary than those I had in Ostroh.

As I was considering his proposal, his wife arrived from a nearby city where she had been staying for family matters. She told us that the city was in turmoil, and that everyone was talking about a group of male “pioneers” who were all educated, from privileged families and rich homes, and were in the city on their way to Eretz Yisrael, where they would work as simple laborers. The woman added that in the city, people claim that throughout Russia, groups of “pioneers” were organizing to train themselves here, for work “there,” and that students were learning to become blacksmiths, carpenters, builders, etc.

While making dinner, the woman did not stop talking about the “pioneers”. The entire night we talked about the unusual fellows and Eretz Yisrael, and when I went to bed, I was unable to fall asleep due to excitement. I thought to myself, if students are learning to become blacksmiths, it means that the blacksmith profession is a good thing in Eretz Yisrael, and as an experienced blacksmith, even the students cannot compete with me. And secondly, being in Eretz Yisrael, seeing the Western Wall, the Cave of Patriarchs, and Rachel's Tomb, it is a huge thing, so I made the decision to also make aliya to Eretz Yisrael. I fell asleep feeling that I made a wise decision.

I got up in the morning and began researching what one needs to do to make it to Eretz Yisrael. They told me that I need to talk to the Eretz Yisrael office. But the office only accepts students (that is what I thought at the time) and what am I? A student? Surely, they will mock me. And as my embarrassment grew, it brought me to despair.

On my way home I could not stop thinking about Eretz Yisrael and, suddenly, I remembered that two people from our city, Alter Nemirov and Hershel Shpanover, had visited

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Eretz Yisrael a few years back, and they said that they went there through the city of Odessa. But now Odessa is beyond the border…

Without any other alternatives, I decided to cross the border into Odessa. I packed my few things, made snacks for the road, and set out one evening. After a few days, I managed to cross the border one night. I traveled by night and during the day I hid in the forests or the fields. When I was hungry, I would take a risk and enter a house in the village to ask for bread and water. However, I was not always close to a village, and so I had nights when I was starving and dehydrated.

Once, after several days without food, I entered a farmer's house and asked for bread while tearing up. The farmer gave me a whole loaf, and I swallowed it in one piece. The farmer and his children were stunned, made the sign of the cross, and gave me another loaf so that I would leave their house. They were concerned that I might explode in their home…

This is how I traveled for several weeks until I arrived at Odessa exhausted. But once there, I found out that the route to Eretz Yisrael was closed. I was on the verge of despair. But then some nice fellow Jews told me not to lose hope and that I should try to get to the Caucasus. From there, they explained, it would not be hard to cross the border into Turkey. And from Turkey the path to Eretz Yisrael was open.

Without much thought, I left and arrived at the Caucasus and stayed close to the Turkish border. On a dark night, I tried to cross the border into Turkey and got caught.

At my interrogation, I told the Russians the truth. I told them that I was from Mizoch near Rivne controlled by the Poles. I told them that the Poles treated us badly, and that is why I wished to get to Eretz Yisrael. I also told them that I was unemployed, poor, and without travel money, and therefore I travelled from town to town to get to my destination.

They did not believe me and my story. They suspected that I was a prominent spy. So, they transferred me into a big prison where many notable prisoners were kept, among which were high army officers, noblemen, and industry owners and such.

After a week of interrogations, they transported everyone in my prison cell along with prisoners from other cells onto a train. On the way, as the train travelled farther from the prison, I asked a colonel with a nice beard where they were taking us. He told me that we were all sentenced to death, and were being transported to the execution place…

I did not want to die, I was innocent. So, I decided to take a risk and jump from the moving train. Secretly, I removed one of the car planks, and I jumped at the first chance I got.

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The guards noticed that; they fired at me, stopped the train, and searched for me. However, their search failed as I was able to hide in the forest.

I hid in that forest for a few days, scared to be caught. On the third day, I left the forest and walked toward the border. I already knew the way, and I was very careful. This time I was able to successfully cross the border, but I was caught by the Turks, and they gave me back to the Russians…

Learning from my previous poor experience, this time I did not tell my interrogators the truth. I claimed to be a Turk held captive in Russia. I told them I had forgotten my name, the Turkish language, and where I was. I was then transferred back to prison where I was constantly interrogated, but I did not change my statement.

Once I was brought before an interrogator wearing a dress, meaning a woman. After several questions, to which I answered exactly as before, she told her peers: “Why are you keeping this fellow? Can't you see that he is a perfect “idiot”?”

They brought me back to prison, and two days later they made me work in the kitchen. In my role chopping wood and drawing water, I felt great. I had everything. Compared to my life in the prison cell, where I was starving and dehydrated, I was in heaven. I had enough bread, vegetables, meat, and of course water. That is how I lived for six months. I was free to walk around town anywhere I wanted.

At the end of the summer, I wanted to know when Yom Kippur was and where the nearest synagogue was. I came across several Jews and found out that Yom Kippur was commencing in the upcoming days. I arrived at the synagogue, prayed, and fasted. I was then invited to a dinner to break the fast at the house of a Jewish hotel owner.

I told my hosts everything I had been through, as well as my strong desires to get to Eretz Yisrael. The Jewish man took care of me, helping me find work at his hotel as a porter. Once I had enough money, this Jewish man got me an Italian passport. Using that passport, I was legally able to arrive in Istanbul as a tourist. There I contacted the office of Eretz Yisrael, and then I made aliya.


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Thoughts about the Holocaust Era

by Moshe Perliuk

Translated from Hebrew by Ofir Horovitz, Eiden Harel Brewer and Noa Etzyon

With the end of World War II, as the curtain was raised over the killing ravine, above a torn and destroyed Europe, with millions of dead, we all waited, full of concern, for news of our brothers, our people.

Each of us had hope, and was almost certain, that we would receive the happy message that our families, parents, brothers, and all our loved ones survived and were still alive. We amused ourselves with the false hope that soon we would bring them here, to Eretz Yisrael.

* * *

And then rumors of the horrors started to arrive.

One news item after another. Each one was worse than the last. We were struck with shock. People said that this could not be true! Did such a disaster really happen? … We could not believe the news. We did not want to believe it! …

Could it be? Six million European Jews were murdered. They were not executed because of the war, but because they were Jewish and victims of a satanic, elaborate, and calculated plan -- a plan of genocide.

* * *

Today, 18 years after the Holocaust, we know the full extent of the disaster, all the details of the plan, and the methods of mass destruction of an entire people.

We also have in our hands the master himself, who enacted the multifaceted plan, who instituted various methods to expedite the annihilation of the millions of our brothers that he was able to capture at that time.

The Ashmadai[1] -- Adolf Eichmann has been captured and is awaiting his trial and punishment in Israel…

As if there is a verdict commensurate with his crime - the extermination of six million people, including a million babies -- -- --

Eighteen years have passed since the Holocaust and I still do not have peace of mind. The pain has not been relieved, and the wound has not healed. You cannot escape the nightmare in which millions, including my family, were murdered because they were Jews and the Nazis decided to eliminate them.

It is only natural that I would want the same feelings to pulsate in the heart of every Jew and especially in the youth, to whom the phrase “Never forget” is directed…

Unfortunately, and shockingly, we see just the opposite. Many and especially the youth are indifferent to the extermination of a third of the people.

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The youth who grew up with the pre-state uprising, the War of Independence, and the Sinai War, are distancing themselves from the atrocities and annihilation of the past, which are beyond their perception and understanding.

* * *

The plan of extermination and genocide was worked out thoroughly and scientifically and carried out not once, not with an atomic bomb, but throughout the years of the war. The extermination was carried out in different ways and in many places. To this end, the notorious concentration camps worked like factories: Buchenwald, Dachau, Chelmno, Treblinka, Majdanek, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, and dozens of other places, surrounded by electrified fences and containing extermination methods such as gas chambers, crematoria, and the like.

Hundreds of thousands were killed inside the death trains and masses, more masses were led like sheep to the slaughter and shot near the graves they dug for themselves.

Tens of thousands were killed in hundreds of other ways. There were those who died by throwing themselves on an electrified barbed wire fence, some by hanging and strangling, some while undergoing medical experiments or while amusing the killers. Hundreds of thousands of babies perished in carriages or sacks into which they were collected and crammed. An entire industry was established, an industry that produced soap made from the fat of the murdered and mattresses composed of their hair.

* * *

How is it possible, the youth ask, that six million did not stand up against their oppressors, did not revolt, and did not try to fight for their lives? And if they were already condemned to die, why not take down their enemies with them (“let their souls die with the Philistines”)? And here comes their well-known call “Nothing like this will happen to us!”

* * *

Why did the masses go to die like sheep to the slaughter?

The answer may be given by historians, scientists, researchers, and experts. Deep psychological motives operated here. The mass passivity had a multifaceted background. Such as: illusion, which stems from excessive optimism, deep faith, as well as objective reasons, such as the geographical environment, Gentile hatred, and above all the method of numbing, which was strictly enforced by the Nazis. All of the above and other reasons, require study and research and are waiting to be explored.

[Page 231]

* * *

We will try to provide a partial answer to the question that until now others have not tried to address.

Does going “like a sheep to the slaughter” really reflect the situation? Today we know that it does not. Following the information that came to us and the details given to us by the survivors who were on the verge of the pit or the gas chambers, it is clear that the victims should not be underestimated and that they did not go toward death like sheep to the slaughter

* * *

Let us restore the conditions the unfortunates were in and the measures taken by the murderers.

There is no doubt that if the Nazis and their aides had started the act of assassination and killing immediately after the occupation began, a different reality would have obtained. I do not doubt that the response would have come immediately. All the Jews of Europe, including the victims of Mizoch, would have organized defenses, built fortifications and barricades, and no one would have been captured alive by the murderers. Once again, the warrior spirit of the Maccabees and the Bar Kochba warriors would have excelled. On these barricades there would have been warriors: men, women, and children.

The Nazis knew what was awaiting them and the methods they used proved that they did not underestimate the heroism and courage of the Jews, members of the “inferior” race. Only thus, perhaps, does it make sense that the “actions” began only after two, three, or more years - after the occupation. This period of time was needed for them to complete the numbing process which they began immediately with the occupation and continued little by little, step by step.

In the first days after the occupation, they tried to be kind and, in many places, justified the transfer of the Jews to the ghetto out of concern for their safety and a desire to protect them from the Ukrainians, Lithuanians, etc.

Inside the protected ghettoes, the Jews were given internal rule, by appointing ghetto councils and police, establishing autonomous services, and the like. The deficiencies discovered in the supply of food and more were justified by the difficulties arising from the conditions of the war.

The second phase was to send the Jews to work, some to remote labor camps and some to daily work, to which they went out in the morning and returned in the evening. As a result, many families were broken and all those who were taken out of the ghettos, supposedly to work, never returned from the camps where they found their death in various ways. Another proof of the method of numbing was the fact that the main concern of the Nazis was that the ghettos would not have any knowledge about the extermination camps.

[Page 232]

However, people in the ghetto found out from time to time when a Jew managed to escape from the killing places and returned to the ghetto to warn the rest. But the escapees were hanged in front of all the ghetto residents for being communist agents who spread panic and false news. At best, the escapees were labeled by the Jews themselves in the ghetto as liars for maliciously spreading false stories.

By removing the residents slowly in small groups, under the pretext of productive work, they managed to eliminate even a huge ghetto like Lodz, Warsaw, etc. And the few insurgents left in the Warsaw ghetto that did try to revolt did so only after they knew that these transports were not headed to labor camps but to the gas chambers and crematoria.

On the other hand, in ghettos like Mizoch whose residents were fated not to die in crematoria but by mass killing in a huge pit, the Nazis continued the method of numbing until the very last minute. Until the Jews finally found themselves trapped inside a tangled net and mocked by Ukrainian guards who served as bloodthirsty watchdogs.

The meetings and accessibility within the ghetto on the part of the Nazis and especially on the part of their loyal slaves -- the Gentiles became more frequent. By splitting the families, humiliating and suppressing their spirits gradually and systematically, the desensitization became a holocaust - so that one day it was possible to concentrate the surviving residents on their last journey-- to the Umschlagplatz[2].

* * *

The Jewish people excel in their optimistic nature, in their energy, in their desire to live, and in their strong and deep faith that the people of Israel will live forever.

It is this national awareness that has saved our people from extinction and maintained its existence for two thousand years of exile. Hence the illusion and assurance that even the Nazis would not be able to carry out the genocide of our people. This belief particularly grew following the methods of desensitization that the murderers used.

The Diaspora Jews also believed in the morality of the world and that there were people who would set out to fight the Nazi devil. Their hopes rose with news regarding the victories of the countries in Western Europe. They secretly listened to London radio broadcasts and expected help from the wide world.

The Jews of the ghetto did not know and could not have known that international morality had collapsed irreparably. And that even the people who were accepted as Righteous Among the Nations turned their hearts to stone when it came to saving European Jewry from the clutches of the murderers. Even if we explore and discuss the issue, we can barely scrape the surface of its complexity. Moreover, it is very doubtful whether it is permissible to criticize the victims, without personally having gone through the same situation in its entirety. The description of the inhuman conditions, as given in this list, is far from complete and is only the tip of the iceberg.

[Page 233]

Those who have not gone through the hardships themselves and have not been in hell can hardly understand the spirit of the unfortunate victims, who in my eyes are pure and holy heroes.

* * *

The continuous painful history of our nation, which has endless chapters of grief, added another chapter -- the largest and bloodiest among all the chapters of history. The chapter on the destruction of a third of the people. This period deserves to be called not just the most tragic period but also one of the most heroic ones in the history of our people. If we ever discover and collect all the details about the steadfastness and endurance of the tortured victims, including the rebellions that broke out in the ghettos, the heroic deeds of the Jewish partisans, etc., perhaps we can reach a different conclusion. One that contradicts and does not justify the contempt with which Israeli youth relate to the Diaspora that was destroyed. No doubt the attitude will change towards our millions of brothers who were shot, burned, suffocated, and destroyed after terrible torture and “brainwashing” that lasted not hours but years, will no doubt change.

 

Translator's Footnotes

  1. “The prince of demons” in Jewish lore. Versions of the same can also be found in Islamic, Christian, Greek and Zoroastrian legends. Return
  2. Umschlagplatz, a German term for collection point used during the Holocaust to denote the holding areas adjacent to railway stations in occupied Poland where Jews from ghettos were assembled for deportation to Nazi death camps. (Source: Wikipedia) Return


The Last Jew of Mizoch Has Arrived in Israel

by David Dratba

Translated from Hebrew by Naomi Sokoloff

Weak, old, and broken, I returned to Mizoch from the prison labor camp where I spent six and a half years for the crime of serving as the manager of a large agricultural institution. They sentenced me to ten years of hard labor and I was released early because of poor health. After I recovered a little, I moved with my family to Poland and from there we came to Israel.

We were the last Jews who had remained in Mizoch, and with our departure the city remained “Judenfrei” – “free” of Jews and Judaism.

The Jews had built Mizoch, established factories, developed industry, workshops, and commerce. The entire town was full of hardworking, productive Jews; happy and joyful young people; and vibrant Jewish life.

I came back to Mizoch after the war because I loved the place, I was fond of the townspeople, and I was connected through dear memories to every inch of its soil. There I suffered at the time of the Polish regime, there I rose to prominence during the time of the Soviet regime, and there I also had my share of disappointments and bitterness. Now I'm in Israel. Among the remnants of my family, among Jews. I am content with my lot, glad to be a citizen of a Hebrew state, a regular citizen suffering neither deprivations nor discrimination on account of being Jewish.

[Page 234]

We will not resurrect the Jews of Mizoch and Derman. Mizoch itself has been erased and no trace remains of its Jewishness. Only in our hearts the pain continues to gnaw and sadness remains. My brethren from Mizoch, let us join together and be strong in our faith: the Jew-haters wanted to destroy us, to wipe us off the face of the earth, and look, we have established our state and it is flourishing and developing, gathering in the far-flung members of our nation and drawing them near, giving them security, a happy life, and promising our people's existence forever.

I have grown old, but happy in the knowledge that my children arrived at a safe harbor, and that my grandchildren will grow up in the bosom of our free homeland. This is our consolation: building and developing the homeland. Through the ingathering of our exiles and the flourishing of our culture, we take revenge on our enemies and deprive them of rejoicing in our catastrophe.

 

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