Chaim Samelson Toronto
The winter of 1945 was the hardest for the Jews in the concentration camps. The Germans ignored the seriousness of their defeats on all fronts and continued with their plans of annihilation. We, the prisoners of the camps, were totally without strength, owing to hunger and cold, and could barely stand on our feet. We clearly felt that we were dying, and only the Jewish hope and trust that beat within our hearts enabled us to hold on.
Every day Allied planes would appear and bomb factories, and we were joyfully following the flames which the bombs left behind, but which were not as strong as the fire of revenge that burned in our hearts, when, one morning, the order suddenly came to assemble on the parade grounds. From there we were taken to the train, packed into cars, and, after three weeks of travel in conditions of hunger and thirst, the iron gates of Theresienstadt suddenly opened before us. From there we were liberated by the Russians on May 9, 1945.
Hand in hand with our joy at our liberation was the nagging question that all of us faced: What would we do now and where would we go?
I myself decided not to return to Poland, the country where every inch of land was soaked with Jewish blood. After some consideration I made the decision to immigrate to Israel, the historic homeland of our people.
The attitude of the Russians toward us was good. They took care of us and supplied all our needs. But before our stomachs could adjust to digesting human food, many among us, my brother included, came down with all sorts of illnesses.
Meanwhile, the Russians issued an order for each of us to return to his homeland. In accordance with my decision not to return to Poland, I declared myself to be a Roumanian, as did my brother and aunt, whom I had discovered in Theresienstadt. After many difficulties, we managed to join a group leaving for Roumania.
The trip was not easy. My brother ran a high fever and only managed to reach the Red Cross train we were traveling on at the last moment, with my aunt's assistance and leaning on a cane. The train was insufficiently provisioned so that, from time to time, the healthy among us had to get off to get food from the Czech and Slovak inhabitants and, occasionally, from the Red Cross itself.
Hundreds of Jews awaited us at the station in Budapest. Some of them were meeting family members Hungarian Jews who had been liberated. We, the Roumanians, remained standing where we were, enviously watching those excited meetings. Shortly before the train departed I heard someone ask if there were any Jews from Piotrkow among us. When I heard the name of our town, I broke for the window and saw a familiar face. It was Yitzhak Wenglishewski, from Piotrkow, who had been a member of the Hashomer Hatzair movement in our town. Here, as it turned out, he was active in the escape operation that was assisting the illegal immigration to the Land of Israel. When he saw me, he called out in a loud voice telling me to get off the train. We left the car one after the other, and Yitzhak Wenglishewski led us quickly outside the train station without attracting attention. After we took various trains through the streets of Budapest, he brought us to the gathering point. Two days later, a special emissary appeared; he led us to the Austrian border, and that's how we got to Graz.
We stayed in that city for a while; it is notable for its magnificent scenery. Then the order came to take to the road again.
We marched quietly, one after the other, with the high Tyrol mountains rising above us. My heart was full of doubts about whether my old aunt and my sick brother would be able to cross those peaks. But, by the grace of God, we made it to the top safely. There, a broad-shouldered Russian soldier jumped out at us. For a moment we froze in our tracks in fear, but we quickly took heart after one of the escape team leaders slipped something into the Russian's palm and he motioned to us to continue.
Twenty minutes later we were on Italian soil near a British-military camp. Here soldiers from the Jewish Brigade were waiting for us. They immediately loaded us into camouflaged trucks, in which we made our way to the Italian interior. Occasionally the caravan would stop and we would get out for air and to stretch our muscles; then we would immediately continue on our journey.
Finally we made it to Treviso, where the Brigade had pitched camp. They put us up in tents, fed us in the dining hall, and gave us the best of everything. The Jewish soldiers from Eretz Israel were indescribably loyal and devoted to us. There, for the first time, we were able to talk freely in the fields and on the trails without fear that someone might betray us. On one of my outings I noticed a soldier carrying a book under his arm, which, from afar, I made out to be A Book of Testimony, written by Yaakov Kurtz. Full of curiosity, I approached the soldier to check on the author's identity. He turned out to be none other than the Yaakov Kurtz from our town, who had been miraculously saved in 1942 from the Piotrkow ghetto by an exchange of German and Palestinian Jewish nationals.
On that same day we met, among the Brigade soldiers, Mishek Zemel and the brothers Natan and Arye Sandovsky. It was a dramatic meeting. They were sure we were the only Jews from the town to be saved from the talons of the German murderers. And for us they were the first sign of life of our townfolk who had immigrated to Israel.
The next day we met the brothers Poznanski the younger, Sandovsky; and Glogowski. My old Betar commander, Yehuda Kushinski, also arrived, along with a group of partisans from Vilna. We had a lot to tell them. The details of the hardships we had experienced were still fresh in our minds and our hearts still bled.
That same evening, Sabbath eve, we went with the Brigade soldiers into a wide field in which a temporary stage had been set up. On stage, a ceremony was held to welcome the Sabbath, and a Jewish female soldier lit the candles. Then two former commanders of the Vilna district's Jewish partisans went up on stage; they were Abba Kovner and Haim Lazar, and we all heard the Jewish partisan song for the first time Zog nit keinmol az du gehst dem letztn weg and we were told about the courageous struggle to defend the honor of the people of Israel.
As dusk faded into night, a huge bonfire was lit and we all danced a wild Hora. Our powerful singingwhich expressed the feelings that stirred within us at our return to our own people, proud, courageous Jews, a new and wonderful generationechoed late into the night and ended with a national anthem. We really felt that hope was not lost and we would yet reach a safe haven in our homeland.
|The first anniversary of liberation Bergen-Belsen, April 15, 1946.
On the right, Bronia Krakowska-Rodal, now in Kibbutz Rosh Hanikra.
Jerry Wenglishewski Toronto
The bright sunshine of that beautiful day in May 1845 cannot be forgotten. The streets of Vienna were crowded with Soviet military vehicles all kinds of jeeps, trucks, tanks, and horse carts, moving westward.
Yuri was looking at the Russian soldiers and he wanted to shout out his happiness. He was free! Yet he was too weak to yell and he could barely walk. Years of torture, pain, hunger, humiliation and of feeling like a hunted animal always on the run could break even the strongest individual. Only a few days before, he had been pondering the idea of suicide.
Now he wanted to laugh, but he could not. He still did not believe that he was free. He could walk in the streets without being afraid for his life not hunted by the Nazis nor by his own dark suicidal thoughts. He could hardly believe that, after years of living as degraded, dirty Jew and a hungry animal, he was again a human being.
Yuri was confused: He wasn't sure who he was any longer. Was he a Jew? Or was he a Polack? Many times he lived as a young Polish man and had been abused and tortured as such. Was he a Lithuanian? He spoke the language fluently, and all his documents stated that his name was Jurgis Veglishauskas, of Lithuanian nationality.
The Russian columns were moving east through Vienna. Only a few civilians walked on the streets, mostly Auslander (aliens). The Viennese population were hiding behind their heavy house gates. They now feared the Russians. They felt guilty, realizing that the Russian soldiers would not forgive them for the sadistic atrocities that the German army committed on Russian soil.
Next day Yuri walked along Ottakringer Gasse. A column of Russian soldiers in horse-drawn carts were resting and preparing their lunch. Yuri felt a pang of hunger and pain in his stomach. He had not eaten any food for several days. As he approached a soldier with a common greeting in their language (a language he had learned during the war), he was questioned about his name and business by one of the soldiers. Yuri was not sure what to answer. He quickly reasoned that he no longer had to lie, as the German-Nazis were powerless. I am a Polish slave-laborer and I thank you for liberating me, he answered. The soldiers were good-natured, front-line men and offered Yuri a loaf of bread and butter. He thanked them profoundly. Tears streamed down his face. He hadn't had real bread and butter for all the years of the war. All he had tasted was sawdust bread. Now he remembered the taste of bread before the war.
Happily, he returned to his little room at Lienfelder Gasse. There he boiled some water and, with the Russian gift, he prepared his own feast. Chewing on the bread and butter, his hopes slowly began to rise. After all, he would be able to be himself. But who was he?
Going back in his mind, he began to remember; his parents, brothers and more family. He felt a twitch in his heart. What had happened to them? Would he meet them again?
The delicious meal and the rays of sun beaming through the window of his tiny room brought him back to reality and to the enjoyment of his food. His tired body was now able to call out: I am free, I am free! There was no need for lies, no more humiliations and no more slave work.
Yet he did not believe that 100%. Years of false hopes and experiences taught him not to take for granted those good ways of life. They had not given him his freedom. The Nazis might still return. It had happened before and Yuri had paid dearly for his unreal desires for freedom. That's why he was afraid to think of his family or about what else his future would bring. His habit of worrying only about the next meal made him think of his table, laid out with bread and butter. Nothing was more important than food. Food meant a full stomach and energy to fight for the next day.
He sensed how degrading his way of life had become but at the same time he knew that he was too weak and too tired to understand it right now in any human way. He just sat down and enjoyed his first day of liberty.
|Letter of recommendation by the Austrian Red Cross giving Jerry Wenglishewski wide
authority to operate across the CzechoslovakianAustrian border between Vienna and Bratislava
For the first time in years he fell asleep on a full stomach and with hope in his heart for a better future.
Or was there any future at all?
Next morning Yuri woke up to the sounds of exploding bombs and artillery fire on the other side of the Danube. Fighting was still going on. Later in the day, someone mentioned that the Germans were putting up a struggle in Langenzersdorf, resistance against the advancing Russian units. However, the general feeling was that the Germans hadn't a chance.
Yuri was in good spirits. He still had a piece of yesterday's bread. The weather was fantastic and he could hear more Russian army units rumbling through the streets of Vienna. It was a gorgeous day in May 1945.
Because of their fear of the Russian soldiers, Yuri's Austrian neighbors in the house at Lienfelder Gasse began to invite him into their apartments, offering him wine and sweets. It was funny, in Yuri's eyes, to see that the same people who hadn't acknowledged him as a human being before should suddenly begin to greet him with a loud Guten Tag. This was the character of the Viennese. As far as they were concerned, Yuri was a Lithuanian who spoke Russian and could help them to prevent rape and robbery from the advancing Russian soldiers frontline units. Fear is a tremendous stimulant, even for the German people.
Throughout the streets of Vienna, corpses of soldiers and horses were lying around. From the other side of the Danube you could hear echoes of the battles. Yuri was troubled with hardship even though he had eaten for the past few days. He felt better physically, but was very weak. The heat and the stench from the street made him sick and he wanted to retch. The streets had been deserted; not a soul was around.
His aim was to get to Kartner's Ring, where the Hotel Imperial was located. I must make it, he constantly repeated to himself. It's quite far, but I have to find the strength and somehow reach that hotel. Yuri heard that the Russian general of the front had set up his headquarters at the Imperial Hotel and intuition made Yuri feel that this was the place where he would find work and food. He would be able to survive if he could just get to that location. He would then be able to get well, work and soon restore himself to the moral state of a human being.
From Ottakring to Kartner Ring was several miles. In normal times, it would take a streetcar less than an hour. To walk now, in Yuri 's condition, was a difficult task requiring an extra, special effort. To walk amidst bombed buildings, a mess of electrical and telephone wires, concrete slabs and ditches slowed down his progress.
These were the remains of recent American bombings, as well as battles by the Russians against the German Third Reich The Super Race.
He felt happy when he finally arrived at the Kartner Ring. It wasn't so far to the hotel from there. Now he could see Russians moving quickly in American jeeps, whizzing in all directions. On Kartner Ring the traffic was heavy with all kinds of vehicles. Yuri felt stronger now, seeing that he was closer to achieving his goal. He found the Imperial Hotel guarded on all sides by Russian soldiers.
Yuri walked over to the main entrance and was promptly stopped by a guard. He explained in Russian that he wanted work as a translator. The guard told him only to stay outside and wait until he could locate someone who might be interested. After waiting for more than an hour, a woman emerged from the building, dressed in a military uniform with the insignia of a major on her shoulders. Though Yuri was very tired, his old zest and daring started to circulate in his bloodstream, contradicting the deep fear in his guts.
Yuri realized that his future would depend on his first response to the major's questions. To the question, Who are you and what are you doing here? Yuri said, I am a Jew and want to work and eat. I speak Russian as well as German and I know the city of Vienna very well. She looked at him with a long gaze and then ordered the guard to let him through.
In the huge vestibule she told him to sit down and wait. After a while she returned in the company of another major, a tall man in his fifties, who began to question Yuri in Russian. Yuri told him pertly, but politely, that he escaped from concentration camps and had been living sometimes as a Polish worker and sometimes as a Lithuanian worker. He stated that he was born in Poland and had no clue as to what had become of the rest of his family. He continued to tell the major that he was alone, hungry and very tired. He stressed the point that he wanted only to work for a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. Both majors looked at each other; one ordered Yuri to follow him. The major brought Yuri to the kitchen and gave orders to the cook to feed him. He told Yuri to return to the vestibule upon finishing his meal. The cook examined Yuri's thin cheeks, turned suddenly and brought him a large plate of steaming soup, full to the brim. In a soft voice, he kindly told him to eat very slowly. He also placed a huge piece of black bread on the table in front of Yuri, and again repeated his instructions to eat slowly. It seemed that Yasha the cook understood what hunger was. In the bowl there was more meat than soup. Yuri devoted his entire attention to eating. Nothing else mattered at that moment. This was a meal fit for a king. He felt suddenly energized. He found it difficult to accept the fact that tomorrow he would have food again. Therefore he asked the kind cook for a loaf of bread. When the cook asked For whom? Yuri replied, For a friend at home. He was ashamed to admit that he wanted it for himself for the next day. It had become second nature to be concerned about his next meal through the recent years.
With a full stomach, his hunger satisfied, he then returned to the vestibule wondering what to expect next.
Russian officers, captains, majors, colonels and many others had been coming and going. Some disappeared behind the vast number of doors on different levels of the luxurious Hotel Imperial. Yuri alone was in civilian clothes, sitting in the lobby. All around him were officers with different insignias on their uniforms. A captain asked him who he was and what he was doing. Yuri could not understand himself, but answered that he was a Lithuanian and was going to work as a translator. maybe it was his intuition again, or some kind of premonition that, even to the Russians, his liberators, it was better not to say that one was a Jew.
Later he found out that his intuition was right, as usual. Yuri's liberators didn't like Jews. As a matter of fact, they hated them, though nobody would say it openly. He was soon summoned upstairs and introduced to the general. General Godin was a tall, husky man with a round, open face, his chest decorated with medals.
After a brief interview, he told Yuri that he would accept him as a translator. The terms were that Yuri had to be available at any time of day or night. He could sleep in one of the hotel's rooms and eat in the officers' mess. Yuri thanked the formidable general profusely for his generosity. Godin was the general in charge of the third Ukrainian front. It was his army that had pushed back the Germans from the Ukraine, Romania and Austria and was now progressing to the west to meet the Americans.
The next morning, Yuri was called to the general's office. He entered just where General Godin was sitting at a large table surrounded by his adjutants. Yuri was pleasantly shocked; most of the adjutants had hooked noses and invariably Jewish faces.
He thought to himself, Now I am at home. A kind of warm feeling swept through his body, being a Jew among other Jews. It was a new sensation to him. He could not understand what was happening to him. Never, as far back as he could remember, had he felt this way. Maybe in his soul, he was longing to be a Jew, a plain Jew among other Jews. Subconsciously, he did not even suspect that during all those years of pain and torture, he wanted to be among his own kind. Under torture, he had had to yell that he was not a Jew. His soul had screamed out, a paradox like this could only happen in an inhumane world. He, who had longed to live as a Jew with all his heart, had to denounce himself and live another identity.
The general introduced Yuri to his companions and he was assigned to work with Colonel Upita. The colonel was a soft-spoken man around forty-five years old. He took Yuri to a waiting jeep with a chauffeur and they started on their way. They drove about twenty miles from Vienna to a textile factory. The Russians wanted to start production of clothing to have a supply for the advancing army. Yuri translated the conversations between the colonel and the director of the factory regarding the immediate start, of production, raw materials and shipment of goods.
On their way back to Vienna, the colonel indicated to the driver that it was time to eat and it would be nice to have a picnic. The driver found a clear, grassy spot, spread a blanket, brought out white bread, butter, cans of meat and a tall gasoline cannister full of Hungarian wine. The colonel invited Yuri to sit down, as well as the driver. Together they enjoyed their meal. On this sunny day in the vicinity of Vienna, Yuri had his first picnic a symbol of his return to the human race.
Colonel Upita was a well-educated man and inquired into Yuri's background with many curious questions about his childhood, education and life during the war. He asked about the Germans, Austrians and the city of Vienna. Yuri answered openly to the best of his knowledge. The colonel liked that. Upon arrival in Vienna, the colonel offered Yuri food to take home, but for the first time in years, Yuri refused, stating that he was eating in the hotel and therefore didn't need it. At that moment he started to regain his self-confidence. He was reverting from the hungry animal he had become to a human being again.
Colonel Upita probably mentioned his satisfaction with his translator to the general, for the next morning Yuri was summoned to the general's quarters. General Godin appointed him as his personal translator. He would accompany the general wherever he went. Yuri was honored by the general's confidence and promised to try his best.
From then on, Yuri went with the general on all his shopping trips, to cultural events, theaters, operas, conferences and meetings. All of Yuri's wants and needs were taken care of meals, clothes, etc.
Austrians began to seek his acquaintance in order to acquire favors. A translator could be of great assistance in the request for political favors and in other business and personal matters with the Almighty Russian General. Fate had brought Yuri from destitution and hunger to an honored and powerful position.
Editor's Note: Jerry (Yuri) Wenglishewski, a member of Kibbutz Hachshara Behazit (the kibbutz of Mordechai Anielewicz and other Warsaw Ghetto Uprising heroes), served honorably in the Bricha in 1945-1948. He was one of the organizers and operatives of the important transit center at the Rothschild Hospital in Vienna, helping many illegal immigrants to reach Eretz Israel. Another Piotrkower working there was Eliezer Bashan (Leshek Blachman). Elazar Prashker was at the time the head of the Zionist Federation in Vienna.
Aryeh Sandowski (Leibek) Ramat Chen
In the very last days before the outbreak of World War Two, I managed to escape from Poland. Before arriving in the Land of Israel, I spent a month on the open, stormy sea with the illegal immigrants of Aliyah Bet. The war severed all contact between me and my family, and all efforts to communicate with them failed.
With the first appeal to the Jewish community in the Land of Israel to join the fight against the Nazis, my brother Natan (who had immigrated in 1934 and was studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem) joined the first group of volunteers in the war against the Germans. By the end of 1940 he was already in uniform as I took my first steps as a member of Kibbutz Messiloth.
As the war continued, the first terrible reports of the bitter fate that had befallen our relatives under Nazi rule began to reach us. When the Jewish Brigade was formed, I immediately volunteered. It was my desire to fight actively against the murderers and avenge the blood of millions of Jews.
As the war front in Europe shifted to Italy, the Brigade went into active combat in the front lines against the Germans. This was the opportunity to pay back the murderers of our parents, our brothers and our sisters.
But in addition to our desire for revenge was a question that was constantly on our minds: Had any of our relatives survived? Could we manage to help them? Was there really any point to our war if, if fact, God forbid, nobody was left for us to help?
In July 1945, after the victory over the Nazis, while we were stationed in Treviso (not far from the Austrian border), Jewish refugees began to arrive unexpectedly from the remnants of the ghettos and concentration camps.
On one of the refugees vehicles I found many people from my town, including the brothers Samelson, the sons of the tailor Samelson of Piotrkow, who was the well-known benefactor of the tradespeople in our town. They looked terrible. We consoled them and tried to lift their spirits. The sight of soldiers from the Jewish Brigade, who had come from the Land of Israel, inspired in those survivors the hope that they might yet make a new life for themselves. Every day new transports of refugees arrived, and on one of them, brought in by the Brigade, we were fortunate enough to find our two young brothers, Avraham and Yaacov. There were no bounds to our happiness; it is impossible to describe our feelings in those momentsthe great happiness mixed with pain and sorrow upon hearing of the loss of the people of our town, including most of our family members, cruelly murdered by the Germans.
On orders of the High Command, the Brigade left Italy and was tasked with missions in other countries of Europe. We will never forget the Brigade's transit through Germany, where we met Jews from Piotrkow near the Landsberg camp.
|Soldiers of the Jewish Brigade.
From left: Nathan Sandowski, Aryeh Sandowski and their friend,
Sitting: Renia Zaks-Irmay and Bronia Shidlowska-Ofir
Among the other tasks assigned us was that of guarding German prisoners in Holland.
The desire to find relatives and town members never left us, not even for a moment. At the first opportunity I set out for Poland, travelling together with one of the Brigade members.
On May 3, 1946 we arrived in Katowice. From there we travelled to Piotrkow, and I visited the rotten forest in which my parents had been shot to death along with hundreds of the city's Jews.
Later on I participated in a mourning gathering at the grave of Mordecai Anielewicz in Warsaw, where he had fallen while commanding the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
In the cities I visited I met dozens of Jews from Piotrkow. Before leaving Poland I took it upon myself to arrange the transfer of two girls from Piotrkow to the land of Israel. They were Renia Zaks and Bronia Shidlovski. Accomplishing that involved many difficulties and adventures. At the Czech border I was taken to the Moravska Ostrava jail and from there to the famous jail in Prague. Our route was hardly strewn with roses, since they took us for spies. In jail we spent 10 days in hunger and fear for the fate of the two girls. In the end we were released, thanks to the intervention of the British military attaché in Prague. At that time news reached us of the dismantling of the Brigade, and I, together with my friend, made every effort to reach our unit as quickly as possible.
The news of the Black S that the English had arranged for the Jewish community in the Land of Israel, which reached us aboard ship on the way back, left us dumbstruck. It is hard to describe the morale of soldiers whose weapons have been taken away, along with the right to feel the taste of a homeland. We were very depressed, but our firm determination to struggle for the right of free immigration for our surviving brothers and sisters remained unflagging.
On that day we demonstrated in Haifa and stoned the English, the ship that brought the two girls from Piotrkow dropped anchor in the port. Our protests were to no avail, and, together with thousands of other illegal immigrants, the girls were transferred to Cyprus. Those were the first steps in the great struggle waged by the Jewish community in the land of Israel on the eve of the War of Liberation, which gave us our independence and the State of Israel.
I stood in the doorway of the tenement at Garncarska Street in Piotrkow and looked at the flights of stairs my family had climbed so often.
I felt sad for a moment. I'd been here before, but I hadn't really explored the place since my return to Poland after the war. Now, the time had come to leave this soil and, somehow, I felt the urge to take a closer look at this town, now so strange and quiet.
With a bit of imagination, I could see the people and my dearest and my friends, full of zest and life as they had roamed these streets years ago.
I walked down to Starowarszawska Street. Here, Jewish stores, one after another had given this section of town a lively and folkloristic appearance. Now everything was closed and empty. I passed the narrow Grodzka Street and Korman's delicatessen store. His delicious wursht and parovkes had been a gastronomical treat. Then I came to the Trybunalski Place. When I was a kid the droshkes four-wheeled carriages and horses were stationed there. It was a lot of fun to hitch a ride with one of them.
I looked up to the second floor of the building where the Merkaz Library had once been located. From there I had obtained whole shelves of Verne, Dumas, Korczak and other writers. The former Gletger's restaurant downstairs, from where the Nazi Befehlstelle had directed the atrocities in 1942, was already open and selling vodka again.
The photoprints in the display window advertised a Russian war picture.
I stood in front of the Flattau's movie theater as my afternoon memories wore on. It was right here or in kino Czary that we experienced the dreams and splendor of the wide world as we watched the movies: Greta Garbo, Rudolf Valentino, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Molly Picon, Maurice Chevalier, Marlene Dietrich and Charlie Chaplin. I didn't know then that years later I would eagerly look for these movies in the T.V. Guide and watch the late show in order to digest them again, language and all and to feel the recollection of home and the past, so vivid and burning.
Then I walked down to the section of the Jewish Kehila, the Dobroczynnosc, the orphanage, the Maccabi and Maria Konopnicka Public School, all located on a stretch of one block. Here I experienced a feeling of great warmth as I remembered all the important events and pleasant things that had taken place here. I thought of the children and the wise, of the sportsmen and the scholars who had attended these quarters. It had been right here that every year, the big Lag B' Omer Parade started its movement toward the forests.
The schoolyard reminded me of something else. I stood precisely on the same spot where Meister Klette had killed people. A few yards away I could see the former premises of the Ordnungsdienst.
Then I went toward Jerozolimska Street and to the front of the main Synagogue. I thought of the High Holy Days, with everything so sincere and quiet the earnest prayers and the inspiring sound of the Shofar; the great cantors and their enchanting nigunim.
And then other memories: mothers and children; the Shupo, Ukrainians and the police; the long line of peasant carriages crawling toward Tomaszov and the last journey to Rakov.
The walls of the Synagogue still stood. there was no roof and the interior was completely destroyed. Many houses on this side of the street were missing.
From a distance I could see the building that was once the Jewish Hospital the only reminder of help and kindness still standing.
Years ago, when I rode the same little puffing train to the Przyglov-Wlodzimierzov summer resort, my heart was always pounding. That was the place to be! A beautiful river, lavish trees, elegant villas and pensions, games, and visitors all the ingredients of a full and rewarding kind of life. Upon arriving, I almost missed the station because the old wooden structure was no longer there. I walked along the river and the familiar roads, rarely meeting a soul.
Finally, the day's events were coming to a close with dinner at the Sielanka restaurant. A few Army officers with their girls were the only customers. A musician was playing Russian and Polish songs. The soldiers drank vodka and tried to sing along in their drunken stupor.
From the window I could see the little stadium where the Katzenelson colony's Olympics were usually held at the end of each summer season.
I took a droshke back to town. The coachman was none other than Leonarczyk, my former boss at the Hortensia factory at the time of the Nazis. He didn't show any sign of recognition; he was aware, however, that I was Jewish. From our small talk I remember only one episode. When we approached the Bugaj complex, he said regretfully, Those were the days when the Jews were living here . . . those were the days, mister. . .
I understood his feelings quite well. He was sorry about the loss of his prey, he missed the days of blackmail, robbery, and all the fun that people like him used to have with the Jews. And suddenly, I realized that I had no more business to attend to in this town.
Such are the memories we cherish. They are more than nostalgia for a home town. They are the memories of our earliest beginnings. Earliest beginnings may not always be pleasant, but they remind us of our youth and of our flesh and blood. We honor these all the days of our lives.
|The last Jew in Piotrkow, Roman (Rivele) Hipszer, the last guardian of the Jewish cemetery|
Jacob Maltz died in 1976. To write about his life and his endeavors is to write the History of the Piotrkower Jewry and the Zionist Dream of our ancestors during the last eighty years.
He was one of the chief leaders of the Zionist Movement in Piotrkow, and his eloquence, personality and dedication contributed enormously to the spiritual and idealistic education and goals of scores of young Halutzim.
He himself made Allah in the thirties and continued his fruitful activities in Eretz Israel. His last gigantic task was to turn the Piotrkower Izkor Book from a dream into reality.
In 1971, when Jacob Maltz became 80 years old, I wrote the following essay in tribute to this great man.
Every year, on Israel's Independence Day, in the main grandstands, against a dramatic background of waving flags and enthusiastic crowds, the country's aging elite watches the parade go by. The entire government is there, headed by the President and flanked by scores of septuagenarian and octogenarian settlers who are facing a great dream come true. Among the fine men watching the parade is Jacob Maltz.
It all began years ago in Piotrkow. Young Jacob had begun to think deeply about the fate of his people. The Zionist Movement, whose influence was beginning to expand at the time, reached into his world with its challenging slogans and magic attraction. All this made an enormous impression and so Jacob started to spread the gospel of Zion.
A hard-working and sensitive fellow with a brilliant mind, who spoke in a quiet but authoritative voice, Jacob Maltz soon became one of the leaders of the Zionists in our home town.
One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is the house on 9 Garncarska Street in Piotrkow, where the beautiful aroma of fresh bread and rolls always emanated from Toltza's bakery. I went to school with Jacob's daughter Ruth and often visited their house. It was a fascinating place to visit. There were so many books and people. You heard many exotic words, like Poalei Zion, Keren Kayemeth and Hapoel. In this house you were close to a man who, on Lag B'Omer Day, was the center of attention to scores of intense young people wearing blue blouses and colorful ties. In a word, you felt you were near many important, splendorous things.
There was another place where I had the chance to meet Jacob Maltz. He was a very good friend of my brother-in-law Pinkus and often visited my sister Hela 's home at the Jewish Hospital. A wonderful relationship existed between those two remarkable men. Their political views were far apart Pinkus was one of the Bund party leaders. However, every other human interest kept them together. And when those two men took a walk down the street, the people of Piotrkow felt good. There was still a brotherly understanding between folks despite the notorious party conflicts that plagued Jewish communities everywhere.
|Jacob Maltz (left) and Berish Rosenblum in 1919
Both were members of the city council as representatives of Poalei Zion
Years passed. Years of war and destruction and later years of fighting and hope, One day, a man came to see me at the Social Security office in Tel-Aviv; when he approached my desk, I recognized him immediately. It was Jacob Maltz. After finishing some formalities regarding his retirement, we went out for a chat. He had told me about his years of work in the country's service and about his devoted activity as the head of the Piotrkower Society in Israel. I gladly accepted his invitation to visit his home.
There, for the first time, I came into contact with his great obsession; the project of the Piotrkower Memorial Book. Vast, coherent planning and effort went into accumulating the records and materials for this project. The endless photographs, documents and articles were neatly sorted. I was amazed how much Jacob cherished every item and how wide was his knowledge about the whole history and people of our home town.
Since then, I often visited Jacob and became one of the many whom he mobilized in order to realize his noble idea.
In 1969, I came to Israel and went to see Jacob Maltz. The book was already published. However, during our conversation. I understood that, in a sense, he never really considered the book finished. For it was his intention to add at some future time additional chapters a sort of summing up, as he said. In his words, every bulletin or chovereth published and every scrap of significant writing should be a supplement to the pages that told the story of our ancestors and ourselves.
He spoke about the archives, the library and about Beith Piotrkow, and I felt that as the book had become a reality, the new idea would also materialize; it was only a matter of time.
Time is very precious for Jacob Maltz. He is now living in his own world: with his books, thoughts and accomplishments. A lonely man, though.
Only when the occasional guest visits him can he show the wonderful vitality that still inspires others. Or on Independence Day, he watches the parade go by.
So, shake hands, Jacob Maltz, and say Shalom to the other chaverim in the crowd! To Zalman Shazar and Golda Meir, David Ben-Gurion and the younger fellows in the golden chain, Moshe Dayan and Igal Alon. And tell them, We're still working for our beloved Country!
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