by Elazar Wilder
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The pages written by my fellow townsmen Ben-Zion Friedman and Avraham Tzvi Bernholz regarding my town of Lopatyn, were written with simplicity, uprightness and strong love for everything that is dear and holy about that destroyed community. In their descriptions, they encompass the history of the town, survey its problems, and portray images of its personalities in a praiseworthy manner. From this perspective, perhaps there is not that much to add. The town was small; its Jewish community at times exceeded 100 families, and at times did not reach that number. Therefore, it is not necessary to add material regarding what was not there.
Nevertheless, a form of inner impetus, which I cannot evade, pushed me. It urged me, commanded me, and said write! Therefore, even though these words have been said and there is no novel idea it is a commandment to tell. It is a commandment to tell not only how we once came from freedom to liberty, but also how we reached the times of tribulation, atrocities, and threats that afflicted our dear ones and the entire nation of Israel, when destruction, slaughter, and annihilation overtook them without mercy.
Let these words serve as a monument in memory of our dear ones to them and to all who perished with them an eternal monument.
The Jewish community of Lopatyn existed for no more than 200 years. Prior to that, it was a remote gentile village with only a few Jewish families. If I want to divide the history of our community according to eras that differ from each other in status, social, cultural, societal matters, and the way of life of the Jewish population I see three or four such eras that placed their mark upon the life of the Jewish community in this town, whether positively or negatively.
The first era can be seen as spanning from the beginning of the community until the outbreak of the First World War. This is the Austro-Hungarian era. The second extends through the First World War, from 1914-1918, and the attempts thereafter to reconstruct and rehabilitate the ruins. The third is the era of economic and social decline between the two wars, with the increase of anti-Semitism in Poland and the rise of Hitler, may his name be blotted out. The third and final era is the Holocaust period.
The first era can be rightly considered as the shining era in terms of feelings of security among the Jewish residents. It was as if the community rested on calm waters. Nevertheless, questions of livelihood were vexing. There was poverty, but there were also good days of quiet and security, in the sense that the people who dwell within it are secure and confident, and lack for nothing. This was the world of yesterday in the words of Stefan Zweig. However, the Jews of the town knew and sensed that they lived in exile, as they repeated three times a day, And let our eyes witness Your return to Zion with mercy. However, the world continued in accordance with its custom, and it was a merciful regime that protected them from all tribulations, albeit not with a full heart. There were bad gentiles as well as drunks who bothered the Jews, but our Jewish brethren were believers descended from believers. In their great naiveté, they believed that this era would continue until the end until the advent of our righteous Redeemer who would return us upright to our Land. From this perspective, our town was not different from all other Jewish towns. It was the same as all others both from an economic and a social perspective.
Founder of the first Hebrew school in Lopatyn and the first teacher
With all this, Lopatyn was different from other towns in many ways. The light of the Haskalah (secular enlightenment), the love of Zion, and the Zionist idea struck waves in it even before Zionist consciousness began to penetrate other places. Every good youth was attracted to the Zionist idea, to progressiveness, and enlightenment. These youths continued on despite the opposition of their parents. The curses and denigration had no effect. They founded a Zionist organization that existed on and off from time to time. Thus, a new era began, forging the way to actualization and aliya for those coming after them.
Already in 1914, a native of our town made aliya to the Land the writer and poet Asher Barash. After the war, the idea of aliya gained skin and sinews. In 1918, a native of our town, my cousin Mordechai Distenfeld (Yalon) took off his army fatigues and put on civilian clothes but did not return to civilian life as was customary and understood. He settled in Vienna, and waited for the first opportunity for aliya. In the meantime, he was at work on hachshara (formal training for aliya) activities along with several friends from the Vienna area. He made aliya in 1920, at the first opportunity that presented itself for immigration, without taking leave of his family in Lopatyn. He turned to physical labor, and was the first chalutz (pioneer) and laborer from our town.
His older brother, the famous translator and grammarian Chanoch Yalon, made aliya to the Land in 1921 and settled in Jerusalem. Their nephew (son of their sister) Akiva Distenfeld, a member of Hashomer Hatzair, also made aliya around that time. He was one of the first settlers of Beit Alfa. Several other people from our town made aliya, even before the terms chalutz and hachshara became known words, despite the strong opposition of their parents who were Chasidim of Belz and Husiatyn. In actuality, these parents were influenced in no small way by the deeds of their children. The fierce battle with their children slowly calmed and quieted, and in their heart of hearts, they began to accustom themselves to these new, recently arrived customs. They accommodated themselves to the new realities. This was perhaps the secret of unity and specialness in this town, separating it from other towns in the area. The town appeared to be more progressive, educated, tolerant, and less strictly pious than others. This was a result of the mutual influence of the young generation on their forebears, and to a small degree, also the reverse.
With all this, what influenced the change of paths that came to expression in such a prominent fashion? Of course, not the assimilated or half-assimilated doctor or optometrist the intelligentsia of the town, so to speak, whose sole desire was to appear as gentiles in every way. They were not the ones to do all this. This was accomplished through the Zionist idea, the idea of the return to Zion and national revival. This appeared as a paradox, but it is a fact that the new generation, with all its new ways, was, above all, a direct continuation of the previous generation of Belz and Husiatyn Chasidim regarding the change of ways and ideas. The mourning for Zion and dirges over its ruins by the Chasidim of Belz and Husiatyn turned to a positive commandment. Let us make ascent to Zion!
I will cite here a moving chapter of Asher Barash regarding the night of Tisha B'Av in the Husiatyner Kloyz, describing the recital of the kinot (dirges) by my grandfather Reb Yosel Shou'b.
I sat with my friend, the Zionist lad with peyos, in the Husiatyner Kloyz, on an overturned bench. We both held a single candle, as we were bent over for one dirge, as Reb Yosel Shou'b called out with a weeping, trembling voice, The crown of our heads has fallen, woe to us, for we have sinned. I was not astonished as I heard my friend sob with weeping, and saw his tears being shed over this crushing dirge, I felt something warm falling on my cheeks, salting the corners of my lips (from his article, 20th of Tammuz).
Thus was the first era of Jewish life in our town. I was not a child of that era, but echoes of it reached me as well.
The second era in the life of the town, which took on a completely different form, came with the outbreak of the First World War and the drafting of all good youths to the war against Austria's enemies. This era appears before me and is exposed in all its appearances, with the flames that consumed almost the entire lion's share of the Jewish town from the sound of the shouting of the masses of soldiers from the kingdom of Russia, to the joy of our gentile neighbors and our agony the agony of the Jewish children and their parents. The town of Jews went up in flames. We stood at the heaps of ruins next to the pillars of smoke, and wept great and heartrending tears. The Russian soldiers who entered our town, which was approximately 30 kilometers from the Russian border at Berestechko, immediately upon the outbreak of the war, displayed their force and might and their great bravery of heart against the Jews of the town. In collaboration with our good gentile neighbors, they pillaged and robbed the meager possessions of the Jews of the town. Reb Henich Hershorn was murdered at that time. I did not know him personally, for I was only nine years old then; however his name penetrated my consciousness as the first victim of our own Jews, who was murdered at the hands of the gentiles. This incident shook the foundations of my young soul.
Our gentile neighbors assisted the hooligans in this. They etched or painted the image of the cross on the walls of their houses, or erected a large icon of one of their saints, so that they would know that a holy, pure Pravoslav (Christian Orthodox) or Catholic lived there, and not, heaven forbid, a Jew. In this manner they exposed the houses of their Jewish neighbors for pillage and robbery. This deed also left a deep feeling in me of mistrust and suspicion of anything that is not Jewish.
I do not recall anything of the life of the town or the life of the family that is worthy of note prior to the burning of the town. During that conflagration, and with the entry of the Russian Army, I received the impetus that woke me out of my childhood, and placed me in the face of the bitter reality. A nine-year-old child grew up and became an adult in one night. From that time, I recall everything. I began to see things as they were, with all the tragedies and disasters that afflicted the Jews as Jews. From that era of the outbreak of the war, I recall, albeit as a dream, the wailing and weeping of the members of the household. My cousin Yitzchak Friedman (Itzu, the son of my uncle Shlomo Friedman and his wife Rachel my mother's sister, the brother of Ben-Tzion who lives with us in Israel) came to us in order to take leave as he was drafted into the war. He was completely free, quiet and calm. He comforted the members of the household by saying, I am going to take revenge for the blood of our brethren in Kishinev.
At that time, I did not know what Kishinev was, or what the murderers perpetrated upon us there. This only became clear to me after time. However, my poor cousin did not know that he too would perish in this war. As was told, he fell as a hero already in 1914. He did not realize that on the other side, the Russian side, there were also Jewish soldiers, such that Jewish blood was shed from both sides. Several other townsfolk did not return from that war and all the Jewish residents mourned them. As I stated, I recall everything from the time of the outbreak of the war and its atrocities. The war lasted four years. It seems to me that there was nothing unique in this town that was unlike other towns. It was as if the town was orphaned. The synagogues were emptied of worshippers, with no new month [prayers] and no festivities a form of an elongated Tisha B'Av. The special Sabbath clothes of the Jews, the shtreimels and bekishes disappeared from their garb, due to the evil eye of the gentiles and the soldiers. Only the elderly and children entered the synagogues, and there was one prayer on their lips that the war should end as quickly as possible with the victory of the benevolent kingdom of Austria and Kaiser Franz Josef, may peace be with him, and that the parents and their children should return home in peace. Perhaps the King Messiah would arrive in the interim, of which the day of his coming is hinted in the Book of Daniel. All this was during the period of the war.
Vibrant Jewish life was restored in 1918 with the return of the soldiers from the war. The community began to reorganize. The soldiers brought with them a new spirit from the army and the wide world a more secular spirit of progress, rather than a spirit based on the beit midrash and the kloyz. The youth, who had grown up during the war in the interim, believed in the redemptive Zionist idea. Communal life began to revive, more or less in accordance with the spirit of the times. The world war had ended, but district and national wars continued: The Poles, Ukrainians and Bolsheviks had not yet settled their scores with each other. Miraculously, not one of the Jewish residents of the town was injured, despite the shriek of the bullets over our heads and despite the shelling that damaged some houses. One battle that took place on the Shabbat prior to Rosh Chodesh Elul is especially etched in my mind. My father always mentioned this. The battle lasted for an entire day. A large brigade of the Polish Army with all its weapons hid in the forest near Lopatyn without the Bolsheviks realizing this. They surprised the large camp of Bolsheviks who were camping in and around the town by suddenly opening fire on them. Panic gripped this whole camp and a large tumult arose without their knowing what was going on. A battle broke out, which resulted in the annihilation of this entire brigade of the Polish Army. I would not have told this entire story were it not for its Jewish aspect. I recall that we were all lying on the ground in the room, as bullets shrieked overhead. Suddenly, we heard a terrible, strong call in Yiddish: Open the door quickly, there is danger, Jews are in danger. My father quickly opened the door, which had been locked. Two Jewish soldiers from the Polish Army appeared, carrying a third wounded Polish soldier on a stretcher, who was also Jewish. How did these Jewish Polish soldiers find each other in the midst of the battle, one can only grasp by considering the Jewish sense of brotherhood and mutual love. There was no water in the house. Father endangered himself and ran to the nearby well, with shots ringing out from all sides, to fetch water for the soldiers. They bandaged the wounded soldier, took him from the house, and went somewhere. However, who knows about the fate of these three? The Polish soldiers were all defeated.
When we calmed down a bit and ran to the windows to see what was taking place outside, we saw Polish soldiers here and there with their hands raised as a sign of surrender, and Bolshevik soldiers on horses cutting off their heads without considering the surrender. At the end of the battle, we, the Jewish youth together with our parents, went out to search for Jewish soldiers from among the victims of the Polish Army, so that we could bring them to a Jewish burial. We found nine. They were buried in a communal grave in the town cemetery. There was no end to the shock and grief of the Jews of the town. To our surprise, the majority of victims were Jews. This aroused the ire and complaint of the Bolshevik Army camping in the town, for they regarded this as a sign that the Jews were against them. They did not understand that the Jews were participating in the Polish Army based on a decree, and that army service was an obligation rather than voluntary.
The news of the pogroms in Ukraine and even the pogrom in nearby Lwów shook up the local Jews once again. We also saw the Hallerczyki cutting of the beards of Jews as well as perpetrating all sorts of other atrocities. Nevertheless, when the winds calmed, everything was done in town to rebuild the ruins and reestablish the societal and economic life of the community. The days of splendor of the life of the community from before the war gestured and called out for continuity. There were energetic efforts by the youth to establish a Hebrew School as a complement to gentile public school and Jewish cheder. The blue box of Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (Jewish National Fund) entered all the Jewish homes, and only a few abstained from contributing due to treifapasul.
The relatively large procession, in accordance with the size of the town, in honor of the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo conference stands before my eyes as a bright light within the darkness. The procession went through the entire town, as all its Jewish residents, from the elderly to the youth, participated in it. My father, who had never been a Zionist, took me by the hand, as a young lad. Furthermore, flags and ensigns fluttered from all sides, and there were songs of Zion on our lips: It Has Not Yet Been Lost, Let Us Raise Up toward Zion, There in the Place of Cedars. The songs were repeated over and over again. We did not know any other songs of Zion at that time, however those filled our hearts with joy and gladness. It was the beginning of the redemption said the elders. The rabbi himself, The Chasid and Tzaddik of Belz, and Reb Zelikl later my teacher and rabbi, also preached in praise of Zionism and the return to Zion. In the eyes of us young children, this was not only the beginning of the redemption, but rather actual redemption: there would be no more gentiles, no more shkotzim. We would be like all the nations. We would also have our own country. The intoxication dissipated very quickly, and day-to-day life quickly returned to its normal routine.
Attempts to rehabilitate and rebuild continued. Things were done even from a social perspective to improve the social life of the community. I often thought: there was no small number of poor people, and even desperately poor people in our town of Lopatyn, but it seems to me that everything was done in the town itself so that nobody would be hungry for bread, and so that everybody would have bread to eat and clothes to wear. The story of our fellow town native Asher Barash in his book Foreign Love is instructive and typical from this perspective. Reb Zalman Leib Segal was a wealthy householder of the town. (It wasn't Segal but rather Wasser. Asher Barash used to expose only a part of the name, and hide part of the name in his stories, which were partly made up. Sometimes he did this with the first name, and at other times with the family name.) He decided to replace the leaky roof of the shaky, poor house of Reb Arale (not Arale, but rather the father of Reb Benyimchi) and install a new roof. He sent for the gentiles (uncircumcised ones in his words) to dismantle the roof. They went up to the roof and began to dismantle it. A tumult arose on the street. They did not understand what was taking place until the wagon came bringing the new lumber from the forest Nobody would have known who it was who had given the orders to fix the roof had Dobrish not told his friend I recall that there were desperately poor people in our town who had gone bankrupt, and went door to door. However, they were from other places. I do not know of any Jew who lived in our town who required help and had to utilize this denigrating means.
Assistance and help were offered locally, from the town, through internal concern and in a mass means, as well as through the giving of discrete gifts. There were also social organizations, of course in reasonable proportion to a small town, and not only Chevrat Tehillim (group for the reciting Psalms) or Chevrat Mishnayot (group for the study of Mishnah). These were groups that gave special content and purpose to their members, primarily the Bikur Cholim society that tended to the isolated ill person or unfortunate family not only with financial assistance, but also by spending the night and caring for the sick directly. Even respected householders who were members of the Bikur Cholim society did not evade their task when their turn came to spend time with an ill person, whether during the day or the night. I also heard of the Gemilut Chasadim (free loan society) that arose in the town after I left. The community and communal life was not a wanton field, with everyone looking out for themselves. There was oversight over the community, and a supervising eye on what was transpiring.
The youth were Zionist, imbued with a Zionist consciousness. As has been noted, even the older generation ceased its opposition to the Zionist idea. Nevertheless, only a few made aliya during that era. I am not saying that there was the possibility of large, mass aliya. It is known that there were serious restrictions, but nevertheless, the restricted possibilities that existed were not utilized appropriately. This was the problematic point that I see in the town from that era and not only in the town.
The Satan, Hitler may his name be wiped out, was already lurking. Anti-Semitism and Jew hatred made inroads among the Poles as well. Poverty increased. Despair and lack of means was pervasive everywhere. When I visited the town in 1935-1936, six years after I made aliya to the Land, I found it already in the era of complete degeneration, both from an economic and a social perspective. The town was already like a broken vessel or shattered potsherd. People went about with no hope and no faith. I saw shadows of people around me, walking in the valley of the shadow of death.
According to my divisions, this was the third era in the life of the town. After it came the Holocaust that destroyed it completely.
I have not described the life of the Jews of our town or the lives of families, whether far or near. Let others who know this better than me do so. However, I will not hold back from presenting the images of several of the dear ones of our towns, who shone their light upon their surroundings during their lifetimes, served as examples, and imbued their spirit on every wise person with a pure heart.
I knew how to appreciate their precious legacy, their way of life, and their paths of holiness. Let their memories be blessed forever. We drank from their waters, walked in their light, and revered their deeds.
Reb Zelig Teitelbaum (Reb Zelikl), my rabbi and teacher, was apparently an ordinary Jew, a shopkeeper occupied in commerce. He conducted business. What is the big deal of such? There are many Jewish shopkeepers in the market. Nevertheless, how great is the worth and how blessed is the personality of this ordinary Jew? He was a great scholar, swimming in the sea of Talmud from his childhood. He had the ability not only to learn but to teach. He spread from his fountain of knowledge outward in the full sense of the word. He never studied by himself, but rather together with two or three youths. It was clear that he did this not to receive a reward, for he did not make the Torah a spade with which to dig [i.e. his livelihood]. He occupied himself in commerce, and despite his business, he had enough hours left in the day to study and teach Torah. These were the early hours of the morning from sunrise, and during the late evening hours at night, by the light of candles in his hands and in the hands of his students. He gave up his business during the latter period of his life, and spent most of the hours of the day over a page of Gemara in the kloyz. I studied Torah from him for about three years, some of that time was with my cousin Yosef Wilder who lives today in Kfar Yehoshua but most of the time was by myself. After this, the studies in the kloyz diverged from their typical form. I believe that I was the final student of Reb Zelikl, and seemingly also the last lad in the town, aside from the son of the Rabbi, Reb Chaim Leibush Hamerling, who occupied himself primarily in the study of Talmud and rabbinic decisors. This was around 1921. The fact that Reb Zelikl also took an interest in practical matters regarding his students was also typical. I recall one evening in the middle of a Talmudic discussion, he suddenly stopped his teaching and pointed out to me incidentally, You know Elazar, it is worthwhile to also learn a bit of arithmetic, for you will need this in the future. Torah is good with worldly pursuits. My rabbi and teacher Reb Zelikl of blessed memory did not know at that time, that I had not only filled my belly with Talmud and rabbinic decisors, but also with secular studies and outside books that I valued. However, he thought of me and concerned himself with my future in accordance with his ways and understanding. May the memory of this sublime man, my rabbi and teacher Reb Zelikl, be blessed. The bit of knowledge of Judaism and love of Torah that is guarded in my soul came from him. These studies were a continuation of the Torah education I received from my father's home.
I cannot refrain from mentioning my uncle my mother's brother Reb Elazar Shou'b Wilder. My uncle was a man of wonders. He was pious in Torah and the commandments, a great believer and wonderful G-d-fearing person. The way of such a person was that worldly events, political matters, and secular issues were beyond his field of vision. My uncle was not like this. Along with his cleaving to Torah, the commandments, and good deeds, ensuring that he would not diverge from the path in any small way, he was also an enlightened person, who understood the spirit of the times, the ways of the world, and researched and studied every new issue. He wanted to understand everything. However, he would consider all the wise people and philosophers as the dust of the earth, for there is nothing that is not hinted at in the Torah. Nevertheless, he wanted to know and understand, for his soul was also filled with knowledge and content.
My uncle Rabbi Elazar had many good deeds and traits: He would heal the sick. The townsfolk without exception had faith in his medical knowledge. When someone got sick, they would first summon Rabbi Elazar Shou'b. He would respond and go for the sake of the good deed, and not in order to receive a reward, whether by day or by night. He would examine the sick person in his manner, take their temperature, make up his mind, and discuss and explain with humor and good spirit what the sick person should eat, and what they should avoid. This is how it took place etc. etc. The sick person breathed a sigh of relief, and the faces of the family members lit up. For the most part, the condition of the sick person improved. Thus were the deeds of Rabbi Elazar Shou'b. If the situation of the sick person worsened, heaven forbid, they would summon a doctor, or Rabbi Elazar himself would tell them that they should call the doctor. The doctor would come and even ask, half seriously and half in jest, whether Rabbi Elazar Shou'b had been there yet. What did he say? At times, the doctor realized that the situation was serious. Then he would state in a serious fashion, with the obvious interpretation, Everything is in the hands of heaven. Then the family members knew that the situation was very serious. In any case, my uncle never studied medicine in any institution or medical school. Nevertheless, he apparently knew many things, whether through life experience from which he knew how to learn, or by peering through old medical books, written in Hebrew, which he owned.
My uncle Rabbi Elazar was not very wealthy. A Shou'b (shochet) in the town would not be rich. Nevertheless, I often saw how he would return the money for ritual slaughtering to families of minimal means placing it into the basket along with the bird that they had brought for slaughter. He was blessed and honored by everyone. Internal disputes and controversies in the town did not affect him negatively, for he was accepted by everybody, even his opponents, i.e., those who did not travel with him to his Rebbe. Furthermore, he never showed favoritism to anyone. If he had anything to say, he would say it out loud without fear. May his memory be blessed.
Reb Chaim Bernholz was a unique person, a scholar, a beloved person, a scion of rabbinical lineage and those who sit in judgment. He did not turn himself to a Torah or rabbinic profession, but rather to a secular, physical occupation: land and agriculture. He had a plot of land not far from the fields of the gentiles in the far reaches of the town. It was an agricultural farm in the full sense of the word. He and his family members did not fail to tend to it and nurture it in accordance with accepted practice. This was an unusual phenomenon during those times a scholar, sharp and expert, versed in proper mannerisms, who knew how to present his thoughts and ideas to everyone in a proper and orderly fashion why did he see fit to immerse himself in agricultural work? Was there a lack of other honorable Jewish sources of livelihood in the marketplace? This was a great mystery for the older generation of his compatriots in the town. However to us, the younger generation, whose hearts were taken with the return to Zion, and to whom the airy pursuits of our parents were burdensome the example of Reb Chaim Bernholz was especially positive. He taught us that Jews are also able to return to agriculture and manual labor, and to see blessing from their toil. Indeed, Reb Chaim Bernholz and his family saw blessing from their toil and were considered among the wealthy of the town. Those in need of assistance found much support and a generous hand in their home. Reb Chaim Bernholz also spent time studying Torah, despite his occupations at home and on his farm. I know of two of his sons: Moshe, may G-d avenge his blood, and Tzvi, may he live long, who is with us in Israel. Aside from the sections of Torah that they heard from Reb Binyamin Charap and Reb Zelig Teitelbaum of blessed memory, they also studied Gemara and learned lessons from their father Rabbi Chaim.
The rabbi of the city, Rabbi Chaim Leibush Hamerling, who served in Lopatyn for more than 40 years, must also be remembered positively. He was a great scholar, sharp and expert, as well as a faithful Chasid of the Tzaddik of Belz. I did not know from up close his holy mannerisms and his discussions and conduct with the members of his flock. There was a sort of partition of strangeness, enmity and at times also mutual accusations between the Chasidim of Belz and the Chasidim of Husiatyn to which my parents and almost all my family belonged. As a young lad, I saw up close the mannerisms and way of life of all those who came to the Husiatyner Kloyz, in which my parents and our family members worshipped. Until the end of the First World War, they even had their own rabbi, Rabbi Mendel Laszczower, a relative of ours. I knew nothing and was not even particularly interested in what took place in the other camp, that of the Chasidim of Belz, who centered in the beit midrash and around Rabbi Hamerling. I did not know their character, their ways, or their movements, and I was not even sure if the rumors I heard were even fundamentally correct. I was greatly astonished that, after the passing of my teacher and rabbi, Reb Zelikl, Rabbi Hamerling informed my revered father that if it suited him and me, I could come to study with him along with his son Lipa. I was even more surprised that all of this took place after it had already become known in town that I had gone out to a bad crowd and was studying many secular subjects. How is it that he did not suspect that his son Lipa, who was destined for the rabbinate, would not be spoiled by me? In any case, I regarded it then, as I regard it now, as an expression of a broad heart and good will to do something beyond the scope of his professional position and that was not connected at all to any financial gain.
Even then, when I studied with him for approximately one year, I was not able to get to know him properly. He taught us in a scholarly, rapid, and dry manner, obviously for several hours a day. We never diverged from the Talmudic topic at hand to side points, as happened during the time of my teacher and rabbi, Reb Zelikl.
These things about Rabbi Leibush Hamerling are stated as an apology for the paucity of my knowledge of his holy ways in his conversation and conduct with those around him, and in his manners as a rabbi and rabbinical teacher in our town for he was among those who left their mark on communal life for approximately a half a century. I heard two versions about the departure of his holy soul during the terrible times. Even those were not from eyewitnesses, but rather from hearsay. According to Reb Avraham Tzvi Bernholz, he was murdered by an apostate from our town, may his name be blotted out. According to Ben-Zion Friedman, he was murdered by a Ukrainian gentile during the deportation from Lopatyn to Radekhov. This was his final journey of tribulations. May his holy memory be a blessing.
I have portrayed only a few of the personalities of the significant people from amongst our townsfolk, from whose waters we drank and in whose light we basked. There were many. All of them were holy and pure. May the memory of all of them be a blessing.
My family members who went up on the pyre in holiness and purity should also be remembered forever My revered father Reb Yechiel Michel, the son of Reb Yitzchak and Eidel Wilder; my mother and guide Chava the daughter of Reb Yosef and Ronia Wilder, my sister Ronia and her husband Tzvi Friedman, my brother Isser may G-d avenge their blood, and my brother Yosef, who passed away prior to the Holocaust at the untimely age of 22. May their memories be blessed and serve as a blessing.
Translated by Barbara Beaton
Letter of Condolence Sent to us from the office of the Prime Minister
State of Israel
With deep sorrow we announce that Yosef Parnes zl
Fell while serving on the day 24 Adar 5708 (March 5, 1948) in Haifa.
The Israeli government, Israel Defense Forces and the Hebrew Nation will always bear the memory of
YOSEF who fell defending the homeland and in the battle for its freedom and independence
He was born in the year 1915 in Lopatyn in eastern Galicia (then in Austria). He was the son of Gershon-Koppel and Yehudit and the youngest of nine brothers and sisters. He finished Polish secondary school and did office work, but found meaning in his life through the pioneering movement, which he joined in his youth. He was a member of Gordonia and Hachalutz and in his youth aspired to make aliya. In the year 1939 after much traveling, he successfully arrived in the Land. He had traveled by ship through the heart of the sea for three months. He worked as an agricultural hand in Rechovot. He was amongst the first to enlist in the British army and served in the excavation corps in the western desert, Greece and Crete. He escaped from Crete to the Land at the last moment, then joined the Hebrew brigade and once again demanded combat roles for himself. While still in the army, he dreamed of founding a Hebrew fishing village and went through appropriate training in Italy and Holland. After his release, he was one of the founders of Machmoret, a settlement of army veterans, and for a brief time, he was one of the best fisherman. He fulfilled his role in modesty, and stood on guard at all hours of the crisis. He had no children but his friends saw him as a father to everyone.
He fell in Haifa, while working as a fisherman on March 5, 1948 and was buried in Kfar Vitkin.
|Above, from the right: Uri, Elimelech and Moshe Parnes, Yaakov Leider and his wife and their children|
|Above, from the right: my [David Parnes'] brother-in-law Yaakov Leider and my brothers Elimelech, Uri and Zalman
Below: my sister Breintzy and my sister-in-law Ester nee Thieman and their children
by Chana Lehrer
Translated by Barbara Beaton
One of the most beautiful memories of my youth is the summer I spent in Lopatyn. That same summer I completed seven grades at the elementary school in my small town Berestechko and I did not know what to do. In the town there were no opportunities to continue studying. Traveling to another city caused problems because there were other sisters of school age and my parents were sickly. And then the teachers of the school suggested that I go to Lopatyn to teach Hebrew to a group of youths in the town. I accepted the offer with the willingness and boldness that only adolescents possess.
One day two boys, David Parnes and another boy whose name I think was Bardach, came, towering over me in their cart with a pair of horses. With my parents' blessing and anxiety accompanying me, we set off together. At the entrance to Lopatyn, the strong scent of acacia trees, fine houses, each one neat and clean, surrounded me. In the house where I was supposed to live that summer (the Diener's house), my future students began to arrive: four or five girls and boys from every house, of all ages, beautiful, healthy and neat.
The lessons started and suddenly I began to feel a sense of inferiority in the presence of the students even though I was more fluent in the Hebrew language than they were. Nevertheless, they were the best youths: proficient in Polish and German literature, and they had full command of other languages. They took classes very seriously. A few months later when I left Lopatyn with the goal of continuing on with my studies, I received letters in Hebrew from these students. I cannot testify to the knowledge that they had gained in that short period of time, but I can testify to their intelligence and the seriousness with which they studied.
Here I would like to mention one of my students, Yosef Parnes, may G-d avenge his blood, who was laid to rest in a cemetery in a village in the homeland (Kfar Vitkin). He was murdered by Arabs at the port of Haifa while on a mission for his settlement of Machmoret, neighboring us.
This short article shall be a memorial to young men and women, the finest of the Jewish youth of a small town in the Polish diaspora, who also passed through the cup of bitterness.
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