With them are Rabbi Bender and Mrs. Neifeld
Two pioneers of Germiston Jewry, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Neifeld, were honored by the United Hebrew Institutions of Germiston last week on the occasion of their golden wedding, which they celebrated by presenting a Communal Succah to the Synagogue they both helped to build.
Dedication of the Succah took place on the day of their golden wedding, and was preceded by a special service at the Synagogue, at which Rabbi B. Bender extolled the work which Mr. and Mrs. Neifeld had done for Germiston Jewry, and praised their generosity in celebrating a personal simcha so unselfishly and meaningfully, through their presentation of a Succah to the community which they had both helped so considerably in their communal work.
Rex. I Kaminer impressively conducted the service, which was followed by the official opening of the new Succah and the unveiling of commemorative plaques recording the gift.
The large gathering thereafter adjourned to the Synagogue Hall, where a reception was held. Rabbi Bender proposed the toast of the respected couple, Mr. Z. Liknaitzky, president of the congregation, paid tribute to them on behalf of the United Hebrew Institutions, and Mr. Morris Nestadt, M.P.C., of Benoni, associated himself with the sentiments expressed by Germiston leaders.
Presentations were made to Mr. and Mrs. Neifeld on behalf of various organizations, and Mr. Neifeld suitably responded to the speeches.
Mr. and Mrs. Neifeld were accompanied by their daughters and sons-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Lain and Dr. and Mrs. Israel Kessler, and their sons and daughters·in-law, Mr. Max Neifeld, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Neifeld and Dr. and Mrs. Hymie Neifeld, as well as by their grandchildren.
Dread of the future was in the air. Preparations which promised ill could be felt in the town. The government officials shifted their families deep within Russia. Trains from Steibtz were moving in the direction of Bialistock and Brisk. Soldiers, countless soldiers, lorry loaded with equipment and foodstuffs. There was menace and terror in the atmosphere.
On 22nd June, 1941 the calamity befell. Only a few hours after the outbreak of the war (between Germany and Soviet Russia) the town was bombed.
Jews ran hither and thither without any goal along all kinds of paths and tracks, like driven animals. Each and every one was asking, how can we get to Russia?
During the early days the frontier was still open. The young men were the first to leave, and together with them went others urged on by the instinct to save their lives. But most people remained in the town. The deep spiritual bond with the family was what kept them to the spot. Most of the inhabitants who had children remained. Nobody imagined how little time there was.
The Germans invaded after three days had passed. On Friday morning we still went down to the River Nieman. It was a fine day with a friendly sun warming and caressing us. All of a sudden artillery began to fire. The city burst into flames. We were deafened by the whistling bullets. Alarmed Jews dashed down to the River Niemen, from the fire to the water. But here was the peril of the bullets. Many ran with a knapsack on their backs to the threshing floors, to the mountains. Dozens of Jews were killed. Many households lost the husband, the son or the son-in-law. Yet many people stayed where they were. It is hard to leave the place where you are born, where you have grown up, where you have become mature and have brought up a family. It is a pity to leave the little you have scraped together with so much toil and sweat.
As remarked, the town was in flames. Red fire was rising from every building. When the fire reached our house we took our paralyzed old grandfather and brought him over to the people who had run away to the threshing floors.
When the Germans entered the town we began to leave our shelters, and everyone went to visit his own ruin, to see what had been burnt and which children had lost their lives in the fire or the shooting.
During the early days the Jews were still permitted to bury their dead and the Hevra Kadisha had a great deal to do. Hundreds of families remained without a roof over their head and went to kinsfolk and acquaintances. The congestion was overwhelming, ten families in a single room. Most of the buildings had collapsed, but the Yurdzika and Pocztowa Streets had not been touched. Afterwards the ghetto was established there.
The first Sabbath passed quietly. On Sunday the Germans accused the Jews of the town with shooting at them from the forests of the district. On account of that charge they destroyed the Szpitalna Street and murdered several hundred Jews and several dozen Christians. The Jewish homes suffered most. Yet if you came to a Jewish house to ask for shelter you were not turned away in spite of the dreadful crowding. But when the Jews appealed to their Christian acquaintances for a corner in which to lay their heads, most of them answered that their great hour had come and they were waiting tensely for the moment when they could pillage the Jews and inherit what was theirs. However, it should be remarked that there were also a few Christians who showed that they shared in our distress and wished to help their Jewish acquaintances; but they asked us not to get into touch with them because they were very much afraid.
Famine stalked the streets, for a great deal of the foodstuffs had been burnt. Barter trade with the Christian population began. The currency was : coats, high boots, clothes. For any of those it was possible to obtain a little flour, groats and potatoes. If anyone had money or jewelry he could still obtain bread with it.
The first Germans who entered the town from the front began to recruit Jews for work. These happy ones received 125 grams of bread and a little thin soup daily. I still remember very well the scene in the home of Hayyim der Glatter. The father came back from work with a tiny loaf of bread. The children waited half fainting with hunger. Their eyes burnt as they waited for the bread to be shared out piece by piece in accordance with the scales of the highest justice.
During this first period bread was still to be found in the homes of craftsmen such as locksmiths, carpenters and shoemakers. The Christian neighbours came furtively to order shoes or chairs. But very soon an order was published which forbade commercial relations or work between Jews and Christians.
Little by little 'equality' was established amongst the Jews. Those who had been eating bread only yesterday wandered about starving today. Orders were issued that
all the Jews must move to the Yurdzika quarter and the half of the Pocztowa street. Dwellings began to be exchanged with the Christians. The Jews were forbidden to take any belongings or furniture out of their former homes. That all remained in the possession of the new Christian neighbours.
Officially speaking the establishment of a ghetto had not yet been proclaimed, but preparations were perfectly obvious. A Jewish council was established by order of the Germans. They took a Jew from Lodz as the chairman. The members were : Alter Yosselovitch, Berl Moshe ben Schmerl Nehama-Ettas, Velvel Paramnik, Weinreich and Press (who was vice-chairman of the council). The decrees and harsh commands came one after the other. We were ordered to wear the yellow badge. We were forbidden to walk on the pavements. In addition every Jew had to take off his hat six steps before passing a German. But when the Germans saw the Jew taking off his hat they burst into a fury at the impudence of the cursed Jews removing his hat to a German and would beat them savagely. If anybody exchanged a word with a Christian he was liable to receive fifty lashes.
An order of the council head required all the Jews to gather outside the town. He would select a few to send to death in order to terrify those who remained alive. People aged fourteen to sixty had to work.
The work was at the Besorezna sawmill and at Kitaievitch, and near the railway. Some were taken to work as servants to the Germans. The chief work was shifting the broad rails of the Russian railway line to the narrower European gauge. They worked from sunrise to sunset. The Germans established cooperatives where the workers were Jews exclusively. The manager of the carpentry cooperative was cruel beyond imagining. For the slightest error the worker had to stretch himself out and he thrashed him savagely. Afterwards he would bandage the injuries himself and feed the man with fattening food. His murderous blood only quietened down after he killed at least one Jew a day by shooting him. On the eve of the New Year and the Day of Atonement all the Jews were gathered to a single place in order to terrify them entirely. On one occasion twenty young men and women were selected and taken away to an unknown destination, after which all trace of them disappeared. Sometime later when building a pit behind the slaughterhouse, the bodies of women and man were found. Their faces had been mutilated so as to be unrecognizable but the clothes were still left and from them the corpses were identified as belonging to the twenty young people of Steibtz.
From time to time the Jews were collected and the first, the fiftieth and the hundredth were taken out of line and sent to die. One order pursued the other. Once we were ordered to bring all the copper and zinc vessels, candlesticks, etc. On another occasion large cash payments were imposed and the Jewish council worked hard to collect them. Thus the Jews were required to pay a million roubles, and the amount was provided in money and securities. The Jewish police played a big part in collecting money and supplying the Germans with high boots and clothes. The Jewish council did its best to spread the illusion among the Jews that if they were obedient there would be no more pogroms. Yet this was an illusion. The liaison officer between the Jewish council and the German municipal authorities was Press.
His relations with them were in order, and they promised him that in Steibtz everything would be quiet.
Winter 1941 was unbelievably harsh. There was no wood for burning, most of the household belongings had already been sold in order to buy food. One could only warm up in the dense atmosphere of a hundred people in a dwelling. Those who suffered most were the old folk and children, while the youngsters and adults who were working used to receive a meager ration and maintain themselves on the scraps of food left by the Germans. It should be noted that there were a few individual Germans in whom the spark of humanity still flickered. These expressed their disgust as the cruelty of their own people. But orders are orders and had to be fulfilled.
Worst of all was the situation of the Jews when S.S. men came to town. They gathered a group of Jews from out of town, ordered them to dig a grave, put them in a row and shot them dead. On one occasion they took forty young men and women to the police station, ordered them to kneel down and straighten their bodies. Anybody who did not succeed in straightening the body, was beaten with rubber truncheons and in this way, kneeling with their faces to the wall, a different one was taken out each time and sent to his death. The state of those who remained alive was unbearable. Hungry, in rags and tatters, degraded and tortured. Your brother or comrade was taken to death before your eyes. A row of S.S. men stood, working with their rubber truncheons and giving orders to run, to run as long as you had breath. Run fast, otherwise you were dead. You gathered the last remnants of your strength and ran
home. If you were lucky you escaped from that hell, but you came home broken and broken-down, dejected and weary to death.
All this, as remarked, was before the ghetto was built. Only after a while was barbed wire placed round the Yurezdika and half the Post office street. People went our to work every morning through a narrow gateway. Each one received his own work card on which was marked the name of the factory or plant where he worked. Within the ghetto there were many revelations of personal self-sacrifice one on behalf of another. People divided their last crust with others. To our own shame it must be said that there were also manifestations of the loss of every vestige of humanity. There were cases where one stole bread from another. The ghetto had its own autonomy: a Jewish council, Jewish police, Jewish starvation and Jewish suffering. Everybody worked and everybody suffered and starved. In daytime only old folk and little children remained in the ghetto. The White Russians and Letts exploited this situation and often swarmed into the houses in order to pillage or just do some thrashing.
One day the Jewish council received instructions to provide seven hundred young people for work. The Jews secretly debated whether they should go or not. At the demand of the council volunteers were found as well. They hoped that they would save their lives by this. Of the people five hundred were sent to Baranowice and two hundred to Minsk. They could not run away because they were afraid that vengeance would be taken on their families who had remained in the ghetto. The Jewish council was required to notify every escapee at and it carried out this duty faithfully.
On the other hand, very close friends began to discuss an organized revolt. They spoke about putting the town on fire, pouring boiling oil in the faces of their tormentors. Material was prepared for this. We were ordered to maintain absolute secrecy, which meant that only a few exceptional people could be trusted to know about it.
The local police was interested in winning German approval.
Every Jew was hoping and waiting for the collapse of the invader, and there were those who saw what was not there. When the Germans had reached Stalingrad a rumour spread that the Russians had dropped a paratroop division near Bialystok. In Steibtz there was a Jew named Speigel. He encouraged the younger generation and insisted that we must believe in the collapse of the Germans. He also conducted propaganda to go to the forests and join the partisans. More than once a group of Jews met in order to leave for the forest, but at the last moment the local Steibtz folk refused to join them. This Speigel, who came from Warsaw, was the initiator and vital spirit among us. He preached and encouraged, disturbed Jews in their lethargy and called for vengeance and deliverance. When a scouting group was sent, the Judennrat came to know of it and warned and threatened that this step endangered the residents of the whole town and those who endangered the others would be responsible for the bloodshed.
In spite of this there were some Jews who paid no attention to the warnings and threats. The first group went off to the forest. It should be noted that it did not include a single former Steibtz resident. Next day the Germans learnt of this. They took the families of those who had run away and murdered them. In the ghetto there was a storm. Jews cursed those lightheaded people who had destroyed the safety of a whole town for their own benefit. This exerted a most depressing influence. The forest movement was suspended for a time.
The movement to the forests continued from the neighbouring small towns, but they always returned home because there was no organized partisan movement as yet.
The scent of slaughter could be felt in the ghetto. The men were taken to camps. Old people and children were left. The young folk were engaged at work in the sawmills and on the railway. We went out to work in the morning and came back in the evening.
Two days after the Day of Atonement we saw that ghetto was surrounded by police, S.S. men, Letts and White Russians. Only the most skilled specialists were being sent to work. There was a tremendous congestion with everyone crowding round the gate. The will to live whispered that there beyond the barbed wire life was safe. The awareness of death was absolutely certain. We went back home. There were tears in all eyes, running down the cheeks silently, silently so that nobody should know. You could feel as though they were all choking themselves with tears not to cry loud, so that nothing should be heard, to that nobody should know that there was a living soul here. Everything had frozen and died - died while it was still alive. My mother clung to me, embracing me and kissing me. If we have to die, my son, let us better die together. But you are still young and you have to live, to live. So go and try your luck, my son, and may God preserve you among the living. My face was red with tears. I burst out and pushed
my way to the gate, my head full of the single thought : would they let me pass through and go to work or would I have to stay here and die with my mother?
I passed the gate. On my way to work I heard bloodcurdling shrieks and wails. Some of the German foremen understood why we were so exhausted and gave us easier work. It is hard to describe our feeling. You work, living and breathing near Germans, while shots are splitting the air only a short distance away. There they are taking your nearest and most precious to destruction. You feel that it is pure chance that has kept you alive, that has kept you for a few days. Tomorrow or the day after your fate will be the same as the fate of your brethren.
The extermination continued for eight days. The murderers could not finish off the Jews of Steibtz in one single day.
Once again talk began about a plan for vengeance, pouring boiling oil in the faces of the Germans and setting the town on fire. But the cunning Germans promised the Jewish council that the Steibtz ghetto would not be liquidated, and they succeeded in putting the Jewish forces to sleep. The sparks of revolt were extinguished. The only one to rise was Elyakim Miltzensom. burst out like a tempest and awakened those who slumbered. He set fire to the largest two storey house in the ghetto in which there were about a hundred and fifty Jews.
Two days before the liquidation the Germans woke up the peasants of Drezdi, Strosworzena and Pertuk and took them to work. For two days they dug a pit that was a hundred and fifty meters long and two and a half meters deep. The Jews were loaded on lorries. Those who refused to climb up were beaten savagely or killed on the spot.
The shrieks of the poor people split the heavens. The lorries were driven by local White Russian drivers. Beside the pit stood Germans, Letts and White Russian police with machine-guns. The Jews were ordered to take their clothes off. Men, Women and children stood naked. Their belongings, their rings, their money and everything else was taken away from them. They were placed in a row on the edge of the pit and the machine-guns began chattering and killing. Living people also fell into the pits which were then covered with a layer of sand. Next day other groups of Jews were brought from the bunkers to the identical fate. There were some who joined this journey to death of their own free will when their families were taken. So it was with Dr. Sirkin, the district physician. The Germans wanted to leave him, but after they had taken his wife and child he saw no point in living. There was no place for him in the world that had turned dark and he went together with those who were taken to death. Rabbi Joshua, the rabbi of the community, went to the slaughter wearing his prayer shawl and tefillin.
Some Jews hid in caves, in attics and cellars where they stayed for eight days without food or water, In some cases the choked weeping of a little child revealed the hiding place of the Jews to the murderers and they burst in like wild beasts and dragged them to the pitgrave. When they burst into one of the bunkers they a seven year old child of Dosia Hankin. The boy fell at their feet and begged to be left alive. He was murdered in cold blood. Zimmel Hayyatovitch and his wife were enfeebled after eight days in hiding without food and came out into the ghetto. We took them to work with us in order to save them. When the foreman saw the children he said cynically: I know that you hid yourselves, but I'm prepared to leave you alive because I disapprove of slaughtering the Jews. But the order is that no Jewish child is to be left alive and so I must k:ill them. The children clung to their parents but in vain. With a cruelty that froze the blood they took them and killed them before the eyes of their parent.
After the slaughter which continued for eight days, as said, the Germans took fifteen of the working Jews and ordered them to take the belongings out of the homes whose owners had been exterminated. Pillows, kitchenware and furniture all in order and with German precision, each kind separately, every type together with those like it. They loaded everything on buses and took them away.
When we came back to town we were met by local peasants with a malicious smile on their lips. There were some whose faces showed their astonishment and disappointment, their eyes asking : How have you had the impudence to remain alive?
The peasants of the neighbourhood and their wives dragged off everything valuable that they could: furs, pillows and cushions with Jewish bloodstains on them. Here and there we saw piles of sand where the Germans had buried the Jews who had refused to mount the lorry. Almost the whole ghetto had been transformed into a graveyard.
There were still pools of blood in front of many houses.
We began to think once again about going to the forest. Maybe somebody would remain alive there in order to tell later generations what Hitler had done to the Jewish people.
Our society in Israel was established as soon as we received the first sad news about the fate of our native town. That was at Succoth 1944 The founders were : Zalman Shazar (than still Rubashov), now President of the State of Israel; the Milcenzon families; the Borsuk brothers and Ben Yerucham. Our first aim was to establish contact with all those who had been rescued and provide them with immediate aid.
The increased immigration to Israel of those who had been liberated from the ghettos and camps brought many townsfolk. Our task was to look after them and help them in their steps in the country. Help was in the form of monetary support, loan and clothing.
Our landsmanshaftn in Africa, South Africa and the in Argentina responded very cordially and helped us in this holy task. We fully value and esteem what they did, as well as the fraternal contact which they constantly maintain with us.
At present there are about a hundred and fifty families from Steibtz in Israel. They are to be found in kibbutzim moshavim and towns. Many of them can be met with as farmers, building workers, clerks and in various other working places.
Every year we gather together at the memorial meeting which is held on the 12th Tishri, in order to honor the memories of our martyrs. Last year we had the honor of receiving a fresh greeting from Steibtz through our honored President Zalman Shazar, who attended.
At Mount Zion in Jerusalem we unveiled a memorial tablet for Steibtz and Sverzhen in the Martef HaShoah (Memorial Vault) as an everlasting memorial.
Our committee has a Gemilut Hasadim free loan fund to preserve the name of the Steibtz martyrs forever. It was established in March, 1949 on the initiative of our Chaverim: Yehezkhel Ben Moshe Plaksin, Moshe Borsuk and Getzel Reiser. The fund has been very useful for new immigrants, and continues to serve people from Steibtz, providing them with loans for various purposes. It has IL 17,000 at its disposal. The greater part of the money was sent by our landsleit in other countries.
After the Steibtz synagogue came to an end in America the worthy Karl Heiman of blessed memory took the initiative in establishing our own synagogue which has been in existence in Tel Aviv for about ten years. People from Steibtz and the surrounding little towns come to pray there, together with others who find pleasure in saying their prayers in the old Lithuanian fashion. After prayers we say kiddush, drink lehayyim and refresh our memories by telling tales of the past. We enjoy a spiritual exaltation on festivals, when more Steibtz people come together in the synagogue.
This is particularly the case at Simchat Torah, the Rejoicing of the Torah.
The society has a popular library for children and young people in the name of Alter Yosselevicz of blessed memory, the renowned Steibtz teacher and educator.
Irgun Yotzei Steibtz Be'Israel.
Mr. Getzel Reisser, Eilat St. No. 38. Tel-Aviv-Jaffa, Israel.
Objectives of Association:
Ways of Realizing the Objectives:
The Association shall be maintained by membership fees and contributions from any source in Israel and in the diaspora in the form of a gift will, consecrations and in any other form.
Institutions of the Association:
Association shall have the following institutions:
Committee of Association:
Extraordinary General Meeting:
The Committee shall be entitled to convene from time to time an extraordinary General Meeting at the written request signed by at least 25 members of the Association, wherein the questions to be discussed at such General Meeting shall be specified.
Should the Committee fail to convene such Extraordinary General Meeting in spite of the written request as above, then the subscribers of the written request shall be entitled to convene a General Meeting, provided that
their invitation shall include the questions for which the General Meeting is being convened.
The proceedings at an Extraordinary General Meeting shall be the same as those at Ordinary General Meetings; the same applies as to the number of members forming a legal quorum.
Seal of Association:
Signature and Representation:
The signature of the Chairman of the Committee or of his Deputy, or of the Manager of the Cash or his Deputy, jointly with the signature of the Secretary and the seal of the Association or of the Gemilut-Hessed Cash respectively, shall be binding upon the Association.
The leaders of our society are:
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