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[Pages 401-404]

Two Friends – One Father

by Munya Chazen

Translated by Shulamit Berman z”l

Notes: The author of this piece, Chaim Munya, and his wife and children left Shumsk for America in 1921. Years later, Chazen wrote this and other pieces about Shumk's history and folklore. More about Chazen's life and family is in the introductory note on page 376 of this book's translation.

The Yiddish portions of the Shumsk Yizkor Book were translated to Hebrew by Esther Weinschelbaum and those translations are online at https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/szumsk/szumskh.html. This translation to English was done from the Yiddish-to-Hebrew translation.


There were several melamdim (teachers) in our town, but the most renowned was Simcha Melamed.[1]

Although he was over 70 years old, he was still teaching. Many of those whose children studied with him had themselves once been his pupils, and they still called him rebbe. In fact everyone in town called him rebbe. In truth it could be said, without exaggeration, that nearly half the men in town had once been his students.

Indeed, Simcha Melamed's cheder (religious elementary school) was always full.

But it would seem that even a full cheder could not provide a decent livelihood, and he had to seek extra sources of income, such as reciting kaddish (the prayer for the dead), el malei rahamim (the prayer recited at the graveside), and making up a minyan (quorum) in a house of mourning. Seeing that he was one of the oldest men in town everyone consulted him regarding yahrtzeits (anniversaries of deaths) because he kept a record of the dates. He also headed a group that studied mishnayot (chapters of the Oral Law) during shiva (the seven-day mourning period) and on yahrtzeits, until things improved and the kloyz (small synagogue) also had a gabbai (sexton) for all commemorative dates. There was no shortage of schnapps, and there was even a bit more money available.

Simcha Melamed managed these additional tasks together with his friend Zushia Melamed[2], who was around the same age. Zushia taught children in the Talmud Torah (elementary school) of Rabbi Beirinyo's[3] kloyz, for which he was paid a miserable pittance.

The two friends, Simcha and Zushia, were always seen together, both at joyous occasions and in times of mourning, so they were known as the “two brothers,” “beloved and pleasant,” or “the twosome.”

No celebration was complete without them. They were among the first at every wedding, brit (circumcision), pidyon haben (ceremony for redeeming the firstborn son), hanukkat bayit (housewarming), and so on. At every occasion that warranted a drink the “two brothers” sat together, toasting each other with schnapps and cries of l'chaim (to life). In fact it was true that no celebration in Shumsk would be complete if the pair of them were not invited to represent the town's elders, especially since they weren't the kind to wait for an invitation. They had a tradition of celebrating with a glass of schnapps, regardless of who the actual celebrant might be. It frequently happened that their host was a student of theirs, or the parent of a student, in which case it was a mitzvah (good deed) to drink a l'chaim with the rebbe. They would be honored with glasses of fine schnapps.

The two of them would make merry until they were tipsy and the toasts became quite jolly. Only then would they leave for home, arm in arm. Once they had drunk more than four cups they often began to bemoan their fate. The one who was still capable of speech after drinking so much was Simcha Melamed, a strong Jew with a dignified expression. This is how he would begin:

“Tell me, my beloved Zushia, what are we? Ah, what do you say, melamdim? No! We are hewers of wood. You know what, if only we earned their salaries, and they paid on time. But we are hewers of wood all week long and my wife does not have what she needs for Shabbat because our employers forgot that that the rebbe also has a stomach and needs to eat. She complains: ‘If only you were a woodcutter, then I would at least have the wherewithal to prepare Shabbat and something to heat the house with.’ What can I say? Is there anything I can say in reply? Isn't she correct? Our employers, as you know, if one of them is good for the fees it's embarrassing to ask him, and if he's a beggar there's no point asking. What do we have for all our work? A crust of bread and a little water. You're going home to sing zemirot (Shabbat songs), ‘meat and fish and many delicacies,’ but on your table there will only be salt.”

Zushia Melamed listened to his friend Simcha's monologue, nodding his head in agreement as if to say:

“You are right. We should have such a good year.” But he didn't say a word. His tongue was in exile, it had disappeared.

He was the opposite of his friend. As much as Simcha liked to drink, he also like to chat and prattle. But Zushia remained as quiet as a kitten, only signifying agreement with his head.

In this way the two of them bemoaned their fate, drowning their troubles in alcohol. But their families went hungry.

I still remember Benjamin, Simcha's only son. His face was so pale it was almost bloodless, and he died in the prime of his life. Simcha was downcast because he was left without a son to say kaddish, yet he was not unduly affected. His wife, on the other hand, was devastated, and did not have the strength to withstand her suffering. She became melancholy and faded from day to day. She was ill for a time and one morning, when the students came to the cheder a neighbor told them they were free to go home, Rebbetzin Leah had died in the night.

To make sure they wouldn't stay idle they were sent to study with Zushia. Imagine what would have happened if the youngsters had spent a week “like sheep without a shepherd.”

Even before the rebbe had returned from the funeral the mischievous group had gotten hold of a large tub used for kneading challah dough and began sledding down a slope until the tub broke under their weight and the kids scattered. It did not bother them in the least. What did bother them was what to do when it became known to the rebbe? They decided to burn the tub. No sooner said than done. They lit some twigs from the stove, recited the blessing “Blessed be the Creator of fire”, and it was done.

Having gotten rid of the tub, they swore to keep the matter secret and went home. After the shiva the kids came back and studied diligently, because they felt guilty and wanted to be good, well-behaved students.

Rebbe Simcha treated them well because he felt lonely and took comfort in the fact that “students are called sons.” Nevertheless he was unable to stay in his house for long, so immediately after dismissing the cheder students he went to the kloyz, where he was consoled by Zushia, his good friend. (Zushia himself had been widowed in recent years.)

Some months elapsed before he was able to adapt to life within his four walls, but every morning at daybreak he went to the kloyz, where he felt more at home. It was especially pleasant to talk with Shemaya the shadchan (matchmaker), who proposed an orphan girl from a nearby town, a 30-year-old virgin.

At first he was unwilling to hear of a match, but after weighing the matter he considered that perhaps it was ordained in Heaven that he should leave behind someone to say kaddish for him after he reached 120 years of age. So he became reconciled to the idea and asked the shadchan to intercede for him. With the help of the Almighty he could still bring children into the world. Shemaya the shadchan took a pinch of snuff, stroked his beard, and gave him to believe that the matter would be settled favorably.

That same day he went to the orphan with extravagant promises. Nevertheless she had enough sense to protect herself by demanding that the house be registered in her name. Simcha unhesitatingly agreed. The whole matter was conducted in secret, so the town was in an uproar when one fine day rebbe Simcha turned up with someone.

The kloyz arranged a big reception for Simcha and welcomed him with great honor. Everyone wished him mazel tov. Some wags even wished him “a brit one year from now,” to which he replied: “If the Almighty wills it.”

Of course they were only speaking in jest, because you must know that our Simcha was already nearly 80. Yet he had lots of confidence, so he responded to all, “With God's help.” And wonder of wonders, the miracle occurred. One year later the orphan bore him a son. The excitement in town was indescribable.

The brit ceremony was conducted impressively in the synagogue. His former pupils made sure that everything was done properly – schnapps and honey cake, of course. His friend Zushia was happier than anyone. He also felt younger. It was with special joy that he heard what the Jews were saying about the miracle God had wrought.

The celebrant himself shone with happiness and even blushed a little. After drinking several l'chaims he became very merry and even kissed his friend Zushia. Dr. Jakobson[4] volunteered his medical assistance because he couldn't believe his eyes. It was a godsend, he said. But his help was not necessary. Everything went off well.

If such a thing had occurred in a large city the news reporters would have described the sensation in every detail. Our 80-year-old melamed would have become the hero of the day and his picture would grace the front page. But since it happened in a small town, there was a bit of excitement but then it died down.

Some time later Simcha Melamed caught a cold and developed pneumonia. He suffered for a week and then he died. This wasn't a sensation; it did not cause a stir in the town. But everyone was surprised to learn that before he died he had told his friend Zushia to marry his widow in order to provide for her and for the child. He also asked him to say kaddish for an entire year. It goes without saying that Zushia fulfilled the request of his dear friend.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. In this instance, melamed is Simcha's occupation, teacher of children, rather than a surname. Return
  2. In this instance, melamed is Zushia's occupation, teacher of children, rather than a surname. Return
  3. Rabbi Yisroel Dov Ber Lerner, affectionately called Rabbi Beirinyo, was born in 1867, became the head rabbi of Shumsk after his father's death in 1907, and died in the typhus epidemic in 1919. He is recalled in a chapter of this yizkor book beginning on page 188. Return
  4. Dr. Herman Jakobson (1882-1934) completed his medical studies in Riga in 1911 and worked as a physician in Shumsk the rest of his life, according to his granddaughter Irma Benyaminov. A chapter about Dr. Jacobson is in this yizkor book, beginning on page 199. Return

[Pages 405-409]

A Double Miracle

by Munya Chazen

Translated by Shulamit Berman z”l

Notes: The author of this piece, Chaim Munya, and his wife and children left Shumsk for America in 1921. Years later, Chazen wrote this and other pieces about Shumk's history and folklore. More about Chazen's life and family is in the introductory note on page 376 of this book's translation.

The Yiddish portions of the Shumsk Yizkor Book were translated to Hebrew by Esther Weinschelbaum and those translations are online at https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/szumsk/szumskh.html. This translation to English was done from the Yiddish-to-Hebrew translation.


After the 1917 revolution Kerensky's Provisional Government collapsed, the regime was overthrown,[1] and the country went through terrible times. Anarchy spread throughout Russia. It seemed as if the “Great Bear” was being torn to pieces. One disaster followed another.

First of all, Germany enforced the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk[2] and ripped away sections of Russian territory. The Bolsheviks were still weak so they conceded everything.

Meanwhile civil war broke out in Russia, not one but several at the same time, led by Czarist generals.

Poland took advantage of the opportunity and attacked Russia with no warning, penetrating deep into its territory before Russian troops managed to regroup on their front lines.

In Ukraine, Petlura[3] sought to liberate his country from the Bolsheviks. He gathered together a multitude of soldiers who had fled the battlefield -- joined by gangs of murderers that he armed -- and was persuaded by Germany to fight the Bolsheviks.

When it became clear that his forces could not prevail over the Red Army they unleashed their fury on the Jews, killing and looting in every town and city and leaving a swath of destruction in their wake. Jewish blood flowed like water. Many towns organized themselves in defense and opposed the marauding gangs.

Their defeated remnants scattered to the villages and incited the farmers to launch pogroms against the Jews.

Our town, Shumsk, had miraculously escaped the pogroms,[4] but now we felt the danger drawing nearer and panic broke out.

One day, just before Christmas, rumors began to spread that neighboring farmers were planning a pogrom on the day of the fair. This was at a time when the gentiles around us were being encouraged to avenge themselves on the Jews for Petlura's failure to establish an independent Ukraine and save it from the Bolsheviks. There was no lack of provocateurs in the nearby villages, constantly inciting the farmers to carry out pogroms.

Actually they did not have any noticeable success, because the Jews in our town were on friendly terms with the neighboring gentiles, and now they were especially careful to avoid any misunderstanding. Jews would travel to the villages to buy produce from the farmers, while the gentiles came to town to purchase what they needed. Thus the Jews had always had amicable relations with the gentiles, especially those living at the edge of town.

But the provocateurs spread throughout the villages, urging everyone to carry out pogroms. Terror struck the hearts of the Jewish population when the fearful tidings reached their ears.

Each gentile was viewed with suspicion, every farmer was suspect in case … who knew? People trembled at every sound. Rumors were rife as the date of the market fair drew closer, on the 15th of the month. The panic grew from day to day.

We can only imagine what the people were going through. They gathered in groups in the marketplace and the batei midrash (the study halls attached to the synagogues) because of the impending danger. There were those who reported what they heard and what they knew about the preparations underway in the villages. They sought advice on how to prevent the catastrophe. The Bolshevik government was not yet entrenched in the small towns. The town's entire protection consisted of a commissar and a few policemen.

At that time our town had a liberal Christian commissar by the name of Andrei Kostyuk who had previously been a schoolteacher. The Jews knew he was a righteous gentile because he had done a great deal for the town during his time as commissar. They also knew he was on very good terms with one of the town leaders and that he did not take bribes.

So only one hope remained -- to appeal to him to do everything in his power to protect us from pogroms on the day of the fair. A delegation went to see him. He received them kindly and promised to do everything possible to help. He also made a suggestion: they should go to Kremenets and ask the governor to provide the town with 30 rifles and ammunition, and arm 30 returning Jewish soldiers. He was willing to help organize them for self defense, to protect the Jewish population.

There were already some soldiers in town who knew how to handle weapons and were prepared to protect their wives and children.

Kostyuk penned a document and handed it over to the delegation of three who went to Kremenets to obtain rifles.

They did not encounter any difficulty. They were given 30 rifles and ammunition, which they loaded onto a wagon. An armed policeman rode with them -- and in case they were stopped on the way and asked what they were transporting, they also sent a guard. They departed from Kremenets before sunset and traveled through the night, arriving in Shumsk before daybreak. The weapons were concealed in the cellar of the synagogue, where Idel Zak[5] stored firewood. The rifles were distributed among the Jewish soldiers, each taking one home and keeping it with him in anticipation of the day of the fair.

Unwilling to rely only on these preparations, Commisar Kostyuk also prepared for the day of the fair by calling out the militia.

He gathered several policemen. His assistant also had some policemen at his disposal. They were given instructions on how to respond if anything untoward occurred. On the day itself he sent them to both ends of the town, at the points where farmers entered with their wagons. Each wagon was stopped and searched for firearms and other deadly weapons. He himself, along with his policemen, patrolled the marketplace to ensure that no incidents broke out that could flare into a brawl. They rode their horses through the market and the place where horses were traded behind the church.

It was a fine day. The farmers gathered from round about. The Jews fearfully opened their shops, praying that the Almighty would protect them and everything would remain peaceful.

Everything went well. Even if there were some gentiles whose intentions were evil, they realized as soon as their wagons were examined that this was not a good time to start something.

The 30 young men with the rifles were forbidden to leave home unless, God forbid, something happened and a riot broke out. So the fair was conducted like any other, with buying and selling. It was already after midnight and everyone felt relieved -- as long as the commissar and the police patrolled the marketplace. Thanks to merciful God for such a true and faithful friend, a Christian who protected the Jewish population with all his heart.

Nevertheless it was impossible for the day to pass quietly. A shot was fired by mistake, causing panic among the farmers. Assuming the Jews were attacking them, they grabbed their bundles and purchases and fled in haste. In the melee nobody knew what had happened. People asked “Why are they running?” “Because they're shooting.” Where, what, when, who? Nobody knows. Meanwhile the wagon owners were fleeing at top speed. Many thought a fire had broken out; other shouted, “The Germans are coming!” But nobody knew what had really happened. Farmers were constantly leaving town. Panic, tumult. Shops were shuttered, and within 15 or 20 minutes no trace of the fair remained.

When it was all over, the commissar remained with his police “like sheep with no shepherd,” or rather, a shepherd with no sheep, because he didn't know what had happened. The Jews calmed down somewhat and gathered in the marketplace to find out -- it would appear that the story went like this: One of the young soldiers who was supposed to remain at home couldn't restrain himself. At 3 in the afternoon he took his rifle and went to the market in the military uniform he had brought from the front lines.

He loaded the rifle, carried it on his back, and passed among the wagons. It's impossible to know precisely what occurred, but his rifle suddenly went off, causing pandemonium among the farmers, who didn't know where the shot had come from. When the Jewish soldiers who had remained at home heard the shot and the ensuing uproar, they converged on the marketplace, armed with rifles. The farmers, seeing Jewish soldiers bearing arms, promptly assumed that they were being attacked. Every farmer grabbed his things and fled.

After conducting an investigation the commissar berated the Jewish soldier who, with one gunshot, had succeeded in putting all the farmers to flight. In the end the furious commissar sent him to jail for disturbing the public peace.

You probably think this is where it ended? Let me tell you what happened next:

When the gentiles living at the edge of town heard what had happened, that Jews were bearing arms, they were most displeased. What? Armed Jews? This cannot be allowed! The Jews must be relieved of their weapons!

After the commissar went home the Christians gathered in the marketplace and demanded that the Jews hand over their guns. They searched the house of every Jew, seized the rifles, and brought the Jewish soldiers to the marketplace. They were told to stand there until it was decided what should be done.

The commissar was asked to come and adjudicate. What should be done with the rifles and the soldiers?

In the meantime the soldiers were lined up in pairs and guarded like prisoners. The rifles were placed nearby. Not daring to venture into the street, the Jews peered through the windows to see what would happen. We can imagine how they felt for several hours until, praise the Lord, the commissar himself arrived. When they saw the commissar they were somewhat relieved because he was always good to the Jews.

He clarified the situation to the Christians, explaining how events had led to the arming of the Jewish soldiers for self-protection and not, God forbid, for any evil intent. He had given his approval so that the Jews could defend themselves if any gang should incite a pogrom. The shot had been fired by mistake and the soldier would be punished.

And so it was that, thanks to the commissar, the Jews were saved twice in one day. It could be said that it was a double miracle. After brief negotiations it was decided that the rifles would be handed over to the authorities, the Jewish soldiers were not to blame so they would be released to their homes, the Jews would bring schnapps and refreshments, and there would be no more animosity between the Jews and the Christians who had always lived in peace.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky (1881-1970), a Russian lawyer, was a key figure in the Russian Revolution of 1917. After the revolution in February, Kerensky joined the newly formed Russian Provisional Government, first as minister of justice, then as minister of war, and after July as the government's second minister-chairman. The Provisional Government was overthrown by Bolsheviks led by Lenin in the October Revolution. Return
  2. Under the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Livotsk, signed on March 3, 1918, Russia recognized the independence of Ukraine, Georgia and Finland; gave up Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to Germany and Austria-Hungary; and ceded Kars, Ardahan and Batum to Turkey. In all, Russia lost more than 1 million square miles of territory and about a third of its population or around 55 million people; as well as a majority of its coal, oil and iron stores; and much of its industry. Return
  3. Symon Petlura (1879-1926) was a Ukrainian socialist politician and statesman, one of the leaders of Ukraine's unsuccessful fight for independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917. He was briefly the president of Ukraine during the Russian Civil War (1918-1922). Petlura was assassinated in Paris in 1926. The name is also commonly spelled Petliura or Petlyura. Return
  4. Apparently, military battles of World War I were not fought in Shumsk itself, but ultimately the town did not escape pogroms in this period. Such attacks on Jews in Shumsk are described elsewhere in this yizkor book and in other recollections, such as Lillian (Waldman) Morginstin's childhood essay, “Trips,” at https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/shumskoye/waldman.html Return
  5. Idel or Yidel Zak, born in 1875 and married to Golda, was a wealthy merchant dealing in iron for construction. Return

[Pages 410-414]

The Rabbi's Curse

by Munya Chazen

Translated by Shulamit Berman z”l

Notes: The author of this piece, Chaim Munya Chazen, and his wife and children left Shumsk for America in 1921. Years later, Chazen wrote this and other pieces about Shumk's history and folklore. More about Chazen's life and family is in the introductory note on page 376 of this book's translation.

The Yiddish portions of the Shumsk Yizkor Book were translated to Hebrew by Esther Weinschelbaum and those translations are online at https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/szumsk/szumskh.html. This translation to English was done from the Yiddish-to-Hebrew translation.

Rabbi Beirinyo [Yisroel Dov Ber Lerner] served as the rabbi in our town. He was a truly righteous man, loved and respected for his goodness. His house was a meeting place for the wise, and “everyone who was hungry shall come and eat” – he was zealous in his observance of the mitzvah of hospitality.

But once, in 1912, the rabbi inadvertently uttered a curse that unfortunately came true in due course.

It happened to a friend of mine with whom I studied in the beit midrash (study hall attached to a synagogue). Since I was present at the time it left a deep impression on me and remained etched in my memory. I am still unable to forget it, although many years have elapsed. I will describe it without any comments of my own.

Our town was divided into two factions. On one side was Rabbi Beirinyo, and on the other side, the new rabbi whom the well-to-do congregants had introduced, claiming that a rebbe need not serve as a rabbi.

Even though they supported Rabbi Beirinyo financially, they themselves brought in the new rabbi and paid his salary. This led to the formation of the two factions.

There was a man in our town, Akiva Woskovoynik who was considered to be a nogid (important person). He was on the other side, so obviously he opposed Rabbi Beirinyo. Akiva was a honey merchant. He traveled throughout the region buying honey from hives. The farmers with whom he traded brought the honey to town.

He had five daughters who, unfortunately, were unattractive. Although he himself was a simple man, he had great ambitions for his daughters. He aspired to marry them off to scholars and learned men. He spared no expense to obtain decent and learned husbands for the girls, and in this he was 100 percent successful.

His oldest son-in-law was Motti Halperin[1], a learned Jew and a great merchant. The second was Shimon Wexler[2]. He too had many advantages, including the fact that he was a successful merchant.

The third was Yosef Shechvitz[3]. He was so well known that he outshone the others. Apart from being a scholar, he was blessed with wisdom and he was a talented merchant. People came to consult with him, and naturally he was very popular and sociable. Since he was a Kohen, he was also chief Kohen in the beit midrash, even though some of the other Kohanim were older. He also served as gabbai (sexton) until his last days.

Naturally all the sons-in-law, just like their father-in-law, were opposed to Rabbi Beirinyo.

When Akiva Woskovoynik died he left his house and his honey business to his son-in-law Yosef the Kohen.

Yosef the Kohen also had other commercial dealings but his main enterprise was honey and wax, because the business had been known for many years and the neighboring farmers visited the house as if it were their own.

Each day, after the mincha (afternoon) prayers, Yosef the Kohen studied gemara (Talmud). He led a peaceful life.

His wife Meita bore him several children, all girls. The seventh child was a boy. The name Yaakov was bestowed upon him in memory of my father.[4] There was great rejoicing in Yosef's home. He prepared a royal feast for the brit mila (circumcision) of his youngest child.

When his daughters were older he allowed them to study. One daughter, the cleverest and most talented, was sent to the Russian school in our town.

For many years Jewish children enjoyed the privilege of being absent from school on Shabbat and festivals. If this cost a few rubles per child payable to the school principal, it was no big deal. Everyone was satisfied, especially since the children were not required to violate the Sabbath. This is how the Russian school was run for a long time. Even hassidim and simple devout Jews allowed themselves to send their children to the Russian school.

Rabbi Beirinyo had not given his consent to this arrangement, but the children needed to be educated. This went on for many years, and peace and tranquility reigned.

Came the day when the school principal received an order from a senior authority obligating all the Jewish children in the Russian school to also attend school on Shabbat and festivals, with no exceptions. The town was in an uproar. They tried to rescind the decree. They even traveled to the chief city, Kremenets, to appeal. But nothing helped. The hassidim were furious and the whole town seethed. The most devout Jews took their children out of the school.

Some of the more well-to-do agreed to a compromise: They would send their children to school on Shabbat on condition they were not forced to write. As usual, bribes were required.

Rabbi Beirinyo was vociferously opposed to such a compromise. He announced that no man should send his children to the school, even for the sake of learning, because of the likelihood that the Shabbat would be violated. He warned the parents that they were responsible for their children, who were themselves not liable.

The hassidim heeded the rabbi and refused to send their children to school. They lobbied hard to influence others to do the same.

The well-to-do parties of the other side, in contrast, weren't in the least disturbed by the declaration of the rabbi and the hassidim, and they continued to send their children to school on Shabbat. So long as the children were not forced to write and only required to learn and listen to what was being taught, they were not vigilant and did not heed the rabbi's decree.

In this way the crisis between the two sides was exacerbated.

Among those who refused to listen to the rabbi's warning and were untroubled was a respected Jew whose small daughter attended the school.

When it became known that many Jews were sending their children to school on Shabbat, including this little girl, there was pandemonium in the rabbi's kloyz (small synagogue), the Torah reading was delayed, and it was decided that the rabbi would go to the beit midrash of the other faction with a minyan (quorum) of hassidim to once again speak out against the violation of Shabbat.

The blame was laid entirely at the feet of that Jew. You have to realize that he was a great and God-fearing scholar. Moreover, he was a Kohen. How could he recite the priestly blessing when his daughter was violating the Shabbat?

In short, this was actually happening, and to Jews… The hassidim were on the warpath. That Shabbat they planned to breach the stronghold of the other group.

And so it happened, on Shabbat before nightfall. The man was studying gemara in the beit midrash, as was his custom every Shabbat. Suddenly the door opened, Rabbi Beirinyo and his minyan of hassidim entered and made straight for the bima (pulpit). The rabbi launched into a sermon about violating the Shabbat.

Most of the people accorded respect to the rabbi who had entered their beit midrash for the first time. They stood up and listened to what he had to say.

But this particular Jew conducted himself differently. He remained seated at the table and continued to study, ignoring the words of the rabbi.

Apparently this infuriated the rabbi to such an extent that he began to preach to this respected Jew in particular. Enraged, he expounded on the verse: “When the daughter of a priest defiles herself through harlotry …” (Leviticus 21:9). The Torah says that if the daughter of a priest violates the holy Shabbat her sin is punishable by burning. Since she was not yet of age, the punishment would fall upon her father.

Rabbi Beirinyo uttered these words and left the beit midrash with his hassidim. The worshipers were transfixed by his interpretation of the verse. I was more shocked than anyone, because the rabbi was even-tempered, and I could not comprehend how such words could have come from his mouth – they were almost a curse.

The event made a strong impression on all those present. The friends of that Jew, in particular, were greatly disturbed. But in the course of time everyone calmed down and the matter was forgotten.

The war broke out some years later. As the battlefront drew closer, we were afflicted with new troubles: all kinds of decrees and expulsions, life became more expensive, prices rose, many products were not available, food was scarce, and there was a shortage of kerosene.

The little that could be obtained was diluted with benzene, despite the dangers it posed.

I remember that it was in the summer of 1917 or 1918 at twilight. People sat outside their houses, talking about the war, the high cost of living, and so on. Suddenly there was a flurry of activity, the sound of running feet, and shouts: “A man is on fire.” From a distance we could see what looked like a tree in flames. People gathered and began crying out that the Jew was burning. His clothes had caught fire.

It happened like this: At nightfall he wanted to light a lamp which had been filled with a mixture of kerosene and benzene. Apparently his wife and children were already asleep, and he wanted to read a book. The lamp slipped from his hand and the kerosene caught fire on the floor. The flames ignited his clothes, which were oily with wax and fanned the blaze. He rushed outside, crying for help. Within seconds he had turned into a flaming torch. By the time people rushed to his aid it was too late. They doused the flames with a blanket, laid him on his bed and brought the doctor, who didn't hold out much hope. The man suffered all night and died the next morning. The town was in mourning, the shops were shuttered during the funeral and everyone accompanied him to the cemetery. His friends were despondent, having seen the rabbi's curse come true before their eyes.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Vital records from Shumsk show Mordechai Halperin was married to a daughter of Akiva Woskovoynik. Return
  2. Vital records from Shumsk confirm that Shimon Wexler was married to a daughter of Akiva Woskovoynik. Return
  3. Vital records from Shumsk show Yosef Mordechai Shechvitz, son of Moshe, was married to Meita, daughter of Akiva Woskovoynik. Return
  4. Vital records from Shumsk show a son named Yaakov Yitschok born August 16, 1911, to Meita and Yosef Shechvitz. Munya Chazen's father was Yaakov Chazen. Return

[Pages 415-418]

From Shumsk to Tel Aviv

by Rivka (Goldenberg) Erlich

Translated from the original Yiddish to Hebrew by Rivka Erlich and her daughter, Gita Inbar

Translated from Hebrew to English by Rachel Karni

There are events over which the passage of time has no control -- and they disappear from one's memory. Sometimes it seems to me that the events did not really occur or that the passage of time weakens one's memory of them. But now, thirty years from the day I left Shumsk[1], things that happened to me in my childhood and youth are as fresh in my memory as the day they occurred.

I am not capable of writing about all of these things since so many memories from that period impinge on my memory at once -- days of summer and days of winter, ordinary week days and Sabbaths and holidays that were full of the loveliness and purity of that time.

Shumsk, my town, the place where I spent my youth. There I dreamed sweet dreams, and from there I have golden memories. I remember the beautiful Jewish people of the town, but of all of them I see you, my father, a wise respected man, occupied with business matters, with the grain mill, with accounting and with mediation and conciliation, among so many other things. At the same time you were a “talmid chacham” -- a learned Jew -- who was also open and who already saw then that “beautiful Ukraine” was not “ours.” The Ukrainian neighbors and the Polish landlords would always hate us and would be ready at a moment's notice to steal and rob the little we had. I remember so many blue spring days, hours of dawn and hours of twilight, in which we would walk to the Sashy, to the Gorka[2], to the woods of Surage. How beloved are my memories of the clear summer days on the Vilya river. But today all of this is destroyed together with the life that developed in that beauty. Today it is all ruins.



There are pictures that are engraved in my memory from those days: The moments of holiness before the beginning of the Sabbath, when our beloved mother would light the Sabbath candles, covering her eyes with her delicate palms and silently praying for the well-being and health of the family as tears fell from between her fingers, moistening the white Sabbath tablecloth. Her older children were already in America and she felt that the others would soon be leaving for Eretz Yisrael to help to build a Jewish country about which she had heard from her husband, our cheerful father. Father was active in the Keren Hayesod[3] and thus had received a certificate[4] for entry to Palestine. It was decided that the certificate would be for our sister Bat Sheva. Our great happiness was mixed with sadness. From among the twelve children in our family only six daughters remained in our home in Shumsk. Bat Sheva hesitated about leaving for Palestine. Parting was very difficult for her. How would she leave her mother and father and her sisters? In the meantime the validity of the certificate expired -- and so life returned to its normal course.

During this period a daily Yiddish newspaper called Heint, which was edited by Triveks, appeared. The newspaper began to arrange a trip to Eretz Yisrael. One day my father came home and with his wise, quiet smile announced that he had paid for tickets for two of us for this trip and that the two lucky girls who would be going were Hava and I, Rivka. Our joy was great. My heart was pounding. I looked at my mother and saw that her eyes were filled with tears, her face expressing the depth of her emotions. She was already experiencing the sadness of our parting. She felt perturbed because she was spoiling our joy. I didn't continue looking at her because I didn't want to feel unhappy. I ignored her and went on happily thinking of the trip. I was so young. Even today my heart turns when I think of this moment. Why was I afraid of the strength of her feelings? Why did I ignore her at this moment of happiness? And why did I try not to look at her?

When the appointed day for our departure arrived the whole town was in a bustle. We were the heroines of the day. There were already young people from Shumsk in Eretz Yisrael but every departure from the town was an important event. Everyone was happy for us. There were those who were jealous, those who debated, and others who spoke about the wonderful activities of the pioneers in Eretz Yisrael and the hard days that were sure to befall the Diaspora.

It was the end of the winter and the Vilya River was frozen over. Snow covered the town. Snow sleds, in the shape of carriages, arrived at our doorstep. From early morning our large extended family filled the house. Hershel with his entire family, Mika with all of her family and Braina with hers came from Belezerka[5]. The house was full of noise and there were those with red-rimmed eyes. My mother tried to force a smile but her footsteps were accompanied by the sound of weeping and prayer.

When I saw my sisters crying I couldn't control myself and began to cry too. Then my father said, “My daughters! If you find that it is difficult for you, come back home. The house is open to you.” His voice was shaking and I knew the inner struggle he was experiencing. He continued speaking in great pain, “If there is the slightest chance that we too can immigrate to Eretz Yisrael, please write to us.”

Just at this time our sister Surka, who lived in the United States, was visiting us in Shumsk. She had experienced many partings in her life and was very decisive and knew that it was forbidden to yield to weakness. She pursed her lips and urged us to leave the house immediately. We didn't part from our mother, we simply went out in tears and got into the snow sled. We never saw our mother again. Our father accompanied us to Kremenets.

In Kremenets we boarded the train for Warsaw. Surka traveled with us to Warsaw. My father's quiet words from the moments that we were waiting for the train to leave Kremenets are embedded in my memory. He asked us to look at each other and we did so, trying to etch this moment in our memories. It was possible to see the struggle on my father's face to appear happy and confident so as not to sadden us and to make the pain of parting from our home and family easier for us. From the movement of his lips we understood that he was reciting the prayer for the wayfarer. His face was permeated with wisdom, love and pain.

Even today my mother's look follows me. Sometimes I feel her stooping down, taking my hands in her palms and warming them from the bitter cold with her love. I also see my father smile, his eyes wet with tears, as he sees our redeemed Land of Israel.

I knew how strongly he desired to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael, and I had promised him to do everything I could. Nothing would stop us from bringing our parents here. When we were still at home I had told my father, confidently and decisively, that we would see each other again in Eretz Yisrael. My father's eyes shone as he replied, “Of course I hope that we shall be united soon in Eretz Yisrael.”

These last pictures of my family accompanied my sister Hava and me after we got off the boat. We walked the streets of Tel Aviv in a dream. We were in our country, among our people, and everything that we saw was made by Jewish workers. The truth is that we didn't write one word about the economic situation. We wrote happy letters, full of hope. We felt the soil of our homeland firmly under our feet.

A year later our sister Malka arrived. She lived in the immigrant camp on Aliyah Street, not far from Moshavot Square, and now we were three sisters in the country. My brother Zioma, his wife Rivka and their children Tzila and Yishai arrived after Malka did and planned to live here too. They came legally from the United States. We began to make arrangements for the immigration of my parents and our twin sisters Charni and Leah but that year only Bat Sheva arrived. To our great sorrow we did not succeed, and we were not privileged to be reunited with our entire beloved family. Their fate was the same as all of the Jews in Shumsk who perished in the Holocaust.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Rivka (Goldenberg) Erlich, who resides in Tel Aviv, left Shumsk for Palestine in 1932. She is the daughter of Efroim and Kreintze Goldenberg. This article was written in the early 1960's for this Yizkor Book. Although Mrs. Erlich speaks Hebrew impeccably, she chose to write this article, expressing her longings for Shumsk, in Yiddish, the language she spoke in her youth in Shumsk. Return
  2. The Gorky was a beautiful pastoral hill just outside of the town. It is near the Vilya River, which was the border between Poland and the Soviet Union during this period. Return
  3. Keren Hayesod (Heb.): The fund-raising arm of the Zionist Organization. Return
  4. Certificate: The term used for the document granting permission to enter Palestine as a legal immigrant. These certificates were issued by the British authorities who governed Palestine at the time, and they were distributed by Zionist groups. The number of certificates was severely limited. Return
  5. Belezerka: The author's mother was born in Belezerka , and some of the family still lived there. Mrs. Goldenberg and her husband, Efroim Goldenberg, had resided in Belezerka until he was invited to become the accountant of large grain mills in Shumsk. Return

[Pages 419-439]

A Letter to Mother from “Velos”
(Diary of an Illegal Immigrant)

by Zipora (Roichman) Weisman

Translated by Shulamit Berman z”l

Translation editor's notes: This piece was written and originally published in Yiddish. The Yiddish portions of the Shumsk Yizkor Book were translated to Hebrew by Esther Weinschelbaum and those translations can be downloaded from https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/szumsk/szumskh.html. This translation to English was done from pages 72-93 of the Yiddish-to-Hebrew translation. The parts in brackets [like this] were added by the Yiddish-to-Hebrew translator, Esther Weinschelbaum.

Velos was the first ship of illegal immigrants to Palestine. It was a joint initiative of members of the Haganah, Hakibbutz Hameuhad, and Hehalutz Poland, without the official backing of those Zionist institutions. The first voyage of the Velos, in July 1934, was successful. This diary describes the second voyage, in September-October 1934, which was was blocked by the British from reaching Palestine. More information about the Velos voyages can be found in the Hebrew-language books “From Velos to Taurus: The First Decade of Jewish Illegal Immigration 1934-1944” by Avneri Arye (Tel Aviv, 1985), pages 21-33, and “La'a lot Bechol Hadrachim” by David Asher (Tel Aviv, 1984), pages 171-174, as well as the English translation of the 2009 Polish-language book “Jews on Route to Palestine 1934-1944: Sketches from the History of Aliyah Bet – Clandestine Jewish Immigration” by Artur Patek (Krakow, 2012).

Zipora (Roichman) Weisman was the daughter of Miriam (Glasner) and Eliyahu Shimon Roichman. She was born in Shumsk on July 15, 1909, and given the Yiddish name Feiga, which translates into Zipora in Hebrew and “bird” in English. Her father died before the Holocaust. Zipora's mother perished in Shumsk in August 1942, as did Zipora's sister Pesi (Roichman) Bajcz, along with Pesi's husband, Haim Bajcz, and their twin 8-year-old daughters, Sarka and Elka Bajcz. Zipora's brother Monish also perished in Shumsk with his wife, Sara (Stein), and their sons Mendel and Eliyah.

The author donated the original copy of this diary to Ahad Ha'am Library in Israel.

After World War II, Zipora married Feivke “Shraga” Weisman. His account of Shumsk from 1939 to 1941, “Between the Regimes in Shumsk,” begins on page 16 of this yizkor book.

30 July 1934[1]

We arrived in Warsaw in the morning. A taxi brought us to a hotel on the outskirts of the city. I'm sad – the hotel had a bad effect on us. We took comfort in our close friends. We're all close, even those we don't really know, because we're all in the same boat. Waiting for information. I'm in a room with five girls.

I'm going for a medical examination. I'm still very weak after my illness at home. The walk exhausts me. The doctor says my heart is very weak. I'm in despair. I don't want to go back. In the meantime we're going to see Warsaw. It's very impressive.

31 July 1934

It's 9 in the evening. Some friends have arrived from Lithuania and Latvia. It's a large family. Members of the mazkirut (secretariat) tell us to pack. We're waiting to be notified, for the order to leave. Now it's 12. The order didn't come. Everyone's going to town. I'm so homesick it makes me nervous, so I go to sleep.

1 September 1934

We haven't heard anything about when we're leaving. Someone from the mazkirut calls us together; they're talking about illegal immigration. They say we have the honor of being the first illegal immigrants. When we ask why they don't want the honor, they don't reply. They don't reply to many of our questions.

3 September 1934

Rumors have been spreading since the morning: We're leaving. We don't believe it yet. We're in despair. Nevertheless members of the mazkirut bring us train tickets. We get together, and they tell us we have to add another 750. The money was spent in town; there's none left. There's an uproar. They shout that those who have money have to contribute. “We have to leave, no more talking.”

I have one dollar. I hand it over. But that doesn't satisfy them. They send us out of the room.

Time is short. We're leaving for the train at 2. Everyone is organized, only “the bloc” remains.

Again an uproar, almost a real scuffle. The taxis arrive. We have to leave. A member of the mazkirut comes and settles everything. We're going to the train.

A line of cars and lots of noise attracts everyone's attention.

When we get to the train everyone starts running; everyone wants to get on quickly. We can't believe it. We want to leave the past behind us, the old experiences. Friends from the merkaz (center) have come to see us off with many heartfelt wishes.

We're on the train. The doors are closed, the blinds are lowered, everyone has their seat. Our mood improves, we sing, we criticize the mazkirut and discuss its sins, the privileged ones. With us are [Levi] Schwartz, Yehuda Schwartzbart, Yizraeli, Dr. Brandt, intellectuals who conduct themselves like aristocrats.

We have to pay for food on the train, and we have no money.

The first stop after Warsaw is Częstochowa. It's a large city with a pleasant railway station, really nice, but I'm homesick. Now we're passing through Congress Poland. Coal mines, winking lights. Katowice, buildings in the German style, white, elegant. The train is speeding. Towns and villages race by.

It's 11 at night. We've reached the Czechoslovakian border. We switch to another train. Some of the group are buying things in Poland. They have money. Some of us are poor, penniless, while others have plenty. Some have no money for food. We're joined by haverim (comrades) from Galicia. They're traveling to Czechoslovakia with us.

4 September 1934

Night passes and dawn breaks. It's raining. Cornfields, vineyards. Not particularly impressive; we don't see fields and towns. The people in Czechoslovakia are well dressed. They know we're “students” and treat us very nicely.

We're joined by immigrants from Czechoslovakia. The time is 12 noon. We're approaching the Hungarian border. It's raining here as well. The scenery is the same as Czechoslovakia. We arrive in Budapest; the train crosses the city. It looks huge. An electric tram travels back and forth. Our group runs to the street, to see what we can. Everything is different here. We're joined by haverim from Hungary and also from Vienna. We can't communicate with them.

The journey continues. Tall mountains extend along the length of the Danube, their peaks hidden in the clouds. I'm filled with new impressions. I want to share with somebody, but there's no one. Everything around me is strange.

Twilight. We're approaching the Yugoslavian border; our passports are checked. The station is full of flower sellers. Summer spreads its scent and its pleasant warmth. Belgrade, the capital, is beautifully reflected in the Danube. A tumult of noise in the railway station. The train crosses Yugoslavia. We eat the last of our Polish bread, we eat cornbread, we share sardines, apples, grapes – not bad. We're very tired and drop off to sleep.

5 September 1934

Dawn. We're woken because we're approaching the Bulgarian border. I'm told there was a catastrophe in the night – a wheel came off one of the carriages. Thank heavens there were no fatalities. We're waiting for our journey to continue but nothing happens. A telegram arrives, telling us not to go on to Greece. Meanwhile some of the group spot a water tap and hurry to drink and wash the grime of the past two days from our faces.

In the distance they're putting out a fire. Our group of 37 on the tiny platform is attracting too much attention. People come to ask us who we are. The people are dark and sunburned, poorly dressed, the women with long braids reaching to the ground. They're friendly. Haverim purchase tea. Time passes.

Finally we're instructed to continue on our journey. The region is like paradise, hilly and forested. The mountain peaks can't be seen; they kiss the sky. The railway track passes through mountains. Twenty-three tunnels, darkness. We're happy – another day has passed.

It's 2 in the afternoon. Sofia, a city filled with flowers. Not far from the railway station is a radio station. Trains race by.

We travel to Varna harbor. The scenery is unbelievably beautiful. At the train station we see people with grapes and watermelons. They accept Polish currency. The group scrapes together some Polish coins and we buy. Tumult, happiness, one more train station to go.

Members of the mazkirut instruct us to get ready. General rules of conduct include not to only speak Polish, and to remain calm and quiet. We already feel illegal.

We leave the train in groups of 10. Our suitcases are carried by porters. We go to be checked but they hardly open anything.

We wait. Meanwhile we go to see the ships anchored in the harbor. Our sea quarters make a great impression on us. We receive our passports and go on board. Someone fell into the hold. They raise him to the deck bandaged, with blood streaming from every limb. It's terrible. We're all despondent until he regains consciousness. Our first casualty.

6 September 1934

We have to get used to the ship's rules. They wake us at 7 to drink tea. It's a Greek ship – who can understand them? One of the crew is very old, a refugee from the Russian Revolution. He speaks Russian, so we get anything we want from him.

We are four girls in a cabin. They treat us nicely. The dining room is laid out nicely, very impressive. At 11 the ship begins to move. The comrades who kept us company on the train part from us now. We ask them to convey greetings to our relatives in Poland. Plenty of tears and sadness.

We're not allowed to go on deck. At night – they say – it's allowed. Another check. Three new haverim join us from Israel. They will be our leaders.

Sky and water, no land. The sea is black, calm, and magical. We stand there, gazing into its depths. It's telling us something. Small groups have formed. I feel miserable. Everyone is happy, singing, playing games. We're supposed to get up at 3 in the morning, when we pass through the Dardanelles. There's an uproar; we see a lighthouse – Constantinople. The city is divided in two, Europe and Asia. The Dardanelles is a narrow strait. We're in the Sea of Marmara. It's very peaceful. We sit on the deck. A fancy American ship passes. Two worlds exchange polite greetings. A plane lands. We forget we're at sea.

The haverim are preparing a party for Friday night. At supper they arrange benches, set up a stage. The party begins – recitations, a concert, ballet; everyone's very happy.

8 September 1934

We're in the Aegean Sea. It's stormy. Everyone is gloomy, our heads are spinning, we don't feel like eating, we can't sit anymore, we lie down on the deck. Some people faint. We have two days of this torture. It's very hard, but it's worthwhile. What's important is to reach our destination.

9 September 1934

More of us are sick. There's no help for it, we're all sick. And there's another problem: When will we disembark, and what can we eat that's digestible?

10 September 1934

We have entered the Mediterranean Sea. The sea is calm, the weather is good, we can see mountains in the distance. The guy from Israel tells us it is Mount Carmel. The heart trembles. At night we sail near the border. We can see the lights of Haifa. We're in a war zone, awaiting orders.

11 September 1934

A meeting is called. The leaders from Eretz Israel instruct us to prepare small bundles, not to take suitcases. Many belongings are left behind; elegant new suitcases are abandoned. All that matters is to reach land.

We sense danger and we're all tense. Members of the mazkirut are expected but they aren't here. We wait. Meanwhile we're short of bread and water. The group becomes angry.

12 September 1934

There is no more water. Something is not clear. Why do some girls receive water? These girls have behaved badly; they got friendly with the ship's crew. Nearly the whole meeting is taken up with one topic: girls.

The haverim from Eretz Israel prepare a boat. At twilight they plan to set out. Once again we sail close to the shore. Again we see Haifa and the neighborhood of Hadar Carmel with its streetlights reflected in the sea.

The boat is lowered. Two haverim sail to shore. They'll be back tomorrow.

13 September 1934

It's already noon but they haven't returned. We're impatient, hungry, thirsty for even a drop of water. Suddenly we see a black dot approaching. We rejoice and warmly greet the 12 haverim who have come to take us to Eretz Israel. Once again we get ready, once again we prepare our bundles, receive instructions. We eat a quick supper, dress, grab the bundles; it's truly like the Exodus from Egypt. Everyone wears several pairs of trousers, dresses, shirts. Each group is in its appointed place. The ship is dark. Not a sound can be heard. The 90 of us from the “general bloc” [of Hehalutz] sit in one room. It's stifling. The sea is stormy, the ship lurches from side to side, people are groaning, vomiting, fainting. I'm very weak. They lead us into the passageway to get some air. There isn't even a drop of water to revive those who fainted. The doctor is nowhere to be seen. Confusion breaks out, with people running in all directions.

Nobody has left the boat yet. Once again we are far from shore. Boats arrive, take 30 of us and sail away, with people swimming alongside. They return immediately and take more people, groups of eight girls. The sea is stormy and it is dangerous. They decide to lower the other groups tomorrow. We wait impatiently for our turn. Someone comes to tell us we can sleep in the meantime.

Broken in body and spirit, we all sleep.

14 September 1934

The ship moves; we don't know where we're going. We are moving farther away. There's no breakfast, we can't wash, the water is very salty and causes sores. We hear they have gone to get another 1,000 lire so the captain will agree to remain one more night. He doesn't agree. He's going to buy coal for the ship.

The ship passes Syria, near the Hermon. The Lebanese mountains are thickly populated. We pass Beirut. We're already in Tripoli. At 9 we have a police inspection. We still don't have bread. We go to sleep exhausted and starving.

I tend to a sick girl. She's running a fever. I fall asleep in her bunk.

15 September 1934

Arabs come in boats. They bring bread rolls, grapes, tomatoes, fizzy drinks. They shout. Our group exchanges dollars and buys – whoever has the means. But we remain hungry, waiting. During the day they bring bread and tomatoes. Breakfast, lunch, and supper in one. We stand in line to get water, which they bring in tins. People are pushing and shoving, actually falling down. Things get so bad that one of the guys from Eretz Israel slaps someone. They bring shirts, shoes. It turns out that some of the haverim have indulged in petty theft. A bunch of empty, despicable fools.

16 September 1934

Meanwhile we hear that there's no coal and no water. We have to return to Greece. People fill their suitcases with grapes.

18 September 1934

The ship hugs the shore of Antalya, Cyprus, an Italian settlement [Rhodes]. It's all very interesting. We have questions about every bit of land, every name.

It is the eve of Yom Kippur, the night of Kol Nidre. We recall our parents, their suffering. They know nothing about us. There are many religious people here. We are asked who wants to fast, and they get a special meal before Kol Nidre. They start to pray and it reminds us of home, the place where we suffered together and yearned. Now we know better, we are detached. Those who aren't fasting debate religion, but we're all weak, both prosecutors and defenders. Those who are fasting take part in the discussion after the prayers. They reject the verdict.

19 September 1934 – Yom Kippur

Once again we are in the Aegean Sea. It's very stormy, we can't leave our bunks, everyone is throwing up. Now everyone is fasting, against our will.

Three in the afternoon. We are surrounded by mountains. The sea is a bit calmer. The haverim from Eretz Israel distribute our passports. We can see a settlement in the distance. The crew say we are heading for it. They tell us to write letters, they'll mail them. Everyone rushes to write. The sick girl provides me with a stamp. She still has a dollar.

We are already in the harbor. The city is built on two hills, small but full of life. The police examine our passports and allow us to disembark. The guys from Eretz Israel take some girls and go off to have a good time.

20 September 1934

Those who have money go to town to mail their letters. Those who remain make a list. Finally, we all go into town. The feeling of dry land under our feet is wonderful. We wander around. The Greeks want to talk to us but they can't.

21 September 1934

We're docked in the harbor. There's no water again. Why? This is intolerable; how is it possible that there's no water? We demonstrate with towels around our necks. We yell. We demand: “Water, water.” Nerves are taut. The ship's owner begs us to calm down. The police are keeping an eye on us. We refuse to listen, we are up in arms. We choose a committee to liaise with the haverim in Eretz Israel. Apparently this has some effect because we immediately receive the food and water we wanted.

22 September 1934

Tonight a comrade came from Warsaw with important news. He heard about all we had suffered, but he began a long lecture on the subject of “We pioneers must be prepared for everything.” The haverim demand certificates [to enter Eretz Israel].

23 September 1934

Nothing has changed. We enjoy the respite from seasickness. We go to town, hang out a bit, but we're still waiting to make aliyah.[2] What's going to be?

Meanwhile they're stocking up with enough water and coal for eight days.

28 September 1934

They check if everyone is present. We eat breakfast but … the sea! The sea is choppy. I feel dizzy again. We are all sick, unable to stand, confined to our cabins and our beds. Everywhere is filthy. The doctor is at a loss. Everything hurts. Nobody makes it to meals. A new Yom Kippur.

29 September 1934

It's too early to approach the shore. The ship waits near a small village surrounded by mountains. The region is beautiful. Peasants are at work clearing rocks. All is well. For now we are tourists, sailing, seeing somewhere new. The sea is calm, the water is blue, and the crew promises calm seas from now on.

10 October 1934

The haverim from Eretz Israel call a meeting. Tomorrow we'll disembark; we need to choose a leader for the group. The next day at about noon we're joined by more haverim. We take it all in our stride – we're already old hands when it comes to problems. In the evening there's a lecture. The subject is “Jewish labor.” It's followed by a living newspaper[3] and a concert. We say farewell to one of the crew. During our time together he learned a bit of Hebrew, and he takes his leave with the words “Lehitraot bePalestina Hademocratit” (See you in democratic mandatory Palestine).

We end the evening with a rousing cheer.

2 October 1934

This was supposed to be a historic day for us, but unfortunately it isn't. We pack up our miserable bundles. Each group leader issues instructions; we can see the shores of Eretz Israel, but … the haverim have not arrived. The group leaders go from place to place. They get hold of valerian drops. We eat dinner early, lie down in the hold, divided into groups, but…

We see a boat with sails. The waves toss her about. Our haverim go down to join those in the boat. It's a good sign. We hoist our bundles onto our backs. Most of us are seasick again, but we rally. Suddenly we're ordered to disperse. Lights are switched on; our nerves are shot. Now what's the problem? Haven't we suffered enough? The guys from Eretz Israel tell us to hold on, to maintain discipline, to await orders. It will take another few days. Someone else goes on talking but we just leave, each to their own cabin.

4 October 1934

Our spirits are low, nothing is moving, we're mistrustful, desperately hungry, longing for a bite of meat. The bread is moldy. People gather in corners, reminiscing about former times. Everyone blames everyone else, but the guys from Eretz Israel are especially to blame. They chase girls and they've lost sight of their duties. The crew treat us badly, they're sick of us. We hold a bloc meeting. We want to explain that we're ready to face anything, even prison in Acre. The meeting goes on for hours. The guys from Eretz Israel are having a good time. They don't care how we feel. They're irritated. The meeting breaks up.

5 October 1934

Even though we don't really believe it, we get ready once again. The situation has become intolerable. Even the green, foul-smelling bread has run out. We still have a few bits of toast but they're riddled with worms. Every hour is an eternity, but we still hope. Again we say goodbye: “Lehitraot Ba'aretz” (see you in Eretz Israel). We hide. The first-aid team are ready. The lights of Haifa are visible in the distance, we draw closer to the shore. We feel like we're jumping out of our skin, we want to feel the earth under our feet. We're sick of the sea.

Two of the Eretz Israel guys take a boat to shore. We wait tensely for news; every minute seems like an eternity. A note arrived: Not here. We must sail to Tel Aviv; maybe we can disembark there. It's a two-hour journey. Despondent and weary, we slowly follow the coast. Once again – lights, Tel Aviv – little Paris, beautiful, swinging. God! What we would give to be there already. There's a bad feeling. Someone says, “We see it with our eyes, but our feet will not walk there.” The order comes to remain in our places and remain silent.

We're first in line to get into the boat. Thirty of us in a tiny boat. Suddenly the ship is lit up. Someone says a boat has arrived. We are asked, “Who are you?” but the reply is in Arabic. They ask the name of the ship and a flare immediately illuminates the vessel. We're shivering with fear and the ship starts to move away. It moves quickly from the shore, accompanied by the flares.

When the ship is out of danger we hear lots of noise and shouting. The crew explain that if we had boarded the boat there would have been casualties and the ship would have been impounded.

6 October 1934

The haverim from Eretz Israel leave us. We kiss them goodbye. We think maybe, just maybe this time we'll succeed. We prepare toast and water. These guys are our only hope.

7 October 1934

A day of alert expectation. We worry about the fate of the haverim from Eretz Israel. What's happening to them? We see a spark in the distance and our hopes rise. But it turns out to be a cargo ship bound for Alexandria.

8 October 1934

Today they still haven't come. We hold a meeting and decide to send another few haverim along with a crew member to bring us concrete tidings. The captain agrees. The ship approaches the shore once again. Suddenly a brawl breaks out between the sailors; they refuse to go back. They are afraid. So we don't go. We're alarmed. Later we learn that this was staged by the captain so he could ignore our decision.

9 October 1934

Rain. Everyone on deck is drenched, we run for the hold. We are growing more despondent. Someone says quite seriously that he will throw himself into the sea. We're sick of everything, nothing matters any more so long as we get our certificates! We've taken enough cheek from the halutzim (pioneers). We want certificates like everyone else.

10 October 1934

Today is very stormy. The number of sick people is growing. Someone's tongue is paralyzed, someone else faints and has no pulse. Several are deaf in both ears. Everyone is hungry and thirsty. One sack of bread for 400 people. Some of our group, half naked, crept into the kitchen at night to steal bread. A meeting is held in the middle of the night attended by 320 of us. A committee is chosen. We demand certificates. The ship's owner takes pity on us and buys bread at a small harbor. We're like sheep, anyone can lead us wherever they want.

11 October 1934

Morning. Lovely scenery, trees, little houses, everything is fertile. We are given bread for breakfast. Seeing dry land makes us feel better. Coal is winched straight onto to the ship by means of steel wires. We enjoy watching. A caravan of camels can be seen in the distance.

12 October 1934

The ship begins to sail. We pass Greece, an entire archipelago. More sea. We're sick of it. We want to feel the earth under our feet.

13 October 1934

Another meeting with the group leaders. They tell us how we must conduct ourselves. Again we pack up our bundles, dress like tourists. The ship hoists the Greek flag and drops anchor. We descend the gangplank and 320 people go into town. We attract the attention of everyone in the street. The city is lovely and green. Up on the hill are busy streets, electric trams, taxis, people dressed in the European style.

A comrade from Warsaw hastens towards us, wiping away sweat. He is concerned. He asks if we're all alive, if there are any casualties. The town governor was supposed to meet us but he's away, we have to wait. Another comrade joins him. He greets us like long-lost children and calls a meeting. He tells us a decision has been made to give us certificates. We have certainly earned them. Our spirits soar but drop again when he tells us the rumors that have been spreading about us: our ship sank, we were jailed, we sickened and died. Our parents were frantic. They complained to the merkaz that their children have been deceived. We ache for our dear parents, but we take comfort in the fact that in another month we will be able to enter Eretz Israel legally.

14 October 1934

Our comrades bring paper so we can write home. Chaos reigns, but it's all okay. The journey to Eretz Israel costs 2 liras; staying here also costs money, but we don't have a penny. How can we ask our poor parents for money?

15 October 1934

We prepare to disembark. The haverim from Eretz Israel arrive with bad news. The governor has not agreed to let us land. But we're still calm. The important thing is that we have bread and we're not worried, we can hang on.

16 October 1934

Spring is in our hearts. The sun is shining, but then it disappears behind clouds and a storm breaks. A comrade arrives and expresses doubt as regards the certificates. We can't stay in Greece either. We have to sail to Constanta. Our room is next to the men's room and suddenly we hear lots of noise, everyone shouting above everyone else. It's 2 in the morning. We jump out of bed. It's a committee meeting. We crowd around the windows, they won't let us in. We wait anxiously to hear the decision. As usual, I believe the leaders – they won't drag us irresponsibly.

17 October 1934

It's raining and we're depressed. We are wearing summer clothes and the cold is punishing and scary. Another meeting. The committee announces a decision. They call for a hunger strike until we know exactly where we stand with the certificates. Breakfast – we don't eat. Lunch – we pour it out. The guys from Eretz Israel beg us to eat, the ship's captain is angry. He wants to know why we are on strike.

A comrade arrives at 3 in the afternoon. A meeting is held. They report that the certificates have been promised. We don't believe it. There's a lot of noise and shouting. By 5 the strike is over.

18 October 1934

No good news. Nobody is talking anymore about Saloniki, maybe Bucharest. We are all waiting for representatives. The boat is sighted; we believe it will bring news. We are very nervous.

22 October 1934

When we again hear about Bucharest we begin to think we will be returning to Poland. Sad. The girls get gym lessons and we pass the time with sports. Something ugly happens: A boy steals a warm loaf of bread. He's spotted by a policeman. A meeting. The act is condemned. There's a talk about decent conduct.

23 October 1934

One of the haverim comes, the leader. His face is glowing. Good news. They will let us disembark in Saloniki. The committee is given instructions. Once again they talk about rules of conduct, especially between men and girls. The Greeks are not modern in this respect. Two separate hotels are rented. The governor has given permission orally, the written permit will come later. We feel revived and dance a lively hora. We just want to be away from the sea and far from Poland.

24 October 1934

We are still waiting to disembark. In the evening the haverim arrive, gloomy and dejected. Athens has authorized our disembarkation but Saloniki does not agree. Relations are strained here between Jews and gentiles. They fear a pogrom. We are advised to travel to Bucharest. We bewail our fate.

25 October 1934

We are overcome with curiosity, asking each other what will happen. The order comes that we must sail, a ship has been hired but it's too small. We are divided into two groups. The first one will leave tomorrow, the second a few days later, and we'll meet up in Bucharest. A meeting is held. We have to carry the suitcases of those who left. We agree. The main thing is to get there.

26 October 1934

We're an obedient flock. The Romanian ship can be seen in the distance. It is supposed to pick us up at 2. There is a rumor that in Constantinople we will be visited by visa government clerks.

The weather is fine. We wait.

At 2 in the afternoon the ship begins to move, but unfortunately not in our direction. We don't know why.

Suddenly people are rushing around. Haverim from Eretz Israel have arrived. They tell us that the authorities have taken pity on us and we are remaining in Athens. We'll be there for a few days. We don't believe any more. They clearly understand why we keep quiet and they also shut up.

27 October 1934

We are permitted to remain in Athens until Monday. We are given tickets for someplace in the city. Jubilation on the ship. The boilers are fired.

28 October 1934

They talk about the rules of conduct in Athens. Our fate depends on it. We're divided into fictitious couples. Some pick their own partner. Everyone is joyful. Youthfulness blooms. We tell jokes and spend most of our time in sport.

29 October 1934

Everything is ready for our trip to Athens. The anchor is weighed. We've packed our bundles. The boiler is fired. The police come for those haverim who are not traveling. We have been waiting for some time. The comrade returns and waves his hands from afar. He does not look happy. We are seized by doubts. He climbs up and orders us not to move. Once again the anchor is lowered. We're grinding our teeth. A Russian ship passes us with 15 families bound for Eretz Israel. They leave, we remain.

30 October 1934

We still don't know why we are being held on the ship. A comrade arrives. He gathers the groups and explains that there are two reasons: a Syrian newspaper has labeled us communists so the British consul will not permit us to land; and the Romanians, too, fear communists. We are in despair. We have to determine our own fate. Everyone is shouting and the comrade cannot continue speaking. There's a storm of anger. We demand to see for ourselves and hear the exact words spoken by the comrade. He calms us – they have cared for us until now and they will continue to care. They are in contact with the government, somewhere they will find a place for us. In the worst case – he says – there's Poland. Another storm bursts out. We refuse to hear about Poland, we have burned all our bridges. It would be better – we tell him – to go to Birobidjan.

He asks us to wait another eight days. The Jewish world is up in arms about our plight. He reads a telegram from a company that is prepared to arrange excellent conditions with a Brazilian firm. We return to our cabins, dejected. A dirty rain is falling.

31 October 1934

We await new lies. Meanwhile a guy from Eretz Israel slapped one of our friends who is on the second day of a hunger strike. We demand a bloc meeting to replace our representative and we enumerate his faults. I don't support it. The ship is full of people with special privileges and connections (“proteksia”). Someone else will be no better.

2 November 1934

There are rumors that the ship has been impounded. We're in an uproar. We want to send telegrams to the four corners of the earth. Our friend has ended his hunger strike. There's talk of Poland again. Nobody sleeps all night – meetings, storms, and despair.

3 November 1934

The haverim from Eretz Israel are invited to a meeting. They are told that if they take us to Poland people will kill themselves. Anywhere – just not Poland. Some of us don't understand the seriousness of our situation. Several girls go to exercise. This angers the group, who throw tomatoes at them.

4 November 1934

The world is up in arms about our situation. We receive letters from all over. Someone from Czechoslovakia writes humorously that he's willing to save any girl who wants to go with him to America.

There are no letters from home. Some people are lucky, but others are concerned. What will our parents say when they hear what's been happening here?

One letter includes an article by Yitzhaki describing how he visited us. He wrote that we're vigilant, dancing the hora, and happy. We smile – hoping that our parents know that, at least.

But that evening a storm bursts out at the meeting. Three hundred and twenty angry people. How long will they keep moving us around like this?

9 November 1934

Consultations are held again but the haverim aren't speaking to us any more. There is talk of Italy, but maybe it will endanger itself by accepting us. Another disappointment. Italy has also refused.

Soon it will be Poland's national holiday – November 11. We prepare to celebrate. After all is said and done, we're still connected to Poland.

12 November 1934

In the morning a comrade informs us that we are sailing at 9. The hubbub, the joy, and the disappointment are indescribable. Townsfolk come to take their leave of the rootless pioneers who became illegal of their own free will. They wish us a heartfelt bon voyage. This is how we leave Saloniki, which promised us so much but disappointed us and deceived us despicably.

13 November 1934

The sea is choppy. It tosses us to the point of nausea and sickness. At nightfall we learn that this journey is merely a ruse. The ship's owner has betrayed us. He says he needs coal but he's actually sailing in a different direction. That's all we need.

14 November 1934

We remain at sea so nobody will know we are from the Velos, because the worst may happen and the British will send us to Poland.

We hope this will be our final day on board. Feelings are running high. Meanwhile there are other incidents. We are as sick of the crew as they are of us. One of us was severely beaten, another was burned by a tea tray. And someone had $94 stolen from him. At nightfall we arrive someplace, a natural channel with tall, rugged mountains on either side. It seems as though they can reach God. We have a strong urge to ask Him why He has been torturing us for so long. The ship does not reach God's domain.

After a night of waiting we are tired and hungry (again there is no food). We are angry. We're coming to another harbor. The many Italian and Greek islands were created just for us, so we can stop from time to time.

15 November 1934

We don't know why the ship hasn't come. There is no food at all. The captain remembers there are some noodles, riddled with worms, of course. They are cheating us. The worms swim around, but we're hungry so we eat and throw up.

We have to leave this tiny island because the inhabitants suspect that we want to attack them. The question is – where to?

A telegram arrives at noon. We are returning to Piraeus. We're delighted – perhaps our salvation will come from there. We prepare our ship and its tragic passengers so as not to put to shame the beautiful harbor and the vast sea – 200 vessels with us in the middle.

16 November 1934

We arrive in Piraeus and suddenly we're popular. They come hurrying from other ships to see the marvel. Plenty of reporters, photographers, and ordinary people as well. But our ship is taboo – nobody enters, nobody leaves. Even our emissary, who brings food and mail, is not allowed to disembark. [Arye] Tzwick, the emissary from Eretz Israel who is with us, gives an interesting lecture on Zionism.

17 November 1934

We're still detained; nobody is permitted to disembark. Alongside our ship we see 200 Jews who were expelled from Eretz Israel. Many want to return but others prefer to go home. We are shaken – maybe we will suffer the same fate. We are no longer anonymous. That's why the ship hasn't arrived. The British have not permitted it. We assume that our letters have harmed our plight. According to the newspapers we will travel to Romania.

18 November 1934

Our fate is unclear. We don't know where our help will come from, but we have to leave the polluted ship where we have no means of washing. Our health and our nerves are weak. With the last of our strength we try to maintain morale.

19 November 1934

By noon we know for certain that we're transferring to a Romanian ship, the Karol. They take us on boats. We have places on deck. At twilight it gets cold; we're only wearing shirts. Some of us are in skirts, others have pants. I have a sheet with me. I bring it with me like a pauper. Some girls were given two beds in the hold. Cockroaches fly everywhere. My sheet protects me from them.

20 November 1934

We had a cold, difficult night. In the morning they doled out some food to us on the deck. Turkish towns and villages pass by. We have already reached the Dardanelles. We can see the cannons from the World War. Russian structures with inscriptions: “18.3.1915 Here lie war heroes”

The ship docks. Turkish police come on board to take our ship to Constantinople.

21 November 1934

At 12 noon we leave the city. The Black Sea is stormy. They tell us to eat so we won't throw up, but I'm not a seafarer yet and I feel ill. It's cold and our spirits are down. That night we're already in Constanza. All the passengers disembark, but we remain on board. Tzwick went into the town to meet with our leaders. We sense that things are very bad. We have no idea what decision has been made.

22 November 1934

Tzwick says that we will disembark at 12. He goes to town with the man from the P.A.[4] Photographers come to take our picture but we refuse. One shows us a telegram – he has flown here from America just to make a film about us, but we still refuse to be photographed. They tell us, “Do you think this is also the Velos?” We are very depressed and Tzwick is nowhere to be found. Everyone feels in their heart that we are going back to Poland. A train arrives with Polish carriages. We think the train is for us. We are not mistaken. At 2 someone gets on and says: “Poland, Latvia, Lithuania. Board the train immediately for Poland, Hungary, Austria, and Czechoslovakia – and a second train home.” Tzwick is wandering around the harbor.

We refuse to board the train. Our spirits are very low. We come to a decision and announce that we want our leaders to give the order for us to board. Tzwick comes on board and tells us that comrade [Baruch] Nischt is missing. Nobody knows where he is but they expect to hear from Bucharest. Meanwhile we have been given permission to remain on the ship until tomorrow. Every one of us is broken, physically and emotionally. It's cold and there is no way to get warm. There is not a shred of hope. We're all in the hold, on top of each other. We doze like that, leaning on each other, frozen.

Suddenly someone shouts: “Haverim, they're giving us places to sleep. Some cabins for the girls, and the men will be in the first-class dining room.” Everyone finds a place – on benches, tables, the floor. The radio is playing. Our hearts are filled with sorrow. We cannot ask for anything. We are in exile. Yet it's a pleasure to sleep here. Everyone rests, compensation for all the nights we didn't sleep.

23 November 1934

Early in the morning our mood is very bad. It's cold and nobody has a good word for us. We sit and wait impatiently for the announcement. With the precision of a clock, someone brings us food. They brought it up but it hasn't been lowered to the ship. The man gives a policeman a few coins and then he permits it. The man reports that at 2 we will know where we're going: Poland or Bucharest. At 2 the same man who came yesterday appears and orders us to board the train immediately. We think we should demand our leaders. Someone from the P.A. tells us that everything is in order: “You're all going to Poland. Remain together, until you make aliyah.” Everyone takes their suitcase from the first class and goes to the train. We enter the carriage. Our mood can hardly be described. We travel without tickets because we have no money. Comrade Tzwick remains behind. He is supposed to obtain money for tickets and he'll catch up with us on a fast train. We set out. Some hours later Tzwick is already waiting at a station. He boards the train and brings tickets. We continue on our journey, extremely bitter. Who knows what awaits us? Everyone checks the suitcase they brought from first class, to make sure they contain nothing unnecessary.

24 November 1934

We are approaching the Polish border. Our suitcases are examined and we show our passports. A police sergeant gets on, reads a list of names of those who must report for the army and asks where we are traveling to. We're already miserable, and our troubles are only beginning.

At the first station in Poland we see members of the merkaz who have come to meet us. They tell us everything has been arranged. We will switch to a different train and travel to Železniki. We will stay there for a short time until we make aliyah. We received letters from Saloniki brought to us by comrade Nischt. We're waiting until Warsaw arranges visas for foreign residents so we can stay in Poland. We read in the press about our journey in sealed carriages. Obviously, this is not true. We begin to move at 11 at night, arriving in Kolomyia at around 2. We waited here until 5 in the morning. Members of our mazkirut arrive. They will travel with us to Železniki to see to everything. That night at the station we were met by parents, brothers, and sisters from nearby who came to see their children and their relatives before returning home. My sister Pesi came to see me. There are no words to describe our meeting. My story had left its mark on the entire family. This was an encounter between two sisters who had believed we would never meet again.

25 November 1934

We leave Kolomyia at 6 in the morning. We describe our “exodus from Egypt” to the members of the mazkirut. They tell us what has been happening in Poland. By 9 we are in Železniki. The whole town turned out at the station because they were told the train is only transporting sick, starved, exhausted people. But we were still keeping our spirits up and that pleased them. They prepared pleasant rooms and fine food for us. It feels good to stand on the ground again. Our relationship with our leaders improves. They have promised that despite everything, we will receive certificates.

Our conditions are very good. We have not yet gazed our fill at the green trees covered in snow.

Here I was one of the first six couples to receive certificates. We had arranged a fictitious marriage so we can travel legally with certificates. Since we didn't have time to divorce, our passports were ready.

On the 23rd of December we again boarded a ship, the Polonia. Of course our conditions were completely different this time. We were the wonder of the ship; everyone wanted to gaze at us.

Thus ends the chapter of my aliyah to Eretz Israel.


Zipora (Roichman) Weisman


Translator's Footnotes
  1. The July dates, printed in the original yizkor book as 30.7.1934 and 31.7.1934, might be in error. The author's stay in Warsaw might have begun on Aug. 30, not July 30. Return
  2. “Making aliyah” by moving to the Land of Israel is a basic tenet of Zionism. Return
  3. Living newspaper: A popular activity in Zionist youth movements, in which participants acted out recent news events to inform and entertain their audience. Return
  4. P.A. is an abbreviation for PAI, which is a Hebrew acronym for Poalei Eretz Yisrael or Workers of the Land of Israel, under whose auspices the author and other passengers made aliyah. The party was co-founded by David Ben-Gurion and led by him for most of its existence, from 1930 until its merger into the modern-day Israeli Labor Party (MAPAI) in 1968. Return

[Pages 440-441]

Harry Silverberg (Meir-Tzvi, son of Avraham-David)

(From Dos Yiddishe Vort, Winnipeg)

Translated by Shulamit Berman z”l

Translation editor's notes: This piece was originally published in the Yiddish-language newspaper Dos Yiddishe Vort in Winnipeg, Canada. It was translated to Hebrew by Esther Weinschelbaum, and Shulamit Berman z”l translated the Hebrew to English. Harry Silverberg was born as Meir Hirsh Zilberbarg in Shumsk in 1905 to Freyde (Roikh) and Avraham Duvid Zilberbarg. He was one of the wealthiest individuals in Winnipeg's Jewish community and was a leading philanthropist. He was president of Silpit Industries, one of western Canada's largest garment manufacturers. Both Harry and his wife, Sylvia, lost siblings and their parents in the Holocaust.

On Monday, Aug. 14, 1967[1], all of Winnipeg was shocked to hear the rumors – which alas, proved to be true – that Harry Silverberg, the prominent activist and philanthropist, had passed away around 7 that evening at St. Boniface Hospital. Only those closest to him were aware that this fine man had been hovering between life and death for two days. On the previous Friday he had still been seen in his office. But on the following Monday his spirit returned to its Creator.

Harry was born in Shumsk, in the region of Volhynia. He came to Winnipeg in 1929. Life was hard in the beginning as it was for all those who immigrated in the 1900s, but fortune smiled on him and within a short time he had made a name for himself as a well-liked and respected member of the community who donated generously to charity. Nobody ever left his office empty-handed. He never forgot the bitterness of his early years and was grateful to the Almighty that he was now able to give freely to those in need.

Harry Silverberg belonged to every organization, not as a member but as one who contributed to every humanitarian, Jewish, and Israeli cause. He donated freely to all the local institutions in town and helped hundreds of individuals, both openly and in secret. He was one of the founders of the Rosh Pina synagogue – the organizers met in his home – and he served as its president for many years. When Israel Bonds (debt securities issued by Israel in the Diaspora) began, he was its first chairman. He was the director of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, a Hebrew University of Jerusalem council member, a life member of the Winnipeg Minor Hockey Association, and a life member of the board of directors of the home for the aged. Harry was also a member of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, past captain of the yacht club, and president of Hillel. In 1962 he was awarded the National Medal of Honor for his work on behalf of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Recently a Negev Dinner was held in his honor. He is remembered for his kindness and his generosity.

His is lovingly missed by his wife, Sylvia, daughters Nora and Evelyn, his four grandchildren, his brothers Sol in Winnipeg, Sam in New York, and Fred in Montreal,[2] and his nephews and nieces in Winnipeg, Regina, Toronto, New York, and Israel.

On Wednesday, Aug. 17, the funeral service was held in the Rosh Pina synagogue. It was one of the largest ever held in the city. Men and women were in tears as they took their leave of the man who supported them and gave their final thanks to him for all he had done for them. Many non-Jews also attended the service, businessmen and personal friends who came to pay their respects. Eulogies are not permitted on Rosh Hodesh, but it is permissible to praise the deceased. In their addresses Rabbis Meyer Schwartzman[3] and Witty[4] emphasized Harry's fine qualities, his dedicated work for others, his noble character and his good Jewish heart, for all of which he will be remembered in Winnipeg. Cantor Abraham Verrall[5] read a psalm and intoned the El Malei Rahamim prayer for the dead. Hundreds of people accompanied him to his eternal rest in the Shaarey Zedek cemetery.

Jewish Winnipeg has suffered a great blow. The heart of a fine Jew stopped when he was yet in the prime of his life, barely 60, and he is no more. Harry Silverberg, who was still capable of so many achievements, has been taken from us.

Note – One half of the culture hour (1-1:30 p.m.) on Jewish Radio this Sunday will be dedicated to the memory of Harry Silverberg.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The year 1967 is an error. Harry Silverberg died in 1966. Return
  2. Solomon Silverberg, born as Zalman Zilberbarg in 1896 in Tyliavka, Russia, about 10 miles from Shumsk, died in 1974. Fred Silverberg, born as Efroim about 1903 or 1904 in Shumsk, died in 1971. Both are buried in Shaarey Zedek Cemetery in Winnipeg, as is their brother Harry Silverberg. Return
  3. Meyer Schwartzman (1901-1969) was the chief rabbi of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Return
  4. Rabbi Irwin/Yitzchak E. Witty (1932-2005) was the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Hamedrash Ashkenazi and principal of the Talmud Torah Day School, both in Winnipeg, at or around the time of Harry Silverberg's death. He was executive director of the Board of Jewish Education of Metropolitan Toronto from 1969 to 1997. Return
  5. The cantor was Orland Verrall (1916-1992). Return

[Pages 442-443]

What Can a Picture Tell Us?

By Etel Kleinshtein

Translated by Rachel Karni

Note: The author of this article, Etel (Kleinshtein) Isakov, was a daughter of Nuta Kleinshtein and Rachel (Weiner) Kleinshtein, who were killed in Shumsk along with their entire families, which numbered more than 60 adults and children. Etel Kleinshtein survived the Holocaust in the Soviet Union and then immigrated to Israel. She passed away in 2007. This article is the last one in the Shumsk Yizkor Book and appears in the section written in Yiddish. It was transcribed from an oral interview given by the author shortly before publication of the Yizkor Book in 1967. We are grateful to Shimon Tzimmerman, a neighbor of Eli Ben Ari (formerly Zuber), for having translated this article from the original Yiddish into Hebrew. The English translation was prepared by Rachel Karni, coordinator of the Shumsk Yizkor Book translation project and edited by Lynne Tolman.

In Shumsk having one's photograph taken was an occasion because it involved financial and emotional effort. Taking a picture for no special reason, why would one do that?[1]

Yet here is a picture of eight naive girls whose sparkling eyes are aspiring to better conditions, to a better life and to a more beautiful future.

How did the eight have their picture taken? Was this a picture of an organization? Where are all the others? Is this a picture of some happy occasion or special event? It is impossible to look at this picture without asking a central question. Where are these girls now? I would not write about this picture at all except for this central question. Where are these girls?

The answer to this question brings me to see this picture as a terrible symbol of something which can, G-d forbid, occur again, and thus the importance of this picture.


Left to right: Lusia Shteinberg, Etel Kleinshtein, Susya Geldi, Zelda Zilber, Sarah Kramer, Hasya Kucyk, Sarah Offengendler, and Vitel Segal


All eight girls lived on the same street in Shumsk. At first, their mothers spent innumerable hours together in long conversations about their daughters, holding us on their laps, walking back and forth with us, their faces beaming with joy. Each mother saw in her daughter the pinnacle of beauty and preciousness. Each “stupid” mother dreamed of all the best for her daughter.

In the course of time this group of girls played together without their mothers in attendance. Together they went to kindergarten, to school, and when they reached the age of 12 to the youth movement “Hechalutz Hatzair.”[2] It was then that they began to think of Israel and a different life.

In school, and everywhere in Shumsk, the girls in this picture were called “the girlfriends” but each one had her own name.

I, Etel Kleinshtein, am next to Sarah Offengendler, Hasya Kucyk, Lusya Shteinberg, Sarah Kramer, Sonya Offengendler, Susya Geldi, Zelda Zilber, and Vitel Segal.[3]

From “Hechalutz Hatzair,” Sarah Kramer, Zelda Zilber and I left for “hachshara”[4] to a new Jewish future. But then the war broke out. Our homes and families beckoned and so we returned to Shumsk, hoping that our parents would solve our problems. But our dear parents, dear Jews, in that generation were unable to solve their children's problems.

Of all the eight girls in this picture I am the only one to have survived. All the others were taken, together with all the Jews of Shumsk, to the Krelitz Hills, the hills that had served as our playground and now became the mass grave of my seven friends[5] and of all the Jews of Shumsk who were murdered by the Nazis.

A picture. A warning. A picture of a great heartache.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The author, Etel (Kleinshtein) Isakov, in an oral communication with Rachel Karni, coordinator of the Shumsk Yizkor Book translation project, wished to correct this erroneous sentence. She believed the error was caused by a misunderstanding on the part of the interviewer who transcribed her words in preparation for the publication of the Shumsk Yizkor Book. She emphasized that having one's picture taken was a common occurrence in Shumsk in the 1920s and '30s, as can be attested by the numerous photographs of her family and friends taken in Shumsk that were in her possession; the picture in this chapter was but one of those. Many other Shumskers who came to Eretz Yisrael or to America before World War II and who had family who remained in Shumsk also have photographs they received from their Shumsk families. The stamp of the Mermelsztejn Photography Shop can be seen on the backs of many of these pictures. Return
  2. Hechalutz Hatzair (Heb.): Literally, “the young pioneer.” A Zionist youth organization, very large and active in Shumsk, that educated members in socialist values and trained them for pioneer living in Eretz Yisrael. The worldwide movement Hechalutz was founded in Odessa in the first decade of the 20th century. Return
  3. In recounting the names, Etel mistakenly repeated the name of Miss Offengendler -- once calling her Sarah and once Sonya. Thus she gave nine names while the photo shows eight people. Return
  4. Hachshara: training. In this case the training site for the Hechalutz Hatzair members preparing to settle the land of Israel was a farm outside Shumsk. Return
  5. Rachel Karni, translation project coordinator for the Shumsk Yizkor Book, compiled the following information about the girls in the photograph. Her sources of information were the oral communications of Etel (Kleinshtein) Isakov and Penina (Dorfman) Sharon, friends of these girls, and Pages of Testimony submitted to Yad Vashem.
    Sarah/Sonya Offengendler, daughter of Moshe and Devorah Offengendler, was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair. Her father owned a business, selling iron used in the construction of buildings. He was chosen to be a member of the Shumsk Judenrat in the ghetto period. In addition to Sarah, 13 other members of the Offengendler family perished in Shumsk in August 1942.
    Hasya Kucyk, daughter of Nachman and Bluma Kucyk, was born about 1920. Her father was the owner of a bakery. She was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair. Her parents and her siblings, Masha, Tonye and Lubye, also perished in Shumsk
    Lusia Shteinberg, daughter of Meir Shteinberg, was born in 1921. She was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair. She was the only one of the “girlfriends” to marry, and she had a child. She and her husband, who was born in Germany, did not live in Shumsk, but with the outbreak of the war they returned to Shumsk, where they perished along with her father and her siblings, Bitya, Buzya and Moshe.
    Sarah Kramer, daughter of David Dov- Beer and Perl Kramer, was born about 1926. Her father traded in horses. He was shot and killed in the Shumsk ghetto prior to the massacre of the Shumsk Jewish community. As the author relates, Sarah was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair and was at the hachshara farm when war broke out but then returned to Shumsk. Her mother and her siblings, Yerachmiel, Yitzchak and Breindel, also perished in the massacre in August 1942. Her brother Avraham Kramer survived the war in the Soviet Union and immigrated to Israel, living in Haifa. The articles Avraham Kramer wrote for the Shumsk Yizkor Book appear on pages 87-95 and 125-127.
    Susya Geldi, also called Shoshana, daughter of Nachum Asher and Chana (Bryk) Geldi, was born in 1921. Her father, who was born in Rachmanov in 1890, was a merchant. Her parents also perished in Shumsk. Her brother Pinchas Geldi survived the war, hiding with Shtundists in the vicinity of Shumsk, and later immigrated to Israel. His name is mentioned in other articles in this yizkor book. Susya's sister Fayge (Geldi) Mednik and Fayge's husband, Yosef Mednik, also survived. The Medniks immigrated to the United States in 1949, and their account of events in Shumsk in 1941 and 1942 is on pages 358-364 of this yizkor book.
    Zelda Zilber, daughter of Baruch Zilber and Babeh (Offengendler) Zilber, was born in 1926. Her father was a teacher in the cheder (school) of Shumsk. She was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair and was at the hachshara farm when the war broke out and she returned to Shumsk. She was killed along with her family in August 1942.
    Vitel Segal, daughter of Yosef Segal and Rayzil-Shayndil (Karushay) Segal, was born in 1923. Her father was a watchmaker. More than 45 people with the surname Segal perished in Shumsk. Vitel's cousin Shmuel Segal, who was living in Lanovetsy, survived the war and immigrated to Israel. Return


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