A String of Memories
by Joseph Parvari (Leiner)
Translated by Moshe Kutten
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
I can visualize the city in which I was born and grew up. I was one and a half years old when World War I broke. My first memories are associated with the different armies that passed through the city: The AustroHungarian army, attacking Russia and then panicky retreating, the Cossacks, who were chasing after it, passing through the city like a storm, riding on their horses (this is also mentioned by Michael Sholokhov in his book Quietly Flows the Don). Austria returned, and then a year later, The Czar came back and later on, the Red Army. The Russian soldiers wore those red ribbons on their chests and they stuck red flowers in the barrels of their rifles. I can visualize the leaders of the Red Army standing on the terrace of the Europa Hotel, in the corner of Lvov Street (Lemberger Gasse) giving speeches. Austria returned, and then left to make room for the Ukrainians. Then, a year and a half later, the Polish legions of General Joseph Haller came and attacked the Jews. There were soldiers who simply beat the Jews and robbed their property, and others who ripped the peahs (side locks) and beards of Jews with the flesh. People, whose hair and flesh were rippedoff, tied a white kerchief around their faces and looked as if they had a toothache. These soldiers took people who prayed on Sabbaths and holidays out of the synagogues, transported them outside of the city, and forced them to dig communication bunkers… As time passed, the Polish regime and its institutions stabilized, and their rule lasted about seventeen years.
In the meantime, I started to attend a cheder [Jewish Torah school for preschoolers. M.K.]. At the beginning I studied with R' Uri Anstendig at the Shtibel [A Hasidic small praying and meeting house. M.K.], which was part of the old synagogue in Brody. Later on, I attended the cheder of R' Noah Shapira (who was nicknamed The Red) in the Beit Hamidrash [Jewish house of prayer and bible studies. M.K.] of R' Yehuda Nathason on Shpitalna Street. The Rabbi's assistant used to bring us back home from the cheder. The Shkutzim [derogatory nickname given to the gentile children. M.K.] would throw stones at us and attack us on the way home, and we would just run away from them.
When I was six years old, my father and mentor, may his memory be blessed, passed away. I stopped going to the cheder and enrolled in the Jewish elementary school. The language of studies in the school was Polish. The principal, the teachers and the students were all Jewish. The attractive twostory building was located on Korzeniowskiego Street. Boys and girls studied in separate classes. During my time, the school principal was Philip Ashkenazi, a nice old person sporting a white mustache. My first teacher was Mr. Arnold Moshtzisker, who initially continued to wear his Austrian army uniform. He instituted a strict military discipline with us. His pedagogic policy was based on punishment and beating (his two sons and my friends, Yolek and Tadzo, currently live in England, please forgive me).
Among the other teachers, I remember our German teacher Mr. Yitzkahk Shpatz (we still studied German at that time), who sported a pointed beard and the students nicknamed him Shpitzberdchen [pointed beard in Yiddish. M.K.]. I also remember the old men Mr. Vogel, Mr. Faibin (Tovim), Mrs. Lemelman, Mr. Yitzhak Shkolnik with his hoarse voice, who was the music teacher and Mr. Nakhum Okser, the Bible teacher, who deserves a separate discussion as he was a unique figure. He was the head of the orphanage for many years. He also lived in the orphanage, which was located on 21 Goldhaber Street (also called Leshnever Street). He taught in the elementary school in the morning hours, and dedicated the afternoon and evening hours to educating the orphans. Despite of his advanced age, he used to sit down with his students and teach them the Five Books of Moses personally. He began his day by reciting the prayer ModehAni with his pupils and then continued with the morning prayer (Shaharit), always allowing one of his pupils to serve as cantor. After a very modest breakfast (a piece of bread with jelly and a cup of tea), he would arrange the orphans in pairs and marched together with them to the elementary school. Upon their return, they would eat a meager lunch and sit down to work on their homework and to study the Torah with him. In the evenings, they prayed the afternoon and evening prayers (Minha and Maariv), ate a meager meal similar to the morning and lunch meals, recited the bedtime prayer Shma and went to sleep.
In time, other teachers arrived Shoenholtz, Klar, Harnik, Bernstein and Grinberg. All of them, like the former ones from before the war, were natives of the city of Zaleszczyki [Zaliztsi]. In time, three additional classes were added totaling seven grades. The Jewish community of the city maintained the school, the orphanage and the senior citizen house. I am not aware of any support by the Polish authorities of these institutions. They were all sustained by the contributions of the members of the Jewish community through the monthly membership fees.
I loved Mr. Okser and was happy to have been educated in the orphanage under his mentorship and management. I considered it to have been privileged to be among the pupils of this noble old man. I learned a great deal from him. He was not only a teacher but an excellent educator as well. He was an intelligent philosopher, with deep knowledge of Hebrew and universal literature. When I grew up and left the city, I corresponded with him in Hebrew, and was very proud to receive his letters with the heading Ben Porat Yosef.
I cried my heart out, after the war, when I heard about the bitter fate my teacher had encountered. Immediately upon arriving in Brody, The Nazis, damn them, went to Mr. Okser's house at the orphanage and found him sitting, as usual, with the orphans teaching them Torah. The Nazis, damn them, took the children outside of the city. Mr. Okser joined his pupils. They asked the teacher how old he was. He did not answer. They proceeded to ask him: Do you have any teeth left, you old fool? He smiled and they ordered him to open his mouth to show them. When he opened his mouth, they shot him in his face and stomach. He fell bleeding on the ground and died as a martyr.
I remember hearing about the Balfour Declaration and the rumors circulating concerning the British Mandate of Eretz Yisrael. I remembered the young Jewish men and women, who marched through the city streets with pride and joy. These were the first pioneers who organized themselves to immigrate to our old land. They were different from the simple city Jews, who were standing in their shops, six days a week, selling products not available in the village, to the neighboring villagers. They were also different from the Jewish craftsmen who were busy in their daily craft. They all looked young, erect and proud and they danced and sang.
During that time, I have just completed four grades at the Jewish elementary school and transferred to the Polish school that had seven grades. That was where I encountered, for the first time, Polish and Ukrainian children. They and their teachers were Jewhaters. As an example, I could mention Mr. Vitvitzki, our arts, crafts and music teacher, who called us all Yoyneh [making fun of the Yiddish pronunciation of the biblical name Jonah. M.K]. Most of the students went to study a craft after the seventh grade. Some went to study carpentry, some printing, and the rest studied other crafts. I prepared myself for high school and was elated when I passed the tests and was accepted at the city's Gymnasium [HighSchool]. I have encountered the hatred of Jews, even there, by the students and professors, Poles and Ukrainians alike. Most of the Jewish youths were members of the Zionist youth organizations, like Hashomer Hatzair, Akhva and Brit Trumpeldor. The rules at the school forbade participation in such organizations, and students who joined them were harassed in school and some were expelled. The organizations conducted their activities at the community center on Goldhaber Street. This was where Jewish kids congregated and spent their evenings and Sabbaths. This was where they heard about Eretz Yisrael and where they studied Hebrew. This was also, where Hebrew songs were learned and sung aloud. This was where the pioneers left for their Hakhshara camps [preparation camps for pioneers immigrating to Eretz Yisrael. M.K.], and where they left to immigrate to Eretz Yisarel from, starting from the Second Immigration [19041914. M.K] and on.
The Jewish organizations of Hehalutz, the Union of Poalei Zion, the management of Keren Kayemet Le'Israel, and Ezra were all stationed in that house. The community house was the Zionist and cultural center of the city. The Lector library, which the teacher Naftali LernerNaor transferred upon his arrival to Brody from Boromel, Vohlyn, added another facet to the house. LernerNaor, who was accepted as a teacher in the Jewish elementary school, brought with him his vigor and eagerness to serve the public, but was not content with just that. He initiated Hebrew courses and established a cultural club, its circle of students growing continuously. He was also an active member of the Union of Poalei Zion and together with Dr. Mordekhai Weiss, Dr. Meles, Yitzkhak Shorr, the Singer brothers, David Hamermen, Shoshana Weizer and others helped in organizing Eretz Israel Ha'Ovedet activities. Mr. Lerner immigrated to Eretz Israel and became the principle of a school in Safed where he was buried.
AntiSemitism at school and in the streets pushed me to become a frequent visitor in that house. The union people mobilized me, my friend Yitzhak Etinger (who lives today in Rekhovot, Israel) and Pnina HertzbergLanski (today a member of Kibutz Afikim, Israel) to organize a local chapter of Gordonia organization, a pioneers youth union. Tens of youths joined us in no time and we have integrated our activity with other Zionist organizations. Initially, I wrote articles to the youth section of the Khvila newspaper until we decided to issue a printed newspaper by the name of the Young Gordonian in Polish. I was forced to publish my articles under a pseudonym to avoid being thrown out of highschool. I got in trouble anyway, because as part of a written test given by our literature teacher, Mrs. Klebosovna , I compared the life of the Jews in the diaspora to a ship in a cold and stormy sea, and related my wish to run away from it and immigrate to the land of the sun and freedom. The entire teaching staff, headed by the principal Kzhiznovski attacked me. Even the Jewish professors, Dr. Edmond Bernhaut and Dr. MendelLeib Chachkes joined them in threatening me. I was barely allowed to continue my studies. There was another incident at school. The sixth and seventh grades students of the school were required to perform, twice a week, exercises as part of Poland's military preparedness.
The Polish corporals and officers used this opportunity to abuse the Jewish students. I would never forget the maneuver ordered by General Anders who was infamous in his hatred of Jews (He was initially captured by the Russians. When the GermanRussian war broke, the Russians gave him the command of the free Polish army, but he left Russia during the battle of Stalingrad, and arrived in our old land through Iran. From there, he went to fight the Germans in Italy. Many of the Jews, who were recruited into his army after many obstacles, did not follow him and remained in Eretz Israel).
Well, one hot morning, we went out for a whole day exercise. The pretense was that the enemy was attacking our city, which lacked any army force to defend it. We were, presumably, the only force tasked with stopping the attackers until enforcements would arrive. The attacking force in this maneuver was the Polish Cavalry Battalion no. 22, which was also called Yazlobeichikh. After a long march, we took positions in in the swamps near the neighboring village of Berlin. The cavalry battalion that attacked us was aided by fire from the infantry. Our defeat was certain. At the end of the maneuver, General Anders appeared before us to analyze the whole operation. In his speech he emphasized that we could have stopped the enemy if not the zhids among us who were the first to run away from the battlefield. At that moment I felt dizzy and fainted.
I left the highschool when I realized how desperate the situation in our city was, particularly in terms of employment. The gates to our old land were closed and one had to struggle in order to secure an immigration certificate. The boredom and despair raised havoc among the youth cadres, though one has to give them credit for their curiosity about the world events, literature, art and politics as well as for being devoted to sports. There were four soccer teams in the city: one team was Polish and was called Goiazde, another team was a Ukrainian called Bohon, yet another one was Jewish and its name was Maccabi. The last one was an international team, which was called Nafshod (Forward), and was made of workers. I played in that team. In the 1930's, when the communist propaganda was very strong, the news and the literature about the new idyllic life in Russia, the socialistic buildup and the immense happiness of the people, lured many of us to join a front which was antiZionist . During those days, the communist party and the Komsomol operated underground. However, a new radicalleftist Jewish party, AYAP (Algemeine Yiddish Arbeiter Partei The General Jewish Workers Party) was established. Many members joined it from the ranks of Zionist movements of Hehalutz and Hashomer Hatzair. These organizations were formally affiliated with the Zionist movement, however in actuality, they operated as part of the Communist underground. Many of the youths were caught and brought to trial, and there were some who were jailed and sent to a detention camp in Bereza Kartuska.
Our city seemed to be in a deep sleep. The Poles and the Ukrainians harassed the Jews and boycotted them economically and socially. The crises in all facets of life deepened gradually. Many of the Jews could not secure a job, the youths remained without employment and everything just deteriorated.
My own status in my house became unbearable. After the passing of my father, my mother, Rivka nee Weintraub (the sister of R' Benyamin Weintraub, a honest and God fearing Jew, who was an administrator manager (called gabai in Hebrew) in Beit Midrash, was left with five daughters and me, the youngest child. My dear sisters worked to support the family and to allow me to continue my studies. My eldest sisters, Rakhel and Pnina, married and moved out of the house. They lived in the city of Lvov. The other three sisters, Sara, Tzila and Etka, were all members of the Zionist organization Hehalutz and dreamed about immigrating to Eretz Yisrael. Their aspiration was not fulfilled. Sara moved to Lvov to work in a kindergarten, Tzila worked in a store of a jewelry merchant,
Mr. Izidor Ostrecher, and Etka was a seamstress. Tzila married David Katz and Etka married Shunyo Blaustein (Benzak).
Since I was not able to continue with my studies, I became a private tutor for straggling students. I felt choked under this town's atmosphere, so I went to Krakow to study bookkeeping and even found a suitable job. I did not sever my connection with my native city and the following story is a testimony to that. The police searched the house of one of my girlfriends, Bela Adler, in Stary Brody and found my revolutionary letter. In this letter, I described the anger of the workers who in the summer of 1936 demonstrated against the Polish authorities in Lvov and Krakow. During that demonstration, the police opened fire and killed some of the demonstrators, among them our friend Reuven Petzsek. Following the search and the finding of my letters, my friends Bela Adler, Anshel Glass and Metzik Gruber were arrested, brought to trial and sentenced to long jail terms.
In Krakow, I participated in the editorial work of a Jewish children biweekly magazine, published in Polish Eshnav La'Olam A Window to the World. I dedicated my first articles that appeared on Mother's Day to my mother and to my life in the orphanage of Brody, with an emphasis on the values of the educator Nakhum Okser, who was, in many aspects, likened to Janusz Korczak.
The German army invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939 and brought an end to my tranquil life in Krakow. The flame of war took hold throughout Poland. As the cruel enemy advanced, tens of thousands of Polish citizens, me included, began to escape eastward. I bought a bicycle in Tarnow and rode it all the way back to our town.
On the first day of the Jewish New Year, the sun shone like in any other nice summer day. Hundreds of residents walked down the street named after Ulanov Krykhivtzi, which was also called Zlota Street, and before that Goldgass (meaning Golden Street). Polish Ministers, officers and generals who escaped Poland on the way to Romania, were sitting in cafes along the streets. The Germans got hold of this (as they had many spies), and a squadron of Messerschmitt airplanes showed up suddenly and bombed the entire length of the street from its western end all the way up to the Christian hospital near the embankments (Vali) . The whole street became a stream of blood instantaneously. About two hundred people were killed in that aerial attack; most of them were Jewish youths and Poles. The officers jumped for their lives through the windows directly onto their waiting cars parked in the street.
A similar attack occurred during the following day Shabbat Shuva. The Germans hit ammunition boxcars that were parked in the train station. As a result, bullets and shells started to fly whistling in all directions. A firebomb, directed at the old synagogue hit Mr. Benyamin Kling's flourmill and it went up in flames. Many other houses, which were also bombed, burned and collapsed. The number of victims kept rising by the hour. The Jews were sitting fearfully and recited Psalms. The following day, Sunday 17th of September, after the last of the Polish soldiers escaped on their way to Romania, a deadly silence descended upon the city, accompanied by shooting sounds from the German guns approaching the city. A rumor was suddenly spread about the Red army coming to the help of Poland. The truth was known only later. The Soviet Russia did not come to save Poland, but to invade and divide it with the Germans according the RibbentropMolotov agreement,
which was signed a month earlier. According to that agreement, The Soviet Union seized the eastern part of Poland, until the rivers of Bug and San and the Hitler Germany took the western part. Poland disappeared from the European map on that day. After twenty years of an independent Polish regime, Brody, together with the entire Western Ukraine, became an inseparable part of the SovietUnion.
When the news about the imminent arrival of the Red Army became known, The Jews breathed a sigh of relief, not so the Ukrainians. When the Red army delayed its arrival into the city, the Ukrainians tried to use the opportunity to inflict a holocaust upon the Jews. Anarchy was rampant in the city. The poor Poles, who lost their statehood, were depressed and apathetic. Only the Ukrainians raised their heads. However, a Jewish selfdefense force was quickly established. The Jewish youths captured the police building and army barracks, took out most of the weapons and together with some communists established a temporary revolutionary committee. They rose to keep the order and guard the life of the city population.
A week later, on Sukkoth evening, the first units of the Red Army entered the city. They entered not necessarily through the victory gates prepared in their honor. In fact, by the time the Red Army entered the city, the fall rain had ruined most of the decorations, including the pictures of Stalin and Molotov. A new regime was established upon the arrival of the Red Army. The first announcements were posted in Russian, Ukrainian and Yiddish. They announced an emergency state in the city and a curfew, according to which it was forbidden to get out on the streets from the evening hours until the morning.
Silence descended upon the city. Everyone understood that the situation changed to such an extent that there was no force that could change it back. All the organizations and national parties dispersed or went underground. Hundreds of signs containing Polish or Jewish symbols disappeared. The shopkeepers sold whatever they have left of their merchandise, and closed their shops. Replacing these shops were the governmentrun shops, containing inferior merchandise. Long lines, tens of meters long, were stretched at their doors. By the time a customer reached the shop itself, there was nothing left in it. The shopkeepers knew how to deal in different ways, and the prices climbed up from one day to another.
During the fall of 1939, the first Soviet election to the national assembly in Lvov took place. The assembly decided to ask comrade Stalin to agree for Ukraine and western Belarus, which had just won their freedom from the cruel Polish imperialism, to join the Soviet Union. A short time later, Stalin was kind enough to offer his generous acceptance of this proposal.
Life, somehow, began to return to its normal routine. Many Jews occupied various positions in trade, economic and public institutions. Craftsmen organized under cooperative formats. Everything was nationalized residential buildings, businesses, factories, banks, hotels and theaters. The farms of the landowners, all of whom managed to run away abroad, were divided among the peasants, who organized themselves in kolkhozes. All schools became governmental, and the languages of study became Ukrainian and Russian. The Jews continued to participate in public prayers at the synagogues, despite the fact that the Soviet law treated a gathering of more than three people as unlawful and counterrevolutionist. Wealthy Jews and Jews who were known to be unsympathetic and nationalistic were jailed or sent over to Siberia in the middle of the night.
Brody became a typical Soviet city. Red flags were hoisted in its streets and pictures of Stalin, wearing a red uniform, were posted in most places. The citizens were sad, but the Jews rejoiced about the fact that the hand of the Nazi oppressor could not reach them.
Like many others, I began to work for the Soviets in constructing the highway between Kiev and Lvov. Later on, I worked as a comptroller in their governmental bank. In July 1940, I transferred to Lvov and from there to Tarnopol to serve as the head accountant of a trade business. In Pesach of 1941, I managed to come back to Brody to celebrate the Passover Seder with my family. It turned out to be the last time I managed to visit the city, as Hitler, damn him, attacked Russia on June 22nd and I could see in front of my eyes the tragedy from September 1939 returning. German armored vehicles crossed the border and German airplanes bombed all of Ukraine and Belarus's cities. I was recruited into the Red Army on the same day, and spent an extremely long and torturous way with it, from the Russian border to Stalingrad and from there, through Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia all the way to Austria where I was lucky to see the end of the war on 9 May 1945.
During the big retreat in the summer of 1941, I met town people from Brody twice. One time I met with Natan Reinart (now in Poland), Asher (Dzonek) Richter (now lives in Petach Tiqva, Israel) and Professor Rosenstein (who died in Russia). The other time I met Arye (Leib) Hertzberg, Tzvi (Hersh) Polak (who now lives in BeerSheva, Israel) and Yosef Rogovski (who now lives in Poland). They told me about the horrible bombardments that took place in our city at the beginning of the war and the fierce battles in the city between the Germans and the Russians. I learned that the city, which changed hands several times, suffered tremendously and was mostly ruined. The Red Army liberated the city in July 1944, after it was on the front line for several months. I was in Romania then. Upon hearing about the liberation, I immediately sent a letter to the city government to ask whether anybody from my family survived. I received a response, a month later, which said that nobody from my family was known to survive.
After the war ended, I stayed in Hungary for several months, until my unit (I served as an officer in the Engineering Corps) returned to Russia. I was discharged from the army in Chernovitz. As a former Polish subject, I was allowed to return to Poland; however, I first wanted to see our city, Brody. I came for a few days visit in September. The following is what I wrote down in my journal about my findings.
Brody 13 September 1945
My hometown has been destroyed.….
My notes are dedicated to the memory of my relatives and all my beloved, who died as martyrs.
I left Tarnopol in the morning, on my way to Brody. In KrasnyBusk [Krasnosil'tzi. M.K.] I changed the train to one going toward Moscow. The train speeds through small towns (Zkomazha, Ozhdov, Konty, Zablotze) without stopping. All of a sudden, the train stopped in Brody, but I did not know where I should get out. The station itself disappeared. I got off the train and watched the deserted and empty streets of the city as if on a map drawn on the palm of my hand. The streets looked like they have shrunk, or as if they were dying.
Kolejowa Street (The Train Street) I passed through it in five minutes. I perceived the street as being very long once. Here is the market (Rynek) it is in ruins. I walk toward the street of my residence Lvov Street (Lembergergas, called Mitzkevitz Street by the Poles) ruins and empty lots covered by green weeds are everywhere. It is difficult for me to find our alley Zameknita. My heart is crying: Where is the street? Where is the house? I do find the house based on some external marks. This is where it once stood, and it disappeared. Helpless, I leave the place.
I meet some farmers in the market, but the Jewish stores and stalls are all gone. I walk in the streets where my sisters once lived. Their apartments, like many others that survived, are empty. The farmers tell me that the Germans killed all the residents and their children during the aktzia's. This is the end. Only I survived. I am the only person in my family who is alive.
Goldhaber Street still exists, but the orphanage is gone. Old Mr. Okser was murdered like his pupils. When they took them, he went with them and was killed with them, exactly as he always used to say: When the herd is lost, the shepherd would die too.
Brody became a cemetery, a ruined city. Like a remnant of a fort, the mighty walls of the old synagogue are still standing, surrounded by rubbish piles and bricks. These were once residential houses. Underneath these houses there were bunkers, which the Jews built and hid like mice. A barbed wire fence surrounded the area, with Ukrainian policemen who stood on guard. Along with the Gestapo men, they shot anybody who dared to show up. There was also the Judenrat, and corrupt Jewishmilitia men, who were not that much better than the Germans. The people died in the streets from fear, typhus, Germans bullets and in the gas chambers of Belzec. There isn't any living soul left. A desolate desert was left behind. Oh my Gd in Heaven, alas, my eyes who have to see all that!
The city is dead. Its soul is gone, like the souls of the Jewish children, whom the Germans caught by their legs and smashed their heads with deadly force onto the telephone pole.
I want to run away from these ruins and from this cemetery, but I stay a while longer. Dr. Bogner, who survived along with his mother thanks to a goodhearted gentile who hid them both, hosts me. I hear some additional details from them. In our conversation, we mention known names of teachers, professors and others. They took Dr. Bernhaut along with his wife. Professor Chachkes came home and did not find his wife. They took her and her little daughter to the train station. He hurried up there, penetrated through the guard wall and broke into the death boxcar of his wife. The Ukrainians killed the physicians Shmider and Bilig in a neighboring village. They smashed their skulls with an ax.
They murdered. They murdered everyone. They captured my brotherinlaw, David Katz (the husband of my sister Tzila), together with the painter Shlomo Shraga , when they returned from the village carrying a sack full of food for their wives and children who hid in the bunker under Christiampoler's house (the one of R' Yualchis Hoiz in the market). The murderers interrogated them cruelly, trying to find out who gave them the food and where their families were hiding. They tortured them for three days, but they remained silent. At the end, they just shot them. They also killed my friends. The Banderovich'es captured my schoolfriend Dr. Yosef Shtikler. They kept him alive as he was needed for them as a physician. He was lucky and managed to escape from them (we met in Israel in 1950, and he now lives in Canada).
My friend Munyo Kacher, was a militia man. He was lucky to stay alive. At the completion of the Judenfrei operation (The annihilation of the ghetto and the forced labor camps), they killed all the Jewish militia policemen and all the members of the Judenrat including the leader banker Herman Blokh.
Brody, Friday 14 September 1945
The fate of my dear mother…
I woke up after a nightmarish night. I took a glance at my writing from yesterday. Can one put down everything on paper? Can I count all the places where my poor brothers were killed and slaughtered? Every step is soaked with Jewish blood. There are thousands of people in the pits in Vapniarka. Thousands of murdered bodies were buried in the yard of the Graf Schnell's estate in Stary Brody. Thousands of people were taken to Belzec. The brave among them, like Marash (who now lives in Australia) saved their life by jumping off the speeding train through a hatch.
I found out today, that they captured my mother along with many others, during the first aktzia and transported her to Belzec. Who knows in what shape she arrived there, and what was she thinking during her last moments?
Yes, this is Brody. This is the city in where I was born, grew up, and went to school. The city where I played, worked and loved. The house of Adela Petzyuk is still standing at the market. Where is she today? (She left Brody before the war and immigrated to Belgium. About a year later, I found out that she survived, and we met in Israel).
I went to visit Marusya, a Ukrainian girl who learned how to sew with my sister Etka. She gave me a picture of my sister. This is the only memento I have of her now. This is it.
As the evening fell, I came to the apartment of Sender Prekhtman. A Christian woman hid him during the war. She converted and he married her. She lit Sabbath candles, and a minyan gathered at her house including the Vonsh brothers, Yitzkahk Goldberg and others. We prayed together and said Kadish.
After the service, I was invited by Vonsh for dinner. After dinner, I returned to Dr. Bogner.
Brody Saturday, 15 September 1945
There is nobody left from my family…
In the morning, I went to pray again at Prekhtman's (he now lives in the USA). Brody, which was once an ebullient city, now looks like a cemetery. There are several thousand residents, some of which are the former Ukrainians. Most of the Poles left for Western Poland, and settled on new lands
which Poland received from Germany (Shlonsk). The rest are new faces Russians who came from the Soviet Union, most of whom officers. Silence rules in the city, as if everyone died. I walk around among the ruined streets and my heart cries. I mourn everybody.
An Ukrainian woman tells me how the German forced Jewish mothers to dig graves for their children. This is what my sisters Tzila and Etka and all other mothers had to do. They shot the children in front of their mothers and then they ordered them to undress and enter the same graves and lie down on top of their children. Only then, the hail of bullets came that put an end to their inhumane misery.
I am trying to envision these mothers, the horror in their eyes that had to witness what they saw, and the pain they experienced.
This is how the Jewish city died….
Brody, Sunday, 16 September 1945
Farewell to Brody…
I accompanied my acquaintance, Yitzkhak Goldberg (who now lives in Hertzlia, Israel) to the cemetery, to say goodbye to the dead and the murdered. I did it since I was skeptical whether I would ever return to this place. It was the day before Yom Kipur. The cemetery was deserted and in ruins. I could not find the stone of my father, may his memory be blessed. My friend, Yitzkhak, suggested that we should not spend too much time at that place. There was still a lifethreatening danger from the Banderovich murderers who have not disappeared, and were still active in the area. They continued to attack and kill Jews, particularly Russian Jews (and I was still wearing my Red Army uniform).
I wanted to visit the old cemetery, at the corner of Chicha Street, but the Soviets started to take it apart even before the war and convert it into a sport stadium. Whatever they have not completed, the Germans finished. The old cemetery does not exist anymore.
The only thing left for me to do was to peek at the tall wall of a ruined house on Zlota Street where a sign written in Ukrainian, in large letters says: Let us not forget, that in this city, 17 thousands Soviet citizens were killed and annihilated by the German fascist murderers. Their blood demands that we avenge their fate!
I read and reread that sign.
I managed to get a seat in an officer's car that was going to Lvov. I arrived at the big city in the evening. I went to the only synagogue that survived in it.
I saw again the destruction in front of my eyes, and the words: Never forget.
I will certainly not forget!!!
by Miriam Lieberbaum (Dishel)
Translated by Moshe Kutten
Twenty years have passed since the somber news stated arriving in Eretz Yisrael: Jewish Galicia is no more. Our Jewish city is in ruins. Our Mother City among the cities of the people of Israel was wiped off the map. Its synagogues, and its Batei Midrash [houses of pray and study. MK] were destroyed. Foreigners occupy Mom and Dad's house. Jewish Brody was extinguished, blown away like smoke, and wiped out of its existence. Embers saved from the big fire can be found here and there, most of whom came to build their homes in our reborn land.
My native city rises in front of my eyes, every so often, during night dreams and hallucinations, while sleeping or awake. Its narrow streets paved with cobblestones, particularly the street I used to live on, Galina Street, where scanty wooden houses stood on both sides. However, the Brody I remember is the one we found in ruins in 1918, when we came back from Bohemia after World War I. This was when we started to build our life anew.
Most of the Jewish people in the city were very poor. Making a living was hard like the biblical parting of the Red Sea. We, the children, were dressed in rags, and carefully guarded our only pair of shoes. We mainly tried to help in bringing food home. I will never forget the following incident: It happened in 1919. Hunger was rampant in the city. A rumor was spread that plenty of potatoes could be found at the train station. A few children, me among them, went to the station with the hope to collect some of them. We indeed succeeded. Everyone gathered a few potatoes in a small bag, despite the guard. We began to return home with our bags. On our way, Ukrainians thugs attacked us. They took the potatoes and beat us. We stood there crying. Suddenly, my friend, the late Yona Furman stood beside me and told me: Don't cry, I managed to hide a few potatoes and I will readily share them with you. We took the remaining potatoes and divided amongst ourselves. Everybody went home with two poatatoes.
The life in the city was poor from a financial point of view, but it was full of inner beauty and brotherly love. That same human warmth rises and fills my heart with tender and pleasant memories, even now, after more than half a century.
My family consisted of simple, working people. People like us surrounded us: painters, carpenters and haulers, who were also the people who were there for us. I recall the attack by the Ukrainians on the Jewish city residents. Our Jewish selfdefense force consisted of these same people, who came forward and stoodup in defense of the life and the property of their fellow citizens.
An organization of professional trades people existed in Brody. The organization included the members of one family, all of which were painters. We called every one of them Shraga, and nicknamed them as a group Shraga'lach ['lach Yiddish ending signifying plural. MK]. They became
the symbol for the organized Jewish laborer. They appeared anywhere when wrong and injustice occurred. They helped when a worker did not get paid on time, when the wage was too low or where a proprietor mistreated his workers.
I recall one case where the Shraga'lach were involved. This was sometimes in 1920 or 1921. A very poor family resided in one of a landlord's houses. They could not afford paying the rent for a long time, so the landlord had them evicted. He threw them out onto the street without the means to secure another roof above their heads. When the Shraga'lach brothers heard about it, they covered the walls in the entire neighborhood with death notices about the passing of that landlord. They even had a funeral organized for this evil man. The story spread throughout the whole city and people were shocked. When the news reached that landlord, he did not respond angrily because he understood that his act of throwing the miserable family onto the street was evil. He found the family, brought them back to the apartment and asked for their forgiveness for the wrong he caused them.
And there is another picture, which differs completely from the previous one. In recalling this story, I see myself standing on Train Street in front of a large, tall and attractive house, painted white all over. In the center of the house there is a large hall and long tables were arranged in the middle with long benches stretching from the adjacent kitchen to all sides. The kitchen is large and clean, and the smell of hot soup is rising from it. This was the soup kitchen. All the poor, impoverished, homeless and lonely people were coming there to receive their only hot meal of the day. The meal was meager, perhaps several potatoes or groats in a hot soup, but it was provided with warm hearts from everybody's generous contribution, namely from public funds.
While dealing with the subject of helping others, how can I forget my own father, Zalman, who was our city's animal disease expert. People would come to call on my father to provide relief to the sick and salvation when a horse ailed or a cow fell in the cow shed. I remember well that always, when we set down to celebrate our holidays, particularly during the Passover Seder, our neighbor Motl would show up shouting: Zalman, my horse is sick!, and my father would rise up from the Seder table, sigh and go to save the sick horse. As a response to my mother's complains he would mumble: How can we allow the horse to die on this holiday evening? This would constitute cruelty to animals. And how would Motl make a living without his horse? Mother would sigh and ask him with a broken heart: Tell me Zalman, why does Motl's horse became sick only during the evening before Sabbaths and holidays? Father would answer her: When else would do you want a horse of a tradesman to get sick?
The memories are numerous. I just wanted to highlight some of that spirit of helping others that existed among us. Other people would probably bring up other more important things, but to me, that spirit was close to my heart, and these memories are still the freshest on my mind.
by Yitzhak Zorne-Zohar
Translated by Moshe Kutten
Edited by Rafael Manory
When Brody was liberated on 7 July 1944, it was a city mostly in ruins, as the front has been close to it for many months. The few who survived the Holocaust, started to return to the ruined city. The heavy distress and the non-existence of graves, even for family members, who were annihilated in the Belzec extermination camp, forced the few who returned to leave the city. They took advantage of the permits that allowed the Jews to leave the Soviet Union and move to Poland. In July 1945, a few tens of Brody's Jews gathered in a deserted synagogue in Lublin, and scattered from there. Most of She'erit Ha'Pleta of the city and its environs left Poland and moved to the camps for displaced people and refugees that were managed by UNRRA in West Germany, Austria and Italy. When the camps were liquidated, part of them immigrated to the US, Israel and other countries. No Jews were left in Brody itself, except several families of Brody's Jews and several families who settled in Brody for the first time after the war. A few Jews remained in Poland, some of them have adopted Polish names and married gentile partners.
In Israel, there was an organization of people from Brody and its environ who arrived in Israel before the Holocaust. When the people from the She'erit Ha'Pleta arrived, the organization reorganized itself as the Organization of Former Residents of Brody and its Environ. The first memorial ceremony for our city's martyrs took place on 21 May, 1951, at the Hertzliya gymnasium in Tel Aviv. About a thousand people participated in the ceremony. Since then a ceremony was held every year to this day.
To demonstrate the magnitude of the tragedy that came upon Brody's Jewish population (and most of the Jewish population in Europe), where there was no survivor out of large families, I would mention my family. My father's familyZorne, and my mother's familyKenchoker. I am the sole survivor of the family of my grandfather Shlomo Zorne (he owned a restaurant and a bar since the time of the Austrian regime) who had seven children, five of whom were married, and each had two children. Aryeh Leib, son of Moshe Kenchoker who passed away in Israel, was the sole survivor of my mother's broad Kenchoker family from Brody and Podkamin near Brody.
Like my family, most of the Jewish families of Brody and its environs were exterminated.
by David Altman
Translated by Moshe Kutten
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
Brody had everything that the Jewish cities in Galicia were characterized by.
The long time that the city was under the AustroHungarian rule made its mark on its architecture. The city contained beautiful houses, built along straight paved streets with sidewalks. Its center was especially beautiful, with parks and trees. This is in contrary to towns closer to the Russian border, which were similar to the towns depicted in the classical literature…such as Katrielovka of Shalom Aleichem.
There was a general high school in the city for boys and girls as well as a fourgrade Jewish school.
As a district city, located in the heart of a rural region, Brody was a city of commerce with many workshops. Thousands of villagers visited the city every Monday, bringing their produce to the market and buying their provisions in the shops and workshops. The city also contained sawmills, as this was a region of forests, as well as flourmills.
Most of the workers in the city's workshops and factories were Jewish. Under the Polish regime, the city management and all the official institutions were in Polish hands, despite the fact that most of the population consisted of Ukrainians and Jews. This was the method of Polandization that the Poles instituted and implemented along all levels of government. There were only very few, if any, Jewish civil servants…
As far as professions were concerned, it is worthwhile to note that most of the physicians and lawyers were Jewish. The Jews were also the teachers in the high school.
The Attitude of the NonJewish Population towards the Jews
We heard about antiSemitism and pogroms against the Jews from information received from other places and in the newspapers. In our city, there was no contact between the Jews and the nonJews. The Jews lived in the center of the city and the nonJews around the city center. The Poles owned small farms and were the civil servants. The treatment of the Jews by the authorities was fair, since they were dependent on the Jewish population. The Poles were the governing minority and both the Ukrainians and the Jews accepted that.
The Attitude of the Ukrainians towards the Jews
The relationship between the Ukrainians and the Jews, before the Holocaust, was good. For example, my father worked as a porter at the train station, where going goods were loaded and coming goods were unloaded. My father worked with the Ukrainians. Workers from the two nationalities also worked side by side on the train itself. They even established a common cooperative.
During the last ten years, the cooperative contained equal numbers of Jewish and Ukrainians workers. They worked together and divided the pay. My uncle was the cooperative's treasurer. The Ukrainians, who were the depressed majority, maintained good relations with the Jews.
The city experienced religious tolerance. It had Polish, Ukrainian and Russian churches as well as synagogues. I do not recall any case of somebody harming a church nor a synagogue.
The attitude of the Ukrainians towards the Jews changed completely during the war. Thousands of Jews could have been saved if the Ukrainians' attitude would have been at least sympathetic. There were many forests in Ukraine. However, no one could survive in the forests alone. The Germans did not enter the forests. Those who searched the forests were the Ukrainians. They received payment for their effort. The Germans rewarded them with the property of the Jews: the property of the entire city, with the entire content of thousands of houses Obviously, the Germans took cream of the crop at the beginning.
The Jews organized themselves as a selfruled community with a community board. They fulfilled all the roles of the civil servants within the community, such as philanthropic assistance, education, religious services and more.
The heads of the community were honorable people recognized as such by the entire Jewish population. This leadership tried to maintain proper relations with the authorities, and it was also the entity that every needy Jew turned to. The community established charity institutions, such as an old age house, an orphanage and a soup kitchen. Brody was a border town, and as such was host to many soldiers as well as three military barracks with thousands of Polish soldiers.
During our major holidays Pesach [Passover, MK], Rosh Ha'Shanah [Jewish New Year, MK] and Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement, MK], people from the city management and the Polish high command were hosted by us. We kept special seats for them and they participated in the prayers. I worked at repairs in officers' houses. They respected us and we maintained good relations with them.
Secular and Religious People
The leader of the religious people was the city's Rabbi. However, the religious people were not the majority in the city. The religion did not affect our daytoday life. Two large synagogues and many more small ones existed and many Jews did go to pray in them. However, this was it. My father was a Cohen, but he worked on Saturdays during the season and he did not hide it. Yet he was invited to make the first Aliyah [Torah reading. MK] in the synagogue during the holidays, with the honor reserved for a Cohen.
We did keep Kosher at home. Movies and theater shows were conducted on Friday evenings. There were those who went to the synagogue on Saturdays, and there were those who went to the coffee shops.
I worked three years as a barber. There was only one barbershop which was closed on Saturday the one of the city's Rabbi. However there was no pressure whatsoever by the religious people.
The Zionist Activity
The Zionist activity was very substantial. There was a community house, where the activities of the youth movements took place, all of them around the same yard. Every movement was allocated its own room where meetings took place.
I remember the elections to the Zionist Congress in 1935. The political map of the city can be described, based on the numbers of votes. The Tzionim Klaliyim General Zionists, received 256 votes, Ha'Mmizrakhi 286, Eretz Israel Ha'Ovedet 508 and the State Party 126. The Revisionists did not participate in the election because they received only 37 votes in the previous election. This distribution reflects the general direction of the community the progressive labor direction.
In our club of Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair the Young Guard, the authorities discovered and confiscated Marxist books. They took away our license to assemble legally and we operated underground for almost three years. We rented a house and placed guards during our meetings. We held many meetings in the nearby forest, an ideal location for summer activities.
During the years of 19361938 we were more than 200 members strong. This was a large club with several age groups Kfirim (Young Lions), Scouts, Older Scouts, Adolescent Scouts and Adolescents. Many of the members of that club are scattered throughout Israel they immigrated to Israel before 1940 and are members of Kibbutzim.
Cultural Life and Sports
A musical club existed in the city as well as sports clubs. One was a Zionist sports club and the other a workers' club. Large theater troupes performed in our clubs. There were also soccer clubs. Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair occupied always a high standing in the table tennis league.
The cultural life was carried out freely. The only limitations were the capabilities and resources, since the city was poor and many families lived in poverty.
My family lived in Brody for many years. Our economic situation was very difficult. My father was a porter and the owner of a cart. He worked with his brothers. Our tenperson family lived in the poor part of the city and occupied a room and a half in a rickety house. I was the elder child. In the wintertime, we used to put buckets on the floor since the roof leaked. From time to time we had to seal the holes in the roof.
We were not the only ones in that situation. Numerous other families with many children, experienced that same situation. They were very poor, and received just a meager support.
This is why I had to go to work at the age of twelve, in order to help supporting the family.
I recall myself as a small child, going around, carrying an ax and a saw to the yards of Jews who traded in firewood. They would buy large logs of wood, from which I used to chop small pieces for firewood. I along with other boys like myself used also to work in the production of ropes and paper bags. We always looked for ways to make a living. I studied seven grades. My brothers only four grades. There was no way by which we could continue our studies.
I was one of the best students when I graduated from the seventh grade, without any books. The school principal (a nonJew) came to my father's house and tried to convince my father to let me continue my studies in the high school. He said that he would arrange a scholarship for me. My father refused.
I sympathize with my father. He did not have any other choice. I had to help him in supporting the family. I never knew what was to own one's own money. I gave everything I earned to my mother. The money was
safer with her… My father, depressed by all the troubles and hardships would sometimes spend money on alcohol or a game of cards.
Despite the fact that our life was a life of distress, holidays were real holidays, and the Saturday was celebrated with a Khallah. People were not driven to hopelessness. I had friends who owned a carpentry shop, and they offered me a job. This is how I became and remained a carpenter.
I was an avid reader. Books accompanied me throughout the day, and especially late at night. I borrowed books in the library, free. I loved reading, even when walking. People used to laugh at me, as I would often encounter a tree. I used to read at the table. I also looked for ways to escape in sports. I played soccer and volleyball.
We were all members of the Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair movement. Our parents did not give us their blessing for joining the movement, as they saw it as a distraction from the daily routine. Neither my father nor my mother comprehended its meaning, as they were not educated people. We participated in the movement because of the drive to be among kids of our age group. We felt the protection offered by this togetherness.
All Zionist youth movements were active in Brody. The movements comprised clubs as well as Hakhsharot. Pioneering was the essence of the activity. The extent of the activity was considerably large in proportion to the size of the population.
I participated in the Ha'shomer Ha'Tzair from the age of ten until 1940 almost ten years. It could be said that the club was my home. Everything I did not have at home, I had at the movement. It was an uplifting of knowledge, since we studied in the club, as well as of friendship. The movement gave me the ability of looking forward. It allowed me to think about what I wished for myself and to see what could be anticipated in the future. The movement filled my life with content since I hardly had a home… Maybe I did not describe it properly. I did have a home. However, there were ten souls occupying an apartment the size of 6 by 4 meters (a room and a tiny kitchen). That is how we lived in crammed conditions. In the movement, I felt free. I felt that I live my own life. During the last two years, my age group friends started to go to the Hakhshara camps. I did not have the chance to do it. The war interrupted everything
The Arrival of the Russians
When the Russians arrived in Brody in 1939, all the members of the movement found themselves suddenly without perspective and aimless. The Russian regime was not an oppressive regime, however, the daily routine changed completely. Activities of all parties and youth movements were forbidden. There was some economic improvement; however, life became hollow. All the energy was directed toward the daily routine and toward developing the sense of adaptability to ensure survival.
Public and cultural life dwindled until it ceased entirely. Everything that happened before ceased following the arrival of the Russians.
There were Jews who helped the commissars. It was not very difficult to find people who did. However, we lived our life with a feeling of emptiness. Since we could not be active, we followed the call to improve our life by moving eastward and work in our profession. We saw that as the only opportunity to improve our life, and we went for it. Only later, we found out that the reality was different from the propaganda.
The Exodus to the East
When advertisements appeared in the city calling for everyone who is interested to work in their profession under good conditions, to leave for an industrial region in the east for a duration of one year, a group of about twenty people was organized. Among the people in the group were members and leaders of our youth movement's club and myself. We registered and left.
We registered for one year of work in Magnitogorsk in the Ural Mountains with the promise that we would be able to return home at the end of the period. Our goal was to return home since we only wanted to expand our horizons.
We have not reached Magnitogorsk. We reached only as far as Tula. Most of the members left that place due to the harsh work conditions. Only five members, all of whom the leaders of the youth movement club, stayed.
A month before the end of the period, we were all arrested by the N.K.V.D under the false accusation that we were a group of counterrevolutionists sent by the Polish authorities to cause a counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. The people arrested were David Altman [the author. MK], Yitzkhak Veltman, Misko Gringrass, Shmuel Zaltz and Heinech Jung.
Imprisonment and Camps
The investigation lasted five months. At the end, we were all sentenced to five years in prison and three years of revocation of citizenship. The leader of our group, who was also the head of the club, Yitzkhak Veltman, was sentenced to seven years. This was the beginning of our life in the Soviet Union's camps and jails.
The Camps' Population
The prisoners in the camps represented the entire range of the general population of the Soviet Union: workers, soldiers, civil servants, members of the Communist Party, officials and academicians. The common general indictment was subversion against the regime.
I heard from people who were previously in the center of things, that the authorities notified them one bright day that they are under arrest. There were accused of things they did not do and were sentenced to long imprisonment periods. They had no way to ask for justice. Whoever was inside, stayed inside. The period was during the war in Finland, at the beginning of World War II.
The most popular slogan during those days was: There are three types of people in the Soviet Union those who were jailed, those who are now in jail and those who will be jailed.
A Day in the Life of a Prisoner
The conditions in the camp were very hard. The wakeup call sounded at 5 AM when there was still darkness. You put on clothes unsuitable for the Russian winter. We would arrange ourselves in brigades in the big courtyard. We underwent an inspection and started to leave through the gates for a march to the workplace. Our luck was that the quarries were located only a kilometer and a half away from the camp. The walk was not that long.
It was forbidden to turn left or right during the march, as they would shoot at you without warning. We had to walk with our arms crossed behind our backs.
Upon arriving to the workplace, we separated into groups. A quota was imposed on each group a certain numbers of filled up trollies.
The food was rationed. There was almost no food provided in the morning, only some hot tea. At noon, when we came back from work, the ration included soup with no content and 600 grams of black bread. That was the entire food ration. If you were stachanovitz, meaning, if your brigade succeeded to fulfill the quota you would have gotten more bread.
The camp consisted of wooden huts with bunks along their entire length. This is where we slept. It is obvious that thefts were rampant among the prisoners. It was difficult to keep the same pair of shoes from one day to another.
The Carpenters' Brigade
The work at the quarry was exceptionally hard. During one of the morning roll calls, I gathered enough courage to tell the camp commander that my friend Shmuel Zaltz and I were carpenters and that we could bring much more benefit in carpentry work than in the quarry. He took down our request and approved our transfer. We were transferred to the carpenters' brigade.
It became much easier for us, in terms of the work itself and in terms of the attitude toward us. We worked on fixing trollies and trucks. We also went to the forests to cut down trees and make boards out of them. This was a much harder type of work. However, as I was knowledgeable about using the ax and the saw, we managed to meet the quota.
The March: The Walking Camp
The winter of 1941 was approaching. The Germans invaded the Soviet Union and started to approach the region where our camp was located. Bombs and shells fell around our camp, although nothing hit us directly. The Germans knew that the camp housed political anticommunist prisoners and they avoided hitting us.
The front was approaching, so the Russians decided to move the camp. However, they did not have transportation resources. On one of the evenings, we received the order to leave on foot the following day. Everybody took whatever was possible to carry out of the personal belongings. There were 1700 prisoners in the camp. We walked from dark to dark during the entire day. During a difficult march like that, no one counts the days, or keeps track of the date. We did have a public radio, so we received information on what was going on. This is how we found out that all Polish prisoners were given amnesty and that the Anders Army was being organized. We submitted a petition to the camp commander to be included among the freed Polish prisoners. However, since the five of us were the only Poles, they simply did not know what to do with us. He promised to find out at the district and that he would let us know when he received an answer to his inquiry… We were not freed.
We walked kilometers after kilometers. Whoever looked backward saw a line of people stretching to infinity. People started to throw things they took from the camp since it was difficult to carry them.
We started in October. We went between the lines of the German and Russian armies. We went through the forests since German or Russian armor units occupied the roads. Nobody knew where everyone else was. We walked for a month along the Russian roads, in a muddy region during the rainy season and the bitter cold. During the night, they would scatter us on the weeds to sleep. There were no organized meals. Everybody ate whatever he managed to collect while walking potatoes, cabbage or carrots. This border area was almost empty of people, except convoys of refugees.
Whoever lagged behind, during the march, was shot. After a month, only about five hundred survived. We arrived at the city of Ryazan near the Oka River. This is where we washed ourselves for the first time. We took a haircut and shaved. They sprayed our lice infested clothes. They kept us in jail for some time. At the end of that period, they loaded us on boats heading for the river Volga.
We did not know at the time where were we being transported. It was during the month of November and the river froze. The boats stopped and could not move. We tried unsuccessfully to break our way through but failed. They kept us inside these boats for a month. We received very little food. The dead were thrown under the ice. One could only leave the boat for toileting. The rest of the time, we lay down on the bunks.
After a month, when they took us out of there, we could not recognize each other. We were all utterly yellow. They lead us through snowy forests to the nearest train station. I think that there was no guiding hand for this journey. There were no leaders. The same N.K.V.D people who stayed with us dragged themselves with us.
On the Train
Upon our arrival to the train station, they loaded us on freight cars. Following a few days of travelling, they built bunks. Every car carried a hundred people. We began to travel form one station to another. We encountered convoys of the Red army all the time. During the winter of 1941, grueling battles took place near Moscow. Our destination was the coalmines in Kazakhstan. Many died during the monthlong ride.
In the morning we received a cup of cold water, utterly frozen with a frozen piece of bread. Many people who were so hungry that they ate the frozen bread with the cold water became sick with typhus. We were four friends who supported each other. We watched each other and did not eat the food as it was served. We waited in line until we could use the small iron stove that was installed in each car. We used the stove to boil the water and warm up the bread. That is how we managed to survive.
The Camp Located on the Gate between Europe and Asia
We arrived at a camp in Orsk at the end of December. Orsk is located south of the Ural Mountains in a place where the Ural Mountains end and the prairies of Kazakhstan begin. This place is infamous for its dust storms in the summer and snowstorms in the winter. The temperatures are extremely high in the summer and extremely cold in the winter.
We arrived at Orsk 190 men. Following a medical examination, only twenty men were found fit for work. All the rest were taken to hospitals. Only a few survived.
My leg froze and I wandered around limping for several days. At the end they took me to the camp's central hospital along with my friend Shmuel Zaltz.
The camp itself was huge. It housed about 8000 people who were scattered among eight subcamps.
In the Hospital
My friend, Shmuel Zaltz, and I spent half a year in the hospital. We suffered from a disease common among the prisoners: the stomach could not digest food. This is how people die a slow death without even noticing. My luck was that the camp physician used to work in the previous camp. From our discussions she found out that I was a barber. She arranged for me to cut the prisoners' hair. I used to go around from one bed to another, shave, and give haircuts. I started to get a bit of porridge, a bit of soup and a piece of bread. My condition improved and I started to recuperate. My friend recovered as well. However, at a certain stage he started to swell. He told me that he wanted to die. He took salt water and died.
When I started to work as a barber, and was able to move around, they made me a hospital orderly. I was also put in charge of transporting the dead to the cemetery. A cart equipped with a large box was there. There was also a cellar, where they put the dead from all the subcamps. In the morning, the cart driver and I would load the bodies onto the large box. I would sign the receipts and so we went. The cemetery was located about five or six kilometers away, on the prairie. Large graves were dug out, where we laid down the bodies. Other workers would come and cover the graves. I worked in this job for two years. I buried 8000 people during these two years.
There were people from different places in the camp: soldiers from the front, Georgians, Bukharian's. Every subcamp was assigned a different type of work. One camp handled the copper factory, another one the train cars etc.
In this Russian camp, our treatment was different from the treatment in a German concentration camp. They did not yell Jew at me, maybe because there were not as many Jews in the camp… However, the life regimen was such that people reached total exhaustion after several months. This is when they were taken to the hospital, and most of them did not make it alive from there.
Among all the transports that arrived at the camp, one transport depressed me the most. The transport consisted of people from Georgia who were transported through the prairie in the winter and they all arrived frozen. I remember that we filled bags with arms and legs that we cut from them. In a short while, there was no trace of them left.
The soldiers, who were brought to us from the Stalingrad area, brought the typhus disease with them. I became sick as well. There was one difference: I lived in relative good conditions, under physicians care. This is how I survived the war. Most of the others did not.
At that time, I managed to transfer my friend Yitzkhak Veltman to us from another subcamp. He was transferred to us a sick man, and stayed in my camp as a resident and worked with me at the hospital. Until today, I am not really sure whether I served him well by transferring him to my camp or not.
I did improve his situation, as he recovered and gained strength. However, subsequently a medical committee examined him found him fit to work and he was sent to the Far East to work on building the TransSiberian railroad.
Another friend, Misko Gringrass, was transferred to my camp. He was a tailor. He worked as such back home and in the camps. His camp was assigned to work for the camp commander. Thugs who were in charge in that camp, asked him to do work for them but he refused.
Thieves and robbers, who were also responsible for the distribution of the bread, the kitchen work and every other powerful position, ruled his camp. Prisoners who did not accept their authority were informed about to the camp command. They informed about my friend that he was heard saying that he was waiting for the Germans to win the war and similar other accusations. As a result of this defamation, he was transferred to jail with all those who were waiting for trial. He was taken to court and was sentenced to another ten years. Finally he was brought back to our camp and worked as a tailor.
The last thing that happened to me before my release was that I was called to the commander of the department who dealt with the records and he gave me a souvenir: the file with all of my documents and papers since my initial imprisonment.
I took the file and hid it deep inside my luggage that I took with me. I knew that if they catch me again with this file in Russia, I would be back inside…When I entered the last train to Poland, they told me that they check all the passengers thoroughly. I ripped the file then, since I did not want to risk my freedom. Everything about my past was lost.
My Friend Yitzkhak
I found out later that my friend, Yitzkhak Veltman survived. I would like to tell about him a bit.
He was released in 1947 after seven years of imprisonment. He got a ticket for a train that was going to a central city. He was arrested there, as he did not have the right to stay there. He could only stay in a border district. He was given another ticket to a remote town in Kazakhstan.
When the infamous Jewish Doctors Trials started, they arrested him again. They interrogated him about me and my whereabouts, and about what happened to me. They knew that we continued to be in touch. After I was released, I sent him a detailed letter about the way I managed to get the certificates. He never received that letter.
He was held for two more years, until Stalin's death. Only then, he was permitted to move to another city. He worked and studied in the evenings until he graduated from a technical university and got a civil engineer diploma. He married his wife who helped him and stood by him during extremely difficult times.
A year later, when the Jewish exodus from USSR started, he submitted a request to leave and immigrate to Israel. They rejected his requests year after year. He did manage to immigrate only about five years ago [The book was published in 1994. MK]. He is very ill today, but we keep in close touch.
Returning to my City
I did not meet any Nazis during the war. When we stayed in a camp, which was near the Moscow region, the Germans approached, so they transferred us deeper into Russia.
During the last year of the war, when the Red Army freed our native region, I wrote a letter to the mayor and asked him to check whether any of family members parents or siblings, survived. A short while later I got a response that my entire family was murdered along with the entire Jewish population of the city. The German exterminated my family in the ghetto.
So even before leaving Russia, I knew that I should not expect to find anybody alive… In spite of that certainty, I knew in my heart that I would have to go back there and search…otherwise I would always have thoughts and doubts about the fact that I could have checked and had not done so.
Upon receiving the certificates, I traveled to and visited the city. Our Ukrainian neighbors, who worked with my father as porters, told me what happened. They showed me the place where my family was murdered when the ghetto was exterminated. The entire family was murdered. Nobody survived.
Two days later, I felt that I do not have any reason to stay in that cemetery. I went back to Lvov and waited for a train to take me away from there. I left two or three weeks later. When I arrived in Poland, I found out that remnants of our movement are organizing Aliyah groups [kibbutzim]. I knew at once that my road ahead was very clear. I knew what I was going to do with my life from then on.
After the War The Organization of the Kibbutz
The train I was riding on stopped at the Krakow's station. Somebody told me that a kibbutz of our movement Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair was being organized in Lodz. I knew immediately that this was my destiny. There was no other.
I went to Lodz and joined the Kibbutz which consisted of people with the same background as me: concentration camps' survivors, forest partisans, and alumni of Russian laborcamps.
Our group five hundred people strong, was scheduled to travel from Austria to Marseille. From there our group was slated to board a ship that would bring us to Eretz Israel. We were arrested in Austria, as our papers were forged.
This is when we began to be transferred from one camp to another until we reached the last camp in the region of Nuerenberg. We spent one year in that camp. Overall our wandering around from camp to camp lasted about two years, before we received the news about our impending Aliyah. This is how we ended up on the ship Exodus.
The Exodus story the events on the beaches of Eretz Israel and the battle with the English military under the command of a kibbutz member, Mordekhai Rozman, is very well known. At the end of the battle, we were sent back to Marseilles and from there to Hamburg. From there we were again transferred from one camp to another.
During those days of wandering, we managed to organize a full daily routine. The schedule included studies and part or full time work. We had all sorts of undertakings just that we would not degenerate and sink into depression. We organized Friday night gatherings, and many other cultural activities. We tried our best and succeeded to be an example, both culturally and socially, for other kibbutzim in the area.
The period we spent on Exodus, brought us very closer together. Our stay on the ship three months at sea, from our deportation, through the La Manche channel to Hamburg in northern Germany, lasted a very long period.
Later on, we were jailed in a camp surrounded by barbed wire fences, guarded by the British military units equipped with tanks. We continued to live in a camp regime. The British tried to break our spirit but they never succeeded. Exodus immigrants totaled 4700 people, most of who were organized as kibbutzim and youth movement groups. We therefore managed to keep our cultural and social activities under the Exodus framework. These activities created a life frame, which enabled us to overcome the hard conditions.
Aliyah to Ertez Israel and the Period in Kibbutz Ma'anit; The War of Independence.
When we got off the ship in Haifa, for the second time, we were sent as a group slated for Kibbutz Ma'anit. We arrived at the kibbutz, which was surrounded by Arab villages, on January 1948.
The attacks on the Kibbutz started in April 1948. We were under siege until the end of 1948. We just moved from one war to another. This was like a natural continuation to what we experienced before…
We were a very unified group. We lived our life within the group. The Ma'anit Kibbutz members were older than us, so we merely maintained working relations with them. They did not manage to create deeper relations with us.
The country itself was like the Garden of Eden for us. We were very emotional to see a Jewish farmer, a Jewish wagoner, or a Jewish driver. We were excited to see the surroundings, the landscape… that was the eve of the outbreak of the War of Independence. We really did not know what hardships were waiting for us. We enjoyed the encounter with our land, although we really did not know it very well. There were no opportunities for trips or treks. Hostile events were frequent throughout the country. Our area was surrounded. In order for anybody to leave, even for a single day, one would have to get a special permission from the district commander. This situation lasted for about a year. Even when a ceasefire was declared in the country, in the middle of the war, there was no ceasefire in Ma'anit.
Mordekhai Rozman, the commander of Exodus, continued to be in contact with us. His Kibbutz was looking for hashlamah. Mordekhai came to us in Ma'anit to try to convince us to move to GalOn. We agreed.
The transfer to GaOn hurt us tremendously.
The GalOn kibbutz itself experienced a crisis at that time. Many members did not move to live at the new location and stayed behind in NesTziona.
I stayed in GalOn from 1949 until 1952 when I moved to Kibbutz Gazit.
I established a good relationship with the members of an Argentinian group during their stay in GalOn. I found common language with many of their members. When I transferred to Gazit, I knew that I would find my place in it.
I worked in the woodshop from the beginning, and therefore I felt that I am contributing in an essential field. This was the period where the kibbutz experienced a thrust in construction. The pace of the work required all one's power and energy. Social life was lively and I felt good from the first moment.
I saw in the Argentinian group in Gazit, the continuation of our club from the old days. Such passion! It was as if I was still with my club. It was the continuation of what was, and what had been interrupted. Despite the fact that I lived in a pitiable hut, as compared to a building in GalOn, I did not feel that I dropped in rank. I finally had an organized life with a suitable social circle of friends.
I have experienced poverty during my childhood, during my stay in the Russian camps and during the years of the illegal immigration. I always had an unorganized life. This is the reason why I was not after material things. I was content with what I had and went along with the rest of the members through the same road from a hut to a Swedish Hut, to a building and from there to veterans housing.
Taking Care of Seniors
I have been taking care of the elderly parents of the kibbutz members for quite some time now. It started from the fact that I felt close to the first parents, the Romanians and the Yiddish speaking people. I receive a lot of satisfaction from this activity.
My Family in the Kibbutz
As far as establishing a family for myself is concerned: The main thing that I wanted was to create a continuance. Many years ago, I took a vow that I would not be the last of my family to carry our name. I wanted to ensure the preservation of our name. That meant building a family. I succeeded to do so. I met my wife in 1952. We married, and she is my partner since. My sons are well versed in my past, although not in all the details. We have three sons: Tzvi'ka, Tamir and Ronen. Tzvi'ka was joined by a cute and loyal Swiss girl and they have two sons: Danny and Michael. A girl from Haifa Smadar, joined Tamir and they have a cute daughter Inbar. Ronen is still a bachelor, planning his college studies. They all live with us, something that brings us a lot of happiness.
May this situation remain the same for many years.
I am a member of the Moreshet club from the day it was established. Abba Kovner said, in one of our first meetings, that if we would not tell about what we have experienced, if our generation would not perpetuate our past, the next generation would not do it either…
In the beginning, I did not tell anybody all of the details of my past. There were only a few people who could put down their past in writing. However, in the last few years, when the distance in time grew, people started to reach the age when things could not be postponed any longer… There is plenty of material, substantially more that can be published. The first action of Moreshet club was to take personal testimonies, and through the personal stories, we tried to weave the story of the period. There is a substantial amount of material lying around in the Center for the Holocaust Studies and Research located in kibbutz Giv'at Khaviva which waits for proper handling.
The generation that experienced the Holocaust, is now thinking about the past more than in previous years. I also have the feeling that we need to tell the story, since many souls walked that road, but only a few survived to tell about it. This is something that is both a burden and a duty, because you are the spokesman of all these people who passed.
by Ya'akov Braun
Translated by Moshe Kutten
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
Translated by Moshe Kutten
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
I wish to write a few lines about our family and the family of Rabbi Steinberg, may his memory be blessed, the Rabbi of the city of Brody. During the Holocaust, a common fate of struggle and faith lead to the salvation and survival of these two families Braun and Shteinberg.
My father, Mordekhai (Markus) Braun and my mother Leah, nee Katz, were the heads of the Braun family. We were five children. Our eldest, Israel (Sonyu), survived but he died in Israel from a malignant disease. Pnina (Pepeh), may she live a long life, is married to Arnold and she has a daughter named Ronit (also married). Pnina and her daughter live in Kiryat Ono. I, Ya'akov, am married to Margalit and we have three children. Our daughter Enat, is married and she has two children. Her son Dror is a captain in the air force, is married and lives in Tel-Aviv. The youngest is Eran. He is also an officer, in the Intelligence corps. He lives with us in Kiryat Ono. My little brother and sister perished in the aktzia held by the Gestapo in Brody on Yom Kipur of 1942. They were only four and two years old respectively. May their memory be blessed.
We had not recovered from the loss of my little and pure brother and sister, when we had to leave the city and find a shelter in the forests and villages surrounding the city. After our failure to find the Ukrainian family who previously agreed to hide us, acquaintances of my father recommended a Ukrainian by the name of Kravchuk from the village of Ponikva. Kravchuk was a devoted Christian, married with no children. The turmoil in the city was tremendous and everybody looked for ways to save themselves.
When my mother, Leah, may her memory be blessed, realized that the city's Rabbi, Moshe Steinberg and his wife did not have anywhere to run away to, she urged my father Mordekhai to take the Rabbi and his wife with us. She wanted to take them to that same gentile, despite the fact that he agreed only to hide us, and even that was in exchange to large sums of money in gold and jewelry. Steinberg family did not have any financial means. However, my father agreed with my mother's request and he fulfilled it. Throughout the entire period of 18 months until the day of the liberation, we were together, the five members of the Braun family, the Rabbi and his wife, altogether seven people. As mentioned above, my father paid Kravchuk a considerable amount of money every month, for us and for the Rabbi's family.
During the 18 months, we experienced horrific events. From the start, we realized that the hideout prepared by the gentile was only suitable for a short period. Fear overtook his will to hide us, and this is how we found ourselves wandering aimlessly around in the infinite forests without food or water. This is when the Rabbi's spirit and faith were very helpful to us. He and my father always believed that we, all seven of us, will survive at the end. However
our situation became worse and worse. Locals found out about us, and were looking for us in the forests. To Kravchuk's credit, it can be said that he did not abandon us even after he sent us to the forests. He and several other gentile acquaintances of my father found a natural bunker with a depth of about 10 meters for us to hide in. We were lowered to the bunker via a ladder. The gentiles told us that we would only be able to hide there for 24 hours. However we stayed in that bunker in inhuman conditions for six months. We lay on cold rocks the entire time, in almost complete darkness. It was a solitary confinement, which we could not get out off without help from the outside. Once again, to his credit, Kravchuk did not abandon us. He walked several kilometers at night, back and forth, to bring us water and bread. He was not able to bring us the food every night, but we survived in this accursed location only thanks to his persistence. After several months of wandering in the forests and half a year in the bunker, the gentile brought us back to the original hideout, where we stayed until the liberation in April 1944.
Rabbi Steinberg and his wife went to the US and settled in New York where they both died a few years back.
Our eldest brother, Israel, went to England and from there to Canada. He immigrated to Israel in the late sixties, but as mentioned before, a malignant disease overpowered him, and he passed away shortly thereafter. My parents and my sister Pnina immigrated to Israel in 1950. My father passed away in 1981 and my mother in 1985. May their memory be blessed.
Rabbi Shteinberg greatly appreciated my father's help. He published a book in New York, in which he described the events of those days and the part that my father took in saving his and his wife's life.
During my trips to the US, I visited the Steinbergs several times and we reminisced together. My parents corresponded continuously with the Steinbergs during their life. Both families kept in touch and corresponded continuously with the gentile Kravchuk.
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Updated 8 Apr 2018 by LA