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[Page 362]

Our City Brody
His Speech during the celebration of his 70th birthday

by Shaul Perlmutter

Translated by Moshe Kutten

I see here new faces. I do not know you, the owners of the new faces, and you do not know me, however, “Ask your father and he will tell you” [Deuteronomy 32:7. MK]. I knew your parents and they knew me, they may have been my students, I am one of the last Mohicans that remained from the survivors of the Holocaust from Brody.

I would like to talk to you a bit. Let us talk about the past. Recall the forgotten old memories. We can then talk some about the present and later peek a little into the future. Perhaps the things that I would tell you, would not be pleasant and it would be difficult to incorporate them into this celebration of ours. This is because I am not going to talk to you in a routine way, but as a brother to brother or a brother to sister. I will tell you what I really feel. I will only tell you about things that my heart will put in my mouth.

The truth can be said that I am really “Ger Vetoshav”[1] among you. I came to you in Brody, about fifty years ago, lonely and alone, with neither a relative nor an acquaintance, and you have accepted me with open arms, and, in a short while, I have acquired loyal friends among you.

By Brody, my Brody, I do not mean the city itself. Cursed is its land, which opened her mouth to swallow the blood of our holy and pure brothers and sisters. By Brody, I mean our people, Brody's people. They are” Talit She'Kula Tkhelet”[2], a Talit without a flaw. I see them now, in my mind, they are here in this hall. Here is Mr. Idel Prives, an honest man, devoted to Zionism and Jewish holy values. I taught his two sons. He was a good friend, dedicated ally and devoted brother throughout my entire stay in Brody. His wife, who is the only one that survived from the entire family, lives today in our land. I met my wife, may her memory be blessed, in their house. Here are the Tartakover brothers, who raised the flag of our nation's revival. I especially remember Dr. Khayim Tartakover, may his memory be blessed, with admiration and a tremor of holiness. An innocent man, that every bit of his being was devoted to our national and cultural idea. Dr. Tartakover possessed many more traits and exalted virtues that not everybody is fortunate to own. This platform would be too short to describe them all, and therefore, I will instead just make use the short phrase - “Silence is his praise” [Psalms 65. MK]. The descendants of these families live among us in our land. Many of them are my students. Now I see Dr. Anderman, may his memory be blessed, a humble man. He was one of the firsts who dreamt the dream of the return to Zion. Although he did not give speeches, and was not conspicuous, he was also not like this Jew who would go around with a hammer in his hand to wake up the crowd to chant the psalms, while he himself would go to sleep. The love for our people, our land and our language filled his life until his last day. His descendants are with us in our land, and I taught some of them.

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Now I stroll a little in the streets of Brody and its alleys. I am entering a narrow alley, I hear a humming noise and see a shining light. I approach … this is the Beit Hamidrash[3], the workshop of the soul of our nation. Jews of all ages are sitting here, bent over and leaning, immersing themselves in the old and worn-out pages of the Gemara[4]. They weave a tractate, the tractate of the survival of our nation. I have often gone in to be with them and “sat amid the dust of their feet” [to study. MK].

Saturday in Brody - holiness is engulfing the city. I can see them in my imagination, I see the Jews of Brody with their black velvet long coats with silk sashes, shtreimels[5], on their heads, Tallith's under their arms, flocking to the Beit Ha'Midrash, to worship G-d. Every one of them looks to me like the high priest. Sometimes they look to me like soldiers – soldiers of G-d of Israel. A mysterious and enormous force attracts me to them and I join them instantly. I am already with them in Bet Ha'Midrash, I pray with them and together we build G-d's destroyed and deserted temple.

It would be an unatoned crime not to mention here the high-school students. These delightful youths would come to the “Community House” in the afternoon, or at dusk, to “quench their thirst” and find a mend for their soul, which was detained in the mornings by the gentiles at the high school. It is difficult for me to break-up from Brody's people, so I retrieve some of them from the deep well of my memory and pass them here in front of you.

It is a summer noon. The Holy One, Blessed Be He took the sun out of its holster. There is no air and it is difficult to breath. People look for a shade to hide from the sweltering rays of the sun. All of us go outside of the city at dusk to rest in the bosom of nature and breath fresh air, celebrating an insignificant event, which is not considered important during any other time of the year, perhaps a recess day or Gnosya[6] day. We are going to Gedalia's “Yuridika”. We called him “Tevye the Dairyman”[7]. Our joy was endless. The walls separating between the various ages fall instantly, broken and destroyed. We, the youths, together with the adults, dance like young goats, roll on the soft grass, frolic and go wild. Who would tell us what to do? We were young, full of energy and life, hidden inside us during the day, and here, under nature's open spaces, under the bright sky, they found an outlet and broke out. We were happy. We feel like we all members of the same family. We feel that we are children, children of nature, which does not discriminate between one child and another.

This is how we spent several hours outdoors and then went back home at a late hour. On our way back, we would pass near the “Kornveg” [corn way. MK]. In my imagination, I am pausing there a bit. Brody youths are promenading there, joined together, walking arm in arm in the narrow trail of the “Kornveg”. This is where the first threads, the threads of love are spun and woven. They enter the small forest. I hear their joyful laughter, and the forest's echo in response. They continue to stroll. I hear the secretive discourse of the leaves. The trees are swaying, as if they are praying for the wellbeing of the children. The moon above and the stars in their paths, accompany them on their way and I hear their blessing: “may your luck shine on you like the sun at mid-day”.

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I now recall “Amkha” [ordinary folks. MK] - porters, tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, and waggoneers. I remember this waggoneer, sitting on his cart seat, humming and chanting a popular folk song “Hoy Khava”, or “Yosle, daineh shvartze oigen” [“Yosle – your black eyes”. MK]. Where are you now? Would you know how much my soul is longing for you?

All layers of Brody's people, including all its kinds and forms, are passing in front of me now. Everything is gone, but not forgotten.

Deceased Brody's people are dear to me. You, the ones who are in this hall, are dear to me. You are my kith and kin, may you be blessed with a good life. Now we move from the imaginary world of the past, to the world of reality, to the present. Despite this move, experiences and memories from Brody are coming up and springing in my head, a whole depth of memories. How can I move on?... Never mind…I build a bridge through which we would pass from the past to the present. I am on the bridge… come and follow me.

In the twilight of my years, when my life is approaching its end, when I go through self-examination and summarize everything, I realize that most of my life I spent with and among you. A thread runs through all of those years. I am still standing on the bridge. I see Brody from afar. Brody people are waiving their hands to me. It is probably difficult, for them too, to say goodbye to me, and therefore please excuse me if I pause here on the bridge for another minute and talk just a little more about Brody.

We were a cohesive unit in Brody. We felt the feeling expressed by the Psalms song “For brethren to dwell together in unity”. We danced together on Simkhat Torah and the holiday of Passover, and went together to the old cemetery on the Ninth of Av. We laughed, were happy, sighed and cried together. When the First World War broke out and I found myself in Vienna, even there the chain was not cut off. We met often, and visited each other. In our land, now, I am with and among you.

Here in our land, due to the passing time and due to the difficult conditions that I was always under, I did not see all of you, but I always tried to find out about you. I was happy in your joyous occasions, and felt pain when you did. I often met with some of my close friends (Moshe Okin and Netanel Rotman), at times even daily. We spilled our bitterness brother to brother and opened our sealed hearts, man to his friends. We received our relief by doing that, and it made it easier to carry out our life's load and distress. The cities of Brody, Vienna and Tel-Aviv, are our milestones, steps in our joint life that we shared together, and every step was an entire period. We have common experiences and memories, which are hard to forget, even when we do not talk about them.

Friends! Brothers and sisters! It would not be bragging for me to say that I did not seek prominence. However, I did not know the meanings of jealousy and envy. I did not chase after money, nor did I pursue honor. G-d is my witness that I did not initiate this celebration. The committee members are my witnesses that I tried, in vain and applied all the efforts, to dodge this commotion and honor. Hence, you would understand how I feel now when I see all the devoted and sincere friendship that is pouring onto me from every one of you. I don't know how to explain these feelings.

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I have lost the appropriate key with which I can open my heart and show you what is happening inside now, but believe me that I am always with you. “I cry out like the jackals when I think of your grief, I am like a violin for your songs[8]” .I am happy to celebrate your joy, Believe me, all of me is yours, and in these moments, my soul is simply going out to you.

I did not quench my thirst from the cup of life. I was content with one small single sip. Even that small sip was often forbidden. The sky of my life has been foggy and cloudy for the last few years. My entire narrow world is squeezed into my small space, like the Ninth of Av. You have now inserted a ray of light into my heart, to light the darkness of my constricted world. This light would shine and illuminate the rest of my years that remain for me on this earth. Together with you and among you, my narrow world has just widened and expanded, and everything seems like songs. I am happy to be with you on the same train, the train of life. That train passes from one stop to another. Several people get off in each stop, and some board to replace them. I have already done several full circles, but I am still on the train. However, the tribulations on the way have weakened me, my energy diminished, but I am happy to be with you. My heart is wounded and bleeding about the fact that my beloved wife is not here with me now. My heart breaks over my students (boys and girls), and my absent beloved friends. …there were people and they are all gone… Please forgive me! I am leaving you for tiny moment - leaving this world. I am now among all of those I mentioned previously. I am immersing myself with their memory… All my dear ones are passing in front me like sheep being counted.

Please forgive my poetic effusion; please believe me that my words come out by themselves. A lot has been accumulated in my heart lately - a sea of great bitterness and torments of the soul. My heart is overflowing and cannot contain everything. It is bursting out, flooding and encountering things it did not mean to encounter. When one's heart is full, his mouth talks. Whom should I talk to if not in front of you?

I beg you – please have pity on me and do not judge me in the scale of demerit, because there is G-d in heavens. This G-d is kind and merciful, but sometimes He is zealot and vengeful. He has been castigating me severely, like I was his step-son… Please do not find any extraneous intent in my words… I know that G-d is a just judge, and there is no evil in His ruling. He pays evil with evil, and righteousness with righteousness, so if I was punished severely, my sins have been unbearable. However, my G-d! I pray to You together with the rest of Your children – “Avinu Malkeinu[9] [“Our Father, Our King”.MK]. I ask you to have a pity on me: “As a Father who pities his children” [Psalm 103:13-14. MK]. Why didn't You show your compassion with me - Your son, and why didn't You stand by me in my sorrow? Maybe I sinned, but who am I and what am I? A weak and worthless creature. But You, the great G-d, the heroic and horrific, You are almighty. Why did You let my evil urge overcome the good urge. I, Shaul your servant, a child of Your servants, accept Your mastery. I yield before You, I bow before You, and “lick the dust of Your feet” [Isiah 49:23. MK]. However, I do like the sun and ask for a bit of light, as it says[10]: “G-d wrapped himself in a white Talit and his bright glory shone from one edge of the world to another”. You are the light. I would like to be able to stand from afar and enjoy Your light. Would anybody's share diminish by that? I know that there is G-d in Heaven. I know that there is an after-life and that everything is determined by heavenly justice[11]. In Heaven everything is considered, weighted,

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and recorded… I am sure that they would forgive me for my words here, since they know over there that I am not the one who is talking now. It is not I who is talking. The sorrow and pain are talking now from my throat. Had You known, and perhaps it is good that You do not know, about the dark grief, which oppresses and presses my heart day and night, like an iron forceps for the last eight years… until it seems to me that my head would explode to pieces. It is very hard for me to concentrate even now. I am collapsing… I have entered into a difficult maze and it is difficult for me to get out of it. Who knows? Perhaps I lost my mind, or I am possessed… My friends and students, land, heaven, towns and fields, please have mercy on me!

I am finishing, however, I would like to add a few more words at the end of my talk, and then I would cease. Life is beautiful. It is worthwhile to live! The world is so big and beautiful! All the good and the beauty that exists in the world, was created for the benefit of humankind. Even our sages, bless their memory, said: “grab and eat, grab and drink, as the world we are leaving is a tavern” [compared to the next world. MK]. Live life to the fullest, because “we will all die like the water spilled on the ground that could not be recollected” {Shmuel II 14:14.MK]. This is why every moment counts.

When I began my talk, I said that I would try to look ahead to the future. I will fulfill my promise now. I sneak into the future through the time wormholes. I squeeze through the hidden and unknown and talk to you from the other side of the screen, which separates between the present and the future; you will hear the voice calling you – Brody people. You would recognize the voice. Please listen carefully.

My Brody brothers and sisters! Consolidate your sparse lines, as long as you are still riding on the train of life. Carry the flag of Brody with honor and pride. A prominent Historian would, one day, write about the people of Brody and about their actions. He will write about the city, about its leaders, heroes and scholars. He would have enough to write about. One generation must tell the next generation about Brody, so that whatever was not written down would not sink into oblivion. That is how we would be able to preserve our past for the benefit of our decendants, natives of our land, and children of future generations. They would not go through the steps we had to go through. They would not talk about their Brody's past or their Vienna's past. A new generation would rise, a generation who would not experience and would never know about the bitter life in the diaspora. They will be free people, wholesome in their soul and body without any complications. They will be rooted in the ground of our homeland. They would grow and flourish “like trees in the field” [Deuteronomy 20:19. MK]. “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and richness” [Psalms 92:15). Past, present and future will be unified. They will walk with their heads held high, with a powerful stride. They will know that the land under their feet and our land's blue sky above their heads are theirs. Any outsiders who will harbor an intent to harm us would know that they put their life on the line. They will add bright pages to the history of our nation, in our land and the diaspora, history that will be studied in our schools.

Should the children of Brody natives really want to know about the history of their ancestors, they would be able to read the Brody Yizkor Book that would be published shortly. I would like to record a few words for this book, and these would be my final words:

“Remember that I and my nation, and all of those who came before me, bequest life to those who would come after me. Live and enjoy life!”

Translator's Notes

  1. Ger Vetoshav – literally means “alien resident” in Hebrew. In Judaism it means a gentile living in Eretz Israel who accepts on oneself (and observes) the Noahide Laws (the minimum set of imperatives which in Jewish tradition that are said to be applicable to non-Jews, consisting of seven out of the 613 commandments in Judaism). The term was coined after the statement made by Abraham when he came to the sons of Chet and asked for a burial place for his wife Sara: “I am a stranger and a resident with you; give me a possession of a burial place with you that I could bury my dead from before me.” (Genesis 23:4) Return
  2. Talit She'Kula Tekehlet – literally means “a Talit – prayer shawl that it is entirely azure This is an expression in Hebrew, which means that anything or anybody is without any fault (particularly from moral point of view). The phrase is based the Torah portion of Korakh (Book of Numbers) in which Korakh asked Moshe after Israel was commanded with the azure tzitzit, weather a Talit which is entirely azure provides a a relief from the commandment. Return
  3. Beit Ha'Midrash - literally means “A house of learning”, was a study hall or a school for religious studies, usually in or adjacent to a synagogue or a Yeshiva. It is also a word used to describe the level of studies below the academic level of a yeshiva. Return
  4. The Jewish Talmud, is what is called “oral Torah” the central text of the Rabbinical Judaism consists of two parts: The Mishnah – contains the core text and the Gemara embodies the analysis and interpretation of the Mishnah and the holy Bible. Return
  5. Shtreimel – Black fur hat warn by married Haredi and Hasidic Jews. Return
  6. Gnosya day - Birthday or a day of a coronation (of a king) Return
  7. Tevya the Dairyman – Fictional character portrayed by Shalom Aleikhem in a series of short stories about the life of Jews in Russia at the turn of the nineteen century. The stories were adapted for audio recordings and the Broadway musical and the film “Fiddler on the Roof”. Return
  8. Adapted from Yehuda Halevi poem (also used as a lament for Ninth of Av)– “Zion, do you ask if your captives are at peace?” Return
  9. Avinu Malkeinu – “Our Father, Our King” is a Jewish prayer originated in the “Talmud” and is chanted during the “Ten Days of Repentance” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The prayer asks for forgiveness and contains about forty wishes and pleas. Return
  10. According to Bereshit Rabah book (83:4) – Rabbi Shimon Bar Yehotzedek asked Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nakhmani:”How did G-d create light?”, and Rabbi Yehotzedek responded: “G-d wrapped himself in a white Tallit and his bright glory shone from one edge of the world to another”.  Return
  11. According to Jewish Halakha, “Death by Heavenly Justice” is a punishment imposed on somebody for committing about fifteen sins deliberately. Since this punishment is imposed by G-d (who knows all secrets of the heart) rather than by man, there is no need for testimonies nor warnings. Return


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“Kaddish” for the Lost
The story of the Szmuszkin Family, which I heard from my father and Mother
Chaim and Zehava (Hertz) Szmuszkin and from
My father's sister Selka Hensel

by Avshalom Sion-Szmuszkin

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

a. Menakhem Szmuszkin Smuggles his Son Avraham-Aba from Berdichev to Brody

The youth Avraham-Aba, son of Menakhem Szmuszkin, was twenty-three years old in 1905, toward the end of the Japan-Russia war. At this age, Avraham was required to enlist. He was slated to be sent to Vladivostok, a city on the border with Japan, as a soldier of the Russian military. His family lived in Berdichev and he was the eldest son of his father's second wife. His father, Menakhem, son of Eliezer who was the son of Moshe, was a handsome man, modernly dressed, with a very dignified appearance. He was the descendant of R' Levi Yitzkhak of Berdichev and was very wealthy. Like all other Szmuszkin's in Russia, he was a merchant of coral beads and a Jewelry designer. His trade relations reached the ends of the world and his agents reached very distant places.

Menakhem Szmuszkin managed to smuggle his son, Avraham-Aba, from Berdichev to his agents who were waiting in Radzivilov at the Russian border and from there to Brody. The Galician city Brody was located just eight kilometers away from Radzivilov across the Austrian border. At that time it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The border between Russia and the Austrian empire stretched between the two cities.

From 1779 until 1879, Brody was a “tax-free” city (“Freistadt”), and its residents were prosperous. Whoever managed to enter its limits would not be expelled and was not obligated to pay taxes. Brody people used the phrase in Yiddish: “ferfalen vi in Brodi” (lost like in Brody). The Russian Jews in Galicia were nicknamed ”Fonye”, while the Galician Jews with whom they came to mix were nicknamed “Kiry”. When its status as a “free tax” zone was terminated, [after WW I. MK] Brody started to deteriorate. In the beginning, traces of her splendor lingered, but its transit trade was replaced, in many cases, by the smuggling trade.

Grandfather Menakhem opened an agency of coral beads for his son Avraham-Aba in Brody, since one needs a business to make a living in addition to studying Torah. He rented an apartment for him and also a store, or a warehouse where he sent the corals. When Avraham-Aba established the warehouse, he needed locks to secure it, so he went to look for locks in the store adjacent to his agency – a wholesaler store for iron and construction supplies owned by the Epstein family.

 

b. The Family of Rakhel and Ephraim Epstein

R' Ephraim Epstein was one of Brody's most honorable people. He helped build the Husiatyn Hassidic[1] synagogue, as a member of the Husiatyn Hasidic dynasty. He was a righteous person, pious, noble, liberal and sociable. His wife, Grandmother Rakhel was short built, really tiny,

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but active and full of inexhaustible energy. She always dressed with great care. She commanded in all matters and everybody respected her opinion. The family of Rakhel and Ephraim Epstein consisted of two daughters and two sons - the older daughter Matilda (Mattel), the second daughter Gitya and the two brothers - pleasant manners' Manes, and the young Khaim Epstein.

The Epstein family was very wealthy. Their house, on Zelazna Street, was a spacious one story private house, surrounded by a sizeable yard. The people who prayed in the synagogue and the Kloiz [house of learning and praying. MK] were frequently invited for a Kiddush on Sabbaths and holidays. Preparations for a Kiddush would last two or even three days. The guests would leave such a Kiddush satiated like after a hearty meal. During Sabbaths and holidays, the house was exceptionally beautiful. The house shone brightly such that the white tablecloths in that house seemed whiter than in any other house. One could feel the presence of the Shekhinna [Devine Presence. MK] in the house.

The holiday of Simkhat Torah[2], was a true celebration in Grandfather Ephraim's house. A custom was established in town that the entire congregation of the synagogue and kloiz would go to Ephraim Epstein's house. A large Sukkah was erected in the yard filled with an abundance of special types of foods – all sorts of meats and fish, stuffed doughs, and baked food items. They would also provide beer, honey cakes, and nuts for the holiday of Simkhat Torah. Grandmother would prepare a special type of a desert and the food included noodles kugel as well as sweet and salty rice kugel. People used to say: “we are going to Ephraim Epstein's – good cooking would be there”.

 

c. How Avraham-Aba Fell in Love with Matilda

Mother Matilda and Father Avraham-Aba used to tell the story of their courting that occurred during the time Menakhem, son of Elazar, did not want his son to be recruited to go to the Russian-Japan war. They would tell the story on Sabbaths, after the afternoon nap, at tea time when the kids were still too young to go to the youth movements or other places. Mother Mattel would first tell the story about how Avraham-Aba went out to find a store where he can buy a lock to lock the warehouse and entered R' Efrayim's store. Mattel happened to be there, she had come to the store to look for her mother. Perhaps she needed some money, or wanted to tell her mother something. She was a little older than fifteen years, but not yet sixteen, still a student in school. When the youth Avraham saw the young girl standing and talking to her mother, his heart became excited and he was captivated by her.

Father would continue the story: “in my heart I knew that she is the one, but I did not know what to do next and how”. He started to inquire about the girl's family background. He knew that the girl's parents had a store, but he needed to find out more information and inquire further. He asked around, and when all the conditions turned out to be to be proper, including the girl's appearance, Father sent a matchmaker. Additional mutual investigations, inquiries, common in the days, commenced. A year later, Avraham-Aba Szmuszkin and Matilde Epstein got married. At the wedding wine was spilled like water, delicacies were served abundantly in exquisite food vessels, and the joy was immense. The groom's father Menachem and his third wife came from Russia with their children.

 

d. Avraham-Aba and Matilda Szmuszkin's Home

Avraham-Aba and Matilda formed a happy and loving couple. They complimented each other's qualities, and helped each other. Hansome Avraham had bright eyes. He showered each morning with cold water,

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and people used to say that he possessed a “good pigment”. His manners commanded respect. His good nature radiated from his face. He spoke politely and softly, and respected everybody. Matilda was smart, practical, agile and talented. She provided a firm support for Father. They lived in Rynek D Street [Rynek means market in Polish. Ryneck D was one of the streets that surrounded the market. MK], in the center of town, near the Kalir pharmacy. They lived on the second floor above the store. The entrance to their apartment was through a staircase leading from the street. A large baking stove, heated by firewood, replaced by coal a few years later, was situated in the big kitchen. A large dinner table filled the large room with a closet and a bed positioned on the side. There were also two bedrooms, one for the parents, one for the children. The bathroom was in the corner of the balcony. The store was not far: it was a big and flourishing store of building materials, tools and agricultural machines, on Kolyova Street on the way to the train station.

Matilda and Avraham's home was very religious, but not Haredi[3]. Sabbaths and holidays were celebrated in splendor and grace, according to the Jewish tradition. Avraham Szmuszkin was not a Hasidic Jew and thus prayed in the synagogue named after Shaul Kharif, where very orthodox Jews prayed. On holidays, religious festivals and Sabbaths he would sing Shabbat songs between and after the meals: “Lord, Master of the Universe, you are the king, the king of kings...”[4]. His pleasant voice resonates in my ears even today. How pleasurable was it to sit down at the table on which a “samovar” was placed (made of silver on Sabbath and copper during week days), and also sweet and salty cakes and sorts of confections, splendidly made by the exemplary housewife – Mattel, whose delicacies and recipes made a name for her, and her reputation was wide-spread.

The children were members of Zionist youth movements such as “Ha'Shomer Ha'Tzair” (the “Young Guard”) or the “Zionist Youth”. They studied in the public school in the morning and Hebrew in the afternoon. Avraham-Aba contributed tremendously to the establishment of Hebrew courses. The objective was the eventual immigration to Erez Israel, and therefore, Avraham-Aba placed great importance to the study of the language, as a means for a faster assimilation in the new land. A good, progressive and relaxed atmosphere prevailed in the house. The house was open to friends as well as family members and friends of the children, who were frequently helped by Avraham-Aba.

 

e. “Your Children are like Olive Plants around your Table…” [Psalm 128, verse 3. MK]

A special and hearty chapter was the relationship with Grandfather R' Epstein's family. His house was a meeting place for the entire family: His elder daughter - Matilda, and her husband, Avraham-Aba Szmuszkin with their children, Khayim, Selka, Hertz, Manya and Efraim. The second daughter - Gitya and her spouse - Elimelekh Eisenthal from Krakow and their daughter Khaya'le. There were two sons – big Manes, a modest and pleasant mannered who was the most God-fearing person of all, and his wife, Pesia, daughter to a well-known Rabbis dynasty - Shvedron, along with their daughter Leah. The youngest sibling in the family was Khayim Epstein, his wife – Etya, nee Hertz, and their son Ephraim and daughter Leah.

Gitya and her husband Elimelekh along with their daughter Leah continued to live in Grandfather and Grandmother's house on Zelazna Street. Mattel, Manes and Khayim left the house after they were married and lived close by with their families. The two sons, Manes and Khayim, continued to work with their father Ephraim in the store. The Eisenthal family worked in the leather industry and Matilda assisted Avraham in his business.

Every Sabbath night (Friday evening) and the evening before holidays the entire family would gather at the home of Grandfather and Grandmother Epstein, even when everybody established their own families and lived in their own houses.

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Prior to lighting of the candles, everybody would gather to wait for the blessings and the good wishes expressed by their beloved grandfather. At the conclusion of Yom Kippur, [Day of Atonement. MK] everybody would come together with mutual love and friendship. When the whole family gathered, there was an enormous joy, coming from the heart. These moments roused and made a mark of feelings of happiness and love on everybody in family and became part of the Jewish folklore in town.

 

f. My Heart is in the East, and I am at the edge of the West.

During the time when the economic conditions were good, life was nice and comfortable. Only one thought bothered Avarahm-Aba: the thought of not being able to fulfil his dream of immigrating to Eretz Israel. Before World War I broke out, the family of Menakhem Szmuszkin, Avraham's father, left their city of Berdichev and emigrated to Eretz Israel. They were members of the so called “Second Aliyah[5] “ and lived in Segera [today Moshav Ilaniya. MK]. Grandfather Menakhem became ill. He could not endure the hunger, rampant in Eretz Israel, the extremely harsh conditions, and the cruel Ottoman regime, whose attitude toward the small Jewish settlements was very hostile. In order to avoid deportation by the Ottomans, like all other foreigners, he destroyed all the family passports. He succumbed to his illness in 1915, when he was only 56 years old. He left a wife and seven children. Their life became unbearable. The death of Grandfather Menakhem was a hard blow to Avraham's plan. His childhood dream and life aspiration could not be fulfilled. He did not reach the land that he so desired, and had to stay in Brody with his expanding family.

 

g. Ups, Downs and Crises

World War I destroyed the economic basis of the family. That period was abounding with anguish and suffering. When the Russians came to town, they hunted after Avraham Szmuszkin as a deserter from the army, seemingly based on a pre-defined list. The Austrians took him captive along with other foreign subjects. The captured subjects were concentrated in a camp near Vienna, the capital of the empire. Mother Matilda along with her three little children stayed behind in the city. Their suffering was considerable. When the war broke, Khayim was six years old, Selka was two, and Hertz was just born. After the war, the wounds started to heal. Life returned to normal and the economic conditions improved steadily. Sadly, anther blow hit the family during the early part of the 1930's when deterioration began again. The reason for it was the policy of harsh decrees by the Polish government. Most of the Jews lost their fortune. There was another reason for the Szmuszkin's deterioration: a partnership with an unreliable and dishonest person.

In the beginning, Avraham-Aba Szmuszkin was secure in his business. He received a dowry, owned a big store, and did well in his business. He sold many farmers plows and scythes on credit. When they were late in their payments due to the horrific economic crisis in Poland, he lost his fortune. The story goes as follows: the Polish finance minister, Vladislav Grabski, enacted a Moratorium Law, allowing postponement of paying the debts. The farmers never paid off their debts and that affected the economic situation of the family. From a position of wealth, they became impoverished. Their store could no longer provide their needs as abundantly as before.

[Page 371]

“Grabski Aliyah” became part of Israel's history. Many Jews immigrated to Eretz Israel, due to the extremely brutal economic crisis in Poland. Avraham-Aba Szmuszkin tried to find out about the possibility of making Aliyah as well. However, the discouraging responses he received from his family in Sejera, dissuaded him from this plan. His spirit sank. He kept to himself, engulfed with sadness and despair. The process of the family deterioration continued all the way until the Holocaust, which eradicated the foundations of the glorious and rooted Judaism and caused the death of most of our family members, men, women and children, along with the six million of our people, G-d avenge their blood.

 

h. The Story of the Daring Ha'apala[6] of Khaym Szmuszkin

Khayim, the elder son of Avraham-Aba and Matilda Szmuszkin immigrated to Eretz Israel illegally in 1935 along roads which were not really roads, stealing borders, and becoming a stow-away passenger on a ship bound to Jaffa. He did not have entry permit to any of the European countries he crossed, nor did he have one for entering Palestine, which was under the British mandate at the time.

Khayim Szmuszkin arrived at Eretz Israel in June 1935 on the evening before Shavuoth[7]. He took advantage of the fact that he (and his family) lacked citizenship of any country and the fact that he owned a “Nansen's Passport”[1]. Knowing that he did not have any chance of securing an entry certificate to Palestine, he took the risk and succeeded. His brother Hertz tried to follow him in a similar way but was unfortunate. He was captured, beaten, and sent back to Brody.

 

i. World War II and the German Occupation in Brody

There were eight thousand Jews in Brody before the war, about two thirds of the entire population. Most of the residents were Poles and Ukrainians, some Slovaks and even Germans. German was taught as a compulsory language in school due to the proximity to Austria, although not the conversational German. Grandfather Epstein was not alive then. He passed away following surgery at the young age of 56. Grandmother Rakhel passed away at a ripe old age of 90 about half a year before the war.

The Red Army entered Brody in September 1939. When the war broke, people assumed, based on what was known until that time that the war situation was temporary, and that people would be able to continue living after that. Avraham-Aba Szmuszkin, Khayim, and Manes Epstein and Elimelekh Eisenthal gathered all the valuables, the silver and gold they were able to amass, and put them in in large boxes. They dug out a big pit of a depth of three meters under the floor of Grandfather Epstein's house and hid the boxes in it. There was a tendency in these families to crowd together at a time of distress. Avraham and Matilda along with Manya, Hertz and Froim'cho relocated at Grandmother Epstein's house. Gitah, her husband and daughter already lived in the house while Manes and Khayim's families moved in separate rooms. Unfortunately, the crisis did not pass as they have hoped.

[Page 372]

The Germans invaded Brody from all directions in July 1941. Chaos descended. People did not know what was going on. Unexpectedly, all the intellectuals were ordered to gather, as if to discuss issues associated with the organization of the community's day-to-day life. When they all gathered, they were beaten, humiliated and were loaded onto trucks. The police [the Ukrainian police. MK] and the Gestapo transported them to the local forest, positioned them near dug-out lime pits and shot them all. One of them managed to escape. He told people what he saw with his own eyes. All the families realized that they would need to hide and that they were facing a difficult period ahead. People were being captured in the street, forced into staircases and searched in their pockets, other were murdered. Normal life ceased to exist. The Germans and the Ukrainians robbed the Jews and drove them out of their houses. Work tools, carts and horses were confiscated. The official hunger rations heralded a miserable existence. Shops stayed closed; children did not go to school; people did not go to work. War was upon them. Leaving the city was forbidden, and so were the use of public transportation, entrance into public places, walking in the main streets and plazas and even walking on sidewalks.

People did not know what to think, how to plan, and what to do next: should they join their parents or go to their children, should they go to work or turn anywhere else. Later on, curfew was imposed, and a real panic ensued. People remained without work or property, or anything else. A Jewish militia and Judenrat, which served the Germans, were established. These people knew all the addresses and where everybody was. They knew which Jewish family would yield a larger property. The poor people were taken first. They opened forced-labor camps, not in Brody itself, but close by in Zlotchov. German and Ukrainian policemen patrolled the streets at night and conducted raids nightly. They identified Jews in the streets and captured them like dogs. They took Jews out of their beds. Those who managed to escape dug bunkers in the forest. Some managed to arrange and camouflage hideouts in their homes behind bookshelves or in cellars, where they hid during searches.

In an attempt to escape the city, several people convinced a Christian foreman to take them to work in the forest. Khayim and Manes Epstein, Elimelekh Eisenthal, Shmuel Henzel and several other people from Brody and Radzivilov went to the forest and stayed there. Fortunately for them, the Germans did not think to look in the forest. Men were hiding in the forest while the women and the children hid in the city. However, there was no food in the city. There was no place to buy food. Everything was acquired by bartering or on the black market. Women went to the villages to barter valuables for food. The situation in the city worsened.

 

j. The End

On Rosh Hashanah 5702 (22 September 1941), the family still managed to gather in Grandfather's house for Minyan and prayer. Rumors circulated during the Ten Days of Repentance[8], that the Germans were planning a large operation in Yom Kippur. Selka came home on the evening before Shabbath Shuva[9] [Friday evening. MK] and urged Aba-Avraham and the rest of the family to spend the night in the forest. Father did not want to go there: “What will be, will be. G-d is everywhere”. Avraham-Aba was a true believer. Mother Matilda said: “You see that Father does not want to go. I cannot argue with him. He may know what he is doing.” Everyone quieted. Mother did not say anything. Even Manya did not talk. She was already twenty years old by then. The little Froim'cho was silent. He was already

[Page 373]

fourteen years old by then. Everybody stayed (Hertz was already out of the house). Father had to push Selka out. “Go, go, it is already late. It would be dark soon. How would you walk in the dark?” Selka said later on: “I lighted the candles for Mother. This was Friday. I do not recall if that was also the evening before Yom Kippur, but it was Friday for sure [Yom Kippur was Sunday September 21 1942. MK]. Mother accompanied me out. We went further and further away from home….and then she started to go back…I looked at her…she looked at me…and that was it…”

The first Aktzia started the following day on Shabbat Shuva, 19 September, nineteen hundred forty-two. The Jews were driven out of their houses, kidnapped in the streets, and were concentrated in the market plaza by German, Ukrainian and Jewish policeman. The people who were discovered hiding, the sick and the old were shot on the spot.

“During the night, - who could sleep after such a day – we sat there and listened. We heard loud shots and a commotion. It was not very far, and at night one can hear better….I did not want to believe that this was happening. The following day I found an opened house, empty, overturned and ruined. There was nobody in the house. Everybody disappeared as if they were never there…”

Hetshu (Hertz), who was about twenty six years old by then, stayed in the labor camp, where he worked, during that night. One day, sometime later, he was walking with a friend and was captured. That happened during the second Akztia on 2 November, nineteen hundred forty-two. Somebody said that he jumped from the train bound for Belzec. However, not every jump was successful.

We heard it everywhere: “That uncle is gone, this uncle is dead, that aunt is murdered…there are no longer people here and there are no longer people there”. However life went on. Selka said: “Until then, I really did not know how much power a person has, and how much a person can endure”.

The situation became intolerable. It was impossible to breath. Selka and her husband remained practically alone. They decided to leave Brody to a place where they were not recognized. They ran away from place to place, through the fields. They hid among the wheat spikes when they heard the roar of airplanes. They bribed policemen and ordinary gentiles. They were captured once by the Gestapo but managed to sneak out. They ran away from Brody to Vyshnevets. and from there to Lvov and back. Sometimes they used a vehicle and relied on dubious people who could easily betray them despite the money they received. It must be said though that there were some gentiles who helped them despite the fact they risked themselves by doing so.

At the end of the war, Selka and her husband trundled their way to Italy and from there to Israel.

 

k. Over but Not Done With

From our family, only Khayim Szmuszkin and his sister Selka Henzel, the children of Avraham-Aba and Matilda Szmuszkin survived. Khayim – my father, left before the hell started. Selka survived it. They have both fulfilled their father's dream, which he could not fulfill himself. They both live in Israel with their families.

The rest of the family members were not as fortunate. Let this story serve as a dedication to their beloved memory, and also as a memorial that sanctifies their pure souls.

Editor's Notes

  1. Nansen - the Norwegian representative at the League of Nations, who initiated the international convention, which grants the status of “International Subject” to refugees who lack citizenship. With a Nansen passport, it was possible to go anywhere and stay there if the owner of the passport was not detained from entering that country. Return

Translator's Notes

  1. Husiatyn Hasidic dynasty originated from the Ruzhin Hasidic family in the city Husiatyn, Ukraine. The dynasty moved to Vienna in Austria at the beginning of the First World War, and from 1937 was located in Tel Aviv, Israel. Following the death of the fourth Rebbe without descendants in 1968, it ceased to operate as a Hasidic dynasty. Return
  2. Simkhat Torah - a Jewish holiday, celebrated at the conclusion of the eight days fall holiday of Sukkot. It marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings, and the beginning of a new cycle. Return
  3. Haredi – the word means “to tremble” or “to fear.” Haredi Jewish is the most orthodox stream of Judaism (also referred to as “Ultra-Orthodox”), of which Hasidic Judaism is part. Return
  4. “Yah Ribbon Alam”, Piyyut (poem) written in Aramaic and authored by Israel Najara (1555-1625) is part of the Jewish Shabbat songs and is chanted at the onset of the Sabbath (Friday evening). Return
  5. “Second Aliya” – was a wave of immigration (mainly from Russia and the Pale of Settlement], to the Ottoman Empire's controlled Palestine. It took place between 1904 and 1914. Most of the immigrants were idealists, inspired by the revolutionary ideals then sweeping the Russian Empire who sought to create a communal agricultural settlement system in Palestine. They thus founded the kibbutz movement. Return
  6. Ha'apala is the Hebrew word [which literally means ascending] for the “illegal immigration” to Eretz Israel during the British rule of Palestine before and just right after WW II. People who participated in this endeavor boarded dilapidated ships bought by the Jewish Agency, which attempted to break the blockade imposed by the British military. Many of the illegal immigrants were caught and sent back or kept in camps in Cyprus and elsewhere. Return
  7. Shavuoth – is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the Giving of the Torah by G-d to the Jewish people and the time of the wheat harvest in the historic land of Israel. Return
  8. The ten first days of the Jewish new Year starting with Rosh Hashana and culminating in Yom Kippur are called the Days of Awe or the Ten Days of Repentance. This is the time to consider the sins of the previous year, time for a serious introspection and the opportunity for asking forgiveness from one another before one's fate is sealed on Yom Kippur. Return
  9. Shabbath Shuva – the Saturday between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The name Shuva [literally means Return] is taken from the chapter in the Bible (Hosea 14:2-10) read on that Shabbath. The chapter begins with the words: “Return, O' Israel, to the L-rd your G-d…”. Return


[Page 374]

My Friend Nunek

Words expressed on 29 June 1993 in a Eulogy at the mass grave
for Latrun defenders who were killed and buried as unknown soldiers

by Raphael (Fulu) Shalev-Shlinger

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Fifty years passed from the day of the murder of the last Jews in Brody Ghetto. You - Nunek-Nakum, son of Miriam (nee Shwartz) and Yosef Hurwitz, was the only remnant left of these two families - your mother's side and your father's side. You were thirteen years old when you, I, and several other peers from our age group, found a place to hide in Folwarki Maleh village. The city of Brody and its surroundings was declared “Juden Frei” – a region clear of Jews. Informing [about hiding Jews. MK] was rampant in the area and the Ukrainian policemen continued to transport their orphaned victims to the location at the barb-wired fence across which one could see the village Smolno. There, in that place, right at the edge of the ghetto, all the remaining Jews were shot and killed. Both of us, you - Nunek and I - your friend, managed, miraculously, to escape that hell. There is no logical explanation for miracles and wonders, yet, we may have survived to be able to provide a live testimony to the brutality and cruelty of the Nazi oppressors and the Ukrainian collaborators, may their names and memory be wiped out.

Nunek arrived at the British internment camps in Cyprus following twisted roads and soul. He trained there as a warrior with the “Hagana”[1] units , together with other Ma'apilim[2]. When he arrived in Israel, he volunteered to serve in the Harel Brigade[3] of the Palmakh[[4] . During the War of Independence, Nunek fought in Jerusalem area. He was wounded in one of the battles, and before he had completely recuperated from his wounds, he joined the warriors in Latrun[5] . He fell in the battle to liberate the road to Jerusalem on July 17, 1948 when he was seventeen years old. His body was transferred on February 28, 1950 from a temporary burial location together with the bodies of nineteen other warriors to Mount Herzl[6] and was buried in a mass grave with a full state ceremony. Those fighters fell before they had a chance to taste life.

I managed to find out about the place of burial of these defenders of the homeland only recently after long years of searching. So at almost the fiftieth anniversary, we have gathered here to honor these warriors, and to preserve the memory of their sacrifice, made in order to ensure our survival. We are uniting ourselves with the memory of Nunek and his nineteen comrades who were buried here in the mass grave. Your name – Nunek is going to be mentioned in a Yizkor Book, the Yizkor book for the city of Brody, your native city that is going to be published shortly. Fate probably caused the delay of the publication of the book, so that your name could be included along with other Brody youths who fell during Israel's battles.

May their memory be blessed! May your soul be bound in the bond of the living!

Translator's Notes

  1. Haganah - The underground military organization of the Jewish population in Eretz Yisrael during the period of 1929-1948. Return
  2. Ma'apilim - Jews who immigrated illegally to Palestine during British control in the 1930s and 1940s. Over 100,000 people attempted to illegally enter Palestine. Over half were stopped by British patrols, and more than 50,000 people were placed in internment camps in Atlit (Palestine) and the islands of Cyprus and Mauritius. Return
  3. Har'el Brigade – The Palmakh brigade formed in 1948 to fight in the defense of Jerusalem and Jerusalem Corridor. The name Har'el means “Mountain of G-d” in Hebrew referring to Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Its first commander was Yitzkhak Rabin, later the IDF Chief of Staff and Israel's prime minister. Return
  4. Palmakh – the elite fighting force of the Haganah. Return
  5. Latrun – named after a monastery located on the major highway between Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. The British built a Tegart fort overlooking the highway in that location and made it into a police station for the British forces. When they left, they handed it to the Jordanian Arab Legion. During the War of Independence, Latrun saw a series of military engagements between the Israel Defense Forces and the Jordanian Arab Legion between 25 May and 18 July 1948 as it commanded the only road linking the centers of Jewish population and Jerusalem, giving Latrun strategic importance in the battle for Jerusalem. Return
  6. Mount Herzl – the national cemetery in Jerusalem. Return


[Page 375]

List of the “Righteous of the Nations of the World”
Who Saved a Few of Brody's Jews

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Names of the Saviors Names of the Saved Comments
Buraczek Jan izenbrukh family The savior could not protect the family all the way to the liberation
Glasda Iwan Melah Halpern  
Golik Wladek Mendel Furman (Brick)  
Zak Tadeuusz Sonia Katzman-Vinograd Zak Tadeusz passed away in Warsaw and left a wife and three grandchildren
Choms Larisa Wladyslawa (fake name - Dionizy) Klara Lustig and her daughter During the years of the occupation Larisa Choms was active in Lvov and its environs for the sake of the local Jews. After the fall of 1943 she headed the RPZ council (A council for providing help to the Jews). Her agent, Vladek Yokalo acted to save the Jews of Brody and its environs. She passed away in Israel and was buried in Haifa
Jukalo Wlasyslaw and Walter Wladek Bianca and Herman Lilian and many other Jews in Lvov  
Lukaniec Powdyk Anni Mist  
Lukaszczekiewicz Genia Malvina Friedman nee Lillian Bianca and Herman Lilian and child  
Mamucki family Zigmond Berk (Dentist) and family The family was discovered as somebody informed on them. The two families, the savior and the saved were murdered
Mowczan Harycz Khayim and Bina Gasthalter  
Miklaszewski Maria and Jacenty and their daughter Wladzia Kalman Henrik and his daughter Israela  
Sydorczuk Wlodymir, his wife Sofia (Zonka) and their son Josef Tzipora Rom nee Spodek  
Pawluk Boczko Erna Landgeuertz and her daughter Berta  
Kut Iwan (Iasko), his wife Maria, and their sons Jaroslaw and Szczepan (Stefan) Refael (Polo) Shalev (Shlinger)  
Kut Anton Tonia Berger  
Krawczuk Lukian and Panko Rabbi Moshe Halevi Shteinberg, Yaakov Braun and family  
Rot Dola Shust Michael Rut was a fearless woman, the wife of Jukalo Wladek, a righteous of the Nations of the World". She helped the Jewish people of Brody to survive. She was active in actions risking death.
Szust Michal Dr. Bogner  

[Page 377]

bro377.jpg
Ukrainians who saved Brody's Jews with the people they saved
From left to right: Yasku Bortchak, Irena Shayer, Matchik Gruber, Ivan-Ilia Shchuk, Guzyuk, Tzibrok, Paulib, Iliashtchok (Bodyonivitz, Chobit, Romanyetz, Shmulik Stoianover

[Page 378]

bro378.jpg
Memorial plaque for Brody martyrs in the Holocaust Museum cellar

 

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