Translated by Jerrold Landau
I was 20 years old when I left Ratno on my journey to the Land of Israel. From time to time, various visions of the town come to my mind. Some of them, especially of the landscape, I will attempt to bring here in these lines. Perhaps because I left Ratno in the month of December, I frequently see it as covered in the snows of that month. When I left the town, I had a feeling of liberation from the straits, as if I went through a tunnel with a beacon of light on the other side signaling to me the path that I was to follow. I would be telling the truth if I state that it was not just light that I saw in Ratno. Symptoms of haughtiness, heavyhandedness, lording, and the like were very prominent in communal Jewish life. When I was in Hechalutz and the youth movements, I rebelled against all types of symptoms that were not apparent to me at that time. The fact that my aliya to the Land of Israel was not through the official, acceptable channels at that time demonstrates my ability to stand up for myself, to not depend on institutions, and to forge my path through my own powers. It is a fact that I did not follow the welltrodden path at that time, and apparently this trait has remained with me during my time in the Land of Israel.
I arrived in the Land of Israel in the month of Adar 5693 (1933) with the address of one of the first residents of Herzliya in my suitcase, whose relatives in the Diaspora asked me to send him a greeting.
On my third day in the Land, I decided to travel to Herzliya to deliver the greeting. I thought to myself: on this journey, I will pay attention to the landscapes of the Land and perhaps find some ideas for work through conversations with people that I meet.
The journey from Tel Aviv to Herzliya took about two hours. It first went through the narrow road leaving to Petach Tikva, and then through a dirt road with the orchards of the Sharon and the towns of Ramatayim, Magdiel, KfarSaba, and Raanana on both sides. Herzliya appeared before me unlike I imagined it. The houses were very low and far from each other. The roads were unpaved. Everything was still under construction. One cannot forget that Herzliya was only ten years old at that time.
When I got off the bus of the Hasharon cooperative, I found myself opposite a house upon which a sign was fluttering: The Workers Loan and Savings Fund. A short man came out of the building at that moment. When I asked about where the person I was supposed to greet lives, he told me that he would bring me to his door. This was BenZion Michaeli, the director of
the loan fund and a member of the local workers' council, who took interest in the Chalutz (as the green immigrants were called at that time…) He recommended that I remain in Herzliya and he even rented me a room in one of the orchards of Herzliya that was built on a hill. There was a small room appropriate as a dwelling place for one person on its slope beneath the supports of the house. I purchased a sofa from one of the neighbors for 50 grush (1/2 an Israeli Lira). Thus, I became a resident of Herzliya without any plans and without any institution concerning itself with my absorption.
I entered the local Workers Council building that evening. I was received there with great warmth, as if I was one of the locals. I later found out that my patron of my first day, Michaeli, had already told his friends in the council about the new immigrant who had come to the settlement, who spoke fluent Hebrew, was expert in what was taking place in the workers movement and the Histadrut, and who would attempt to settle in Herzliya.
At that moment, on the spot, I registered in the Histadrut and Kupat Cholim [Sick Fund], and was told that I should arrive the next morning at 6:00 a.m. and wait for two members with whom and under whose direction I would work in the orchard.
Armed with a borrowed hoe, I stood at the designated spot and met my guides. These were Pesach Krasnogorsky (Yifher) who later became mayor of Herzliya, and Pinchas Zucker (Eylon) who currently serves as the mayor of Holon. Both were active in the community of workers during those days in a fully voluntary fashion as was the norm then. They too worked in the orchard to earn their livelihood. Thus I began my first job in the Land hoeing and fixed the plates around the tree roots to provide irrigation.
Within a brief time, I obtained work in digging wells. I seized this opportunity, for it would be slightly easier on my back, which was suffering due to the hoeing. It would also be better for my wallet, for the salary was almost double. I would travel by van along with the staff of day workers to the place of the boring. I would spend the entire workday hermetically closed below the well under construction. At the end of the work, I would climb up the steps of a ladder, and exit into the air of the world. I would again breathe clear air, and absorb the intoxicating aromas of the blossoming citrus fruits again, and be guilty with my soul as it says in Pirke Avot, for I said to myself How beautiful is this tree, how beautiful is this field.…
When the disturbances of 5696 (1936) broke out, I moved to District 3 that was atop the hills, along with my wife and my newborn son Yigal, who was six weeks old at the time. My neighbors and friends at that time were the Mabovitch family the father of Golda Myerson of blessed memory, and the Lipschitz family. These two families arrived from the United States during the 1930s, and it goes without saying that the Land was good to them in those days. I worked as a regular employee in the orchard of the Lipschitz family for some time.
The backbreaking work during the day and guard duty at night in order to prevent attacks from the Arabs in the neighboring villages did not deter me. I set myself up in the Third District because I felt the duty to participate in the burdens, efforts,
and struggles of the local residents. Mendel Lipschitz, a childhood friend of my father of blessed memory, was a bosom buddy of mine. I worked as a regular employee in his orchard.
One summer's day in the year 5697 (1937), the village of Shmaryahu was set up near our settlement. The news that the road that connected the two settlements was to be paved shortly gave us faith and great encouragement. The community of local workers, who earned their livelihoods primarily from work in the orchards, awaited other sources of livelihood, for there was a serious recession at that time in the plantations. Most of the orchards were young and had not yet produced fruit. A great deal of patience and a pioneering spirit was required in order to establish oneself in this settlement despite the difficult economic conditions. The district in which I lived was a separate municipal entity from the settlement of Herzliya. When the bulldozers came to mark out the path of the road that was to be paved, the workers of the area insisted on their rights to fulltime work. The council of workers of Herzliya ignored this demand and wanted to insist on its own supervision of this work despite the fact that this settlement was outside its jurisdictional area. Discord was created between the workers of the two districts. I was divided in this dispute. On the one hand, I was among the spokesmen for the workers of the district, and on the other hand, I had a certain nostalgia for the settlement of Herzliya my first stop in the Land. I expressed my opinion that a compromise might be found between the two fighting sides, and my opinion gained significant support. However, my agricultural era ended with the beginning of the paving of the road to the village of Shmaryahu. My employers, the aforementioned Lipschitz family, were unable to continue with the expenditures needed to develop their orchard, so they returned to the United States, from where they had come. Within a brief time, the uprooting of trees from the orchard began.
From that time, I made a professional circuit with some frequency. I worked in paving, moving the paving machines, building, quarrying in Even VaSid, marketing, and manufacturing. I always aspired to be independent. Now, after a period of 50 years in the Land, I can sum up and say that I have realized this aspiration. There is one thing that I must point out: I was never satisfied with work for the sake of a livelihood. I was active in the Haganah, in the Israel Defense Forces, and in various other areas of service. I am proud of my work, my modest contribution to the building up of the Land, my family that I have established, and all of my deeds for the sake of my fellowman.
by Simcha Lavie
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Shallow water, marshes and reeds
Gatherings of winged birds
The Pripyat is caressing
With its jubilees of years
My native town
With its greenish water.
On its mildewy ground
Dark and cleft
In the shade of the bog, it groans, equalizes,
Among the briars, thistles, and thorns,
It is almost always mired in mud
This is how I recall you
From the days of my childhood and youth.
White pages as well as turbid.
Splendid white shows
Melting snow, diluted and flowing
The blanket of mud in the streets,
The horizon outside through the length of the settlement
Not far from the long
And across the Roskes meadow
Between Holianka and Yentel
At the end of the summer, in the month of Elul
Between Drolinka and Yentel
Ratno, the town upon its place:
The galloping of the horses,
The old people warm up
Translated by Jerrold Landau
I lost my father when I was still a child, and the Hechalutz chapter in Ratno served as a second home to me. I went to hachshara in Baranovich, in a unit of Kibbutz Shacharia. Later, I was in Kobrin, from where I made aliya to the Land. My first stop was Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh. I remained on that kibbutz for seven or eight months. After I left it, I worked for some time in various agricultural roles in Kfar Saba, and then I moved to Herzliya. I began to work in digging wells. I continued in that work from that time until my retirement several years ago. I dug wells in all areas of the country, from Dan to Beer Sheva, and I am able to tell of the history of the wells throughout the entire country.
Digging wells in those days is not at all similar to the digging of wells in our times. At that time, all the work was done literally by hand, without machines. I would descend to a depth of 50 meters below ground. To this day, scars of various wounds can be found on my body. However, it seems to me that at that time I had a greater feeling of satisfaction than I do now, even though, just like now, I was not lacking anything material. At times, we were attacked by Arabs as we were trudging to the places of the drilling. At times, I would return home from work with serious wounds. None of these, however, dampened my spirit, and I was always content with my lot. It is possible to state that the words of Work is our life, a song that was song in the Land at that time, was for me more than just words, but rather the content of my life.
I was a member of the Haganah from 1938, and I was one of the first to be drafted to the brigade. I went through training in the Land. Then we continued our training in Italy. At the end of our training, I was sent to the front. I was wounded, and spent two weeks in an Italian hospital. I served in the brigade for six full years, and then returned to my wells of water…
I was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces at the beginning of the War of Independence. I served in the artillery brigade for a year and a half, and fought in various places in the Land. I perhaps could have chosen an army career, but I preferred to work in my field. The drilling devices were a part of my essence and reality. The feeling that we were providing fresh water for new, desolate villages increased my love for our Land. Even now, when my hearing has weakened, I hear the sound of gurgling water when I am awake and when I am dreaming. There is no more pleasant thought than that!
I spent almost all of my years in the Land in the settlement of Herzliya. (For me, Herzliya will always remain a settlement even when its legal status changed to a city…) I regard it as a merit that my first daughter was born in Herzliya, and her name is also Herzliya. It is like my wife. I am betrothed to Herzliya, I am betrothed to it forever.
Translated by Jerrold Landau
My lot during the time of my youth in Ratno was not good to me. I started work at a young age. The livelihood was meager. My mother ran our store and I ran the household, which consisted of five children. This was not one of the easy things. I could not attend school like the other children of my age. However, I was fortunate in that the teacher Kotzker gave me private lessons at home this was a great privilege. I will not speak greatly of his praise, for certainly many others have certainly done so. However, may I say that Kotzker had many talents even as a private teacher. To him, teaching was not simply to earn a living. He saw himself as responsible for the knowledge and education of his students, and his dedication knew no bounds.
At night, I was free from the burdens of the household, and I found diversion in the Hechalutz Hatzair [Young Pioneer] chapter. I was one of its founders. Apparently, there was something special about our chapter, and it was no coincidence that any representative from the Land of Israel who came to Ratno wanted to return to visit our chapter. Avraham Grabov of blessed memory, Avrech, and others left their special stamp on this chapter, which continued to have an effect even after they made aliya. I had good fortune, and after five months of hachshara on the Tel Chai Kibbutz in Bialystok in 1932, I received a permit for aliya. I did not have to wait years for the certificate, for I already had made aliya in April 1933.
I recall the day of my departure from Ratno very well. All of my friends, male and female, who came to bid me farewell, and certainly my family members, wept. To this day I do not know if this was a weeping of bitterness, or perhaps tears of joy for the fact that I succeeded in making aliya. There was no opposition to my aliya even though it left a noticeable hole in the house. Even my father, who was a faithful Karliner Hassid, did not express any opposition to my step in that direction.
I arrived at the port of Haifa on May 1, 1933. That day we were sent to Kibbutz Naan, which had only been settled recently and required reinforcement from the Diaspora. There I met the people educated in the Land of Israel youth labor movement, who formed the first kernel of this Kibbutz, and I appreciated the unique traits of this group. I remained in Naan for about two years. I was forced to leave, for the news of the dire straits of my family in Ratno gave me no rest. I had to help them. I worked for some time in the workers' kitchen. Then, I moved to Holon where I worked in the Lodzia factory. I sent two Sterling Pounds per month to my family in Ratno. This was a respectable sum in those days, which in any case brought great relief to my family in the Diaspora. As well, I felt contentment in that I was able to help my family.
I worked in Lodzia for nine years, and then I continued in a smaller weaving factory.
There were about sixty people in all branches of my family and I am the sole survivor.
by Simcha Lavie
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The Organization of Ratno Natives in Israel was registered as an autonomous organization in 1960. However, the activities of the natives of Ratno in Israel actually began many years earlier. It can be said that this activity began already with the aliya of the first three youths from Ratno. Mordechai Gefen, Moshe Stern, and Shmuel Marder formed the first kernel, and the first address for Ratno natives who arrived in the Land of Israel after them. They were the first sources of information on the Land for those who made aliya from Ratno. They greeted the new arrivals from their town and offered assistance and good advice to anyone in need of such. Indeed, no small number were in need. The brotherhood and friendship that typified the Jews of Ratno also typified our people in the Land. Every person from Ratno who made Aliya agrees that they had someone with whom to consult, and that the perpetuity of Jewish Ratno would not let them down…
When the Second World War broke out, and we heard the first news of what was taking place in the areas under Nazi occupation, the natives of Ratno in the Land felt great stress. We did not have the resources and we could not offer assistance, but we waited for any sign of life from there, and any information on survivors. Eliezer Heller, Simcha Lavie, Sara SchwartzGinzburg, Chaya Yanosovich (of Tel Aviv), Sara and Shmuel Goldman (Rishon Letzion), Mordechai Gefen, Moshe Stern and Moshe Gutman (Kfar Sirkin), Moshe Droog (Netanya) and others remained in touch to get information and make plans for action between themselves and also among the other natives of the town who had made aliya or lived in the Diaspora: America, Canada, and Argentina. The activities were fruitful. Aid committees were set up wherever Ratno natives were found to raise money from the natives of our town. The collected money was transferred to the Land by Mordechai Gefen, Shmuel Goldman and Simcha Lavie.
In 19441945, reliable information came to us about the fate of the natives of our city, especially after our fellow townspeople Yaakov Bender, Aryeh Wolk, and Daniel Marin arrived in the Land under the auspices of the brigade of the Independent Polish Army that was set up on Russian soil, and transferred to the Near East by the Allies. Their stories confirmed the extent of the terrible disaster, and the tribulations of the survivors. At the end of the war, contact was made with several survivors, including Shlomo Perlmutter and the Steingarten family. The picture was very clear.
The first survivors began to arrive from the vale of tears at the beginning of 1946. These included partisans and fighters who had to forge their way to the Land after great difficulties, via France, Italy, and other countries. From there, they made Aliya on the Haapala ships. Every person brought their individual story, some of which are included in this book. We sat around nervous, depressed, and sorrowful.
All we could do was weep over our dear ones and attempt to help all of those who came for any help.
It seems to me that it would be no exaggeration to state that we withstood the test by providing all urgent provisions. The Holocaust survivors felt that they had an address, and found appropriate solutions to the problems of absorption as Ratno natives, appropriate to their professions and inclinations. Every one of us attempted to do our best, some a great deal and some little, to find these solutions.
The next phase in the activities of this organization was the memorialization of the martyrs of Ratno who fell. The first memorial ceremony took place with the initiative of the Ministry of Religion. The name of our town is etched on a marble tablet for eternal memory in the Holocaust Cellar on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Then, we joined the memorialization activities of the Jewish National Fund, and planted a grove of 1,000 trees in memory of the martyrs of Ratno. For several years, this grove served as a gathering point for the natives of Ratno in Israel on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Three additional members joined this circle of activity: Shlomo Perlmutter and Yisrael Chayat who were both Holocaust survivors, as well as Zeev Grabov who had made aliya from Argentina. It is especially worthwhile to make note of our role in the establishment of Heichal Volhyn. Mordechai Gefen, Zeev Grabov, and Simcha Lavie represented our organization in the committee of the Heichal. We rented a room in this Heichal together with the Organization of Natives of KaminKashirsk. This symbolized the strong connection that existed in the Diaspora between these two neighboring towns, and the many family connections that existed between the Jews of Ratno and KaminKashirsk. This room served as a place for meetings and memorials for the natives of these two towns, and a place to unite ourselves with the memory of family members who perished.
In Elul 5711 (1951) the organization published the Yetomot booklet pages of memory for the community of Ratno. When a Yiddish language memorial book was published in Argentina, we joined together with the editors and powers behind that book, and worked to the best of our ability to ensure that this book would reach all the natives of Ratno in Israel.
The board of the organization was diligent in organizing annual memorial ceremonies. The 13th of Elul was the day established for these memorials. We found an additional means of memorial in 1980 when we erected a monument in memory of the martyrs of Ratno in the cemetery on the border between Bat Yam and Holon.
We did not neglect or abandon the mitzvah of mutual assistance in the literal meaning of the term. We established a loan fund affiliated with the organization, which offered assistance in the form of loans to natives of Ratno who were suffering from economic distress, for the needs of living expenses, household expenses, and the like. The activities of this fund were conducted with great dedication by Mordechai Gefen, who was the prime mover. His followers were the members Moshe Gutman of blessed memory and, may he live long, Zeev Grabov. For a period of thirty years, this fund responded to all requests by granting loans of reasonable sums without any need for security, without the standard interest rate, and collecting only a minimal payment from its members in order to cover the bank service charges. Requests for loans dwindled during the later period
(a fact that testifies to the fact that the members had become wellgrounded from an economic perspective), and almost all the members reached the conclusion that the time had come to utilize the principle sum of the fund to publish a book of testimony and memory for our town in Hebrew, so that our children and grandchildren, who are not fluent in Yiddish and therefore cannot read the book published in Argentina, will know what Jewish Ratno was. In the words of the poet, they would be able to draw from the wellspring from which our murdered brethren drew. The initiative to publish this book was accepted with appreciation and esteem, and the committee worked to the best of its ability to include anybody who had something to contribute to the book. We regard this as the crowning achievement of our activities, and hope that we have acted to the best of our ability to perpetuate and survey the heritage and past of the Jewish community of Ratno.
The current members of the committee of the organization include: Moshe Droog (chairman), Mordechai Gefen (treasurer), Chaya Grabov, Shmuel Goldman, Zeev Grabov, Simcha Lavie, and Shlomo Perlmutter.
Translated by Jerrold Landau
To my parents Mordechai and Zelda Gefen
(Written on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my father's aliya.)
Fifty years have already passed since you made aliya to the Land, and whenever I see you the Ratners gathering together, I never fail to ask myself: What binds you together so much for so many years?
You were only 20 years old when you left behind your remote shtetl, Ratno and you have already spent 50 years of your life here in Israel. What is the power that brings you so close to each other after so many years more than the number of years that you lived there together? Is this a nostalgia for the lovely years of your youth? Why is such great and sincere joy awakened when a native of Ratno arrives for a visit as a tourist from America after
decades, or when a new immigrant arrives from behind the Iron Curtain after a period where nobody had heard of him or knew of his existence? I too lived in Kfar Sirkin until my adulthood. I had friends and acquaintances there during the years of my childhood and youth, but from the time that I left home, with each of us establishing our families wherever we did, we only see each other at infrequent times and in an incidental fashion, or at organized gatherings once a decade and even these are not through our initiative.
I wonder to myself: why with respect to my father and mother, as well as with another small group of 5060 Ratners, is it different? Why do they get together and meet at every opportunity, whether they live in Jerusalem, Afula, Haifa, or even Metulla? On every holiday or joyous occasion, or, to differentiate, at every time of sorrow or disaster, they get together with such great heartiness. Every one catches up with what has taken place with each other throughout the year, about their children and grandchildren, about concerns regarding livelihood, illnesses, and other problems. This is not just about passive news, but also support in the time of need whether it is financial or moral support, whether it is physical assistance or encouragement in a time of difficulty. When I repeatedly ask myself, I get the impression that there are two answers:
The first one Apparently, this was a different quality of life. There were values that we the second and third generation today refer to as Diaspora ideas, such as mutual assistance, an open house, a closeness based on language and culture, of common experience of education in the cheders, schools, and youth movement; and memories of common events, a different landscape, and a different climate. In order to guard all of these things, one must return and meet again and again, to spend time together with friends, to reminisce, to tell stories and jokes so that they will be repeated and relived, and so that they will not be forgotten.
The second reason that brings you together, in my opinion, is the loss. In accordance with the stories from the mouths of Father and Mother with which I was raised, and prior to that from the mouth of Grandmother Yente of blessed memory, I know clearly that from a physical perspective there is not much to be nostalgic about. They did not leave behind great splendor or glory.
The poverty was very often quite severe, but this too was lost in the Holocaust. The pain over the loss of these things, even though they might have been meager, cannot be cured. In essence, the fact that the shtetl was wiped off the face of the earth, along with the relatives and dear ones who went to their deaths all this unites and brings together the Ratners in Israel, as if to protect the final ember so that it will not extinguish.
In the midst of all the upheaval that we are living through in the present, this closeness of you the Ratners is like a brand saved from the fire, which will continue on and shine light as long as you stand on your feet and continue to breathe and live. Therefore I wish to thank you, my father and mother, as well as all the Ratners.
By Shmuel Goldman
Translated by Jerrold Landau
November 3, 1945
A meeting of the Ratno natives in Kfar Sirkin. The following people participated:
Yente Weinstock, Mottle Weinstock, Moshe Stern, Moshe Gutman, Zelda Feintuch, Sara Papir, Shmuel Goldman, Charna Greenstein, Moshe Droog, Simcha Leker, Eliezer Held, Sara Ginzburg.
A collection of names of survivors.
Means of assistance.
Sara Eliezer informs us that a sum of 5,000 dollars for assistance has been collected. Two opinions were expressed at the meeting: a) to build the headstones in the shtetl; b) to do something here.
Moshe Droog The dead will not come back to life. However, the goal of the survivors is to make it to the Land. Therefore, we must collect money there as well as here for the purpose of helping those who will come, as well as to assist those who may be delayed on their journey.
Moshe Gutman We must propose to our friends in America the establishment of a foundation or an enterprise dedicated to the martyrs of Ratno. We must establish contact with all those who are thinking of coming here.
Moshe Droog Opposes sending someone there.
Mottle We should obtain land for housing of those who will be arriving
Moshe Feels that the assistance must be concrete first level aid to help the arrivals set themselves up.
Eliezer The sole source of financing is America. Differences of opinion exist there. We must get in contact with America and clarify the financial means available. We must also hear their opinion. We must get in touch with our people in Argentina and other countries.
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