Natives of Hrubieszow
Culture Fund to natives of Hrubieszow, Tzvi and Meir Shiler
and seek a way to reach the Land of Israel
to reach the longed-for shores of the Land of Israel
by Adina Kahana, Tel Aviv
Translated by Yael Chaver
(may his memory be for a blessing)
Any memorial book for the Jews of Hrubieszow published in Israel should include a section on my dear brother, Shlomo Gartl, who lived and worked in Israel for over forty years. Many have written about Shlomo Gartl and his national-constructive work in the country. However, not much has been written about his youthful years in Hrubieszow and elsewhere. I would like to fill in these gaps.
Let me first mention my dear parents, my father Menashe and my mother Khanaleh (may their memories be for a blessing). They were natives of Hrubieszow, but spent most of their lives in the village of Horodok, about 4 kilometers from Hrubieszow.
It was quite common in Poland and Russia for two or three Jews to live in a non-Jewish village, where they made a living by buying crops. However, the village of Horodok had a permanent Jewish population of fifteen families, who worked at various jobs in the grain mills of the village. These mills, which belonged to the landowner, were leased by Yosele Praktor, whom everyone respected thanks to his wide-ranging knowledge and honesty. He tried to employ as many Jews as possible at the mill. As a result, the local Jews built homes nearby and established a large bet-midrash.
The local Jews would employ educated Jews from town as religious teachers for their children. All the heder teachers thought that my brother Shlomo would be a rabbinical scholar. My parents were overjoyed, whereas the local Jews jeered at him, calling him Menashe's genius.
My brother really was talented; he devoted himself to his studies and became known as a gifted scholar. Some of the flour merchants of Hrubieszow ground their grain at the Horodok mills. Among them were people who were both scholarly and well-versed in the ways of the world, such as Yisrael David Yanover (father of B. Yanover, living in Israel) and Yisrael Cohen (father of Ya'acov Cohen, living in Israel). These flour merchants would occasionally come to Horodok, and some would spend the night at our house. My generous mother would put out a spread for these important guests; we always had flour, milk, eggs, etc. Our guests would start a conversation on Judaism and go on to matters of religious scholarship. My brother would listen to these scholars, and sometimes joined the conversation. The guests would watch the shy boy, test his knowledge of Bible and Talmud, and sigh over the gifted village child who would never attain high achievements.
Jewish children in the village usually began working at the mills, to help their parents earn a living. However, my dear brother did not follow this route, not because he disliked manual labor. On the contrary, in his leisure time he would find a tool that had become unusable and repair it so that it became useful again. However, he always considered such work secondary to his main ambition: continuing his studies and becoming more proficient. With this in mind, he moved to Hrubieszow after his Bar-Mitzvah and began studying at the religious school run by the Belz Hasids, coming home to the village only for Saturdays and holidays.
My brother was his parents' only son, and was very beloved. My parents were concerned for him during the weekdays, when he lived with relatives in Hrubieszow, and were overjoyed on Fridays, when he came home safe and sound.
My brother well knew that living apart from the family worried his nearest and dearest, yet he decided to leave his home and go away in order to satisfy his yearning for knowledge. At first he traveled to Lutsk, in Volhynia, where he studied and also taught in order to sustain himself. He later went to Warsaw, where he studied advanced courses for several years.
In the meantime, he received notice of conscription into the Russian army. He returned to Horodok, and went before a committee that released him from service as an only son, according to regulations. Once he was released, he went to Odessa.
At that time, America was open to immigrants; large numbers of young Jews throughout Russia, pondering their future, went there due to its reputation as a country rich with gold. But my dear brother chose the undeveloped Palestine of the time, which was under Ottoman rule; he emigrated there in 1913.
His letters to his parents were enthusiastic, describing his work as extremely exhausting. And yet it is the Land of Israel, he wrote his parents, and promised to bring them there. Unfortunately, World War I broke out in 1914. Russia and Turkey declared war on each other, and my dear parents were not able to see their son again. I was the only family member to reach the Land of Israel and to spend time with him until his death.
I'd like to say a few words about his activities in the Land of Israel. He arrived there on September 3, 1913, worked as a laborer in Kinneret, knew A. D. Gordon, and the other pioneering settlers. He left Kinneret to study in the Teachers' College in Jerusalem.
When World War I broke out, he took Turkish nationality to prevent being deported as an enemy alien. When he was drafted into the Turkish army, he paid the tax required of non-Muslims for exemption from military service. As the war intensified, he was called up again. In 1917, he was expelled from Jerusalem, to Galilee. In Tiberias, he met the late Meir Dizengoff, who headed the committee assisting evacuees from the south of the country. Dizengoff appointed my brother as treasurer and accountant for the Evacuees' Committee, and director of the relief effort.
The evacuees returned to Tel Aviv in the fall of 1917, and Mr. Dizengoff appointed my brother as the accountant for the Tel Aviv Committee. Over time, my brother took on a higher position; he served as the Tel Aviv City Treasurer for almost 30 years.
He was also a community activist, serving as a magistrate of the internal Jewish judicial system during the British Mandate period and a member of its directorate; a member of the internal auditing committee of the Savings and Loan Bank; president of the Accounting Institute; honorary treasurer of the League Against Tuberculosis; member of the auditing committee of the Kofer Ha-Yishuv; board member of the Ge'ula association; magistrate in the appeals committee and the land ownership committee; member of the Jewish National Fund Auditors' committee; member of the directorate of the Cooperative Credit Union; member of the board of the Israel Postal Bank; etc.
Nine years ago, he was invited to serve as chief manager of the Tel Aviv Savings and Loan Bank. As with his service with the Tel Aviv Municipality, he was greatly loved and appreciated as the talented, devoted person that he was.
In spite of the scope his work, he was always ready to advise and help friends and acquaintances.
He passed away on August 11, 1956.
May his memory be blessed!
Standing: Pinchas Halbershteyn, Ruzhka, Ze'ev, Khava, Yosef, Shoshana, and Rivka Cohen
Sitting: Fradl Halbershteyn, Mordechai, Rivka Cohen, Malya Halbershteyn, Ya'akov Cohen
Top row: Mira Halbershteyn, Ronia, and Sara
by Dr. Matityahu Shtich, Tel Aviv
Translated by Yael Chaver
Though I was born in Hrubieszow, I barely knew it. Although I lived there until age eleven, I have few memories; our house was situated at the edge of town, on a hill above the Huczwa river. The only families who lived on the banks of the Huczwa were poor Jews who made a precarious living.
Many of them had set up small workshops inside cramped wooden shacks. They were tinsmiths, carpenters, and cart-drivers. The flight of wooden stairs bordering our fence separated our property from the Russian elementary school, which was also fenced. The students there were the Christian boys of the town.
The Christian teachers treated my family politely, and sometimes even came to visit us. I did not attend that school, although it was so close by. It wasn't proper for a Jewish family to send a child to a school that required writing on Shabbat. My father, may he rest in peace, disapproved.
In the afternoons, I learned secular subjects from Reiner, whose private school was some distance from our house. I spent the mornings studying in the cheder of Efrayim-Leib, the melamed. I studied Hebrew with Avraham Ber, the younger brother of Shalom Viener. The latter would often visit our home, and taught my older brothers. However, he moved to the nearby city of Zamość, where he established a modern cheder and taught according to the Hebrew-in-Hebrew method. In the evenings, I would study Torah and Mishna in the small synagogue where my father prayed. I was the youngest in the congregation, yet I enjoyed the mental challenges posed by the Talmud and loved studying. As I was busy studying, I did not make many friends my own age.
The Influence of Avraham Ber Viener
Avraham Ber, the Hebrew teacher, supplied me with Hebrew youth magazines such as Olam Katan, Iton Chodshi, and HeChaver. He established a club of boys who studied Hebrew with him. They spoke Hebrew exclusively at their meetings; anyone who used a different language had to pay a fine (a donation to the Jewish National Fund).
Avraham Ber was an unusual character. He was honest, and spent so much time reading that he forgot he had a family to support; they lived in poverty. He loved the works of Tolstoy, Dostoevski, and Turgenev, but was especially interested in the writers and poets of the Chibbat-Tziyon period. His knowledge was prodigious, and being in his company was a pleasure. It was he who directed me towards the Land of Israel, and made me love the promised land.
He told me that the Gymnasia Herzliya had been founded, and that Hebrew was the language used in conversation and teaching, and pointed me toward articles in HeChaver about that marvelous land where Jews lived freely, without the constraints of non-Jewish authorities, students were not harassed because they were Jews, and were not banned from studying because of their Jewish identity. Writing on Shabbat was not required; Shabbat was the students' day of rest, and Sunday was a regular day.
My parents wanted me to attend a government school. Their decision was mainly influenced by my mother: they sent me to study in a gymnaziya in Brest-Litovsk, so that my father wouldn't actually witness me going to school and writing on Shabbat. Luckily, we had family friends in that city, who agreed to provide me with room and board in return for payment. I was eleven years old. I was overjoyed at my parents's decision to permit me to extend my knowledge and aim towards a university education.
However, life at the gymnaziya proved very difficult. Only 3% of the students were Jewish; I was the only Jew in my class of four. Though I was polite and well behaved towards everyone, I suffered greatly. They blamed me for every problem in the class: rude paintings on the walls or the seats, a broken chair I was blamed for it all. In short, I was the scapegoat, and I hated my tormentors. My efforts and attempts to treat everyone well were useless. I was disgusted with it all.
I Go Away to Study at Gymnasia Herzliya
Then a miracle happened. One summer day, while I was on vacation at my parents' home, despairing after a miserable year, I met with my teacher Avraham Ber (may his memory be for a blessing). I pestered him with questions about Gymnasia Herzliya. I had also heard about two Jewish teachers from the Land of Israel who had come to Odessa and Warsaw to find Russian Jewish children who wanted to emigrate to the Land of Israel. I decided that, come what may, I would find my way to one of these cities. The plan was difficult to execute. My father (may his memory be for a blessing) wouldn't hear of it, and wasn't even willing to listen. But my mother agreed, and promised that she would take me to Warsaw when summer vacation was over, to meet with Mr. Dushman and get some information.
Summer vacation ended a few days before the Succot holiday. My mother took me to Warsaw; she also wanted to see my sister Tova (may her memory be for a blessing) who was living in Wyszków, not far from Warsaw. Besides, I was continuing on to Brest-Litovsk for the next school year.
When we arrived in Warsaw, my mother decided to take a rest. I, on the other hand, was restless. That same day in the hotel, I met a friend of ours, Shachni Zatz (may his memory be for a blessing), a fervent Zionist. I asked him to take me to Dushman, who was staying with Y.L.G. Three other children were waiting for him (with their parents) to take them to the Land of Israel. Our conversation was not long. He asked me whether I had twelve rubles for the journey to Odessa. I opened my bag and gave him the money that my father had hidden inside the lining of my coat (as protection against thieves who swarmed in the trains).
At 2 p.m., we all left Warsaw by train en route to Odessa. I saw my mother standing far away. There are no words to express my feelings at that moment.
After the long trip to Odessa, we met with the teacher Barkuz, who gathered boys from that part of Russia. Our hotel in Odessa was full of Zionists, who had come to see us and say their farewells. It was shortly before Succoth. Eight boys, with the teachers Barkuz and Dushman left Odessa on board ship for the Land of Israel. But my fate was different. I had to stay behind, as I did not have a travel document valid for travel abroad.
I stayed in the care of Osinshky (may his memory be for a blessing). He found poor lodgings for me in Odessa, with a family named Zelditz, who lived on the ground floor in one of the narrow, dingy streets. He promised to arrange a forged travel document that would enable me to continue my trip to the Land of Israel.
I Reach the Land of Israel (1912)
Three weeks later, he provided me with the document. I left Odessa in a Russian boat that carried merchandise and pilgrims to the holy sites. Four weeks later I finally arrived, lonely and miserable, on the shore of Jaffa.
The general impression was dismal: Arabs wearing rags, selling gazoz and other drinks, announced their wares loudly. The filthiness was beyond description: mire and mud. And here I was, part of this.
A few hours later I entered the Spector hotel, the only Jewish hotel in Jaffa. I was given a mattress, along with two of the pilgrims.
I went to Gymnasia Herzliya the next day. After I asked to inform Dushman, the teacher who had met me in Warsaw, I was taken into a lodging affiliated with the Gymnasia; I began preparing for a special course of study that would enable me to enter the appropriate class level.
I started my studies. I also made the acquaintance of Mordechai Lederer, from Chelmno, who had relatives in Hrubieszow. He was the Gymnasia supervisor of children who had come from abroad.
Six months later, I was admitted to the Gymnasia as a regular student. All this time, I had not been in touch with my family; they were hoping to convince me to return home. Nor did I meet any acquaintances. I overcame my feelings, took heart, and continued studying even more seriously.
During recess one day, the gatekeeper told me that an old man was waiting to speak with me. I went over; it was Aharon Yossel, a tailor from Hrubieszow. He would come to our home to do tailoring. I knew him well. I was overjoyed to see the old man, who was quite advanced in age. We were both delighted. He told me that he had come to live out his last days in Jerusalem, and was living on a Chaluka allowance. Our conversation was cut short by the school bell. We intended to meet again, but I never saw him afterwards.
Two years later, when World War I broke out, I had to leave Jaffa under the orders of an Ottoman officer, and go to Jerusalem for army service, in spite of my youth.
When I was in a military camp, Mr. Shlomo Gartl (may his memory be for a blessing) came to visit me. He had come to the country a year before the war began; though he was older, we established a friendship that continued for years. He was honest and easy to get along with, and helped people, especially those from his hometown. I could say much about his personality and character as well as about his numerous actions in support of the Land of Israel.
We endured many hardships and events during the war. It was thanks to the merits of my ancestors that I survived; many of my friends were killed or died during the war.
In 1918, after the British conquest, I returned to Tel Aviv. At the recommendation of Meir Dizengoff, head of the Tel Aviv committee (the town then numbered 3,000 residents), I was hired by the Tel Aviv municipality, along with two other clerks. The three of us handled all the administrative work for the town. At the same time, I also had to prepare for matriculation. I was only eighteen, exhausted and dispirited from my war experiences. Yet I had to make a living, succeed at work, and complete my studies. My strength and energy helped me overcome all the obstacles.
Thanks to another stroke of luck, I was able to leave my uninteresting work at the Tel Aviv municipality. I moved to Mikveh Yisra'el, the agricultural school near Jaffa, to serve as a Hebrew teacher, educator, and medic (a field I had learned during the war years). The school had been founded by the Alliance Israelite, was headed by Carl Netter, and run in French. The new headmaster, Eliyahu Krause, who had studied in Paris and knew French well, implemented changes in programs. Although he had studied in Paris, he was originally from Russia, and was a fervent Zionist. He encountered difficulties in introducing these changes.
He was opposed to Arab labor; the school employed 500 Arabs as laborers. He gradually fired them and hired Jewish workers. He changed the curriculum and set Hebrew rather than French as the teaching language. He himself also started to learn Hebrew; I was his first Hebrew teacher. However, that was not the main thing. I had to work hard and devote myself to fighting my ideological opponents, who favored assimilation. These newcomers knew nothing about our language and our nation, and were interested only in French and Arabic.
Slowly and quietly, I influenced the residents. My work was supported by Headmaster Krause, who stood by me and was very fond of me. I was also his personal secretary, accompanying him to meetings and at first translating as well.
I was granted leave in 1920. As it was now possible to leave the country, I decided to search for my parents. After all my tribulations, I began longing for them.
I Visit My Family in Hrubieszow in 1920
After a journey full of obstacles and adventures travel was still problematic I finally reached Hrubieszow. I found my parents and the rest of my family. They recognized me as their son only after I told them who I was; I had become an adult.
News of my arrival soon spread. The important Zionist activists Tenenboym, Shmuel Brand, Shalom Viener (may their memory be for a blessing), Buni Yanover (long may he live), and others came to visit. I did not find my teacher Avraham Ber; he had died during the war.
I found them to be excited about the Land of Israel. My visit became a festive occasion. Rabbi Vertheim (may his memory be for a blessing) invited me to speak in the Great Synagogue about events in the Holy Land. Naturally, I did not refuse. I spoke in Hebrew. The hall was full. Crowding together, they listened to my every word. There was complete silence. I was inspired to speak about what was being created in the Land of Israel, its development and thriving, and the way in which people live and work in the land of our hopes, speaking our own language and hoping for redemption of the country.
I later had conversations with many townspeople who visited me at home. I was impressed by the changes that had occurred in the town. Many asked me about the best way to reach the Land of Israel and settle there. I described the process, and said that they could succeed if they had the will. Anyone who wanted to work could find a job. Manual work in construction and agriculture were a source of pride. No job is beneath us, and everyone lives by the fruit of their labors. Work is our life and will save us from all difficulties. People, adults and young people alike, gathered daily at my parents' home. We sang Zionist songs with great fervor.
I left my parents' home and the town after a few days. And in fact, many Hrubieszow natives began following me to the Land of Israel. Among them Buni Yanover, David Brand, Ya'akov Cohen, Yekhiel Feyer (may his memory be for a blessing) and many more…
Once back in the Land of Israel, I spent another year at Mikveh-Yisra'el, working with Ya'akov Uri, Kanev, Gordon (may his memory be for a blessing), Chana Mayzl, Shochat (may his memory be for a blessing), Eliezer Yafeh and his women workers. I finally decided to leave the country and start studying medicine in Vienna.
It was far from easy to become a university student in Vienna; I had to make a living there as well. I spent time teaching Hebrew to adults and children, and had many students.
In 1933, I was a doctor in a city hospital in Vienna; but sensing that Nazism was taking root in Vienna, I decided to leave everything and return to the Land of Israel. I wasn't always successful there, but I felt that there was no future for the people of Israel in any other country. I devoted myself to my medical work and did my best to influence the friends I had made abroad to leave Europe and make the effort to come to the Land of Israel.
We will never forget those family relatives, near and distant, who paid with their lives and were taken from us so cruelly.
Our deeds and actions for the people of Israel and the Land of Israel will serve as their monument forever.
|500 families from Hrubieszow made their homes in Israel and found their places in all fields of society and work.|
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