by Dr. Matityahu Shtikh
Translated by Yael Chaver
I knew Yekhiel Fayer as early as 1920, during my first visit to Hrubieszow after World War I, when I returned from the Land of Israel. He was a youth then, and came to see me in my parents' home (where I was staying) in order to hear first-hand reports about the country.
He was one of the early halutzim who immigrated in 1935, in order to realize his dreams with all the fervor of a young man. He started to work as a manual laborer, devoted to his work and to his friends, honest, with modest expectations, and obedient to the demands on him, with no complaints. He was hard-working and untiring.
His path was not easy. He was not very successful, and his superiors exploited it; but he suffered in silence, for the sake of the Zionist ideal.
He often had to limit his expenses, but never complained and always had enough to share with others. He loved helping those in need; his own requirements were modest.
A few years after working as an unskilled laborer, he learned how to make molds for concrete casting, and worked with precision, never cheating. He could not tolerate falsehood, and used humor and kindness to influence his friends. Never angry, he always tried to rectify injustice by peaceful means.
He was a devoted party member who served Mapai whole-heartedly and refused benefits even when he deserved them. Never seeking power, he served the community as a faithful soldier, always ready for battle.
Translated by Yael Chaver
Meir Holtzer was born in 1899 to Avigdor-Tankhum (may his memory be for a blessing), one of Hrubieszow's first Zionists, and his wife Esther-Bluma (may her memory be for a blessing). As a youth, he was an excellent student and received a progressive education. When he finished his Gymnaziya studies, he joined the Zionist youths in his town and dreamed of emigrating to the Land of Israel
As a member of He-Halutz, he joined a training farm. At first he was in the Skritchin group, where he received physical and vocational training; then he transferred to the Trumpeldor group, where he had already been working, and became an outstanding farm worker.
On October 7, 1924, he received an immigration certificate, and soon joined Kibbut Giv'at Ha-Shlosha. Thanks to his education and administrative knowledge, he was appointed secretary of the kibbutz.
In 1928, when he married Ge'ula Hayutman (the descendant of a family of long-time Zionists), he moved to Tel Aviv. At the outbreak of World War II, he volunteered for the British army and was one of the first Zionists to do so. He rose in the ranks to become recruiting sergeant. After demobilization, he became senior accountant at the Histadurut Sick Fund. He worked diligently at this job for many years and devoted his energies and thought to it. His fidelity to this institution, as well as to Zionism and to high moral standards were appreciated, and are remembered by his friends and acquaintances.
His untimely death occurred on February 27, 1961.
May his memory be blessed!
by his wife
Translated by Yael Chaver
Ya'akov Bukhtreger was born in Hrubieszow in 1908, to Frida and Tzvi Bukhtreger. He was a member of the Beitar movement, and emigrated to the Land of Israel in 1933.
I met him in Petach-Tikva, where we were happy to get a day or two of work in the local orange orchards. We would live on the meager wages for the rest of the week. The streets of Petach-Tikva were full of young people, singing at the tops of their voices. Ya'akov was conspicuous by his silence, intelligence, devotion, and fine manners. He was a symbol of order and discipline, and was always ready for any task.
As a member of Haganah, he guarded the orange orchards, ready for any attack by marauding Arabs. After he was wounded, he moved to Jerusalem, penniless. It was hard to make a living there. He studied plumbing but did not enjoy it, and abandoned that to become a member of the auxiliary Jewish police force. The pay was low, but he was satisfied by this contribution to protecting the community.
Our son and daughter were born in Jerusalem. We lived modestly, but happily. Ya'akov was a model husband and devoted father, a good friend and companion. Our home was always full of life and visitors, open to all comers.
After the State of Israel was established he was elevated to the rank of police sergeant, and we were transferred to Kiryat-Haim. One month before the Police Academy in Shefar-‘Am was opened, he was already there. When the academy opened, he was appointed house sergeant, an office that he carried out faithfully to his last day. He was always ready, day and night, weekends and holidays, day and night. We never had time off.
The children completed their schooling in Kiryat-Haim, and our son started vocational school. When our daughter started high school, we transferred her to Kibbutz Ein-Harod, at less expense. But she was homesick, and her father missed her. She returned home, and continued her studies at a secretarial school in Haifa.
We followed our chosen way, in spite of all the difficulties, looking forward to the future, when our son would complete his schooling and be able to help us. The big day finally came: our son graduated. He had such promise, and we had such great expectations.
Tzvika left to fulfill his national duty in the army at the age of eighteen and a half, on August 5, 1958. Exactly one month later, on September 5, 1958, we were summoned to Assaf Ha-Rofe hospital, and found a living skeleton, covered in bruises and marks, unconscious.
We never saw him during basic training or in uniform. On a trek during training, he suffered the heatstroke that caused his death. Our world darkened forever.
Ya'akov, who had never been sick, couldn't overcome this blow, and suffered a heart attack. The doctors told us that we should move, but there was no one to help us. Less than a year after our son's death, his father also died of a stroke.
Our daughter and I were left penniless, with our only property two graves in Israel.
The Police training center holds yearly competitions to commemorate Ya'akov, and I thank them very sincerely.
(may his memory be for a blessing)
|Three halutzim from Hrubieszow in kibbutz Yagur, 1930
Nathan Hadas, Meir Plut, and Noach Gertel (on horseback)
by Shimshon Cohen
(may his memory be for a blessing)
Translated by Yael Chaver
Except for his home and family, Menashe's short life was dedicated to his service in Haganah; that is where he made his friends. Memories of that time delineate his youthful personality.
We first met him when he had graduated from the Max Fein Vocational School in Tel Aviv, and was a member of the youth communications corps of Haganah. We boys got a better impression of his personality when we trained as squad leaders of the Haganah Youth Corps, in Shfeiya. We saw a dark-haired boy, handsome and erect, with a piercing gaze. He was brave and aggressive, constantly active, ready for any task, whether training or playing pranks, and in the vanguard of the action.
When the squad leader course was over, we became leaders in the Haganah Youth Corps; we did this every evening, after work, for several years. Not everyone could take on this task consistently. Menashe was remarkable in his dedication to training young people, and never missed a meeting for the sake of a moment's fun. His seriousness and dedication to this work, which required leadership qualities as well as articulateness, did not lessen his devotion to his work as an auto mechanic. He hoped to reach a professional level that would enable him to study at the Technion, as he sometimes discussed with his friends. However, although he was sociable and mischief-loving, he never neglected his garage work, his family duties, and his work with the Youth Corps.
His Haganah activity impelled him to join the active forces; at age 18 he served in a Palmach unit stationed in the Jerusalem hills. He always stood out during the exhausting training, kibbutz work, and work as a porter in the potash plant alongside his Palmach comrades, and his qualities made him one of the best army scouts. We especially remember his great physical fitness and unflagging energy, even after exertion, as well as his devotion to mission and comrades. He was suited to life in the Palmach.
His special qualities led his superiors to appoint him as bodyguard to one of the major figures in the community, whose life was then in danger. In this capacity, he was arrested by the British police, and gave up the chance to escapethat would have meant leaving his post. Accused of carrying a firearm, he was imprisoned for a time in the Jerusalem prison. Rumors from the Kishleh told of his refusal to follow the orders of the colonial prison, and unbending pride.
He returned to Palmach life easily after his release from prison. However, shortly afterwards family circumstances forced him to leave active duty. Such changes were often difficult for Palmach members; many were torn between duty to family and the more exciting Palmach duty. It was characteristic of Menashe that the separation took place smoothly, though he was very sad to leave his comrades.
We rarely met later, yet whenever we met he was interested and involved in matters of security and covert activities, though he was never too attached to the matters that he had had to give up.
At the first shots that followed the UN's resolution to establish the State of Israel, he showed up in the Palmach ranks, as a member of the reserves. He was proud and happy to return to the place he had left against his will. He joined the security force that accompanied the convoys to Jerusalem.
We saw him for the last time at the guards' headquarters in Tel Aviv, where he was organizing convoy movements. Shortly afterwards, we heard the news. His success at this task had drawn the attention of his superiors, and he had been sent to secure the JNF building at the Beit Dagan junction. Thanks to his expertise and confidence, he had become a combat engineer. Like many other combat engineers, he was killed when dealing with a stray mine.
We honor his memory!
by a Friend
Translated by Yael Chaver
I knew you from the day you were born, and saw you grow up. As a child, you showed the beginnings of bravery. A smile gleamed in your large black eyes, the happy smile of our native Sabras, illuminating all around and inspiring with vitality.
I remember: you were eight years old when we sat in your home and talked about building our own house. We feared we would not have enough money. You chuckled, and suddenly handed over the fourteen grush you had gotten for Chanuka, so that we could finish the house.
I remember your arrest in Jerusalem, when you were the bodyguard of Moshe Shertok (Sharett). You performed your mission proudly, and were not worried about your arrest but rather about your parents' reaction once they found out that you had been arrested.
I saw you in various posts, and your mental maturity and resolve were always remarkable.
Everything was abruptly cut short in the battle of Beit Dagan.
And you, Adina and Yisra'el, the bereaved parents, how can I console you? Be happy that you raised and nurtured this dear boy, an example of Jewish bravery in the revived State of Israel.
His memory will live forever in the hearts of his friends and admirers.
by Moshe Tsigl, Ramat Yitzchak, Israel
Translated by Yael Chaver
(may his memory be for a blessing)
Shmulik was born in 1924, during a spiritual and economic crisis in Poland. Some of the young people of Hrubieszow, led by Meytshe, were starting to lose faith in the tenets of the Bund and the Communists, which stated that diaspora or other nations could solve the Jewish problem. We (including me) began our sacred mission for the Land of Israel.
Little Shmulik absorbed the atmosphere of Zionism that suffused the home. Let me note that at that time ideological differences sometimes split up families. I was therefore concerned about my two younger brothers. Yehoshua was already a member of a Zionist youth movement, and Avraham was still young. But when the youngest children joined the Zionist youth movement, our family became fully Zionist.
Shmulik grew up in a Zionist atmosphere. When he was seven, his older brother (who was younger than me) was the first to emigrate to the Land of Israel in 1931, after a training period in Poland. In 1933, he accompanied me and my wife Shoshana to the Land of Israel. In 1935 Shmulik and our parents emigrated to the Land of Israel; he was about 12 years old. The adjustment was not easy. My father was middle-aged, and could not find work. The transition from being a merchant to a laborer was painful.
I made sure that Shmulik attended the Yavneh school in Tel Aviv, which was led by Mr. Golani (may his memory be for a blessing). We could barely pay tuition, and Shmulik understood that. The war in Abyssinia broke out, and we suffered from unemployment. Shmulik's home-room teacher, Zvi Yardeni, considered him a model student of good character, and encouraged him.
He graduated with distinction in 1940, and continued as a leader in the No'ar-Oved movement. He headed a group at the No'ar Oved convention during Sukkot of 1941.He began working at the Anglo-Palestine Bank as a courier, while also studying at the school for commerce and business and preparing for matriculation examinations. He also continued his Haganah activity. In order to practice the use of firearms, he volunteered for the British Jewish guard force on behalf of the Jewish National Council. In 1942-1946, he was a guard in Giv'at Rambam and in northern Tel Aviv. In 1947 Haganah appointed him commander of their squad-training course, under the guise of a member of the British Jewish guard force.
His parents were very helpful with his Haganah work. His mother constantly received notes, which she hid under her apron. Often, when Shmulik came home, she would offer him a note instead of food. His father often helped with the secret arms cache late at night, when danger loomed. He participated in Wingate night, Abu-Lavan, and the takeover of the Arab town of Yibneh. Later he became a company commander in Hish, deputy commander of the Southern Brigade, adjutant of the Southern Brigade's commander, and later commander of a battalion in the Giv'ati Brigade.
On October 19, 1948, during Operation Yoav and an attack on Egyptian outposts in the village of Kartiya, he broke through two Egyptian barbed-wire fences. He ordered a retreat, in the face of superior Egyptian fire power, and was wounded. One of his soldiers was also wounded during the retreat; Shmulik ordered that he be left behind.
He was buried on October 21, 1950, in the military cemetery in Nachalat-Yitzchak. He had been married for only six months. He left behind brilliant studies of military tactics, evidence of his military gifts this hard-working young man who was devoted to the Land of Israel.
May his memory be blessed!
by Shulamit Tsigl
Translated by Yael Chaver
When my little brother was born, we decided to call him Shmuel, to commemorate an older Shmuel my uncle, Big Shmuel. He was young and handsome, and I loved him. Even when I was a child, he was a legendary figure.
I used to hear my parents secretly talking: Shmulik wants to go on a training course this summer. How will this work? He doesn't want to pass up another course because of his family. But how can he leave his parents on their own? How will they make a living, etc.? For me, as for all the children in those years, the words training course evoke the linked terms Palmach, Hish, shots, training, arrests, mystery, and secrecy.
I didn't see Shmulik often. But summer vacation finally arrived, and I was anxious to find out whether my luck would change. Yes, sometimes it did. I would travel to Grandma's home in Tel Aviv, and find Shmulik still there. He would leave Tel Aviv a few days later.
Shmulik is here and there. Never at home. A motorcycle clatters on the street. It's not him, only a friend who's come to deliver a note. Grandma keeps the note in her apron pocket, saying nothing. Another motorcycle rumbles. This time it is him. The note is delivered.
Baby, how are you spending your time here? Bored? There are detective stories in the cabinet, behind the books. You have my permission to read them. Once, he took me for a ride on his motorcycle, around Dizengoff Square and back home.
Bye, kid. I'm in a hurry And he was gone.
That was a long time ago. As time passed, I saw him less but heard more about him. Shmulik is an officer, Shmulik is in the army. Shmulik loves the army and wants to go on to military studies.
Sometimes he drops in at our house, in the evening. We gather around him, ready to listen and hear about the future, and what really happened. What's your opinion? You know what's going on out there. What should we do? Shmulik knows it all and can do anything.
One night, there's a knock at our door. It's almost dawn. We wake up, hearts thumping. Who is it? my father goes to the door. There are whispers. The door opens, and Shmulik stands there. Silently, Dad moves me out of my bed, and Shmulik lies down, fully dressed. I later learned that there had been an operation in Kfar Salameh that night.
Israel's War of Independence. What is our Shmulik's job in this war? To this day, I don't know about all his battles, and all the units he belonged to. I know that he was in the Giv'ati Brigade, and fell in battle at Kartiya. I know that his courage and audacity were revealed in the manner of his death. He had returned to rescue a wounded comrade, and was mortally wounded on the way back. I know that our Shmuel was missing in action; we were terrified for days. Shmuel is gone. Missing in action. Do you know what that means?
I think it was two years before word came again. This time, it was a request to identify remains. A belt buckle.
One day, when I myself was already in the army, we were on a field trip and went to see one of Israel's many monuments to fallen soldiers. I stood at the monument at Huleikat, and saw the name Shmuel Tsigl there. For a moment, I didn't understand what I was seeing. What is it doing here? The officer who was our guide quickly returned me to reality. Here, he pointed at the near horizon, here is where the battle took place.
by Eliyahu Gartl
Translated by Yael Chaver
(may her memory be for a blessing)
In Poland, we called her Reyzl. She went to a Polish school, where she was a star student. Her world was not ours, and only the Jewish spark that flickered in her family prevented her from becoming completely assimilated. I remember how happy she was when she finally began reading Yiddish literature, and could become acquainted with authentic Jewish life.
Over time, she grew close to our movement and joined in all our activities, including those of He-Halutz. It was a long way from Reyzl to Shoshana, years of struggling with herself and with her surroundings. She was finally able to realize her dreams, to emigrate to the Land of Israel, and to form an attachment with her partner, Yehuda Hofman.
She lived in the kibbutz for nearly six years. She had come with no training for physical work, yet she appreciated our achievements as well as our problems. Becoming accustomed to work and social activities were difficult for her at first, until she became familiar with our terminology and the communal issues. She slowly understood their essence, learned the language, and read Hebrew literature in the original. She was just getting established and branching out and was suddenly uprooted from our midst.
Shoshana died on Saturday, October 29, 1940, at the Bnei-Brak Government Hospital. Her body was returned to us at dusk. The vehicle with the coffin stopped at the dining hall, and was surrounded by our entire community. We stood still for a long time, until the funeral procession, lit by lanterns and candles, left for the cemetery. She was 32.
The wound is still bleeding. We can still hear her labored groans at her final moments, and inhale the fragrance of fresh soil from her grave. Yet you don't believe it. Neither do you believe that on one autumn evening we accompanied Shoshana to her grave, by the light of candles and lanterns.
Shoshana! That was her name on kibbutz postings, the name by which we called her, and the name by which she was buried. But for me she will always be Reyzl. I can still see her in her school uniform; I remember her teachers' appraisals. I remember her comments after reading a book or attending a performance.
There were different types of families in the diaspora. But we loved the simple folks, who combined respect and simplicity, were not vulgar yet were distant from the arrogance of the privileged. Shoshana was born into, and brought up by, a simple family. She was not an only child, but created a special atmosphere around her. The family appreciated her conversation and cheerfulness.
She was ideologically close to the Labor Zionist youth groups, but not active in them. The spirit of the Polish school and Polish literature influenced her and prevented her from devoting herself to our movement. She suffered from this duality, and often mentioned it with regret. She tried to master Hebrew, wanted to read Hebrew literature, and to take root. All this was suddenly cut off. She was taken from us abruptly, and little Ben-Tziyon was orphaned.
You were always in good spirits and happy. Did you think that you would leave us so soon? A cruel hand tore you away, and you had only just started out on the journey, fresh, young, and erect. Now you've left your little son. Who will love him? Who will kiss him, your child whom you loved so much? We accompanied you to your grave on a dark and foggy night. There was dead silence. We walked close to one another, suddenly forgetting petty disagreements thinking only of you. Life continues, and you are now a small mound, a new grave.
And there, in the children's house, your small son is asleep, smiling as he dreams of his mother, waiting for her gentle caress…
by Her brother, Moshe
Translated by Yael Chaver
(may her memory be for a blessing)
Sarah was born in Hrubieszow just before World War I. She grew up amid the storms of war. Our town, near the Bug River, suffered terribly. The occupying armies changed several times between 1915 and 1920. We suffered from hunger and disease during those years, and the young Sarah was malnourished.
Regular life began with the establishment of the Polish regime. Jewish community activism began with the creation of local political parties and the opening of a Tarbut school. Religiously observant families preferred to send their children (especially the girls) to the Polish schools. As our parents were observant, Sarah attended a Polish school.
Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza'ir was the first youth movement in town. Its core consisted of Tarbut students, and formed the center of a larger group, mostly students. Sarah joined the movement, and later worked within it with younger children.
Our home was observant; as usual in such homes, there was intergenerational conflict about religion. Each child, as well as the changing times, helped to shift the parents' views. Sarah was the youngest of us five, and enjoyed complete freedom. By this time, I was living in the Land of Israel. She would write and tell me how her friends gathered at our house and spent time there. I could not believe that one of us was able to bring about such a revolution.
When I left Poland, Sarah was a young girl. I came to know the adult Sarah here.
She did not stand out, but was a hard worker, loyal and devoted. Her devotion to family members and friends, as well as to the kibbutz, knew no bounds. We loved her so much. Losing her so young is a great sorrow.
Her brother, Moshe.
Based on Helkat Mehokek by Asher Leyb Brisk
by Avraham Tzimerman, Giv'atayim, Israel
Translated by Yael Chaver
Standing: Yosef Shvartz, Hersh Pakhter, Buni Yanover, Avraham Tzimerman, Efrayim Shtich, Mordechai Hurvitz, Moshe Grossman, Meytshe Hofman, Helman Vakerman
When the mass immigration of Holocaust survivors to Israel began, our townsmen, Hrubieszow natives, were among them. Like all new immigrants, they searched for their townspeople, who could help them get settled. The best known among the old-timers were Baruch Yanover, Ya'akov Cohen, Shemaryahu Mintz, Yosef Shtokhamer, and Tzvi Halbershteyn.
These persons concluded that there was need for an entity that would help the new immigrants. Thus, the Israeli Association of Natives of Hrubieszow came into being. The Committee grew larger over time, and now consists of the following: Baruch Yanover, Advocate Efrayim Shtikh, Avraham Tzimerman, Blume Vasser, Helman Vakerman, Ya'akov Cohen, Shemaryahu Mintz, Moshe Moskal, Tzvi Pakhter, and Yosef Shvartz. The review committee includes David Abermant and Mordechai Diamant.
Currently, over 500 families of Hrubieszow natives live in Israel, in the following locations:
Tel Aviv, Holon, Bat Yam 250 families Haifa and region 100 Ramat Gan and region 75 Sharon and Shefela 75
The Committee's activities consist of two areas; the first is material. Over the years, the Committee has granted 115 loans for housing and constructive purposes (such as buying a sewing machine or renting a store), for a total exceeding 13,000 Israeli pounds. The interest-free loans are granted for two years.
The wave of immigration to Israel included elderly persons, some living in retirement homes and some living on their own, who approach the committee for one-time support. 38 requests have been granted, with a total outlay of 1010 Israeli pounds.
The second form of our activity is social.
The Committee organizes yearly events on the anniversary of the liquidation of the Hrubieszow ghetto (19 Sivan), to commemorate the martyrs. These memorials are occasions for meetings of those Hrubieszow natives who are not in touch with each other for the rest of the year. We also remember the natives who died during the previous year.
The Committee set up a monument in the Chamber of the Holocaust, in memory of the martyrs of our town and the vicinity.
The Jewish Agency
The Committee is connected with the Jewish Agency's Bureau for Missing Relatives, which helps find relatives and acquaintances sought from outside Israel.
Association of Immigrants from Poland
The Committee is part of the Association of Immigrants from Poland, which offers assistance and help to new immigrants from that country.
The Committee has done much for Hrubieszow natives who needed intervention with various institutions in matters of housing and labor.
Parties and Balls
The Committee organized a Purim evening event, with 300 participants, and a party in Giv'atayim, dedicated to the Yizkor Book. These initiatives were enthusiastically welcomed by our townspeople.
The Association set the publication of the Hrubieszow Yizkor Book as one of its tasks, to memorialize our former home town, its personalities, political parties, and synagogues large and small. A special Book Committee was created for this purpose, which included the following members:
Baruch Yanover, Yosef Epshteyn, Mordechai Hurvitz, Meytshe Hofman, Blume Vaser, Moshe Tsigl, Avaham Tzimerman.
Baruch Kaplinski, Baruch Yanover, Mordechai Hurvitz, Meytshe Hofman, Avraham Tsimerman.
We take this opportunity to thank the Yizkor Book Committee in the United States for its material help towards publishing the book, as well as our fellow natives of Hrubieszow in Israel, whose contributions enabled its publication.
by Adina Lahav, Rishon Le-Tziyon
Translated by Yael Chaver
|Two natives of Hrubieszow, Berl Riz and David Fayl, in the Red Army|
At age 7 and a half, I was already acquainted with suffering. My little sister suddenly died. My mother turned completely gray. I was shaken to the core, an only child, sickly and weak; much love, concern, and boundless devotion were my lot.
The war broke out in 1939, when I was less than 8 years old. We were inundated by a sea of suffering and disaster. My father fled to Ludmir, which was under Soviet rule. We, my mother and I, followed him there.
The Soviet authorities considered us public enemy no. 1 and banished us to 100 kilometers from the border. However, our wanderings actually led us to the heart of the Siberian taiga. There were constant decrees against us, a new one every day. Women demonstrated, holding their babies. On one occasion, the men placed the women and children in rickety wooden carts, harnessed themselves to the carts, and we started to demonstrate by travelling through the town. This did not convince the Soviet authorities to change their minds about the refugees. Finally, the men began to demonstrate on their own; this demonstration was immediately quelled forcibly and the men were imprisoned as public enemies.
Find Another Husband
Father's spirit was unbroken. He believed in a better day to come, loved life, and had faith in it. He was totally dedicated to my education; he made sure that I would not forget Yiddish, which I had learned in the Tel Hai school in Hrubieszow, and which he loved very much. He asked me to write something in Yiddish every day, and wanted me to supply the topic he refused to assign one. I remember writing enthusiastic descriptions of our quiet lives in Hrubieszow before the outbreak of the terrible, bloody war; I wrote about Father's imprisonment, our wanderings on the way to Siberia, and our gloomy life in the heart of the taiga. The notebook filled up quickly, as though by itself. When I finished the first chapter, I ran to Father's workplace and read it out loud. I expected to see him be happy, but he did not move; only his eyes gleamed. A few moments later he patted my head and said, Tsartl! Go on writing. Mother also kissed me and shed a tear. And so I continued to write in my diary every day.
My parents thought that my diary was very important. Every day, when Father returned from his hard labor in the forest and before he changed out of his work clothes, he would pick up my diary and read the day's entry out loud to Mother. He would read the entry more than once, as though it were giving him the strength to continue his hard life.
Suddenly, Father fell ill. After he spent three days at home, he was permitted to visit the doctor, but there was no transportation, and the horses were tired…
Why are you crying? the local officer told Mother. If he dies, you'll find another husband, but we won't get other horses.
Who could imagine that this was the end of my good father? The cursed taiga robbed me of my dear father, who was only 39. I couldn't believe it; I waited for his return. But Father never came back.
Liberation from Siberia came. All our friends pack their things, close up their affairs, say their farewells, and leave. We didn't know where to go. The camp was about to close. I cried day and night, not wanting to remain in the taiga. Apparently, that was the decisive factor for my mother. We said our farewells to Father's grave. Lonely, broken, weak, and hungry, we set out for the life of vagrants.
This Woman Did Not Let You Die
We traveled on and on. Hunger, filth, and lice were our fellow travelers. I fell sick on the way, with a fever of over 104 degrees. I was unconscious. The doctor who examined me ordered that I be taken off the train car and hospitalized. It was in a region not permitted to people liberated from Siberia, and my mother was not allowed to stay with her sick daughter. I would not be parted from Mother. I knew I wouldn't survive without her. Whenever I regained consciousness, I held forth to the forty travelers in the stock rail car, telling them how I felt. Our fellow travelers took pity on me, and decided to let me continue without informing the authorities that I had a contagious disease. I dragged along like this for three weeks.
The kolkhoz was finally designated as our place of residence. The nearby town had a hospital, to which I was admitted. Mother was informed that I had three medical conditions, each of which was life-threatening. They didn't think I would recover, and treated me like a dying person. My mother also received special treatment: she was allowed to stay at the window all day, and was hidden under my bed at night. They all laughed when they saw the food Mother brought me.
Don't let it go to waste, you'd better eat it yourself, they said bluntly. It was a time of terrible hunger; Mother sold our belongings and brought me nothing but the best.
Five months had passed since Father had died. When my crisis was over, I was sent home to the kolkhoz. It was generally considered a miracle. Everyone agreed that it was thanks to Mother.
This woman did not let you die, they said. Where did she find the strength?!
When I was well enough, we continued to wander. We sometimes had to part, so that I could be in the company of children, and learn something. I spent time in two orphanages. I secretly brought my bread ration to Mother, who with a slight but penetrating smile divided it in half and gave me the larger portion.
We arrived in Frunze, the capital of Kirghizia. At age 12, I started working in a knitting factory, twelve hours a day part of the war effort. Eventually, the factory management enabled me to go to school, though this was in secret. I was in school for half of the day, and had to do a full day's work in the rest of the time. This was physically impossible, but Mother secretly knitted for me. On those days, my mother was radiant. She was overjoyed that I was once again a child at school.
After a hard day of work in the factory, we also had to live; that was extremely difficult and dangerous. We secretly sold the bread ration we were given by the factory, and bought cheap food with the proceeds. Mother was terrified that she would end up in prison because of these crimes. We knitted at home as well, to make more money and supplement our income. We worked at night, by the light of a lamp we made out of a medication bottle and a wick of threads. Only rarely was there
enough kerosene to fill the bottle. It was usually half-full of water, with some kerosene floating on top.
It was snowing and cold one winter evening, when I ran out in my cloth shoes to borrow a book from a friend (I returned the favor by helping her with math). There was to be an important test the next day. I returned with the book and happily sat down to study. I had read only two sentences, when the lamp went out. I was heartbroken, collapsed onto my bed, and dissolved in tears. It was the bitter weeping of a helpless child.
Little fool, Mother said. Are you crying about this foolish little thing? It's true, you can't study your book. But you can learn how to dance! She pulled me off the bed, and taught me how to dance.
During that time, I forgot how to laugh. For more than two years after Father's death, I never laughed. Mother did everything to cheer me up, to restore my joy in life. I still don't know where she mustered up this energy. I never saw her looking tired or despondent. She was always full of life. She sometimes suffered in return for her kindness, but her behavior never changed.
These are minor things, she would tell me. You need to find the good in every single person. She had a fountain of love. She was so good at loving!
The war ended. We were allowed to return to Poland, home. We couldn't sleep the night before our departure. We sat by the flickering fireplace and burned all eight notebooks of my diary. I read them out loud to Mother from beginning to end, ripping out each page after I had read it and throwing it onto the fire. Mother sat, leaning against me, crying the whole time… That was the end of the forbidden material, according to the Soviet government.
Through Poland and Cyprus to the Land of Israel
We reached Poland. We found our house. The earth was soaked with Jewish blood, and anti-Semitism was raging. We immediately decided to keep going. Preparing to emigrate, I joined an agricultural training group. We parted again, meeting sometimes and parting an hour or two later Those terrible partings! I couldn't bear to part from here. Each parting was painful, though Mother always smiled, even though her eyes were swimming with tears.
Tsartl, take care of yourself! were her parting words.
I arrived in Cyprus with Aliyah Bet. Mother left after I did. Luckily, she was on board the Exodus. The first information about events aboard the Exodus arrived in Palestine thanks to the letters she sent me. Each time the ship docked, Mother would fling some letters onto the beach. Maybe someone will pick them up, she would say to the people around her. Maybe good people will add stamps and send them on to the address.
And that is what happened. I received many letters. Representatives of the Palestinian Zionist community in Cyprus would ask me for her letters, which were always optimistic and hopeful. Mother had suddenly become a Zionist. The letters were more similar to Zionist speeches than to a mother's letters to her daughter; she seemed to be lecturing about the future of the Land of Israel and her firm faith. I once received a copy of Davar from Israel, which had published one of my mother's letters. The writer Bracha Chabas included one of her letters in her book Ha-Sfina She-Nitzcha.
Tsartl, You Are the Only Thing I Have Left in the World
Mother had the joy of seeing me in the Land of Israel, with her own eyes.
Tsartl, is that you?! and she fell silent, but could not stop weeping.
I shared a bed with her, so that she could feel me and calm down. She hugged me all night long, looking at me and weeping. She could not believe the great day had come.
Mother easily became well-adjusted to the country, and was happy with everything. Everyone here is Jewish, she would say repeatedly. Everything was near and dear to her, and made her happy. She grew emotional when she saw me holding a gun during army training, but soon said, Oh! If I were younger I would volunteer. What does age matter?
She didn't like to see me preparing Molotov cocktails; and my hands would shake when I saw her watching. I remembered her saying, Tsartl, you are the only thing I have left in the world.
She was a good buddy. We would chatter and laugh together. Mother was young at heart. She became a friend to my friends, joined us when we laughed, joked, and danced. I enjoyed her company so much… But this joy was short-lived… She had only been in the country ten months when a stroke cut her down. I accompanied her to her final resting place on her 48th birthday.
The final words of the eulogy were Everyone who knew her loved her with all his heart
by Leybish Frost, Bat-Yam, Israel
Translated by Yael Chaver
A considerable proportion of the 500 Hrubieszow natives in Israel arrived before World War II. Most of them were Labor Zionists. However, the immigrants after Israel was established were distanced from Zionism, and some even opposed it.
The great crisis that led to the change in their world view occurred during their years of wandering, though they had always turned their backs on our national movement. These Holocaust survivors understood that Poland could not be their home; they went west, made their way to Germany, and from there came to Israel. It was not an easy decision, especially for those who were rooted in Polish economy and society; it was hard for them to leave.
Once they arrived in Israel, they encountered many difficulties. The country was young, its economy was poorly established, and they faced obstacles. But they slowly recovered. They moved from immigrant centers to transit centers, and from there to housing all over the country. Only a few gave up, and turned to the Polish consulate. Here, in Israel, the immigrant from Hrubieszow could stand tall and feel at home. Not merely tolerated, but equal to everyone.
The poverty they had experienced in the Polish town was replaced by a higher standard of living and culture.
Immigration from Poland was strong in 1948-1950, then stopped, and was renewed in 1957. Poland realized that there were too many Abramoviches in key positions, and began removing them from their roles. This led them to grant permits for immigration. There were Hrubieszow natives among the immigrants. Some of them had married non-Jewish women during their wanderings; they came with their wives and children. They found better conditions than the previous immigrants: they were not placed in transitional arrangements but sent to permanent housing. The government's austerity program, which was hard on the earlier immigrants, was replaced by a better life perhaps not affluent, but with a higher cultural standard. Hrubieszow natives found their place in Israel's economy and society. They left behind their previous unstable professions, and lived the local life, enjoying its successes and participating in its sorrows.
They meet every year on the memorial day for the martyrs of Hrubieszow, and mourn for those who were prevented from joining in the building of the free, independent, State of Israel.
by Yosef Shvarts, Tel Aviv
Translated by Yael Chaver
I took the first step away from my home in December, 1939. It became clear that everything I left behind had vanished forever. I was troubled by the thought, Maybe I could return home?
I am already lonely, on my own, and having left behind the dear, warm home that I had created with such labor.
I'm going to save my life. I'm going to the border.
As I enter the train car, I'm overcome by sadness. The locomotive's whistle tears me away from my dearest, and I am suspended between heaven and earth. People pass by, I see the town, and a combination of pain and pity for the people overcomes me.
Here is the center, where most of the residents gather. Young and old, traders and artisans, Jews who listen attentively in order to bring home a scrap of news. Here is Shloymele Botshes' shop, and here he himself is, Shloyme Botshes. He holds forth on Torah till you could burst, and the listeners gathered around dissolve with pleasure.
The more important shopkeepers have their own corner. Here are Ber Apel, Yontshe Perets, Moyshe Hoyzman and Meir Vaksman. They report the news, city events, a joke, a bit of gossip, bantering to pass the time after a day of shop-keeping. It's all right to have a bit of fun.
Grain merchants show up to listen: how much, for example, did Regel's mill pay, and how much does Fridlender's mill pay? And what does Lemberik have to say?
Moyshe, Getsl, Avremele, did you have some real hoodlums today?
Here is Moyshe Varman, the flax merchant, with the collar he keeps turned up in winter and summer, and his kapote all speckled with different kinds of flax. Meytshele Fui with his small beard, searching for something with his small cunning eyes. Shmuel Zayd's father, Fishele Ginzburg, and Shimon Benkels looking for each other.
Well, how did the load go?
Eh, says Moyshe. And when Moyshe says something, it's definite. They'll find out nothing from him.
Here come boys and girls, filling the streets, and looking for company. They go wherever the action is. It's as noisy as a beehive. Who feels like going home? They know each other, feel comfortable and close. It's a lively, beloved, pleasant town.
And here comes Shoul Abeles, God's true adversary. He curses religion and its believers: You foolish Jews, convincing yourselves of God and other nonsense… Any Hasid he comes across will not survive.
A few more steps Shimele of the shack. It's lively, full of young people. They happily crack dried pumpkin seeds, completely comfortable. The shopkeeper earns something, and the laughter washes over the street. Shimele finally finds a way to get rid of them: he picks up the broom and starts sweeping. The dust rises, and the young people understand that it's time to go somewhere else.
Panska Street is full of Jews wanting to enjoy the fresh air. The street stretches away as far as the eye can see. This is where the young workers hang out, and girls with their betrotheds. The street, with its trees and bushes, fills the strollers with a sense of confidence and freedom from everyday cares. Loving couples float through, enchanted by the surroundings. People have fled the cramped streets and the houses crowded together, and are cheered up by the air. Here, people can use more elevated language, a nobler phrase, not as they do in the workshop or store.
The train rushes alongside fields, forests, gardens, orchards, villages, and towns. Here's the quiet, peaceful Brodice forest. So quiet, so peaceful. There are no Nazi beasts here. Should we hide here until the danger is gone? The familiar, nearby places have disappeared. Werbkowice, not far from my home town, is gone. Strange towns fly by, and my heart melts with longing.
I slowly begin to notice my fellow passengers. I am only one of a multitude of homeless people. A father, arguing with his daughter, will say later, Even a refugee won't have you!
And so we cross the Soviet border safely. Forlorn stones. No one is interested in you. No one cares about you. Just yesterday, you were bathed in happiness, in familiar warmth and satisfaction, in wealth and now, even those close to you take pains not to recognize you. The only things that can help me are the bit of money and the valuables that I was able to take with me.
For several days, I've been in the big, beautiful city of Lviv. I am lonely and despondent. As I wander the streets, I encounter a friend Yoysef Zamler. Our joy is overflowing. But I feel that my friend's loneliness is above and beyond. It has gnawed into his bones. He lives in an atmosphere of solitude, with no expectations. All those who fled are consumed by fear of tomorrow, and of today. But he is suffering more than anyone else. Wordlessly, our eyes recount our experiences.
We left homes, families, a beloved wife, an adored child. Here, we wander aimlessly, as in a netherworld. Some have a family member along, while other relatives are at the back of beyond. Some have no one with them. Should we go back?!
The Soviet secret police exploited the loneliness and need of the Jews, and announced: anyone who wanted to go home should go and register… Thousands of Jews rushed to add their names to the list, and waited for the longed-for permit to rejoin their own people, enjoy a warm bed again, without thinking of what the bloodthirsty Nazis might do.
Over two evenings, the Soviets crammed the enemies of the regime into freight cars, and hauled them away to remotest, icy Siberia. Young and old endured the freight cars, suffering months of deprivation and cramped conditions, exhausted by hunger and thirst. From time to time, the Soviet overseers tossed them something, They neither lived nor died. They could not take care of even basic human needs, as they could not stray more than two meters from the rail cars.
In my despair, I thought, God almighty, is the world over? ‘There’ the Nazis slaughter us and here the Soviets torment us what is the world coming to?'
|Natives of Hrubieszow were driven off as far as Novosibirsk
Sholem Shvarts, Isser Sherer, and Yoysef Shvarts
In the Taigas of Siberia
Here, a new world was revealed. Wild, endless taiga, empty and pure fear and terror. This is where we were placed, with the following explanation: All you see before you is yours. You only need to build it up. This is where you start a new life. You will work hard, but you'll build a new world with your own hands. You can build cities, villages, trains, trams. There is no way back. This is where you have now been reborn.
Our will to live started to fade. We saw a grave pit.
It was mid-July. The Siberian sun burned fiercely and dehydrated our brains to the point of insanity. Mosquitoes attacked us, like hungry locusts. We tried to cover our faces and legs. Women went into spasms, stamping their feet and clapping their hands. We jumped around, we bent over, chasing away the plaguing misery, and our desperation grew by the hour.
On the fifth day, they issued us saws and axes, iron wedges, and guides. We headed deep into the forest, and were ordered to start work. Our hearts sank when we saw the trees, their height and girth. We, Menachem-Mendels, small-town Jews, we need to create a world, take down primeval trees, and build cities and industries, under the whip of the merciless NKVD.
There's no running away from here; you will die here, like dogs were the parting words of comfort for our suffering.
I remember standing and working with a partner a tailor from Zamośćgnawing away at a tree 1.20 meters in diameter. When we finally managed to defeat it, its collapse was so powerful that it took 4 or 5 of the surrounding trees with it, and the echo resounded for kilometers. You'd think there had been an earthquake. We fled far, and couldn't come to our senses.
Our hopes slowly faded. Will anyone escape from here? Who will survive? The constant lack of bread dulled our reason, our feelings, our thinking. Only one thought remained: how can we get another piece of bread?! And when our hard work earned us more bread, we would take it over to the Russian citizens who were political exiles, and exchange it for potatoes: one kilogram of bread could be exchanged for a kilogram of potatoes. Looking at the political exiles, our despair only increased.
Polish Citizens are Freed
When our pain reached its zenith, a ray of hope appeared: Germany had attacked Russia.
Our mortal enemy has become the mortal enemy of Soviet Russia. Does this mean that we have a common enemy? Is God helping us?
The news soon came: all Polish citizens were free to go wherever they wanted.
Our joy was boundless. An end to our troubles, an end to our enslavement! We started searching for the shortest road to the Land of Israel. Some rushed to Uzbekistan, others to Kyrgyzstan and Bukhara. Everyone aimed for the borders of Iran with the sole thought of escaping from this place and reaching the Land of Israel.
However, unfortunately, our joy was short-lived. A new series of agonies began. The Middle East was overrun with refugees. Anyone who could fled to the distant regions of the area. A new era of seeking work and a livelihood began. The stream of refugees grew daily; naturally, the first to settle down were the Soviet citizens. We, the Polish Jews, had no chance of employment.
I will never forget the terrible scene around the Tashkent train station. Thousands of refugees, swarming like flies around the square, exposed to the sky. The tears and screams of children, the neighing of horses and braying of donkeys, smoke from fires, making tea and some food for the children the vision was like the bottom of hell.
Russia, that huge country, could find no solution for such a huge crowd of homeless people. Lawlessness increased. Of course, the Polish Jews suffered the most. All doors were closed to us. Death began to take its toll, and our ranks grew thinner. People started buying and selling, in spite of the extreme risks. People did anything to stay alive. Using bribes and connections, they managed to work and trade. The desire to be saved and to return home increased.
When the Red Army began to beat the Germans back, freeing city after city, our will to live grew stronger. The struggle was worth it. There was something to live for: we want to go home, and witness Hitler's downfall!
Exodus from Russia
And the time came. It happened: Exodus from Russia.
Once again, we struggled through a trip in freight cars. The journey to our home took thirty days and thirty nights.
Our hearts beat with joy and fear. We were deeply elated at the prospect of an end to wandering
and homelessness. But we were struck by a new fear: What's happening in our old home town? How many of our nearest and dearest will we find there?
Here we are, at the Polish border. We start feeling at home, among our own once again. Our home caresses, warms us, embraces us, and promises so much.
But suddenly, as if out of a dream, we are woken by the transport's commander. He reminds us who we are and where we are. Some of our young people left the train at a station, to buy some tea. The commander, a Pole, hits us with a ton of Polish poison:
Freeze, you Jews! They slaughtered too few of you. What a shame. I don't want to see you at our stations. We trembled, shaking off the feelings of joy, and understood everything.
After this reception, we arrived, depressed, at the Krakow train station. It became clear that Poland, the slaughterhouse for Jews, will never be our home again. Yet we still wanted to see our home, the town, our birthplace. Someone might be left there.
Young people from all the political parties show up at the train station. Each praises his own party. I run into the son of Anshel the hat maker, a former member of the Bund, who was bringing people from the train to the Mapai training farm. He is as happy to see me as though I were his relative, and says: Yoysef, there is only one party now: the Land of Israel. Where are you going, to Poland? Come with me in spite of everything, to the Land of Israel
I joined the Ha-Oved farm and waited my turn to emigrate. I had learned painting in Russia, and the farm immediately supplied me with work.
But I was drawn towards my home, Hrubieszow, where I had spent half of my life. I wanted to see for myself how many Jews remained there, how the market looked, and the place where Shlomo Botshes had told his stories. The temptation was great and I could not free myself of it. Although people said that the road was full of dangers, my resolve to go grew stronger, to witness the destruction with my own eyes, as well as see what remained.
How Lonely Sits the City
I travel. The train is taking me to my dear town, by way of Kielce! As luck would have it, there was a pogrom in Kielce today, of the few Jews who had just returned. I feel the terror to this day when I recall my trip through Kielce that day. The travelers talked about the fate of our unfortunate brothers.
They were slaughtered like dogs, boasts one.
They were pulled out of the cars, the zhids, boasts another. And I, who do not look like a Jew to their bloodshot eyes, I sit in the train and hear it all.
I barely made it to Lublin. A non-Jewish woman advises me to take the bus rather than the train. The train is dangerous for Jews. I take the bus, and draw near to Hrubieszow.
Here's the tall chimney of Paretski's factory. I'm at the Zamość bridge. There's the marketplace well. I see the high veranda with its iron railing around the house of Yellow Leyzer, where Zishe Roytman had his manufacturing business. Where are the residents, the loud, noisy Jews? The houses are evidence that the owners are gone. Everything looks so sad.
The bus stops at the butcher shops. We are surrounded by non-Jews, unknown strangers. I later learned that they had come from beyond the Bug, exchanged for the Ukrainians of Tshernitshen. The non-Jews from beyond the Bug had left their villages and did not want to move to new villages. They chose to live in the towns and cities whose Jews had been exterminated. They settled into the Jewish houses of Hrubieszow. They, with their alien faces, had snatched up the Jewish shops, workshops, and homes. We're seized by fear and profound pain. Unfamiliar eyes are looking at you out of all the Jewish windows and doors.
Where are our little Rivkas, Shloymes, and Moyshes? Where are their tears?
I seek acquaintances. Here's one: Krasnopolski, the Pole. He is happy to see me. As he tells it, he doesn't like the whole thing. When the town was full of Jews, he was special: the Christian, the Pole. But now, when the whole town consists of Poles, how special can he be? He starts to weep, remembering how they shot his best friend, Shoul Ayzn, in the center of town. It pains him that he couldn't save him, because his children wouldn't let him. Risk the lives of an entire family for a single Jew?
I stand frozen! Where shall I go?
Are there still Jews in the town? I ask.
There are a few, who came back. Yaakov Brenner lives in Mendl Rozenshteyn's apartment, where Mendl, my friend from the Zionist organization, had lived. I remember Yaakov well, and immediately rush over. I run, and fear and pain seem to chase me.
I walk in, and shout happily,
Yaakov, let me stay here overnight.
Where else, if not with me?
He notices me looking at the straw spread out on the floor of both rooms, and says,
These are the mattresses where I host my visitors. This is where all those who, like me, wanted to take a look at their ruined home, and salvage something of their property, stay. They are ready to give away houses and shops, and have the notary transfer houses for one hundred or one hundred fifty dollars. Our enemies, the ignorant Jew-haters, were angry about that as well.
I went out to take a look at the town, what the houses of study looked like. Though I had never been observant, tears poured down my face when I saw the synagogue. I remembered what it had looked like when a new Torah scroll was brought in, how thousands of Jewish eyes brightened with joy and emotion. And now, there is no one there!
What a sight you are, you beautiful, large synagogue. You had space for everyone, on joyous and sad occasions alike, and now you're all alone The windows are shattered, the doors are broken, a garbage bin for the local hooligans. I seem to hear the desecrated synagogue talking to me:
How can you run away, and leave me here in such painful loneliness?
Suddenly I notice that my feet are taking me to the synagogue vestibule. I creep into a corner and weep loudly.
How lonely sits the city?…
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