They burst out laughing. Nevertheless, I was accepted into the Hakhsharah,
seemingly out of compassion. I was requested to come the next day
with my belongings, but they warned me to avoid the representative of Bethar
for Romania, because he was against accepting girls "from the street".
Thus, I was regarded as a girl from the street. "Are you, Mom, pleased
with my new name?" I said to myself.
Once, an important guest entered our room and asked: "Who here is Mali Hirsch?"
I jumped up from my couch. "I have for you regards from the Rothenstein family from Bakeu." I had no time to say thanks and the guest was gone. But he called the next day and introduced himself: Lipa Khajmovitz. He asked for my consent to go with him to the theatre, and added: "Be ready at 4:00 p.m.!"
By 1 o'clock, I was dressed up.
The next day he invited me to a restaurant. It repeated itself
once again and again and again. What is the reason that he invites me?
-- I asked myself. Maybe he was ordered by the Rothenstein family? I was
reluctant to ask him about that.
We walked much together, both silent. He, a respected male person, and I, a dumb duckling. Although I already spoke Romanian well, I was afraid to open my mouth in order not to say some foolishness. But I was laughing the whole time. Once he said to me:
"If you would laugh less, we could be good friends. . . "
On my way back to Hakhsharah, I thought: Is it bad that I am laughing after all I survived?
We lived on a small street in Bukarest, in two rooms: one for girls and one for boys. We ate in the hall, on a long table. All of us worked in a fabric factory. I was also obliged to work, despite my illness, with high temperatures and having difficulties breathing. I went to the Jewish hospital "Yubirea de oamenj" (Love for people), where I told the physician that I am in the Hachsharah, and I must go to work to earn my living. He referred me to another physician, who announced to me that I had big tonsils, which ought to be removed.
"Come tomorrow with your mother," he said to me.
"I have no mother!," I answered to him.
I came the next day alone to the hospital. The operation was done, and I was lying on a couch, to recover. All of a sudden the door opened and Madame Rothenstein, well-dressed, came in. She said to me:
"How could you go to the hospital without saying a word to anybody? Since when are you so independent?"
The physician came by and said to my guest that I needed good food and good conditions.
Madame Rothenstein said that she had some good news for me. I couldn't speak yet. But I hoped that my brother was alive and he would present himself on a good day. Then I wrote on a piece of paper: "Munju?"
No, the good news wasn't from Munju. It was from an aunt of mine
from America, who realized that I survived the Holocaust and she was looking
for me through the newspapers. When I heard that, I thought : "Now,
I am not a girl from the streets anymore!"
The Rothensteins took me in, and Lipa came every day to visit me. One day, he unexpectedly asked if I would marry him. He saw that the question frightened me: "Don't be afraid! Think about it. I want you to know two things.: First: People think I am rich, but it isn't true. Secondly: I want to go to Israel."
At that time many boys ran after me. One of them even said to me, that
he would shoot me if I would not accept him. I answered immediately: I
wasn't thinking about marriage. I needed a father, a brother, and
a good friend. I knew that Lipa was much older than I was and that he was
a well-educated man, while I got my education on the Ukrainian snows.
I was a very poor girl and had nothing of my own, not even a pretty dress.
I recalled that my mother started to prepare a dowry for me, when I was
just two years old. Where is my mother and where is the dowry?
Such cases should be deliberated with a father and a mother. With
whom should I deliberate? All of a sudden I said to myself: It will
be good, it will certainly be good! And if - God forbid - not, there will
be nobody to reproach for it. I have to decide by myself.
The next day, in the morning, I called Lipa and asked him if he will be visiting today. He understood me well. He appeared well-dressed with a bottle of liquor and asked for my hand at the Rothenstein family home. It turned out that they were relatives.
The next day the Rothensteins hinted to me that I can no longer stay
with them. Neither was I eager to return to the Hakhsharah.
Then Lipa brought me to his friends.
He wanted to plan for an early wedding. He bought a coat and a pair of shoes for me and we went with some friends to perform our civil wedding, according to the Romanian law. Because I was a minor, the officer asked: "Is it true that nobody is compelling you?"
Our friends burst out laughing and the officer got angry:
"Let me explain. Don't be in a hurry with the answer. I am repeating my question: Is it true that nobody 's compelling you to marry? You can say yes or no."
"No," said I, "nobody's compelling me."
After the civil wedding, Lipa brought me to his mother. I was afraid that I wouldn't please her. I was small and meager, and there wasn't too much to contemplate. But Lipa's mother was a smart woman and she said: "If you like her, then 'mazal-tov' (good luck)!"
We decided to have our Khupa (religious ceremony) on the 9th of December, the hardest month of the winter. There were heavy snowstorms and the water in the pipes froze. Power was also interrupted. We were seriously concerned that the weather would prevent the Rabbi from travelling to us to officiate. Dressed up as groom and bride we walked to the Bukarest "Gaster Temple". Trampling, we fell in the snow, and looking at each other, we burst out laughing. We finally arrived, and, to our astonishment, the Synagogue was overcrowded. I put on the borrowed wedding dress, and we were ready; but we had neither a best man, nor a bridesmaid. We thought that the Rothensteins would assume these functions, but they didn't show up.
Then Lipa became courageous, he grabbed my hand and we climbed to the Holy Ark, where the canopy was already erected. I was trembling both out of cold and heart pain. I looked at the crowd, who came to embellish my wedding, but I didn't know any of them. I felt like I was borne by a stone.
Lipa was very busy. At that time he organized a society, with
the name "the red cross", where all Zionist activists would meet.
Through this society they used to buy ships and compose lists of people,
who eventually would be sent to Israel. The Jews, rescued from the Holocaust,
at the time of the end of W.W.II, had no place where to escape.
Once Lipa brought home two rucksacks and we prepared ourselves for the journey. Lipa's friends thought that it was too early, that there's no necessity to risk our lives, that after two years there will be an opportunity to go to Israel with legal certificates. But Lipa pleaded that since he sent other Jews to make Aliyah with risk to their lives, and some even perished, he will do it the same way.
We equipped our two rucksacks, said goodbye to our friends and departed
to Konstanza. The ship "Smirna", which waited for us, had 800 places,
but we were 2000. Jewish communists appeared and warned us not to
go, because the Arabs would kill us. They pleaded that here, in Romania,
will be a paradise for Jews. Just two years later, all Zionist leaders
were put in jail, in that Romanian paradise.
Lipa was very busy on the ship with the 300 members of Bethar under his care. The British used to stop the ships and send the people to Cyprus. But we arrived successfully to Haifa. There, the ship got a new name: "Max Nordau". We hung out a blue-white flag and sang the "Hatikvah", like it could be sung only once in your life.
We were brought into an English camp in Atlit and lodged in big barracks. We found out that we would stay here at least two months, while other ships with immigrants to Israel were sent immediately to Cyprus. We were young, thus we danced and sang and celebrated "Oneg Shabbat" (pleasure of the Sabbath). Lipa organized an every day "misdar" (schedule), although from afar were staying the members of "Hashomer Hazair", laughing at us.
From Atlit we were sent to a "Bet Olim - Merkaz Klita" (House of Immigrants
- Gathering Center), like it is called now. In two months, the "Sokhnut"
(Jewish Agency) finished building a colony in Kiriat Khayim, where every
couple received a room to live in. But, there was no opportunity
to make a living. Lipa had plenty of friends in Haifa, who said to
him that he could get a job in agriculture, if he wasn't a Bethariste.
Once, at midnight, police knocked at the door. They were looking for weapons. They had not too much to search. All our belongings were the coach and two orange boxes. Lipa was told to get dressed. We had in our home just 20 Piasters. Lipa took ten, the other ten remained with me. One of the policemen hinted to me that Lipa will be soon back. Outside were tanks. Ten men and a woman were arrested that night.
After two hours, the neighbors said that we had to bring some food to the jail. I bought bread and yellow cheese and with two other young women we departed to Haifa, to the "Keeshlee" prison. We sent in the sandwiches and decided to go to the secret police (CID), not far away, and to ask for help to redeem our husbands. We knew hardly a few words in Hebrew, nothing in English. But we hoped to find somebody who would translate for us.
As we arrived to the CID we were told to wait and were offered cigarettes.
We began to plead that our husbands were not terrorists, that we had just
arrived into the country and we requested they be set free. They
listened to us and questioned us about this and that, and finally they
brought us to the "Keeshlee" prison. They let us wait until evening,
when a fat Arab woman appeared, who lead us up a few narrow steps, let
us in into a closet and locked the door. Only then did we understand
that they arrested us also. In that closet, on dirty, torn mattresses,
several women were lying: one of them was the woman who was arrested together
with our husbands. There were prostitutes also. A young Arab
woman was lying there; she wanted to kill herself in order to get rid of
her illegitimate child. There was also an Arab woman with a sign
on her forehead. We learned then that there are some Arabs who can
marry several women, and each of them bears a sign.
I began to think about how to announce to our husbands that we were also in prison. I found a piece of paper and with my lipstick I wrote on it: Shelly, Dina and Mali are here. Then I knocked at the door. Our guard opened and I gave her the golden ring from my finger in order to deliver this piece of paper to our husbands.
I thought about how to escape from this prison. It was annoying to hear the oriental music all day long. All of a sudden it occurred to me: hunger strike! The fat Arab woman who led us into the closet, brought in a "sandwich" from the men's section, in which we found a note. One of the men wrote: "Shelly, run to all attorneys and rescue me from here!"
The next day was Purim. A Rabbi came in and brought us "shalakh-manot"
(special Purim presents), and asked why, who we are, from where and what
were our requests. We said we won't sit together with the prostitutes.
Indeed, they were transferred from our chamber into a room where the pails
with urine were kept. They revolted, poured out the urine, and screamed
until we begged for them to be let out.
On the third day of my hunger strike I was called into the office. A tall British man in civil attire told me to end the strike, because action was already being taken on our arrest. I answered, that I was not going to stop the strike until I could be set free. I am three month's pregnant; I suffer from Basedoff illness; and I did nothing wrong. I asked to be set free.
Indeed, we didn't know how to lead a hunger strike. We thought that one is obliged to fast like on Yom Kippur. When I fainted, the Arab woman who wanted to commit suicide, began to knock at the iron door, until her fists got bloody. Finally, a British man came in and tried to revive me with water and ether. When I opened my eyes, the Arab woman with the sign on her forehead was looking at me and crying.
I was tied to a chair and carried down the narrow stairs. A jeep with
four armed soldiers awaited us at the doors. They put me on a stretcher
and brought me to a hospital, in Bat-Galim. People gathered around
me. I asked for somebody who could speak Romanian or German.
A young Romanian-speaking physician appeared and began to ask what happened
to me. I told him that I'm three month's pregnant; that I suffer
from Basedoff-illness; and that I decided to carry out a hunger-strike,
because I was arrested for no reason. The physician disappeared,
but returned after a few minutes and said to me: "You're free, but I think
you have to remain in the hospital, in order to regain your strength with
I wasn't willing to stay in the hospital. I wanted to be home. Then, I was brought back into "Keeshlee", where I signed a paper that I have been set free, I was returned my watch and girdle, which were taken away from me at the arrest. By the way, they also took my fingerprints. Since I wasn't able to get home by myself, they brought me with the same jeep to Kiriat-Khayim. My neighbors didn't come over and stayed at a distance, because I was the spouse of a terrorist.
I just laid down and revived myself with a drink of water, and then two British men came in and announced that I was actually on house-arrest, that I was prohibited from leaving Kiriat-Khayim, and that I was obliged to appear each day at the police station. Some people helped me. The lady from the grocery-store brought in a little jar of jam and some money. She said to me that I could buy from her on credit. When Lipa will be freed, he would pay. I went to Haifa, to a friend of Lipa's, who was the owner of a delicacies store on Herzl Street and borrowed five pounds from him. I met an attorney in the Histadrut (workers union) and said to him that I wanted his help to set my husband free. He answered that he couldn't do that, but he helped me to get rid of the burden to present myself everyday to the police. He succeeded also to gain for me permission to visit Lipa in the prison of Latrun.
I returned home. The Kiriat-Khayim board president came to me with flattering words: He was wondering - did he say - that Lipa became a terrorist, having in his home such a pretty, young spouse? He was ready to help me, be it during my pregnancy, or after. I had only to write a request that I wanted to become a member of the workers-party, and to take it to Latrun, so that Lipa would sign it too. Naturally, I immediately showed the man to the door.
Then a representative of the Histadrut appeared, full of wrath.
How is it possible that Lipa brought into Kiriat Khayim so many terrorists,
where the majority are workers? He advised me arrogantly to leave
Kiriat Khayim, the sooner - the better. But, I wasn't scared by his
The next day I went to Latrun. The driver let me off at the crossroads, and from there I walked with others, everyone loaded with packages for their relatives in prison. It was the eve of Passover.
At the gates, the British raged in our packages, looking for weapons. I didn't even pay attention. I was looking with my eyes, seeking out Lipa. All of a sudden I perceived him. He was very lean, but neatly dressed and freshly shaved.
It took time until we have found the adequate words. I asked him how did he find out that I was also arrested. He told me that the same day one of the guards revealed it to him. And he showed with his finger upward, i.e. we are on the higher floors. He also realized from the woman who was arrested together with her husband, that I was set free thanks to my hunger strike.
With my eyes down I announced to him that I am already feeling the child. He was happy. He practically gave me a speech, emphasizing that I should take care of myself for the sake of the child, that eventually everybody will be set free from Latrun, and he hopes to be home very soon.
He handed over to me a package of laundry to wash and begged me to send it back with the society, to put in his tallit and the phylacteries. Back at home, I found a long letter from Lipa in the package, which he had written to me. Among other things, he wrote: "You remember, my lass, the last year I celebrated Passover at my mothers, and we sang: "Next year in Jerusalem!" Yes, I see the hills of Jerusalem, but I am here without you."
The days progressed and I was becoming thicker and thicker. Once a friend came in and said to me: "Mali, Lipa was transferred to Kenya."
"It's impossible!", was my first answer.
But I immediately went to Haifa to "our inmates." They showed me a notice
in the newspaper "Yediot Akharonot," where it was written, that a group
of fifty inmates, with Lipa at the head were transferred from Latrun to
"Where's Kenya?," did I ask.
I became entirely confused, I didn't know where I was going or what I was doing. I was carried to the Kiriat-Khayim bus. At the last stop the driver told me to descend. I left the bus and headed in the direction of the sea. I decided to put an end to my life. Like in a dream, my parents, my brother, Radautz, Czernovitz, Transnistria soared for my eyes. I was already deep in the water . . . I didn't know what happened next.
When I opened my eyes, I was laying on the sand and people were gathered around me.
"Who gave you the right" they argued with me -- "to kill an unborn child? And your husband needs you now more than ever. Re-oblige to help him!"
I didn't cry when my father was put in the grave; I didn't cry when I realized that my mother froze; I couldn't cry. But now, my tears came in waves and spilled over my eyes. I couldn't imagine that the newspapers would write about what I did, nor that the paper will reach Lipa, in Kenya. The headline in the paper was screaming: "A new Oleh, whose husband was expelled to Kenya, tries to commit suicide."
"When her husband was arrested and transferred to Kenya, Africa, M.K.H.,
a new Oleh, 19 years old, from Kiriat-Khayim, tried to drown herself in
the sea. A random woman passer-by alerted help and rescued the young
woman, in her seventh month of pregnancy. The young M.K.H. survived
the Holocaust and came to the country to build for herself a new life."
This information reached Lipa as follows: In the Kenya camp, on a high hill named Gilgil, where the 251 "Assirej Zion" (inmates for Zion) were held, was also a young man, Samuel Tamir. He belonged to the noble family of Berl Katzenelso and eventually became Minister of Justice of Israel. He received the newspaper everyday. And so the sad news became known to Lipa. Samuel Tamir called Lipa into his barracks and showed him the paper, where it was explicitely written that I was rescued, that I was alive.
Home from my failed suicide-attempt, I changed clothes and began to write a letter to Lipa, which I began with: "I am badly off . . ."
Further, I wrote to Lipa that I will wait for him my entire life.
And if the newborn will be a boy, I will give him the name of my father,
and if it will be a girl, she will bear the name of my mother. I
wrote to him also that he should take care of himself, because we need
him, and that I will not rest until I will redeem him.
My best walk was to the post-office. Lipa used to write to me everyday. I knew that he was writing nice letters, but I couldn't imagine that his letters would bring me so much consolation and give me courage. I still keep his letters to this date, bound like a book.
I did indeed all that I could, to redeem him. I turned to four attorneys, to everybody in secret. I persuaded myself that the attorneys would redeem him With big difficulties, I managed to reach the attorney Levitzki in Jerusalem. He listened to me and finally he showed me the pictures of two young men, sentenced by the British to death, whom he is trying to rescue. As it became known, they were hung. The attorney said to me: "If I occupied myself with your spouse's process, the British would just be convinced that they've gotten the man they're looking for. Instead of helping your spouse, it could only bring harm.
From the attorney I inquired where the wailing wall was. There, I cried my eyes out at the old stones and recalled my father singing: "May the temple be built up quickly, in our days . . ."
By my calculation, I should have been in the tenth month of pregnancy.
Once, as I was feeling bad, I went to Haifa, into the hospital of Mrs.
Better, one of the most remarkable women whom I have encountered in my
life. She checked me up and examined me internally. I was already
laying in my white shirt, and I cried and tried to imagine how it would
have been if Lipa was with me.
When my labor pains began, I lost my ability to speak, because of the Basedoff illness. I couldn't cry like other women, who were in labor with child. I was taken into the operating room, and when I awoke, I heard that I gave birth to a baby girl: "Mazal-Tov, your baby-girl weighs three kilo, she was born two minutes after 12:00 P.M., therefore she was registered on the second of September".
I gave my daughter the name Pnina, after my mother's name, Perl.
I begged to be able to send a telegram to Gilgil, Kenya. At first the doctor frowned, then she agreed. The next day I had already received an answer: "God bless you."
In the hospital, there was a tall nurse with red hair. Every time the newborn children were brought in, she used to say to me: "You are a terrorist!"
Spouses and relatives came to visit all women in the hospital ward. Nobody.came to visit me. Thus, I was lying with my head covered with the sheet, crying. The doctor used to scream at me and warn me. Gradually, the women in child-bed were released from the hospital, and only I was lying there already more than two weeks. On my request as to why I was retained so long in the hospital, the doctor explained to me: "In your home nobody will help you. Therefore we hold you. . . "
Finally, I came home and tried to manage for myself. I bought a little bathtub, a boiler to boil water and a big primus cooking stove. The doctor gave me a new cradle with a mattress and many useful things.
I had no experience caring for my newborn child. Thus, when my girl cried, I cried too. Gradually, I learned to be a mother. I frequently wrote sad letters to Lipa about my difficulties and anxieties. In this manner the days passed by, and my baby became three months old.
On 29 November 1947 the UN decided that the Jews had the right to their
own state in Palestine. The joy was great. People flooded into
the streets, singing and dancing. I stayed by the window thinking: When
my husband comes home, I will be rejoicing too.
I had bad times. My child was sick. I wasn't accepted by the Kupat Kholim (Histadrut Hospital) of Kiriat Khayim, and I was forced to trample through the sands, with my child in my arms, to Kiriat Motzkin, to a private physician. He wasn't home. His wife said to me to leave my address and he will come to my home. I returned home and my child continued crying. Night time arrived and the physician still didn't show up. He came the next morning and excused himself: he was in the refineries and couldn't leave because the Arabs wouldn't stop shooting. My child had an ear inflamation. He gave her some drops and she soon recovered completely.
I was living at that time on seventy dollars, that my American relatives sent to me each month. I used to move the cradle to the window, lock the door and take a ride to the bank in Haifa to get my money. I had to cross the bridge at Wadi Rushmie, where the Arabs used to shoot continually. As the bus passed the bridge, the bullets began to fly and the driver asked all of us to get down. At the other end of the bridge, physicians, nurses and ambulances were ready to take care of the injured passengers.
Arriving at the bank, there were only Arabs in the line. I began
to plead that I was a woman with a child at home, in order to get my money
first. Only as I was leaving the bank did I notice the piled sand
bags and the armed boys behind them. One of them screamed at me:
"Keep your head down, if you still want to live."
Another boy sent me into a car, to speed me out of danger. From the car, I could see a blue-white flag fluttering over the police department. There were huge explosions on our way. Our boys blew up a truck with weapons, that the Arabs had sent from Akko. In one breath, with my last strength, scared that I left my child near the window, I got home. My girl was sleeping. Nothing had happened. I raised my hands to the sky and thanked God.
Soon the British began to leave the country. Ben-Gurion decided to proclaim the independence of Israel. I remember the great Joy of our people and the serious danger, when all our Arab neighbors attacked the newly proclaimed state. I remember our young children fighting almost empty-handed to defend the country.
The radio announced that the Kenyan inmates would soon be set free and transferred to Cyprus. But the next day it became public that the 251 Assirej-Zion were already in Tel-Aviv. It didn't last long until I was standing, with the child in my hands, in front of my husband in Kiriat Khayim. Lipa was home. A new life had started for me, a life of four decades, with its sorrows and joys.
Lipa tried to find work. He worked one month baking matzos, and for two months he dragged sacks in a creamery. Then, he painted the fence of a big enterprise. One of his coworkers recognized him, and asked him to sit under a tree. Other people took his place. He hadn't done hard work all his life and his hands had become covered with blisters, especially, when he worked as a stone-cutter.
Once, he felt that he couldn't do anymore. He approached the manager and said to him that he was not able to continue. This was approximately at lunch-time. After he rested during the break, he'd found new courage and decided to work the whole day. The manager came over and said to him: "Reb Yid (Mister), this job is not for you, go home!"
After some time Lipa began to work in the Johanna Zabotinski agricultural school, and we moved from Kiriat-Khayim to Beer-Jacob. Lipa did everything: he made the acquisitions for the school, cooked and cleaned.
We rented a room in Beer-Jacob, which was once a stable. I decorated this room in such a way that the landlord called the neighbors nearby to show them what one could make out of a stable.
My American relatives later sent to me some more money, which we used to take out a mortgage and buy a little two room apartment in Tel- Aviv. The apartment wasn't too comfortable, but it was finally our own. Lipa then got an important job in the Ministry of Tourism.
It was also time to treat my Basedoff disease. I went through a very serious operation and it had to last until I was set on a firm footing.
I was very eager to have a baby boy, to bear the name of my father. But I was destined to only have girls. When my second girl was born, I couldn't name her Moses, like my father, so I called her Miriam. Well, I can't complain about my daughters: They all have academic titles and are already favored to become grannies of grandchildren.
I missed my father and my mother all these years. Lipa occupied
their place as my best friend of my life. Unfortunately, he too wasn't
blessed with longevity. He became ill and passed away.
This happened during Succot, 1990. I received unexpectedly a letter from the representative of the Transnistria-Orphans group, announcing that there was a possibility to visit the Ukraine, the part that the Romanians called Transnistria. My first answer was that I was not willing to "trample the cursed earth", as I had written in my Hebrew book. But soon I changed my mind and came to the conclusion that this would be the only opportunity to visit my parents' graves, despite the fact that they were just collective graves. My daughters persuaded me also and I began to prepare myself for the journey. I recalled the rains and the muds of fifty years ago and I acquired a pair of boots and a warm coat.
Our group numbered thirteen persons. We flew from the Ben-Gurion
Airport to Bukarest. There, we were invited into the big Synagogue
for a reception. From Bukarest we went by train, in sleeping cars,
into Russia. I couldn't close an eye during the long journey.
I felt an emptiness in my brains, and wasn't able to comprehend what was
happening to me. I had a strange feeling that a half of me remained
at home and another half was traveling to those places.
After a whole night of traveling, a Russian officer entered the car in the morning, to check our passports. Officially, I was traveling to visit some relatives. My cousin, now an American citizen, was traveling with me. She alone wasn't in Transnistria, but her whole family perished there. I had only two hundred dollars. I thought, I am not going to Monte-Carlo, and if I am short of money, my cousin will help.
We traveled with a bus, actually our residence, where our suitcases were kept. I remember that in one village the local president invited us for a dinner with plenty of food and vodka. Our gentlemen got into a discussion with the gentile president, who suddenly asked why we kill Arabs in Israel. As it is known, we're divided home into different parties with different meanings, but there we were united as Jews, and we answered properly.
We finally arrived to Czernovitz. As I descended from the bus, my legs trembled with excitement. We changed our clothes and went for a reception with the Czernovitz-mayor, on the Central Plaza. The mayor received us very nicely; he praised the Jewish people and boasted that he always had Jewish friends. He just couldn't understand, he said, why Jews ran away from Russia. We understood it very well.
We presented our hosts with souvenirs of Jerusalem and we got from them a book about Czernovitz in four languages. The representative of the Jewish community spoke first in Hebrew, then in Ukrainian. Journalists and TV reporters also attended, and one of them asked me what I remembered about Czernovitz. I decided to speak only Hebrew, despite the fact that I could speak Yiddish or German. I told him that I remembered how the big Czernovitz Temple was torched when the Germans entered the city; how I saw the Temple burning from the roof of our house; and I was screaming: "The Temple is burning!"
The next day, some people told me that they saw me in the TV-show. I thought it would be interesting to get a copy of the cassette. But I was told that in Russia it was impossible. Nevertheless, I got a copy; not for free, naturally. It cost me a hundred dollars; but, it was to me a question of life to bring such a cassette to my grandchildren.
The next day, we visited the Residence of the orthodox metropolitan, the University, the Churches and the Museum. We were shown pictures and Art-Works from the 16th and 17th Centuries. During the explanations I thought about my father and I spoke to him: You see, Daddy, all the gates open for a simple Jewish woman from Israel?
Later, we were invited to visit the Jewish Congregation and we went there through the Temple Street. As the Germans burned down the Temple, the roof remained intact over the smoke-stained walls. When the Sovets returned to Czernovitz, they used the building as a Cinema arranged out of the remains of the Temple.
We were introduced into a nice hall, crowded with people, and seated in the first row. The Congregation representatives presented us with Eliezer Steinbarg (famous Czernovitz Yiddish fabulist) medals, with envelopes of photographs about Jewish Czernovitz, and plenty of flowers. Finally, one of our group ascended and played the "Hatikvah" on the piano. We saw people wiping away tears from their eyes.
(On page 59 is an image.of a monument dedicated to the memory of 400 Jews, killed in Czernovitz 6 to 28 July 1941)
From there we went into the neighborhood where the Jewish Ghetto was
located. On a wall there was a big tablet with inscriptions in Yiddish
and Ukrainian about what had happened in these streets. I can visualize
how it looked when I was here with my late brother, hand in hand.
I controlled myself with all my strength to not start crying.
(In the middle of page 60 is a section of the fabulist Eliezer Steinbarg's tombstone in the Czernovitz Jewish cemetery.)
And now we were in the huge Czernovitz graveyard. Plenty of broken tombstones, sunken, here and there, some even new. The path to Eliezer Steinbarg's grave was cleaned up. We brought flowers and laid them down on the original monument. My cousin and I were looking for the tombstone of my grandmother, the mother of my mother, who brought me up and under whose apron I used to hide. I remember even that my mother was angry because Granny always took my side, caressing me. I even possessed a photograph of granny's monument. When it was erected, a picture was taken, and sent to our relatives in America. We soon came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to find a tombstone in this ocean of monuments.
Walking back to the gates, with the heartache of having been so close and not having found the tombstone, I recalled suddenly the summer, when I was approximately six or seven years old. I was running around barefoot in the courtyard, and got a nail from a wooden plank stuck in my foot. Jumping on one foot, I was screaming: "It's not my fault, I didn't go to the nail, it is the nail which came towards me."
Granny immediately washed out my wound with water and soap, applied two green leaves, which she tore from the garden, and dressed my foot with a white piece of cloth. I couldn't forget those green leaves that granny applied to my foot, never-ever. Always when I see a green surface, through all my life, I was looking for those green leaves. I told this story to my children, and even drew pictures of these leaves on paper to show them how they looked. And now, walking in the Czernovitz Jewish graveyard, where I couldn't find granny's grave, I noticed all of a sudden those green leaves. They were growing there in the tens, in the hundreds, in the thousands. I bent down, tore up a handful of leaves, pushed them into my pockets and whispered: thanks, Granny, that you haven't forgotten me.
Near the gate was the Ohel (structure over a grave) of a Tzaddik (a righteous man). I noticed the two engraved hands, like at the Dukhan (blessing the parishioners), and I understood that the Tzaddik was a Kohen. My father was also a Kohen. Thus, I clung to the Ohel and implored the Tzaddik to find somewhere out there in paradise my parents, who perished on Kiddush Hashem (martyrdom), who weren't worthy to make Aliyah, and to say to them that I, their daughter, survived the Holocaust, put up a nice family and am praying for them and for Kol-Israel (all the Jews) to be healthy and mighty. Then, I reached into my pocket for the pack of candles and kindled them all near the Tzaddik's Ohel.
The next day we went to Ataki. I couldn't recognize the city. The rails on which we came here in cattle-wagons had disappeared. The walls on which it had been written: "Here Jews were killed" were now white. Only the Dniester remained the same.
A new, modern bridge had been built up over the Dniester, and we passed over it to Moghilew. How much Jewish blood and tears were soaked up by this Dniester! One of our group took out a little Siddur and chanted "Kel molej rakhamim" (a prayer for the dead).
On the other shore, the mayor of Moghilew greeted us. He also praised the Jews to the skies, and said that he's ready to sign a treaty with Israel right away, in Moghilew.
Numerous Jews got together, they wanted to see with their own eyes that Israeli Jews were among them. They weren't afraid anymore to speak Yiddish and to affirm loudly that they were all eager to emigrate to Israel. They were continually asking what was reasonable to take with them; some gave us letters to deliver to their relatives in Israel.
Undeliberately I suddenly asked: "Does anybody know something
about Klara Wasser and her brother, Izi?"
I heard somebody asking me to repeat my question. And when I repeated once more about whom I am asking, one person said: "Here is Izi Wasser standing in front of you."
I just began to tremble. We had the same destiny! Izi's mother, like my mother, was frozen on the way, at the same time. Izi remained with his aunt, but Klara stayed with me and together we got into the orphanage. When the Romanians permitted the orphans to return to Romania, I begged Klara to take her little brother and to come with me. She, however argued, that they couldn't leave Moghilew, because they had to wait for their father, who was in the Red Army. Now, my first words were: "Has your father returned?"
"No," was Izi's answer, "our father didn't come back from the war."
Now, Izi was a tall man with snow white hair. He was trembling, like myself. He too didn't know what to say, what to tell, what to ask. We were invited to the table. Izi with some Moghilew Jews joined us, and we drank Lekhayim and wished: next year in Jerusalem.
(On this page: A picture of a part of the Moghilew Jewish graveyard with the mass-graves.)
I asked to be taken to the Moghilew Jewish graveyard. Before my trip to Transnistria I asked a Rabbi for pemission to say Kaddish at the mass-grave, despite being the daughter of a Kohen. The Rabbi said that I could. I stood now among the sunken and broken tombstones at the Moghilew Jewish cemetery. There lay my father and my grandmother, my father's mother. Alive, they couldn't get along; here they lie in one grave. I lay flowers on the grave and said: "yisgadal veyiskadash . . . ". I wept and my companions wept too.
We were not permitted to pass the night in Moghilew. I didn't
know why. Thus, we returned to Czernovitz, but the next day I went
again to Moghilew. This time I could speak more with Izi. He
told me that he has a married son in Israel, with children; he also has
a daughter who wants to leave Ukraine; but her husband is not Jewish.
Izi's sister Klara now lives in Beltz. She married a disabled veteran
soldier and her children were all married. They all want to emigrate
I asked about the orphanages. "Do the buildings still exist?"
He told me that two of them were demolished. The building of the third orphanage still stands. So, we went there to see how it looks nowadays. We passed the "toltshok" (clandestine exchanging market) and the big market where we used to exchange a few rags (old clothes) for a piece of bread. It had all become transformed, unrecognizable. The wooden stairs and the forested surroundings had vanished. The place was empty. Nevertheless I took pictures all around. All that I told is documented in pictures. It was to me a question of life to bring home these pictures, that my children and grandchildren could view these places.
Our group got divided. Everybody wanted to find the places where he (she) was once with his (her) parents. My cousin, myself and a Czernovitz Jew, who has been with his parents in Moghilew, remained together.
Izi invited me to his home and introduced me to his young spouse, a pretty, but very fat lady. I couldn't in no manner understand how was it possible to get so fat, especially in Russia, where - people say - there is not what to eat.
"From what do you make a living?", I suddenly asked Izi.
"I am a barber", he answered me, "and my clients pay me with food, instead of money."
If it goes this way, I thought, there is no shortage of food in this house.
I went once again to the Jewish graveyard. I was much calmer and I recited the whole Kaddish at the mass-grave. Plenty of weeds grew high and undisturbed around the graves. I asked if the almost thousand Moghilew Jews were not capable to keep the place clean, that the goats couldn't come to graze there. They answered: "Leave us dollars, and we'll do it."
Maybe they were right, but their expression left me with a very bitter feeling.
I took leave from Izi and Moghilew. We went on further to a place called Murapha, where my mother and my brother had frozen. No Jews lived in Murapha any longer. I was told that there was no longer a Jewish cemetery. Just a large tombstone "In Memory" existed in Murapha.
In Ukraine, memorial monuments are very common, sometimes even two on
one and the same street, because there took place bloody battles during
WW2. In Murapha, the tombstone was 3 meters high and fifteen meters
wide, made of concrete. Engraved on the monument were a burning tank,
a crashing plane and a Russian soldier falling down with the Red Flag in
his hands; while another soldier lifts the Red Flag and a nurse is helping
an injured fighter. On the tablets are engraved plenty of names. Right
at the beginning I perceive Jewish names: Pinkhas Goldsmith, Abramovitz.
I was thinking how many young lives perished on this cursed earth!
From Murapha we went to Petshora. Even our driver didn't know where this place was, and it took some time until he found it. Many people waited for us in Petshora for several hours, because we were late. Petshora was in a huge forest, with young trees. At the entrance there is a tombstone with the inscription: "Here perished 50,000 Romanian Jews".
Before the war Petshora was a resort, where people with pulmonary diseases
came to seek healing. We saw from afar the big hospital, where the
Jews were driven to; those who got in never came out alive. After
the war the hospital was repaired and a school for nurses was established
I had with me a small bag and a spoon. As I bent down to take a little bit of earth, a lady stopped me and said: "Not from here!"
This was a Jewish woman, who had an important post in the party (communist), and she had tried to make sure that monuments were erected over all mass-graves.
A bus brought us to a huge place, surrounded by a freshly calcimined fence. Inside the fence two hillocks were seen - the mass-graves. A tombstone was erected over one hillock, with an engraving of a mother holding a child on her hands. In this grave only children were buried. On the second hillock there was a tombstone as well, with plenty of flower wreaths on it.
"My grave could have also been here," I cried out, "but the murderers didn't manage."
I wanted to cry out: "God", but I realized, that this place was not for God.
I couldn't separate myself from this place. I stood there and didn't stop crying, until I was almost forcibly carried away, seated in a car, and we went to Winitza.
In Winitza we lodged in a hotel. I couldn't even undress myself, being absorbed in my thoughts about all that I have seen and heard during the last days. The whole night I listened to the noise of the tramways on the streets.
In the morning I felt hungry. I couldn't swallow the meat and the yellow cheese, which were served in the hotel, although I am not a Rebitzin. I went out to find some apples. I found a huge "supermarket", with large shop windows, but all the boxes were empty. It is difficult to describe this picture; it has to be seen with one's own eyes. Two men in white aprons warmed themselves at the door in the October sun. I said to them: "Yablotshko, kilo" i.e. I want a kilo of apples.
They showed me the empty boxes and advised me to go on further to the fruit shop.
(On this page - a picture "In Winitza: monument to the killed Jewish children.")
I came to the door to see that in the store was an Egyptian darkness. But I could smell the scent of fruits. I stepped in and my eyes gradually adjusted to the darkness. I asked the clerk "kilo yablotshko", and he looked at me and said that he could sell me just one apple; and by the way he's asked me if I had paper to wrap the apple. Realizing that I didn't understand him, he gathered that I was a foreigner, and he found somewhere a piece of paper: "Protection!" I pay and leave. On the street there is already a huge "otshered", a line of people. From where did they gather so quickly? I had just entered the store. I saw from afar a goods vehicle with cabbage. It turned out that people were waiting to get a head of cabbage.
In Winitza we were invited to the Jewish Congregation at a table covered with mineral water. Here was also the mayor, who told us in his greeting speech that he got the first prize in the whole district for this mineral water. He also regretted that Jews were leaving Winitza.
From the Congregation we were brought into a school, where we were greeted by the public with the song: "Heveinu shalom aleykhem". One of the teachers handed over to me two songs, written by herself about Petshora. I took these songs with me and delivered them to the "Yad Vashem" in Jerusalem. In the evening there was a celebration of Simkhat Torah. They asked us to come in holiday attire, because there would be a farewell ceremony for a group of people, who were to depart the next day for Israel.
It was a joyous evening. There was music and a Jewish entertainer sang Hebrew songs. The representatives of the Congregation brought gifts for us, and the tourist-society presented us with white blouses, embroidered with Ukrainian motifs. I had trouble acquiring two such blouses for my daughters with the help of our guide, a Czernovitz Jew, now living in Israel, because, with only one blouse, I couldn't be happy. Although it was already night, our guide endeavored to do me the favor I asked for, and brought back to me the two blouses. In this way we bid farewell to Winitza and departed back to Czernovitz.
We joined again the guides for our group in Czernovitz. The representative of the Transnistria orphans gave a short speech and read a song, dedicated to our group. I also made a speech and told about the deep impressions that those ten days in Ukraine had made on me. I thanked all and emphasized that before the trip we were strangers and now we're like members of one big family.
We were sitting with our luggage in the lobby of the hotel. Everybody was deep in their thoughts. All of a sudden a young woman appears and introduces herself as a journalist of the "Radyanska Bukovina" newspaper. My heart began to tremble. My brother worked for this paper fifty years ago. I couldn't restrain myself and I told this to the journalist. She listens to me carefully, apologizes and runs out. After a few minutes she appears again and tells us that she found in the archive of the paper the name of my brother. He used to sign his articles "Muni Hirsch". The journalist thought that I would enjoy her announcement, but I started to cry bitterly. How could I explain it to her?
The next day we left Czernovitz. My Czernovitz doesn't exist anymore, I will not see it, never again. We were driving to the Romanian border. Plenty of cars waited there in a line, waiting for several days. Our guide arranged things quickly with the border guards and we crossed into the Romanian side. But, new troubles appeared. The Romanians found samovars (Russian tee-boilers) in our luggage and claimed it was "contraband". Our pretentions that they were just "souvenirs", are to no avail. We had to pay for every samovar thirteen dollars duty. They wanted it this way.
We arrived at a small town with only one restaurant, which accepted only Romanian money. I was lucky to possess 300 Lei, Romanian money, that a Tel-Aviv friend of mine gave me before our trip. We ordered six portions, at fifty Lei per portion, and divided them between us. As a supplement, I also got hot water for tea.
Finally we drove to Radautz, a place that I actually wasn't eager to see ever again. I was afraid that in the city where I was born, every stone would remind me what I can't forget anyway.
Our bus stopped in the center of the city. I recognized immediately the chains, which hung from the fence in the park. I perceived from afar the big Temple. But I was only eager to visit the graveyard, where my grandfather was buried, the pious Jew, who used to sit almost all his days in the Beit Midrash (study house). Before his death, he summoned me and ordered me to be a good child, to respect my parents and, God forbid, not to embarass the family.
On his grave was a tombstone in the form of a Torah-scroll. To my surprise, the graveyard was surrounded by a fence and the gates were of iron and locked. It turns out, that the graveyard was under control, so that the tombstones couldn't be stolen. We didn't know where the key was kept. I remained outside the fence and refused to drive around to find another entrance. I wanted to be home.
I am once again in Tel-Aviv. It is pleasant to come home. I am not sure that I did the right thing with this trip. But I know for sure that through this trip the ring of my destiny closed, as did my family's destiny. And now, come what may come, I am ready.
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