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[Page 185]

Special Persons in Shumsk


[Pages 199 - 200]

Dr. Jakobson, of Blessed Memory

by Pesach Lerner

Translated by Rachel Karni

Translator's notes:Pesach Lerner, the author of this chapter, was born in Shumsk in 1901 to Malka (Roichman) and Moshe Lerner. In 1921 he emigrated to Eretz Yisrael among the first group of Shumskers to do so, stopping on the way in Vienna, where he visited the grave of Theodore Herzl (photograph on page 144). Pesach Lerner married Esther Sudman, also from Shumsk, and was instrumental in the immigration of her parents, Yisrael and Sara Sudman, and many other members of their families, in effect saving their lives. After World War II many of the new immigrants from Shumsk found a warm welcome in the Lerner-Sudman home in Tel Aviv. Pesach Lerner founded the Organization of Shumskers in Israel and stood at its head for many years. He played a major role in the publication of the Shumsk Yizkor Book. Biographical information about Dr. Herman Jakobson and his family appears in the endnotes to this chapter.

Generations of people from all strata of the town were cared for by Dr. Jakobson, of blessed memory. He received expressions of gratitude from people of different religions and ethnic groups on more than one occasion for having saved their lives. People in all of the villages of the area surrounding Shumsk came to him to receive the benefit of his medical expertise.

I came to know him when he was already elderly and had grown hard of hearing. My parents, who had known him for much longer, said that he had not changed: straight-backed, heavy of gait and hard of hearing. But when a patient entered, he perked up his ears and diagnosed every twinge of his heart. No irregular heart rhythm remained unnoticed — and this without equipment.

In the course of the many years that he served as the only doctor in Shumsk and the surrounding area thousands passed through his devoted hands. He knew them all — each of them with their weaknesses and their unique human qualities. He did not speak much. He was reserved and immersed in his work and in his inner thoughts, like a person who is weighed down by something and does not engage in idle banter or lighthearted conversation.

As a person who was highly educated, he differed from most of the members of the Jewish community of Shumsk. But he did not belong to the “intelligentsia” of the town and he did not emit an aura of superiority to others as they did.

It was said that he had been an outstanding yeshiva student in his youth and had been ordained as a rabbi and then left the world of the yeshivas. How he came to medicine was not known. Evidently his extraordinary talent stood him in good stead and he was able to bridge the gap of years that he had spent in the yeshiva in the course of obtaining his medical education. Because of his yeshiva studies he was not in awe of the level of Talmudic erudition of some of his esteemed patients, who tried to impress him with their expertise in Talmud. He acted as if the words of the patient were not directed to him personally and gave the impression that he had no time for anything else but the physical and emotional health of the patient he was caring for at that moment. The human being, and his life, were his overriding concerns. If each one would think this way, and respect the rights of everyone else to live, there would be no more wars and mankind would be saved.

But this was not in his hands.

War[1] broke out, and in addition to the terrible suffering this caused there was the suffering from an epidemic, which followed the course of the war as ravens follow a plow. I was a teenager in the town when the typhus epidemic broke out[2]. People fell ill, one after another. Those who had not yet fallen ill walked about like shadows from lack of sleep, exhaustion and worry.

I volunteered together with many other young people in the town in an organization called Bikur Cholim whose purpose was to care for sick people during the night.

The epidemic struck every home in the town and resulted in quite a few deaths. Despair struck everyone. With every person who fell ill, the world of the members of his household and that of his relatives fell apart. People did not leave their homes, and the usual, traditional social life we had had in our town ceased. Those who had fallen ill were kept in isolation, and those who had not yet fallen ill kept their distance from others.

The only one who went from bed to bed, without fear or weariness, was Dr. Jakobson. In spite of his age and his poor health he visited each sick person — at any hour of the day or night. In this time of despair Dr. Jakobson was a beacon of hope and succor. Everyone believed that his touch would bring salvation.

On rainy cold nights, during freezing stormy days, he would wend his way in the heavy mud and reach each and every corner of the town.

On dark nights his young son Ilya would accompany him. Ilya would walk ahead of his father, holding a kerosene lamp or a candle and light the way. This went on for many, many nights.

With us, the young volunteers, he behaved as if he were our friend. He would give us instructions for the care of the patients and rely on us — or at least he made us believe that he was relying on us.

One night I had been appointed by him to stay with two patients who were lying in the same room. It was already very late. I noticed that one of the patients was losing consciousness; his face had changed and he was exhibiting very worrisome signs. I knew that the hour was very late and Dr. Jakobson had just left an hour earlier for his home. But the responsibility for the matter spurred me on and I reached him, running all the way.

He was already sleeping. I awoke him and entered his office. He listened to what I told him, exuding both worry and trust in my words. He gave me a prescription with a special order to the pharmacist, and told me to remain awake all the night, to watch the patient carefully and to sit next to him. He told me to continually change the ice bags on his head — and if I did this — he calmed me — the crisis would pass and the patient would recover.

Four hours later — after a short night of rest — Dr. Jakobson was at the home of this patient in order to hear about his condition.

When he found that the patient had improved, a rare smile spread over his face, it seems to me the first time I had ever seen him smile. He shook my hand and thanked me warmly and said, “We have saved another Jewish soul.”

I will never forget Dr. Jakobson[3], a great Jew and a profound human being.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. World War I Return
  2. A typhus epidemic struck Russia, Poland and Romania from 1918 to 1922, causing millions of deaths. Shumsk was probably hardest hit in 1918-19, when Pesach Lerner was 17 or 18 years old. Return
  3. Irma Benyaminov, the granddaughter of Dr. Herman Jakobson, provided the following information about Dr. Jakobson and his family.
    Herman Jakobson was born in 1882. He studied at a yeshiva and was ordained as a rabbi but then decided to study medicine. He completed his medical studies in Riga in 1911 and worked as a physician in Shumsk until his premature death in 1934. As a young man he had joined the Narodniks, a political group in Russia that believed in living close to nature and serving the ordinary man and the peasants. This belief is what motivated him to go to Shumsk and to remain there. As this chapter attests, he was beloved and deeply respected by the people of Shumsk.
    Dr. Jakobson and his family resided in a very large apartment in Shumsk. His home served as a meeting place for the intellectuals of the town. After his death, his widow, Esther, who was not well, moved to Rovno to live with her daughter Dora and son-in-law. When the Germans entered Shumsk the Jakobson home in Shumsk was confiscated to serve as the Gestapo headquarters (see "This is How It Began" by Wolf Berenstejn on page 21 of this yizkor book).
    Dr. Jakobson's wife was killed in the massacre of the Rovno Jewish community in 1942. His oldest son, Yoseph (also known as Iozo), who had studied medicine, perished in a typhus epidemic in Buchara, where he had fled from his home in Rovno. Yoseph's wife and daughter survived the war and went to Israel. Chuna, the husband of his daughter Dora, was murdered in a mass grave in Kostopol, where the Jews of Rovno who were arrested in the third German action in Rovno were deported. Dora and her daughter, who had fled to the Soviet Union at the outset of the German invasion of the area, survived the war and went to Israel.
    Dr. Jakobson's daughter Raya, who was a trained nurse, lived in Warsaw. She worked as a nurse in the Warsaw Ghetto and at the end of the uprising in the ghetto escaped to the Aryan side, was hidden by an acquaintance and succeeded in obtaining false papers with an Aryan identity. She lived and worked as a nurse in Warsaw in this guise until the end of the war and later emigrated to Israel.
    Ilya, Dr. Jakobson's youngest son (who is referred to in this chapter), was an engineer in 1940, living with his wife and daughter in Lvov. He had a senior position in a large industrial firm. Shortly after the Russians entered the area as a result of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, the Russians demanded that Ilya serve as an informer. He was tortured in an NKVD (Russian secret police) interrogation and died shortly thereafter. His wife, Matia, and 4-year-old daughter, Irma Hermina, perished in the Nazi massacre of the Jews of Lvov. Return

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