by Rabbi David Eisen
It is close to a quarter of a century, 1941, since my brother Dr. Moses Eisen, of blessed memory, was murdered by the Nazi and Ukrainian hordes. According to reports circulating at the time, he was beheaded with an axe.
Remember what the German Amalekite has done to You. We shall never forget. For countless times we visualize this execution. In his adolescent years, he used to read to my mother, of blessed memory, about the pogroms in the Ukraine during the Petlura terror. The exact date of his execution is not known. Therefore, we remain mourners unto eternity, without fulfilling the ritual prescriptions of the Shiv'a and Kaddish. He was not buried according to Jewish law and we do not know his burial place until this day. He was our Moishe Rabeinu.
Only a leading son of Israel could have possessed so much humility and kindness structured into his personality. He was the favourite of the Jewish and non-Jewish community. Born in 1898, he received a religious Jewish education and a classical secular education. He stamped his personality upon our family whose main supporter he was in the years following World War I. In 1916, he was drafted into the Austrian army where he achieved
the rank of lieutenant. Stories were told by returning soldiers that on the Italian front in World War I, he allowed the Jewish soldiers time for Minhah and Maariv services.
After the war he returned to Zloczow where he was an active member of the Bar Kochba group, an academic Zionist organization. At the time of the Polish-Ukrainian riots in 1919, he was a member of the Jewish Selbstschutz.
His goodness was legendary. When Poland suffered from a deep economic crisis and economic anti-Semitism in the early 20's, he spent a few years with distinction as a teacher in the Yavneh Mizrahi schools led by Moishe Schorr, of blessed memory, first in the city of Wloclawek and later in Stolin Polesie. When he returned from Stolin he decided to finish the law course which he had interrupted in order to help a family of nine children; and he studied day and night by candle light under conditions of starvation. A piece of bread in his pocket and the legal scripts or books, walking and studying in the direction of the Folwarki was his physical and intellectual food for a number of years. He obtained his doctorate of law in 1930. During the years of his short life he was an
active Zionist, attended conferences and participated in collections for Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod. His dream was Israel. But the British White paper, family ties and responsibilities were enough to invalidate any ideal. My great brother, who introduced us to the realm of culture and national religious sanctities, does not even have a grave. Let these few words serve as a memorial and monument. May his soul be bound with the living! Amen.
His intellectual partner was my sister Chaje Eisen, married to Hersch Horowitz murdered in Lwow, year unknown. She graced the city of Zloczow with her deep knowledge of Hebrew and served for a while as a Hebrew teacher under the auspices of the Tarbut schools. She knew the Bible by heart as well as Modern Hebrew poetry. She taught for a few years in Kamien Koszyrski and matriculated with distinction after attending a Polish gymnasium in Lwow for only two years. She was the expression of our intellectual and spiritual potential. While
attending school she had to support herself but nothing kept her back from achieving her academic and teaching goals to such an extent that she won the accolades of the highest educational authorities. In 1939, she became a mother until the Satanic German murderers liquidated a family of three persons.
The youngest of the three children named Eisen was Malka, married to Moishe Greenspan. The year of her Kiddush Hashem is unknown as is that of her husband and daughter. They lived in Lwow. Malka symbolized innocence in its noblest sense. She suffered from the earliest years owing to economic stresses and craved to be united with the family, without effect. One third of our family was destroyed, the heart and soul of the family paralleling one-third of our nation.
May the Lord avenge them!
by Mrs. N. Altman
The meaning of these words seems so innocent that one could suppose that those who succeeded in escaping beyond the wall entered Paradise.
So I would like to tell briefly my experiences in order to prove that life was Hell on Earth!
After all the horrors of the ghetto and the three actions in which my father, mother and younger brother were taken from me, everybody tried to persuade me to use my Aryan look and move to one of the larger cities in Poland.
In the beginning, I lacked courage and could not accept the idea of tearing myself away from my family. But my husband insisted saying that his plan of separation might grant us the possibility of salvation.
Such an argument; if not all the family, at least somebody might be saved, was terrible and cruel. The thought alone that I should leave behind my only son, husband and brother and go toward the unknown, drove me mad.
But in the end and because of my bad health, I gave in. My coughing attacks became worse and worse in moments of excitement so that our bunker was in danger of being detected.
after many attempts, my husband succeeded in obtaining original birth and baptism certificates in the name of Maria Rubiczenska.
We consulted with our guardian angel, Mr. Joseph Meyer and it was decided that I would be employed as a housekeeper by an anti-Nazi but high-ranking clerk in Lwow.
I consoled myself with the thought that at least I wouldn't be far from my family and could get in touch with them through Mr. Meyer.
To my great sorrow, fate decided otherwise.
Due to an informer, the clerk who had already employed a young Jewess as a seamstress not only refused to accept me but was forced to send away the first one.
We had to abandon our plan or seek another opportunity.
It was in Mr. Meyer's office that my husband met a young Pole by the name of Kazyk. This young man said that he was ready to take someone, especially a woman, to the other side.
Since Hitler's satanic plan was yet unknown, my husband did not regard the offer seriously.
In May 1943, after the failure of the Lwow plan, my husband met the young Pole
once more. The later was still ready to help someone with a good look. K. knew me and without hesitation agreed to take me. It was light-mindedness to rely upon a stranger but I did it in a state of mind that I could not describe nowadays.
After a dramatic departure, frightened and crushed, I was driven to Warsaw. I later found out that K was a member of the Underground. He brought me to a village near Warsaw, to a family of workers.
I stayed there for only a month. The neighbours started to get interested in me. I was desperate and close to suicide. My guardian K did not appear. I felt like a hunted and wounded animal.
Finally K did arrive. He found a new shelter for me in Warsaw. This time it was with a widow whose daughter-in-law, Betya, was also a member of the Underground.
There I was known as the wife of a Polish officer who had been arrested by the Gestapo. And here, I also did not stay long. The former lodger, also a Jewess, warmed of the widow's son, then temporarily in Lwow: A dangerous hoodlum, a Jew-eater with a special talent for detecting them.
His wife, Betya, also warned me. And not long afterwards, she received a message saying that her husband was back.
As if all this was not enough, I was struck by a new calamity. During a bus-ride, my money and papers were stolen.
In those days, thieves used to take for themselves all valuables and give the documents, especially identity cards, to the police. There was danger that through my false identity, my true one would be found out.
At a loss and desolate, I did not know what to do. My only way out was my friend Lina Ber who lived with her small son in Milnowek
where she was brought by her brother in 1942. They had Aryan documents and lived as Poles. I came to them, sick with fear and nervousness and Lina took me in and we lived together until liberation day.
It was a life of want and need. From time-to-time we got help from the Joint but even this was very risky because of the secret agents who lay in wait and delivered the Jews to the police.
Fear was with us day and night. We became dead pale whenever a uniformed German happened to pass by our house and fainted with every knock at the door. At times we thought of leaving Milnowek and returning to Zloczow, to the bunker.
Meeting Ukrainians from Zloczow was especially dangerous. Still, I was lucky. I did meet some acquaintances from Zloczow but they were Poles. Decent people who were happy to see me alive.
One of my late brother's friends, Mondek, was even very happy and warned me against his sister.
My feelings when I went to the police to get a new identity card are indescribable. I had to have one for without an identity card it was forbidden to move in the streets. And staying at home was equally impossible because it drew the neighbour's attention.
The daily hunt for people never stopped and informers never rested. They squeezed their victims mercilessly and then delivered them into the hand of the Gestapo.
Weak in body and soul, I awaited the day of liberation. It seemed so near!
The Soviet offence began and at the same time, the Warsaw revolt. In vain. The Russians conquered Praga and stopped on the eastern bank of the Vistula.
The Germans crushed the revolt in fire
and blood and the inhabitants of Warsaw ran away. Milnowek was filled with refugees among them a few Jewish survivors. Fear and hunger became stronger. Men and women were caught and sent to labour camps in Germany.
I was also caught and brought to a camp in Prushkov. Due to the kindness of a Polish doctor, I was not sent to Germany. Our situation became worse from day-to-day but at last, the day of liberation came.
The Red Army conquered Warsaw. We were free. Free, but hot happy for I was deeply worried about my family.
In March, 1945, hungry and beaten, I started on my way home. After three weeks of wandering, I was caught by the Russians together with a group of Ukrainians and accused of spying. They did not want to believe that I was a Jewess on her way home!
Miraculously, I was not deported to Siberia.
At last, I arrived in Zloczow, or rather the cemetery of Zloczow. Among the few survivors, I found my family and after two years of separation, we were united again.
We all looked like skeletons.
The Leah Opel Women's Organisation
by Joseph Meyer, Munich
Fate did not treat me badly but not well either when it sent me to Zloczow in Galicia towards the end of 1941. When I say 'not well', the reason is because as a consequence of my service in charge of market organization, my duties in connection with provision of foodstuffs caused me to undergo experiences which have left an ineradicable impression on my soul.
Soon after my arrival in Zloczow, I learnt from Polish quarters that in July 1941 and shortly after the occupation of the town, no less than 2500 Jews had been killed in the Zloczow castle. I wished to convince myself of this and accordingly visited the fortress one day. It served as a prison and there were 300 Russian prisoners there. The sergeant-major on duty showed me the little hillocks under the wall which covered the mass graves. But, when I asked him the reason for this mass murder, he informed me that the Russians had done it.
This information did not satisfy me. I felt doubtful and wanted to know more definitely about it. Dr. Altmann was the first who gave me clear information. I came to know him at the beginning of 1942 as a member of the Zloczow Committee for Social Self-Help and immediately recognized that he was a very reliable person who could be fully believed. When I declared myself to him as being an opponent of Hitlerism and told him that I had already found ways and means of helping both the Polish and Jewish population in my former post at Opatow and Radom, Dr. Altmann began to have confidence in me. When I asked him to inform his unfortunate brethren and sisters that as far as it was possible for me to help them without endangering myself, I would gladly do so, we became friends.
So it was natural that Dr. Altmann frequently became my guest in secret. Among other things, he naturally came with all kinds
Group of survivors with Joseph Meyer, the Righteous Gentile who helped them
of requests for his oppressed co-religionists and I must admit that he often caused me to have considerable conflicts of conscience within myself. After all, I had to fear for myself and my own family if ever the Gestapo or German police were to begin to suspect the additional allocations I made in contravention of the National Socialist laws to Dr. Altmann for the Jews in the ghetto, the neighbouring camps and especially for the patients in the Jewish hospitals and the so-called 'Jewish Folkitche'.
One case I still remember very well. In the summer of 1942, Dr. Altmann called on me most urgently to see that the Jewish Self-Help Committee should receive a large allocation of foodstuff.
Dr. Altmann justified his request in an impressive fashion by showing that there was a state of real starvation among the Jews which was causing the death of many of them including many little children. I cried in despair that I was helpless in this case but Altmann declared, with tears in his eyes, that he himself was aware that it was almost impossible to demand anything of me, yet he was convinced that I would find some way to present, or at least, to ease the dreadful situation. My conscience would not let me resist Altmann's appeal particularly as my knowledge of the diabolical methods used in the Hitlerist extermination system left me no doubt at all about the facts Dr. Altmann gave me. After mature consideration regarding the 'how to do it', I gathered my courage as a responsible citizen and decided to help in accordance with my conscience, in spite of all the dangers.
I demanded large quantities of potatoes, sugar, millet, groats, etc., all for military units whose names and numbers I had to invent.
On a smaller scale, I often provided additional allocations for Jews in other towns of the Zloczow district such as Prezemyslany and Brody.
It was inevitable that I should be arrested by the Lemberg Gestapo at the beginning of 1943. It is to nothing but my good relations, particularly with the higher Field Command of Lemberg among whom there were many opponents of Hiterlism and particularly of the pogroms against the Jews whom I knew, together with the shortage of persons capable of organizing the market, that I owed my liberation from Lemberg prison after three days.
I would like to mention another case in particular. Early in July 1943, Dr. Altmann informed me that the workers in the camp workshops of the Strassler factory were building a secret bunker underneath the cellars in which about 30 persons could be hidden. At Dr. Altmann's request, I gave a corresponding allocation of non-perishable foodstuffs.
I really hope that by my actions I helped a few of those helpless sufferers to survive that dreadful and gruesome period and to reach the saving shore of life.
In this way, I believe that I have acted in the best way possible for my homeland and for the maintenance of human honour and self-respect in accordance with the commandments of God.
by W. Winchel, N.G.
Fifty years ago, a poet was found unconscious on Forsyth Street in New York's lower East-side and subsequently died in a nearby hospital of starvation and cheap whiskey. He would have been unnoticed in the immigrant-filled bustle of the ghetto but for the fact that he was a writer of songs, songs in Hebrew, one of which was Hatikva (The Hope). Ten thousand people lined the streets at his funeral and followed the hearse through the narrow streets chanting the immortal words of the song that was to become the national anthem of a new country Israel.
The man's name was Naftali Herz Imber and the strange story of his life was recently told by the composer-conductor Franz Waxman. Mr. Waxman, on a recent conducting tour in Israel, came across the legends and tales of this modern François Villon and recently began to write a song cycle, based on the works of this almost forgotten poet. Even in Israel, the nation that sings his songs and speaks the language
in which he wrote, few remembered his name. Waxman relates that Imber lay for 46 years in a simple grave at Long Island's Mount Zion Cemetery with only the words of his anthem engraved on a tablet to commemorate his genius. Four years ago, he was taken in honour back to Israel.
Imber was born in the city of Zloczow, Galicia which is in the area now a part of Poland and was at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was a brilliant child from a poor, rigidly orthodox family. At the age of 8 he knew more than more 15-year olds and at 10, he was a fully-fledged Talmudist and a student of Cabala the mystic interpretation of numbers in the Hebrew religion. At 12, he left home and began a roving existence that was to take him half way around the world.
He wandered down the Danube, stopping from time-to-time with various friends who provided for his formal education until adulthood. While working as a secretary to
wealthy men or as a tutor to their children, the 19-year old poet aroused by the hopeless attitude of his people praying in their synagogues for a far-away land from which they had been banished some 2000 years earlier, scrawled 8 irate verses on a piece of paper and entitled them: Tikvosenu (Our Hope). The paper joined the others in his pocket.
He passed through the Russo-Turkish War with the instinct developed as a Jew raised on the Russian border: - stay out of the path of the Cossacks. Wandering into Constantinople, he found work as secretary to a wealthy British couple the Lawrence Oliphants, who took him to Palestine. He wrote profusely during his years in the country that was to emerge as a nation a half-century later and published his poetry in a volume called The Morning Star.
With the death of Mrs. Oliphant, the idyll was over and Imber wandered on, finally arriving in England. He was a misfit because however he tried, he could never lose the philosophy of the Eastern European Jew. Material wealth meant little to him in comparison with spiritual and educational values. When he had money, he gave it away. All he acquired in England was the wrath of Israel Zangwill (who called him a schnorrer) and the trappings of the West; a cane, nationalism and a taste for alcohol. Ever a wanderer, Imber arrived in New York in 1892 in the steerage of a ship.
Here his disappointment grew as he was given the treatment common to all immigrants of minor news value who do not know how to 'cash in' on their momentary glory. He was hailed by the press as a thinker, poet, and scientist for a day and then left to his own devices. Tikvosenu was chanted by Jewish immigrants to a folk tune of uncertain origin; they simply called it: The Hope Hatikvah and rarely connected it with the gaunt immigrant until he introduced himself. He also learned the N.Y. philosophy that his songs and a nickel would get him a ride on the trolley.
He began to drink excessively and lived purely by his wits. A good steak is better than a gilded epitaph he sighed and turned out new poems. Their datelines: Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, marked his meandering trail to the Lower East-side. In a St. Louis hospital, as he was about to be operated on for blood poisoning, he wrote a confession: I cry like an erring child/ From my Father's house driven -/ And Thou, Priest good and mild/ Speak out the word, 'Forgiven'.
Mr. Waxman pointed out that these latest poems were different. Their themes were personal, their sarcasms gentler and their language, English the last tongue of the six or seven he had learned. On his return, he found a patron a philanthropist who allowed Imber his strange whims and enjoyed the cavorting of this poetic court jester. It didn't last because Imber spent his
entire month's allowance on a glorious 50th birthday party for himself to which he invited the entire Lower East-side. His patron punished him by cutting him off with a dollar a day. He arranged for the dollar to be hidden in a book in the New York Public Library's Jewish Division the purpose to make Imber come and search for it while forcing intellectual nourishment before he would begin drinking.
He became a comic figure even in his East-side haunts and like a good trouper; Imber played the part of the jester to the hilt. Evenings, on his round of the cafes, the gaunt poet would pay for his liquor in verses improvised on demand, in sardonic humour and paradoxical brilliance until he was carried home.
Often now, he thought of death. Wine they give me but they would not give me a burial, he bemoaned to an undertaker friend. The friend promised to bury him in exchange for a poem. A contract was drawn up and the verse: A grave as a cure for sickness fulfilled Imber's part of the bargain. The pauper made his will. To the Rabbis
I leave what I don't know it will help them to a longer life. To my enemies, I leave my rheumatism. To the Jewish editors, I leave my broken pen so that they can write slowly and avoid mistakes.
He deteriorated almost hourly but his pockets continued to bulge with scraps of paper. Those who joked about: his carrying his life's work with him came close to the truth. The scribblings of Imber's years of decline, published posthumously, contained a wealth of material. In mid-September, 1909, he finished a Hebrew poem on the Hudson-Fulton celebration and was taken to Mount Moriah Hospital with a complication of diseases. He remained in the hospital just long enough to write a humorous obituary of himself and under the charm of the mild autumn weather, as the New York Times reported, - he left and wandered to all his old time haunts. The next morning he was found unconscious on a street corner and brought back to the hospital. He died at dawn on October 8th, the day of Simchas Torah (The Holiday of the Testament) and a Jewish newspaper ran his obit with the caption: On this day, all drunkards are sober.
by Sol Katz
Most of us know by this time that the man who wrote the words of Hatikvah, the Jewish song of hope, was a Zloczower, Naphtali Herz Imber. While in Israel last summer, I witnessed a Persian Jewish wedding. The Persians sang Hatikvah with gusto but when I asked people around me whether they knew the name of its author, most of them said it was Chaim Nachim Bialik.
Around the years of 1908 and 1910, a number of Zloczower intellectuals came forward with books of poetry in Yiddish. The first one was Samuel J. Imber, a nephew of Naphtali Imber. He named his publication Wus Ich Zing un Zug (What I sing and say). This book received a warm reception in the Jewish press and established him as a poet. The Jewish literary magazines of Warsaw and other Jewish centres were open and ready to print his prose and poetry. In 1927, S.J. Imber spent a few months in New York. Here he published an Anthology of Yiddish poetry. It was a heavy volume of 350 pages and contained, among others, poems written and published previously by M.L. Halpern
and Jacob Mestel as well as those written by S. Imber himself. The book contained a novel idea. It did not use the Hebrew alphabet; instead, the Roman alphabet was used. The translators tried hard to convey the pathos and beauty of Jewish poetry to the non-Yiddish reader. Although an outstanding scholar and poet, S. Imber never achieved the stature of his uncle.
Moishe Leib Halpern's writings were published in New York around 1930 under the name of: The Goldene Pave (The Golden Peacock). He was acclaimed as the Heinriche Heine of East Broadway. Of Halpern, Imber writes the following in his introduction to the Anthology: One of the first, M.L. Halpern found himself far from the beaten track. With an unusually bold stroke, he pierced the time-worn sheath of poetical sentimentalism. In his weaker moments, however, he comes back with songs in which strongly pulsates that kind of old poetry which ever remains young and is never ashamed of its sentiments. Although Halpern won recognition as a leader of the
young poets and had his works accepted and published in the Yiddish press (which at that time enjoyed a fabulous prosperity); he was in great financial need most of the time.
Jacob Mestel, another native of Zloczow, published in Lemberg a book of poems entitled: Ferchulemte Shuen (Twilight Hours) in about 1910. He later became active in Jewish drama. He was the first to stage Ansky's Dybbuk for the theatre in Warsaw and also directed it into a
wonderful cinema production. In New York, he was active mostly in the Jewish theatre. His work seemed to follow the path of J.L. Peretz, touching the borders of mysticism and Kabbala.
There were also some minor poets in Zloczow who succeeded in having their poetry printed. Max Zwerdling started to write while in Gymnasium. Shija Josephsberg was another minor poet to whom I acted as consultant and friendly critic.
Zloczow was indeed a town of culture.
Mrs. Minna Mamber in Israel
by David Eisen
The city was known as a Zionist fortress, constantly electing in the national election to the Sejm, proven Zionists whose names were glorified by young and old. The contributions of the Jewish community to Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod were considerable in view of the hopeless economic conditions of the members. The Jewish youth was a colourful mosaic of different organizations and Zionist groups, keeping in tune with the organizational structure of Israel. There were dreamers and idealists who left Poland, the homes of their parents, in the early nineteen twenties, to build a new life, a new Jewish nation in the Promised Land. Dov Opper, of blessed memory, the founder of Hashomer Hatzair, immortalized the name of Zloczow by giving his life on the shores of Kinneret for an independent Israel.
In the two decades between 1918-1939, it became clear to every Jewish youngster that the only solution to the Jewish problem was Eretz Israel. Their longing and nostalgia for Israel found its expression within the
Walls of every organization in the form of discussion and song, starting with the Revisionist organization, Betar, Zeirei Agudath Israel, Zeirei Mizrachi, Bnei Akiva, Gordonia, Herzliah, H.A.C., Hechalutz and Zeirei Zion. Each group had its own hachshara preparation for hopeful immigration to Israel. The membership of these groups included also youngsters from neighbouring towns and villages. The frustration and agony of the youth, because of the closed door policy of Britain, knew no limits. Most of the gymnasium students swore allegiance to one of these organizations. The loyalty and devotion to organizational life reminded one of the lives of the first pioneers in our Holy Land. Hebrew was a prerequisite for intelligent development and growth. The songs and dances which filled the air of the kepa-park cegielnia, the lawn near the first or second (zakret) of the Zloczowka, in the beautiful summer nights were exclusively in Hebrew. Our non-Jewish neighbours enviously observed the behaviour of the youth, finding it hard to explain how Jewish
Children motivated by ideals of Jewish renaissance, without supervision and direction from official spheres, grew in terms of personality, national pride and stamina.
It was enough to go out to the kepa-park and to fill your heart with euphoric joy at the sight of youngsters born in the Diaspora singing in thrilling voices their love for Zion, their readiness to sacrifice their lives for Israel. The leaders of small groups (kvuzoth) were held in high esteem and affection. To this position they qualified by reasons of personality and culture. Their meetings, two or three times a week, were educational along the lines of the Zionist movement, its history and Hebrew culture, etc.
Every meeting ended with songs and hurrah. A deeply moving experience were the hikes, a few miles from the city. This was a whole-day affair. The whole membership participated in affairs of this type. Discussions and games were the highlights of the hike after reaching the point of destination. Males competed for their ideal females, trying to win the heart of the happy girl through debates in discussion, bravery in games and physical prowess. Many emotional unions were thus consummated and in later years, sanctioned by marriage. The religious groups, Zeirei Agudath Israel, met in their headquarters and learned early in the morning the Daf Hayomi. The Zeirei Mizrachi combined in a wonderful synthesis, old and
new Jewish culture and tried to impress its members with our rich heritage based on Torah.
Each member of any group craved for self-realization and the first step towards fulfilment was Hachsharah. The behaviour pattern of the members of different groups, appearance and poise, differed in accordance with their ideological stress and emphasis. You would never find a member of Bnei Akiva without a hat, whereas members of Gordonia & Hashomer Hatzair would parade in their unique style which meant to express freedom from convention and tabooed behaviour. To think that this intelligent mass of youth-humanity was wiped out, murdered in the early spring of their lives, in the midst of hopes and dreams for a re-born Israel, of readiness to die for our Holy Land, equals an atomic destruction of our world that we knew and loved. They didn't live to see the fruits of their hopes. Their lives were mainly spiritual, woven on the canvas of idealism. Physically hungered to death, with the song of Zion on their lips, they have won eternity. We are all partners of this great legacy which they left behind. They were our eyes and heart, the embodiment of our wishes and cravings. We were not there at the time of their execution! We couldn't wipe their tears in their hour of agony. Let us remember them and never forget. Yisgadal Veyiskadash shmei rabo.
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