As the president of Safa Brura, my father, of blessed memory, often spoke with the children who learned in the Hebrew school, and encouraged them to love the Hebrew language and Eretz Yisrael. The parents of these youngsters, mostly from the Haredi circles, objected to this and complained to my father, saying that he was a negative influence on them and that they would deviate from the proper path because of him.
And some complained to him: what use is it for you to awaken others to fulfill the mitzvah of settlement, when you yourself do not fulfill it? To this my father, of blessed memory, would reply: I belong to the generation that must prepare itself in the diaspora, to go to Israel and build it. Even so, he intended to make aliya, but he fell ill and passed away.
And indeed, his influence on these young schoolchildren from Safa Brura was evident. Despite the objection of their parents, some thirty of them made aliya after World War I, comprising the first large group of immigrants who went to Eretz Yisrael from Buczacz.
* * *
In 1921, as is known, Keren Hayesod was established. At that time, I was able to donate a respectable sum of money to the fund (25,000 korona), and I told my father, of blessed memory, about my donation from the city of Vienna, where I then resided. My father, who returned to Buczacz after World War I, responded to my letter, saying amongst other things:
Your letter telling me that, thank God, you have donated 25,000 crowns to Keren Hayesod, breathed life into me, for I realized that you have a Jewish heart and you know the soul of our faith and that you wish to fulfill your obligation to our nation and our country. At once I said: a son of Israel – if he refuses to give a tithe for the construction of our country, he is an apostate to his people and his country. Even if he prays every day according to the law and sways forward and back as is customary, but if he opposes the construction of our land, his prayer is idolatry. For the time has come to build our land and plant our vineyards…
My father, of blessed memory, was highly educated, a talmid chacham and a Hassid. His entire life was dedicated to Zionist and Hebrew activity, and to Jewish-national work in our town (he worked hard, and under difficult conditions, for the Jewish candidates in the elections for the Austrian Parliament).
Until his final day, he took an interest in the building of Israel and a few hours before his death he asked a friend who was visiting him: Tell me, how many people made aliya this month?
During his old-age too he was very active in favor of the Zionist idea, and knew how to enthuse younger people as well, for he himself remained young in spirit.
Dr. Avraham Silberstein
One was the first chair of our town’s Zion Society, founded in the year 1894 the venerable and honorable Reb Hershele Shtern, (of blessed memory). He was an educated man with a deep knowledge of the Bible; he was much involved in communal life and wore a long white beard. An enthusiastic Khovev Tsiyon [‘Lover of Zion’], he brought up his sons to be enlightened Zionists in a religious-national spirit. He wielded great influence on all of us.
The small branch of the Shtern family also included Reb Hershele Shtern’s sons Meir Haim and Abba, and his brother Israel Solomon, who has family in Israel.
The second was a Hasid in every respect. Mr. Jacob Leib Alfenbein (the uncle of Mordechai Shenhavi from Mishmar HaEmek) was highly knowledgeable in the Torah and a respected householder. His love for Zion was as intense as a sacred flame. Following the Balfour Declaration, he wholeheartedly proclaimed that every Jew must immediately sell his property and emigrate to Eretz Yisrael. He actually carried out his belief. He intentionally sold his house and the one belonging to his relative Reb Reuben Leib Pohorila (two high-story houses) to gentiles, for Jews must leave for Israel. He received a worthless amount for them due to the inflation, but all was for the purpose of emigrating with his family to Eretz Yisrael. Unfortunately he fell ill and died at the age of seventy, his aspiration unfulfilled. When I visited him before his death he asked how many Jews were in Eretz Yisrael at the time. After telling him there were about 80 thousand Jews there, he replied in low spirits that he was convinced that in the years to come there would be a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel.
With the verse And the sons shall return to their lands, he passed away in the year 1924.
* * *
I am fulilling my duty by erecting a sacred memorial and a marker for the memory of a pure soul, one in thousands, my most learned teacher, Rabbi Samuel Issachar Shtark, of blessed memory, who was a dayan [rabbinical judge] in Buczacz. I studied under him for three years. He wrote several important books in a beautiful style, Minkhat Oni (‘Gift of Suffering’) on the Talmud, Avney Shayish (‘Stones of Marble’) on the Torah [Shayish ‘marble’ is an acronym of his name Samuel Issachar Shtark], Petakh HaTeyva (‘Portal of the Ark’) on Seyfer Teyvat-Guma and others. Among his pupils were the Chief Rabbi of Italy, Dr. Sh. Margoliuth of Florence, the son of Reb Jonah Margoliuth of Bresni. My teacher Rabbi Samuel Issachar, possessed a phenomenal memory. He knew the entire Talmud by heart. If a passage in a tractate was read to him, he immediately cited the page on which it was found. In his old age he was invited to fill the imposing post of Head of the rabbinical court in Vizhnits, Bukovina. May his memory be blessed.
As to the question which teacher was the most memorable and influential, the answer would be unanimous: Shlomo Dik. What was the secret of his success and influence upon us? We had many teachers and some may even have been better. However, he was exceptional in his devotion to his students and their problems. We concealed nothing from him, be they the most intimate and personal matters or simply issues concerning our studies. One could always find in him a sympathetic listener, one willing to offer true help. He had one aim in life for which he strove tirelessly in all that he did: Drawing Jewish youth closer to nature, which he loved and had a great knowledge of. The surroundings. with their dense forests, streams and fields were of great help, and he knew how to take advantage of every element and opportunity with utmost efficiency in order to attain his goal. He wasn’t satisfied in teaching a vocation alone; he wanted Jewish youth to regain their identity and self-esteem as human beings as well as Jews.
This was the period of the pogroms in Russia and some pogrom attempts were also made in Galicia. I shall never forget Dik’s words when he demanded we be prepared to aid the Jews who lived in the Jewish town of Kolomea, which feared an onslaught. He warned us not to be provoked into attacking anyone, but to demonstrate our right and duty as Jews and human beings to defend ourselves from any assault. He would include in his words historical facts of how the Jews used to defend themselves and their land and showed his disdain for Jewish submission in the diaspora in more recent times.
Dik also knew how to show his young students that only cooperative and organized forces could achieve substantial progress in the present and in the future. He was the first to organize a student board by which students could tend to their own affairs, with special committees that dealt with cultural, professional, and legal matters. Success here led to his request that students be allowed to take an active part in their institution generally. Here, too, he was successful, even though the rest of the teachers, who believed in a different kind of educational system, tried to lay obstacles in his way.
The ideas of Dik, the teacher and educator, provoked much opposition. His fellow teachers, as was mentioned above, opposed his approach to education. Nevertheless, he remained fearless and undeterred. The conflict reached its peak when senior officials from the Jewish Colonization Association [ICA] in Paris decided that the level of studies and cultural activities for the boys must be reduced to that of the farmers in the area. For only such men can be farmers. Contrary to their views, Dik wanted the range of education to be expanded; he wanted students to learn the latest scientific developments in the field of agriculture, to improve work methods by means of modern machinery, to deal with eradicating pests, etc.
His ambition was to prove to the Jews that it was possible to live from farming and to do so on a much higher level than that enjoyed by the neighboring farmers and the Jews with their luft (‘air’) occupations. We students felt that the dispute concerned our lives and our future, therefore we organized and supported him with all our might. He succeeded in canceling the edict from Paris.
It can be said with great satisfaction that from all the classes under Solomon Dik’s tutelage over 80% stayed in the field of agriculture (unfortunately, they are scattered all over the world), an achievement that no other agricultural school can claim.
Dik, who dreamed of a wider educational purpose for the Jews of that generation, went to complete his agricultural studies at a university in Berlin. Upon completing his studies he was offered the position of principal at the Jewish agricultural school in Steinhurst, Germany. Here too he met with great difficulties. Once again the dispute concerning system and goal arose. And again he encountered narrow-minded employers, giving him no choice but to leave.
Dik started to manage private and communal farms in Germany. He succeeded in reviving and re-organizing abandoned farms, which was met with wonder and admiration among experts. He was very happy that he could give Jewish youth from east and west a chance to learn the practical features of the agricultural profession on these farms.
His connection with Jewish youth and agriculture and his aim of bringing them together led him to Oppenheimer, to the latter’s method, and to Zionism. The ninth Zionist Congress decided to establish a cooperative association at Merchavia. It was to be run according to Professor Oppenheimer’s system under Dik’s management. Dik immediately contacted his students from Slovodka for this purpose. A few of us (including me) went to Erets-Yisrael prior to the founding of the association in order to study the special local conditions. With Dik’s arrival in Erets-Yisrael, and with the aid of a number of workers from the Galillee settlements, the foundations of the cooperative at Merchavia were laid.
This is not the place to unfold the story of the founding of Merchavia. I would only like to say that of all the settlements that were founded after it, not a single one experienced such hardships as Merchavia did during its first eight years. I will mention just a few details: about 100 young men and women, most of whom infected with various types of malaria, and about 50% to 80 % bedridden and unable to work during the most important work season, in the most primitive hospital situated in shacks swarming in every corner with fleas, scorpions, snakes and rats. True, the neglected fields were plowed with the latest machinery at the time, for there were neither tractors nor combines then. There was hardly any water; at times one had to literally fight over each and every drop. We were isolated in a savage environment surrounded by bandits and enemies. As if it were not bad enough not to receive any aid from the government, the same government made life even more difficult by false accusations and arrests, confiscation of our crops and work animals, killing of cows, confiscation of houses for the use of the army, etc., etc.
Each and every one of us, especially Dik, contributed as much as he could to the project. In addition to his vast professional knowledge he continued to learn from our neighbors and from Aharonson, of blessed memory, in Atlit. He introduced new plant species, a seed cycle and insecticides. He taught and trained the members, developed relations with neighbors and government, caught malaria and suffered with the rest of us. However, the extremely difficult conditions weakened the spirits of the members. After 4 years of strenuous work Dik left Merchavia, hoping to hear good news from afar. However, the war broke out, bringing an end to his hopes and ours.
Dik believed in and instilled in us the belief in cooperation as a system and a way of life. To this belief we added enthusiasm and devotion. Unfortunately, the combination of all the obstacles nature introduced, the neighbors and the government was stronger. By the end of the war our cooperative had been eight years in the making. We were both mentally and physically broken and exhausted, weak and low spirited. Eight of our members were gone, having died or been killed. The farm was in ruins with no water, tools, animals and all the conditions necessary for any kind of development.
Dik returned to Germany and continued with settlement activity according to the Oppenheimer system as well as manage other farms. He participated in Zionist Congresses and other public Jewish projects, appreciated and honored by those around him. In 1935 Dik came to Erets-Yisrael, and at the invitation of Dr. Ruppin, of blessed memory, prepared a report on various Jewish agricultural settlements and presented suggestions for new settlements and for the expansion of existing ones. He was against leaving things to chance and insisted on accurate and organized planning in dealing with the settlements as well as having the appropriate equipment and training. He was against monoculture in agriculture, and against the extreme kibbutz system. He hoped and believed that the extreme cooperative kvutsa and the extreme individualistic moshav would meet in cooperation; all this prevented him from living in Israel and contributing his priceless experience and devotion to our endeavor.
He left the country a bitter man and took an active part in the effort to save Jews from the Nazi Hell, but he himself could not escape the crater which was to swallow up a large part of our people. Far off in a foreign land, away from his country and friends, Dik met his death. We can but praise those first steps of his which, though they failed, constituted the basis for the new agricultural settlements and their prosperity.
In Germany he achieved great success and recognition in his field: as manager of the agricultural estate near the well known copper factory owned by the Jewish Hirsch family, as government inspector of the estates belonging to the former German Kaiser, and as a well known assessor for the major mortgaging banks. He was a Jew with a deep national-Zionist awareness. He was proud of his Jewish first name and of his eastern Galician origin and continued to be so when the Nazis rose to power.
During all of his stay in Germany he furthered the work of the Zionist Organization, especially in the field of agricultural training. He served as an expert in the London Committee in 1920 and at the Zionist Congress in Prague. He published articles and held lecture series on agricultural and settlement subjects.
A short while after the Nazis were well established, he left Germany and in 1934 he emigrated to Israel. Here he acted on behalf of the settlement department of the Jewish Agency. preparing reports on kibbutzim, moshavot, etc.
In 1937 he visited Madagascar as a member of the delegation appointed by the Polish government to investigate the possibility of settling Jews there. For a similar purpose but on behalf of a Dutch settlement company he toured Dutch Guiana.
These two trips affected his health and forced him to stay for some
time in France to recover. Thus he was stranded in France when World War
Two broke out and it was there that he died of a malignant disease at the
beginning of 1944.
Chairmen of the Zion Society Dayan Leybush Glantser, Mordechai Heller, Haim Weinberg, and Pesach Biller Jacob Shtern, Berish Shtern, Matisyohu Weinberg, and Dr. (Bernard) Borekh Fernhof Dr. F. Nacht and Shlomo (Solomon) Dik Chaye Roll and Dr. Koppel Blum Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum and Leon Wechsler
Visited Eretz Yisrael in 1932, 1934 and 1937, spending the time from Purim until after Pesach with his family (his son made aliya as a pioneer in 1930).
The Second World War put an end to his plans to make aliya and settle down in Israel, and he met his death in Stanislaw, when the Nazis began annihilating the Jews.
Dr. Hirschhorn was a popular man, and loved the masses. Many told of how when he had been in Russia and other countries, before coming to Israel, he asked about Buczaczers everywhere he arrived, asked after their fate and helped them as much as he could.
After the destruction he suffered, after the wanderings, he established a new home for himself, and shone with hope.
This sturdy man, whose spirit never fell under any of life’s circumstances is no more.
I shall mention the educated woman Golda Gottfried, who was born in approximately 1820, the mother of Rabbi Haim Gottfried, who shared the views of our townsman the well-known professor Dr. David Heinrich Miller, a classic linguist at Vienna University. This woman used to study Mishnah with the commentaries just like a man, and would talk enthusiastically about the Alshich and Bina Le’Etim commentaries on the Torah.
In my opinion, a great influence on the upbringing of the daughters of this generation was the talmid chacham who disseminated wisdom and knowledge among the youth, particularly among the young women of the town from wealthy families : the teacher Rabbi Michal Baer, of blessed memory. It is said of him that he was a wise and sensible man, and influenced the youth of his time, especially the girls. I had the privilege of knowing some of his female students, namely Shindl Segal and her sister Tova Neuman, and my mother Sarah Leah Neuman. I can testify that they were well-versed in the Torat-Chesed of Rabbi Michal Baer. In their daily talk they would always intersperse verses from the Book of Proverbs and Isaiah, with sayings from classics such as Goethe, Schiller and others.
This circle of intellectual women was influential in its time during the first Austrian Parliament elections in the Buczacz-Kolomia district, in 1886. After a stormy battle, the well-known Jewish candidate Dr. Josef Shmuel Bloch was chosen, rather than the assimilated candidate Dr. Bik from Lvov, who was supported with force by the government. He was the first in the Austrian Parliament to appear on a public stage, on his own accord, against Jewish assimilators, as a defender of all Jewish issues, especially the affairs of Galician Jews. He put up a fight against the Viennese anti-Semites, such as Leuger, Schneider and others. He played a large part in the success against the blood libel court case in Tiszaeszlar, Hungary, and in his war against the dictator Prof. Rohling, a friend of the Habsburg monarchy. His German Book, Rohling Kontra Bloch, made a great impression in its time.
Among the women who were active during those elections were my mother Sarah Leah Neuman and Shindl Segal. They took action against the government authority and won – a rare case at that time. They also founded a women’s society called Ezrat Nashim, which was active for several decades in the field of mutual assistance.
Among the Buczacz women at that time, the fine personality of Shindl Segal was especially prominent. She was born in roughly 1848 and died in 1936. She was a philosopher, studied Hebrew, read and collected many books. In the weekly Ha’Am, published in Kolomia by the writer Silberbusch, she wrote a few articles about Women in Israel. She told me proudly of her visit with the author Peretz Smolenskin in Vienna, how she spoke with him in Hebrew, using complete sentences. She was widowed at a young age and worked hard to bring up her only son, a talented boy, until he grew older and went to study at the university in Vienna. There, he was one of the first members of the student society Kadima, founded by Dr. Herzl. However, as fate would have it, his life ended tragically before he finished his studies. And so, as a mourning mother, she descended into her grief.
And finally we should mention the noble soul Chaya Roll, who passed away, to our great regret, before her time.
This grave economic state, which came close to real hunger, was fully understood by Regina Reiss, an attorney’s wife, who founded a soup-kitchen as early as 1890, where the town’s poor received a free breakfast and a nutritious lunch for 2 pennies. On Fridays, the meal included meat as well. Apart from this, the poor schoolchildren (from the Baron Hirsch school) received food for free.
In order to obtain the essential financial means to provide this welfare assistance, Mrs. Reiss founded a women’s society, whose members paid an annual fee and distributed meals at the soup-kitchen, on a rotating duty. Furthermore, she managed to interest many of the landowners and lessees in the area and influence them to provide the kitchen with potatoes, cabbages and other products. A tradition was also created whereby the wealthy citizens would mark the holidays and family celebrations by donating lunches for the poor through the kitchen.
Thanks to Mrs. Reiss’ organizational talent, the soup-kitchen operated until the war broke out in 1914 – under her personal management and with the great assistance of Shmuel Teller. The soup-kitchen was an act of charity for the poor, the hungry and their children, for whom the kitchen provided warm meals, and which should be viewed as Mrs. Reiss’ great merit.
In addition to Mrs. Reiss, who excelled in alleviating the shame of hunger, we should remember Mrs. Paula Marengel and Clara Gross, wives of attorneys, who were especially devoted to the orphanage which was established after the war. Only thanks to their tireless activity did the orphanage exist until the Second World War broke out, and it served as a house for orphaned and abandoned children. The few residents of the orphanage who are still alive fondly remember the righteous activists and their great dedication.
To our knowledge, these women are no longer alive: Paula Marengel was delivered to the murderers by the farmer in whose house she was hiding, while Mrs. Gross was murdered during an aktion, along with many hundreds of prisoners. It is said that this courageous woman found the strength to encourage the other women and young girls, at the verge of a tragic end, as they stood by the open grave which they themselves had dug: Be strong, do not be afraid, for the moment is approaching when our torture and punishment will end.
One woman who excelled in the field of political activism should be remembered. This was Mrs. Elsa Peller, the doctor’s wife. She began her political activity in Lvov, moved to Buczacz, where she used her wealth of talents and experience. This was in 1905. First, she set herself the goal of awakening a Jewish, national and Zionist spirit among the women of the town. Her first step was the foundation of Rachel, a society in which she developed a network of activity, gave lectures on national topics and arranged lectures on other topics. Over the course of time she acquired a large number of members in the society, who continued the activity, and became an important factor in the Zionist life in town. After the First World War the women’s club Wizo continued the Zionist activity under the leadership of Chaya Roll, Betty Medwinski and others.
Mrs. Peller represented a completely new type of woman in public life. While the other intellectual women were especially understanding of welfare assistance and the humanitarian needs of the day, with no understanding of the Jewish-national problems, she would reveal the courage to awaken Jewish-national life among the women in town, and bring them closer to the Zionist questions. And that was her exclusive merit.
Our house was filled with a Zionist and traditional spirit. Grandfather, of blessed memory, was a learned and observant Jew, loved and respected by his peers. Our father was a man of action and business, in keeping with the spirit of the times, and was considered a progressive. As a result, there was a more liberal spirit and a keen approach to Zionism and Eretz-Yisrael in our home.
In this family atmosphere, Shmuel was raised and educated. He studied in the town high-school and then continued in the Stanislaw town district. There, he joined the Shomer movement, where he first accepted the Eretz-Yisrael idea as his destiny.
The world war broke out. In 1916 the family moved to Vienna, due to the Russian invasion. He continued to study there, and was enthusiastically involved in the movement, taking part in the founding committee of Hashomer Hatzair in Vienna in 1917.
When he returned to Buczacz he brought with him a new spirit and initiated Zionist activity among the youth. Due to this activity he was expelled from the school, together with his friends. Shmuel and his friends drew a conclusion from this event, founded a hachshara group and began agricultural work. Shmuel had an affinity with farming work. During his childhood, he would often visit the agricultural farms leased by our father, and would show an interest in the work.
Shmuel decided to make aliya, to work in Eretz-Yisrael. He trained himself in carpentry too, and this was his first job in Israel.
In July of 1920 he left the town with a group of 30, intending to make aliya. They had no passports or other papers. They had many trials and tribulations. They crossed the Poland-Czechia border as smugglers, and had to remain in the country for several weeks, anonymously. They were often in danger of being caught by the authorities, but thanks to the community they were finally transferred to Vienna, and made their way from there to Israel, with many adventures and obstacles.
In September 1920 he arrived in Israel, from here on he began a life of work and creation, society and economy.
During the 28 years of his life in Israel, he visited family overseas twice. As happy as he was to visit us, he was eager to return to his farm and his kibbutz. He had no doubts in this regard. In the same way he had started his path, he followed it with no deviations. The path he had begun became the king’s way, which he followed until that bitter day, when he was hit by enemy fire and fell dead.
Born in 1929 in Buczacz. At the age of 3 he was brought to Eretz Yisrael by his parents. An alert and sensitive child was Meir from his youth. In his father’s house, imbued with the spirit of Torah and love of the land, he absorbed the values of Judaism and general humanistic ideals, which left their mark on him in all his future endeavors.
At a young age he was required to assist his parents, and already showed diligence and a love of work.
At the age of 15 he joined the Hagana and was aware of all the troubles of the time.
During the agitation in the Yishuv during and following the establishment of the state, he enthusiastically took on the duties he was given, and was always first to answer any call.
After being injured in his neck in one of the battles, he was given a recovery leave, but he did not use this leave and returned to his friends at battle, where he was killed.
But during the war, Ringelblum did not view his scientific work as the primary endeavor, at least not during the first two years of the Nazi occupation. At that time, he valued above all his public, practical work, and fully believed that his name would be recalled in history thanks to this work, for the circumstances placed him in the center of public activism from the beginning of the war. Ringelblum would recall that first period occasionally during later conversations. He would tell proudly and enthusiastically of the important activity which he and his friends carried out in the besieged and bombed Warsaw in September, 1939, when they would provide aid to the casualties and the needy, and provide shelter for the refugees and the burn victims, while being bombarded with bullets and bombs. The aid committee which was established at that time, during the great bombardment, became over the course of time the main aid institution in the Warsaw Ghetto, known as Yidische Sociale Aleinhilf (Jewish Self Assistance).
We worked together in that institution, in the public works sector which Ringelblum directed. The sector's duty was to be in constant touch with the Jewish population and to help it organize self-assistance. For this purpose, we divided the city of Warsaw (later, the Ghetto) into a series of areas, and established a local bureau of our institution in each area, and in each house there was a committee of residents. The public sector recruited hundreds of activists from all over the town later, the Ghetto and would conduct meetings, gatherings and many consultations. The sector's headquarters which were housed, for most of the time, in the community library building on Tlomeczka Street quickly became a public gathering place and a sort of stock exchange of information and rumors. Whoever wanted to meet acquaintances, hear about the goings-on in the capital and the provincial towns, or pick up secret information about the situation on the fronts and in the world, would come to this place. Here, the mass gatherings could easily be justified to the Germans, because we could always claim that the crowds of people were there to seek assistance.
Word of this place reached the provincial towns too, and when a Jewish man from there happened to come to Warsaw (at that time only a few Jews would travel from one town to another), he would always remember to go to the sector. And if he brought important news from his hometown, they would immediately usher him into Ringelblum's room to impart the news. On such occasions, Ringelblum would convene the head workers of the sector in his room (L. L. Bloch, Y. Torkow, Starowinski, N. Ack and others), so that they could also hear the news. Let us not forget that there were no newspapers for Jews at that time the only newspapers we could obtain (illegally) were from the Nazi press, Jews were forbidden to have radios at home, one could not leave the house in the evenings, the contact with the world outside the Ghetto was tenuous. It is no wonder, therefore, that there was much thirst for information not only about the occurrences in the world at large, but also of what was happening in the Polish provincial towns and even in the Warsaw Ghetto itself.
The work in the public sector gave Ringelblum the opportunity to meet many Jews on a daily basis, both residents of Warsaw and of the provincial towns, and to listen to their stories and their descriptions. And when they learned that this man valued the information and sometimes even recorded what they told him, they would produce their news for him even more eagerly. Sometimes they would also bring interesting objects, as proof of the veracity of their stories. For example, a document attesting to a capricious order issued by one of the local officers; a bag made of Torah scroll parchment; a photograph of an unusual act of abuse, and so forth. Ringelblum's great merit was that he knew how to appreciate the special opportunity which fate had handed him, and to use it correctly. This public work, then, is what inspired and enabled him to establish the archives. However, as we have said, the archives were at first only a secondary activity after his public work. Only over the course of time, when it transpired that in fact there was no true benefit from all the activities, since any attempt at an act, any effort, would be shattered by the evil of the sabotaging oppressor, Ringelblum began to spend the better part of his time and energy on the historical work. For himself and his followers for there were now enthusiastic followers of his work this work became a comfort in times of trouble and became the content of life. It was clear that this labor over preparing historical material for the next generations had become, for him, an escape from the tragic vanity of the present reality. Often, as we sat depressed after an unsuccessful endeavor or a new decree, he would suddenly begin telling the story of some important document which he had obtained, or some other detail of his historical work. During those moments, his voice and the expression on his face were evidence that the man was attempting to find a pillar to lean on in the midst of his failure the failure of us all, and he found it and was strengthened and encouraged by it.
Ringelblum loved conversations and jokes. He loved to listen and to talk. And above all he loved to write. His hand never ceased writing notes. He wrote details of news, segments of ideas and plans, names, rumors and jokes. He wrote not only when he was alone in his room, but also during conversations with a friend, a clerk, an activist, during a meeting or a conference, even when he was the chairman. He would put the notes in his pocket, but would also leave many of them on the desk in his office, sometimes unwittingly and sometimes because he considered them unimportant.
Ringelblum's historical endeavor was known, at that time, by the code-name Oneg Shabbat, and indeed, the archival workers would normally convene on Shabbat and take pleasure in the progress of their work, whose details they would impart to one another as they met.
Over the two years during which we worked together in the public sector, we would meet almost every day, and through conversations with him I learned various facts about his private life. He told me of the days of his youth in Buczacz; he told me that in the youth movement, he was under the leadership of Dr. Zvi Heller; he told of his sister in the Soviet Union. I also visited him in his apartment, where I met his wife and small son. I sometimes saw him with his party comrades Poalei Zion Smol [Left Zionist Labor]. Incidentally, they respected him very much and were proud of him, but were not always pleased with him. I once learned the reason from one of them: he is not enough of a party man, he is innocent, he is too honest
Ringelblum used to sometimes mislead people who thought to judge him by the expression on his face and his manner of speaking. Those who did not know him well might have believed that this was a sedentary man, far from life's tumult, one who did not know how to manage life. But the truth was that Ringelblum was not only a quick learner, but also had practical sharpness; he knew not only how to meditate on the problems of life, but also how to suitably handle their solutions. During the two years we worked together, I saw how he grew, how his stature increased during trying times, in face of the difficult tasks he took upon himself.
His nature was such that he belonged to that group of people who are never corrupted. In the course of his work, he met with thousands of people from all walks of life and all types of characters. He saw and knew at that time perhaps more than any other man of the scum and filth of the Ghetto life, but he was made of the stuff that nothing of that filth and ugliness could stick to. In his purity of heart and his honest ways, he was one of the illuminating figures who brought light to the darkness of the Ghetto and constantly gave it honor and glory.
In keeping with the pathos of Jewish history, two men lost their lives together during those years of the vast Jewish holocaust, although not at the same time and not in the same ghetto. They were the elder of Jewish history, Shimon Dubnov in Riga, and the youngest of Jewish historians, Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum in Warsaw. The latter was forty years younger than his teacher.
Soon after the First World War, when Galicia was united with Poland, the Jewish Galician youth flocked to Warsaw, Bialistok and even Wilna. Galicia had always had an excess of educated Jews. Before the war, they would migrate to Vienna and Berlin. Now Berlin and Vienna were cities of scarcity, while Warsaw offered great opportunities. And so the Galician doctors rushed to the Asian parts of Poland. With one sweep, they infiltrated the important positions. And when, in 1930, Y. M. Neiman wished to describe a series of leading figures in the Jewish institutions in Warsaw, he discovered that they had all come from Galicia. They were quiet and generous, but would conquer fortress after fortress.
Who can say what Emanuel Ringelblum thought to himself when he came to Warsaw in 1922 as a young, shy student. He was not yet even a doctor. I happened to make note of his first entrance to our authors club. It must have been in 1928. The crisis, which culminated in the year of the abyss, 1939, had already began. And here came a tall, upright young man, wearing an artists' beret, his hair curly and his face the colors of blood and milk, with dimples. He was constantly becoming embarrassed and blushing, and had a slight stammer. He wished to join the authors organization. We began talking and I recalled that I had some acquaintances in his town of Buczacz. I advised him not to stay in Warsaw. In general, I advised young people to leave Poland, especially Zionists such as Ringelblum. I almost quarreled with him. I had shaken his innocent faith, and had seen in him my own faith of a decade prior. Faith that was proven false. He defended his enthusiasm and faith in the future of Poland Jewry. He knows better than me; he is a historian. He is not a man of moods, a poet. We did not fight: Galicians do not fight. But we made some stinging remarks to each other and bid each other farewell. And from that time onwards, I sensed an eternal sadness every time I saw Ringelblum. I had already planted my vineyard and had found that only thistles could grow here. And here comes this man and once again plants his tender years. He became a member of the association. He once presented to me, victoriously, the essay The Young Historian and after all, 'the young historian' and Ringelblum became synonymous until the day he died a martyr's death.
And who could have foreseen that Jewish history, of all things, would place the thorny crown of the Warsaw Ghetto historian on his young head with the innocent face and dimples and in the ghetto itself? Not only did he himself write, he also organized writing and collection of documents. His name is signed on the last call to the declining Jewish culture in Poland and the entire Jewish cultural world. And in that final call he recalls that Oswiecim one of the greatest sites of murder was called in the vernacular: Oshpitsin. And thus he did not forget, even in his final words moments before his death, to call the town by its name.
December 1934. I left Poland for ever. A hasty meeting. It might have been
near the Paviak, nine steps and nine years away from that same
place and time, when the halo of the youngest tormented-historian hovered above
his head. He berated me for leaving Poland. I replied that I knew better than
He answered boldly that he knew sevenfold better than me. He knew.
One of the active branches of the organization was in Buczacz. That was where the gimnasjum youth convened in Zionist clubs under the leadership of A. Silberstein, Matityahu Weinrab and others. There was a quiet, serious, modest and shy young man who stood out in our Zionist club, and he diligently studied Jewish studies and Hebrew: Avraham Khalfan. He had been brought up in a traditional Jewish home, and we both participated in a special Bible studies lesson in Hebrew, directed by A. Silberstein. And when the Hebrew school was established and run by the Eretz Yisrael teacher B. Berkowitz, who lives here with us, we both learned from him during Hebrew lessons. Apart from Avraham Khalfan and his sister, Tova, other participants included Zvi Heller and his two sisters, Pnina and Khaya. Avraham was noted at that time for the deep interest he showed in his studies.
When he later became a medical student at the university in Vienna, Avraham joined us in founding a Jewish academic association, HaTkhiya, which was under the influence of such prominent Jewish activists as Dr. Haim Tratkover, Dr. Avraham Baruch (then, Rosenstein), mathematician and meteorologist Yosef Ritzes, poet Avraham Ben-Yitzhak (Soneh), author Zvi Disendrock, may their memory be a blessing, and Prof. N. Tur-Sinai, Dr. Avraham Sharon (Schvadron), Dr. A.Y. Brawer and Dr. Efraim Korngrein, may they live long and prosper. HaTkhiya was at that time the Jewish spiritual center for the semi-assimilationist Zionists in Vienna, because it was the first student association in the world where Hebrew was the language of conversation, lectures, extra-curricular classes in Hebrew literature and Jewish history, and arguments.
In 1911, A. Khalfan was elected president of the association, due to his distinguished character and talents. Dr. Benzion Mosinzon, who was visiting Vienna at the time and lecturing on the Hebrew culture in Eretz Yisrael, was chosen as an honorary member of the association. In those days there was also much activity in our association to support the Hebrew language and culture within other Zionist academic associations, such as Bar Kochba, Theodore Herzl, Kadima and others.
In 1914 Khalfan completed his studies in medicine and was drafted into the Austrian army, where he served as a physician until the end of the First World War.
In 1920 Dr. Avraham Khalfan settled in his hometown of Buczacz, where he was the town doctor and was later appointed as director of the internal medicine department in the town hospital. When the Nazis entered Galicia, Dr. Khalfan endured all the departments of hell which the holocaust brought, he was in a ghetto and later in the underground. In 1944 he moved to Lodz, where he directed the lung and X-ray department in the government health fund until 1948.
His great desire to make aliya did not materialize quickly, despite his many efforts and the endeavors of his friends, particularly his nephew here in Israel. He found some consolation in his life-long study of Hebrew literature, which he would read and reread in his great library in Buczacz, which was destroyed during the holocaust. In 1949 he managed, together with his wife, to escape the diaspora and make aliya to the land of his dreams. With him, he brought a Torah scroll which had been saved from destruction. Here in Israel, he entered a miserable period of searching for work, despite his training in an important profession. He almost despaired, for he could not find a sympathetic ear among the authorized persons and institutions. When he was accepted after many efforts to fulfill a professional public position as a roentgenologist in the League for the Prevention of Tuberculosis, first in Haifa and later in Hadera, he found satisfaction in this job. He devoted all his energy during the day to public work, particularly to treating the new immigrants. And in the evenings he would renounce the world outside in favor of the Torah and would meditate on both religious and secular writings. He would buy books and truly devour them. He was by nature a matmid [diligent yeshiva student] and wanted to grasp and acquire all that he had not been able to acquire while in the diaspora. He was noble spirited and quiet, but when he lectured he was like a perennial spring. He had a weak and sensitive heart, and when he lectured on occasion about the holocaust, which he had experienced first-hand, he would become extremely emotional.
The hard work exhausted his strengths, he became ill with angina, which hastened his end, and he died on 13 Shvat 5714 [January 17th, 1954].
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