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[Page 494]

The Hasidic Dance in Oswiecim

M. Mark

In Bergen-Belsen – the greatest gathering point of the uncremated cinders of the Nazi extermination camps – where everyone had dragged along a whole sack of wonders and miracles that had kept them alive, that noteworthy figure, regarded by all with total amazement, was pointed out to me. “The Dancing Hasid, there he is.”

I glanced at him, taking him in entirely, examined his stance and gait – and my amazement grew even more. Can it be? Is that the one who merited receiving the epithet of the Dancing Hasid?

Here is his portrait, exactly as he is: a deeply bent, broken figure; his face elongated and gloomy-looking; ash-colored, extinguished eyes; the hair of his payesand youthful beard all matted; an emaciated, shrunken body that is compressed within itself; in short, a perfect example of a doomed depressive!

“Who claims the right to make fun of such a one? Is it but a malicious prank?” I asked, completely shocked.

“No kidding around! That's really him, the Dancing Hasid! He, with his Hasidic dance conquered the crematorium ovens of Auschwitz (Oswiecim)! He let himself go in a singing gambol on the very threshold of the limekiln, and as a result the camp Kommandant, that devilish overseer of the extermination battalions, did not want to let him be cremated under any circumstances! This young, fluttering, jigging, Hasidic bocher'lwas simply begging the murderer not to be separated from all the other Jews and he, the bocher'l, even tried to break through and jump into death, but the Lagerkommandant opposed him with firm obstinacy. No, and again no!”

“If that is so, why then is he so drowned in sorrow and the sorrow expressed in his entire existence?” I found it hard to believe that which my ears had heard.

“That's it! His anguish is actually derived from that, that he was given the gift of life by the greatest murderer, since he remained alive only against his will!”

I began to investigate this peculiar Dancing Hasid in order to learn the secret of his soul. I tried to approach him and induce him to talk to me. I became convinced of how deeply disturbed and agitated he became at the slightest hint about that dance. Nevertheless, I was heartless and didn't let him off. My heart told me that the holy secret of this Dancing Hasid is also the secret of many, many others who jumped into the Nazi ovens with the greatest enthusiasm of kiddush Hashem, and whose sacrifice was, in fact, accepted!

I was not able to get him to say even one word about the episode of the dance at the crematorium oven. That experience was consciously sealed in the depths of his soul, and every attempt to talk about it or describe it he considered as the worst desecration. From the fragmentary sentences, delicate allusions, and tiny hints I heard him utter, I was somehow able to reconstruct the actual heroic saga of one of the youthful Hasidim in the ghettoes of Poland.


“Dancing Hasid, tell me: how did you, out of the despondency in the ghetto, ascend to such kind of a dance?”

“Not everyone in the ghetto surrendered to the rage of the torturers. Subterraneously, a fighting spirit arose. These were the young Hasidic bocherimwho stood in opposition to the Satan with the help of the old Jewish weapons: contempt and mockery of the enemy and defiance of the might of wickedness; the young Hasidim were rebels, and they did not accept any of the oppressor's commands. The occupier decreed that every Jew 12 years of age and older was to be drafted for forced labor for the benefit of the enemy. In order to enforce the decree, a system was established in the ghetto whereby whoever did not have a work card would not receive his meager portion of bread. The Hasidic bocherim rebelled, hid in the cellars, and created a kind of Hasidic commune. They did not report for forced labor, and they sought all kinds of stratagems to obtain for themselves a little food to hold body and soul together. When things got really bad and not a bite of bread was to be had without the stamped work card, a number of the Hasidic rebels went out to do forced labor but brought back their bread rations and shared them with the other chaverim, who remained in the cellars on guard so that the light of the Holy Torah and Hasidic ardor should not become extinguished!”

“Dancing Hasid, answer me, is it true that even in the dying ghetto the Hasidic song was not disrupted?”

“Everything that the villains invented in the ghetto had only one intention: to subjugate the Jews, to crush them. The Jew-badge with the mogen Dovid, which every Jew – from child to adult – had to wear, was called by the Nazis Schandzeichen [sign of shame]. But in that they made a great mistake, since many Jews wore it with pride and joy. How many mitzvahs in the Torah were given only to signify the Jew as Jew? Mezuzahs on the doors, t'filin and tzitzis, and beard and payes, about which Hasidim were particularly scrupulous; and then the unique Jewish form of dress, both on Shabbes and during the week, including men, women, and children. All of these were to give witness that one was a Jew! The young Hasidic rebels, therefore, specifically did not oppose the order to wear the Jew-badge. On the contrary, they took this on as a new, great mitzvah and they did everything to adorn and beautify it by wearing finely decorated badges. When they put on the yellow patch for the first time, their ecstasy was tremendous and they sang: “How fortunate are we, how good is our portion…”

“Dancing Hasid, tell me the truth. Did the very same ecstasy persist to the very last hour?”

“When the situation in the ghetto began to decline, the Jews came to understand that from then on their concern was to be not how to live but how to die as Jews! The young Hasidim, who lived in hiding, began to make proper preparations for that. They attracted to their circle a certain older Hasid, thoroughly experienced and knowledgeable, in order to study the laws and proper observance of the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem. The old Hasid explained it to them in utter simplicity. In the quiet, peaceful times, one teaches the young soldiers the entire lore of making war, how to fight on the front, and all the other stratagems of battle, that is, the arts and wiles of winning a war. When, however, the war with the enemy is at its height and the mobilized soldiers march out to the raging battle, then one makes preparations so that they know how to throw their lives into the very fires, safeguard their flag, and fall with the greatest worth! With this, the young Hasidic bocherimbecame hardened. They swore to each other that they would not, Heaven forfend, succumb to mental weakness in the last moment, not be dismayed by the raucous laughter of Satan, and not bring shame, Heaven forfend, in the hour of the last ordeal. All of this was accomplished in the hidden cellars of the ghetto!

“Dancing Hasid, don't turn away from me, and tell me straight out: how did you keep your oath?”

The dancing Hasid shuddered and became totally silent. With his nervous, fluttering glances he was shouting at me. How dare anyone approach with mundane fingers the most sublime soul string, which is hidden so deeply?

A group of young Hasidic bocherim, who led a rebellious lifestyle in the underground of the Lodz Ghetto and, in so doing, managed to maintain their Jewish-Hasidic appearance without the slightest change, were finally caught up in the final liquidation of the ghetto and deported, along with the last Jews, in the last deportation train to Oswiecim. During the entire journey, locked in the death train, the young Hasidim did not stop singing with the greatest fervor. Singing, they were led into the extermination camp and their hopping song accompanied them all the way to the gas chambers. The moment that the crematoria ovens became visible, they were caught up in the holy trance of the seekers after kiddush Hashemof all the ages; with rapture they began to embrace each other and hop around with each other, dancing together and singing the refrain: “How fortunate are we, how good is our portion, happy are we, how sweet is our lot, happy are we…”

The Lagerkommandant, the overseer of the crematorium detail, whose eyes had seen so many and varied spectacles during the reception process of the Jews marching to their deaths, this time was amazed and shocked.

“Who are they? What can this insane dance mean?” he shouted out wildly.

“These are young Hasidim! That is the Hasidic way! They are possessed of the highest faith; there is no greater reward in the entire world than to be burned in the ovens as a Jew, that means, for kiddush Hashem!” This was said by one of the Jewish slaves of the Sonderkommando in attempting to clarify the situation for the bewildered Lagerkommandant.

“These ones I will not exterminate for any money in the world! I will not fulfill their innermost wish!” he decided quickly.

Then, on the threshold of the crematorium, the following scene was played out. On one side the yearning thirst of the dancing, singing Hasidim reached a climax of uttermost ecstasy, and they begged the hangman himself, “We want to go into the ovens! Together with all the Jews! How fortunate are we, how good is our portion! Vey, vey, how good is our portion!”

And on the other side stood the Lagerkommandant, the chief hangman, confused and shocked, screaming with the greatest savagery, “No! I am not taking you to the ovens! That's all there is to it!”

Then, at once, the dance was extinguished. The wellspring of the song was interrupted. The Hasidic bocherim, united in a singing circle, already on the other side of the ugly materialistic world, were lost in despair and bitter disappointment, as if someone had fallen from the deep blue, clear skies into the deep abyss.

The sacrifice of the heaven-enraptured Hasidic bocherim was not accepted, and they were thrust back into the shameful, mundane existence of the extermination camp. Several of the dancing troupe later found their way to the ovens, and their lot was the same as that of many Jews. The only one of the singing fraternity who was condemned to remain alive, the Dancing Hasid, that is actually the one who stood there before me.

[Page 499]

From Darkness into Light

Chana Ziegman-Gaon

I was in the camps for five years and suffered greatly. In May 1945 I was liberated from the Nazi Murderer. I alone survived and did not know where to turn. I began to search for family and relatives. My first stop was my birthplace, Oswiecim. I came to the street where I had lived, formerly full of life, populated by fellow Jews who came to the synagogues nearby, and I well remember the sounds of their prayers; the beautiful festivals that they celebrated together with all the townsmen, of which I especially remember Simchas Torah, when all the city's Jews gathered at the synagogues and danced and sang while holding the Torah scrolls, the little children holding flags and joining in the singing and dancing, and the merriment continuing the whole of the day. I also remember the Fridays, when my whole family – my parents and my two sisters, my brother, and I – sang the Sabbath songs and were happy that our family was united, and we had hoped that it would ever remain so. Our hope, however, did not last for long, and with the conquest of Poland by the Nazi oppressor we were sent to the camps.

My eyes became dim upon seeing the city that had been my birthplace and had changed so much after the war.

Near the city of Oswiecim were the gigantic camps renowned for their cruelty, where our Jewish brethren were exterminated – as was my family, which included my parents, Sara and Avraham, my brother Boruch, and my sister Mashke. I started searching! Perhaps I would be one of the lucky ones who would find his relatives in the city. I went into our store, which was on Kolejowa Street. I found strangers there who ignored me and pretended not to recognize me. I left in despair, anxious about what would become of me.

I decided to visit my house, which was on Berka Joselewica [Street]; but there, too, I found strangers, though they treated me “politely” and asked if I would consent to remain. I mulled it over and thought about my future among these goyim who had always, throughout the generations, participated in the pogroms against Jews.

I was extremely tired, in a state of utter exhaustion. I went out on the street, hoping that perhaps a Jewish “brother” would take me in. I sat down on the sidewalk and pondered.

Just then, a group of goyim passed by. They saw me sitting there, pale and miserable, and said to me [in Polish]: “What? So many of you survived?” And then I fainted.

It is interesting that for five years I held up in the camps but these few words shattered me. Luckily, a Jewish doctor by the name of Dr. Chishin [?] was passing by, and he took me along. When I came to, I found myself outside of the city walls of Oswiecim.

Some time later, I learned that one sister, Zahava, had survived (Golda is now living in Israel and is the mother of two children: Yona, who is 17, and Na'ava, 11). We met and were content but would break out into loud weeping when we remembered the fate of the rest of the family, who were exterminated together with six million of our Jewish brethren who did not survive.

I remember the first words I said to my sister: “Our place, as Jews, is not among the goyim, and I am not willing to look at them anymore; our place is only in Eretz Yisrael, where we can live in freedom and know that everyone dedicates his life for his homeland, for only in Eretz Yisrael will the people live a quiet life in the future, and we can fight for our independence.”

After much effort, we had the possibility of coming to Eretz Yisrael, as ma'apilim [blockade-runners] on a ship named Chaim Arlozorov.

The trip was very hard; the ship was a cargo boat, not fit for transporting people, but that was not the worst aspect. There was a heavy storm and the ship almost foundered. We sang Hatikvah because we feared we would never reach Eretz Yisrael at all, but miraculously the sea became calm. How happy we were then, but the joy did not last long. At the borders of Eretz Yisrael (near the port of Haifa), we were seized by British destroyers that blocked our way to Eretz Yisrael. We were panic-stricken, and some of the people jumped into the water to attempt to swim to shore.

The British demanded that we surrender, and when we refused they sprayed us with tear gas. We resisted to the end, and when we realized that there was no hope of disembarking, one of our men scuttled the ship so that the British would not benefit.

All of us were then moved to a detention camp in Cyprus. There we waited impatiently for our turn to come to Israel.

In 1948, with the declaration of the State, we came to Israel. Here I built my home, and I am now the mother of two sons: Avraham, 18 (named after my father) and Binyamin, 15 (named after my husband's father). It is my hope that the Shoah we experienced during the Second World War will never return, and that we will, indeed, be free in Israel and defend our borders against the aggression of our enemies who want to exterminate us, and our hope is that our children will never have to experience suffering.

[Page 501]

My Days of Wandering

Chana Kaufman-Weichman, Bat Yam, Israel

From my earliest childhood, I was raised in a religious atmosphere. My father, R’ Uri Kaufman, was a well-to-do Jew, virtuous, and charitable. He raised his children, three daughters and four sons, in the same spirit, sent the boys to learn in cheder, and always took them along to the prayers in the bes medrish of the Chevre Mishnayes.

I remember that when they laid the cornerstone of the new bes medrish of the Chevre Mishnayes, my father was the first to make his contribution of 200 zloty, and he was bestowed the honor of laying the foundation of the new building. I, myself, would often go with my mother and grandmother to the Great Synagogue for the Shabbes prayers. I loved to look at the beautiful paintings of the artist Stankewicz that decorated the walls and ceiling of the synagogue. I enjoyed the festive atmosphere, the silence of true devotion. It seemed to me like the Holy Temple in Jerusalem before it was destroyed.

I can't forget a Purim holiday in our home. The tables were set with pastries and drinks. My father, in his silken kaftan, sat at the head of the table with a pocket full of money, which he distributed to everyone who opened the door: Purim players, cheder boys, shamoshim,andmishlo'ach mones carriers. My mother was also busy with charity. Every Thursday, she and another neighbor woman would go out in the town to collect money and foodstuffs for poor families to make their Shabbes.

When the children in our home became older, they spread out in various cities to look for work. One brother went to Bilice, a second to Sosnowice. I myself got a job in the Meisel-Guter textile shop in Oshpitzin.

On that tragic early morning of September 1st, 1939, the day the war broke out, while I was on the way to work, German aircraft bombed the town, and a bomb fell quite near my workplace. At that time, the daughter of the Enger family was killed along with others. It was lucky that I had left a little later for work. The Germans marched into town and right away began to seize people for labor. The bitter days had begun. There were queues to obtain the piece of bread, seizures for forced labor, fear and anxiety. Jews celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with deadly fright. The Germans hauled my two older brothers to the Brzezinska village to clean out the barracks of the Polish military stationed there. They certainly could not have imagined that that location would later become famous as the symbol of Jewish pain and suffering, the sadly notorious Birkenau. Later, the Germans dragged my two brothers to the Annaberg camp, where they suffered hunger and cold; they perished in 1943 at Berek camp.

Our family was deported from Oshpitzin to Modrzejow, near Sosnowice, at the beginning of 1941. The local kehillaallo cated us an apartment in a former shop on Czechen [?] Street. I found work in a shoe store belonging to the Lendner family of Sosnowice, and I had to make the daily six-kilometer trip on foot. I turned all my earnings over to my parents.

In February 1942, the Jewish police came for me in the middle of the night and brought me to an assembly point for girls in Dekerta [?] Street, and in the morning [we were brought] to Dulag [?] Sosnowice. There the SS took charge of us and sent us to Lager Burkenheim [?] near Katowice. At that time I would still receive a letter from my parents every two weeks. Suddenly the letters stopped, and some time later a woman from Modrzejow told me that my parents were deported once more and no one knew where.

My wandering days began. Every five or six weeks I was transferred from one camp to another until I arrived at my last camp, Lager Langenblau, and there I was liberated by the Russian army on May 8, 1945.

With much sorrow and anguish I found out that not a single one of my family members survived.

[Page 503]

Living in Sorrow

Gella Borger

I was born in Oswiecim. I spent my early years in that little shtetl, happy and calmly together with all my loved ones. I went to school and studied very diligently. I had just turned 13 when the war broke out, which ruined the serenity of all mankind. Right at the beginning we fled from the Germans. For four weeks we trudged through the fields and forests without food or drink, just to save ourselves from the murderers. After great suffering and distress we had to return home, where we found ruins and an empty town without Jews. I will never forget the images of that time as long as I live. Nevertheless, we stayed home for two years, working hard for the Germans. Quite often the people were brought home from work having been beaten for no reason. In 1941, our town became a hell for millions of people, especially for Jews, a concentration camp to which millions of people were brought from all over the world, where they were gruesomely exterminated. The Germans transferred us to another town. There my hard times began. Soon my brother was taken from us, and from then on I never heard from him again. I started to work in a shop and despite working hard I was soon taken to forced labor.

From that time on, I did not have a minute's rest. I had to leave home and live with strangers. Where I slept one night I was not permitted to sleep the next. After several months of harrowing experiences there was a deportation, my parents were sent away, and I was sent to a camp. That day I became an orphan.

During my internment I lived as in a prison, without a kind word or gentle glance that could maintain one's soul. Entire days were spent at the machine, working hard. At night my cushion was wet with tears. My only prayer was to be able to meet my loved ones. I felt that the sun would never again shine for me.

After three difficult years, however, the end of my suffering approached. One fine morning, work at the factories stopped and a totally different attitude prevailed.

The Red Army came closer and the happy moment came. They freed us from the German kidnappers. I immediately made my way home, [to] my hometown, although it was a cemetery. My only hope was to be able to meet my loved ones. There a ray of sunshine shone for me. I met my dear brother, the only one who survived from my entire family.

We soon realized that Eretz Yisrael was the only solution for us and we joined a kibbutz.

[Page 557]

A Memorial to the Pioneers

Nathan Goldfinger

I sense a holy responsibility to remember and memorialize the first of the Chalutzim from Oshpitzin who, with providential inspiration, as if by command of the guardian angel of Israel, foresaw what was to be, the realization of the Zionist idea and the approaching Shoah coming in its all encompassing horror – and they went and made Aliyah to a waste and desolate land, to make it fruitful and to rebuild its ruins. Thus they paved the way for the Aliyah of the multitudes and the building of the state. Most of these Oshpitzin Chalutzim who made Aliyah before the others to build the land, have already passed on, and it is our duty to remember them:


Netanel Shachor

He was born in Polanka in 1902. Orphaned in his childhood, he was raised and educated by his aunt in Frydek Mistek. As a student at the Bilice high school he befriended students from Oshpitzin who studied there, and he was active in the Zionist movement and Hechalutz that was founded in our city. In November 1919, he quietly ran away from home, having no passport or money, and after many adventures, smuggling over borders, sitting in various jails, he reached the Land together with Yechezkel Harding [?] (Wachsberg) in January 1920. These were the first of our townsmen to step on the Holy Land. After arriving he worked in various places, was active in guard duty and defense. He was among the first of the settlers in Kfar Yehoshua and was considered one of the most diligent, and outstanding people in that settlement. With that, he was active in public affairs and instructed the settlers of Moshavim who started and founded settlements, he trained the youth of Aliyat No'ar and several of them were educated in his home. He was straightforward and pleasant-mannered, secure in his chosen path, influencing others with his enthusiasm.

I will quote some lines from the letters he sent me. In January 1920, he wrote: When I internalized the Zionist vision I made Aliyah. The motto “Self-realization” penetrated deeply and when the thunder of cannons was heard we hurried to get on our way… In January 1920, he wrote: Only here can we find the font of renewal, to be transformed to become productive people, to return to agriculture. In January 1927 he wrote: This is the founding day of Kfar Yehoshua. We live because we strive. When we stop striving, it is a sign that we are not alive, therefore we will continue to strive.

He died on Ellul 3 5730 [Sept. 4, 1970]


Shlomo Wachsberg

He was born in 1899. He was somewhat of an eccentric. He gave one the impression that he was always at odds with himself. To everyone's surprise he made Aliyah through the port of Beirut. He trudged on foot through all of Lebanon and reached Eretz Yisrael via Metulla without organizational affiliation of any kind. At about the same time, his brother also made Aliyah. From the very beginning he worked at guard duty and in agriculture for the farmers of Bat Shlomo, and later settled in Karkur. Suddenly, and again to everyone's surprise, he left to return to Poland. During the Shoah period he fled to Russia, and after liberation he made Aliyah once more when the state was declared. He was a Hasid of Sondz [Sacz] and Radomsko. He died in Jerusalem in 1972.


Shlomo Better – Achiezer

He was born in 1903. At the age of 15 he was already a member of the first Chalutz group and one of the founders of the Hashomer Hatza'ir branch. He financed a major part of the travel expenses of the “Schlein” Kvutza of Krakow with his own funds. He made Aliyah in May 1920. He worked for the farmers of Kfar Tavor and was one of the group, which rebuilt Tel Chai and Kfar Giladi. He later settled in Afula and was one of the first transportation workers in the region, which later grew into the “Egged” cooperative. He was a good friend, devoted, liked by all, and always prepared to lend a hand to anyone requesting help.


Eliezer and Tzila Gleitzman

Eliezer was one of the heads and leaders of the Zionist movement in town. He served as the chairman of the “Reading Club”. He, together with his wife, made Aliyah with the first Chalutz Kvutza in August 1920. He worked for the farmers of Menachmia, paved roads, and together with his Chaverim of Hashomer Hatzair drained the swamps at Nahalal. His wife was one of the activists and an instructor of the “Bnot Zion”. She was the first girl from a Hasidic home to dare to leave her home and make Aliyah despite the opposition of her parents. In order to finance her travel expenses she cut off her long braids and sold her hair. She, too, worked at building roads for “P. I. C. A” in Shomron. Later she moved with her husband to Bnei Brak. She was active in “Mizrachi Women” and its institutions.


Avraham Chaviv

He was born in 1902 and made Aliyah in August 1920. During his first years in the Land he suffered from chronic fever, and, despite medical advice he refused to leave the Land. By dint of his iron will he finally overcame his illness and regained his health. He was among the first members of the G'dud Ha'avoda [The Work Brigade] and a founder of Ein Harod. He worked at cultivating the fields and helped to build up the Kibbutz. There he shaped his personal philosophy and began his public activities. At the end of the twenties he left the Kibbutz and moved to Herzlia, which was just then beginning to sprout, and when Kfar Vitkin was founded, he moved there to become one of its first settlers. He was the representative of the village in the Moshav movement and their delegate at the national offices of the Histadrut. He was a member of the “Tnuva” Central, “Mekorot” Central, active in the citrus-growers association, the Agricultural Central, and the secretary of the Settlement Department, the right hand of Avraham Hertzfeld.

Following are some of the remarks made by Hertzfeld in a eulogy at his burial: “Beneath his rigid, and at times rough exterior, beyond the strict and abrasive style of his interchange with his surroundings – there lay within, a sensitive soul and a warm heart, seeking social intimacy and fellowship. He himself would have sought this intimacy but he didn't know how. The key to his locked heart was always in the hands of another. Whoever knew and wanted to activate it at the right place and time – was more than amply rewarded. Avraham didn't look for the path of least resistance. He will be remembered as a meticulous person who demanded much from others, and most of all, from himself. He was a faithful public servant, loyal and devoted to his constituency to the utmost degree”.

Among the former Oshpitziners, Avraham is remembered as a pleasant man whose life was rich in content and who always carried out his responsibilities completely, one of our giants. He was active in the association and did much to promote it. He was privileged, during his last illness, to hear the great news of Jerusalem's liberation. He died in the month of Sivan 5727 – [June] 1967.


Mordechai (Mottel) Better

His parents were R’ Shmuel and Zisel. He made Aliyah in 1920. Like the other Chalutzim of that period he covered the length and breadth of the Land, participating in its renewal, working in the villages and orchards, draining swamps, and building roads. After contracting malaria he moved to “Little” Tel Aviv of that era and was one of the builders of the “Herzlia” Gymnasia, both as laborer and sentry at the building site. For many years the Gymnasia was his home and address. He was one of the original founders of the well-known Trask Company, and, as such, never missed being present at all the major public occasions at that time.

His public service was hampered by the illnesses he suffered. His malaria and severe lung problems weakened him, the Italian bombardment in 1943 destroyed his home, but his spirit remained constant as before. He accepted everything with love, and he never complained. His constitution weakened, and walking was difficult for him. The young, happy-go-lucky fellow turned into a serious and reclusive man. He died in Tel Aviv on the 19thof Shvat 5732 [February 4, 1972]


Yosef Nechushtai – Kuperman

He was born in 1902. He studied in “Cheder” and was considered an excellent student, with a quick mind, and the best Melamdim in town praised him. He acquired his general education through self-study. Being rather tall, quite knowledgeable, and sharp-witted, he spent much time with older friends, thus broadening his horizons. He was particularly fond of Tanach and its commentaries. That book was never out of his hands, and he knew it thoroughly. When he traveled to the Land, and after his arrival, he studied several chapters every day, and when he married and raised his children, he continued to study and cherished Tanach at home as well. His grandfather, R’ Nosen Kuperman and his mother Ruchale were counted among the few Jewish families who owned tracts of land and cultivated them with their own hands. From them he absorbed the love of the land, and when he became a Zionist, he understood it in its essence: To make Aliyah and to engage in agriculture. He was one of the first founders of the Chalutz movement in town, and made Aliyah in August 1920. Being delicate, weak, and pampered from birth, he had a difficult time in acclimating to the local conditions and suffered from frequent illnesses. His mother implored him to return home, but his spirit was unbroken, and he insisted on striking his roots in his homeland, and succeeded. He worked at road building, for P.I.C.A. in the Shomron, and was one of the first settlers of Tel Yosef. Together with a large group that had despaired of Kibbutz life, he left Tel Yosef and was one of the first settlers of Kfar Vitkin. He was active in cultural affairs in the village, and after the Shoah he was sent overseas on a mission by the Hagana to organize and gather the scattered survivors and to bring them to the Land. He was a gentle and sensitive person. He fell ill and passed away in mid-age on Sivan 12, 5720 – 1950 [5720 = 1960?].


Shoshana Hornung

She made Aliyah in August 1920 together with her sister Lea. She was a diligent and devoted worker, faithful to Zionist ideals. She settled in Ein Harod. She died childless in 1973.


Yosef Stiel

He worked in the settlements of the Galilee and Shomron and later moved to Karkur where he raised his family. From his deathbed he saw the War of Independence but did not live to see the establishment of the state. He died in March 1948.


Mordechai Tyberger

He was born in 1900 and made Aliyah from Vienna in September 1920. Contrary to the accepted practice of the Chalutzim who went out to work in the outlying areas, Mordechai worked in Tel Aviv and lived there his entire life. He was active in the defense of Tel Aviv during the riots of 1921 and afterwards. He was the only one who brought his parents and entire family soon after his arrival. His home became a magnet for former Oshpitziner. Every Oleh was welcomed by him with affection, and he helped them to get started. Justifiably, he was given the nickname “The Consul of Oshpitzin” and took pride in it.


Elyakim Hornung

He was born in 1903 and made Aliyah in 1921. He was one of the founders of the city's Hashomer Hatzair branch. He was always gay and happy, and full of good cheer. He willingly carried out the tasks that were assigned to him. He worked in various places. He was a Chaver of the G'dud Ha'avoda at Tel Yosef and from there moved to Jerusalem, where he worked in construction. He was also active in the Haganah. He fell at his post in the heinous explosion on Ben Yehuda Street on February 22, 1948.


Sara Herdung [?] – Jakubowicz

She was born in 1901 and made Aliyah with the second Chalutz Kvutza in 1925. She had been Dr. Goldberg's secretary in Oshpitzin. Immediately on arrival she settled with her husband, Yechezkel, in the Karkur Moshava. This was an extraordinary settlement, since Karkur was a Moshava inside a Moshava, and if other settlements received sparse outside allocations, Karkur received far less. Obviously the living conditions under such circumstances were unbearable. In spite of the hardships, the Herdung house was open to all wayfarers. The little food Sara had she shared with others. All sufferers found a haven in her. She bore up quietly under her burden without letting anyone sense it. She was active in the Working Mother's Association and was known for her generosity and kindness in all the surrounding settlements. One may say of her that she was one of the pearls of Oshpitzin's youth. After the establishment of the state her economic circumstances improved. Her children had grown and she could have breathed easily but she fell ill and died while yet relatively young in 1953.


Shmuel Salomon

The Salomon family came to Oshpitzin as part of the wave of refugees in the wake of the Russian invasion of Galicia during the First World War. They came from Dukla and remained to live in town. Shmuel was then about 13, a mischievous youth but very bright, having a phenomenal memory. He decided to study and prepare himself for acceptance in the Rabbinical College. On his own, he passed the entrance exams. He devoted himself to the study of philology and by self-study he attained full fluency in the following languages: Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic. He profoundly studied the books of the Prophets, Maimonides' The Guide to the Perplexed, and of the profound teacher of the period, Nathan Krochmal. He was fully conversant with them all. Due to his broad knowledge and being most articulate, he became the spokesman of the Zionist movement in town, despite his youth. He taught Hebrew and lectured on Tanach and Aggada. They thirstily drank in his every word. When a public assembly was convened in honor of the San Remo Declaration by the Allies, Shmuel, then 18, was the principal speaker. He spoke in impeccable Hebrew with the S'fardi pronunciation. In the autumn of 1918, he moved to Lwow to pursue his studies, but was caught up in the whirlpool of the war then raging between the Ukrainians and the Polish army in the wake of the disintegration of Austria. As is well known, the Poles celebrated their independence with pogroms against the Jews. Shmuel joined the Jewish self defense against the rioters. When the members of the self defense were arrested and charged with treason against the state, Shmuel was able to disguise his identity and escaped secretly, returning to Oshpitzin.

From there he went on to Germany and studied Eastern languages, specializing particularly in Arabic at the Universities of Breslau, Cologne, and Berlin.

In 1927 he was invited by Dr. Lehman to teach at the famous Jewish Home for Orphans at Kovno, and in 1928 he made Aliyah with a group of children from that institution, coming to Ben Shemen, which was to become their future home.

His first years in the Land he spent as a teacher and instructor, and as one of the molders and shapers of child education in the Kibbutzim of Heftziba, Kfar Giladi, and Beit Alpha. After further study for a year at the University of Cairo, he moved to Kibbutz Genigar where he stayed until 1946. In 1947 he moved to the Teachers' and Kindergarten Teachers' Seminary in Givat Hashlosha and the regional school of the Center for Education.

After the formation of the state he was called upon to participate in founding the Department for Arab Education at the Ministry of Education. First he organized a Teacher's Seminary for Arab teachers in Jaffa, and later he served for many years as the head of the Education Department for the education of Arabs and minorities in Israel. He, at the same time continued to teach the geography of Israel, his beloved second profession, at seminars of the Kibbutz movement of Youth Aliyah of the Jewish Agency. When the government ministries moved to Jerusalem, he, too, made his home in the capital city.

Only a few years remained after his retirement in 1968, and his wish to publish two compendia on Jewish Thought in Arabic translation, and Islamic Thought in Hebrew translation was interrupted by a long illness, which ended his life in 1975.


Yakov Better, OBM

He was born in Oshpitzin to a family that had lived there for many generations. He was raised and educated in a Hasidic home, excelled in his Jewish studies and through self-study acquired a broad general education. He studied accounting and attained a senior position in the first Jewish bank in town.

He belonged to a generation of contrasts and upheaval, the likes of which were rare in human history and the Jewish people, one which chanced to be situated between hope and despair, between life and extinction, between extermination and redemption, but with all that he was not broken and knew how to rise above the depths of the abyss to unusual heights.

Yakov was a modest man, and quite shy, and it would probably discomfit him to tell his praises, but we, his townsmen, owe him so much, that the very fact of our being here is due largely to Yakov. He was among the first to espouse Zionism in Oshpitzin.

Yakov was a Talmid Chacham and a Maskil, the perfect example of a Talmid Chacham of the old generation dressed in modern garb. For us, the youth, he served as a guide for the perplexed, a teacher of Hebrew, a guide in attaining a general education, and as a model for emulation. He was not among the orators or seekers after honors, but every activity of the Zionist movement in town was arranged with his planning and instruction, and all quietly and modestly. He was the representative of the Jewish National Fund and reached all of the different factions in carrying out that responsibility. He knew all the people in town and their family lineage. He was a veritable, living encyclopedia of Oshpitzin Jewry. He was a true friend to everyone, because God granted him a good heart. He was banished in the midst of the Friday evening service from the Kloiz of the Admor R’ Elazar, where he prayed, because of his Zionist activity. In his usual style, he did not respond to the insults nor did he bear a grudge; he was truly a Tzadik. When the Rebbe came to the Land, he went to visit him with a “Kvittel” and a monetary gift, and supported him as far as possible.

He died suddenly on Tishri 7 5732 [September 6, 1971]. All who knew him, and especially his townsmen, cherish his memory.

[Page 620]

Our Gratitude

We wish to express our gratitude and congratulations to the honorable editors of the memorial book of our city Oshpitzin: R’ Meir Shimon Geshuri, Rabbi Aviezer Bursztyn, and Chaim Wolnerman, who devoted their time and energy, who voluntarily toiled and exerted efforts, and brought their project to a blessed conclusion in erecting a lasting monument and memorial for our town, devastated by the cursed Nazis.

We also wish to thank the authors of the reports and articles, organizers, fund-raisers and donors, the members of the publication committee, the activists of the association, and to all who lent a helping hand in its publication:

Yakov Braun Bronka Lilienthal All from Israel
Shmuel and Malka Bochner Mordechai Fortgang
Natan Goldfinger Yehoshua Feiler
Mrs. Druks Mordechai Frey
Shimon Yoav Silbiger Ze'ev Feldman
Matl Tyberger Manya Kuperman
Yitzhak Katz Shlomo Kuperman
Moshe Levanon Natan Scharf
Elimelech Haufstein, Yehuda Kinderman, and Dan Ringer

In the U. S. A.

Messrs. Yakov Feuer, Yehuda Nachshoni, the editor of “She'arim”, and Shaul Rapaport who tendered valuable advice and helped us to prepare the book for printing. We extend them our heartfelt thanks.

In Memoriam

The original founders of our organization, members of the committee and administration, the members of the publication committee who established, worked, and expanded the organization's activities for the benefit of the Oshpitzin Landsmannschaft:

Eliezer Gleitzman, OBM, the former Chairman of the organization, and his wife Cilla
Dr. Iro Druks, OBM, the former Deputy-Chairman and Secretary
Yakov Better, OBM, the former Secretary
Moshe David Holzer, OBM Avraham Chaviv Lieblich, OBM
Alter Chaim Henig, OBM Michael Vogel Singer, OBM
Dov and D'vora Weinheber, OBM David Kuperman, OBM
David Wachsman, OBM

The Organization of Former Residents of Oshpitzin-Oswiecim in Israel

[Page 617]

Letters of Regret
Personalities' remarks

Translated by Sara Mages

With God's help, to the people of Israel, 5736

I hereby express my admiration and my blessings for the sacred task that you've taken upon yourselves to perpetuate the memory of personalities and institutions, hy”d, who had lived and worked in the Holy Community of Oshpitsin when it was a “Jewish metropolis” and before it turned into “the city of slaughter” for masses of our fellow Jews from Poland and other countries. Its name, which in the past was known for its beauty, became a source of horror, pain and grief.

As is known from the legend of our Sages of Blessed Memory, the Prophet Yermiyah walked amid the ruins of Jerusalem after the destruction of the First Temple searching for the traces of the priests of Israel and their wise men. However, instead of finding a remnant, he found their bones scattered in piles of dirt and ash. He collected them, wet them with his tears and kissed them affectionately.

Your payment, for searching in piles of ruins to find what you can, is also great. You will attach, one to one, facts, documents, testimonies, so as not to let the Minister of oblivion to take control of the memory of this wonderful community that among its sages and geniuses was also my eldest brother, the martyr Rabbi Eliyahu Rosen, hy”d.

Let us all, everyone who mourns the destruction of our nation, rejoice in the streets of the united city of Jerusalem, and there, to exalt and glorify the light of the Torah for the liberation and rehabilitation of the nation in his country, the Holy Land.

With friendship and the blessing of our Holy Torah
Rabbi Dr. David Moshe Rosen
The Chief Rabbi of Romanian Jewry

[Page 618]

Ramat Aviv, 23 Heshvan 5737 (14 November, 1976)

--- In relation to the matter, right now I cannot do what is appropriate to do for this important book. Indeed, a lot has been written on the subject of the Holocaust, but we need to write more for this generation and future generations. I bless you for your initiative.

Golda Meir


HaKirya, 6 Tevet 5737 (27 December, 1976)

--- I'd love to do what you've asked because the memory of Auschwitz shouldn't be erased from the history of our nation. However, the time required for writing isn't available for me right now. To my great sorrow I have to reject your request and ask for your understanding.

Respectfully, Shimon Peres
Minister of Defense


Jerusalem, 16 Kislev 5737

--- I thought about it and found that I don't have the mental and the literary strength to deal with the terrible topic of Auschwitz and its horrific meaning for the Jewish people. I beg your forgiveness for the delay of my answer and your understanding for my inability.

Binyamin Halevi
Member of the Knesset

[Page 619]

Jerusalem, 18 Kislev 5737 (10 December, 1976)

--- I attribute great importance to the enterprise of writing a Yizkor book for the community of Oshpitsin- Auschwitz, and I would willingly participate in the book. Unfortunately, I cannot respond to your request because I don't have a suitable article and I cannot write an article in the near future.

I'm sure that the book would be a great contribution to the memory of the Holocaust and its victims.

Dr. Yitzchak Arad
Chairman of Yad Vashem


Tel-Aviv, 10 Kislev 5737 (2 December, 1976)

--- Oshpitsin was for me, since the dawn of my childhood, a distant echo from a world foreign and close. A habitat that I didn't grow in, but I hadn't been left without a connection to it. My father, may he rest in peace, was born there, but he was brought back to die in martyrdom not far from where he first saw the light of the world. He planted a lot of Oshpitsin in me: the spoken language, the way of life and melodies that still rejoice in my heart. However, a partition of horror, which robs me the ability to articulate, is standing between what Oshpitsin radiated on me through my father's home and the horrific meaning that it wore later. I tried to write emotions and reflections from my father's home and from his ashes, but the pen froze in my hand.

I ask your forgiveness, but I cannot write about this subject.

S. Schitzer
Editor of “Ma'Ariv


Tel-Aviv, 15 November 1976

--- Like you, I attribute great importance to the commemoration of the city Oshpitsin-Auschwitz, which represents the greatest calamity that befell the Jewish nation in the Diaspora - even though I'm not sure that articles can achieve this goal. It's better to let the documented material to speak.

S. Rosenfeld
Editor of “Ma'Ariv

[Page 621]



He stood alone. He looked up: White horizons, cold, all around –
The gate is open. No one comes out. There is no one here.
The Planet Auschwitz – the fireball inside raging – crouching is now extinguished, cold, and he stood there alone. Only he –
The earth lies before him as if covering its petrified heart, dead.
Once more no one breathes any breath of life here. God forsook this land, and Satan, too, has left it.
The blocks stretch far and wide – dead rocks.
Inside the blocks, between the piles of heaped skeletons on the ground, here and there a forgotten Muselman stirs. Silently, very slowly, speechless, he moves his upper torso, twists out from between the cadavers – a remnant of life from a world that lived here once.
An entire world!
Now a dead emptiness extends here. As if the sea had frozen in its rage.
All of the gates in all the camps stand wide open. No one enters them, and no one comes out. There is nobody here.
The white horizons lie petrified at the gates.
He wants to shout: Deliverance. Freedom has come!
Where is it, the deliverance?

Like the remainder of a broken doorway, where you cannot determine which of its sides served as the entrance and which as exit – so, also, you don't know on which of the two sides he stands, the Liberation. You stand here, at the foot of a mountain of ashes, as if you had returned to the hearth of your family. Behind your back lies Auschwitz – dead. Petrified. Desolate.

Don't expect to find anyone there. You won't. All of them, everyone is here! Here, in the heap of ashes! Here, in this spot you will find them. Day and night you pined for them. They were your entire hope. They tore you away from them – and now, once more, you stand near them. You are face to face – here they are, all of them, everyone. You have found them, because liberation has come.

Where is it, the deliverance? – On which side of the open gate?

The crematorium is deserted. Petrified. The iron doors of the oven are wide open, cold. The long, iron shovel rests dreamily near the dark hole of the crematorium. Just a short time ago everything was boiling hot with the inferno-of-Auschwitz. Like an ocean furious with mountainous hurricane waves so did the breakers of fear engulf you and shatter you day and night. Now everything is dormant. The long steel shovel, like an opium spoon, rest idyllically near the oven; the crematorium oven doors – mute metal, extinguished.

The strips of air between the rows of barbed wire are silent in their chill. Those lines of wire that were electrified. Now you can touch them with your hands – both from inside and out. They no longer imprison anyone. They no longer free anyone. There is no one inside, and no one is outside. They are all here now – in the heap of ashes.

My beloved! Deliverance has come! –

He threw himself on them. He embraced them in his arms. He drew them to him. He lay on the heap and his arms dipped deep, deep into the ashes.

– My beloved! Deliverance has come! –

Auschwitz lay behind his back – silent like stone. He screamed. Heard a voice. Afraid to turn around: It was his own voice echoing back from the distant camps.

He rose from the ashes. He looked all around: He was the only one in all of this place who could originate an echo. He knew: Inside the pupil of his eyes the Planet Auschwitz remained frozen as it was before it was petrified. And to him, alone in this entire place, was it given to take out those pupils with him.

The gates of the camp stood open.

He went.

– And the silent blocks of Auschwitz and the heaps of Musulmen in them went with him; the wide open mustering areas were deserted, and the walls of barbed wire all around –

And the mountain of ashes went before him to lead him on his way [1].

He went –

With him went the horizons of Auschwitz and the echo of his vow reverberating from all sides:

– With your ashes, embraced in my arms, I swear to be your voice; to you and the mute, consumed Kazet. I will not cease to tell of you until my last breath. So help me God. Amen.

He went –



  1. The play on words may be lost in translation. Cf. Exodus 13:21: “…went before them by day in a pillar of cloud…” Return

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