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[Page 327]

Letters

 

[Pages 327-328]

A Letter from America to the Yizkor Book
from Akiva ben Mordechai Peltz

Translated by Robert Stein

Note: Akiva Peltz (1906-2000) was one of seven children born in Shumsk to Chaya Zissel (Peltz) and Mordechai Peltz. He immigrated to the United States in 1921. In the U.S., Akiva was known as Keith and his parents were called Ida and Max. Keith was the maternal grandfather of Robert Stein, who translated this letter.

I was requested to write something about my memories of Shumsk for the Yizkor Book. I don't remember much except for one experience connected with my beloved uncle, Reb[1] Yisrael Sudman[2] , who was known for his humility and scrupulous honesty. Among his many blessed qualities was also an affinity for public service. He was one of the daily worshipers at the kloyz named for the rabbi from Oliki.[3] This kloyz was situated in a narrow corridor inside the Beit Midrash[4], and my uncle initiated the construction of a separate synagogue for these worshipers. The lack of a synagogue had already been felt in the south of our town, near the neighborhood called “the new town.”

 

Eliyahu Roichman

 

Among those who also contributed to the construction of the synagogue I remember the late Zvi Neta Roichman and his sons Eliyahu, Isaac, and Yosef who donated a large plot of land in the vicinity of their orchards and gardens; my grandfather Reb Menachem Mendel Peltz[5], who as a lumber merchant donated lumber; the late Reb Lipa Wilskier and his sons Zvi, Shimon, Avraham, and Azriel; the late Reb Sander Offengendler[6], the late Yaakov Greenberg, and a number of others whose names I don't remember.

After the funds were procured my uncle Yisrael devoted all his energy and enthusiasm and dedication to executing the construction. He devoted day and night to all the technical and engineering tasks, drafting and drawing with his own hands. With his guidance an elaborate synagogue — and a magnificent holy ark, for which he traveled specially to Ostrog to copy parts of the ark of the Maharsha Synagogue — were erected. Under his inspiration many symbols were also placed in the synagogue. For example, there were 12 windows, each symbolizing one of the 12 tribes of Israel, and other things of that nature. Customs were adopted in this synagogue that were not found in any other synagogue in our town. For example, the aliyot for the Torah reading[7] were divided equally among all worshipers, whether rich or poor, and not given to the highest bidder. The late Zvi Geler, who was an ardent Zionist, unfurled the national flag with the Star of David, especially on the holiday of Simchat Torah; and it was carried around at the head of the hakafot[8] through the marketplace, accompanied by Zionist and Hasidic songs. This served as an attraction to the young people in the town. Over the years this synagogue also served as the venue for Zionist lectures, meetings and conferences.

The most significant and moving experience was the day when the newly completed holy ark was transferred from my uncle's home to the synagogue, accompanied by the sounds of musical instruments. All of the townspeople, including children and the elderly, participated in this rare mitzvah. The face of my uncle, who walked at the head of this dignified procession, shone with happiness.

I will never forget this my entire life.

Akiva son of Mordechai
A grandson of Aryeh and Menachem Mendel Peltz
Omaha, Nebraska, USA
10/24/67


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Reb, the Yiddish pronunciation of the Hebrew word Rav, is an honorific similar to “Mr.” Return
  2. An English translation of Yisrael Sudman's contribution to the Shumsk Yizkor Book, “The Move to Shumsk,” is on pages 129-135. Yisrael Sudman was married to Sarah, daughter of Menachem Mendel Peltz. Sarah was the sister of Chaya Zissel (Peltz) Peltz, known in America as Ida Peltz. Ida was Akiva/Keith Peltz's mother. Return
  3. A kloyz is a small synagogue. This was one was called the Oliker Kloyz. Return
  4. A Beit Midrash is a study hall or Jewish school, often located within a synagogue or other building. It is distinct from a synagogue, although many synagogues are also used as such places of study and vice versa. Return
  5. Menachem Mendel Peltz was the maternal grandfather of Akiva/Keith Peltz. Return
  6. The surname Offengendler became Gendler in the United States. Sander Offengendler's son Alter Gendler married Akiva Peltz's sister Esther in Shumsk prior to immigration to America. Return
  7. Aliyot (Heb.), plural of aliyah: Literally “going up,” an aliyah is the calling of a member of a Jewish congregation to go up to the bimah (a raised platform where the Torah is read) for a segment of Torah reading. The person has the honor of reciting blessings over the Torah before and after the Torah portion is read. Return
  8. Hakafot (Heb.), plural of Hakafah: Literally meaning “circles,” or “to circle,” hakafot are traditional Jewish dancing or walking processions around a certain object. On Simchat Torah the custom is to take the Torah scrolls out of the ark and to encircle the reader's platform and proceed throughout the synagogue with great joy, singing and dancing. Return


[Page 329]

A Letter from Grochov
(1938)

by Yitzhak Geler

Translated by Sara Mages

Note: Yitzhak Geler of Shumsk, a beloved leader of the Zionist youth movement Hechalutz Hatzair (Young Pioneers), wrote many of the letters in this section of the Shumsk Yizkor Book, some before World War II and some after. The recipients of the letters contributed them to this book.

I have been in Kibbutz Hakhshara[1] in Grochov[2] for almost two months, and I want to share with my friends my impressions of the farm, and the first days at work.

When I came to Grochov I went out to the farm to see my friends who had left their parents' homes and their studies and went to change their lives for a life of work and sharing.[3] And here I saw these very members working in the field, some with a pickax, some with a hoe, some with a pitchfork and a rake, and a song ringing in their mouths: Jewish farmers.

Truth be told, I could not have prayed for such happiness. Here I found many things that amazed me. Starting with the cowshed, where each cow has a Hebrew name, Hamudah, Ahuvah, Yafah, etc., the mighty horses and also the coop with its chicks, greenhouses, beehives, and also rabbits. This year is a year of blessing. The grain has grown day by day. They think that this year will be better than last year.

For a moment I thought I was in Eretz Israel, the farm fascinated me so much, and I had a strong desire to work in it. On the second day the guard woke me up. I got up in a hurry and left for the first day of work on the farm. I worked in several areas, and what a joy it was when they gave me the harrow. All day I harrowed the soil for the tomatoes and in the evening, with the ringing of the farm bell, I finished my work. The work was hard, my back ached a little, and my arms hurt. I was tired, but I had known it would not be easy to conquer the work and adapt to it. Therefore, I willingly accepted it all. And so, slowly, slowly, every now and then, I take on more responsibility. The work -- this is a natural thing for me, I was bound with thousands of capillaries to the earth and swore that I would always be a worker. And now I find satisfaction in my life, in my work on the farm. I got a nice tan, my muscles are stretching, my hands are covered with calluses and they are full of energy as if I was reborn.

In the evenings all the members –even those whose work is not on our farm-- go out to the farm, sit in a circle on the mats in front of the moon, under the sky, and sing songs saturated with longing for the distant homeland, the desire to cover its nakedness and fertilize the wilderness. After the singing a member will speak, and we all sit crowded around and eat up every word.

The nights here on the farm are beautiful, pure and clear. Life in the kibbutz is pleasant and full of contentment, and great joy reigns, especially when we go out to our farm and see how everything is blossoming and flourishing. Although there are difficulties, especially during the first period of life in the kibbutz, one's absorption at work and adjusting to living with other members, etc., it is necessary and possible to overcome these difficulties.

--- I was amazed at an event that I saw with my own eyes: Gentiles come and buy our products, the fruit of our labor. ---
It happens, when we are thirsty for rain, and the rain begins to fall and saturates the furrows, all the members break into song and do not stop their work.

And it happens that an inner singing accompanies me, known words:

“This is the way - there is no other, in it to go, to go to the end … “[4]
Grochov farm


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Hakhshara (literally “preparation”) refers to agricultural institutes similar to kibbutzim where Zionist youth would learn vocational skills necessary for their emigration to the Land of Israel. Return
  2. Grochov is a district of Warsaw, officially part of the borough of Praga-Poludnie although not connected at all to the historical Praga district. Return
  3. In “Shumsk – Thoughts and Feelings About Aliyah,” the author's recollections in this book beginning on page 281, Geler names people in his group of friends who did their farm training together in Grochov and describes the youth movement that brought them there, as well as what happened during and after World War II. Return
  4. The words of the song are from a Hebrew poem, “This Way,” written by Rachel Bluwstein at the end of the summer of 1929 and without a title. The title was given by the publishers of her poetry after her death. The melody was written by composer Ephraim Ben Haim (Leibinson).. Return


[Pages 330-332]

To the Organization of Immigrants from Shumsk in Israel
(To Pesach Lerner)

by Yitzhak Geler

Translated by Sara Mages

Note: Yitzhak Geler wrote this letter shortly after World War II ended. Geler had reached Italy, and because of his abilities, his background in the Zionist youth movement, and his knowledge of Hebrew, he was deployed by Bricha (the underground effort to help Jewish Holocaust survivors reach Palestine, in violation of the British Mandate's 1939 policy) to work at Bari in southern Italy. In that position he encountered survivors from Shumsk, including his brother Yaakov, and was able to describe to people from Shumsk in Palestine what had transpired in their hometown.

 

Y. Geler, P. Giladi
Two survivors…

 

October 8, 1945

… I received news from my friend in Rome that Pinchas Geldi,[1] our townsman, arrived in Italy. I managed to get in touch with him and also bring him closer to the Gates of Hope, an absorption place in the Bari area in the south, a departure point for a difficult route to Eretz Israel. I cannot describe to you in words the feelings of joy between us, two survivors of the field of slaughter, remnants of the Holocaust and destruction.

Several more survivors from Shumsk arrived in Italy and their desire is to reach the homeland as soon as possible. I correspond with some of them. They told me shocking and hair-raising things about what they, and the town, went through during the years of terror and war ... With a painful heart, and tears of grief, I am writing to you so that you will know in Israel what happened.

In early June 1941, rumors arrived that a war might break out between Germany and the Soviet Union, but already on June 10, 1941, the TASS Agency denied the rumors so as to reassure the public and not cause panic. However, on June 22 the war broke out and on June 27 the Germans captured Kremenets, Ostrog and Dubno. A stream of refugees began to flock from the occupied territories toward the border of Russia, but the Russians did not let them cross the border, and with no other options, hundreds of people were left outdoors hungry, in poverty and destitution.

Before long, [Soviet] government and police personnel left the town [Shumsk], and its residents were left without any protection and security when the echoes of gunfire were already heard in the village of Rakhmanov (next to Shumsk). Helpless depression, and fear of death overtook the people of Shumsk when rumors spread about dead and wounded in the battles with the Germans who infiltrated and broke into our town on July 1, 1941.

The day after the occupation an order was issued [for Jews] to wear a “white badge” and they began to capture people for work and cleaning the streets. A number of victims were killed by the Ukrainian police and the cruel anti-Semites who collaborated with the Nazis because the Germans promised them autonomy and liberation from the yoke of the Russians if they would help in the extermination work …

On Purim 1942[2] an order was given to the townspeople to leave their homes. A ghetto, which stretched from the Vilya River, Wilsker Boulevard, half of the main market and the Great Synagogue, was established. By March 12 the perimeter was closed and no one could enter or leave. A Judenrat[3] and an internal Jewish police force were established to maintain order, to recruit people for forced labor and for the fulfillment of the instructions and orders of the SS. Despondency, poverty and disease befell and were the lot of the residents of the Shumsk ghetto. Sadness, despair and silent dread of what was to come … In the month of Av 5702 [August 1942] the men of the SS surrounded the ghetto and opened fire. Rabbi Yosef Rabin and Yisrael Akerman from the Judenrat were called and given an indictment in which it was written that the ghetto's Jewish residents -- allegedly -- shot at German policemen and therefore it was decided to liquidate the ghetto. To compound the tension and anxiety, they shot into the houses so that no one would dare to go outside.

The major Aktion[4][ began on August 12, 1942. Human animals, thirsty for Jewish blood, broke into the ghetto and hundreds of people were abducted. They were told that they would be sent to labor camps, but those who left did not return. All were led on their last journey to the New Town behind the Christian cemetery. There, where pits had been dug, they were shot to death and the earth absorbed the blood of Shumsk martyrs who were slaughtered and killed for no fault of their own.

Rumors of the brutal massacre spread and reached the ears of the townspeople who were still alive, and many of them began to hide in basements, stables and hidden shelters.

Many were discovered in searches by the militia and local police who knew these hiding places. There were some Jews whose thirst and hunger forced them out of their hiding places, or the sound of crying babies led to their capture. In this manner the Caspi-Zilber family, who found refuge at the home of Alter Offengendler, was caught. Zeidel Zilber's wife came out of her hiding place to get a little water to quench her thirst. A Ukrainian neighbor identified her and informed on her. The police came, discovered the hideout and took Zelda Zilber, her mother, and Alter and Miriam Offengendler out, brought them to the police station and from there to an unknown place … Yitzhak Szczogol and David Caspi managed to evade the policemen and hid again in a safe place. As reported, Yitzhak Szczogol managed to get through all the sections of hell and stayed alive. But, at the end of the war he did not gather strength. He was still a young man. He contracted diseases, suffered from mental anguish, and died on the verge of liberation. Survivors who remained in the town attended the funeral.

There were several acts of real heroism.

Chaya Gitelman was discovered in her hiding place. Gentile neighbors, who received a lot of money for hiding her, betrayed her on the eve of the liberation of the town. Ukrainian policemen dragged her to the killing place behind the town and ordered her to take off her clothes on a cold day. She refused, forcefully defended her honor and even beat a policeman. They murdered her on the spot in great anger.

It is also told that some young men who belonged to the youth movements in Shumsk rebelled, and that when they stood on the edge of the abyss, they beat the policemen, shouted bitterly over their fate, and did not walk to death like sheep to the slaughter.

Of all the townspeople only 150 remained. Our house on Post Office Street was inside the perimeter of the ghetto. Uncle Hirsch and Esther moved in because their home was outside the perimeter. My father arranged a secret opening to the woodshed that was blocked beyond recognition at the front.

In the last Aktion, to eliminate the 150 people left in hiding, was my mother, Hannah, who would not leave her son and daughter. With her fingernails she protected her children, and like a wounded lioness she did not let them be separated from her. When all hope of rescuing them ceased, she went with them on their final journey, weeping bitterly and with a heartbreaking cry to the murderers so that they would know what they were doing. They could not destroy us all, because we have brothers and sisters in Eretz Israel.[5]

They will know about the murder and extermination and will avenge the blood of their brothers and families who were murdered by bloodthirsty human animals.

At the end they left 15 people to do work in the ghetto. When my father learned from a gentile woman who was married to a German SS officer that they would be eliminated the next morning, he passed this information to those who remained alive. That evening he fled with my brother Yaakov to a remote village, where a gentile hid Shaike Katz, Dina Sztejnman and others. For nearly two years they hid in a cellar in a pit they dug with their own hands, and lived on potatoes, a little bread and water. With the defeat of the Nazi army and its liquidation they traveled with many refugees, Holocaust survivors, to the Kiev area in the Soviet Union.[6]

I learned, through contacts and correspondence, that there are survivors from among Shumsk's youth, Holocaust survivors in Shumsk: Shlomo Shrajer and his sister Shifra, Yeshayahu Katz, Dina Sztejnman and my brother Yaakov, who were hidden in the village of Stara-Huta[7] near Ternopol. A member of the Duchovny family moved to Russia; Avraham Krejmer[8] is living as Yosef Grabowitzky, he is in a military school in Modlin. Feiwel Weisman[9] works as a bookkeeper in Saratov [Russia]. Zev Berg and his wife [Rachel] London live in Sverdlovsk [Russia], they have a son they named Amikam. Ruth and Duzi [Dina] Sztejnman[10] were in Lublin and later moved to Lodz. Yitzchak Melenbojm, Zipora and Yosef Mednik[11] are at 5 Kopeysk Street, Chelyabinsk [Russia]. Gitel Korin is in Uzbekistan, Soviet Union. I also heard about Mordechai Weiner, Chalbena's son [Moshe Chelben], [Shmuel] Segal (son of Pinchas), Aharon Zuber, Beni Sosna, Stis, Lucy Steinberg, Arye Mordush, Zev and Frida Berensztejn, Penina Mondrer, Shmuel Bryk, Muni Krakowiak, Etel Kleinshtein,[12] Shlomo and Zipe, Avraham Chusyd, Tuvia Frimer and his family who were sent to a labor camp in Russia, Shlomo Karas, Mayerson Levi and his family, Zev Kunianski, Wilsker and others… That's all that's left of our town, of its Jews and sons.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Pinchas Geldi , the son of Chana (Bryk) Geldi and Nachum Asher Geldi, was born on January 7, 1923, in Shumsk. Nachum Asher Geldi, born in 1890, had come to Shumsk from Rachmanov to marry Chana Bryk. Nachum Asher Geldi owned a house in town and was a butcher. Nachum Asher and Chana Geldi perished in Shumsk in the Holocaust along with their daughter Sosie, born December 13, 1920. Pinchas Geldi's survival is referenced several times in this yizkor book, including in accounts by Wolf Berensztejn beginning on page 21 and by Haim Cisin beginning on page 49. Return
  2. In the original Shumsk Yizkor Book, in Hebrew, it says 1941, but this is an error. Return
  3. Judenräte (singular Judenrat; German for “Jewish council”) were administrative bodies during World War II that the Germans required Jews to form in German-occupied territory. Return
  4. An aktion was a violent operation by the Nazis and their aides as part of a campaign to besiege and concentrate Jews in preparation for deportation to forced labor, mass murder or concentration and extermination camps. Return
  5. The Gelers were related to the Gurewitz family in Haifa. Return
  6. The author's father, Chaim Geler, recounts how he and his son Yaakov survived in the chapter beginning on page 365 of this yizkor book. Yaakov Geler's account of the destruction of Shumsk begins on page 66. Return
  7. Stara Huta is a village in the Stara Vyzhivka district of Volyn Oblast in present-day Ukraine (2022). Return
  8. Avraham Krejmer (1923-1986) wrote chapters in this yizkor book beginning on page 87 and page 117. Return
  9. Feivel Weisman was named Shraga in Hebrew and nicknamed Feivke. His account of Shumsk during the war years begins on page 16 of this yizkor book. Return
  10. Ruth (Sztejnman) Halperin wrote about the last days of Shumsk beginning on page 29 of this yizkor book. Return
  11. Fayge/Tzipora (Geldi) and Yosef Mednik immigrated to the United States in 1949. When they spoke at a meeting of Shumskers in New York shortly after their arrival, it was the first time the Shumsk community in America heard what had happened in Shumsk during the war. That account begins on page 358 of this yizkor book. Return
  12. Etel Kleishtein contributed the piece beginning on page 442 of this yizkor book, where she and other girls are pictured. Return


[Pages 333-334]

Letters to Immigrants from Shumsk

by Yitzhak Geler

Translated by Sara Mages

Note: Yitzhak Geler wrote these letters from Shumsk in 1937 to Zipora Gurewitz, a young woman from Shumsk who had immigrated to Israel (at the time Palestine, under British Mandate). Recipients of letters that Geler had written before and after World War II contributed them to this yizkor book. They appear in the book out of chronological order.

To Zipora Gurewitz in Haifa – June 10, 1937

… Now I want to give you some news that has happened lately in our small town.

Yesterday the cantor Gershon Sirota[1] stayed with us and held a special prayer in the Great Synagogue, accompanied by the children's choir. The synagogue was filled to capacity. I was also there with my friend. There was a great deal of response and joy in this evening. (According to what I have read in the newspaper, he will come to you to Tel Aviv for prayer on the High Holidays.)

* * *

The emissaries from Eretz Israel, Mr. Melamed and the member Gluz, visited us in regards to the 20th Zionist Congress.]2]

They lectured on the roles of Zionism at this time, told about the life of the Jews in Israel, the Arab riots, and about the halutzim [pioneers] who defend and build the homeland. This year we sold 352 Shekels.[3] I can inform you that our parents also voted for number 5; for you in Israel it is the letter aleph.[4]

* * *

I am happy to tell you something important. Mosik Yukelson[5] from Israel came on a bus to visit his family. He is now at his parents' house. I visited them; your parents also visited. We heard from him about your life, your work and everything that is happening to you. He told us that you moved and gave us your new address. In the meantime, more people came to ask about the well-being of their children in Israel. The house was too small to accommodate everyone.

* * *

Today, Sabbath eve, July 13, Yukelson visited the Hechalutz branch.[6] He answered other members' questions, and he also told about the members from Shumsk who had been in hakhshara[7] and immigrated to Israel, about their whereabouts, their work and life in Israel. He also gave impressions from his many trips to the moshavot[8] and kibbutzim, and aroused in us the longings to Israel, to join the ranks of those who are building a homeland for the people. In a few weeks he will return to Eretz Yisrael. If I can write you anything in his notebook I will surely do so.

Today, Sunday, July 15, Pinchas Peltz from Eretz Israel came to visit Shumsk and he is staying with Freidel Bahat. He told the same things that Mosik Yukelson already told before.

* * *

This year, on Hanukkah 1937, we held two beautiful bazaars. One by the Jewish National Fund and the other by Keren Tel Hai.[9] The Tarbut school troupe performed a festive play;[10] I participated in the choir. There was great joy; many people and youth attended each evening; there were raffles, sales, and donations for the foundations. According to the report submitted by Mottil Segal and Herzig Milman, there was a net income of 12,008 zloty.

* * *

September 1937

… I read that the newspaper Davar[11] was banned from Poland and I was very disappointed. It is unnecessary to explain to you how much help and spiritual relief I've received from the newspapers Davar and BaMa'ale[12] that you sent me. I brought them to my friends in the Hechalutz Hatzair[13] branch, and sometimes also to my teacher, Yisrael Akerman, from Tarbut school.

* * *

Despite the press reports about the difficult situation of the population in Israel today, the Hechalutz branch, and the youth movements, are accepting new members, conducting extensive cultural activities, and also approving candidates for seminars and hakhshara.

* * *

Sad news about Mani Bryk, who came back from Eretz Israel on a visit. She traveled to Kremenets and on the way had a seizure and died.

* * *

I received a letter from Motil Geler, who is with Penina [Dorfman] at the Hechalutz center at 14 Gêsia Street, Warsaw. He wrote me that he managed to arrange an exit permit for his brother, Moshe Geler, for hakhshara in Józefów near Warsaw, and after a certain period he would be able to travel to Eretz Israel. He also persuaded my parents to allow me to go to a Hechalutz seminar to be held in Warsaw. It will be attended by emissaries and lecturers from Eretz Israel, such as Yitzhak Tabenkin, Y. Braslavi, Zerubbabel, Rachel Katznelson, Yakov Lestschinsky and others. It goes without saying that at the end of the seminar, which will last several months, I will not return home. I will join a youth group at a hakhshara kibbutz in Grochov. We will work and study there until we are given a chance to emigrate to Eretz Israel.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Gershon-Yitskhok Leibovich Sirota (1874-1943) was one of the leading cantors of Europe during the Golden Age of Chazenut (cantorial music). Sirota had been the cantor of the largest synagogue in Warsaw, the Tlomackie Street Synagogue, and traveled all over the world to lead services and appear in concerts. He officiated in Palestine on the High Holy Days in 1937 and before that at a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City. (Sirota was not the only famous cantor to visit Shumsk and lead services; beginning on page 376 of this yizkor book, Munya Chazen recounts the visit of cantor Yossele Rosenblatt.) Sirota was caught in Poland at the outbreak of World War II and perished in the Holocaust in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943. Return
  2. The 20th Zionist Congress was held in 1937. The next one was in 1939, and then there were no more congresses until after World War II. Return
  3. A Zionist Shekel was a certificate of membership in the Zionist Organization, given to every Jew who paid annual membership dues. The certificate entitled the purchaser to vote for delegates to the Zionist convention representing the Zionist party to which he belonged. Return
  4. The letter aleph represented the Labor Zionist Party. Return
  5. Mosik Yukelson, son of Rivka (Berezin) and Alter David Yukelson, went by the name Chaim Livne in Israel. He wrote about his 1937 visit to Shumsk beginning on page 175 of this yizkor book. Return
  6. Hechalutz (“The Pioneer”) was a Jewish youth movement that trained young people for agricultural settlement in Eretz Yisrael. Return
  7. Hakhshara (literally, “preparation”) refers to collective farms where Zionist youth learned vocational skills needed for their emigration to the Land of Israel. Return
  8. Moshava (literally, “colony”), plural moshavot, is a form of rural settlement in Israel. Return
  9. Keren Tel Hai raised and allocated funds for the Revisionist Zionist movement. Its stated goals were to support Jewish defense in Israel and to educate Zionist youth in self-defense. Return
  10. In Shumsk. Zipora Gurewitz had been a pupil and then a teacher at the Tarbut School, where the language of instruction was Hebrew. Return
  11. Davar (literally, “The Word”) was a Hebrew-language daily newspaper published in British-controlled Palestine. It was the organ of the Labor Party. Return
  12. BaMa'ale was the newspaper of the HaNo'ar HaOved (Working Youth) Movement. Return
  13. Hechalutz Hatzair (Young Pioneers) was an organization formed in 1923 to train youth for immigration to Eretz Yisrael. It was under the wing of the Labor Party. Return


[Page 335]

Letters from the Grochov Farm in Poland

by Yitzhak Geler

Translated by Sara Mages

Notes: Yitzhak Geler, living at a Zionist youth training farm (hakhshara) in Grochov, a district of Warsaw, wrote these letters in 1938 and 1939 to people from Shumsk who were already in Palestine. The September 1939 postcard tells of the effect of the German invasion of Poland, the outbreak of the World War II, on the lives of the people from Shumsk at the Grochov hakhshara. The recollections of Avraham Krejmer from Shumsk, who attended a Hechalutz Hatzair (Young Pioneers) leadership seminar near Warsaw in 1939 and then was working with a branch of that Zionist organization in Krakow when the war started, begin on page 87 of this yizkor book.

June 1938

… I have already written to you about life on the Grochov farm, and to share with you my impressions, my lifestyle and that of my young friends in the kibbutz, I am sending you my article that was printed in the newspaper of the Kibbutz Movement.
August 1939
… You must have read about the tension and the atmosphere on the eve of the war in Poland. This, of course, also affects the life on the farm. In the hearts of the members there is anxiety and concern for the future, the chances of aliyah[1] and fulfillment. Many members were drafted into the army and it is not known when they will return.

My parents in Shumsk write me that the situation in the town is gloomy. They stock up on food and clothing for difficult days and they are afraid of war. The young people of conscription age have gone into the army, as did adults who were soldiers before. Everyone hopes for peace, but who knows what a day may bring …

September 1939
I'm not sure if this postcard will reach you, because fierce battles are taking place in the cities of the Warsaw District, non-stop shelling, fire and plumes of smoke everywhere.

Our farm was also shelled. We will leave at sunset, take with us what is most needed, and we will set off in groups. We will walk; there is no longer a train or other means of transportation; everything around is destroyed and going up in flames. Motil Geler and other members [of the Zionist youth movement] are with me; we will walk to Shumsk, back to our parents' homes, to our family. Is this the end of our aspiration? Is there any hope that we will be able to meet and live a life of freedom in our homeland? Who knows what a day may bring, what the future holds? ...


Translator's Footnote

  1. Aliyah (literally, “ascent”) is the immigration of Jews from the Diaspora to Eretz Israel. Return


[Pages 336-337]

A Letter from Shumsk to the Readers of “BaMa'ale”
(1937)

To the youth of HaNoar HaOved in Israel
(a letter from the Diaspora)

by Yitzhak Geler

Translated by Sara Mages

Note: This letter from Yitzhak Geler (1921-2001) was written in 1937 for BaMa'ale, the Hebrew-language newspaper of HaNoar HaOved (the Working Youth movement), and was addressed to the movement's members in Palestine. Geler belonged to the Shumsk branch of Hechalutz Hatzair (Young Pioneers), a worldwide Zionist youth organization that trained people for pioneer living in the Land of Israel.

Dear Members:

I want to tell you about our life here in the Diaspora in Poland. I know that you are interested and want to know our life in the Diaspora, but, even more, we want to know about your life.

Shumsk, my hometown and place of residence, is a poor town. Our economic situation is very bad, as in the whole country of Poland. A tragic situation prevails in the Diaspora; a life of worry and emptiness passes over the head of the Jewish tribe, which is once again in fear of attacks. As evening falls, the shutters are lowered and the doors are locked with seven locks. Hour by hour our human and national dignity is subjected to trampling in a forceful and brutal way. Publicly, and in the pages of the press, the demand is being heard: “The Jews must be expelled from the country!”

An economic boycott prevails against the Jews. Inciters walk near the shops and prevent the farmers from entering. When you walk through the streets, hostility springs from every eye and each mouth speaks hatred. Every sheygetz[1] throws zhyd [a derogatory word for Jew] in your face. This is the current situation in the Diaspora.

Indeed, the Jewish youth here understand their role. They turn to Hechalutz organizations in order to be educated for aliyah[2] to Israel. Our town also has a branch of Hechalutz Hatzair that was organized five years ago. The branch achieved its goals, educating members dedicated to the movement, diligent in their work and loyal to the idea of work.

Our branch currently has 70 members. Evening classes are being held for the study of the Hebrew language. The adolescent and youth age groups talk about the Federation of Hebrew Workers in Eretz Israel and about the working youth. We want to immigrate to Israel to fulfill the pioneering idea and redeem our land with you.

We do not despair; we hope to immigrate to Israel and participate in its building. After all, we are the young generation and we will be the builders in the future.We have been tasked with bearing the name of Hechalutz, and we know the responsibility of this name and we dedicate ourselves to work with pioneering loyalty.

Nature hikes are being held for the young age groups. Every Sabbath they go out into the forest and the hikes are very successful. The members participate in conversations, ask questions and play various games. In general, alertness is being felt in the life of the branch. There are about 20 members in the young age group.

Once a boy was asked: Why did you sign up to our branch? He replied: “I am ashamed to come to another place in my patched clothes, but here everyone is like me, I am loved and I feel good.”

Our branch has a subscription to the newspaper Davar.[3] We also receive BaMa'ale; we read it and we are interested in the lives of the working youth in Israel. We use the newspaper for talks and readings, and it arouses in the children the feelings of love and longing for the homeland.

Let's hope that one day we will meet in the building of our lovely country, and then we will rejoice and sing together the song of the Jewish people that is engraved on our hearts.

This time I will finish my letter and ask my distant-close friends to write us in your newspaper --our newspaper, BaMa'ale, about what is happening at your place.

Halutz, immigrate!

Yitzchak Geler - Hechalutz Hatzair branch in Shumsk (Poland)
August 8, 1937

 

HaOved” market day

 

Translator's Footnotes
  1. Sheygetz (Yiddish): a non-Jewish boy or young man. Return
  2. Aliyah (literally “ascent”) is the term for the immigration of Jews from the Diaspora to the Land of Israel. “Making aliyah” by moving to Israel is a basic tenet of Zionism. Return
  3. Davar (literally “Word”) was a Hebrew-language daily newspaper published by the Labor Movement in Palestine and later Israel. Return


[Pages 338-339]

A Letter from Yitzhak Geler
– to the Association of Former Residents of Shumsk

(Italy 1946)

by Yitzhak Geler

Translated by Sara Mages

Note: The original yizkor book in Hebrew has this letter dated 1966, but that is a typographical error. By 1946, former Shumsk residents living in Palestine had organized themselves to extend help to World War II survivors in Europe and to those who reached Eretz Yisrael. In this letter, Yitzhak Geler (1921-2001) answers Pesach Lerner's questions about the kind of assistance needed. In this letter Geler also sows the seeds for the writing of this yizkor book. Geler signed the letter “Ben-Chaim” (son of Chaim) as he was the son of Chaim Geler.

To our friend Pesach Lerner – my best blessings!

I received your letter from August 7 of this year, and I answer you.

First of all, I must thank you for your interest and concern for the fate of the survivors of our town, wherever they are, who languish in grief and torment. I really did not believe that today – after losing faith in the world and in man – there would be people who care about the fate of their brothers, the remnants of the massacre, who lost everything, and only a single and last spark remains – to have them reach you and meet those near and far in Israel.

My blessing – the blessing of one of the town's survivors – is sent to you from the bottom of my heart.

As for your questions: Today, in Italy, there is no one from Shumsk; if anyone comes, I'm sure he would find his way home [get to Palestine]. He has the option and also the right to do so. Most of the survivors of our town are still in Romania and Poland. It is really hard for me to understand why they have not left Egypt[1] by now. Departure today is possible and easy.

As to the number of Jews who survived from our town, their fate and whereabouts, you probably know from those who have already reached you by now, and there is no need to add to that. Only small changes have taken place.

In the matter of aid, I do not know if I have permission to express my opinion that there is no need, logic and benefit in shipping support packages – food, clothes, etc. – if you do not have the ability for real help[2], meaning: to bring them closer to the gates of hope.

It is not advisable to send packages, nor is it worth spending money on it. The packages will not always reach the correct address and the refugee will not enjoy them. I knew this from experience of working in refugee centers in different places and various circumstances. But, on the other hand, it is important that there is correspondence between you – a constant connection so that loneliness will not bother them, so that they will know that they are not alone in the world. It is difficult to convey in writing what the value of a letter is for a person who is plagued by grief and apathy.

In my opinion – if there is the financial possibility we should erect a monument to the victims of our town who were murdered by impure and bloodthirsty human beings. That is to say, the project should be set up by the Committee of Former Residents of Shumsk with the initiative and assistance of everyone.

It is desirable and worthwhile to publish a small book – a booklet – dedicated to the Jewish town and its Jewish residents. Several forces can be used for this, the survivors who came from the field of slaughter – who went through the wave of atrocities and horrors, war refugees and the survivors of the Nazi inferno who strove and reached the homeland. I'm sure you will understand my feelings.

* * *

As for what is happening to me – everything is as usual. I work and am satisfied with my job. I feel very good. I do not yet know when it will be my turn to get home. The way things are going, I do not think I will be able to get out of work sooner than in another six months. I do not feel sorry about my fate. I am strong and happy that I was privileged to have it. Such is fate.

I am looking forward to the arrival of my brother, Yaakov, who left Romania, moved to Poland, now he is on the way with the thought of reaching the goal.

Two days ago I sent you booklets and bulletins that are published in our department, the Department of Culture, which I edit, print and send. Please write to me if you received them.

Farewell and all the best to you. If you need my help with anything – I am always at your disposal.

I will gladly accept your immediate reply.

Greeting to all the former residents of Shumsk! Greetings to Pinchas Geldi.

Regards – yours,
Ben-Chaim


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Geler's reference to Egypt is metaphorical. In discussing the post-World War II exodus of Jews from Europe to Palestine, he alludes to Egypt to mean a place or situation of bondage and persecution, as it was for the Israelites led out of Egypt by Moses in the Book of Exodus in the Bible. Return
  2. By “real help,” Geler likely means obtaining certificates for Jewish refugees to enter Palestine legally, or perhaps he means more serious financial help. Return


[Page 340]

A Letter to a Friend
by Pnina Dorfman

Translated by Sara Mages

Note: Pnina Dorfman, daughter of Sara (Batt) and Isaac Dorfman, left Shumsk in 1937 with Mordechai “Motel” Geler for hachshara, a training program for those preparing to emigrate to Palestine. Later they were transferred to the Hechalutz Hatzair (Young Pioneers) center in Warsaw, and from that position they were able to influence the parents of others in Shumsk to allow their sons and daughters to join the training farm at Grochov. When World War II broke out in 1939, these young people returned, mostly walking all the way, to Shumsk. In 1941 Pnina immigrated to Palestine, ostensibly as a tourist, traveling from Odessa on a Russian boat to Istanbul and from there by train through Syria to Rosh Hanikra, thus entering Palestine at this British border control point. Later Pnina Dorfman joined Kibbutz Afek and married Zev Sharon. She lived in Kibbutz Afek the rest of her life. She died in July 2009.

Mishmar Hayam[1], September 30, 1945

Greetings to you, Yitzhak Geler,

How great is my joy that I can write you after so many years of not knowing about each other. You cannot imagine how happy I was when I first read in the newspaper that you are in Italy and it is possible to write to you. I met Zipora [Gurewitz] at her home [in Haifa] a few weeks ago and got your address. She is overjoyed that you survived and that you will soon be able to visit her. She is doing well; she has a lovely son. I hope she wrote you in the meantime and you probably know that your father[2] with your brother are in Russia.

Yes, Yitzhak, I am already a veteran in Israel. I succeeded and here I am in my fifth year in Israel. I'm happy, because there wasn't much to prevent my end from being like the end of all the youth of Shumsk. I am in a kibbutz and participate in the building of our country, a home for our unfortunate people.

I write that I'm happy, but it is not like that yet, because there is no Jew in the world who will be happy after everything that has happened to the Jewish people, and how can I be happy that from the whole family, and of all the friends from our town, we alone were left, [almost] the only ones from our families.[3] I do not know [my sister] Shoshana's fate. In 1943 she was in Slovakia and since then there is no information. We know nothing about Mordechai's fate.[4] He was not in Vilna and I thought you might know something. Since the outbreak of the war, Sarah Kushner and I, and now you, are the only ones who have managed to escape the Nazi inferno.

I received a greeting from you from some of your friends. Yitzhak, do everything to get to us as soon as possible. We all want to see you because there is almost no information from our town; no one except you has managed to contact us. The loneliness and the desire to meet someone close are great; here, in the settlement, we are completely isolated and orphaned. We alone were left, and even those who remained there in the Diaspora, the dear survivors, cannot reach us.

Write how you feel. Are you healthy after everything you have been through? I do not know Zipora's exact address; therefore I cannot send it to you. I hope you already received it from her in the meantime. Yitzhak, I also have a request for you. If you meet a young woman named Pesia Levitt, the sister of Bruria Levitt who was once with you at the seminar, do everything for her so she can immigrate. Her sister worked with Mordechai at the center. If Peshke Zlotnik and Shlomo Goldstein work with you, give them a heartfelt greeting.

Yitzhak, you cannot imagine how great my joy is that I can write you. Do everything so that you can meet with us, with me in the kibbutz. Shalom and see you very soon --

Pnina Dorfman


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Mishmar Hayam was an early name for a settlement that later became Kibbutz Afek, located north of Haifa near Acre. Return
  2. Yitzhak Geler's father, Chaim Geler, and Yitzak's brother Yaakov. Chaim Geler wrote “How My Son and I Survived,” beginning on page 365 of this yizkor book. Return
  3. Pnina's mother, Sara, was a daughter of Moshe Batt of Shumsk. The entire extended Batt family living in Shumsk perished in the Holocaust. In Israel, members of the Shumsk Batt family Hebraicized their name to Bahat. Return
  4. Mordechai Geler was a cousin of Yitzhak Geler. Return


[Pages 341-342]

A Letter to Pnina Dorfman from Yitzhak Geler
(1938)

by Yitzhak Geler

Translated by Sara Mages

Bari, Italy, February 1946

Dear Pnina Dorfman – my warm greetings,

… Today I received your letter from September 18, 1945. Please accept my apology for the delay in my reply; it's not my fault.

In my previous letter I have already written to you all the bitter truth about the bitter fate that befell your family members, along with all of Shumsk's Jews who were murdered, exterminated by the Nazis with the help of the anti-Semites, the Ukrainian policemen. When I returned from exile in the dark mountains[1] I hoped to find that your sister, Shoshana,[2] who was in Kibbutz Lodz, remained alive, but it was a false hope. Also Dov (Berish) and Moshe Geler[3] were murdered in the ghetto.

Motil Geler,[4] who was with you in the hechalutz center in Warsaw, and my brother Matityahu went to the Red Army when the Germans entered Shumsk. Those who were with them in the war said that they were captured by the Germans, suffered starvation in the POW camp, and since then nothing has been known about them.

* * *

As I have already written to you, Pinchas Geldi has set out on the path of fulfillment. He, and his friends, managed to break through and reach their destination. I hope you will have the opportunity to meet him soon. I received a letter from him in which he writes me, among other things:

“… You must have read about the long road and also about the hardships and difficulties that my friends and I had along the way. Now I want to express my feelings and relate my experiences after I was released from the Atlit camp.[5] I must confess to you that I did not know what Eretz Israel was. I was born again here; I became a different person. I knew our country from stories, articles and various descriptions, but not from life. Now I came to know that not in vain our forefathers fought like lions for this plot of land, and the halutzim (pioneers) left a warm and tidy home in the Diaspora and came many years ago to build it and fertilize the wilderness. I have visited many places and we have something to be proud of. Our country is very beautiful. I did not imagine it in the Diaspora. Please try to come quickly and enjoy the beauty of our country and the refreshing air.”
I have heard that your relative Haim Cisin[6] and several others from Shumsk arrived in Italy. I placed an ad in the Refugee Center newspaper, “We are looking for friends, family.” If I can get their exact address I will send it to you as soon as possible. Maybe you know the location of my friend from the movement, Dov Kloizman,[7] Sara's brother, who immigrated to Israel with Youth Aliyah[8] before the world war.

* * *

Zahava, a native of Shumsk, who is with her parents in Kibbutz Yagur, sent me a greeting from Tzivia, who had just arrived in Israel, and I remembered how she and her friend, Yitzhak Zuckerman, helped me get here, to Italy.[9] This was at the time when the retreat of the defeated German armies from the occupied territories began. In Poland, the provisional government was founded in Lublin, and Antek was among those who came there often.

When I came from Kovel to Lublin I was alone, lonely without any friends or acquaintances. Since I did not find any survivors from my family, friends or acquaintances, I decided to leave Poland, a country in which everything dear to me in life was destroyed out of hatred. Destruction prevailed, and it is a wonder that not everyone was killed and that any Jews remained alive. I aspired to try to reach my brothers and sisters somewhere in the far-near homeland.

One autumn morning I unexpectedly met Antek in Lublin. He had visited Shumsk several times on a mission of Hechalutz Hatzair and organized the youth for aliyah. He helped me to adapt to the Grochov farm, where he was a member. [In Lublin after the war] I went to their home, a home that was open to every member. They welcomed me like a brother, encouraged me, and gave me back hope and security. It felt as if all the burden of the grief and suffering, the torture of body and soul that befell me during the years of the Holocaust and destruction, disintegrated into a mental outpouring and stories about what we, and our friends, had gone through during the war years.

Not too many days later, they arranged the proper papers for me, clothes and food, and I left on the difficult road, and many wanderings in mortal danger, but with the hope in my heart that I was heading towards a new life – I was able to reach Italy safely. I am in Bari, working in the Center for the Diaspora with the agency's emissaries from Israel. I meet with the soldiers of the Jewish Brigade and members of the Palmach[10] who are doing great and dedicated work for the Holocaust survivors here ...


Translator's Footnotes

  1. “Exile in the dark mountains” refers to Yitzhak Geler's time in the Soviet Union during World War II. Return
  2. Shoshana also was called Rozel. Return
  3. Moshe Geler was a cousin of the letter writer, Yitzhak Geler. Return
  4. Mordechai “Mottil” Geler and his brother Moshe were cousins of the letter writer, Yitzhak Geler. Return
  5. At the end of the 1930s, the authorities of Palestine under the British Mandate constructed the Atlit camp as a military camp. From 1939 to 1948 it served as a detention camp for illegal Jewish immigrants. Return
  6. Haim Cisin wrote about his last days in Shumsk for this yizkor book, beginning on page 49. Return
  7. Dov/Berel Kloizman was born in Shumsk to Mala and Sender (son of Berko) Kloizman on June 2, 1922. His parents, sister and brother all perished in the Holocaust. Return
  8. Youth Aliyah (Youth Immigration) was founded in 1933 to rescue Jewish youth from Nazi Germany. About 5,000 teenagers were brought to Eretz Israel before World War II. Return
  9. Yitzhak “Antek” Zuckerman and Tzivia Lubetkin were leaders of the entire Hechalutz Hatzair (Young Pioneers) movement in Poland before World War II and later were among the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Both survived the war and they got married in 1946. After the war, they worked in Europe in the Bricha (the underground effort to help Jewish Holocaust survivors reach Palestine, in violation of the British Mandate), and it was during that time that Geler met Zuckerman again, in Lublin. After Zuckerman and Lubetkin made aliyah, they were among the major leaders of the Labor Zionist movement in Israel. They lived in Kibbutz Lochamei Haghetaot (Ghetto Fighters). Return
  10. The Palmach (Hebrew acronym for Plugot Maḥatz, meaning Strike Companies) was the elite fighting force of the Haganah, the underground army of the Jewish community during the period of the British Mandate for Palestine. Return

 

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