by Rivka (Goldenberg) Erlich
Translated from the original Yiddish to Hebrew by Rivka Erlich and her daughter, Gita Inbar
Translated from Hebrew to English by Rachel Karni
There are events over which the passage of time has no control -- and they disappear from one's memory. Sometimes it seems to me that the events did not really occur or that the passage of time weakens one's memory of them. But now, thirty years from the day I left Shumsk, things that happened to me in my childhood and youth are as fresh in my memory as the day they occurred.
I am not capable of writing about all of these things since so many memories from that period impinge on my memory at once -- days of summer and days of winter, ordinary week days and Sabbaths and holidays that were full of the loveliness and purity of that time.
Shumsk, my town, the place where I spent my youth. There I dreamed sweet dreams, and from there I have golden memories. I remember the beautiful Jewish people of the town, but of all of them I see you, my father, a wise respected man, occupied with business matters, with the grain mill, with accounting and with mediation and conciliation, among so many other things. At the same time you were a talmid chacham -- a learned Jew -- who was also open and who already saw then that beautiful Ukraine was not ours. The Ukrainian neighbors and the Polish landlords would always hate us and would be ready at a moment's notice to steal and rob the little we had. I remember so many blue spring days, hours of dawn and hours of twilight, in which we would walk to the Sashy, to the Gorka, to the woods of Surage. How beloved are my memories of the clear summer days on the Vilya river. But today all of this is destroyed together with the life that developed in that beauty. Today it is all ruins.
There are pictures that are engraved in my memory from those days: The moments of holiness before the beginning of the Sabbath, when our beloved mother would light the Sabbath candles, covering her eyes with her delicate palms and silently praying for the well-being and health of the family as tears fell from between her fingers, moistening the white Sabbath tablecloth. Her older children were already in America and she felt that the others would soon be leaving for Eretz Yisrael to help to build a Jewish country about which she had heard from her husband, our cheerful father. Father was active in the Keren Hayesod and thus had received a certificate for entry to Palestine. It was decided that the certificate would be for our sister Bat Sheva. Our great happiness was mixed with sadness. From among the twelve children in our family only six daughters remained in our home in Shumsk. Bat Sheva hesitated about leaving for Palestine. Parting was very difficult for her. How would she leave her mother and father and her sisters? In the meantime the validity of the certificate expired -- and so life returned to its normal course.
During this period a daily Yiddish newspaper called Heint, which was edited by Triveks, appeared. The newspaper began to arrange a trip to Eretz Yisrael. One day my father came home and with his wise, quiet smile announced that he had paid for tickets for two of us for this trip and that the two lucky girls who would be going were Hava and I, Rivka. Our joy was great. My heart was pounding. I looked at my mother and saw that her eyes were filled with tears, her face expressing the depth of her emotions. She was already experiencing the sadness of our parting. She felt perturbed because she was spoiling our joy. I didn't continue looking at her because I didn't want to feel unhappy. I ignored her and went on happily thinking of the trip. I was so young. Even today my heart turns when I think of this moment. Why was I afraid of the strength of her feelings? Why did I ignore her at this moment of happiness? And why did I try not to look at her?
When the appointed day for our departure arrived the whole town was in a bustle. We were the heroines of the day. There were already young people from Shumsk in Eretz Yisrael but every departure from the town was an important event. Everyone was happy for us. There were those who were jealous, those who debated, and others who spoke about the wonderful activities of the pioneers in Eretz Yisrael and the hard days that were sure to befall the Diaspora.
It was the end of the winter and the Vilya River was frozen over. Snow covered the town. Snow sleds, in the shape of carriages, arrived at our doorstep. From early morning our large extended family filled the house. Hershel with his entire family, Mika with all of her family and Braina with hers came from Belezerka. The house was full of noise and there were those with red-rimmed eyes. My mother tried to force a smile but her footsteps were accompanied by the sound of weeping and prayer.
When I saw my sisters crying I couldn't control myself and began to cry too. Then my father said, My daughters! If you find that it is difficult for you, come back home. The house is open to you. His voice was shaking and I knew the inner struggle he was experiencing. He continued speaking in great pain, If there is the slightest chance that we too can immigrate to Eretz Yisrael, please write to us.
Just at this time our sister Surka, who lived in the United States, was visiting us in Shumsk. She had experienced many partings in her life and was very decisive and knew that it was forbidden to yield to weakness. She pursed her lips and urged us to leave the house immediately. We didn't part from our mother, we simply went out in tears and got into the snow sled. We never saw our mother again. Our father accompanied us to Kremenets.
In Kremenets we boarded the train for Warsaw. Surka traveled with us to Warsaw. My father's quiet words from the moments that we were waiting for the train to leave Kremenets are embedded in my memory. He asked us to look at each other and we did so, trying to etch this moment in our memories. It was possible to see the struggle on my father's face to appear happy and confident so as not to sadden us and to make the pain of parting from our home and family easier for us. From the movement of his lips we understood that he was reciting the prayer for the wayfarer. His face was permeated with wisdom, love and pain.
Even today my mother's look follows me. Sometimes I feel her stooping down, taking my hands in her palms and warming them from the bitter cold with her love. I also see my father smile, his eyes wet with tears, as he sees our redeemed Land of Israel.
I knew how strongly he desired to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael, and I had promised him to do everything I could. Nothing would stop us from bringing our parents here. When we were still at home I had told my father, confidently and decisively, that we would see each other again in Eretz Yisrael. My father's eyes shone as he replied, Of course I hope that we shall be united soon in Eretz Yisrael.
These last pictures of my family accompanied my sister Hava and me after we got off the boat. We walked the streets of Tel Aviv in a dream. We were in our country, among our people, and everything that we saw was made by Jewish workers. The truth is that we didn't write one word about the economic situation. We wrote happy letters, full of hope. We felt the soil of our homeland firmly under our feet.
A year later our sister Malka arrived. She lived in the immigrant camp on Aliyah Street, not far from Moshavot Square, and now we were three sisters in the country. My brother Zioma, his wife Rivka and their children Tzila and Yishai arrived after Malka did and planned to live here too. They came legally from the United States. We began to make arrangements for the immigration of my parents and our twin sisters Charni and Leah but that year only Bat Sheva arrived. To our great sorrow we did not succeed, and we were not privileged to be reunited with our entire beloved family. Their fate was the same as all of the Jews in Shumsk who perished in the Holocaust.
By Etel Kleinshtein
Translated by Rachel Karni
|Note: The author of this article, Etel (Kleinshtein) Isakov, was a daughter of Nuta Kleinshtein and Rachel (Weiner) Kleinshtein, who were killed in Shumsk along with their entire families, which numbered more than 60 adults and children. Etel Kleinshtein survived the Holocaust in the Soviet Union and then immigrated to Israel. She passed away in 2007. This article is the last one in the Shumsk Yizkor Book and appears in the section written in Yiddish. It was transcribed from an oral interview given by the author shortly before publication of the Yizkor Book in 1967. We are grateful to Shimon Tzimmerman, a neighbor of Eli Ben Ari (formerly Zuber), for having translated this article from the original Yiddish into Hebrew. The English translation was prepared by Rachel Karni, coordinator of the Shumsk Yizkor Book translation project and edited by Lynne Tolman.|
In Shumsk having one's photograph taken was an occasion because it involved financial and emotional effort. Taking a picture for no special reason, why would one do that?
Yet here is a picture of eight naive girls whose sparkling eyes are aspiring to better conditions, to a better life and to a more beautiful future.
How did the eight have their picture taken? Was this a picture of an organization? Where are all the others? Is this a picture of some happy occasion or special event? It is impossible to look at this picture without asking a central question. Where are these girls now? I would not write about this picture at all except for this central question. Where are these girls?
The answer to this question brings me to see this picture as a terrible symbol of something which can, G-d forbid, occur again, and thus the importance of this picture.
Left to right: Lusia Shteinberg, Etel Kleinshtein, Susya Geldi, Zelda Zilber, Sarah Kramer, Hasya Kucyk, Sarah Offengendler, and Vitel Segal
All eight girls lived on the same street in Shumsk. At first, their mothers spent innumerable hours together in long conversations about their daughters, holding us on their laps, walking back and forth with us, their faces beaming with joy. Each mother saw in her daughter the pinnacle of beauty and preciousness. Each stupid mother dreamed of all the best for her daughter.
In the course of time this group of girls played together without their mothers in attendance. Together they went to kindergarten, to school, and when they reached the age of 12 to the youth movement Hechalutz Hatzair. It was then that they began to think of Israel and a different life.
In school, and everywhere in Shumsk, the girls in this picture were called the girlfriends but each one had her own name.
I, Etel Kleinshtein, am next to Sarah Offengendler, Hasya Kucyk, Lusya Shteinberg, Sarah Kramer, Sonya Offengendler, Susya Geldi, Zelda Zilber, and Vitel Segal.
From Hechalutz Hatzair, Sarah Kramer, Zelda Zilber and I left for hachshara to a new Jewish future. But then the war broke out. Our homes and families beckoned and so we returned to Shumsk, hoping that our parents would solve our problems. But our dear parents, dear Jews, in that generation were unable to solve their children's problems.
Of all the eight girls in this picture I am the only one to have survived. All the others were taken, together with all the Jews of Shumsk, to the Krelitz Hills, the hills that had served as our playground and now became the mass grave of my seven friends and of all the Jews of Shumsk who were murdered by the Nazis.
A picture. A warning. A picture of a great heartache.
Sarah/Sonya Offengendler, daughter of Moshe and Devorah Offengendler, was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair. Her father owned a business, selling iron used in the construction of buildings. He was chosen to be a member of the Shumsk Judenrat in the ghetto period. In addition to Sarah, 13 other members of the Offengendler family perished in Shumsk in August 1942.
Hasya Kucyk, daughter of Nachman and Bluma Kucyk, was born about 1920. Her father was the owner of a bakery. She was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair. Her parents and her siblings, Masha, Tonye and Lubye, also perished in Shumsk
Lusia Shteinberg, daughter of Meir Shteinberg, was born in 1921. She was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair. She was the only one of the girlfriends to marry, and she had a child. She and her husband, who was born in Germany, did not live in Shumsk, but with the outbreak of the war they returned to Shumsk, where they perished along with her father and her siblings, Bitya, Buzya and Moshe.
Sarah Kramer, daughter of David Dov- Beer and Perl Kramer, was born about 1926. Her father traded in horses. He was shot and killed in the Shumsk ghetto prior to the massacre of the Shumsk Jewish community. As the author relates, Sarah was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair and was at the hachshara farm when war broke out but then returned to Shumsk. Her mother and her siblings, Yerachmiel, Yitzchak and Breindel, also perished in the massacre in August 1942. Her brother Avraham Kramer survived the war in the Soviet Union and immigrated to Israel, living in Haifa. The articles Avraham Kramer wrote for the Shumsk Yizkor Book appear on pages 87-95 and 125-127.
Susya Geldi, also called Shoshana, daughter of Nachum Asher and Chana (Bryk) Geldi, was born in 1921. Her father, who was born in Rachmanov, was a merchant. Her parents and three of her siblings perished in Shumsk. Her brother Pinchas Geldi survived the war, hiding with Shtundists in the vicinity of Shumsk, and later immigrated to Israel. His name is mentioned in a number of articles in the Shumsk Yizkor Book.
Zelda Zilber, daughter of Baruch Zilber and Babeh (Offengendler) Zilber, was born in 1926. Her father was a teacher in the cheder (school) of Shumsk. She was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair and was at the hachshara farm when the war broke out and she returned to Shumsk. She was killed along with her family in August 1942.
Vitel Segal, daughter of Yosef Segal and Rayzil-Shayndil (Karushay) Segal, was born in 1923. Her father was a watchmaker. More than 45 people with the surname Segal perished in Shumsk. Vitel's cousin Shmuel Segal, who was living in Lanovetsy, survived the war and immigrated to Israel. Return
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