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On August 23, 1946, at noon, I arrived aboard a French ship, Andrei Liban, from Marseille to the Haifa port.
On our way from Marseille to Haifa, we stopped for a few hours at the Alexandria port. We were not allowed to go down ashore. From the deck, I noticed a group of workers unloading cargo from a ship, by hand with no mechanical means; a foreman headed the group, and, with a whip in his hand, urged the workers.
The time of the voyage we spent in conversations between the group members, most of who have gone through the holocaust. Every one had told their history during the war, and the way that they succeeded to survive. Only a few of us belonged with the Zionist movements.
One of the Brigade soldiers asked me to deliver to his mother, who lived in Haifa, his military cloths, and boots, which I hid in a suitcase. He remained in France, as others like him, to be active in the “Escape”, in the framework of “Aliyah Bet”. He had told me that, at arrival in Haifa port, I should approach the Jewish Agency representative, who helps the immigrants through the border check, and he will help me through customs so that the military uniform won’t be found. I didn’t doubt the soldier’s words and his request was like a command to me.
I passed the border check easily, as I had a certificate signed by the British Consulate in Paris. I approached the Jewish Agency person, but when he heard that I have a military uniform in my suitcase, he refrained from any contact with me. Later on, I saw him driving a “Dan” public bus. Having no choice, I approached the Arabic customs officer, who opened the suitcase. The uniform was well hidden and I got through the inspection. I left the port with a breath of relief.
On the ship on which I arrived, there were two Jewish lads with no certificates, who hoped that they will find a way to get off the ship in Haifa. But the British refused to grant them an immigration permit and, on the next day, I read in the paper that they were forced to proceed on the ship to Beirut and from there, they were returned by ship to France.
By the way, one of these men I met years later, in Haifa. He married a chemist by the name Ziporah Lindner, a graduate of the Technion in Haifa. I knew her and met with her many times when we worked together, she as director of the laboratory for food testing of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, and I as chief food technologist, and later as director of the food service of the Ministry of Health.
At the Haifa port, I suddenly saw a Jewish special policeman (Gaffir) who carried an English riffle of the same type as the rifle that I had exchanged for my pistol, during my time with the partisans. As mentioned, I had only two bullets for that riffle and it was impossible to find more bullets for it.
Since I headed the immigrant group, I was the last to leave the ship. When I left the port, I was surprised to see my sister Esther waiting for me. She came from Tel-Aviv to meet me in Haifa. Indeed, I sent a telegram from the ship, to announce the time of my arrival, but due to the incidents and unrest on the roads, I did not expect to be met in Haifa. She waited for me long hours. She did not imagine that I am involved in public affairs, and that I waited till the last immigrant will be off the ship, before I got down.
Fifteen years had passed since my sister Esther immigrated in Eretz Isroel, until we met. Of course, we recognized each other. We were very excited and kissed. She cried; I did not. She saw in me the family that was murdered in the holocaust. I saw in her the family that survived, that I miss and to which I longed for all these years and found now in Eretz Isroel.
Because of the late hour, it was impossible to travel from Haifa to Tel-Aviv, for security reasons. So, we spent my first night in the country with a family relative in Haifa.
On the following day, we traveled in a cab and arrived at my sister’s apartment, at 16 Stand Street in Tel-Aviv. It was relatively a large apartment, with four rooms, two of which were rented out and in the other two, my sister lived with her husband Abraham Friedman, who immigrated from Zitomir, in 1924, with their only daughter Naomi. As I arrived, one of the rooms became vacant and I settled in the living room. I used to eat lunch at my sister Bella. Breakfast and dinner, I ate at my sister Esther.
Seven years have passed since my separation from my parents, my brothers, the warm home, and my relatives. During these years I have been lonely, and looked forward to the minute when I will meet my sisters in Eretz Isroel. From this expectation as well as of my longing for my family, I derived strength to withstand all the hardships that I experienced.
We couldn’t stop talking. My sister had a tendency to talk and get deeply into details. I, too, liked chatting. This time there really was a lot to talk about. My sisters were, naturally, very happy for my being rescued, but I had a feeling that my older sister had reservations with regards to my going to Vilna just before the war. I explained to them the situation as it was at that time, pointing out, that if I wouldn’t have gone I couldn’t save them, more than that, I would probably be among the murdered. The conversations with my sisters slowly blunted my feelings of guilt and my conscience, and maybe their sense of guilt too.
While writing these lines, I attempt to compare between my meeting with my sisters Esther and Bella of blessed memory, and my return to my parents’ isolated and desolated home. With both events I was deeply excited, but in a different way and extent. A dramatist would surely create a fascinating drama of this story, which is not only my personal story, but also the story of the entire contemporary generation that survived the Nazi inferno and stayed alive.
I have been told everywhere that if I wish to get to know the country, I should do it before I find a job. On those days, internal tourism was not yet developed, but there used to be tours that were organized by Jewish institutions, on the mid-holiday days of Passover and Succoth. So, I went out to get to know the country with my own eyes and ears, and participated in a tour of the Laborers Union in the North, which was guided by the famous Zeev Vilnay. I had command of Hebrew and didn’t find it hard to communicate with the veteran Israelis and to understand what is being said.
I traveled to visit my family relatives, throughout the country. On my mother’s side, I had a large family in Bnei-Braq. My uncle, my mother’s brother-in-law Shmuel Zingerman and his wife Reizl, was an enthusiastic Zionist already in Poland, and in 1931, he immigrated in Eretz Isroel with his entire family and settled in Bnei-Braq. His son, Zeev Zingerman, immigrated earlier for studying civil engineering at the Technion in Haifa. When I came, he worked as civil engineer for “Sollel Boneh”. His brother, Shlomo, worked in a “Haganah” arms factory, and later, when Israel was established, he was appointed director of a plant within the military industry.
My cousin Moshe and his wife Tzilah were old Kibbutzniks, with a deep conviction. On those days, in the Kibbutz, there was total communion and the collective ideas were applied in their full extent. They had two small rooms and a private kettle; their children were raised and slept in the common children’s rooms. I traveled to visit them in Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh
We had many conversations on the Kibbutz. From my questions, they probably understood that I have reservations of the tight collective life style, especially in the way it is applied in “Hashomer Hatzair” Kibbutzes. The idea of “everyone as his capability and everyone as his needs” was familiar to me since my short visit in Soviet Russia, during the forties, and it wasn’t accepted by me. During my years of wandering in Europe, after the war, I voluntarily worked public work, but did not wish to belong in the framework of a Kibbutz, neither in Poland nor in Germany, in spite of the fact that this made my every day life harder for me. At that time, I innocently thought that if I belong in a Kibbutz it will oblige me, at least morally, to stay within a Kibbutz after I arrive in Eretz Isroel. More than anything else, I wanted to work in my profession, as chemist. I have invested long hard years for studying and I loved my profession.
In Jerusalem, I met my classmate Baruch Uzach (Egozi), and others from our hometown, which came to visit me and to inquire about their families that perished in the Diaspora.
The years 1940 - 1946 I considered lost years, in which I did not make any progress in any field. I registered to the Engineers’ Union and to the Engineers’ Organization, and started to look for a job. I remember being accepted for an interview by Dr. Yaffe, director of the chemist laboratory at the Israeli Standard Institute, who, at the end of our meeting said to me: “you are young, change your profession, there isn’t much work for chemists in Israel”. A similar response I heard from the secretary of the Engineers’ Union, Engineer Lifshitz. These conversations were engraved in my memory, and on later years, as I will tell further, I dealt with the absorption of new immigrants who were chemists, technologists, and technicians, with no little success.
In small talk, people used to say on those days: “it is expected of a chemist to make gold of garbage, practically they make garbage of gold”. At the private sector, there were no jobs for chemists, while in public institutions, like the Jewish Agency, municipalities, medical insurance organizations, laborers’ union, etc., to get a job one needed connections with the right people of the Mappai party, that was then the party that ruled Israel; in one word, protection. Contacts were better than qualifications. One little note or phone call from the right person, even from those who didn’t personally know the candidate, but had some links with the right institute, sufficed for the candidate to get the job, regardless whether he is qualified for the job.
Public work did not attract me. I noticed that in Eretz Isroel public work turned into a profession. Would I not be a chemist, I would probably go to the academy and deal with the history of Judaism and the holocaust. I have high esteem for all those who deal with such a painful subject, which I, personally, tried hard to forget.
On January 1, 1947, thanks to my brother-in-law, Eliosha, I succeeded in getting a temporary part time job at a private laboratory for food testing, which belonged to Engineer Benjamin Zaltzbuch, in Tel-Aviv. Eliosha worked then for the British Mandate government, first as inspector at the border control and, later, when immigration ceased, as inspector at the food control department. I earned 10 Palestine Pounds monthly, for a half time job.
Years passed since I last held laboratory equipment in my hand. On my first day at work, a glass test tube fell out of my hand, but luckily did not brake. I saw in this a good encouraging sign.
My adjustment to my job was not difficult. I knew Hebrew and the profession, and here is were I started to gain experience. A female and a male food technicians worked in the lab and practiced while working, they were taken in here before me. In spite of the fact that my professional education was higher than theirs, the work to which I was assigned was minor than theirs. The magic word was “seniority”, in terms of who started earlier. They used to leave for me the cleaning of the soot in the drying kiln; not considering that I worked only a half-day and they worked a full day (the equipment was primitive, and the kiln we heated with a kerosene cooking stove).
At noon, we used to have tea together, the laboratory workers, and the neighbors, whose offices were in the two other rooms of the same apartment. The attitude towards me, the new immigrant, was reasonable. Maybe it was a little bit better than the attitude towards other new immigrants.
Very slowly, I felt that the older locals look at the new immigrants with not a too good eye. Usually, a new immigration encounters a certain reservation, but in our case, the locals did not understand how could the Jews of Europe be taken like “lambs to the slaughter”.
The phrase “as lambs to the slaughter” circled around like a “legal tender”. Maybe this is the reason why immigrants, who were partisans and considered themselves as combatants, pointed out this fact as their natural defense. Eventually, the Memorial Day for the war victims is rightfully called “The Memorial Day of the Holocaust and Heroism”. I want to point out that in my eyes, the ghetto and camps survivors where heroes in their way. To me, the very determination to survive is heroic.
I was attracted to my new life, and as time passed by, I realized that in spite of my natural conservatism, I am capable of adjusting to the new circumstances and to integrate in society. While at the beginning I felt the need to emphasize that I was a partisan, as time passed by, I stopped talking about it. Finally, like everybody else, I succeeded in integrating in society. In my opinion, this is Israel’s greatness, that unlike the United States, where immigrants don’t integrate but stay on living among immigrants of their origin, in Israel the immigrant is given the possibility for integrating and assimilating in society. I entered the Israeli manner of life as far as I could. It wasn’t always easy, but in comparison to what I have gone through during the war years, I coped very well with the hardships.
On January 1, 1948, I started to work as chemist in an oleo factory “Deshen”. I still had with me the energy that I accumulated during the years. I learned a lot in the hard way, but I am not angry, I believe that through the hard way one strengthens and learns. My salary was very modest (20 Pounds monthly). The salary was then set according to the size of the family, and I was still single.
At that time, the mobilization to the “Haganah” had started. Fighting again was not my heart’s desire. Still, among my own people, things seemed different. In spite of the hardship, the motivation was totally different. The minute you were mobilized, you became an equal among equals. In the War of Independence, I took part in the conquest of Ramla, and later I was assigned to the garrison in Jaffa. Three days in the army and three days at work, as chemist in the oleo factory in Nachalat Itzhak, Tel-Aviv.
One day, the Egyptians bombed Nachalat Itzhak from the air. We worked with huge quantities of Benzine. The workers escaped to the wadi and I stayed behind to close the stopcocks, to avoid the entire area from burning down, should a bomb fall on the factory.
On May 1949, I moved to work as a government civil servant, first in Tel-Aviv and later in Jerusalem. As a food chemist, I began to work in control of food, within the offices “Supply and Rationing”, “Industry and Commerce”, “Agriculture”, and I retired in 1983, from the Ministry of Health, as director of the Country Food Service.
My period of service as civil servant I summarized in a booklet that I published in 2004, where I specified my contribution to the development of the food industry in Israel, the issuing of regulations, food standards, etc.
With all due modesty, I believe that I have contributed a lot to the improvement of food and to consciousness to proper nutrition for extending the life span of the Israeli population. I progressed professionally, participated in advanced learning in the United States and in Europe. I felt a need to broaden my knowledge and enlisted to the Public Health School, adjacent to the School of Medicine, in Jerusalem. I graduated in 1979 as master of public health, in addition to my master in chemistry.
During the years, I dedicated time for the absorption of new immigrants, professionals in the fields of food and nutrition. I absorbed immigrants from Eastern Europe, organized courses of endorsement for 60 academic immigrants, most of them found jobs and stayed in Israel.
After my retirement in 1983, I became an advisor to the Ministry of Health in the field of food, and as of 1984, I worked as advisor for the Industrialists Union of Food Manufacturers in Israel, and an advisor for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry on food import. For 55 years, I was active within the Israel Standards Institute, on standardization of food. (After the head of this institute, suggested to me, in 1946, to change my profession…). I derived a lot of satisfaction from my work and professional career. I was an active partner in the upgrading of the field of food in Israel, and I assisted in making Israel equal to the most developed western countries, in the fields of food and nutrition.
In addition, every year, on the Memorial Day of the Holocaust and Heroism, I appear before school students, in military camps, and in public gatherings in Tel-Aviv, Ramat-Gan, Rehovot, “Massuah” in Tel-Itzhak, “Moreshet” in Yad-Mordechai, and at the national rally of the Holocaust and Heroism Memorial Day, in Jerusalem.
For years, I am active in the management of the Partisans and Ghetto Rebels Organization and the organization of Vilna and David-Horodok Originates.
Together with my wife, I participated in 1989, in the Partisans Organization delegation to the Soviet Union, where we were welcomed as guests of the Soviet veterans, in Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad, Vilna, Minsk.
Together with my two daughters, we held in 2003, a “routes” tour, in Vilna, David-Horodok, Warsow and more.
On August 23, 2004, I concluded the publication of the booklet “Food Control in Israel”. In the prolog to the review, I wrote that I intend to write down on paper my life story, from my birth in 1917, through my childhood, youth, holocaust period, activity with the partisans, and my immigration in Israel. On September 1, 2004, I started to keep my promise and concluded it in February 2005. I wish that I be privileged to see the book published.
The two dates – September 1, 1939 and August 23, 1946, are two dominant dates that changed my life course. On the first date, World War II broke out. On the second date, I immigrated in Eretz Isroel. The holocaust period is the dominant chapter in my life in Europe. In my everyday life, I consciously try, not always with success, to forget the lost five years of war. But the memories pop up, again and again.
Ever since I immigrated in this country, I rehabilitated and, together with my wife Chayah, we established a family. We have two daughters, both are physicians and married to professors of medicine in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. We have two grandsons and three granddaughters, some in compulsory military service and in the regular military service.
Being a holocaust survivor, among the first of the anti Nazi underground, the F.P.O, in the Vilna ghetto, and a partisan in the Belarus forests, I testified many times on the holocaust period, before various elements, in Israel and abroad.
Hitler, may his name be cursed, wanted to destroy the Jewish people, and the aim of these testimonies is to document the holocaust period, the genocide and the life story of the survivors and the tragedy that they and their families had gone through - so as to remember and not forget.
The rehabilitation of the survivors is the true revenge in face of the Nazi “final solution”. We told our story to our children, even before the Eichman Trial. We visited with our daughters at the sites where the Nazis exterminated our dearest: our parents, brothers, sisters, and families. We all live in Israel. We were built in it and we will continue to build it.
I want to conclude with a story that I once heard from our family relative, Yossef Rothman:
As man was born, god entrusted him with two gray identical boxes. One box will serve for storing man’s happy events in life, and in the other, he will put the moments of sorrow and grief. During the years, with every happy experience the “happy box” became more colorful, while the “sorrow box” remained gray as before.
When man’s time came to return his soul to the Creator, he was asked to present his boxes. God opened the “happy box” with the happy moments, and dispersed them in the palace. The moments of happiness danced around the man and reminded him of the good and happy life he had. When the time for opening the other box arrived, man feared that god will disperse the moments of sorrow and grief, and that he will be forced to remember the loneliness, distress and agony that he had gone through. But when the “sorrow box” was opened, man realized that it was empty, and at its bottom, there is a hole, which, seemingly was there right from the beginning.
“What for did you give me this gray box with a hole in its bottom?” asked man.
God smiled and answered “it is hard for a man to part from his life, both - from his good and bad moments. And since I did not want you to have to experience again the bad moments, I made a hole in the bottom of the box”.
“In that case” man wondered, “why did you give me that box, in the first place?”
“Because a man cannot avoid his memories”, answered god “because remembering is one of man’s essence, and since I wanted that you remember the beautiful moments and not remember the bad moments, the “happy box” is for accumulating the memories, and the “sorrow box” is for relieving the pain”.
Indeed, this is what humans should do, remember the beautiful moments, and forget the difficult moments. Sorrow and grief are a burden and bounding, while joy moves man forward and makes his life easier.
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