The Berger Family from Mlynov


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Wolf and Golda Berger and three of their children (l to r): Hannah, Rosa, Shaul
Mlynov Memorial Book, p 467.
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Wolf and Golda Berger (seated), Aaron and Rosa (seated front), Hannah and Shaul (standing). Courtesy of Zeev Harari
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Wolf and brother Faivel Berger, with wives Golda and Mateel, and daughters Hannah and Batia. Mlynov Memorial Book, 503.
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Faivel's daughter, Batia, milking cow. Mlynov Memorial Book, 473.
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1927 Group HaTikva of Hashomer Hatzair. Rosa seated on floor. Seated right, Rachel Shapovnik, who went to kibbutz Ruhama. Chuna Goldseker, seated second from right. Courtesy of Hagar Lipkin.
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Aaron Berger right, age 19, circa 1927. Courtesy of Zeev Harari.
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Aaron Berger (third from left), Yehuda Mohel (second from right). Courtesy of Zeev Harari.
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Aaron (left), Rosa (front right), Yehuda Mohel (back, second from right). Courtesy of Zeev Harari.
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(right to left) Rosa, Aaron, Hannah. Courtesy of Zeev Harari.
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Aaron (far left) with Planty pioneer training in Slonim, winter of 1931–32 . Courtesy of Zeev Harari.
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Aaron Harari sheep sheering in Kibbutz Merhavia. Courtesy of Zeev Harari.


The Berger Story Continued...

Sol had arrived in Chicago in 1914 shortly before WWI broke out, and he would be separated from the rest of his family during the War. Back in Mlynov, his family had to be evacuated twice from Mlynov as the Eastern Front of the War moved back and forth close to the town. During this period, Sol's older brother, Shaul, was recruited into the Red Army and would eventually settle down in the Soviet Union, where he married and had two children. Sol's youngest brother, Aaron, spoke later in life of the family's difficult time as refugees during the War. Just before their first evacuation, he recalls:

We heard shots fired from a distance, until an order was received from the authorities to evacuate to the other side of the Ikva River. We had to pack our belongings, and since there was no transportation, we used our horse-drawn carts. We loaded our beds, kitchen wares, flour and more for an absence of two weeks... This was the first time I had seen my dad crying, stroking the walls and mezuzahs while we were already sitting on the carriage wating for departure.

The adults gathered and discused the sitution. We arrived to a town about 35 km from Mlynov. It was close to the High Holidays. We did not unpack, got a room and all of us slept on the floor. The butter was not fresh any more, but with a slice of dry bread we boiled water in a kettle, or samovar and lived there in malnutrition. The war front spread over a vast area. On Kol Nidrei, when I was in the synagogue, there was not an electrical light, but candles and flashes of lightning from the cannon shelling penetrated inside. As a young child I did not assume that adults could cry. It was really a tragedy of refugees who were fleeing for their lives. There was not any organized aid for the situation of hunger and need.

At one point, we reached the outskirts of that town where the Christian graveyard was and we saw dead soldiers, deep open graves, and uniformed soldiers threw amputated limbs into those deep mass graves and covered them with soil. Those pictures did not at that moment cause us any shock, but at night I suffered from nightmares.[1]

Following the War, Mlynov became part of the newly recreated Poland and immigration to America began to be significantly restricted. Sol's brother, Kalman, decided he wanted to join his older brother in Chicago. He made his way first to Buenos Aires, joining several other Mlynov boys also trying to get into the US via that route. He was photographed there with friends, Samuel Goldseker and two Wallace young men, the older sons of the very same Jacob Wallace who had arrived in Chicago with the large Berger contingent in 1913.

In December 1926, Kalman snuck into the country under the assumed name of Abram Machlin and lived with his brother Sol, and Sol's wife, Dynka Selkoff. Kalman, now called Karl in America, had to leave the US and reenter legally in order to finally obtain his citizenship.


Aliyah of Rosa and Aaron (Harari) Berger

After WWI, immigration to the US was becoming more difficult. At the same time, the Zionist Youth movement was gaining in popularity in Poland. In the mid 1920s, Sol’s youngest brother, Aaron, played a leadership role in the revival of the youth organization, Hashomer Hazair, which became popular in Mlynov and Mervits during this period.

In about 1931, when he was 23 or 24, Aaron went for training (hachsharah) to a preparatory kibbutz called Planty near Slonim (now in modern day Belarus), where he served as as one of the secretaries for the organization and earned a certificate to go to Mandatory Palestine. Aaron made aliyah in 1934 with the Planty group and settled with them in Kibbutz Merhavia. Shortly after arriving in Palestine, Aaron changed his family name from Berger, which means "mountain" in German, to "Harari", the Hebrew equivalent. In Palestine, Aaron would become an nationally known expert on sheep breeding. He married Rivka Vilf-Dorlich and they had three children.

Aaron’s younger sister, Rosa, was also involved the Zionist youth movement, Hashomer Hatzair. She made aliyah with the Planty group in 1933, a year before her older brother, Aaron, who had been asked to help as a guide for another “nest” near Mlynov. Rosa's group stayed initially in Rehovot, where she became a wall painter, painting the first buildings in the Weizman Institute. After a year, she moved with the group to Ramat-Yohanan, a kibbutz 16 km east of Haifa.A young love relationship with Boruch Meren from Mlynov ultimately saved his life and opens a window into the poignant aspirations and hopes of the younger Mlynov generation. Rosa had been changed by life in Palestine and when Boruch arrived their relationship fell apart. She eventually married Moshe Chizik (also spelled Tzizik) another young man she had known from Mlynov who had also made aliyah. Together they had three children. Moshe would die young at the age 49 from a snake bite.


The 1938 Trip Back To Mlynov

In the winter of 1937/1938, Aaron (Berger) Harari made a trip back to Mlynov in which he took a number of photos that were later published in the Mlynov Memorial book and that have come to define how descendants of other Mlynov families picture the place.

Aaron’s kibbutz had sent him back to help the sister of a kibbutz member immigrate to Palestine. The purpose of the trip was to “marry her” and enable her to come to Palestine as Aaron’s wife. On his trip back, Aaron brought tthe woman to Mlynov and tried to explain the purpose of the fictitious wedding to his parents who were surprised and could not comprehend the meaning of this strange act. It was during this trip that Aaron snapped the photos of Mlynov that have come down to us. He had been in Palestine for nearly four years and had changed and back in Mlynov he felt a sense of alienation he would later write about for the Mlynov Memorial Book, 77.


The Bergers Who Remained in Mlynov.

During that trip back to Mlynov, Aaron took a photo of his uncle Fiavel Berger’s family and his parents and older sister Hannah. This would be the last time he saw them. In September 1939, as part of the Molotov-Rippentrop agreement, Mlynov was occupied by Russian troops. In June 1942, the Germans attacked the Russians and Mlynov fell under Nazi occupation.


The Family of Tuvia Berger

It seems likely that when Aaron was back in Mlynov that he also visited with the family of his other uncle, Tuvia Berger, though no photo of the family was published in the Mlynov Memorial Book. Tuvia, his wife Miriam and his daughter Raisel, are listed among the martyrs of Mlynov. However, two of their children did survive.

Their son, Pinchas Berger, had been recruited into the Red Army and been shipped to Siberia. He carried with him one torn photo of his sister Raisel that he held onto from before the War. It was the only photo left of his family. After the War ended, Pinchas met and married Bronia, a woman who had also survived the war. In 1947 they had their first son, Tuvia, and in 1950 they made aliyah. Their son, Israel Berger, was born shortly thereafter.

Pinchas had another sister, Liza Berger, who survived the Shoah. Liza writes about her survival experience in the Mlynov Memorial Book, 347-51. Liza's account is piecemeal and fragmentary reflecting the nature of her experience. When the Germans occupied the town in June 1941, she was among twenty other young Jewish women recruited by the Judenrat to work for the Germans. She recalls having to stand in the Ikva river from 8:00 am in the morning until 5:00 in the late afternoon washing German trucks. It was September and already the weather was getting cold. Each of them received three lashes at the end of the day as payment for their service.

Along with other young people, they decided to leave town and head to the forest. They hid in an empty barn. The young women went out looking for food. When they returned, they found all the boys had been killed. The girls wandered together for a time but eventually Liza was separated from them and went on alone. She wandered from place to place, stealing food when the opportunity arose and begging for food from Polish families, some of whom remembered her from before. Somehow she managed to survive.

After the War she married Grisha (Gershon) Gurwic (also Girec), and the coupled eventually headed to Montevideo, Uruguay, in the late 40s or early 50s, and then eventually to San Pablo, Brazil, where they lived out the remainder of their lives.

Additional Reading

You can read (or right click to download) the detailed saga of the Berger family and the transcript of Aaron Harari's reflections on his life.



[1] The quote is from a transcription of Aaron Harari speaking about his life. Courtesy of Zeev Harari.


Compiled by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD
Updated:July 2020
Copyright © 2019 Howard I. Schwartz

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