Map showing the relative locations of
Warsaw, Vengrov, and Sokolov Podlaski
Kiwa Mordka and Masza Ruchla Szczerb had twelve children. Before World War II, they were living in Sokolov Podlaski, a town whose Jewish community had been established in the 16th century and which was the nearest town east of Vengrov. After his pre-war marriage, one of Mordka and Masza Ruchla’s sons lived in Vengrov with his wife and children.
Symcha Joel Szczerb (Vengrov, 1937)
Mordka and Masza’s son Symcha Joel Szczerb was a famed soccer player in Vengrov. He was known as Himmela, because he could kick the ball high into the heavens (himmel). Symcha is in the photograph of the Vengrov soccer team on this website. He is kneeling in the front row, second player from the left. He was probably about 17 years old when the photograph was taken. Symcha's family identified one of his cousins, who also is in the photograph. He, too, is kneeling in the front row, and is the 4th player from the right. They cannot remember his first name, but know that he was the son of Naftula Szczerb of Sokolov, who was the brother of Symcha’s father Mordkha. That these two boys from Sokolov were playing on the Vengrov team shows that relations between the Jewish community in the two towns were close.
Symcha spent the war years fighting courageously as a Polish soldier in the Russian army. After the war, he went back to Sokolov and found that his family had been decimated by the Nazis. Of his twelve siblings, only one brother and one sister had survived, by fleeing to Russia. His niece and nephew, Irene and Aaron Elster, also had survived. They, their parents, and their 6-year-old sister Sara had been forcibly relocated to the Sokolov ghetto. In September, 1942, the ghetto was liquidated. Their father and sister Sara are believed to have died in Treblinka. Ten-year-old Aaron, his older sister Irene, and their mother escaped by squeezing into an underground sewer that ran through the ghetto. The children got separated from their mother who, it later was learned, was shot three months before the liberation. Aaron and Irene hid in the forests and farms surrounding the town. Later, a Polish couple named Gorskii took them in. Aaron spent the last two years of the war in the Gorskiis’ attic, sustained by periodic visits from Irene. She did not look Jewish, so the Gorskiis allowed her to live in their home.
Aaron Elster's book
Of the more than 5,000 Jews in pre-war Sokolov Podlaski, all but 29 perished in the Holocaust. After the war, Aaron and Irene lived in orphanages and DP camps until they were rescued by their Uncle Symcha, who brought them to America. In 2008, Symcha Szczerb is in his 90s. Aaron lectures on the Holocaust and has written a book entitled, I Still See Her Haunting Eyes: The Holocaust and a Hidden Child Named Aaron, in which he describes how he and Irene survived the war and tells of the bravery of Symcha Joel Szczerb, a star player on the Vengrov soccer team.
Vengrov researcher Marla Cohen is the great-granddaughter of Kiva Mordka and Masza Ruchla Szczerb, the great-niece of their son Symcha (Sam) Joel Szczerb, and the daughter of Holocaust survivor Irene Elster. We are grateful for the information that she provided for this article.
Webmaster’s Note: This story has been included on the Vengrov website because the town of Sokolov Podlaski was geographically near to Vengrov, its citizens socialized and did business with members of Vengrov’s Jewish community, and there is no Shtetlinks website memorializing the martyrs of Sokolov Podlaski.
Credits: Text and page design copyright (c) 2008 by Helene Kenvin. Photograph of Symcha Joel Szczerb copyrighted © 2008 by Leo Ptak. Page created by Helene Kenvin. All rights reserved.