Miriam's mother Sarah (Sura) (nee
Shiejevicz) died at the age of thirty-eight, leaving eight young
children. When Sarah's husband Joine met her, he was smitten by
her and went back to her town Działoszyn[ii]
and married her. She spoke Polish and was well-educated in
Jewish subjects. Sarah’s father had been a rabbi, and her
brother as well (also a shochet and teacher, as was common in
small cities at that time). Miriam is the family member who
remembers most of the family history, even though she was
sixteen years old when she left Wielun to live in Palestine, in
In her youth, Miriam joined the Zionist
organization, Shomer Hatzair, which according to American
thinking was socialist. Meetings were often held in Miriam's
house. Later the group collected money and was able to rent a
When her sister Bala was fourteen or fifteen, she
went to Lodz
and started to work, later went to Hach Shara.
There, she met her husband. Miriam had already met this man at
a summer camp for the organization Shomer Hatzair, where he
visited. Miriam had been sent to the camp from her own
district, as had another young girl.
born in Kalisz, Poland, was the head of a different district.
He was sent to the Warsaw ghetto by the Jewish underground to
help organize the planned uprising.
Prior to this, he had been in the Polish Army and so had
valuable experience. He was very well-liked and the young
Miriam was very pleased that he signed her autograph book. When
Bala met Mojtek, she wrote to Miriam telling her of this, not
knowing that Miriam already knew and liked him. Bala and Mojtek
were married in the Częstochowa ghetto. Bala, didn't want to
leave Mojtek behind in Poland, insisting on staying with him.
Mojtek was an underground commander in the
ghetto. When the Germans came close to where they were
positioned, he sent the Jews to one side of the area, while he
shot at the Nazis from another. He had a high price on his head
because of his work and was later hanged by the Nazis, after
first having saved an estimated one thousand people.
During the war, Bala, who spoke fluent
Polish, dyed her hair blonde in order to completely fade into
the Polish background outside the ghetto. She was able to
import food into the Częstochowa ghetto in order to help those
inside. One day, returning to the ghetto, she was caught by the
Germans as she scaled the wall and was pulled down by her legs.
She was deported to Treblinka, where she perished in 1943.
Miriam and Joe, living in Palestine, had
already purchased passage to bring her to Palestine. They went
to meet the ship and she didn't appear among the passengers
disembarking. Later, they heard what had happened to Bala.
After Bala was taken to Treblinka, Mojtek
became despondent. This was not his first loss of a loved one -
his brother, Zora Zylberberg, was the first one the Germans
killed in Vilno (Vilnius, Lithuania) – a hero. A friend, Yosef
Kaplan, was also one of the first killed in the Warsaw ghetto.
After the war, most members of the family
acted as heroes, did whatever they could to help the common
cause. While in Cyprus, Miriam's father, Yoine (Joine)
Abramovitz made clothes from the lining of tents as new items
were so scarce. As a young man, his parents wanted him to be a
tailor. He taught the young children how to sew, so that they
could have pants and shirts.
Itzhak, one of Miriam's brothers, was shot; a
bullet lodged in his side, a wound from which he recovered. The
brother and sister had been sent to opposite sides of the island
to stay, and wanting to see each other, were forced to do so
illegally. They were fired at by the British. In one case, the
British officer who shot was actually not unkind to the Jews.
He was later himself shot by the Jews.
At the start of the war, the first bomb fell
on a children's hospital in Wielun, Poland not far from where
the Abramovitz family was living. Miriam’s father grabbed the
younger children as Sonia was not yet at home. They all fled to
the Russian side.
They first arrived in the Russian
Russian government policy decreed that their father had to carry
a Russian identity card, but he didn't want to stay in Russia
after the war thinking that it would end quickly. As he refused
to comply with this order, the family was sent to Siberia.
Luckily, the Abramovitz family survived in Siberia. Miriam's
father was born on a farm and knew how to manage.
Living in Russia, they worked for the
government, doing whatever they could to survive. Everyone
worked. Often when they came home from work, they found their
food had been eaten by mice and rats. Zalman, one of the older
children, was managing a big food depot/grocery and was able to
steal some food for the family. Bluma and Yitzhak, the
youngest, picked blueberries. Miriam's father was able to sell
various items. One of these items was a nightgown, which
provided enough money for the family to live on for a time. Her
father bribed the Russians, as did so many other people.
Miriam, then living in Palestine, sent many
parcels to her family in Siberia, using almost all the money she
earned, keeping only enough to live on. She tried hard to put
as much as possible into these parcels. Miriam didn't know
Russian, but was able to write to her family from Palestine by
copying the address from their letters. She left room between
the lines, so they could write back to her, as there was no
paper available to them.
Following the war, Poland made a pact with
Russia, allowing displaced Polish citizens to return home.
The family had feared that they would have to
stay in Russia for years and years. Yoine Abramovitz took his
family and left…they passed through Stanislav, Galicia
on the way out of Russia.
The Germans were still bombing Poland.
Sonia's boyfriend heard this news on their return journey from
Russia. In Stanislav, he was shot and killed as he entered the
family's house to visit her.
The family had not been in a concentration
camp, but suffered nevertheless. They returned to Poland on a
train which stopped frequently, making this a very long trip.
At one point, their train was bombed and everything was covered
with earth. Sonia thought that she was the only survivor, but
soon saw that the earth was moving and then found her whole
family under it, alive and well. There were other bombings on
their train journey, as well. It was an accepted fact that the
Poles were worse than the Germans. The Polish counted them as
they filtered back - 'still five Jews are coming back', they
heard the Polish say.
Somehow the Abramovitz family made it to
Germany and made contact with the Jewish Agency. They were put
into DP (displaced persons) camps. They were taken through the
underground system to Palestine. First the children were taken.
Bluma, the youngest, didn't want to go with them, being very
attached to her father.
The family arrived in Palestine separately on
different boats, except for Miriam's father and Bluma. Sonia
had met a man, whom she married in Germany after the war. She
and her new husband went to Italy, later Greece, then to
Palestine aboard the Exodus. Miriam still has the suitcase that
they took with them. Sonia was her husband's second wife; his
wife and child from the first marriage were killed in the
Then came Rujah, next was Yitzhak (the
youngest of the boys). Miriam hadn't seen him since he was a
small boy (seven or eight years old) and so hardly recognized
him when she went to pick him up in Tel Aviv; he was so tall.
He was the only one standing there. Miriam recognized him by
his eyes when she took a closer look. Airplanes often flew very
low over Tel Aviv. Italy, under Mussolini, mistakenly bombed
Tel Aviv on one occasion. The streets were bare, as a result.
The family all stayed with Miriam & her
husband Joe. When her sister Rujah arrived, Miriam's son Amiram,
three years old, had whooping cough. The last one to arrive in
Palestine was Mordechai, who came in 1947. The whole family
lived with Miriam and Joe when they arrived in Palestine, never
having a single disagreement. Joe helped them all get settled
in their new country.
In 1947, Bluma, the youngest sister, saved
Kibbutz Givat Shmona from the Arab ambush. On guard duty one
night, she woke up the kibbutz leader and alerted him to the
advancing Arabs. He didn't take her seriously at first, but she
persisted. By the time she started firing shots, the Jewish
forces realized that this was serious. They caught the young
Arab who had untied three cows, which were extremely valuable to
the kibbutz. This helped them forestall the attack. All Bluma
asked for as a reward was a photograph album.
Please see images with more background on Mojtek
Zylberberg, taken from the Yizkor book, "Churban Czenstochow,
The Destruction of Czenstokov", by B. Orenstein; I. Ojflage,
Lizens Nr. AG. 383.7 GEC-AGO, 1948, pages 154 & 155.
Miriam Gelbart's account was recorded in four separate
one-hour interviews. The author has attempted to retain the
authentic flavor of the storyteller's words as much as
Działoszyn, Poland, the birthplace of Sarah Shievicz, the
wife of Joine Abramovitz; located at Lat: 51°07' Long.