[i]My Family, an Oral Family History

by Miriam Abramovitz Gelbart, 2004

Miriam's Story

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 1936.


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 meeting place. 


When her sister Bala was fourteen or fifteen, she went to Lodz and started to work, later went to Hach Shara[1].  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. 


Mojtek Zylberberg[2], 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[3]. 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 Częstochowa[4] 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 city Kovel[5].  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[6] 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 Holocaust.


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.

[1] 'hach'shara halutzit'  This was a place of readying pioneers, similar to a commune, training them for settlement in Eretz Israel (which was Palestine before Statehood in 1948).  The young people were sent here from Shomer Hatzair and similar groups.  http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/rakow/Rak060.html

[2] 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.

[3] On April 19, 1943, the Warsaw ghetto uprising began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. Seven hundred and fifty fighters fought the heavily armed and well-trained Germans.  The ghetto fighters were able to hold out for nearly a month, but on May 16, 1943, the revolt ended. The Germans had slowly crushed the resistance. Of the more than 56,000 Jews captured, about 7,000 were shot, and the remainder were deported to killing centers or concentration camps.   http://www.ushmm.org/outreach/wgupris.htm

[4] Chenstochov, Tschenstochau,  Częstochowa, 128.7 miles SW of Warszawa 52°15' 21°0'

[5] Kovel (Kowel, Kovla), now in northwest Ukraine (Volyn oblast) but formerly part of Russia (Volhynia gubernia) and Poland (Wolyn gubernia).

[6] The district of Galicia, established in August 1941, comprised the Stanislav and Tarnopol provinces and the eastern part of the Lvov province, and consisted of 16 counties. The 1931 census report indicated a Jewish population in this area of 500,000. As a result of the great influx of refugees from Nazi-occupied Poland in the fall of 1939, the number of Jews had considerably increased, and it is estimated that at the outbreak of German-Soviet hostilities, there were 600,000-650,000 Jews in the area, taking into account the natural increase from 1931 to 1941.   http://www.shtetlinks.jewishgen.org/Zaglembie/Zag006d.html


[i] 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 possible. 

[ii] Działoszyn, Poland, the birthplace of Sarah Shievicz, the wife of Joine Abramovitz; located at Lat: 51°07' Long. 18°52'



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 Compiled by Merle Kastner
Copyright © 2007-2016 Merle


I wish to acknowledge, with gratitude, the generous assistance of
Dr. Steven Lasky, the creator of the The Museum of Family History.

Many thanks to Greg Meyer, for his valuable technical support.

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