Compilation of Memories (Memoirs)
Part 22

Letters Stop Coming from Family in Galicia – December 15, 1941

On hearing the news that the German captured East Galicia, we heard horrible reports that caused me to fear for all of them. The letters stopped but on December 15, 1941, I received a telegram from my son Aaron, sent November 25. He wrote that his and his sister’s families were well and healthy. After several days, I received a similar telegram on March 25, 1942, from my daughter Taube that came through the Red Cross. She wrote that both families were healthy and their situation was good. From that time, we never heard from them. The rumors and reports told of murder and mayhem in all of Galicia and everywhere the Nazis went. The cries of the unfortunates filled the heavens. From that time on, I worried about the fate of my children and that of the Jewish People. I grew weak from worry and my thoughts were about them, day and night. Who knows what will happen to them?

To ease my pain, I found some relief in studying Gemorrah in the Beit HaKnesset in the Old People’s Rest Home (בית מנוחה לזקנים) on Rechov Avoda 9. The Rabbi R’Yirmiyahu Fried teaches lesson from seven in the evening until almost nine, where I found some spiritual pleasure.

My son Jacob left the British Army service after three years and on the basis of that service, he got a government job as a court clerk with a minimum salary. There was a good chance that he would advance both in station and in salary. His behavior did not please me. He was thirty years old and had not yet found a suitable wife.

Despite the insane days of mourning and crying about the fate of our people in Europe, we celebrated the days of Pesach with a touch of joy. My son David and his family as well as Mordecai Dov and his wife Rivka came to the Seder. The Admor of Sadagora sent special kosher matzoth. Meir Schlein also came. My grandson Yair asked the four questions and my son David brought the drinks. On the seventh day of Pesach we were with R’Yirmiyahu Fried. That year I had sent him a Purim gift (שלח מנות) as my teacher. He refused to receive any gift from his students. He made the condition that all the students share the two bottles of wine that I sent. We sat around the table from four in the afternoon until the evening prayer with full cups of wine and food from the Rabbi’s wife and listened to the talk of the Rabbi from Lithuania, R’Yirmiyahu Fried.

I received the sad news of the death of my uncle R’Chaim Meltzer, the younger brother of my mother זל. He died in the town of Barshizov.

(Page 134)

He was exiled by the Russian Bolsheviks from his large estate. For thirty years he had an estate in Mishkatvitz, a large house with several rooms. He managed fields of 1,200 jochim (a joch was a German measurement and came to about 1.4 acres), a fruit garden of several jochim, a still, a cowshed with several hundred bulls and cows, a stable with horses and all the necessary equipment. All the buildings and property were confiscated by the marauding Bolsheviks. The owner of the property, R’Moshe David, the only son of Uncle R’Shmaryahu Meltzer, was thrown out of that estate with his sons. Each of the sons had inherited property from their grandfather, some in Kriptish. Holdings like the one above consisted of several thousand Jochim of fields and pine tree forests and all that was on them. One of the sons sat in his large house in Scala on the border of Russia. The father R’Moshe David was taken from his property and sent under armed guard to exile in Eastern Russia. He died of weakness and old age at the station in his home town of Scala and was buried there. It’s possible that it was his son Mordechai Eliezer that died. His sons Mordechai Eliezer and Isaac were also exiled to distant Russia. Their dreadful fate is unknown to the family. These were among the first victims of this war, an important, respected rich philanthropic Jewish family who educated their sons in Torah and Haskalah.

Uncle Chaim Meltzer died in the month of Shvat 1942, in bed, in exile, in the town Barshizov. His wife Golda died a few years previously. He lived in extreme poverty with the family of his son Zvi from the time he was exiled. It may be that he died before his time due to hunger and hardship. With his death, the last light of this important and famous family of R’Yitchak Isaac Meltzer was extinguished. (He was the father of Grandmother Devorah, Abraham Keusch’s Grandfather) His reputation of giving to the paupers in Halibitchin, Kolomyea province, was widely known. Chaim was the youngest of his three sons and there were six sisters. He was born in 1864 in his parent’s house in Halibitchin. When he was about four, his parents died and he lived with his sister Leah until he moved in with his uncle R’Shmaryahu. He was educated in Torah and Haskalah in accordance with the time. His wife Golda, a respectable woman, brought a large dowry. He also inherited from the properties of his father. He leased a big farm in the province of Manstarshiska. After a number of years, he lost all his money. His brother, R’Shmaryahu found him a job where he could make a living. He worked as an accountant and bookkeeper and was outstanding in whatever he did. His sons and only daughter Taube were educated in Torah and Haskalah. His son Isaac rented a small property close to Scala earned a living and educated his sons. One son was an important doctor in Prague. Isaac died at the beginning of the war in 1939 in Scala. Chaim’s second son, Zvi, and his family were in his exiled father’s house in these difficult times. According to the rumor, he was saved from the Nazis and is in Germany. Zvi was married to Chaya, the daughter of Zeinfeld from Stanislau. She had a son and he is living in Israel. Zvi was educated and religious; he died in Barshizov from typhus. Chaim’s third son Joseph and his wife are in Israel and earning a good living. His only daughter who was educated lived with her husband, an accountant for an important firm, in Prague. They were killed by the murderers. Their daughter Rivka was saved with other orphans from Prague and now lives in our country.

(Pages 134/135)

Rivka married R’Menachim Itzchak Rosenstreich from Babina. Her grandson Abraham Kleer is the manager of the factory “Argamon” in Bnei Brak.

The grandchildren from their son David זל , are Doctor Chaim Sheiber, Benjamin an important businessman and brother Berl in charge of a kibbutz. The head of the Jewish Agency, Berl Locker, is the grandson of the daughter of Krendal and Joseph Shatner זל. (From the family tree, David was Grandmother Devorah’s brother and Krendal was Grandmother Devorah’s sister. DK) Other grandchildren are doctors and merchants.

Zvi Meltzer died of a heart attack in 1945 in Europe, Katevitch, Obershlesin. Moshe David Meltzer died in 1940 on his way from Scala to Siberia. His friends took him from the train and buried him in a hole of ice and no one knows where he is buried. His son Mordechai died in 1939 and is buried in Tchartkov. His sons, Eliezer and Isaac, and their sons died in the wilderness of Siberia. This was told to me by Zvi’s wife who lives with her son Asher in Yad Eliahu, Tel Aviv. My Uncle R’Shmariyahu Meltzer died in 1934 in Kriptch and was buried with honor by all his family and friends. His wife Golda died about three year ago (not sure but it seems like the late 1930’s) and was buried in Scala. May they all rest in peace. תנצבה

After Pesach of 1943 my son David and his wife Rachel wanted to make a party on my birthday and they requested my consent. In this time of war, when our loved ones blood is being spilled like water, what will a celebration do? Their explanation was that we did not celebrate either the 70th or the 75th birthday and their son Yair was starting to study in the Bilu School. They wanted to have some joy to lessen the weight of the sorrows that pierce our souls and bodies over the fate of our loved ones abroad; our families, Taube and Aaron and their families that are under the yoke of the murderous Nazis in Galicia. I also had reasons for the celebration. On my birthday 1891 (ב באיר תרנא) I was miraculously saved in the mikvah, as I wrote previously, when I fainted in the water. I also wanted to tell my son and daughter-in-law how pleased I felt about their sending their son Yair to study in Bilu and get a religious education. The members of HaArgaz had not been invited to the Brith Mila, so I agreed to this party. The party was postponed to the day of Lag BaOmer (לג באומר) Close family and friends were invited to the banquet: Mordechai Keusch and his wife, Aaron D. Flintenstein and his wife Batsheva, daughter of the Admor of Kapitchnitz, Chanah and her husband and old friends: R’Moshe Hochman, S. Shapiro, Moshe Alter, I. Preminger, etc. eighteen men and eight women. My son David and his wife prepared the drinks and everything was served with an open hand. We rejoiced from four until eight-thirty in the evening.

My friend Shapiro blessed me with a short speech that was exaggerated as is traditional. In a long speech I expressed the feelings in my heart and this is what I said.

Honored guests, in my name and in the name of my family, I thank you that you came to join us. With feelings of love and friendship I call you, the blessed that came ברוך הבאים

I had the privilege a few days ago to give the blessing “Shehchiano etc” (שהחיני) that I reached the age of 77. It was a miracle that 50 years ago, I was saved from death. I have the privilege of seeing the beginning of my dear grandson Yair’s studies. I want to express my warm feelings about this event which appears in the Talmud and it is my desire to dare to talk about it in Hebrew, even though I allow myself to speak in Yiddish.

(Pages 135/136)

It is possible that there is a connection between two generations, the grandfather and the grandson with the thought that one generation goes and another generation comes. The grandfather is going in the direction of world destruction, and the grandson is going to build a new world.

The contents of this long talk that lasted more than an hour was from my thoughts and part what I had already written in my diary. It is difficult for me to translate these thoughts from Yiddish to Hebrew. My son and those who are present have heard these words from me and have copies. It is doubtful that my grandson will understand that language. These thoughts are written in a notebook, if someone wants to read them.

For that reason the entire speech that I gave is not written here. (Note* It seems that the notes Abraham kept through the years were in Yiddish. We think that in typing the diary he translated everything into Hebrew. DK)

Before the holidays of 1943, I left the Beit HaKnesset on Rechov Borochov where I had prayed for four years. The reason I left was that I was not comfortable or happy and felt strange with the congregation and the Gabbai R’Noah. I was also not able to join the lessons of the Rabbi R’Abraham Yitzchak Halevy Pearman.

I joined the Beit HaKnesset on Rechov Mercaz Baal Melachah. It was a big building full of air and light and the Gabbai received me warmly, giving me an honored place near the Rabbi. The Rabbi R’Shmuel Halevy Katz, of the Beit HaKnesset, taught Mishnah in the morning and Gamorrah in the evening after prayers. I was received by the Rabbi with respect and honor. I was very satisfied with the studies and the people. My wife and son David were also pleased that I had found an appropriate place.

I was invited to a party celebrating the 60th birthday of Mr. Meir Hanish by the committee of friends: Dr. Tartakver from Brody, Mr. Abraham Keren (Kirchner born in Kasus, a teacher in Stanislau), G. Kressl from Zablotov, etc, and two that I didn’t know. The man being honored was born in my town and so I was asked and given the honor to speak. I answered positively on the condition that when I speak it would still be daylight, eight in the evening October 27, 1943. (כט תשרי תשד') Since I knew the man being honored and his family for many years, I invited my son David to join me.

When I arrived at the big Officer’s Hall, I met the man being honored and the head of the committee, Dr. Tartakver and they gave me a seat next to the honored man, Hanish. The chairman of the evening opened the event on time and introduced me. The speech was about half an hour. I introduced the honored guest and the importance of his parents and the uniqueness of his father who was knowledgeable in Halacha and Zionism, etc. The speech was copied on my typewriter and added to my diary on page 137. More than 100 men and women were present. They came from Galicia; Zablotov, Lvov, Stanislau as well as from different towns and villages. Among them were writers and learned people like Eliezer Kaplan (first Minister of Finance), Joseph Sprinzak (speaker of the Knesset), friends from the Sochnut (Jewish Agency), the supreme court judge, Dr. Korngreen and important writers; R’Shalom Shreit, Dov Shtuck, Dov Weiss and others.

(Page 136)

That night from eight o’clock until about midnight, all of us sat around drinking and enjoying each others company. Some found great spiritual pleasure from the speeches given by the important people: Dr. Tartakver, Sprinzak, Stock, Weiss, etc. who all spoke of the activities of the honored guest.

I got great pleasure from this celebration, meeting old friends and acquaintances, and listening to the praise and acknowledgement given to someone born in my home town for his significant activities. The evenings activities awoke in me memories of my youth and the friends that I had years ago. Those days of hope and future possibilities have passed. The inconsolable days, especially those of disaster and incarceration of our Jewish brothers have come. Even in this time, one thinks of memories, ideas and hopes.

Hanish’s uncle, R’Moshe Leiber, who was a merchant and also involved in agriculture in Zablotov, was my friend from the time I was I Cheder until we studied Gapat (גפת) with the wonderful teacher, R’Efraim Fund.

(Pages 137 and 138)

The speech that I gave at the anniversary party in honor of Mr. Meir Hanish on his 60th birthday that took place in 1944 (כח תשרי תשד)

Honored Guests:

I do not have enough literary knowledge about the works of Meir Hanish to properly tell about his accomplishments. I will leave it for our literary friends and acquaintances to expound on this and I will be pleased to listen.

I want to tell about this pleasant young boy, Meir’l, born in my town of Zablotov. Who is he and what are his family’s roots? Meir Hanish’s grandfather, his mother’s father, R’Shmuel Lieber, was a “Talmud Chacham”, Chasid and gave charity. He owned property, was also one of “the Boazim”, who dealt with agricultural lands and gardens and was a hard worker. (Boaz was the husband of Ruth from the Tanach) With all this, he did not neglect his daily study of Torah, Mishne and Gemorrah. He was considered one of the important people of the town. His house was a combination of wealth and Torah. His daughter Pessia זל, mother of Hanish was a woman of valor, modest and religious. His son, R’Moshe זל, my friend from youth in Cheder all the way until Mikra and Gapat, continued his studies and became a brilliant Talmud Chacham. Shmuel Lieber treated his daughter according to the Talmud. His task was to bring his daughter to a Talmud Chacham. R’Shmuel asked and found a groom for his daughter, R’Velvel Hanish. He was an outstanding student with a sharp mind, an extraordinary memory who would become one of the remarkable Rabbis. I and my friend Moshe, his brother-in-law, had the privilege of hearing one of his lessons in Gapat (גפת) in the study hall of Kosov in Zablotov.

His son, Meir’l, our honored guest, began at age five to study Chomish and Rashi and at seven, went to study Gemorrah. The reputation of his learning and memory was widely known. His teachers and those who knew him prophesied that he would be a bright star in the firmament of Zablolov and his name in the future would shine a light on the Torah.

When he was about eight years old, I left my town and did not hear about him for about twenty years. In the year 1928 or 1929 when I came to live in Stanislau, I met the known author, Meir Hanish, who was totally devoted to his Zionist work.

His teacher’s prophecies that he would be a Jewish educator in Israel were not fulfilled. The rays of Zionism in the Jewish sky replaced other dreams and Meir Hanish was one of the first who followed the sun of Zionism. This was in spite of not ceasing his religious and secular studies. “You bite from the tree of knowledge and you are forever hungry.” He was a devoted man of Haskalah and Zionism and still had a place among the Charidim and Chasidim.

I remember an interesting story appropriate to this evening. I read in Rabbi Itzchak Nissenbaum’s book about a Zionist committee meeting in Bialistok. (He was president of Mizrachi in Poland) The meeting ended with a drink to honor the delegates. Among those attending was Damta, a well known Charidi Rabbi and an extreme opponent of Zionism and the Charidim of Hovavi Zion. He was one of the speakers at that party, a reputable scholar. He spoke about the famous Talmudic story (Gittim Treatise-the Bar Kochba call to separate from the Roman Empire). This is the story of Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Hananiah, who went to a big city in the Roman Empire. He was told, there was a baby or a little child, in prison, who had nice eyes, good looking and had curly hair. The Rabbi went to the prison and called, “Who caused Israel to be plundered?” The child answered “It was God whom we have sinned against and haven’t walked in his path” (Isaiah 42) Rabbi Yehoshua said “I assure you all, that this child will be a teacher or sage in Israel. I shall not move from here until I ransom him regardless of the price”. They say he did not move from that place and ransomed the child paying a high price. After several days, the child became a teacher. The speaker questioned, “Why was Rabbi Yehoshua so amazed that the child knew the end of his sentence when he only read the beginning. What made him so sure that the child would be a teacher in Israel?” If the scriptures are so familiar to the child, it sounds that he is familiar with the prophets. How is it that Rabbi Yehoshua prophesied that the child would be a teacher? A teacher is not familiar with Tanach (bible). Thus explained the Rabbi who was the speaker, the truth is that neither Rabbi Yehoshua nor the child meant to speak in the words of the Scriptures. Rabbi Yehoshua asked out of bitterness “Who has caused Israel to be plundered, etc as a question (not a rhetorical question) why do we accept the burden of the wicked kingdom in complete submission and we do nothing for our relief and salvation? Why don’t we rise up and liberate our country and restore her sons so they won’t have to go to prison in foreign countries like the great cities of Rome?

And so Rabbi Yehoshua thought that this child, who had experienced the exile and its bitterness as well as the iron chains, would answer Rabbi Yehoshua’s cry with “Set me free, Rabbi, and I shall follow you.” But the child didn’t move, but answered the Rabbi calmly, “It is God against whom we have sinned and not followed his path. Heaven forbid that we should do anything for our redemption and we must walk only in his way and observe his Torah.” He has redeemed us and shall redeem us. When Rabbi Yehoshua heard this answer, he said “I am assured this child will be a teacher in Israel”. (This story was of course aimed at the Rabbi who was opposed to Zionism.)

But this is not the case of this child Meir’l. When he heard the first call of Zionism and redemption, he gave up his chair in the Rabbinate and began his activities immediately. He started to write and speak and publish articles in the newspapers.

(Page 139)

He wrote in “HaAm” that was published by Hirsch Leib Gotlieb and afterwards by the celebrated Zionist writer and organizer R’Leib Taubish זל. Hanish also wrote in “HaTsfira” and “Die Welt” etc. He spoke at meetings, before Zionist committees and other places. Everywhere he lived, he devoted most of his time and energy to Zionism. He now lives in this country and continues to work for Zion. Now we celebrate his double Jubilee, sixty years old and forty years in literary and Zionist work. I am honored to take part in this joyous occasion and I bless him with a warm heartfelt blessing “Go your way and continue your holy work with your wife from the known Ehrlich family”. I bless all those present with the blessing of the Cohanim that includes all the blessings of our time and eternity and from every place, may we be redeemed soon.

Abraham Keusch

Content last updated Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 08:10 PM Mountain Standard Time

Zabolotiv, Ukraine
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