Fleeing from the European Holocaust - a True Story



   
    November 2011          
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Dortmund, Germany, 1924 - From left to right:
Mechel, Berta, Hilda, Molly, Leah Frieda, Grandma Yenta, Grandfather Moshe
On the occassion of the engagement of Berta and Mechel

 
 
 
 

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An excerpt from Fleeing Europe

By Sarah Goodman & Hadassa Goldberg

Our Grandparents, Yenta and Moshe Friedmann, and our Aunt Berta’s story:

Yenta (Hausler) and Moshe Friedmann were Mother's parents and they had three daughters: Berta, Molly and Hilda, our mother. After Berta and Molly were born in Poland, our grandparents migrated to Germany where Mother was born. Grandfather, Moshe, served in the German army during World War I. During his military service, he became an officer, which in Germany was a rare achievement for a Jew. During the years he served in the army (1914-1918), our grandmother continued supporting the family by running their grocery store. Although Berta was only seven years old at the time, she had huge responsibilities and many of her tasks would have been difficult even for an adult. Grandfather thankfully survived the war without a scratch and when he was demobilized he quickly returned home. He was grateful to God to discover that the whole family had also survived.

Susan: "Mother often told me how she helped her mother in the store during World War I. Whenever grandmother briefly closed the store for a few minutes, Mother's job was to stand behind the locked door. She would ask the customers who knocked on the door to return in a few minutes."

Hadassa: "Berta told me many stories of her early childhood. Although she was very young, as the eldest she was given many responsibilities. Before the war broke out she would accompany her father on his many trips to outlying communities. They often crossed borders in order to buy supplies to restock the family grocery store. After her father was drafted, in order for the store to continue being properly run, the family had no alternative but to continue sending Berta to buy supplies for the store. She was sent alone despite her young age. Berta often spoke of being on her own with a horse-drawn carriage and of the loneliness, dangers and difficulties of these trips during the war. Many times she rode across the borders to forbidden areas, often returning home after nightfall. She was very frightened and hoped not to be caught with the smuggled supplies in her wagon. She also prayed that both the horse and carriage would survive the trips without any accidents. She was never sure what she feared most: being caught smuggling supplies; crossing borders without legal papers; or being stranded alone with a dead horse, a broken wagon, or both."

Grandfather was very active in the Düsseldorf Jewish community in Germany. He attended an International Zionist Congress as a representative of his community. In his capacity as the secretary/treasurer of the Jewish Federation of Düsseldorf and as a member of the Zionist movement, he helped many Jews who came to him before they embarked for Palestine. In those days, regular mail to Palestine was very sporadic; consequently, people routinely gave grandfather their letters and packages. They knew his house served as a private post office. People planning to immigrate to Palestine, first came to grandfather. They received travel money from him which he took from a special community fund. In return, they took the accumulated mail with them. This helped them feel that they were not just receiving charity.

In the late 1920’s, our grandparents invested in the Holy Land by buying a plot of land in the town of Nahariya.

Sarah: "Some years after our grandparents arrived in Israel, and became established they built a small apartment house on their plot of land in Nahariya. For many years the family collected rent from its tenants. Shortly before Mother's death the family sold the property and the proceeds were divided among the heirs."

When the Nazis came into power in January 1933, our grandfather saw the handwriting on the wall. He announced to his family that it was time for all the Jews to pack up and leave Germany for Palestine. His eldest daughter, Berta, with her husband Mechel (Michael) Wohl were the first ones to follow his advice. In March 1933, they came on aliyah with their seven-year old daughter Leah and settled in Haifa. A month later, in April, our grandparents, who were then both 53 years old, followed them to Palestine with our maternal great-grandmother, Leah Frieda. She was almost 90 years old, weak and sick. They feared for her life during the difficult trip and in the austere conditions existing in Palestine. Despite their concerns, they were happy that neither the trip nor the harsh conditions affected her. On the contrary, she lived another five active years with them in Haifa. Searching for our ancestors’ graves in the old Haifa cemetery, we found great-grandmother Leah Frieda's grave. She was buried there in 1938.

After our grandparents, and Aunt Berta and Uncle Mechel, had immigrated to Palestine, naturally our parents also applied to the British for entry permits. These were denied to them, as well as to Mother’s sister Molly and her family. The British gave the excuse that they had allocated enough permits to the Friedmann family. Thus our fate was sealed and our close-knit family was dispersed.

Haifa is a port city, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Illegal aliyah boats routinely landed on the shores between the ports of Haifa and Acre in order to avoid the British patrols. The Haganah (Jewish underground) helped the new immigrants ashore and hid them as quickly as possible. Aunt Berta and the family helped house the new immigrants who were smuggled into Haifa during and after World War II. They were also involved with helping legal immigrants. Our grandparents’ apartment had an extra room, which they rented out to needy new immigrants while they searched for work and their own place to live. Grandmother also opened a kosher restaurant in their home and served meals to many of the newcomers. Some of them were penniless but they were never turned away. Years later, when these people were better established, they came to our grandparents and paid them for their generous hospitality and unconditional help.

At first, Uncle Mechel had a hard time finding work as jobs were very scarce. He always said that he was happy if he could earn his one Lira a day. That was the wage paid in those days to builders and road construction workers who were hired on a daily basis. Eventually, Uncle Mechel and Aunt Berta opened an Elite chocolate shop on Hechalutz Street, near their apartment on Sirkin Street in Haifa. In 1962, they moved up the hill to Neve Shaanan, which is a more modern neighborhood. When Hadassa and Moshe came on aliyah, in 1963, Aunt Berta and Uncle Mechel found them an apartment to rent near them.

Hadassa: “Whenever I went shopping in the Hadar with Aunt Berta, I was amazed at how many people wanted to stop and talk to us. It seemed as if all of Haifa’s residents knew her either from her store or from grandmother’s restaurant. Many of them related stories about my grandparents and how helpful they had been to new immigrants. They told me of their gratitude to them for the many good deeds they had done.

"Leah, Aunt Berta’s daughter, told me stories of how as a young woman she helped disperse the new immigrants who had been smuggled ashore from the illegal Aliyah boats. Sometimes she brought a few of them to our grandparents’ home for a night or two. Many of them were drafted into the Haganah, which was one of the Jewish resistance groups active during the British Mandate. She often heard that some of these brave men had died in action. These men had managed to survive the gas chambers and crematoriums of the concentration camps and then gave their lives to help rebuild the new Jewish State.

Leah and her husband, Chaim Rosenzweig, regaled me with stories of the part they took in the clandestine war against the British Army before the establishment of the new Jewish State. I always enjoyed hearing from them about that difficult period in Israeli history and their participation in the Israeli War of Independence.”

~~~~~~~

from the November 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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