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Toward the Survivors

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Dov Garmarnik

** Webmaster Note: The following is a translation from Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov as sponsored by George Zilbergeld. Additional clarifications are provided in parenthesis ( ).


The news that reached us during World War II and afterward about the mass destruction was clear and definite, but nevertheless, a spark of hope glowed in the hearts of many that someone among his relatives perhaps remained alive. 

With this hope-that-wasn't-a-hope, I left the Land of Israel in 1945 when the War ended, as a representative of the movement to assist the survivors to come to the Land.

It was a period when millions of people were wandering, and among these millions, there was a tiny group of survivors.

Where to return?  That was the main question.  The homes of many people were destroyed, also of those who were not Jewish.  But the foundation – the land – remained.  Even if the earth were scorched, it was possible to build a house anew upon it, but for our survivors, everything had been burnt. Behind them remained only the abyss, solitude and hatred; the graves of millions who had been tortured and murdered because they were Jews.  The cries of the murdered had not yet fallen silent.  And the Land – its gates were locked.  It was a period of struggle for the rights of the nation to return to its homeland, and the entire world, which had just now been freed from the claws of the Nazis –was silent.  England did not recognize the historic rights of the nation, even after its great annihilation.  It made blockade after blockade and prevented the survivors from reaching their home.  Hunting down the ships filled with illegal immigrants and sending them back to their ports of departure was the lot of the remnants of the sword during this time.

Orphanhood and loneliness ruled in the refugee camps that were spread all over Europe, along with a longing to return to life, to stability – a bit of rest from so much suffering, a home!  This was the wish of all those whom I met in the camps, as I travelled through Italy. 

I was swimming through the huge sea of the troubles of Israel – and the only remedy was conversation, encouragement of the survivors, restoration of belief in their own strengths, and the belief that we would win the struggle for our just rights to the Land and that after that struggle, each one would be a free man on his Land, from which he would never be uprooted again!

Milano: 5 Via Oniyona, was the center of the refugees.  It was an ancient house with long, dark passageways.  In this house, the representatives from the Land were centralized.  It was where the transports arrived every day.  From this house, the survivors were brought to all parts of Italy.  Italy, during this time, was the port of departure, from which the ships sailed to the Land.

Hordes passed through this house.  And I – my eyes searched every day after the face of a relative or anyone I knew.  And behold, one evening in the spring of 1946, among the great crowd a silvery head stood out, a face so familiar!  I ran to him – before me stood Yaakov Bas.  This was a silent meeting.  We stood there, embracing each other, for a long time…We were unable to speak.  Without words, we wiped a tear.  I will never forget that meeting.

At that time, Yaakov lived in Milano with Fanny in a small room.  They lived the life of wanderers, with their bundles.

Since the time we met, I visited Yaakov occasionally. From him, I heard the details about the loss of his family and about the last days of the town.  It was amazing how Shlomo Appelboim, of blessed memory, whom I met in the Tradata camp and who joined us occasionally, told us, so quietly and with such pain, about his last visit to our town and his concern about the mass grave – his concern for every bone that remained unburied.  He told of his meetings with the murderers, the collaborators, who had not yet been punished.  I would listen and wonder:  from where do these people draw this strength, after everything that had happened to them?  And while he was talking, he would repeat and emphasize, every time – "Who among us would have believed that we would merit to meet again with an acquaintance or relative and that we would be able to tell about those who are no longer with us?"

Yaakov knew about every single one who remained alive, about where he was living at present, and about his general situation.  In one of our conversations, he raised the thought that it was desirable and worthwhile for us to contact the other people from our town who were scattered throughout Europe, and perhaps we could give them minimal material assistance, to plant in them the feeling that they are not alone and abandoned, and that it was very worthwhile to bring the people from our town who live in America to join in this effort.

At that time there were four of us from the town:  Shlomo Appelboim, of blessed memory; Yaakov Bas, David Rosenfeld and his family (who emigrated to Brazil), and I, the writer.  A kind of committee was formed, and they appointed me to write to America and to the Land of Israel.  During this period, I was broken by the stories of horrors and by my visit to the death camp Theresienstadt.  Piles of ashes.  Of thousands.  Ovens. Torture chambers.  All these accompanied me at that time, and under that impression my first letter was written to one of those people whom I knew from the days of my youth, Berel Chizi.  His answer was not late in arriving.  It was the answer of a brother and a friend, of a fellow son of the town who knew and remembered every person from the town.  In the name of all of the sons of the town in America, he promised to remain in touch with us and to help.  And he kept his promise, in full.

Yaakov made contact with those scattered throughout Europe.  And so, the committee of four met and discussed how to divide the assistance we had received from America and to transfer it according to addresses.

Yaakov arranged the transfer of money.  This cost him a lot of work and exertion.  He did not send an answer to America until he received all of the signatures acknowledging receipt of the money that had been sent.  We sent the signatures, along with a letter, to Berel Chizi, for the committee that had also been organized there, in America.

Thus, the connection between us and those scattered throughout Europe and overseas was made.  There were many meetings with people from the town who had arrived in Italy, among them Raizel Marker, of blessed memory, and her husband.  Can such a meeting be put down on paper? Or my meeting with Yossele Schpin and many others who are now in the Land of Israel?

These meetings aroused in me memories of my town, where I grew up; of its poor and its wealthy; of the lively youth and its search for a way of life, bursting forward; the youth movements; the community experience; the holidays; of youthful mischief and the worries of the elderly; the town – its streets and its houses.

They were children when I left them, and now, I was face to face with adult human beings who bore on their backs all of the deprivations of the Holocaust, and miraculously had remained alive.

Our assistance was limited, but it should be pointed out that this assistance encouraged many people from the town and planted within them the feeling that they were not alone and deserted.

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