Memoirs of a Holocaust Survivor

 

           Written by Ichac Weizman (Wajcman) in 1995

 

 

         Annex A 1997

 

        Annex B August 2003

 

           Translated from Hebrew by Dikla Weizman née Yeffet

 

ICHAC WEIZMAN:

MY LIFE STORY

 

Table of Contents

 
     
 

Part IV

 
  THE  SAILING  
  CYPRUS  
  APPREHANSIONS AND DOUBTS  
  ERETZ  ISRAEL  
  KIRYAT  SHMU’EL  
  FREE  
 

 PART I  |  PART II  |  PART III  |   PART V

                                                                             

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THE  SAILING

 

The ship Caf-Gimel sailed on August 2nd 1946, several days after the ship Catriel Hayafe (beautiful Catriel) and from the same port Miaponto. Most people on the ship were from Poland. The commander of the ship was Israel Aharonov (later Oren) and its escorts were Israel Rozenbaum (later Rotem) and the “Gideoni” Yitzhak Etkin.

 

According to the original plan we had to transfer the passengers and the teams (except the Italian team) to the deck of Catriel Hayafe in the midst of the sea. Because of engine trouble our boat sailed very slowly with the help of a sail and never met the other ship. All the plans went wrong. There were unexpected problems like lack of food, water, medicines and prolonged treatment of the sick.

 

As an organized group we had to keep the order, encourage people and help those that needed it. We were the parallel and replacing team of the Italian team. It was not a simple job. Among the passengers were pregnant women and adults that did not stop vomiting.  The truth was that we ourselves did not feel well. We were terribly tired and we also knew the truth about the condition of the ship, which was not known to the passengers so that they would not panic.

 

We were in the midst of the sea. It was more then a week since we left our port of sail. Our progress was very slow. We were instructed to reduce the quotas of food and water. The original schedule went wrong.

 

As if it was not enough trouble another one was added. The ship started leaning on its side. There was a crack in one of her outer walls and seawater started seeping into one of her stores. The emergency pumps were activated but it was not enough. Only few people on the ship knew about it, even without that the passengers including us were frightened and exhausted.

 

After a day or two people started understanding that something was happening. The nervousness grew, tension mounted and panic started. It was obvious that we could not hide the fact that seawater was infiltrating the ship for much longer. People started coming to the upper deck in daylight, which was forbidden. We started losing control but it was not a total loss of control. If the passengers knew the real extent of the damage and danger the situation would have been much worse.

 

Our life depended on the pumping power of the pumps. If, Heaven forbid, the pumps failed who knows what our fate would be. In that desperate situation we had to calm the passengers and even lie and say that the situation was not worrying.

 

The Italian captain did not succeed to contact the port or the ship Catriel Hayafe. Again the unknown confronted us. Again our life was in danger. It never occurred to us that so soon, a short time after our liberation from the Nazi hell, we would again be in danger of life. Indeed the reasons were different, we took a risk for a cause, the will to come to Eretz Israel and start a new life like the other prisoners that returned to their homelands, but when faced with a very concrete danger of life the questions awoke again: was there any purpose to fight for life when the cost was life?

 

I had no doubt that I had chosen the right way. Almost since the day I was born I suffered and was humiliated because I was a Jew. It was the first chance (and maybe the last) to take an active part in making the wish to go to Eretz Israel come true. My parents did not understand the need to fight in order to go to Eretz Israel. They had the financial means to do it, without any doubt they could have done it, many Jews from Poland immigrated to Eretz Israel in 1935 – 1938, but they were not aware of the need to leave Poland or did not wish to do it.

 

I did not lose for a moment the faith and hope that in spite of all the trouble we would succeed to reach our goal. Not all of the almost 800 people on the ship could stand the pressure. Some started behaving in an irrational way, but most of the people behaved wisely. Some showed exceptional behavior and helped us. They organized entertaining games and singings so as to take the passengers mind off the worry and fear that were quite natural.

 

Fifteen days after we left our port of sail, tired and dirty, hungry and desperate we were standing on the deck openly waiting for a miracle, and like in all fairy tales it happened. Suddenly we heard the noise of an airplane coming nearer. We immediately saw the British insignia. The airplane made several rounds above us and disappeared. We were sure that the British discovered the ship. We did not know whether to be glad or sorry. We knew that our lives had been saved. The British would help us for sure. On the other hand we were not sure if they would let us come into the country. The odds of that were not good.

 

After several hours a huge ship appeared on the horizon. As it came nearer she, of course, looked bigger. In the end the British warship tied our ship to her. We were towed to the port of Haifa by the British warship. On August 1946 I reached Eretz Israel for the first time but I did not have the privilege of entering it. We stayed in the port of Haifa.

 

At the port the British soldiers tried to transfer us to the destroyer and we resisted but the British force was much stronger. It was a powerful force armed with clubs and guns. In spite of the fact that we were exhausted, hungry and thirsty we managed to resist the transfer to the deportation ship for hours. Our ship commander was ordered to let the British soldiers board the ship but to resist any attempt to transfer us to the deportation ship. Some of the passengers hid in the stores. Others stood arm-in-arm surrounding the women and not letting the soldiers touch them.

 

The British soldiers used reasonable force not more than that. They succeeded to overcome us by using tear-gas and water jets. We stood against strong water jets beatings and swearing. Nobody passed to the deportation ship without resistance. Several British soldiers dragged each and every one. Some wanted to jump into the sea and swim to shore but were ordered not to because it was feared that the British planted mines around the ship.

 

We were transferred to the deportation ship whose name was Empire Highwood. After 24 hours we were again in a camp, a tent camp in Cyprus.

 

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CYPRUS

 

We were in Cyprus in camp 60, which was the first in a long line of camps, just near the seashore. The Italian team and the Eretz Israeli team, the soldiers of the     Palmach  that escorted us were also transferred with us.                                              

 

We watched the British guards in their guard towers night after night round the fence. We watched the guards in order to enable the Palmach fighters to dig a tunnel under the fence and to escape through it and get back to Eretz Israel in an undercover way arranged by people outside of the camp. In order to be a member of the watch group we had to take an oath of secrecy and to promise not to tell anything if we were caught.

The oath of allegiance ceremony was performed in a secret impressive way. We were led at night one-by-one to a dark tent; we stood in front of the commander on whose table laid a pistol and a Bible. I put one hand on the pistol and the second on the Bible. The commander whispered and I had to repeat ‘I swear to keep faith and secrecy to the Hagana and be ready to perform any given task with dedication and self-sacrifice’. We were very impressed by the oath of allegiance ceremony. We felt that we were actually taking part in the struggle against the British.

 

The camp grew bigger because more illegal passengers were caught and deported to Cyprus. Until April 1946 the ships sailed covertly without any cooperation of the Italian Authorities. On April 1946 the Italians stopped a convoy of refugees because of lack of information and so they caused the failure of the sailing of the ship Pizza 2. Because of that the people in charge of the transportation of the refugees decided to try to get in touch with the Italian government and have some sort of arrangement with it.

 

Mrs. Ada Syreny, who was also called Clare, took that assignment upon herself. She had deep roots in the Italian Society and its culture. She had the appearance of a respected high ranked determined lady and she found ways to reach the highest levels of the Italian Authorities. The Authorities did not openly give political support to the immigration but usually they turned a blind eye and more than once they even helped.

Because of the weak international position of Italy just after the war, the Authorities could not allow the sailing of big ships, with thousands of refugees, but they treated smaller sailings favorably. The Italian government answered formally the British government’s requests to stop the illegal immigration but did not do anything to fight or stop it. So, in intervals of several weeks between one sailing to the next, more ships sailed to Eretz Israel with more refugees.

 

On August 18th 1946, the ship Amiram succeeded in bringing 187 refugees to Eretz Israel without being caught. It was the first ship that broke through the British blockade on the shores of Eretz Israel that was cast since the beginning of the deportations to Cyprus. That success gave hope to the refugees and their escorts that were still in Italy. But that hope did not come true. Most of the ships were caught and the refugees were deported to Cyprus. We were among the first deportees.

 

Again we were surrounded by barbed-wire fence and guard towers. Again we were locked under guard, this time under British rule. We were a short distance from Eretz Israel, but the prospect of reaching it was still far away. 

 

It was easy to become depressed and go back to the prisoners’ mentality that we were used to, but the youth guides that were sent from Eretz Israel took care of us. We had a daily schedule of studies, sports, organized commune life and were taught individual self-care. 

 

Already in Cyprus our group started its first steps towards communal life. The name of the group was Ge’ulim meaning in Hebrew “The liberated (or saved)” because we were liberated and saved from the Nazi hell. We established a communal kitchen, clothes storage and put our money in a communal treasury. We had our own institutes: group secretariat, treasurer, store-person and a committee of culture and social activities. The togetherness gave us much confidence and interests. We were exceptional in the camp. Many wanted to join us but we were advised not to take in new people that we did not know very well.

 

Stubbornly we went on speaking only Hebrew among us and continued to study according to the curriculum. The guides from Eretz Israel informed us about what was going on there. Through them we received letters and books from our friends in Mizra. 

 

The living conditions in Cyprus were not very comfortable but for us, “B.A. graduates of Auschwitz”, the life in Cyprus camp was not a real hardship. We were used to much worse conditions. Comparing the German camps to the British one, the first were hell and the second was paradise. We were not free but we had everything we needed, economic, cultural and social necessities. 

 

The British did not interfere at all in our life. We could do whatever we wanted to fill the free time that we had in abundance. In that case we also had the advantage of being an organized group that had a daily schedule and used all the means available to spend the free time wisely.

 

Most of the people in the camp were lonely. There were only few families. They did not have friends, no organized group or anything to do. For them the stay in the camp was very distressing and brought back ways of thinking and behavior like in the wartime with the Germans.

 

I personally, as a prisoner, had the privilege of twice visiting the town of Famagusta, which was not far from the camp. I was in charge of the economic needs of the group so I went once with one of our youth guides from Eretz Israel to do the shopping. She was allowed  aloud to take me with her and was responsible to bring me back that was a one-time exception. The second time I arrived at Famagusta because I was wounded. I strained my leg muscle as a result of using too much effort in a football game for which I had not had enough prior training.  In the hospital I had a wonderful treatment. In spite of the pain I enjoyed lying in a clean white bed and the running around me of lovely caring nurses. I stayed in the hospital for almost a week. It was a refreshing change in an atmosphere of freedom and warmth. I was not guarded in any way and I was sorry to leave the hospital.

 

I returned to the camp healthy, after a nice experience, to the less comfortable conditions. We got used to the physical and economical state in the camp but we could not accept the fact that the British locked the gates of Eretz Israel. We were very angry with them, for us they were the ultimate enemy although they treated us relatively fair and considerately.

 

We also heard that the Jewish community in Eretz Israel (the Yishuv) reacted with rage and protest actions. The British imposed a curfew, especially on Haifa. This is a quote from a newspaper, which we received at that time:

‘Already at night the British army started hunting curfew breakers who wanted to replenish food supplies. They locked up 1500 people in two big plots, one near Shell and the other in Shukery st. In the morning of August 13th 1946, when the intention to deport illegal Jewish passengers became known, thousands broke the curfew and started going towards the port. According to the instructions of the community council work was stopped from 6 A.M. till midnight. Many people gathered in Kiryat-Eliyahu and Hadar Hacarmel. Several groups were with soldiers. In Zvulun st. soldiers shot and killed without any prior warning three protestors: Avigayil Weinbrand 19 years old, Emil Malitz 30 years old and Ze’ev Carmy 14 yeas old. Those were the first victims of the campaign against the deportation to Cyprus. During that day seven more protestors were wounded. Towards evening protest meetings were held in the National Funds Square in Hadar Hacarmel.’    

 

Another quote from a newspaper that we received at that time:

‘The ship was discovered not far from the Haifa shore. When she reached the port she tried to slip away from the Authorities by sabotaging the anchor’s chain, accompanied by very loud singing of the passengers.

 

The wind pushed the ship towards Kiryat-Hayim, but the Arab policemen that were boarded on the ship noticed it and started yelling. The ship was caught quickly and was chained to the coast cruiser Mauritius that carried 1500 soldiers. The ship commander was ordered to let the soldiers board the ship without resistance but to resist any attempt to transfer the passengers to the deportation ship that was about to go back to Cyprus. Explosives were smuggled aboard the ship in order to damage the deportation ship. The passengers fiercely resisted the transfer to the deportation ship Empire Highwood.  First they hid in the stores. The men stood arm-in-arm surrounding the women and stood bare-chested facing the water jets that the British soldiers splashed on them. The soldiers did not use firearms – they overcame the passengers with clubs and tear gas. In order to prevent the passengers from jumping into the sea the soldiers laid depth sea mines around the ship. During the transfer most of the explosives were smuggled on the bodies of the women. The Palmach warriors from the unit of marine sabotage succeeded to sneak into the lower store of the ship and put the explosives there. The explosives indeed exploded but there was not much damage. Still, the sailing of the ship Empire Highwood was detained for four days, and only then were the passengers deported to Cyprus’. End of quote.

 

We were encouraged by the events in Eretz Israel and by the behavior of the Hebrew community there. We felt that we were an organic part of that community who cared for us and did not forget us. This inspired faith and hope. We knew that we were not alone. We hoped that the struggle would force the British to liberate us soon and we would sail to Eretz Israel.

 

In the camp we also were not sitting with folded arms. We organized many protest actions.

 

On New Year Eve’s 1947, we received the good news. Our turn to go to Eretz Israel came at last after four months stay in camp 60 in Cyprus. We were told by the messengers to be prepared to leave in one day, at the most in two days.

 

We were very skeptic about that massage. We had long experience with false rumors, especially because we saw that the camp was expanded in order to have room for more deportees.

 

The pressure to let refugees enter Eretz Israel was growing. More ships were coming. The protest actions of the Hebrew community grew stronger. In the camp many protest actions were organized. All that probably forced the British to make some changes in their policy. Parallel to the deportations they decided to enlarge the quota of entrance permits for Holocaust survivors. Probably because we were among the first to be deported to Cyprus we were also among the first to get entrance permits.

 

Indeed that time it was not a false rumor. A messenger of the Jewish Agency that worked in the camp brought the forms with the names of those that were permitted to go to Eretz Israel.

 

Our joy was without boundaries. We cried with joy. We hugged, kissed and were like dreamers whose their dreams had come true. We quickly dismantled the tents and our big common store with all its contents and started packing. We packed everything: food, clothes, footgear and books. We knew that the situation in Eretz Israel was difficult and it might be that we would need all those things for the continuance of our communal way of life. Of course each of us also packed hers or his meager personal belongings.

 

Those were hours of joy and elation. We had a feeling of victory and liberation even more than on our liberation day from the Nazis. Then we did not know where to go. We saw the fate of the Wandering Jew without a place on the earth and without a homeland, but now we had a clear goal. Our will won. The struggle was not in vain; we spent all our time and energy from the day we were liberated from the Nazis for preparing to go to Eretz Israel.

 

We risked our lives for that happy moment. We knew and understood the risks we undertook when we had decided to go illegally to Eretz Israel. In spite of the risks we did not hesitate even for a moment.

 

We decided to hold a farewell party. All the people in the camp were invited, including, of course, the guides from Eretz Israel. It was an evening of elation and real joy about at last being liberated from camps and starting a normal free life. Still, we had doubts that the reality in Eretz Israel was not as rosy as we imagined.

 

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APPREHENSIONS AND DOUBTS

 

We had no illusions. We knew in a general way about what was going on in Eretz Israel and also in the Kibbutzim. We followed the struggle of the Hebrew community against the British and the price in victims, arrests etc. it took. We also knew that it was not just by chance that young people were the first to be liberated. The Hebrew community needed us. The fight against the British and maybe also against the Arab enemy was not finished. Surly we would have to go on fighting in Eretz Israel. It could be that we would have to join the fight without completing our studies.

 

Our dream was becoming reality with all its components. Practical rational thinking was needed in order to avoid illusions and disappointments. Fortunately we were young but we had long experience with hardships and drastic changes in locations and life conditions. We believed that we could go through the adjustment period in Eretz Israel without too many difficulties and crises.

 

We had apprehensions about our friend who were already in Kibbutz Mizra. What was the amount of ability and will to go on living together as one training group? The severance, the time that had elapsed, the living condition and the education differences surely caused a mental difference between the two groups. It might be that we would not be able to bridge the gap. We felt that severance was created by the time elapsed since our separation in Italy. Only few of the members of the Mizra group corresponded with us. We had to assume that there would be difficulties. It was clear to most of us that our place was in the Kibbutz. That was the way of life for which we were trained.

 

We believed with the typical naïveté of youth, especially young people like us, all of us orphans without any relatives in the whole world and for whom nobody was waiting in Eretz Israel, that the group of our friends that came to Eretz Israel before us laid the foundation for our reception in the Kibbutz and becoming a part of the community.

 

But since then almost two years had passed. Many things changed. The first group was absorbed in Mizra. They studied, worked and had military training with the Palmach. Another youth group joined them whose members were not known to us. The group changed mentally and socially. Their absorption in the Kibbutz was successful and there was mutual satisfaction on both sides – the members of the Kibbutz and the youth group. The members of the group had strong good relations with the young people of the Kibbutz, the daughters and sons of the founders and there were even mixed couples. They adjusted very quickly to the manner of life in the Kibbutz and they were closer to the Eretz Israeli reality than to us. We felt that they kept aloof from us and did not really fight for our reunion. We still demanded to go to Mizra.

 

Still in Cyprus, a few hours before we left the camp, we were told that Mizra could not take us in without explaining the reasons, so it would be better that we should not entertain illusions and hopes. The maximum that the Hashomer Hatzair could say, but not promise, was that it would try to place us in a Kibbutz near Mizra so that we would be able to meet our friends often and renew our social relations with them.

 

Personally I was devoted in my heart and soul to the group. I never thought about another way of life except the Kibbutz. In my naïveté and lack of knowledge I thought that it was the only way of life in Eretz Israel. I was very serious about the social activity. For me the group was my home and future. In any group of people there are those that care more and those that care less about communal affairs. There is always a small, devoted, naïve core that takes charge of things.  

The majority is usually passive, and is less interested. I was one of the small core of group members that cared, led, decided and organized most of the choices of the group.

  

In those hours before we left the camp there were voices in the group that said that even if we were allowed to join Mizra we should refuse. We did not need them and we should not grovel. We were very much offended by the indifference that practically showed that the Mizra group was not really interested to be united with us again. On the other hand there were those who said that we should not blame the whole group but just the leaders. We decided not to make any decisions until we met them and thought again according to the new reality in Eretz Israel.

 

Tense and impatient we sat on our suitcases, or more accurately, on our packages and crates. After a taut nerve wrecking wait, the British lorries at last arrived and took us to the port of Famagusta. At the port waited a ship that was supposed to take us to Eretz Israel.  

  

At the port we started to have many doubts about the sailing destination. Why were we still under heavy British guard? Why we were not allowed to move freely in the port, to visit or do some shopping? We were treated like regular prisoners. We asked, yelled, rebelled but to no avail. ‘Those are the orders which we received’ the soldiers claimed. ‘For us you are prisoners, law breakers and your place is in prison’. When we heard the soldiers’ answers we became angry and depressed. Could it be that we were not going to Eretz Israel? Could it be that we were transferred to another location further from Eretz Israel? We were sure that it was a deception trick of the British.

Our bitter war experiences taught us to be suspicious and doubtful, especially because we had news from Eretz Israel that the Hebrew community was rebelling and the British treated the fighters and demonstrators harshly.

We boarded the ship with mixed feelings. We marched through a guard line of British soldiers that stood along the whole course. We were very quiet, thinking our own thoughts and waiting for the move.

Our guides that escorted us tried to cheer us with singing or conversation but without much success.

One of the guides approached the British officer and asked him to calm us and assure us that we were sailing to Eretz Israel. His request was granted and that was what the officer said:

‘We really treat you harshly because of reasons we have no control of, but a British soldier is a fair person and does not lie. You can be calm and happy.

Only then we relaxed and started dancing and singing in front of the astonished British soldiers. We were so glad and joyful that we did not feel how time passed when suddenly the Mounts of Carmel were revealed with the many lights that seemed to be dancing. It was a wonderful impressive sight.                         

 

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ERETZ  ISRAEL

 

As we approached the shore the blaze of the lights expanded. The city of Haifa and its neighborhoods could be seen in their entire splendor. We were filled with pride and satisfaction to see a Hebrew city bustling with life.

 

A dream comes true.

 

When the ship was maneuvering her entrance into the port, we were standing crowded on the deck, we saw a small motorboat aboard in which were four persons waving their hands welcoming us to Eretz Israel.

 

The people on the boat asked us, using an amplifier, if there were passengers among us who did not feel well or seriously sick. The expression “seriously sick” was engraved in my mind for a long time, because not everyone, truly, most of the passengers, did not understand its meaning. People asked us what the people on the boat meant. When we heard the question in Hebrew we were really convinced that we were in Eretz Israel. All of us became healthy and nobody complained. The motorboat returned to the port.

 

After a lot of maneuvers the ship managed to cast anchor in the harbor. The date was January 1st 1947. We really arrived. We were sure that we would soon get off the ship – free and happy. But the British thought otherwise. We were still under guard. We had to obey the instructions of the British army. We could not understand what was going on. We asked ourselves: ‘are we still prisoners? Why should we board British lorries accompanied by British guards? Where are the Jewish Agency people? Don’t they know about our arrival? Where are our friends from Mizra whom we were sure would come to welcome us? It was a weird reception that we could not understand.

 

Later on we heard that the British closed the port and did not let civilians come in, especially not Jews. They had their own reasons for that blockade. Disappointed, enclosed in a British lorry covered with tarpaulin, escorted by four British guards we left the first Hebrew harbor with mixed feelings. We were happy to at last be in Eretz Israel, but angry with the British who did not set us free. We were once again going to an unknown destination. We peeped out through any crack or opening to see the surroundings and get impressions. The escorting soldiers were courteous and polite. They told us that the journey would not be long. In a little while we would arrive at the final destination – a detainees’ camp for illegal entrees called Atlit.

 

We were astonished and shocked by the fact that the British held a detainees’ camp of Jews in Eretz Israel. We revolted and shouted: ‘why are we again locked in a camp? We were released and got entrance permits from the British. We are in Eretz Israel. Could it be a mistake? It is unreasonable.’

 

The British soldiers answer was: ‘you are not free yet. Meanwhile you will be in Atlit camp until your turn to be set free comes, and the British Mandate government only allots that according to the quota of permits. Meanwhile all the permits have been detained as retaliation for the Hebrew Community protest actions against the deportations to Cyprus and the British forbidding the immigration of the Holocaust survivors to Eretz Israel‘.

 

We arrived at Atlit camp and were shocked over again. We were in a real prisoners camp. Huge fences, guard towers manned by armed soldiers and long neglected wooden buildings. The sight reminded us of the not so distant past that we wanted so much to be free of. Our disappointment was harsh and bitter.

 

We could understand the fact that we were deported to Cyprus because we tried to enter Eretz Israel illegally according to the British point of view. But this time! We received from the British all the necessary permits, we arrived on a British ship, we passed all the tests, so why did we have to be locked all again in a detainee camp?

We had no choice but to resign ourselves to the new situation. We were comforted by the fact that at least we were in Eretz Israel and we hoped that our stay in the camp would be temporary and short. We had to pass a process of reception that consisted of registrations and disinfections. A scene that was disgraceful and depressing.

 

In the camp we met hundreds, maybe thousands of detainees that had come before us, not only from Cyprus, that had been there for many weeks and some of them even for months. The population consisted of people from many countries and ages. Most of the people were lonely. There were very few families with children. The atmosphere in the camp was gloomy. Just the fact that once again, we, Holocaust survivors, were segregated in a crowded camp without a daily organized schedule brought us back to the days from which we wanted to be cut off.

 

Nobody interfered with our daily schedule. We were free to do whatever we wanted. We decided not to make efforts of organizing the group for a long-term stay. From the moment that we arrived at the camp we received hints that our quick liberation was taken care of. From time to time guides from the youth movement arrived, gave us information and organized social activities.

We expected that a delegation of the group in Mizra would come to visit us. I do not remember any such visit or meeting. The truth was that we were not especially interested to meet with them. We became indifferent about them. We understood very quickly that the bond between the two groups was severed, and that there no longer was anything common that connected us.

 

The days passed slowly. They were gray, rainy and cold. The mud and dirt that we sank in, of course, did not improve our mood. The days seemed to grow longer and longer as a result of the boredom. I, personally, was troubled by the fact that although a year and a half had passed since the war’s end, I had not had the time or the opportunity to search for members of my large family. Just as it was unbelievable that I survived, it might be that someone else survived too.

 

In those days in Atlit camp, when I was less busy, the thoughts about loneliness started bothering me again. I vaguely remembered that I had an aunt, my father’s sister, who lived in France since before the war. I also remembered her married family name (Glowinsky). I also remembered that my father had a brother in South America and his name was Leon. I did not remember if he lived in Argentina or Chile. I tried in my imagination to construct a gig-saw puzzle of the parts of the family dispersed in different parts of the world.

 

The thoughts about my immediate family and more distant relatives brought me back to the days of my happy childhood. As a result I dreamt more than once that I met some member of my family and talked about my childhood memories. More than once I woke up in the morning after a nice long dream into the gray depressing reality of the camp.

When I told my friends about the reoccurring dreams, they told me that I was not the only one. Many of the survivors had similar dreams for quite a long period. Probably the thoughts we had by day came back at night.

 

Almost everyday we were told that our release was near. We did not believe that because there were many people in the camp that arrived before us and waited to be released before us. It was true that they were not organized and did not belong to any political organization.

 

Thanks to the Jewish Agency, the Youth Immigration Institute (Aliyat Hano’ar – Youth Aliyah in Hebrew) and the Kibbutzim movement we were released after several weeks, but still not a full release. We were transferred to a transition camp of the Jewish Agency in Kiryat Shmu’el.    

 

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KIRYAT  SHMU’EL

 

A closed camp, fenced, guarded by Notrim (The Hebrew Settlements Police). We hoped that the Atlit camp would be for us the last guarded fenced place. For years we did not have a free home or a street or any place where we could behave like normal free persons, doing whatever we wanted to do and going where ever we wanted to go.

The camp in Kiryat Shmu’el belonged to the Jewish Agency. We were free from the British. Again we had to go through the registration process, and wait until there would be a place for us in one of the Kibbutzim as a Youth Aliyah group.

 

We were angry and bitter that although we were free from the British we were not allowed to get out of the camp. That is a sensitive spot for ex-prisoners. It could be supposed or assumed that if the Agency people were aware of the extent of our suffering from the enforced unreasonable detention they would have changed their attitude, but who paid attention to such “things of little value” in times of the fierce struggle against the British. Our strongest wish was to be free of the fences and the wretched shacks and barracks that were our “companions” all through the war. We wanted to start living a normal life. We wanted to study, to work and not to be pitiful persons dependent on others. We were full of vigor and wished to start new life.

 

Time was against us. Any delay in our release could mean our losing the right to benefit from the Youth Aliyah program because of our age. (Youth Aliyah usually took care of children and teen-agers up to the age of 18). That meant that we would not be able to complete our formal education that we had lost because of the war. We had great hopes from getting education. We saw acquisition of education as the best means to have a good place in the Eretz Israeli society. We understood that we need education and professions to make our plans as a group as well as individuals come true.

 

We complained to the Agency officials about the delay in Kiryat Shmu’el camp but to no avail. Even in that camp nobody from Mizra visited or contacted us. We understood that the severance was final and definite. In contrast to that we had many enjoyable and interesting visits from the eldest group of the members of the Hashomer Hatzayir club from Kiryat Hayim who were about our age. They came every evening, sat outside the fence and we on the inside, sang together, having conversations and even “affairs”. That was the first time we met with Eretz Israeli youth – free, open, bubbling and cheeky.

 

It was obvious that there was a difference in mentality. We were less open, shy and even overwhelmed by the flowing cheeky language that they used, especially that of the girls. They probably overdid it so as to impress us. We spent many evenings together and I remember them very well. We felt atmosphere of freedom and homeliness. A part of that group was later among the founders of Kibbutz Nachshon (I sometimes meet with some of them even today, but what is more interesting is that one member of that group, Aharon Cohen, married later my wife’s best friend, Batya, later in Nachshon, we live in the same city within walking distance and we are best friends).

 

 
Kiryat Shmu'el with our Israeli friends. Ichac is the first on the line inside the fence.

 

After a short stay in Kiryat Shmu’el we were notified that the whole group would go to Kibbutz Sarid as a group entitled to Youth Aliyah benefits. The reason that Sarid was chosen was because it was near Mizra. We were not especially excited by the fact that we would be near our friends. We accepted the massage with demonstrated indifference. We no longer sought their company. It was the movement that wanted us to be united again so that later on we would be a strong big group in order to found a new settlement in the future.

 

On the same day that we received the message about Sarid a woman, Frieda, and a man, David, came to the camp in a lorry. The lorry was loaded with food, fruit and clothes. They introduced themselves as our group's teachers and guides chosen by the Kibbutz. They made a list of our needs and requests for the group as well as personal requests. They promised to take care of us and fulfill all of our requests. We had a meeting in which they gave us a detailed explanation about life in a Kibbutz in general and especially about Sarid, mostly about the economic and social structure. They told us that we would study half a day and work half a day (4 hours study and 4 hours work).  We could work according to our choice in any occupation that was available in the Kibbutz. 'We want to take you in and give you a warm home’, they told us. 'You are the first group of Holocaust survivor youth that we absorb in the Kibbutz. We have no prior experience with such a group. There is anxiety in the Kibbutz about failure. Be open and frank, tell us about your problems and we shall try to solve them to the best of our ability. We were notified only several days ago that you are coming to the Kibbutz. In a day or two we shall finish all the preparations for your coming and we shall come to take you to the Kibbutz’.

 

David and Frieda made a good impression on us. We were very glad that we would be able to continue studying although we were a multi-age group, some of us older than the formal age that the Youth Aliyah took care of and paid for tuition. We calmed down and many fears and suspicions that we had had did not bother us anymore. We had gotten an additional proof that we were taken care of.

 

That proof eased the tension, which was in the group during that period. There were arguments and debates about our collective future. Many did not care about what was going on in the group. There was a small core, naïve and honest that devoted time, energy and caring so as to keep the “togetherness”. There were two sub-groups of members in the group. One sub-group was of the movement’s members since their childhood in Poland. The others joined the group because of various circumstances and did not have ideological-educational background that was connected with communal life in a Kibbutz.

 

I, personally, was educated in the movement since I was seven years old and I was very devoted to the movement’s ideology, which was typical to many youth at that time. All my activities were dedicated to the group’s problems. I was active in the group since the beginning of its organization. The personal differences in the group caused different attitudes and constant arguments. Usually the active core won and we succeeded in keeping the group united.

 

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FREE

The much-expected day arrived at last. It was the end of January 1947. We came out of the fences, the barracks, and the suffocating atmosphere. We were free. No guards, no orders and no compelled daily schedule. We passed through the camp’s gate jolly and happy.

 

We burst forth with ear deafening song. It was a great, special day, which marked a true release from life of poverty and dependency to one of freedom and independence.

We were on our way to Kibbutz Sarid. With amazement and curiosity we looked at every new thing on our way. We discovered a country growing and blooming. We passed citrus-orchards that impressed us very much. Very quickly we were near Haifa, which was revealed in its whole splendor. The scene was a complete contrast to what we had expected.

 

We were supposed to come to a desolate land, endless desert with camels' riders, winds and sand storms, and what did we see? We saw a big modern city, white houses, blue sea and green, with blooming greenery. Even compared to other towns in Europe that we had seen, Haifa made a strong impression on us.

 

We stopped at a gas station for refueling and we had the first chance to run around freely in the city. It was a wonderful feeling. Only someone that was locked up for years could understand it. There we also had our first cones of ice cream about which we dreamt for a long time.

 

We went on towards the Valley of Izra’el. From far away we could see its beauty, green spaces, ploughed and sown, black fertile soil. There were big tractors cultivating the fields. We felt liberated and elated. We were used to see green cultivated expanses in Poland and Europe but gentiles cultivated them. We never saw a Jewish farmer. For the first time we saw a new reality. We admired the Jewish farmers.

 

We approached Sarid very quickly. We passed a large grove of pine trees straight and tall, then the truck turned to the right and drove through two long palm trees rows that led to the gate of the Kibbutz. The first entrance was overwhelming. We saw a splendid agricultural farm. A big cowshed with hundreds of cows and tractors all around, agricultural machines, a huge shed filled with hay, towers and chimneys. People were running around dressed in work clothes, happy, healthy and proud. It was a new world. There was no doubt that the wonderful scene of the Valley and Sarid captured our hearts very quickly and we were very happy from the first moment we got there.          

 

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Last updated December 6th, 2005

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