Background on Siedlce:
Father: Napoleon used Polish Jews (for conscription, financing and weapons), when he went to war against Russia. During the Emancipation period, the Jews of central Poland were given Polish names as a gesture of good will in return for their assistance. Until then, Grandfather Aharon’s family were Cohanim. All his town members knew him as Aaron Ha-Cohen (the priest).
Father: The Jagodzenskis were an extensive family (a tribe numbering about a thousand members), which lived for nearly 400 years in Siedlce’s area. The city of Siedlce, a central city serving as a community center, provided services to all the Jews in the area. There were many youth movements and many Zionist organizations. My mother was a member of Hashomer Hatzair and was a candidate to immigrate to Eretz-Israel and set up a kibbutz there. It had a train station, a hospital, a cinema and a circus that used to set its tent across from my mother’s hut. The city also provided all religious services: rabbinate, cemetery, etc.
Father: I had two grandfathers. Every man has two grandparents, it’s natural.
The grandfather on my father’s side was named David Yishai and his wife, Sheine Mindel (beautiful Mina, after whom my sister, Miriam is named).
I am named after my maternal grandfather, Shaul Raphael, who apparently came from the Jews of Spain. He was married to Rivka, after whom my sister Riva is named. Rivka was adopted by a rabbi, who married her with the wisest student. My grandfather Shaul was sick and died at an early age, leaving behind a sick bedridden wife and four small children who supported themselves without a choice. The daughter before the last was my mother. Hanna Raphael, whose father died when she was 4 years old and made a living in the embroiding at homes of wealthy people.
Father: My father is from the deep-rooted Polish Jewish family Jagodzenski. Unfortunately, my father is the only survivor of this extensive family. Most of them perished in the Holocaust. My grandfather David Jagodzenski, who came from Zbocin, near Siedlce, was the manager and tax collector of the local Paritz (Nobility). He was a man of enormous self-confidence and was not afraid of anyone, even though he was the bad man – the Paritz’s executor, who sat on the Riviera and demanded more money. The Gentiles hated the Jew, who took the money from them and not the Paritz.
Grandpa: My grandfather, Abraham Isaac, who had 11 children (beautiful girls, mostly), lived until 1921. My father, Yishai David, was dying from the blows by Cossacks in 1922 and died a year after his father’s death.
My uncle owned a power plant and a flour mill in Wieszitz, near Siedlce.
Father: My grandfather’s, Yishai David, brother (who was one of 11 siblings), had a flour mill with power station next to it. It is told that when the Nazis gave speeches, my grandfather’s brother (my father’s uncle), would cause a power outage, so they could not be heard). Anyone who knows the family asks if there are no girls because they were the most beautiful girls around.
Grandpa: My older brother Moishe was two years older than me. He worked as a wholesaler of leather goods. He walked 14 km from Siedlce to Zbotz’in. Around us everything burned and his son, David (named after his grandfather), held the mother’s dress because no one would give him a hand. (This was the end of my young cousin: S.Y.).
Transports has left the ghetto, and I have no evidence of where they sent my uncle and the rest of the family, most of whom were religious, and perhaps numbered a thousand people. “Can you imagine the dimensions of a family living 400 years in one place?” None of them went to the Russian side and was not saved.
Grandpa: My little brother Shmuel was two years younger than me and was a tailor in Warsaw (ie an Elite Tailor: S.Y.). Shmulik came to Siedlce from Warsaw because he had a bride there. My father met him later in 1939, in Brisk, which was a Polish city under Russian occupation (remember that Poland was under occupation). But in the year 1940 Shmulik returned to the German side of Poland, my father did not want to go back there; he already saw what the Germans were capabale of doing. Jews wanted to move to the German side and the Germans themselves told them, “You will not be well with us,” and thousands returned to the Germans in 1940.
Shmulik was in the Siedlce ghetto and escaped to the partisans, with whom he spent the entire war. When the Russians approached (to liberate Poland), he took a chance and tried to connect with the fighting Russian forces. He tried to pass through the front, where the fighting took place and was killed by one of the fighting sides.
Father: Nobody remained from my grandfather’s family David Yishai Jagodzenski.
Of my grandmother’s family Shayna Mindel – Lifobitz, my father’s cousin remained. He was an officer in the Red Army, which, in the liberation of Poland from the Nazis, crossed the Warsaw Viseva. His commanders forced him to take Polish and Russians soldiers in boats and told him, “If you come back, you’ll be shot”. He was wounded and lost an eye, and so moved to the Germans’ side. Before the war he had had two sons in Canada, so as soon as he was saved he was taken there. According to grandfather he was in Israel for a visit in 1970.
The murder of his father Yishai David:
Father: During World War I, the Russian Army – Cossacks, confiscated some of my grandfather’s, Shai David, cattle and he went out in his cart to collect money for it. Of course he was beaten with sticks on his back and all over his body, thrown back in the cart and the horse brought home the dying man. He was an extraordinarily tough guy who was a card player and could play cards all night and in the morning they would come to collect the cows he had lost.
He received the idea that he would be able to collect the money from the former occupiers – the Prussians with whom he could manage. This was the reason for all Jagodzenski’s reference to the Germans and the Russians. They trusted the Germans, whom they perceived as “cultural.”
Father: After my grandfather’s murder by Cossacks my grandmother, Mina, remarried.
Grandpa: When my father died they stayed where I was born, in Zbotz’in. My mother (Sheine Mindel) remarried. She also had children from her second marriage. When their house was destroyed in the bombardment, my mother, Hannah, found shelter there. She married the painter, Mendel Zonshein, whose two sons also became painters. This is where my father drew the inspiration to be a painter. The master (the expert) from whom my father learned the secrets of the profession was also from the Zonshein family.
Father Mina gave her three sons as apprentices to professionals. She had no choice because she had nothing because all her possessions belonged to the Paritz, who replaced this Jew with another Jew.
Grandpa: During the Czarist regime: My family owned property, forests. A tree is worth money. And when the Paritz needed money to spend abroad he would borrow money from the Jews and give them another piece of forest. This is how business with the Patitz continued, until 1924.
Father: It’s historically accurate, since Poland until 1924 was always under occupation: Prussian, Russian and Austro-Hungarian and it was the Russian occupation (father remembers the Prussians in World War I, so his birth date is correct, 1907). And in 1924, when Poland became independent and was under military rule, was the nationalization of the property. Everything that was good for the state was nationalized and then the forests were confiscated and they were left without property. His father was no longer alive and the mother, left penniless, married a second time.
Father: My father initially was sent to his uncle (the grandfather’s brother) and at night heard his aunt (who was very religious) telling her husband to shave the boy and leave only sideburns. So he fled from there and since then he has been afraid of the religious, something that has passed to us too.
Grandpa: One night I heard my aunt say to uncle, “Aharon has so much hair, we have to shave his head so the Tefillin are exactly on the head” and uncle said “maybe leave a little bit in the front.”
Father: My father worked first as an apprentice hatter and later as a shoemaker and later as a tailor’s apprentice and eventually settled as a painter. He was a mischievous child who did not give in. It was hard for him to lose his youth and he turned every work into entertainment. Let’s not forget that the apprentice was also a servant at home because it was with lodging (dragged wood, brought water, silenced the babies).
Father: When my father was a child he was naughty once his face was hit with a bottle and has a scar to this day. When he had a hole in his head they took bread with cobwebs and blocked it from bleeding. Once he climbed a fire ladder, made of links, and when he was at the top the ladder rocked and the middle part came out. My father did not hesitate and jumped into the neighbor’s garden, which was dug. Otherwise, he would be skewered on the fence. He got a mouse and a cat to chase it into somebody’s home. He threw an iron at an employer, a Belobosta (a landlady) dropped a needle and he stepped on it and let her search. In short, he was not disciplined and therefore he moved from one employer to another.
Grandfather: when I was a boy I was give a drink. Someone brought alcohol, which was made of beer, and his stomach swelled up. He wanted to make a hole in it with a knife. His friends tied him up and at night the swelling went down.
Father: These features of rebelliousness and abstemious helped my father survive the Holocaust. He was a type who did not have anything the easy way and had to earn every slice of bread. Thus the two orphans Hanna and Aharon meet in Siedlce and raise a family. We got married in 1936 when my father was 29 years old (born in 1907, remembers the Germans deployed during the First World War in 1916 and their pointed helmets), and my mother was 24 years old (born in 1912).
The outbreak of the war:
Father: On June 24th, 1939, my older sister, Riva, was born. She was 6 weeks old at the outbreak of the war. On September 1st, 1939, World War II broke out, finding my father, Aharon, at work – maintenance painting at a local Polish military camp.
Until the Second World War, Poland was under a Polish military regime, and my father worked in the army, allowing him access to all public institutions, i.e. a good and safe livelihood. I mention this because Poland with its army was considered a Western army hostile to the Russians. And this does not look good once the person who is considered a Polish army employee falls into the hands of the Russians. So when one of the Jews found out, my father was immediately loaded onto a train to Siberia. Most of the Jews, who were captured by the Russians in Polish areas during 1939, were not exiled to Siberia and therefore did not survive, so their exile to Siberia was a coincidence that ended well.
There was an agreement between the Russians and the Germans (Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact) on the partition of Poland, and then, on September 1st, 1939, the two armies on both sides, the Russians and the Germans, invaded and divided Poland between them.
Airplanes attacked Warsaw and the Warsaw area, where Siedlce was, in order to create a stream of refugees on the roads and create demoralization, disabling resistance because the roads would be blocked by population and the army could not deploy.
Within a few weeks all of Poland was occupied by the Germans, mainly since the Polish army was no match for the modern German army. The Germans came with tanks and motorcycles and the Poles with swords on horseback. The Poles, who relied on their English allies, (having a defense treaty between Britain and Poland) were left alone in the battle, when the administration fled to London and took the Polish Air Force with it, which later defended London against the Germans. It is also believed that the commander of the Polish army was ignored by Churchill, since he demanded the use of the air force against occupied Poland.
The Germans could beat the Russians with one hand tied behind their backs by riding the wave of anti-communism. In Ukraine alone, Stalin killed 12 million peasants. He declared them enemies of the state to nationalize their land. So when the Germans came to Ukraine all the troops joined them immediately with their weapons. But when the Germans killed the captive soldiers the partisan movement was strengthened. Hitler actually built Stalin. Until this time only 5% of the population was communists.
The Russians were filled with ambition. Think about the power with which they worked, if your grandfather alone delivered a daily “norm” of 60 tons. The Russians forgot to drink, and only worked. They do not work like that anymore.
Father: On September 1st, a bomb falls on my parents’ house, my mother found my baby sister in the ruins, guided by her crying, dug her out and fled with her to “Zbotz’in”, which is my father’s family area of residence. My father returns from work, manages to load a bicycle with some bedding and things he found in the destroyed house and when he gets to the edge of the city he is stopped by a local policeman who confiscates his bicycle and all that he had at gunpoint (of course he speaks crudely to him “Jew – off the bike!”). All his possessions were a bundle of bedding on his back (he received compensation from the Germans for losing his property).
Father: A short time later the Germans arrive and my father, as a professional, is taken to Germany for forced labor. He walked to Germany with other male professionals. On the way he saw all the cruelty of the Germans and realized that everyone who had been left behind was shot, in order to speed up the convoy. Since he was caught while working and his shoes had nails piercing his feet, he realized he had no chance to walk for a long time. He took a chance on one of the walking days and, passing a field of wheat, broke from the rows and ran through the wheat. More people tried to follow him, shots sounded and my father heard them falling on his left and his right, but none of the guards bothered to run after him, so he managed to escape. He went into the barn of a farmers’ house and there he hid.
The peasant woman who came to fetch grass and discovered him was very frightened by the unshaven and bruised black Jew and called her husband. By chance, he was a Polish gentile angry with the Germans, who took his cows, and did not betray my father. He fed him, gave him a change of clothes and let him go back to Siedlce.
Upon arriving back to the city, he tried to persuade anyone he could to escape from the Germans but to no avail. He was reminded of the death of his father by the Russian Cossacks. In their eyes, the Germans were considered cultural, and he told them, in vain, how the Germans on the way humiliated rabbis by making the, lick their boots and ripping off their side locks.
Grandpa: When I came back from the Germans I was very weak and I heard the Gentiles say that now, with the Germans retreating and the Russians not yet entering, is the time to slaughter the Jews.
Father: As he was in fear he decided to flee to the Russian side. But as soon as he crossed the Bug the Russians no longer allowed him to come back and he was searching for my mother. There were people who engaged in smuggling Jews for money and my father was waiting to pay and go back, but one from the city came over from the Russian side, and said to my father, “your wife is on the Russian side for a while already, and I held the baby”, and than my father remembered that he had family in Biaoooiaz’h and took his friend Haiim (Grandpa corrects to “brother-in-law”, thereby exposing his plan as a matchmaker), went to meet them and brought his good friend and his wife’s sister together.
The husband of my mother’s older sister Goce and the father of Benny from Australia.
He found his way into a family by being a friend of my father’s. The aunt married him although she bested him both in age and in beauty. She was a noble woman and the most beautiful of the sisters and rejected the courting of affluent people; she played the role of mother of the orphans. Now she was left with nothing.
Goche arrived with her brother Shimon and her sister Chana (my mother), to the Russians to “Bia Avoyage” (the white tower). That’s where my father came with his best friend Haim the hairdresser, and they joined up as a couple although they did not fit at all. He was a pathological liar, an entertainer. He was everything but a reliable, trustworthy person. Even the son (from Australia), does not understand how his parents lived together. His father, apart from being a good hairdresser, could not be trusted for anything. “Dead!! – All is dead when I eat.”
During the war he worked as a barber and cut the hair of high-ranking officers, and when the haircut was over, he would spray aftershave on them. Once on their face and once into their eyes. And when the general rubbed his eyes he would hide the bottle, which would then be passed on to his wife for sale.
My mother’s orphans brothers hung together with nothing to lose, as they had no property anyway. Their hut is still standing, I photographed it according to gut feelings and it turned out in Israel that my father recognized it as their hut. I spoke with a Polish gentile, who remembered the bombing and he said “yes, this is the house, and it is without plaster”, and in fact the anti-Semite goy helped me in my own story.
In Russia, Brother Shimeon, Sister Goche and her husband David Chaim, together with my mother and father, are the family’s core that escapes to Russia and goes through all the hardships of the war together and then returns to Siedlce, empty from Jews, to search for the remains of their family, but no one is found.
Entry to Russia:
Grandpa: In 1939, in Bialoooiaz, I met my wife and her sister who were sent to Gomel in Belarus where I left them and returned to Brisk on the Bug (the Polish border), to unite with the rest of the family.
Father: They were constantly searching for relatives. There he met Shimon Haim, his little brother Shmulik and his girlfriend.
Grandpa: I took Shimon (my mother’s brother) and Esther to Russia and Shmulik returned back to Siedlce. I do not know why.
Father: Shmulik, who arrived at the Russian border, went back to Siedlce. His older brother, Moshe, stayed in Siedlce, apparently thinking that he would be left destitute, leaving the business in Siedlce. Siedlce was considered to be a leather-processing center for Poland’s sport, soccer balls and boxing gloves, and this was an excellent livelihood. Moshe had a 4 years old boy and a baby girl, and all the way to the Bug (to the Russians) and back they walked with the baby on his wife’s hands, my father’s brother with their belongings on his back, and the little boy holding the mother’s dress. That was what my mother cried about for as long as she remembered that there was no one to lend a hand to the child.
By the way – Siedlce’s execution wall, was the wall of the shoe factory, where men would catch men on the street and take off their pants, and anyone circumcised would have been shot, and there was no need to demand an identity card.
(There is a picture of my father, Uncle Haim, and Uncle Shimon near the wall).
Grandpa: I made the road from Brisk to Gomel and back twice, to get my wife and her sister to Gomel, where they met with her brother Shimon and his girlfriend Esther, and we were deported to Siberia, a distance of 300,000 kilometers. The Russians aimed to demilitarize the area. Therefore, anyone who wasn’t a Russian citizen was put on a train and sent to Siberia for 10 years without trial (“one sentence for everyone”). Everyone who remained in Brisk was murdered.
Father: Poland was considered a Western country and had a defense treaty with England, so the Russians saw it as an enemy.
Father: They go through the territory held by the Russians (Brisk). For the partition of Poland the river Bug became the border with Russia (as a natural boundary). One of the Jewish refugees snitched to the Russians that my father worked for the Polish army and the whole group found themselves on a transport train to Siberia, suspected of hostility. This act saved the family remains although the Russians did not mean it. Because all the territories beyond Bock were invaded by the Germans in 1941 and all traces of Judaism there were exterminated.
Grandpa: we went by train from Brisk for three weeks, a day and night transport to Siberia. For three weeks we took a ferry on the water into Siberia to the capital CityCapre of Commy SSSR. From there we were sent in wagons. After 4 days we reached the settlement of Puszuac (others were taken to more distant places), and were housed in huts that were just built of tree trunks and we had to build heaters for heating. The women remained in the barracks with the children and the men went to work 40 km away. On Sundays, once a month, we went to visit Puszuac.
After six months my father excelled at work and received an award. In order not to have to go to the settlement, they allowed him to bring the woman and the girl (Riva) to the work area.
Father: There’s an area in Siberia called “Commy SSSR” (i.e., a Commy area belonging to the USSSR, the Commy people have slaned eyes and looks like Eskimos, hospitable and do not differentiate between strangers, all strangers are referred to as “Ross”, i.e. Russian). So there is no anti-Semitism and they do not even know what a Jew is. From the clearing he went to Puszuac, but because of the snow he was lost and was exhausted. Then he saw a hut and the owner jumped up and said to him, “a guest in the house is like the Lord is in the house,” dried his clothes, instructed him how to continue his way, and gave him a frozen lump of milk.
Every man who has survived has a story behind it. And it did not happen to others. People were tired and fell asleep for a moment and that was it. Dead. We’re talking about minus 40 degrees.
They were engaged in cutting down trees and launching them into a stream into Russia. The work groups would go to the forest and receive the food rations in advance for a number of days, which would sometimes be eaten within a day, because the body requires a lot of energy at a temperature of minus 30/40 degrees. Another difficulty was to avoid falling asleep. He who fell asleep – died! My father was an outstanding worker and, in comparison, Uncle Haim was a men’s hairdresser who, lifting everything heavier than scissors would get warts. But his commercial talent and rhetoric made them manage well even under these conditions. For example: he gave a gentile count trees that he did not cut, and the gentile did not notice that he was counting piles that he had already counted.
Father: My mother was weaving and embroidery, and the Russians’ “Rubashka” (a shirt without buttons), were all with embroidery. And the women of the Russian staff supported her. And her older sister, Gocha (Tova, who lives in Australia today), was the one who raised me and my sister because my mother was busy making a living. She played the role of the mother for orphans from the beginning, she cooked for them and the little ones worked. It was easy for them to survive because they lived a communal life and that was a strong core. Cooking and getting more all together made it easier to get along as a natural commune. For example, Shimon’s wife Esther would walk around with an ax in a belt like a man.
Grandpa: A ferry came on in Siberia got stuck on a sandbank and 14 people were sent to unload it so it weighs less and the water will carry it over the sandy bottom. It was cold, hard labor, and the food rations were so small that we all ate four days of food rations at once. If we would have stayed there for four days, as predicted, we would die of starvation, so we worked day and night and returned before the expected time. We did not get anymore bread, but did receive cooked food.
Father: By 1942 my father was working as a porter at the port in Citifkar and had to meet a Norm of 30 tons in 8 hours. In the winter, when there wasn’t enough manpower, the norm rose to 60 tons.
Grandpa: In 1943 I was recruited by the Russians to an employee’s Army.
Father: In “Arcnglsk”, this is a huge Siberian port (as big as the distance from here to Tel Aviv, with the Russians everything is big). The supplies from the West arrived to Russia via this port, as assistance in the war against the Nazi occupier, and this is where my father had been mobilized to in order to unload goods from the ships – porterage.
Grandpa: We unloaded goods coming from the west, through the North Sea to Siberia. We would be wearing an abdominal belt, to hold everything in place. The legs swelled with effort and the doctor had nothing to give us. The only cure was rest, but he said “this is war I cannot give you rest”, they would shoot him.
Father: And as an excuse for leaving the place back to Voizngh he pulled out 17 teeth with pliers, a nurse strapped him to a chair with a rope and pulled out his teeth without anesthetic. His teeth were rotten due to lack of vegetables (lockjaw) and he used this as an excuse to return to the family, to see me. My mother fell with typhus (intestinal disease), fortunately she was surrounded by her supportive family, who did everything to save her, she even got fresh liver which strengthens the blood.
Grandpa : I got a 20-day leave, when driving one way only took 17 days. Mt teeth were rotten due to lack of vegetables so I decided to pull them out, to get a longer vacation. A nurse tied me to a chair and with a pair of pliers, without anesthesia, pulled out the teeth. This is how I got the holiday from the Army. When I got home my wife tore the papers and we drove away to the Caucasus (father never returned to the Army).When we were asked for papers, we said they were stolen and claimed that we came Brisk (which was true, indirectly) and obtained new documents (in which Army desertion was not mentioned).
Father: The only way out is for a month and a half every year by a stream of the river which is frozen most of the year. My mother takes initiative and using her beautiful embroidery bribes the wife of the captain of the ship coming out of Russia, and all of us board the ship while getting rid of any paperwork that can arouse suspicious in the eyes of Russian authorities as political refugees, otherwise they would rot till today in Siberia which is like an open prison as there was nowhere to escape. We arrived from Siberia to the Caucasus where we went to the NKVD headquarters and announced that we were Polish refugees who want to repatriate to Poland. Meanwhile, Poland was declared a communist state. So the Russians didn’t make it difficult for the group to return there.
Grandpa: The exit from Siberia received official backing by the agreement with the British, giving Polish refugees leave without serving 10 years. To get out one had to walk 40 km to the first village and then get a ride of 200 km. Shimon and his wife has left us and managed to get out of Citifkar and take a ride with a Kazakhstan group. It was winter and the last ship was coming out of Siberia. I could board the ship, but this voyage, in winter, meant certain death for children and women. So I preferred to go through another winter, working to fulfill Shimon’s quota.
Grandfather: Your father was born in Voizngh, when we were on the way out.
Father: a refugee settlement called “Voizngh” was established where I was born. An exit station from Siberia.
Father: They went away at 1944, when I was one year old.
The trip to Poland took six months on roads and railway since the departure from Voizngh in Siberia. All roads were destroyed, there was no transport and we could get stuck on the road. My cousin Serge (son of uncle Shimon, who is currently in Paris, an acupuncture physician) was there. And cousin Ben (who is in Australia, an antennas engineer). My sister Riva who, at the outbreak of war was six weeks, was unable to stand on her feet of weakness, until the age of 4. I was a strong boy, a native of Siberia; it is difficult to be born at minus 40.
Father: I was the biggest schnorr for food in the Caucasus, all the cooking was done outside and I was walking around between the cooks and I would not leave until they would give me something to put in my mouth (potatoes, turnips … ), I walked around with self-importance, that it comes to me, I knew that if I acted this way, I will receive food.
Grandpa: I was taken to paint a spirit factory building. The workers who worked there wanted to drink. There are windows that measure the alcohol strength and my father gave one a hit with the handle of the brush and alcohol started spilling. Everyone came with hats and began to fill them and drink alcohol. My father saw everyone around him drunk and was scared. He decided to report to management. The manager asked him “How much do you think was spilled?” And my father said, “About 200 liters”. Then the director told him to “register 1,000, and sign next to it” (so they also get something out of the insurance).
Father: in Russia everything is based on drinking to forget the reality in which they live and the fear of the regime, look where they came to once the regime has fallen and they have no fear. In battle they also get a drink and then attack. They are good fighters that are very loyal to the homeland – Mother Russia.
Grandpa: They sent me to be a firefighter. I came to the boss and asked, “What should I do?” The boss said “You have to sit here for 24 hours and then you get 48 hours off” and my Father could not understand why you need a rest from resting. Every time I was in a 48 hours leave I would buy tires and turn them into shoe soles and sell them on the Sunday market. The boss knew it and asked me to bring him vodka and something to eat every Sunday. At the end he blackmailed a pair of boots out of me.
Grandpa: One day they took all firefighters unload wheat in the factory where my father worked. 4 wagons were emptied and the workers who had heard I worked there sent me to bring something to drink. I went to the warehouse and asked the guard for alcohol, he agreed, but I had no means by which to carry the alcohol. I finally found a solution – I emptied a can of paint and filled it with alcohol, and instead of cups I gave them plaster mixing spoons. I myself drank half a liter of alcohol. Than they wanted sausages, so I took snow and said “Take this – it’s ham.”
In 1945, Germany lost the war and the Allies came to Berlin. My family began planning an exit from Siberia towards Poland, now liberated from the Nazis.
Father: a group of survivors arrived by train at 1946 and decided to settle in “Blonsky”, lower Silesia, a region that until the outbreak of World War II belonged to the Germans. Refugees from Russia received the keys of apartments by Poles, apartments belonging to exiled Germans (both Jews and Gentiles received apartments, with a very small number of Jews who returned from Russia). The Russians wanted to perpetuate the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (an agreement to divide Poland between the Russians and the Germans, with Poles opposing the Germans seen as the enemy. Everything was turned upside down in 1941 when the Germans became the enemy). And keep the territories they conquered from the Poles on September 1st, 1939 (when they were still allies with the Germans), in exchange they made it up the Poles with territories that had belonged to Germany in Lower Silesia. The Russians simply drove away the German inhabitants, declared that the area belonged to Poland, and settled the Polish refugees, returning from Russia.
Hitler could succeed Stalin if he would announce he would give democracy. At the time there were only 5% of communists in Russia. Since the war began, Stalin strengthened and made Russia a superpower.
Searching for relatives in Siedlce:
For them the war was not over until searching for relatives, so they immediately began to search for them. The three men (my father, uncle Shimon and uncle Haiim), traveled to the city of Siedlce in order to search for relatives. They found a very sad sight. It became clear to them that during 1941, all the Jews in the city, representing approximately 40% of the population, were rounded up in the ghetto, built with wooden huts, and in 1943 in the ghetto was liquidated. The Germans burned it. What remains are the concrete bases only.
I, Shaul Jagodzenskis, born during September 1943, see myself as a living gravestone to the life of the community of Siedlce.
Father: My father and uncles, with a handful of other refugees, returned from the armies of the world and the partisans, worked for six weeks, collecting every trace and every possible object from the ghetto and burying them in crates inside the remains of the Jewish cemetery, which walls at least remained. Above them a round monument was erected on which they wrote in Polish, Yiddish and Hebrew. A monument for the burnt bones of the Ghetto.
On the first night the Group stayed in a Mikve that remained standing since it served as a warehouse for the Germans. This night shots were shot at from all sides, within half an hour of shooting a Russian colonel burst into the structure with soldiers and opened his mouth in Yiddish: “Jews! Do not worry! As long as I am here you will be guarded every night”. Fortunately, the colonel was Jewish. Then they realized the depth of the Polish hatred for Jews, fearing their returning and demand their stolen belongings. The colonel did not shoot at them, but at the Poles, who came to kill them. Poles with whom they grew up and knew.
From the Jewish community they met one survivor who, as in the story of Robinson Crusoe, was left alone.
Father: There was one thief in Siedlce, a bully, who before the war, used to enter Gentiles and Jews stores, take whatever he wanted, and during the war was walking with a bag of stale bread in the direction of the dump, saw them pull out Jews he has hidden, and shot himself. A Gentile with conscience.
Grandpa: on May 1946 I arrived in Siedlce. In front of me came a Gentile with a fur and he knew me. He recognized me and said, “I live at your mother’s house. I want it registered in my name,” I said “I have no money for any of this procedure.” He said, “I’ll pay for the transfer of ownership.” I said, “Let’s meet here next week.” They told me “Stay away from this Goy, he himself killed the Jews”.
Father: This will give him an approval for what he had taken by force.
Grandpa: I was advised not to travel to my home village Zbotz’in, for I would be killed there. 12 years after the war, I was in Poland and I went to Zzbotz’in, a village located 14 km from here (Like Kfar Malal, Kfar Saba, Magdiel and Hod Hasharon: S.Y.).
Father (this story unverified by Grandpa) my father’s younger brother hid at grandmother’s house and the Gentile who took over the house told the story to my father. Uncle Haim and my father passed by the grandmother’s house, a private house with a garden, and uncle picked an apple from the tree, a Gentile woman came out and started shouting at them. As she approached the fence she immediately recognized my father. She was the same Goya that would light a fire on Sabbath for him. She immediately invited them in, and they came in and saw her husband sitting and mending shoes. She invited them for tea and went out for twigs to light a fire in the stove. Then her husband opened his mouth: and I told my father “I gave your brother shelter here in the basement during the war, and she expelled him into the street and he was shot”.
One of Auschwitz’s survivors said he met the elder brother of the grandfather, his hands frozen and unable to work. This would always bring along death during selections.
Uncle Haim never met anybody or received any news. In Eretz-Israel he met his niece Feige (Zepora) and her daughter Hannah.
Childhood in Silesia:
Most Polish Jews, who were saved in Russia, settled in Silesia upon their return due to free housing arrangements. They had nothing left. For example, I ran after a woman who dropped money to give it back to her, but she could not say “thank you” to a Jewish boy.
The schoolmaster met me outside “Jagodzenski! What are you doing out here?” He knew but enjoyed hearing again and again that I am a Jew and therefore could not participate in religion classes.
When Stalin died they threw stones at me claiming that Jewish doctors had killed him, even though they wanted to get rid of him.
My best friends said “Shaul’s bike is going ‘Jide’ ‘Jide’ ‘Jide’ (Jew, Jew, Jew)”.
By 1948 a cohesive community was forms in the town “Bogosob” (Gotsberg – Mountain of God), my mother worked as an assistant teacher in a Jewish kindergarten. I remember myself dressed as a Hanukkah spinning top, spinning on stage. My father started working as a painter in a coal plant, where he was elected to the workers’ union and later was elected chairman of the trade unions. As fitting his position he was given a car with a driver and a luxurious villa. But the insistence of my mother, who knew the Poles well and knew that eventually he will become their scapegoat, he resigned and returned any benefits he received. We moved to the city “Jelenia Gora” (Hirshberg – Deer Mountain, German names were used and translated literally). He joined a contractors’ office as a painting contractor, went through government Certification exams since the pre-war documents were lost. Until immigrating to Israel on 1957 he worked as a freelance painter.
Distant relatives in Israel:
When my father came to Israel he went to a memorial service for Siedlce and one woman, as brunette as him, approached him, and turned out to be an orphan girl of one of his uncles. My father’s father had 11 brothers, a huge family and this was one of the uncles’ daughter, an orphan girl who was handed from one to another and each time was at a different home and got to recognize everybody. She was much younger than my father, but has already died as a result of a heart attack.
When my mother died a religious man named Serantzki came from Herzliya and ran everything, he was the husband of this cousin. But their children did not stay in touch. Due to youthful rebellion, there was a period when Israeli youths were ashamed of their Diaspora origins, the Sabress weren’t interested in Holocaust survivors and tragic stories and was even ashamed that they were refugees. Interest began only in the last two years.
Relatives around the world:
Uncle Shimon who returned with us to Bogosob, has disappears one night with his wife, Esther, and their child Serge (Shaul) and then we started to receive letters from Paris, where he lives today. His daughter Paulette (Paula), who was here the most, was born there. She was the secretary of the chairman of Tourism to the Middle East and paid many visits to Israel. Uncle Shimon is a Zionist from before the war, pressuring us to actualize Zionism while he stayed in Paris. He actually got a foothold there since his sister was already there before the war. Roch’che, mother’s little sister, married a man who left Siedlce and sent her papers for her daughter, who came to visit her father in Switzerland – Rosie.
In Australia, my mother’s older sister, Goocha, immigrated to Israel six months before we did, but did not find their place. My uncle was chief barber for Russian generals at the officers club in Lignitz in Poland. The Russians held an entire Army in Poland and had parks and cinemas into which Poles were not allowed to enter, but my uncle worked for them and was authorized. When I came over for a month during the summer he would allow us free access to concerts and movies held for children of the Russian officers. In Israel he cut peoples’ hair with an oil lamp in a boiling asbestos shack. And at the first opportunity they migrated to Australia with their sons Benny and Regina (Rivka). Over time, my sister Riva (Rebecca) also joined them with her husband and two children.
My father had a friend in Kfar-Saba – Moshe Tzernitz (a storekeeper for Hapoel Kfar-Saba). He was a soldier in the Polish army. He was married with a child and was drafted into the war. The Russians caught them, executed the officers and sent the soldiers to Siberia. In 1942 there was a draft for the British army in Russia and the Anders Polish Army was established, which was sent through Persia, Iraq, Palestine and parked in the Ussishkin woods and hence was led to battles against the Germans in Italy. Most of them perished in the battle of Montksiano fortress on a mountain that was hard to capture. And the British sacrificed this unit there. Moshe was a deserter and stayed in Kfar-Saba (Menachem Begin has defected from there as well). My father met him in Israel on 1957, still looking for his wife and child, who remained in Siedlce. He deluded himself that he might have seen them in Siberia. He remained lonely till he died. A good man. My mother used to send me to give him a cake, when he had the strength he would sit in “Sherf” caffe. He was paraplegic and wanted to leave me his home, but the municipality has agreed to put him in a nursing home in exchange of the house (located across from Galei-HaSharon). My grandfather was the only one who knew him, so when he died he testified for the municipality that he was the owner; without his testimony the municipality could not get the property.
(My father visited him in the nursing home and received a can with wires embroidered on it – AY).
Integration in Israel:
Uncle Shimon has escaped to France and in 1956 wrote to my mother to advising her to immigrate to Israel. This was possible due to warming states relationship, Gomulka came to power and Polish President Joseph Tzirnkebitz himself was a survivor of Auschwitz and the communist regime lost ground after Stalin’s death, and enabled Jews (only Jews) to leave. There was also pressure from Israel, Polish guilt and Jews pressure for family reunification and relatives’ search, all reasons combined brought about an opening of the borders.
We arrived on 7/7/57 to Haifa port. We boarded the train in Poland and traveled to Warsaw to get the immigration paperwork, and from there by train through Czechoslovakia, Austria and Genoa in Italy. We waited for two weeks for the ship, which brought us to the port of Haifa. Beside the Polish group there was also a group of Neturei Qarta from Hungary and I was very afraid that this was the Jewish character awaiting us in the country. Unfortunately, this is coming true today.
On the way, the sea was rough and all were seasick. We reached Haifa harbor and uncle Haiim was waiting for us, loaded us into a taxi and drove us to Kfar-Saba. So we crowded two families counting 9 persons in a half Swedish hut in Shikun Matzkin. The very next day my father went to work, painting, in the same neighborhood. This neighborhood has built in “Railway housing”, in which each family had 30 meters allocated. We’ve received one of these apartments. In this apartment we lived for seven years. I lived there from the age of 13 until after the army.
The apartments were small, so all life happened on the road. Where we played with marbles, hide and seek, like all boys around the world. With the old timer’s hostility around us, the “Salt of the Earth” patronizing us – the “refugees”.
This neighborhood had representative of all communities except for Sabrass there were: the Jews of Egypt and Morocco … all the mixed families I know came out of these neighborhoods. I had to make a living as we’ve arrived without any property and we wanted to get to an apartment. The food was rationed using coupons, which also had to be bought. There was no refrigerator, so every day we had to buy ice. At first there was no electricity and lighting and cooking had to be done using oil. We had a constant battle with cockroaches, flies and mosquitoes; something we did not know in Europe.
The neighborhoods were full of flies, because of the density of people. It was not allowed to leave an open door or window.
Every morning I would get up, pump air into my bicycle’s tires, eat my porridge. Mom would get up early and make me and my father omelet sandwiches. Mom put a sliced up cucumber and onion in a cup of cream, to make it more delicious. So when we were going to work, we had a prepared food bag and a thermos of coffee.
The butter I was used to eating was replaced by margarine, which I could not stand because it stuck to my teeth, so I ate dry bread without spreading anything on it. To this day, I still have the habit of eating dry bread. Mom told me “leave the butter for your Father, he works harder.” My father worked hard and wasn’t built for hard work. He actually began to rebuild himself over the age of 50. Only at the age of 60 did he achieve an apartment. He built himself again and again after the crisis of the First and Second World Wars.
My father was a master painter before the war already (otherwise he would not be accepted for the maintenance of the Polish battalion). But when he returned to Poland again, with all his papers burned, the Poles forced him to retake the certification exams. Without this certificate you could not be an employer and submit invoices. Unlike in Israel.
When he immigrated to Israel, even though he was a Master painter, he worked alongside a man who started only yesterday.
I would go to work when there was any, being mostly seasonal; in the winter of 1958 I’ve spent time with a few friends in the orchards of Kibbutz Givat-Brenner. The Kibbutznikim enslaved children for 8 hours in the wet orchard, sleeping in a hut with no windows with the same clothes we worked in to keep warm under a single blanket. And finally, we never got paid. Until now I have the check which bounced (for lack of funds), in which they deducted some money for living and dining. They planned on a child not going to cash the check.
All relation to immigrants was the same, they spat at us. We were the Thais and Romanians, now building the country. Before us they treated the Yemeni the same way, then us and than the Moroccans, so when new immigrants arrived from Russia it was clear to the Israelis that they will clean roads because the natives do not want to work. Nobody from my neighborhood had a Sabrass friend until the Army.
As a new immigrant, I first connected by the common language, all Polish-speaking neighbor was my friend. After a short time all who belonged to the neighborhood was my friend, because of seeing each other and working together. After that there were friendships by a common theme. Once you start getting married there should be a match between families, between women and children of a certain age.
At least twice a week we went to the movies. On Saturday nights we wore a white shirt, dark pants and hairdo for the girls to go to the movies. We would stand in line for an hour and eat ice cream at “Penguin”.
Then came the military recruitment and each returned with his experiences from the army. On Friday nights we used to go ballroom dancing.
And after army-service – a surge of weddings and a wave of achievement in raising a healthy family and nice housing and vehicles accordingly.
Initially we’ve spent holidays in tents, then bungalows, then caravans, motel rooms and finally hotels. After 18 years of marriage we’ve also travel abroad.
Six Day War:
As part of the 8th Brigade, 129th battalion, we were a young couple living in Tkuma, and Mom worked in Assuta Tel Aviv, giving back a year of army duty. I left her a letter and went to war. I fought in the southern region, we attacked on the first day of the war at Wadi Paran, Kontila, Birt-Made. Than we connected with our troops in Rafah and Gaza Strip, and we were transferred to Jericho garrisons after the conquest.
War of Attrition:
We did a lot of patrolling, at a different place each time, guarding the vast areas of the modified border from Abu Rhodes to Ashkelon.
Yom Hakkipurim War:
Took us by surprise at home, we came up in buses to out units’ headquarters and warehouses in Plugot, from where we traveled in total chaos down south, with the arriving tanks failing to link with their organic units. All sorts of improvised ground forces were created. War is in front of the Egyptian Third Army, the Bitter Lake area and Jidii pass. We had outdated Sherman tanks. We got a line in front of the third Army, and what saved us from erosion is the fact the Army had stopped and was overtaken on the other side. All we had was a total of 3 tanks and they did not want to leave their airforce “umbrella”. Our generals (Gorodish & Sharon) did not understand them. They occupied the canal and the line strongholds along the canal and had them, they got what they wanted. Since we did not have enough military to keep the line of all of Sinai, we had to talk about a cease-fire with Egypt and the separation of powers and in due time – of peace.
In my opinion, the marketing strategy of any prime minister is wrong. No prime minister can declare that the Temple Mount is ours because it will enrage all Islamic countries. In the Six days war, when we waved the flag (on the mountain) they immediately wanted to take it down because they realized it was a challenge to all Muslims, for whom the Temple Mount is holy. What is happening today is not Zionism – it is messianic, influenced by clerics. They want to build the Third Temple. And we wanted to have a Jewish state, have a house and it could be achieved even in Uganda. Ma’ale Adumim is Jerusalem as Jericho is Jerusalem, with food comes appetite.
I tell father he has a tendency to see things in a romantic manner, “not in vain have you sculpted a marble head of a reservist during the war.” He says it’s nothing compared to Uri Cohen, who read poetry while sitting in the tank’s turret and watched guard against anti-tank missiles (sitting in the tank for 26 hours a day, we got up two hours before, and so there was replacement. Every time someone else came up for air in the turret) and out of agitation has shot a shell.
Each had their own ways to disconnect, for example, one would sit up and read Psalms and you could not get him back to reality. I yelled at him, “climb down and pray here”, but he was so engrossed he did not notice he was targeted. Or, wherever we’ve stopped and people saw crates and immediately built a hut and I’d tell them, “What happened to you, we’ll be moving soon, our home is this tank.” This is how people are looking for a home.