Cover of book in Hebrew: "The Way to Freedom"
The Way to Freedom
Ostrowiec youth who survived the Holocaust join the Ichud movement in hope to emigrate to the land of Israel.
The below text is an excerpt of the book ‘LeDerech Lecherut' (The Way to Freedom) written by Joseph Halperin, who was born in Lodz to a Zionist family and planned to immigrate to Israel in September 1939 but the outbreak of World War II disrupted the plan.
Halperin escaped to Belarus and in June 1941, when the German attack on the Soviet Union began, he went underground. In 1944 he moved to the Kielce region in Poland and joined the Kryowa Army
(Home Army) as a partisan. At the end of the war, he organized in Kielce, as part of the Ichud youth movement , a group of Jewish youth survivors for the purpose of immigrating to the Land of Israel through Italy. The group left Kielce before the Kielce Pogrom and in January 1946 he arrived in Israel with the group on the immigration ship "Enzo Sarni".
For Polish text about writer, see: https://pl.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%B3zef_Halperin
The text below is an excerpt of the Ostrowiec youth he mentions in his book : [Page:27]
The Ostrovtzer youth who reached our group were sent to us by the local committee people who feared for the refugees’ lives. They arrived in two groups: The first group, five girls and a boy, arrived in the second half of May; the second group, four girls and three boys, around a month afterwards. Some of these youths belonged to Zionist youth groups before the war, mainly to Betar; others came without any Zionist motivation, at times even against their will. (From among the thirteen Ostrovtzers who came to us in Kielce, only six settled in the Land; one girl who remained in Kielce was murdered there on July 4, 1946; six girls left us along the way and settled in America.)
Ora Hofman was the most prominent of the Ostrovtzer girls and was chosen for the first secretariat (photo 5). While in Gretz, she left us after discovering that her mother had survived and was in Poland. Today she lives in Canada.
Sarah Perl , born in 1926, grew up in a family of Gerrer chassidim. Her father was a leather merchant and the family’s financial condition was good. Her brother studied in yeshivah. Sarah was a serious girl, wise and intelligent, but sensitive and withdrawn. Sarah relates: “The hardest time of my life was after the war, after the camps, when I returned ‘home’ in May of 1945 to wait for my father, as we had made up before parting in Auschwitz. It’s a stretch to say that any of us believed then, in August 1944, that there was hope of getting out alive… My mother and brother were sent to Treblinka already in 1942, while my father and I remained in the labor camp outside town where we worked in a brick factory. My father looked after and pampered me. I received the bitter news of his death upon my return to Ostrowiec. It was reported to me by a man from our town who was sent from Auschwitz, together with my father, to work in an underground coal mine. According to him, my father was killed in a mine accident when the scaffolding collapsed. When I heard this, I was hit with shock and despair. I considered suicide but I was weak and didn’t have the strength or courage to go ahead with it. I wandered about desperate and confused, alone without a single living relative. My life had no meaning. I can’t remember who informed me about the lone youths who had formed a “kibbutz” in Kielce, living together and looked after by someone. Sure enough, I found in the “kibbutz” a home and family where everyone was in the same situation as myself. Although I hadn’t received a Zionist education, I did grow up in a religious household and knew a lot about the Land of Israel since my uncle (my mother’s brother) lived in Jerusalem and was a well-known yeshivah head.”
Fela Zynger (photo 8 – sitting) and her younger sister Jadzia (photo 13 – sitting) left us in Italy when they found out that their brothers had survived and were in Germany. She, from the very beginning, was uncomfortable with the cooperative lifestyle and our goal of joining a kibbutz. Today they both live in Toronto, Canada.
Sarah Gersztajn was an energetic girl, sharp tongued, and talented in business. The cooperative lifestyle did not suit her character. She reached Ostrowiec during the war after having escaped from the train that was transporting her and her family, together with the rest of her townspeople, to Treblinka. Due to her daring and fateful jump from the train, the Ostrovtzers nicknamed her the “jumper.” Sarah set off with us on our journey, but while in Italy, before leaving for the Land, took our leave. She’s the only one of our group who has not stayed in touch with the others, her whereabouts being unknown.
Chaim Szerman was raised in a religious family with many children. His father had a small textile store from which he eked out a meager living. Owing to his scholarliness and breadth of Torah learning he was much esteemed by others. One of Chaim’s brothers was a teacher, while his two older sisters emigrated with their husbands to Brazil. At the outbreak of the war, Chaim was thirteen years old. In October 1942, his family was sent to Treblinka. He himself was sent to Auschwitz at a later date. While being transferred to another camp, he succeeded in escaping together with a friend. At first, they hid by a Polish farmer. After he snitched on them to the police, they fled and wandered about until they found another farmer, living outside the village, who agreed to employ them on his farm. He also obtained for them forged documents. After the war Chaim returned to Ostrowiec, but unable to find any of his family, he traveled to Kielce and joined the “kibbutz.”
Chaim (photo 1b) was a quiet and introverted lad who continued with us to Italy without taking an active part in the life of the group. He would only break a smile when particularly moved, such as after our harrowing journey from Bratislava to Budapest (photo 13, first on the right).
Yaakov Gotholc was born in 1920 in the village of Bodzechow, south of Ostrowiec. He was the oldest of us, a Betar cadet and son of a religious school teacher. He had four brothers and four sisters.
In 1942, the Jews of his village were ordered to move into the Ostrowiec ghetto. Two years later he was transported to Auschwitz. In mid-January 1945, as the Soviet army was drawing near, Yaakov found himself on the infamous Death March. After trudging through fierce cold for tens of kilometers, while west of the city Gliwice, the Germans began shooting those who were lagging behind. Yaakov threw himself to the ground and laid among the dead covered in their blood. The murderers took no notice and the procession continued its march westward. Yaakov found refuge with a local farmer, where he remained until the arrival of the Red Army.
Upon returning to his native village, he didn’t find a single Jew. A local priest invited him into his home and offered to teach him the principles of the Catholic faith, presuming he would convert. Yaakov, seeing no other option, accepted his offer and stayed with him for two months. One night his father appeared to him in a dream and the next day he picked himself up and left. He journeyed to Lodz, having heard that there were Jews there. In Lodz he met a friend who told him about the group in Kielce that was about to emigrate to the Land of Israel. Upon arriving at our community headquarters, Kalman was initially opposed to accepting him owing to his age, but after much pleading and a little graft he finally agreed.
Yaakov (photo 1b) won the admiration of everyone in the group on account of his humility, his enheartening smile, his open heart, his pleasant demeanor, and his fatherly approach to his comrades in the group. He was always the first to identify sources of food wherever we went and he never did so out of his own self-interest. At times of crisis, it was always possible to rely on his resourcefulness. Upon joining the group, a surprise awaited him: Batsheva’s voice reminded him in its tone of his family’s and sure enough it turned out that they were second cousins. Sometime later Yaakov learned that one of his brothers, Meir, was still alive.
Moshe Klajnman was born in 1926. His father was a clerk. He had four brothers and two sisters. He grew up in a Zionist household and was a member of the Betar movement.
After the first expulsion, in October 1942, Moshe was left the sole survivor of his family. At first he worked in the brick factory; afterwards, he was transferred to the labor camp in the town of Blizyn (west of Skarzysko) where he worked in construction and laundering. When an epidemic of typhus broke out, Moshe was one of its victims, but he was saved through the care of a Jewish doctor from his town. In August of 1944 he was sent to Auschwitz where he passed Dr. Mengele’s infamous selektzia. At the morning roll call he heard that they needed electricians and so he joined the others of that profession even though he had never worked as one. Fortunately, he was sent to do drainage work in the fields. At another selektzia, in October 1944, he joined a group of builders who were sent to the Sztutowo camp (35 km east of Danzig-Gdansk, on the Baltic coast). Upon arrival at the camp, he was sent to Burggraben for a two-month electrician’s course. After the course he was stationed at a factory manufacturing steel electricity-cables for submarines. He worked at the shipyard together with workers from various other countries. He didn’t manage to work there very long: With the front approaching, he was sent in January 1945 to dig trenches to stop the tanks. Ultimately, he was sent, together with thousands of other Jews, to join the Death March. Some of the marchers were loaded on to ferries, many of which were sunk at sea by the Germans. On March 18, 1945, while in the town of Puck, north of Gdynia, he was liberated by the Red Army. At first, he traveled to Warsaw and then after a week continued to Ostrowiec. There he found forty survivors and an active local committee headed by Aharon Fridental. Moshe remained in the town for around a month in the hope of meeting someone from his family. When his hopes were dashed, he decided to emigrate to the Land of Israel. That’s how he arrived, together with six others from his town including committee member Ovadiah Borensztajn, at 7 Planty Boulevard where they were received with hugs by their fellow Ostrovtzers who had arrived about a month earlier.
Moshe was a wise fellow, brave, with an open mind, a lover of people who was prepared to act on their behalf. Thanks to his experience working as an electrician, he saw to it that wherever we went there was ample light to gladden the heart and salvage the evening hours for reading and studies.
Moshe Blumensztok was the youngest of the group. At the outbreak of the war, he was nine years old and had only gone to school for three years. His father, a well-off merchant who was both observant and a Zionist, served in his town as the treasurer of the Hapoel Hamizrachi party.
He visited the Land of Israel in 1932 with the objective of settling there together with his family, but put off the date of his move due to the difficult economic situation that existed then in the Land.
In October 1942, after the transports to Treblinka had begun, Moshe’s father handed over his light-haired son to a Polish family of foresters. After the war, upon returning to his town, Moshe discovered that he was the only one of his family to survive. He eagerly joined the “kibbutz” in Kielce so as to emigrate to the Land. Upon our arrival in Italy, Moshe, who was under the age of sixteen, was sent to the children’s village in Salvino. He arrived in the Land eight months after us.
Tzipporah Gryntuch was ten years old when the war broke out. She grew up in a religious Zionist home. Her tinsmith father was a diligent worker who thoughtfully provided his family with a suitable livelihood. In June of 1943, Tzipporah was transferred together with her entire family to the labor camp outside of Ostrowiec. From there they were sent in August 1944 to Auschwitz. From there she was taken to a labor camp in Sudetenland, but this time without her family. Her friend Tovah Goldwaser remained with her and the two of them survived. Upon returning to her town, she did not need convincing that her place was with the “kibbutz” whose goal was to emigrate to the Land of Israel: Her father had the foresight before the war to purchase a four-dunam plot of land in Kefar Ata. She knew with certainty that there she would never be lost or forlorn.
Tovah Goldwaser was eleven when the war broke out. She also grew up in a religious household. Her father was one of Ostrowiec’s town leaders, esteemed even in the eyes of its Polish residents. He ran a business for transporting goods. Up to the 1929 economic depression, their situation was fine. Tovah was born that same year, the youngest of four siblings (she had two other brothers and a sister).
After the war broke out, her father worked under the aegis of the Jewish Committee to secure supplies of food for the community. In this capacity he also saw to the needs of the indigent and the thousands of refugees that had streamed into Ostrowiec. In August 1942, the family was slated to be sent to the extermination camp, but was saved from this fate through the help of friends. Instead, they were deported to the Pionki labor camp where they were put to work in a munitions factory. At the end of July 1944, the family was transferred to Auschwitz from where the men were sent to a labor camp in Germany and murdered just before the end of the war. Tovah and her mother were sent to a labor camp in the vicinity of Bergen-Belsen, where they also worked manufacturing munitions. In April 1945 they were both loaded on to freight cars. At one of the stations, the train was stalled for several days without the prisoners being allowed to exit the cars. The train was bombed from the air and many of those trapped in it were wounded. Among the wounded was Tovah’s mother, who sustained a severe injury to her leg. The German civilian authorities saw to burying the dead, hospitalizing the wounded in a local hospital, and sending the unharmed off on a march escorted by armed Germans. After a journey of some days, the marchers, Tovah amongst them, were liberated by the Soviet Army. Tovah traveled on to Poland and reached the city of Czestochowa, where she took shelter in the community house. She then continued to Ostrowiec, but did not find any of her relatives. She wasn’t even allowed to enter her family’s home due to the protestations of its new occupants. Having no other choice, she returned to Czestochowa where she met some acquaintances with whom she returned to Ostrowiec, taking shelter with them. When she heard that there was a group of Ostrovtzer youths organizing to join the “kibbutz” in Kielce, she decided to go with them.
Bella (Belkah) Gartner was raised in a Zionist family from which no one survived aside from her. When she reached us, she was sixteen years old (photo 2). She was an introverted young girl, intelligent and alert. She secretly wrote poetry as well as hymns to Zion. She was the only one of the Ostrovtzer youths to join us who knew Hebrew. Her brother, Abba Gartner, fell while fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. When we left Kielce, she decided to remain there and was murdered a year later.
Libby Orensztajn (photo 10, standing first on the right) remained in Kielce together with Bilhah Gartner. Sometime later she met her brother and together they traveled to Germany from where they emigrated to Canada at the invitation of a relative. She died of cancer in Montreal in 1988.
 Aharon Fridental served before the war as a local correspondent (volunteer) for the Israeli paper HaBoker. During the years 1946-48 he was active in the Berichah (“smuggling” of Jews into Palestine) and served on the Central Committee of the Ichud and chairman of the Religious Congress in Warsaw. He emigrated to Israel in 1951.