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elvira kohn

During the communist times, I was in the JNA, I was a member of the Party. I worked and socialized with others who were in the Party; that was my life, that was my world. Today people say terrible things about communism, but it wasn't so bad after all. Maybe in certain aspects it was better than it is today; only, we aren't allowed to say that, it just doesn't sound right.

Immediately after the war, I went to the Jewish community on Palmoticeva Street to become a member. Through the community I re-established relations with my aunt Adela in Brazil and my cousin Zlata in Israel. I've never been to Brazil, but to Israel I went several times.

The first time I went in 1950 to visit Zlata. It wasn't easy to get permission to leave the country because I was among the high-ranking officers in the Party. At last, after many attempts and rejections, I spoke with one officer-general who helped me get a permission to go to Israel. I left from Rijeka on a boat, and arrived in Haifa. It was an amazing trip because there I met with Zlata and her family and I also saw many people who had been interned on Rab with me. But, I never developed any deep feelings for Israel. I was also invited to Zlata's son's bar mitzvah and I went.

Then there was her son's wedding, and I went again, and I think I visited Israel another couple of times. Had I not been in the JNA and the Party, I would have considered to move to Israel. But I was in the army, and I was very much connected to it, and I couldn't help myself. In addition, my mother wasn't so young any more, and it was a risk to go because I didn't know what kind of job I could get there. The Party never criticized me for going to Israel. Everyone always respected me because I always openly admitted that I was Jewish and never hid my origins.

Both my mother and I became members of the Jewish community. I attended celebrations for holidays, if I was in Zagreb. Because I traveled a lot, I couldn't become more active in the community. The fact that I was in the army and went to the community at the same time had no consequences. I never directly told anyone in the army that I went to the Jewish community; that was my personal and private business. If I was in Zagreb for Chanukkah or Purim, I went to the celebrations.

I took my mother to the synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and waited outside. I didn't enter because I didn't want the wrath of the Gods, so to speak. There were services for holidays that my mother always attended, and I know that there were people who went, and the people who conducted the services, but I'm not in the position to say much more about it. When I went, I mostly went to the afternoon meetings and tea parties, or to the meetings organized by the women's department.
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Jankiel Kulawiec

And all that time I thought a few times about going to Israel. The first time was when the Haganah [19] was being formed - with friends we wanted to go as volunteers. We even went to Left Poalei Zion to sort it out, but something didn't work out, I can't remember what. Then in 1968, when there were all those problems, I sent my papers off to Warsaw, to the Ministry of Interior Affairs, but they turned me down. And after that my wife didn't want to, because couples from mixed marriages that went didn't get along too well there, goy women in particular had trouble acclimatizing there. So I only ever went to Israel to visit family, when it was allowed [from 1967 to 1989 Poland did not maintain diplomatic ties with Israel]. I went the first time in 1989, I went with my daughter, to visit the last remaining Kulawieces. I went again in 1994. But before that all I had was contact by letter.
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Mico Alvo

In 1932 Joseph left for Palestine. For one, because he wanted to avoid that his son had to do his military service, but also because his son was a Zionist. In fact, he used to say that he will go there and go to the school for agricultural studies. He didn't take agricultural studies there and went to a bank instead. In Palestine Joseph was working for a bank. I think he was a partner at the Recanati Bank.

He was still interested in the business in Thessaloniki without being present or working. My father promised him that his part of the business wouldn't be touched by anybody else. Each one owned half of the company. He would take part of the earnings, as usual. Until the Germans came, they would share everything. He would come and visit us in Thessaloniki at least once a year, but Father never went to visit him. Daniel went a couple of times.

Joseph settled in Tel Aviv. They rented a very beautiful house in a central avenue. They felt very lonely there. They didn't have the circle of people they had here. They didn't have their friends around or anyone from the family. Joseph wanted to drag with him someone from the family because he felt very lonely there. But he didn't succeed.

Daniel went and didn't like it at all, especially the water. 'What kind of water is that?', he was saying, 'This smells like a rotten egg. How do you drink this water?' In fact my father insisted very much on their coming back. 'What are you doing down there?', he used to tell them, 'come back and we will all live together.' Luckily they didn't come back and were saved by pure luck. Joseph died after the war, in 1965.

Marcel was a Zionist. He used to tell me sometimes, 'We will do this, we will do that.' That a state would be created, and the state of Palestine would become a Jewish state. He was a supporter of Herzl [10]. We used to hang out with Marcel because he thought of us as his younger cousins.
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As I mentioned before, Bella was born in Malta, not in Thessaloniki. Her family was Maltese. She spoke English, because Malta was something like a British colony then. They were British citizens. Only much later did they come to Greece.

They survived [World War II] because they left for Israel [then Palestine]. Her other siblings though, who didn't go to Palestine and stayed here and opened a business, when we were at war with the Italians [8], the British ships came and took them to the Middle East since they had British citizenship.
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To tell you the truth, I didn't like the way that the Israelis treated the Arabs, that is, in this very arrogant way. That harmed Israel very much. This has been my opinion for years now. That time especially with Sharon when this thing happened in Lebanon. It wasn't Sharon, who did it, but surely he should have intervened and stopped them and things would have been very different. Because in that case the Palestinians would have him..., while he remained cold-blooded, in my opinion, and allowed this to happen.

He didn't interfere, when he had the responsibility to do so. I am talking about the attack of the refugee army camps in Beirut, at Sabra and Shatila [92]. I had enough of him then, I mean I never liked Sharon after this. Even when he became the Prime Minister, I didn't like him at all.

We didn't have any business relationships with Israel at all. After the liberation I went to Israel a couple of times. I can't say that I was impressed the first time that I went there. I didn't like the Israelis either, to tell you the truth, because they were rude.

They had this pride and arrogance: 'You see, we fought this war and we won.' And they regarded everyone below them. Because they were saying things like, 'You sit there and while we are fighting all you want to do is make money.' Alright I agree, but could you have done it without the help of others?

I went with Mari to Haifa on a holiday once. We went up to the Carmel [93], to a very nice hotel. We could see the sea, the city etc. There were many others there on holiday, too. When they found out that we weren't Israelis but... and we nevertheless talked, but they had this very arrogant look. That really bothered us.
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In Gaza we stayed for as long as we had to, in order to finish our training: four months. I remember when I took a leave for Tel Aviv. I went as often as I could, I would always go to my uncle's house. They gave me a leave when he first came and visited me with a marshal from Tel Aviv. Later on, before I left for Egypt, they gave me permission for a week, I think, or ten days, because I was leaving.

We were crossing the borders from Egypt to Palestine on the train. We would go through customs in Kaltara. The name of the place where the customs were was Al Kaltara. It took about twelve hours on the train. And all the trains were army trains. I stayed at Uncle's Joseph house. He lived in a very nice area: at Rothschild, Boulevard Rothschild. I ate with them, we would go out together, and my uncle took me to buy me some clothes because I had nothing.

In the beginning, when I found my uncle in Tel Aviv, I felt great love and trust towards him. He treated me really well. Uncle Joseph was a landowner in Tel Aviv. He would buy land and construct buildings. He also worked in the Discount Bank, which was one of the largest banks. But because he and his son didn't get along with the rest of the associates, they had withdrawn. It was one of their biggest mistakes in life, because later on the bank became an international bank.

I don't remember if Grandfather and Grandmother Saltiel were already there when I went to the Middle East. I met them in Palestine every time that I would get a permit to go out. They lived in Tel Aviv. I used to visit Grandfather and Grandmother when I went to my uncle's Joseph. They rented a room. They had brought some money with them. Not a lot, but Grandfather had some.

I didn't know Hebrew, but this is what was happening. At the time, the first immigrants that had come were from Germany, and they all spoke German. For example, just like they speak English in Palestine now, back then it was the German language. In any shop that you would get in, if you spoke German, they would understand you.

I was more interested in the fact that I was in a family environment again. I appreciated that very much. I couldn't see any difference in that I was with many other Jews. I wasn't aware that it had to be Jewish land. And I didn't imagine that it could happen either. I knew that many Jews lived there. I didn't feel more at home, I never felt that there. I could only feel the difference between being under occupation back home and being free there. I was quite proud that I was wearing an air force uniform. I didn't have any conversations on this subject with Uncle Joseph. He never suggested that I should stay there. He had his interests there and he hoped that he would keep having his interests there.
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My grandmother Alvo was either a cousin or an aunt of David Florentin, who was a Zionist. [Editor's note: David Florentin was a leading Zionist functionary in Thessaloniki. In the late 1920s he purchased land from Arabs and settled in Palestine.] The first people that left from here and went to Palestine, left with him. In fact there is an area in Tel Aviv that is called Florentin. We knew each other. He sometimes went to visit my grandmother. I would hear my parents talk about him in the house. But my father had a completely different opinion. The Community was then divided between the Zionists and the assimilationists. My father totally swore to assimilation. But he was never involved with the administration of the Community. He was well known, he used to help out - mainly financially - but he was never involved with the Community.
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Krystyna Budnicka

I went to Israel for the first time in 1961. Everyone at work was astonished when I came back a few weeks later. I think they were sure I would stay there. But I didn't want to stay there. I've been to Israel twice, in 1961 and 1989. I love it very much, but I would never take the decision to move there because my roots are here. Israel is a very special place for me because it's a Jewish country, the cradle of both Judaism and Christianity. My country. Mine is the grave of Rachel and mine the grave of Christ. I'm no missionary, so for me Judaism and Christianity form a kind of whole. I'm very happy when I'm in Israel and I always want to return there. But my home is here, and it's here that I feel relatively secure. I'm alone here, because I have no family, but I'm not lonely. I don't think I would be happier anywhere else. Perhaps in Israel? If I had emigrated years ago.
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Janina Duda

Apart from that, it’s a country like any other, people like everywhere, except there is a difference between European Jews and African, Asian Jews, difference between Sephardi [41] and Ashkenazi Jews. And there are lots of them there. When I was once staying with this friend of mine, it was the Easter [Pesach] holidays. And she says, ‘Come, I’ll show you a synagogue of Abyssinian [Ethiopian] Jews.’ And there was this woman walking there, an Abyssinian – what a beauty she was! European features, because they don’t have African features, but black as tar, such a beautiful face, full figure; it turned out she had four or five children, she was walking to meet her husband, who was a curator in the museum. And the clothing of these Abyssinian Jews…

When it comes to politics, there is a large difference with regards to their attitude to political issues. Firstly, social-democrats and socialists there are mostly Europeans and these most backward ones, the religious ones, are the African and Asian Jews. It was said here all the time that you can communicate in Polish in Israel. But that’s not true, not true. When I was taking a tram or bus and I asked something in Polish, no one answered, in German – no one, in French – yes; there were many Jews from Morocco and they understood French.
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I also visited a kibbutz. It is true that the people who set these up were very ideological, but these kibbutzim were not communes. Yes, people worked together, but they had everything they needed and they studied, whoever wanted to leave, could leave, etc.
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Alexandra Ribush

Last year my daughter visited Israel. She came back delighted, told me about the Wailing Wall, about the sanctuaries of our nation. She told me a lot and I began to understand what kind of country Israel, our historical motherland, was.
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Henrich Kurizkes

My family and I were very enthusiastic about the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 [54]. I think it's a great joy for all Jews scattered all over the world that our state recovered after many thousands of years. When mass departures to Israel started in the 1970s, we supported those who decided to move there as much as we could and were happy to hear that they adapted to life in the newly gained country. A number of our relatives and acquaintances were among them. My cousin Mirah and her family left.

My wife and I didn't consider emigration. I was a professional military officer and after resignation I was not allowed to depart for ten years. Later my wife and I started thinking that we might never see our daughter and grandchildren again if we moved. We couldn't even imagine that we would be able to visit Israel or invite our relatives to visit us. So we stayed here. Our son and his family visit us and call us every week.

Miriam and I have also visited Israel. We took our first trip in 1994. Then we had another trip. I also attended the World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem. Israel made a wonderful impression on me. I felt at home there. Of course, there are problems, but this is common in all countries. What is most important is that this little prosperous country should live in peace.
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Isroel Lempertas

There were 5 daughters, including my mother born in 1897. The eldest sister, who was couple of years older than my mother, had a double name Rosa and Shifra. She was called Shifra in our family. Her husband Aba Mets did not have a permanent job. He got by odd jobs. Shifra and Aba had two sons- Rafael, 4 years older than me and Nahman, who was my age. When the Great Patriotic War [2] was unleashed, we fled with the family of aunt Shifra. Her husband Aba was in the labor front first [3]. He worked at some military plant in Siberia. Then he was drafted in the army and served in Lithuanian division #16 [the battalion is called Lithuanian because it was formed mostly from the former Lithuanian citizens, who were volunteers, evacuated or serving in the labor front]formed in 1943. Aba was killed in action in 1943 shortly after he had been drafted. He was not a young man at that time. Shifra and the boy came back to Lithuania and settled in Vilnius. About 20 years ago, she and her children left for Israel. Shifra had lived a long life and died in early 1990s. Her sons are doing well in Israel now.
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