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elvira kohn

There was a Jewish community in Vinkovci and in general there was a rich and lively Jewish life. We celebrated Chanukkah and Purim together and had parties on holidays. Those took place in the cultural center in Vinkovci, not in the community building.

I assume that there wasn't enough space in the community building for such celebrations because a lot of people came to celebrate. The Jews were the ones who organized and participated in the celebrations, of course. We gave performances on Chanukkah and Purim. It was customary to dress up and put on masks for Purim. We danced, sang Jewish songs and socialized with other Jews, our friends, and always had a good time.

Within the Jewish community there was also a Jewish Youth Club and I was a member. We used to meet in the community building and talked, learned some Hebrew and some Jewish history, exchanged knowledge and ideas, or just spent time together. Sometimes we had visits from the youth of the Jewish Community Vukovar or from other Jewish communities, or we went to visit them.

Then we interacted with our fellow Jews and spoke about Jewish life in other places. That was always interesting and I enjoyed meeting with Jews from other places. We had many lectures and discussions on ideas about creating a Jewish state. I suppose that we were Zionist-oriented and nurtured the Zionist ideology. There were no summer camps, not that I remember, but we organized inter-town visits and exchange.
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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.
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I went to that Hashomer Hatzair [4] too. I went there just like that, because I had friends who were members. That was a left-wing organization, but a Zionist one. Good, active, they were mostly into sport, less of the politics and mostly physical culture. They had this hut rented on the same street as the synagogue, and that was where the meetings were held. There were trips too. I remember we would go to the woods in these gray uniforms and short trousers. And at the end - from 1936 to 1937 - I belonged to the Zukunft [5]. But that was for a short time and I remember very little.
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He was into politics a bit - on the side of the left-wing parties. He wasn't a particular activist, but he belonged. I just can't remember if it was to the Bund [1] or one of the other left-wing parties. He definitely didn't belong to any of the Zionist parties; if it wasn't to the Bund then I think it was to the Communists, but they were illegal at the time [see Polish Workers' Party] [2].
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nisim navon

Before the war I wasn't involved in political life. Jews had their own
cultural organization that belonged to the synagogue. I was a member of it.
I was a Zionist. Each house in Pristina had a blue cash-box in which we put
money each Friday. A delegation of three people from Belgrade or another
European center came once a year to collect the money, which was used for
buying land, kept by Arabs, in Palestine.
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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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Joseph didn't participate at all in Community or public affairs. I don't know if he was even at B'nai B'rith [9]. Joseph supported the Zionists. His son influenced him to go 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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None of us was in Maccabi [54]. I remember Maccabi took part in all the parades because of their music band; they always used to win some prize. They had the best orchestra out of all the scout organization. They were very organized. Our parents never even suggested to us to take part. They regarded it as waste of time, and that we should be more devoted to our studies instead.

It doesn't mean that whoever was in Maccabi was a Zionist. There was another organization that was called Betar [55], which was clearly Zionist and strongly Zionist in fact. It was a youth organization. Betar was the right wing of Zionism. They would gather at my grandmother's and grandfather's house. There was a mid-basement that had been rented out to them. That's where they would meet. They used to say that we should understand that we would go and build the state of Israel.

There were other organizations, too. There were the old graduates of the Alliance, the Association des Jeunes Juifs [56]. It was a youth club, mostly to meet people, to dance, meet girls etc. We weren't signed in anywhere. We didn't really have the time anyway, because when we finished school the war started. The only union that I was signed in with was the YMCA, where we used to go for the summer camp and at the Sailing Club. I went to the YMCA summer camp in 1934 and 1935 in Ai Giannis [village in the region of Thessaly, 270 km south of Thessaloniki]. We didn't have a problem at all with the fact that the YMCA was a Christian camp, none at all.
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After the war, we followed all the events that were taking place in Israel, especially during the Six-Day-War [89] and the Yom Kippur War [90].

When Israel was founded in 1948 [91], we were very afraid, because 200 million Arabs wanted to fight against 3 million Israelis. We were afraid of what was going to happen. I was pleased when it became a state, because a state had to be created. We knew from the start that not all the Jews were going to live there, because it was very small and this was impossible.

Nevertheless, it was important that a state be created and we then were very proud about the fact that they managed against 200 million and the others got scared and left. They left on their own, no one kicked them out, they just left.

The Diaspora Jews were secretly sending money to Israel. Everyone was contributing some money and the government knew it and tolerated it because they didn't want to cause any problems. I contributed some money, personally, too.

Not only did I give some money, but I was also one of the people who were collecting the money. At the time of the war everyone gave something because things didn't look well at all. We were wondering whether Israel would survive. Wherever you went you would have conversations about it with the other Jews. We talked about it with other traders from our neighborhood, too.

At the beginning, just after the war, we heard about the situation in Israel via the radio. We talked about it with other Jews but not with Christians because they were all pro-Palestinian. They thought that we went there and kicked them out of their state. Our friends never said things like that to us, or at least when they would talk about it with us they wouldn't say such things.

Generally, the country was in favor of the Arabs. That happened because there were many Greeks living in Arab states and they didn't want to put them in an awkward position. That was the main reason.

We were scared during the Yom Kippur War. When the Six-Day-War happened we didn't have enough time to be afraid. It happened in an instant. We were scared before though.
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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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Rafael Genis

My elder brother was a member of Betar [3] and enrolled me there. I didn't attend the meetings of Betar, where the methods of foundation of the Jewish state were discussed. Our Grandpa made brown shirts for me and my brother. I became a member of Maccabi [4], we often arranged all kinds of sports game and contests. We still celebrated Jewish holidays and Sabbath at home and we did it not to hurt our parents. On holidays I went to the synagogue with my father though I didn't believe in God at that time.
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Krystyna Budnicka

First she was taken to the Jewish children's home, then to Cracow, and today she lives in Israel. They tried to persuade me to go as well, but I didn't want to, and I was old enough that they could hardly have forced me. The same people came to the children's home several times, and they carried on coming when we were back in Warsaw, too. [Editor's note: The children's home returned to Warsaw in 1946, and was located on Czerniakowska Street.] Once a man came to visit me claiming to be my cousin and telling me he was going to take me to Palestine. But I knew he was no relative of mine. I was very hurt that he tried to deceive me.
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I remember that Perla once took me to some Zionist meeting. Because I recall a song in Polish that went, 'We Jewess-patriots have paws like pussy-cats...' and more about us having something to do with the Arabs.
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Janina Duda

In 1948 he left for Israel with his wife, as part of Haganah [3], ‘the fight for Israel.’ These are interesting things, how people’s fates become twisted.
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