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Permanent Exhibitions > Eastern European Jewry > Stories from our Ancestral Homes


Our Family
by Sol and Toby Rubenstein

LAPY, POLAND
 

INTRODUCTION

T
he story of our family which I have written is what I remember; but most of it was told to me by my parents, especially my mother, whose vivid memory of incidents and people have been an invaluable source of knowledge and inspiration.

The story of Toby's family was told to me by Toby and by a letter of memories written by her sister Goldie in a letter written to our nephew, Dr. Albert Sattin.



LAPY, POLAND

The one-story brick house in which I was born on March 2, 1916 stood on the main street in Lapy, Poland, twenty-five kilometers south of the city of Bialystok. Lapy, a small town called in Yiddish "shtetl," was a major railroad crossing for the Warsaw-Vilna line. It had approximately one hundred Jewish families and three-thousand gentile families in 1939. The main industry was government railroad repair shops that employed about 4,000 gentile people. The Jewish population was discriminated against and denied the opportunity to work at the railroad shops.

Two of the major streets were Main Street and Railroad Street. The few side streets were no more than alleys inhabited mostly by Jewish residents. Most of the gentiles lived at the outskirts of town in small villages. Each family had a house with two or three acres of land to plant grains, potatoes, vegetables and to raise a few livestock and poultry. Most of the Jewish people were merchants and tradesmen. Each family  had the front part of their home as a place of business and  the back room as their living quarters. My entire family consisted of uncles, aunts, great-uncles, great-aunts, and their children branched out into ten separate and independent families. Each family had their own home and retail business on Main Street. Their businesses dealt with the farmers and railroad employees.

My father, Yizhak Jacob Rubinstein, was born in the village of Lomzice in 1885. Lomzice is near the city of Lomza in Eastern Poland.

At that time, Lomza was not part of Poland, but part of Russia. My grandfather, Samuel Mordecai Rubinstein, was a contractor and supply merchant to the Russian army units stationed in Lomzice. My grandmother, Esther, died when my father was born. My grandfather then remarried grandmother Esther's sister, Sarah. My father's three brothers were Sam, Benjamin and Moshe David. Sam emigrated to the United States in 1912 and settled in Brooklyn, New York. Benjamin immigrated to the United States and settled in Boston, Massachusetts. Moshe David immigrated to Argentina in 1921 and settled in Buenos Aires.

My early recollections of the Rubinstein grandparents still remain with me. I remember walking with my grandfather, Samuel Mordecai, to the synagogue, writing Yiddish letters for Grandma Sarah to her sons in America and Argentina, and being rewarded for it with all kinds of goodies.



FATHER IN THE RUSSIAN ARMY

Father served with the Russian Army in Finland from 1906 to 1909. When World War I started between Russia and Germany in 1914, father was again mobilized to Russian army fighting units on the western front. During this time he was wounded in his arm and sent to a hospital in Moscow. Father used to call this hospital "Tzarske selow," which means "the Tzar's palace." It was one of the military-hospitals for the Tzar's soldiers injured in the war. After six months of hospitalization, he was discharged and sent home. Our shtetl Lapy was then under the occupation of the German army. My father was arrested for being a former Russian soldier and was sent to Germany to a prisoner-of-war detention camp; or like Father used to call it in German, "gefangen lager." He remained there close to a year.

I don't remember my father ever telling stories of his war experiences, but my mother was quite a good storyteller. She told me about my father being wounded in his arm. When I was older she told me about the time Father came back from the prisoner-of-war camp, and he was wearing his old Russian uniform. As a child, having the fear of soldiers, I told my mother to tell the soldier he should leave the house. Germany lost the war in 1918, but the Armistice of 1918 did not last very long. By 1920, fighting erupted between the newly-formed Polish armies and the Bolsheviks.

As a four-year old boy, I can remember our family going to the house of my great-uncle Jacob Ogulnik. His was a brick house with a basement that was used as a shelter for protection from the bombs and artillery fire. the constant explosions of the artillery fire shook me up so that I can remember myself jumping up or shaking at any unexpected noise.

After the Armistice, Poland regained its independence after one-hundred fifty years of Russian, German and Austrian occupation. The terms of the Armistice and the Treaty of Versailles included provisions protecting the National rights of minorities, and to abolish all discrimination due to religious, racial or national differences.



THE POLISH ARMY AND INDEPENDENCE

These promises were never fulfilled. With the establishment of the Republic of Poland, more discriminations and intolerable acts of anti-Semitism occurred during all my growing years from 1918 to 1939. My parents always repeated the stories to me about the years after the Armistice of 1918 to 1921. They wanted me to never forget the pogroms and the anti-Semitic acts of violence of Poland's newly-formed armies. A name I often heard was "Hallerczycy," which meant General Haller's army. This army was responsible for the murder of Jews and anti-Jewish pogroms.

I remember coming home from school one day in fourth-grade with a story to tell my mother. I had learned about Poland's army and their victory for independence after so many years of foreign occupation. Mother had an explanation for me in a few words. She told me that Poland's independence had nothing to do with the army. It could only be credited to the United States of America and the Treaty of Versailles. Years later I realized how right she was...



AFTER THE WAR

The economy after the war in all of Europe was in a desperate situation with the shortages of food, clothing and medical supplies. Thanks to American relief under the leadership of Herbert Hoover, who later became President of the United States, shipments of food and medical supplies arrived for the starving population. My father was the committee chairman responsible for the fair and equal distribution of food supplies in the Lapy area. I remember the framed picture of President Herbert Hoover as the man responsible for this great humanitarian endeavor. My parents always mentioned that my brother Eli, as a baby, was very sick at the time. They claimed that the American evaporated milk is what saved his life.



VEVKE COCOA

A story related to that time was about a man in our shtetl of Lapy named Vevke Cocoa, I often asked my parents why people called this man Cocoa, since his real name was Bloustein. I was given an explanation that during the time of the American food distribution, Vevke Bloustein had always asked for cocoa and nothing else. He liked the taste of cocoa so much that he would trade everything he had for it. Therefore, people nicknamed him "Cocoa," and the name of Vevke Cocoa remained forever.



THE ODELSKI FAMILY FROM LAPY

Although my father was a newcomer to Lapy, my mother, Chaje Lea Odelski, was the granddaughter of Joseph Odelski, the founder of the town. My great grandfather Joseph Odelski came to Lapy from a small town near Vilna in the 1850s. This was at the time when the Warsaw-Vilna railroad line and the machine shops were being built in Lapy. When the construction was finished and the railroad moved farther north to Vilna, some of the working men sold their homes to my great-grandfather and they moved on. The total purchase was six large parcels of property, all located on Main Street. Some of the parcels were built like a compound with a well in the middle, surrounded by houses and gardens.

As newlyweds, great-grandfather Joseph Odelski and great-grandmother Heidi Odelski established the first general store in Lapy. Soon the name Joseph Odelski was known all over the vicinity as the "Store," the "Place," and the "Man" to do business with. Great-grandfather became to be known as a man of his word, a man you could depend on. The saying was that "you can build a building on his word alone." His promise and his commitment did not leave any doubt. Great-grandfather Joseph and his wife Heidi raised nine children: four boys and five girls. Two of the girls immigrated to San Francisco in the 1890s. Information of their whereabouts or their families is not known. As more Jewish families settled in Lapy, great-grandfather became instrumental in building a synagogue with a house for the Rabbi and his family. With the expansion of the railroad, more Jewish families settled in Lapy which expanded trade and commerce. Before World War I, Lapy had a Jewish population of one-hundred Jewish families. Due to the increase in the Jewish population, a second synagogue was built next to the old synagogue and it was called the "new synagogue." I can remember the old and the new synagogue as the center of all Jewish activities.



CHAJE LEA ODELSKI AND HER FAMILY

Chaje Lea Odelski was born in Lapy in 1888. Her father's name was Shlomo Odelski and her mother's name was Hanna Rachel. Grandmother Hanna Rachel was a very wise and ambitious woman. She raised four sons and four daughters. I remember when our whole family congregated at my grandmother's house on Friday evening for conversation, discussion and advice. Grandfather Shlomo was a very pious man and spent most of his free time studying the Talmud. My grandparents were retail merchants. I was named after my grandfather.

Listed below are the names of the eight siblings in my mother's family:
1) Falk Odelski--died in the Holocaust
2) Gershun Odelski--died in World War I from an illness
3) Leibel Odelski--died in World War I from an illness
4) Motel Odelski--immigrated to Australia in 1939
5) Feige Odelski Zolty--died in the Holocaust--WW II
6) Chaje Lea Odelski Rubinstein--died in the Holocaust--WW II
7) Pearl Odelski Gelchinski--died in the Holocaust--WW II
8) Malke Odelski Godigand--died in the Holocaust--WW II

Mother was a young girl in her early teens when she started to work for her grandfather by helping out in the store. In time she was familiar with all the operations. Great-grandfather Joseph was very proud of his first granddaughter taking part in the operation of the family business. I remember my mother always mentioning certain sayings about great-grandfather Joseph Odelski. For example, Grandpa said, "You can't fill up a sack when there are holes in it." "It's hard for an empty sack to stand upright." "God is generous to those who get up early." "There is nothing to cheer about when you get old, but youth also has its problems."

Mother used to tell the story about Grandpa showing a customer two bolts of calico dress fabric. The customer asked Grandpa why he was not saying anything about the fabric. Grandpa replied, "There is nothing I can say about this fabric. This fabric speaks for itself."



THE BIALYSTOK POGROM

The years of 1903-1906 were years of turmoil and unrest in Russia and Russian-occupied Poland. Russia's defeat in the Japanese-Russian war and the start of the revolutionary movement were a discredit to both the Tzar and the government. As usual, as in days or years past, the Jews were made the scapegoat.

The Russian government gave the reactionary press a free hand to engage in anti-Jewish incitement. The Russian word "pogrom" became a frightening word. It meant attack accompanied by destruction--the looting of property, murder, and rape, perpetuated by the Christian population against the Jews. In June of 1906, a pogrom occurred in the city of Bialystok, located twenty-five kilometers from Lapy. It caused about eighty Jews to lose their lives. the mob looted and murdered under the protection of the military and police forces.

Twenty-three years later in 1929, as a young man of thirteen attending school in Bialystok, I remember visiting the memorial for the victims and the place on Suraz Street where a Jewish defense unit called the "Iron Wall" were fighting back. The Iron Wall was strong in defending Jewish women and children. Soon the news came to Lapy that the hooligans were coming to start a pogrom. The entire Jewish population was invited to take refuge on a farm belonging to my wife Toby's grandfather Hillel Zolty in the village of Yenki, seven miles from Lapy. This saved many Jews from death and injury. Thirty-one years later in 1937, at the age of twenty-one, I was fortunate to marry the lovely granddaughter of Hillel and Rachel Zolty, Toby Stolarsky.

Great-grandfather Joseph Odelski was the only one in Lapy who refused to leave his home and business to seek refuge at Hillel Zolty's farm. The first pogromist who broke into his house was approached by Joseph Odelski. He asked him what he wanted. The pogromist was stunned because he knew Grandfather and did not expect him to be there. Joseph Odelski took out a five-ruble gold piece and told him to get out. The pogromist fled with the coin, but the mob looted some of the Jewish homes. They broke windows and cut open the goose feather quilts for the wind so the feathers would carry all over town. I remember my mother singing the revolutionary songs and the songs of the pogroms of that period as lullabies for my younger brothers and sister.

Great-grandfather's admiration for Hillel Zolty's concern, honesty, and influence among the gentile population and the authorities was the reason that Joseph Odelski named Hillel Zolty executor of his will. As my mother told me the story, she said it was a very difficult job, but the distribution of the estate was fair to all parties concerned. As the friendship of the two families grew stronger, the first marriage of Hillel Zolty's son, Yitzchak Itche Zolty, to my mother's sister Feigl Odelski in 1908, united the Zolty and Odelski families. My wife Toby was born in 1912 in Yedwabno (Jedwabne), a small town not far from the city of Lomza in Eastern Poland, then under Russian occupation.



THE STOLARSKYS FROM JEDWABNE

Toby's father Moses Stolarsky and her grandfather Shmuel Berl Stolarsky were cabinet makers. Furniture was made and sold on the premises, loaded onto horse-drawn wagons and taken to markets and fairs. The name Stolarsky in Polish means 'carpenter' or 'cabinet maker.' We assume that the Stolarsky ancestors were carpenters.

The Stolarsky family owned a two-story brick building. The lower half was occupied as their shop and living quarters, and the upstairs was rented out as a glove manufacturing shop and living quarters for the shop owner and his family. The building was located on a corner in the country. There were sheds, a barn and chicken coops. In the extreme opposite corner there was a permanent brick succah with a roof that could be pulled open. During the year the succah was used as a storage place for garden tools and lumber; but for the holidays, the succah was cleaned out. Tables and benches were scrubbed and all the neighbors were invited to participate in a succah feast.

Across the street was the vegetable garden. The potato field was near the outskirts of the town. When the crops were dug up in late summer or early fall, potatoes were stored in the cellar along with beets and carrots from the garden. Cabbage was made into sauerkraut in a large barrel. Neighbors were always welcomed and they came with bowls for sauerkraut. Cucumbers were pickled and beets were made into borscht. Beans and peas were dried.

There was a need for a good supply of produce because the workers and the young boys in apprentice at the cabinet making shop were served at least one big meal a day, six days a week. Most of the baking was done at home; not only cake, but the daily bread as well. Halle (egg bread twisted) for Shabbat and the traditional Cholent (containing meat, potatoes, beans and barley) were prepared and put into a hot oven on Friday to be served on Shabbat following service and kiddush.

The Stolarsky family also owned a flour mill. The farmers used to bring to them their grains for milling. During World War I, Toby's father Moses Stolarsky was accused of giving signals to the enemy by the smoke coming out of his power mill. It was a serious charge. A delegation of the town's leadership was formed immediately, headed by the town's landowner. They convinced the military authorities of his innocence and he was released. After World War I, Toby's father was elected committee chairman for the town of Yedwabno and was responsible for the fair and equal distribution of American relief of food and medical supplies for the hungry population.



STOLARSKY IMMIGRATION TO THE U.S.

Grandfather Shmuel Berl Stolarsky and grandmother Odes Stolarsky died in Yedwabno at the turn of the century. Listed below are the names of the seven siblings in the family, from the oldest to the youngest:

1. Abram Stolarsky
2. Bryna Weiss Stolarsky
3. Sarah Goldberg Stolarsky
4. Feige Sidlow Stolarsky
5. Moses Stolarsky
6. Rachel King Stolarsky
7. Mendel Stolarsky

They all settled in Detroit, Michigan after immigrating to the United States. Abraham and Sarah and their spouses were the first to come to the United States at the turn of the century. The others followed and came before World War I. Only Bryna Weiss and her family, together with Toby's father Moses Stolarsky and her sister Goldie, immigrated in 1921 and settled in Detroit, Michigan. Toby's sister Edith immigrated in 1922. Toby's brother Shmuel Berl Stolarsky died of pneumonia in 1910 at the age of three. Toby and her mother both immigrated in 1923. The family was reunited and settled in Cleveland, Ohio. Toby's mother, Rivka Rae Stolarsky, was born in 1883 in the village of Yenki, about eight kilometers from Lapy. The twenty-five or thirty families of Yenki were all farmers.



THE ZOLTY FAMILY

Toby's grandparents Hillel and Rachel Zolty owned a good size dairy farm. They grew their own vegetables, potatoes and fruits along with baking their own bread. They were also owners of the village saloon. The Zolty family were the only Jewish family in the village. They were respected by their neighbors, and often their neighbors would come over for advice about their personal problems.

Toby's aunts and uncles were as follows:

1) Sima Zolty (Slavat), mother of Abe Slavat from Canada
2) Goldie Zolty
3) Yizhak Zolty
4) Abram Zolty

After Yizhak Zolty married my aunt Feigl Odelski in 1910, they moved to Lapy and he established himself as a wholesale merchant of flour and sugar. He also acquired real estate and a partnership in a lumber yard. He served as President of the Jewish community and a member of the city council in Lapy. His house was always opened for people to come over to discuss their problems or to help negotiate a settlement between conflicting parties. Yizhak was always an active participant in social actions. His charitable contributions were always above average.

In 1922, while Abram Zolty was taking care of the farm and the saloon, some anti-Semitic hooligans came into the saloon and picked a fight with Abram. His mother Rachel got so upset and frightened that she suffered a paralyzing stroke. She died five years later in 1927.

Grandfather Hillel Zolty, his brothers Arke and Berke, were born in the village of Ruz, about eight kilometers from the town of Sokoly and eighteen kilometers from the town of Lapy. Ruz was the estate of the Jeruzalskis (a family of Poland's gentry.) They were landowners of large parcels of land including orchards, forests, fields of grain, grazing land and cattle.

Toby's grandparents were involved as brokers for the many products of the estate. The two families had a good relationship, and as the years passed by, their children grew up to become each one to their own calling. The Jeruzalski siblings became a judge and the other a high-ranking military officer.

The Zolty siblings were high-class merchants and community leaders. Their childhood friendship continued, and as far as I can remember, they were always involved helping each other, especially in lawsuits--in areas around Sokoly and Lapy. Arke Zolty and Yitzchak Zolty were involved with Judge Jeruzalski in clarification of facts in order for him to arrive at a just and fair verdict. (The present Premier of Poland, Woichiech Jeruzalski, is a kin of the Jeruzalski family.)

Arke Zolty, Toby's grandfather's brother, was a very important man in the town of Sokoly and was very well liked. He was a member of the town's council and an excellent and successful negotiator between conflicting parties. In all social actions, he was always an active participant in important matters. He owned two lumber yards. In business transactions, he was trusted with large sums of money. He was a man of honesty, integrity, and a man of his word.

In the Fall of 1941 when the Germans occupied Sokoly, he was selected to the Judenrat (Jewish council.) In November 1942, the Germans ordered four hundred horse-drawn wagons to transport the entire Jewish population to the Treblinka extermination camp. Many Jews ran away to the forests. Among them was Arke Zolty. He was found murdered near the village of Jablonia.

Toby's grandfather's brother, Berke Zolty, lived in the town of Sokoly. His son, Nathan Zolty "Zahavi" emigrated to Israel with a group of young men and women before the First World War. In Israel he joined a group of pioneers and settled in a northern outpost in the upper Galilee called Tel Hai to guard outlying Jewish lands.

In March of 1920, Nathan Zolty Zahavi was wounded in the chest by a bullet alongside Tel Hai Commander Josef Trumpeldor during an attack by Arabs on an upper Galilee Jewish outpost. Nathan Zolty Zahavi later settled in Haifa on Mount Carmel. He prospered in Israel and sent for his father and sisters to come to Israel. Nathan Zolty "Zahavi" was the last surviving defender of Tel Hai. He died in Haifa on April 1, 1984 at the ripe old age of 93.

 

THE RUBINSTEINS AND THE TAX COLLECTOR

After World War I, my parents' livelihood came from a small retail store of general merchandise. They carried a combination of groceries to kerosene for lighting lamps to wallpaper. Anything that could be traded with the farmers or sold to the railroad employees and general population they carried. Our living quarters were in the back of the store. With a constant great effort and struggle, we tried to make a living just to survive from day to day.

The government of the newly-independent Poland passed new laws of high taxation. Commerce and trade was restricted and more poverty was created. The authorities collected taxes in a very cruel and uncivilized way. They did not care if a profit was made or not. If somebody was engaged in a small business or trade, the authorities demanded that a tax be paid. I can remember, as a young boy of fourteen, when the collector came to our home to collect taxes. We had very little merchandise and not much of anything else except for our one and one-half room house, and a little store room that Mother inherited from her parents. The tax collector was looking all over for some hidden merchandise. Not being able to find any, he took my father's watch and chain from his vest pocket, acting like a hold-up man. I remember my father mentioned this incidence with sadness. His watch was given to him by his father as a wedding present.

Years later, in 1940, we established the "St. Clair Hosiery Center," a retail store in Cleveland, Ohio. At tax time I filed an income tax return. When the clerk at the Federal Building looked at my return, he told me that I did not make enough money to pay a tax. He told me to go back to my business, make more money and come back next year to pay my tax. On the way home I thought of that terrible time in Poland when the tax collector grabbed my father's watch. I told myself how fortunate I was and how thankful I should be to live in this wonderful country, the United States of America.
 


YIZHAK JACOB AND CHAJE LEA RUBINSTEIN

My father was a learned man, knowledgeable in the Talmud, Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian literature. He enjoyed giving lectures and teaching the Bible and prayers to the children. I remember him as a man who never said anything bad about his fellow man. The Rabbi of Lapy, Rabbi Brisman (who later became the Rabbi in Warsaw), once remarked that Yizhak Jacob Rubinstein is the kindest man he ever met. When somebody was impatient or in a hurry, Father used to quote in Russian, "Drive slow, you will get there faster." He always emphasized the importance of the Yiddish quote, "Be a mensch." Reference: the meaning of the word "mensch" by Leo Rosten in his book, "The Joys of Yiddish," means "an upright, honorable, decent person, "Come on, act like a mensh!"

My parents often denied themselves for the benefit of their children, whether socially or economically. I remember that our family always had the front seat to the Eastern Wall of the synagogue. During the Shabbat and holiday services, my father insisted that his sons have the front seats. For himself, he took a seat in the back of the synagogue.

Mother always used to make reference to certain folk sayings she heard from her parents and grandparents. These sayings were passed on from generation to generation. When somebody was disappointed by a  friend or relative, Mother always used to say, "You will never know the nature of a person unless you  sit down with that person to eat a pound of salt." This means that the only way you'll know the nature of a person you associate with is by having some kind of dealings with that person. Speaking of accomplishments in life, Mother used to say, "Your life's success will depend on the degree you set for yourself to accomplish your goals." Another saying was, "When you chop wood, chips fly." This means that some mischance is always possible when you start some sort of venture. Another saying was, "It will come into your hand..." This meant that if you have misplaced or lost something, not to be concerned, for it will show up in time. Another saying was, "If not for the law, people would eat each other alive." This means that although some of the laws were not favorable to many people, the basic idea of law and order is good.



GROWING UP IN LAPY

When I was five years old, I started to go to Heder. It was a one teacher, one room school where we learned Hebrew prayers, the five books of Moses, the Bible, and readings and writings in Yiddish. I remember my first teacher, a kind old man with a long white beard. For lunch he had a piece of black bread with an onion and a glass of water. Sometimes kids would bring him an apple, a pear, a radish, or whatever their parents were able to spare. I remember some children used to come to Heder without lunch and beg for bread from the other children.

Yiddish was the only language I knew when I was growing up. My parents, however, both spoke Polish and Russian flawlessly. At home they spoke only Yiddish. When I was seven years old, I started public school for Jewish children so I could learn Polish. At home I sometimes spoke a few words in Polish and sang a Polish song I had learned in school, but my parents preferred that I sing in Yiddish instead. A few years later, I started an integrated school for Jewish and Polish children. Some of the Polish children were always harassing and looking for fights with the small minority of the Jewish children. I remember the parents waiting for the children after school with great anxiety due to their fear of their children getting hurt.

When I was twelve years old, I attended a Junior Yeshiva to study the beginning of the Talmud in the city of Bialystok, twenty-five kilometers from my home in Lapy. I lived in a rented room with two other boys. I had dinner each day in a different house. This was the custom for the young Yeshiva students. My dinners were arranged by my parents in the following order: Monday, I had dinner at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Rabinowich; Tuesday, I had dinner at Mr. and Mrs. Chorosh's home, and etc. That system was called "eating days," and in Yiddish was called "esen teg."

In 1930 the economic situation in Poland was turning from bad to worse. I don't remember my parents ever complaining. They were always so reassuring with their expressions of confidence that everything would be all right. They wished, hoped and prayed that it wouldn't get any worse. Every thought and idea in the family conversation was always in a positive tone. My parents used to tell us the stories of the past about the good old days and the bad times too. They believed that times would change for the better.

Although I knew that we were poor, my mind never became resigned to poverty. I was never in despair, but always full of hope of better times to come. In 1931, I began to help in our general store. I was interested in merchandising, buying and store organization. I was praised by my parents that I would be a good merchant like all the other merchants in my family, going back to my great-grandfather. At a family gathering, the possibility of a first ready-to-wear clothing store for our town was discussed as an opportunity. I liked the idea and became an apprentice to a clothing manufacturing shop in order to get acquainted with the operation of the manufacturing and the knowledge of style, fashion, qualities and grades of yardage and patterns.



THE BETAR, THE HACHSHARA, AND ZIONISM

Also, during this time, I attended night school for four years and took extra readings in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish. In 1931, I joined "Betar," a Zionist Revisionist Youth Organization. We learned Jewish history and the ideals and goals of the Zionist movement. The goal was the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, in addition to putting an end to living in the Diaspora with its persecutions, pogroms, destruction of Jewish communities, discrimination, bigotry, prejudice and hatred. We learned the teachings and ideals of Betar and the Zionist movement under the leadership of Zev Zabotinski. Youth chapters of Betar were organized in every state, town and city. We wore uniforms and learned self-defense, military discipline and honorable behavior. It was an enlightenment for the Jewish youth, and it made us feel good about ourselves. We were told to keep our heads up, to walk straight, and to stand up for our rights. Most of all we were told to approach every situation with honor and confidence.

Immigration to Israel was a goal every young man and woman looked forward to in those days. "Hachshara," the training preparation centers for life in Israel, specializing in farming, orchards, forestry and lumber, were organized in many places in Poland. After six months of training, at the age of eighteen, a person became qualified to apply for a certificate for immigration to Israel. In 1934, I decided to go for six months to Hachshara. I entered a training center for farming and forestry. It was six months of hard work, but I did everything that was required of me to do. When I came back from the Hachshara, I applied for a certificate to immigrate to Israel. It was my hope and my dream for several years. A reply in regards to my certificate arrived. I would have to wait my turn because there were more than ten-thousand applicants ahead of me. At that time Britain was limiting and restricting immigration to Palestine. Being disappointed, I found myself in a frustrating situation of being helpless in my efforts to get out of Poland.

I inquired about some information I received about illegal immigration to Palestine. I then contacted some people involved with illegal immigration to Palestine and Kenya, East Africa.



THE PERIOD BEFORE WORLD WAR II

The few radios we had in our shtetl were booming with Hitler speeches of hatred against the Jews. I saw refugees coming from Germany; they were educated and professional people without any means of support. boycotts against Jewish stores, anti-Semitic riots, and attacks against Jews convinced me that I must leave Poland as soon as possible. The question was how and where. There was no country in the world that was willing to let immigrants or refugees in, and no country in the world was willing to soften their immigration laws.

The period of 1936-1937 was especially a time of stress, pressure, aggravation, fear and worry for Jews in Poland. I saw my mother turning from a hopeful and cheerful person to one filled with hopelessness and depression. My father, a god-fearing man, kept his hope and confidence up through his belief in prayer. However, I do remember noticing his hair turning gray very fast. His looks and moods changed to care and worry.

In the beginning of 1937, I was approached by my Uncle Yizhak Zolty about his niece Toby Stolarsky who was residing in Cleveland, Ohio. She was coming to visit Poland and through marriage it would be possible for me to enter the United States legally. When we met in July of 1937, we knew then that without any doubt our marriage would be for real.



MARRIAGE, THE VISA  AND THE EMIGRATION

As I am writing this page, Toby and I are going to celebrate our forty-seventh wedding anniversary on August 14, 1984. During our courtship, we visited Toby's grandfather Hillel Zolty on his farm in Yenki, about six miles from Lapy. To Toby it was a nostalgic visit as she remembered the farmhouse and her grandparents when she was ten years old, before she and her mother left for America in 1923. We traveled to the farm and back by horse and wagon, the only transportation available at the time except for the railroad main lines. I remember that no one in our town owned an automobile in 1937. we were married on August 14, 1937 by the local rabbi of Lapy with an attendance of ten people at the rabbi's house. A few days later, Toby left Poland in order to return to the United States. She immediately applied to the State Department for a visa to be issued to me. In October of 1937, I received a letter from the American Council in Warsaw. They notified me that the visa for me was denied because of the sponsor's lack of sufficient funds as security. A second denial was issued to me in January of 1938. This was the time during the great American Depression when funds were limited to most people. Eventually Toby's parents were able to borrow the funds needed for the duration to secure my entry into the United States. They borrowed the money from a neighbor after all efforts from relatives failed.

While my visa was delayed, I was drafted in March of 1938 into Poland's armed forces. I was assigned to an infantry division. My term of service was for eighteen months ending on September 1, 1939. The Germans attacked Poland on that day, September 1, 1939. At a family conference, Uncle Yizhak Zolty said that risks would have to be taken to get me out of an army that was corrupt, weak and anti-Semitic. A medical officer, who would trade anything for a bottle of liquor, ordered me to a hospital for two weeks. After four months of service, they discharged me and sent me home. That time held too many fears, concern and uncertainty. Fear of war. Fear of informers. Fear of being falsely accused and arrested. I remember my Aunt Feigl Zolty expressing herself on the eve of Yom Kippur and not to miss a word--praying that I should receive my visa soon.

In about  ten days after Yom Kippur, I received a letter from the American Council in Warsaw saying that my visa was finally approved and I could leave Poland on January 5, 1939. On December 30, 1938 I left my little town "shtetl" Lapy with hope and enthusiasm for Warsaw to pick up my visa. I then went to Poland's port city of Gdynia to board the steamship of the Gdynia American Line, M.S. Batory. My uncle Yizhak Zolty accompanied me to Warsaw to pick up my visa and to process the necessary papers. When I was boarding the train for the port city of Gdynia, I noticed my Uncle Yizhak Zolty shedding tears of joy and accomplishment after all the obstacles, but also tears of great concern for the future. I can never forget this strongman with his thundering voice.

I remember observing the ship pulling away from Poland's shoreline into the open sea with nostalgia, (leaving) the land of my ancestors for seven hundred years. And leaving behind my friends and family: my father, Yizhak Jacob Rubinstein, my mother Chaje Lea Rubinstein, my brother Eli Rubinstein, my brother Joseph Rubinstein, and my sister Esther Rachel Rubinstein.

I arrived on a cold, sunny day, Sunday morning, January 15, 1939 at Hoboken, New Jersey. I remember the day before my arrival. I was up early to see and be welcomed by the United States and by the Statue of Liberty. After ten days at sea, I came off the ship and was met by Toby, my young bride, my uncle Sam Rubinstein and his son Danny. Everyone was there with happy, radiant smiles.

My first day in America at my uncle Sam Rubinstein's house in Brooklyn, New York was spent with my aunt Gussie Rubinstein, my cousins Danny, Marty and Stanley; all Rubinsteins. That day, Sunday, January 15, 1939, stands out in my mind quite vividly as I remember the children on the street in Brooklyn, New York, playing in the snow and hearing their happy, fearless voices loud and clear, just having a good time in the land of the free.

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these the homeless,
tempest-tossed  to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

--Emma Lazarus 1849-1887

REMEMBER

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it." -- George Santayana

"There is no greater sin than to forget." -- Simon Wiesenthal

This is the greatest tragedy to ever have befallen the Jewish people, including our family in Poland. The history of man knows no similar tragedy. From 1933 to 1945 the German nation had become a nation of murderers. They conquered most of Europe and instituted a reign of terror over the conquered peoples which in its calculated butchery of human spirit, outdid all the savage oppressions of the previous ages. Six million Jews; men, women, and children were inhumanely murdered.

This is a message to (our children and their families). NEVER, NEVER to forget this tragedy, this savagery and bestiality--the greatest crime in history committed by the German nation against the Jewish people. It should be a "remembrance" to all of you, your children, your children's children and for all future generations. The manifestations of anti-Jewish racism must promptly and rigorously be condemned, and there should always be a sharp Jewish reaction to movements of discrimination and prejudice.



FINAL NOTES

1. In a moment of thinking about home and family, while on board ship going to the South Pacific with the U.S. Army of Occupation in 1945, I took out some pictures to look at. The only picture (I had) of my sister Esther, a ten-year old girl, was accidentally blown from my hand and into the ocean. I realized then this great loss, since this was the only picture I had (of her.) I inquired from my friends and relatives in Israel and Australia, but to no avail.

2. Aunt Malke Godigand was in her home when two German soldiers came in and demanded money. When she told them she did not have any, they threw her into the cellar and beat her to death.

3. Cousin Shlomo Godigand was the first victim when the Germans attacked Poland, dropping bombs over Lapy. He was killed while he was riding his bicycle.

4. Uncle Motel Odelski emigrated to Australia in April 1939 with the intention of bringing over his wife, Rivka Odelski and their two little girls, ages five and seven. I don't remember their names (Malka and Mira--ed.) On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland and it was too late.

5. Before World War II, Uncle Yizhak Zolty was an important man in Lapy. He was president of  the Jewish community, city councilman, the owner of a successful business and a man of property. He was known in the courts of law and he had the respect of many important people. During the German occupation, he was hidden by a gentile in a forest bunker. Uncle paid the man every month. About two weeks before the Germans left, Uncle didn't have any more money to give the man, therefore, he shot Uncle.

6. Second cousin Aaron Svebrolov was shot to death in front of his house by the Germans.

7. Grandfather Hillel Zolty died of natural causes on his farm in Yenki near Lapy in 1942.

8. The family of great uncle Arke Zolty that included his wife Fradl, their two sons Chaim and David, their daughter-in-law Fella, and their grandson, a boy of two years who lived in the shtetl of Sokoly about twenty kilometers from the shtetl of Lapy...Sokoly had a Jewish population of three hundred Jewish families.

9. During the German occupation, Chaim and Fella escaped to the forest, taking their two-year old son. We were told by the grandmother that a nun found the boy wandering in the forest. The nun raised the boy for the duration of the war.

10. When the family in New York were preparing the papers for the grandmother and the boy to come to America, the boy contracted some disease and died. The grandmother then came to New York alone.



DAVID ZOLTY

David Zolty became a civil engineer. He was very much liked by everybody, always ready to help, and honest in every respect. He was a great Zionist and believed strongly in the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. During the German occupation, he was hiding in a forest bunker for twenty-two months. His mother observed the Shabbat and she did not eat anything that was not kosher. Although David was not very religious, in respect to his mother, he observed the Shabbat and the dietary laws. He often went hungry, but not to aggravate his mother. In the  summer of 1944, the Soviets liberated the eastern part of Poland from the Germans. The few Jewish survivors from the forests and other hiding places returned to their homes and were attacked by Polish anti-Semitic bandits.

David Zolty called a meeting of twenty survivors to organize some kind of defense against the attackers; also to ask for some protection from the authorities. Suddenly the back door opened and a Polish bandit holding a machine gun started to shoot and killed David and the other survivors. The tragedy ended the life of the remnants of the Jewish community in shtetl of Sokoly.



SURVIVORS

Only five members of our large family survived: my brother Elias Rubinstein, second cousin Lea Srebrolov, second cousin Rivka Srebrolov and cousin Abe Slavat.

My brother Elias Rubinstein survived the Holocaust. He was sent to Russia for training as an accountant during the Russian occupation in 1940. He was later drafted into the Soviet Armed Forces and was engaged in combat on the southeastern front. In the late summer of 1944, after the Soviets drove the Germans out of Eastern Poland, he traveled to Lapy and Sokoly under the most dangerous situations with the thought on his  mind that maybe he would find somebody among the ruins of destruction. What he did find was empty Jewish homes. all inhabitants were taken away and murdered by the Germans. After the war, my brother Elias Rubinstein immigrated to Australia.

Second cousins Lea and Rivka Srebrolov also survived the Holocaust. They were saved by a righteous Christian. I don't remember his name, but I do remember that man. He had a bicycle repair shop. I would always see him riding a motorcycle. He provided refuge for the two sisters in a cellar at his home for three years. When I met the two sisters in  Melbourne, Australia, they told me about their life in the cellar during the three years. They envied the dogs outside roaming around free, while they were in hiding in their dark cellar. In 1944, when the Germans retreated West, they came out from their hiding place. some of their Polish neighbors were surprised to see them alive. They wanted to know how come the Germans did not get them. After the way, our second cousins Lea and her sister Rivka Srebrolov immigrated to Melbourne, Australia.

Cousin Abe Slavat survived the Holocaust. A few months before the Germans attacked Poland and Russia, Abe Slovaticki, a ten-year old boy, was sent by his parents to a summer camp not far away from the Russian border. When the Germans attacked along the Eastern front, the Russians retreated deeper into Russia, taking along the children from the camp, thus saving them from the German murderers. After the war, at the age of sixteen, Abe Slavat emigrated to Montreal, Canada.

Great aunt Fradl Zolty survived the Holocaust by hiding from the Germans for twenty-two months in a forest bunker with her son David, whose story appears above. Our great aunt Fradl Zolty emigrated to Brooklyn, New York in 1946.



CONCLUSION

Fifty-three members of our family were killed by the Germans. Two members of our family were killed by Polish bandits. Two members of our family died of natural causes.

Five members of our family survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Australia, the United States, and Canada.

On the minds of the victims:
Does the world outside know what is going on? Do they care?
Six million human beings were being destroyed--because they were Jews...and the world outside was indifferent...

 

 

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