Golda (Genia) Liderman née Halpern,Tel-Aviv
I am the daughter of the late Yechiel and Devorah Halpern. I was born in Skarżysko-Kamienna (Poland) on December 19,1925, 48 minutes apart from my twin sister Renia (Rivka). We are the sisters of Pela (Pesia) Bri (née Halpern), our parents’ eldest, and Yocheved (Ditka). I will recount the history of the Halpern sisters and our expanded family that had lived in Skarżysko for many generations, and everything we went through during the Holocaust at Hasag – the infamous German forced labor camp.
Our mother, Devorah Halpern RIP, was a member of the Berkowitz family. Grandfather Eliezer Berkowitz had five daughters: Rachel, Zirla, Devorah, Mania (Marmale) and Haya, and two sons –Shmuel-Leob and Haim. All of them married and raised families. Three of the Berkowitz daughters made Skarżysko their home and the total number of the members of their families was one hundred. All of them were educated according to the values of the Torah and Judaism and all of them – to the last one –perished in the Holocaust. All of them had lived “under one roof”until the War broke out.
My father had belonged to the Aleksander Hasidicdynasty from an early age until he married my mother. He was a trader in”manufactured goods”, namely – he was in the textiles trade.
A short while after the Nazi occupationof Poland, the Jews of the town were concentrated in the local ghetto.
Our house was on May 3rdStreet. While at the ghetto, our father made a living selling coffee,cigarettes and soft drinks.
On February 4, 1942, SS men broke into the store and arrested our father. They had pestered him (as well as Frant the tailor) before for the gold teeth that were protruding from the corners of hismouth. This time they kidnapped him and dragged him barefoot through the snow and the cold. I witnessed this terrible sight. I was beaten by those bootedthugs and thrown to the floor. They robbed the entire contents of the store. My father was the first Jew in Skarżysko who was driven out of town and expelled to Dachau concentration camp. He was subsequently transferred to Gross-Rosen concentration camp and finally to Auschwitz. We received a few censored letters from him. Weremained behind – four young girls and our mother, suffering from the wintercold and without any means of subsistence. The Judenrat would send us to do odd jobs here and there. Among other things, we shoveled snow off the railroad tracks.
Our mother and our sister Ditka – who wasan energetic and independent person – kept close together and were apprehensive about coming to see us. Both of them were taken following the Platz Pfeffer selection and sent to the death camp. Some of the members of our expanded family were dispatched to Bergen-Belsen and subsequently to Auschwitz, but most of them were dispatched to Treblinka and Majdanek.
Following the liquidation of the ghetto,the three of us – my sisters Pela and Renia and myself – were transferred to the Hasag forced labor camp near Skarżysko, where we worked in shifts, day andnight, operating automatic machines that produced matrices, and we had to fillproduction quotas – “norms”.
Those who failed to meet the norms weretaken away, never to be seen again. Mother and Ditka, who were still outside the camp, did their best to help us and brought us bread and potatoes.Wehrmacht soldiers caught them once near the fence of the camp. They stripped Ditka and viciously mocked the “Blond Jewess”. We spent almost three years working and suffering at the Hasag camp.
Pela, our eldest sister, was like amother to us, her twin sisters. We were much younger than her. She cared for usdevotedly when we had typhoid. Every morning at 05:30 hours we had to report tothe daily lineup and stand in straight lines. We masked the fact that we had contracted typhoid so as not to be sent away for extermination. Pela made uslook healthier by painting our faces with some ointment she had managed toobtain. She also reported to the soup and bread queue and stood in line for us.I have no doubt that her endless devotion to her two sisters saved our lives.
In 1944, we were sent to a labor camp in Częstochowa. At that camp, too, we had to fill specific quotas. We thought we would remain there forever. Then one day, all of a sudden, the German commanders walked in and ordered us to embark on a march in an unknown direction. They said the Russians were coming and that we had to vacate the camp along with the Germans. Our sister Pela refused to go. She told them emphatically: we are staying put and will not move, and that is what we did. On January 16, 1945, the Russians arrived and opened the gates of the Hasag campin Częstochowa. We burst into tears of joy. We were free. We walked out of the camp, totally exhausted, and then travelled to Skarżysko, our hometown. We wanted to see our home.
We arrived at our old home and stood there, facing the devastation. We cried and ran away from there. We went to Łódź.Through the Jewish Committee, we found our cousins – members of the Burnsteinfamily. They were very kind to us. My niece Itka Lehrman and her two sisters,Lilka and Schoendl, who were at the Hasag camp, along with Haim Lehrer, Itka’s future husband, also received us with open arms and offered us bread and jam.At 20, Zodka Street in Łódź, I met my future husband, Shmuel Liderman, another Holocaust survivor, who fought as a partisan in the woods. After liberation hejoined the Polish Army. He was the sole survivor of his entire family. Hisfather had served as the head of the town of Sedlisk Podolia (Siedliszcze Male) for twenty years, until the Nazis came.
My sister Renia also met her husband Velvele (Zeev) Garbash in Łódź. We reached the Polish-Czech border, where my husband discarded his army uniform and we crossed the border. From Czechoslovakia we travelled to Munich in Germany and then to the UN displacedpersons (DP) camp Fernwald. Our conscience kept troubling us: was it right tostay on the soil of damned Germany? We left by a difficult route, without aguide, crossed the Alps and arrived in Italy. We stayed there at the Adriatica camp – three sisters and my sister Pela’s husband, Reuven Bri. Reuven, mybrother in law, was the sole survivor of his entire family. He was at Auschwitzwith our cousin Melekh Finkelstein. Melekh was murdered and Reuven survived. Afterour liberation, Reuven, who was an actor, played the role of Shimon Soroka inthe play “Tevye the Dairyman” by Sholem Aleichem with a Yiddish theatrical company. My sister Renia and I were married at the synagogue in Romeon the same day, thirty minutes apart.
My twin sister Renia and her husband immigrated to Israel in 1947, using a certificate with borrowed names.
When we were at the camp in Santa Maria diLeuca, Italy, emissaries from Palestine came and suggested that we immigrate to Palestine through the ‘Aliya Beth’ organization.
Pela, my husband and me were taken anddriven secretly to the shore. A cargo ship named “The 14 Fallen Heroes of Gesher HaZiv” was waiting for us offshore. Under the cover of darkness, they hauled us into small boats and when we reached the ship we were soaking wet. There were hundreds of people on board that ship. We laid on woodenplanks, all crowded together. We became seasick and had violent bouts ofvomiting. We were unable to stand up. The only one who over came that seasickness was Pela.
The British Navy spotted us. Two British destroyers escorted us to the port of Haifa, where British troopers boarded ourship. We sang ‘Hatikvah’ – cried and sang. The British had us transferred toone of their own ships and took us to Cyprus, to “Summer Camp 55”. We were housed in a military tent. Before we had a chance to recover from ourordeal in the Nazi concentration camps, we found ourselves incarcerated in the British concentration camps in Cyprus.
Pela immigrated to Palestine after six months, with Aliyat-HaNoar. Both of us remained at the British camp, living on British Army field rations and aid provided by JDC (the Joint Distribution Committee).At Camp 55 I became pregnant and gave birth to our eldest daughter Devorah, named after my late mother.
Devorah was born at a hospital in Nicosia. After the birth, we were transferred to “Winter Camp 64”,where we remained for 19 months. We came to Israel on January 10, 1949. We were taken during the night to the Ma’abara (temporary transit camp) in Beer-Yaakov, not far from the local psychiatric hospital.
Our daughter Devorah was six months old. We subsequently found an apartment in Givat-Aliya, Jaffa, where our second daughter, Arella, was born. Arella looks very much like my late sister Ditka. My sister Pela followed her fiancé to the USA where they were married. She lived in the Bronx for 35 years and passed away in 1985. Before she passed away, Renia and I traveled to the USA and managed to see her in the hospital. She was buried at the Quiryat-Shaul cemetery in Tel-Aviv and her husband Reuvenhas been coming to the memorial service every year.
After a few years, we moved to anapartment in Ramat-HaTayassim, Tel-Aviv, where our son Jacob was born. Jacob (Kobi) was named after my husband’s father and he continues the lineage of the Liderman family. We subsequently moved to an apartment on Sokolov Street, Tel-Aviv,where we live to this day.
We were blessed with three children and eight grandchildren. My twin sister Renia has four children and nine grandchildren who continue the lineage of the Garbash family. We still live with memories of our hometown, Skarżysko-Kamienna. When our children were stillvery young, we told them about the Holocaust and about what the murderous Nazisdid to our family and our people.
We had relatives in Palestine even before the War – the Halpern, Goren and Fleischman families. They had immigrated to Palestine in 1934.
My mother’s sister, aunt Haya Goren, who lived to a ripe old age, attended the memorial service to our town folk every year.
A few years ago we traveled to Poland. It was important for us to see our hometown, Skarżysko-Kamienna, to stand near the house that was once there and is now gone. We paid our respects at the memorial to the Jews who were murdered and my husband said ‘Kadish’.
We went to Poland again with my twinsister Renia and our son Kobi, equipped with a video camera. We were at Treblinka and renewed the paintwork on the tombstones. We were determined that the following generation should visit Poland and see the sites of our past with their own eyes. In June 1995, our two daughters, our granddaughter Rinat and Devorah, the daughter of my sister Renia, traveled to Poland. They were received warmly by relatives in Skarżysko and even met with the mayor. Photographs at the mayor’s office show the members of the municipal council.Our uncle, Moshe Silberman, was a member of the first municipal council in the years 1923-1927.
The former residents of Skarżysko who immigrated to Israel adopted the Hertzl School in Yehud. A few years ago,students from that school came to our home and I told them about the town and about what we went through during the Holocaust.
DevorahHalpern and her twin daughters, Genia and Renia
YechielHalpern and his daughter Pela-Pesia
Shmueland Genia Liderman, Italy
(For the complete story of the ship, refer tothe Palyam website at http://www.palyam.org/Hahapala/Teur_haflagot/hf_YD_Ziv)
PelaHalpern (right) in Cyprus
Pelaand Rubin Bri, New York, USA
Devorah,Jacob and Arella
Thehouse on May 3rd Street in Skarżysko, Genia and Renia 1989
“Zechor”(Remembrance) book – a monument to the holy Jewish community ofSkarżysko-Kamienna – 1997