Beer Halpern

Halpern Beer - Personal data
Date of birth: 24th September 1888
Place of birth: Rzeszów
Date of death: 1st May 1968
Place of death: Nowy Jork
Occupation: rabbi
Related towns: Krakow, Rzeszów, Biecz, Gorlice, Mauthausen, Płaszów, Nowy Jork, Prokocim

Beer Halpern (24 September 1888, Rzeszów – 1 May 1968, New York) – rabbi of Biecz since 1924, after 1945 rabbi in New York[1.1].

Son of Chaim Jonasz and Lea née Felsker from Rzeszów. On 4 October 1911, he married Debora, the daughter of Aron Horowitz and Tyla née Halberstam from Nowy Sącz (marriage announcements were made on 23, 24 and 30 September 1911). They had nine children: Chaja, Maria, Mendel, Aron, Chaskiel, Nachum Rubin, Naftali, Lazar, Samuel (Alexander).

In 1914, he was a rabbinical candidate under his father-in-law Aron Horowitz, and after his departure for Koszyce he served as deputy rabbi. In 1924, he was appointed to the position of the rabbi of Biecz; he held this office until the outbreak of World War II. He lived in a one-storey house with sheet metal roof located at 60 Piłsudskiego Street. The building was completely destroyed in warfare and a new building was erected on the plot. As his son Alexander recalls, the family would spend the holidays on a farm in Święciany, at the house of Luzer Kranz.

Halpern’s eldest daughter, Chana (9 November 1912, Rzeszów – 13 December 2011, London) married rabbinical candidate Joel Thumim, son of rabbi Jonasz Thumim and Chaja Aszkenaz from Wielkie Oczy. The marriage took place on 3 March 1931 with the participation of the rabbi from Gorlice, Elisze Halberstam. Before the war, the young couple left for London, thus avoiding the German occupation. Initially, the rabbi’s sons were educated in the local cheder, later they were sent to other Jewish schools. In 1930, after his bar mitzvah, Luzer left the town to study at the Horav Berish Weidengeld yeshiva in Trzebinia. His brother, Chaskiel, initially studied in Nowy Sącz and later attended the famous Chachmei Yeshiva in Lublin, founded by Rabbi Meir Shapiro. Alexander studied in Tarnów and continued his studies in Krakow.

As the office of the rabbinical candidate in a small town did not provide sufficient resources to support his family, Beer Halpern migrated to the United States twice. On 25 November 1920, at the age of 32, he boarded the ‘Ryndam’ ship in Rotterdam to meet his relative living in Brooklyn. On 11 August 1923, he sailed from Le Havre to New York on a ship called ‘Paris,’ visiting the Rzeszower and Korczyner congregation.

When the war broke out, Beer Halpern’s family was in Biecz, with the exception of his son Luzer, who had joined the ranks of the Polish Army and was taking part in the September Campaign. Having talked to police chief Jan Tworek and mayor Ignacy Ołpiński, the rabbi, like most men in the draft age, sought to escape to the eastern territories of the Republic of Poland. As his son Alexander recalled, the rabbi did not know Polish well enough to freely communicate, he only understood what other people said. After a period of frantically marching towards the east, he stopped in Jodłowa, from where he returned to Biecz with a Polish driver. He left the city again to reach Dubiecko via Strzyżów, Czudec, Niebylec, and Dynów. He did not manage to cross the San river, so he once again returned to Biecz. The Germans were looking for him, so he went into hiding in Ołpiny. His older sons Alexander (Sander), Chaskiel, and Naftali worked in the “Backer and Urlich” construction company, which protected them from deportation to labour camps for Jews.

On 22 July 1942, the majority of men aged 15 to 35 were deported to the camp in Płaszów, then to Prokocim (Julag II). Among them were the rabbi’s sons: Luzer, Chaskiel, Naftali, Mendel and Alexander. Halpern, his daughter Miriam and little brothers Aron Chaim and Nuchem Ruben stayed at home. Unfortunately, a year earlier – on 27 September 1941 – Beer Halpern’s wife Debora had died of natural causes.

On 14 August 1942, at 3 AM, Germans (Gestapo units from Gorlice and Jasło, military police, Schupo) and the SS-Ukrainerausbildungslager Ukrainian police units stationed in Moderówka near Jasło surrounded the town, and the liquidation of the ghetto began. Beer Halpern and his children: daughter Miriam and son Nuchem Ruben managed to flee from the town. However, his other son, Aron Chaim, did not manage to escape. He was denounced and shot at Potockiego Street, behind the Shul.

After escaping from the city, the rabbi and two of his children hid in the forests between Swoszowa and Szerzyny. The mountainous terrain, covered with numerous ravines and chasms, was a good hiding place for the escapees. One of their hiding places was probably the area around the house of siblings Adela and Władysław Kozak in Swoszowa. Beer Halpern kept in touch with a doctor from Biecz, Dr. Roman Soczyński, who helped him financially. When the autumn came, rain and lower temperatures made the situation of the hiding Jews more difficult. Beer informed his sons of his tragic predicament in a letter, delivered to them with the help of Dr. Soczyński’s daughter. Thanks to their connections with various rabbis from in the Krakow Ghetto, they managed to obtain a pass for their father, authorising him to travel from Biecz to Prokocim (he went there as a high-class specialist in the construction of railway tracks). In Krakow, the Halpern family stayed alternately in the ghetto and in Julag II in Prokocim, working in the ‘commandos’ producing brooms and brushes and working in the kitchen, laundry room, and bakery. The rabbi’s youngest son, Nuchem Ruben, stayed in a Jewish orphanage in the ghetto, and was murdered during its liquidation together with other children.

In August 1944, the Halperns were evacuated from Płaszów to the concentration camp in Mauthausen (at the time, Miriam was in the Hasag labour camp in Skarżysko-Kamienna), and then, in September 1944, they were transported to a branch of the camp in Melk on the Danube. They were later placed in Ebensee, a branch of the Buchenwald camp. In Melk, prisoners dug tunnels for underground factories, and at Ebensee they extracted aggregate for road construction. On 6 May 1945, at 11 PM, they were liberated by the Americans. On 7 May 1945, two of the rabbi’s sons, Naftali and Mendel, died in Weimar under mysterious circumstances.

After the liberation, Alexander emigrated to Palestine via Italy: “On Tuesday, 3 July 1945, 22nd day of Tammuz, the ‘Metroa’ ship anchored in Haifa.” Part of the family went to the eldest daughter of the rabbi, Chaja Thumim, who was living in London. From there, on 16 October 1946, Beer Halpern together with his daughter Miriam sailed to the United States on the ‘Queen Elisabeth’ ship. The trip was possible thanks to the help of the Congregational Home and Daughter of Izrael.

After arriving to the United States, Rabbi Beer Halpern got remarried. Both him and some of his sons held rabbinical offices in New York.

  • [1.1] The article is based on the memoirs of Alexander Halpern and archival materials collected by Krzysztof Przybyłowicz.
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