Warning! The text retains the original spelling of surnames and place names by an Israeli researcher; in many cases it may not be correct. Fragments that could contain current personal data have been removed from the interview.

Name of the Interviewee: Shmuel Arad (Eisenscher)

Date of Birth: 1946

Name of the Father: Eliyahu (Eduard/Edek) Eisenscher

Name of the Mother: Ze'hava (Golda/Gola) Eisenscher, nee Knoler

[…]

Subject of the Interview: The Eisenscher and Knoler families.

Shmuel Arad (Eisenscher) was born in 1946, to Eliyahu (Eduard/Edek) Eisenscher and Ze'hava (Golda/Gola) Knoler.

Golda Knoler's Family

Gola Knoler was born in November 8th 1912 in Stryj, East Galicia, Poland, to Rosa and Shmuel Knoler. The Knolers had three daughters: Gola; Sara, who was probably born in 1913; and the youngest, Lea, who was born in 1933.The family was highly religious-orthodox and they lived in a one story home in 5 Czarnieckiego St.

As far as Shmuel Arad (the interviewee) knows, his grandfather Shmuel, his name-sake, provided for his family by delivering mail and merchandise from the town of Stryj to the city of Lvov. He would spend most of the week in Lvov, and would only return to his family on the weekend.

"My mother would never say much about her childhood home or her life in Poland" recalls Shmuel Arad. "All the information I ever got from her was from broken sentences, half ignored remarks, and my mother's reaction to the "real" holocaust survivors who lived next to us in Tel-Aviv. But whenever the famous Yiddish song 'A Yiddishe Mame' would come on the radio, those would be the worst time at our house. I just could not stand listening to it, and to stand her sorrow and tears.

My mother met my father, Eliyahu Eisenscher, while she was a member of the Stryj Zionist youth movement. They married in August 1936 and immigrated to Palestine two weeks later. Her parents and both her sisters remained in Poland, and tragically perished during the holocaust. To this day, it isn't clear whether they were killed during the extermination 'actions' in the ghetto and buried in a mass grave in the nearby village of Holobotov, or whether they perished in the Bełżec extermination camp".

In 1938, two years after immigrating to Israel and one year before the outbreak of the war, Gola traveled "home" to visit her family in Stryj. When she was once again reunited with her family, she told them of her life in Palestine, and she naturally told them how hard it was to survive in the reality of this land, which at the time wasn't even an independent nation. Her sister Sara than asked Gola if  she recommends coming to live in "Eretz-Israel", and according to Shmuel's father, Gola then told her that it was up to her alone to decide.

"This, as I gathered, was the source of the guilt which plagued my mother all her life; the guilt for not persuading her sister to come to Israel with her. This was just an addition to horrid sense of her lost. Documents I found lately show that Sara got married later on, and her husband – Abraham Nussbaum, whom we all never knew or saw, had also perished. 

Throughout my entire life, growing up in my parents' home, there was a portrait of my grandmother Rosa with my aunt Lea, who perished when she was just a small child of six. That portrait had been a fixture in the landscape of my childhood, and only when I grew up I began understanding its significance. I mostly realized that I had made a mistake by not asking questions sooner, since to this day I have no idea how my mother's everyday life looked like before 1936. But she wouldn't say, and I was too frightened.

I remember my mother's behavior during the Adolf Eichmann trial in 1961: she had always been a busy housewife, but during the trial, she was glued to the radio most of the day, with sudden bursts of cry. I don't exactly know what she knew or what she didn't know, but what was clear beyond a shadow of a doubt is that no one of her immediate family remained alive. She only had two first cousins, who survived the war- they were a brother and sister and they immigrated after the war to the United States.

In order to understand what it is like to live one's life with no family, you should have seen my mother waiting for a letter from her cousin in America, from time to time; and the reunion they had when that cousin finally came to Israel in June 1967, shortly after the Six Day War, after they hadn't seen each other for over 31 years.

My mother then showed her all the love that she had kept locked in her heart for all those years; all the love she had kept for her family and never got the chance to see or hold. It was only to that cousin that my mother opened up and shared all her childhood memories. Mother passed away in 1987. She was defeated by a lethal disease, but I believe that it was also her tormented soul that was the end of her. 

[…]

In August 2009, I finally fulfilled my own dream, when I arrived with my wife in Stryj (today on Ukraine territory). There, I have recognized my mother's house, still standing as it was, in 5 Czarnieckiego St. In the photo I now hold in my hand, I stand before that very house. It is the very least I could have done for my mother and for the memory of her extinct family".

Eliyahu Eisenscher's Family:

Eliyahu (Eduard/Edek) was born in July 5th 1912, to Isaac and Sophia Eisenscher, in the town of Stryj. His father Isaac was born in the town of Żurawno in 1885. As a child, Issac attended a "Hedder" despite the fact that his family was secular. The Rabbi, who had taught him, noticed his talents and recommended that his parents send him to school in town. Indeed, Isaac became an honorary student. He then graduated from the school in Stryj, and then went on to attend Law school in Lvov. He funded his studies by giving private lessons.

In 1915, during the First World War, just a short time before graduating, he enlisted in to the Austro-Hungarian army. Isaac was fighting at the Russian front as a commander and officer, when he was captured by the Russians, and managed to escape only two and a half years later.

Nevertheless, in May 13th 1918, he received a badge of honor from the Austro-Hungarian army for his contribution to the fights, on which were engraved the words: "A military bronze honorary badge on a ribbon of an honorary cross with swards".

Shmuel's family corresponded with Austrian war archives, and received from them detailed documents about the battles Isaac participated in, and all the recommendations he received which granted him the honorary badge. […]

After the war had ended and Isaac returned from the Russian prison, he completed his law studies and went on to complete his doctorate in law, and all that during the years of the "Numerus clausus" policy in Poland – a nationalist policy which limited the number of students allowed to attend university on the basis of race and religion.

Isaac went on to become a reputable lawyer in Stryj, which by that time was already a part of Poland. He opened an office at his home on 11A Mickiewicz Avenue, which he then turned into a private practice. Isaac married Sophia, and the couple had three children: Eliyahu – Eduard (Edek), born in 1912; Irena, born in 1913; and Dov, born in 1918 after Isaac returned from captivity in Russia.

Isaac and Sophia's home was secular and Zionist, so much so that in 1933, as Hitler came to regime [in Germany], Sophia already began convincing her children to leave Poland in any possible way, either through immigrating to Israel (then Palestine) or by joining the war effort against Germany. She was clever enough to foresee the upcoming disaster.

Fortunately, Isaac's older son Eliyahu listened to his mother's pleas, and immigrated to Israel with his newly wedded wife, Gola, in 1936. Younger sister Irena joined the Russian army as a nurse, and brother Dov enlisted into the Polish army. That is actually how Sophia rescued her children from the cruel fate which befall the Polish Jewry during world war two.

Isaac and Sophia themselves remained in Poland, and managed to use Isaac's prominent status to find a hiding place for themselves in the home of Janek Maksymowicz, who was the head of the social security offices at Stryj. There, they were hidden along with several other people, at a nuke behind the kitchen. Janek and his wife Janka were childless and adopted a five year old Polish boy called Adam. The little boy knew that he must tell no one about the people hidden in his parents' house. He also knew that he could only invite his friends to play in yard behind in the house, which was on Trybunalska Street in Stryj.

Still, danger grew closer when the Stryj ghetto had been liquidated in 1943, and the entire area was declared as "Jew free". Eventually, in February 1944, there was a knock on the Maksymowiczs' door, and two Ukrainian Police officers stood at the door. The couple understood that they were there to conduct a search for any Jews that might be hiding in their house, probably following information they received from someone.

Sophia did not hesitate before she swallowed the Cyanide pill she had with her in case they were revealed. She preferred death to being captured alive by the Nazis. She died instantly.

Ironically, the Maksymowiczs managed to bribe the officers and they went away without conducting the search, thus saving Isaac and the rest of the people who were in hiding. Sophia was buried that night in the Jewish cemetery.

As the Russians were closing in on Stryj, a bomb fell on the house and it was almost completely destroyed. However, the nuke behind the kitchen served as a bomb shelter and all the people who were in it were saved. Tragically, the little adopted Polish boy was at the time playing in the yard with his friends and all 5 of them were killed on the spot.

After the war ended, Isaac came out of hiding and managed to track down his children Irena and Dov: Irena had returned to Poland from the Russian front and married Eliyahu Kirschenbaum, who was also a native of Stryj whom she met in Russia. They were on their way to Israel when their son Zvi was born in a German transit camp. In 1949, they finally arrived in the newly founded state of Israel and settled in the city by the seashore- Bat Yam (literally meaning "Mermaid" in Hebrew).

Irena passed away in September 2009 at the age of 95. During most of her life in Israel she conducted a Polish books' library, to which many Polish immigrants and holocaust survivors would come, meet, chat, and switch a bunch of books. She and her husband have four grandchildren living in Israel.

Youngest son Dov also returned from the war and was reunited with his surviving father in the city of Bytom in Poland. It was there that he was also reunited with his sister Irena, as well as his future wife Bella, who stayed in Stryj throughout. Bella was among those who hid in the kitchen nuke with Dov's father Isaac at the last months of the war . Then Dov and Bella immigrated to Argentina. Sadly, Dov died at a young age from a disease. In 1972 his widow Bella and two children immigrated to Israel and settled in the town of Ra'anana.

In 1998, Dov's family had his bones delivered to Israel to be buried in the holy land.

Shmuel Arad (the interviewee) stresses that neither his parents nor his aunts or uncles ever forgot Mr. and Mrs. Maksymowicz and what they had sacrificed in an attempt to save Sophia and Isaac, and so they supported them financially until the day they died.

Issac himself, the nuke survivor, Shmuel's grandfather, received an immigration certificate from the then reigning British Mandate. It was a permit to immigrate to Israel (Palestine). Isaac arrived in 1946, after having been intercepted for an illegal immigration and spending about six months in a detention camp in Cyprus, which is where the British would send immigrants who would arrive in illegal immigration ships.

In Israel, Isaac lived in Tel-Aviv with his eldest son's family: his son Eliyahu, his wife Gola and their sons Benjamin (who was born in 1940) and Shmuel (who was born the week that Isaac arrived). "My father once told me" recalls the interviewee "that the first time he stepped out of the house with his holocaust surviving father, his father was appalled that he didn't kiss the Mezuzah and didn't say the traditional Jewish prayer for the blessing of the house. It must have been that all the events of the holocaust and the years that he had spent in hiding strengthened his belief in God; as opposed to other survivors, who had lost theirs for particularly the same reason".

"After arriving in Israel" Shmuel adds, "grandfather used to roam around the streets of Tel-Aviv at nights. He would tell my parents that he was 'looking for the Jews who aren't afraid to resist'. In his words he meant the members of the Jewish organizations who were fighting the English and the Arabs in the days prior to the declaration of Israel's independence. He was looking for them because in his hometown of Stryj there was no active Jewish defiance of the Nazi regime.

Then came the day of May 15th 1948, the day the British Mandate ended and the state of Israel was founded. My grandfather Issac announced that he was going down to the shore to witness the English leaving, and watch how new immigrants are arriving legally and openly. Afterwards, walking back home, he went to a café where he laid his head and died, just a few hours before prime-minister David Ben-Gurion announced the foundation of the state of Israel. It was as though he allowed himself to depart only after having witnessed with his own eyes the birth of a Jewish nation that is welcoming all of its sons back from the Diaspora.

Thus Israel's Independence Day became our private memorial day of Grandfather Isaac. His name: "Dr. Isaac Eisenscher" was engraved on his tombstone. He was buried in the cemetery on the boarder of Tel-Aviv and Givataim, about 50 meters from the monument commemorating the saintly victims of the town of Stryj, between them is the military plot where the fallen Israeli soldiers, who died for the independence of Israel in 1948 are buried".

"Every year on the eve of Independence Day" continues Shmuel, "my father, my brother Benjamin and I would go up to visit Grandfather's grave as well as the monument of the victims of Stryj. Even today after my father had passed away, we still continue this tradition, and we always make sure to pass the military plot of the cemetery, where we stop by the gravesite of a soldier by the name of Ariye Wurm. Ariye was a native of Stryj, who had immigrated to Israel in 1947. Neither I nor my brother knew him, but our father, who had known him back in Stryj, met him in Israel. He had told us how Ariye immigrated to Israel alone with no family, was immediately drafted into the army and fell during the battle over Latrun – the battle for the liberation of Jerusalem in 1948, in which many holocaust survivors participated and lost their lives. Many books were written about these battles. We feel fortunate to have the rare privilege of scattering flowers on Ariye's grave, and lighting a candle in his memory on the national Memorial Day, which to us is also the memorial of our grandfather, just as though we were Ariye's real family.

My father, Eliyahu/Edek, from whom I drew most of the details of my parents' stories, died at the age of 94, in sound mind and good spirits in 2006. It was he who asked me to tell the story of Grandfather Isaac, and I know he would have been proud that I now have the opportunity to fulfill his final request. My brother's youngest child is named after our grandfather – Boaz-Issac. My brother's youngest grandson is named after our father – Itai- Eliyahu.

Our grandfather Isaac was a man of many titles and grades: a religious pupil in a 'Hedder', a high-school student, a university student, a decorated war hero, a war prisoner, a lawyer

a doctor, a refugee, a new immigrant and a proud Israeli. He died peacefully at the age of 62 in the independent state of Israel, after having rescued his three children and living with his son and his two grandsons – my brother and I".  

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