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.

 

Interviewee: Hadasa Pinkus nee Halberszta(d)t, b. 5 June 1924 in Lublin.

Interview subject: Szlomo Halberszta(d)t, Hadasa’s father, b. 1893 and his family; Hirszorn family

Interview date: March – April 2008

The Halbersztadt family

The Halbersztadt family came from the town Halberstadt in Germany. Existing documents prove the existence of a Jewish community in the city many centuries back; one document, dated 1261, guaranteed the security of the Jews "as in the past", meaning there were Jews in the city before 1261.

Lublin is one of the old Polish cities. Jews lived in Lublin from the 14th century and it became the most important Talmudic center in Poland. In the 19th and 20th centuries Lublin was the main center of Hebrew and Yiddish culture, with theaters and newspapers, as well as the center of political parties and Jewish organizations. Lublin of 1939 had a population of 122,000 inhabitants, about 40,000 of them Jews.

The family used to live at Lubartowska Street No. 21, in a three room apartment, and later on, at Targowa Street  No. 7, in a four room apartment. Lubartowska Street was the main street of the Jewish part of the city. It was a long street with tall 3-4 storey buildings, many shops, warehouses, schools, synagogues, charity institutions and the market. In short, the heart of the neighborhood. The relationships with the non-Jewish inhabitants were very good and Hadasa doesn't remember anti-Semitic incidents.

Although it was a very Jewish and religious home, it was very liberal too. When Hadasa's sisters, Mina and Pola, finished the Jewish Gymnasia, their father asked his rabbi for permission to send them to university. Hadasa doesn't remember any talk about Palestine or Zionism, and in fact she and her sisters, were never members of any Zionist youth movement. The financial situation of the family was fair. When she was seven, Hadasa went to a Polish primary school, where all the pupils were Jews. 3-4 years later, her parents sent her to a Jewish school, Bet Ya'akov [Pol. Bet (Bejt) Jaakow]; then she went to the Jewish Gymnasia, but was there for only one year, because the war broke out. At home, Hadasa and her sisters spoke Yiddish with their parents and grandparents, and Polish among themselves.

Hadasa's Father

Hadasa’s father, Rabbi Szlomo Halbersztadt, was born in 1893 in Lublin, to a family of Radzyń hassidim (pious men). As a Radzyn Hassid, he used two kinds of Tefilin, phylacterics, alternatively: Rashi and Rabenu-Tam. He used to save money to travel to the city of Radzyń on Jewish festivals to visit and sit at the Admor (head of a Hassidic movement) of Radzyń's table, and hear his Talmud interpretations. Szlomo cried like a child when the Germans murdered the Admor.

He studied in several Yeshivot. From a young age, he was involved in the politics of the community, and he was a member of endless organizations. Szlomo subscribed to many Jewish newspapers and journals and used to cut out articles and file them according to subjects. Everything connected with the Jewish life in Poland interested him, specially the Lublin community.

He started his community career in 1928, when he was elected member of Lublin Jewish Community Board. In 1932 he was elected Deputy President of the Board and in 1936 he was elected unanimously as President until the war. He was also the elected secretary of the famous Lublin Sages' Yeshiva [Jeszywas Chachmej Lublin; Jesziwa Mędrców Lublina]. He was very popular and highly venerated and admired within the Lublin community. People used to ask his opinion on every subject, and ask for advice on material and moral issues.

Szlomo was also a member of the first Judenrat, until Pessah 1942. On Pessah 1942, Szlomo was taken "to a labor camp", together with his daughter Esther; they never returned.

Hadasa's Mother

Hadasa's mother, Riwka Rachel Hirszhorn, was born in 1893 in Krasenik [Kraśnik] not far from Lublin. She loved classical music and used to go to concerts. She was sent on a transport, together with her daughter Pola; they never returned.

Szlomo and Rachel married through a sziduch (marriage arrangement) in 1910s. They had four daughters:

  • Mina, was born in 1914; she studied special education and married Menek X while in the ghetto. The couple was in Ostrowicz [Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski] and Auschwitz-Birkenau, where her husband was murdered. Mina and Hadasa were always together, all through the war. After the liberation in Germany by the Soviets, she married Grisza Kaplan, a widower too, and returned to Lublin. They immigrated to Israel in 1958. They had two children: Szlomo (he died in a car accident at the age of 13) and Rachel. Mina also died in a car accident three years later, almost in the same place.
  • Perla Pola, was born in 1918, unmarried; she was murdered.
  • Esther, was born in 1920, unmarried; she was murdered.
  • Hadasa, the interviewee

Hadasa's paternal family

Her grandfather, Hercz [Hersz] Halbersztadt, was the owner of a big paint shop [red. Halbersztadt Hersz, skład farb i lakierów; 9 Nowa Street (currently Lubartowska Street]. He died in 1940. Hadasa's grandmother died before 1924.

Hadasa's grandparents had seven children:

  • Szlomo, interviewee's father.
  • X, a son who used to live in Warsaw.
  • Max, married, he was with Hadasa in Ostrowicz [Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski] and from there sent to a death camp.
  • X, a daughter who emigrated to the USA before WW2, married a rabbi.
  • Pola, married, the whole family was murdered.
  • Mincza, married, the whole family was murdered.
  • X, a son who died before WW2.

Hersz had at least one brother, Yitzhak Yczele, married to LeaYczele and Lea had 5 children :

  • Aharon, a talmid hacham (religious scholar).
  • Jozef, married to Esther Meliniak from Warsaw. Esther and Jozef had 6 children: Mordechaj, Bluma Rosa, Perl Pola P(e)nina, Aharon Gabriel, Abraham and David. Jozef, Esther and 5 children were murdered.
  • Szamaj Szema, director of the Lublin Hebra Kadisha [Chewra Kadisza], (burial society).
  • Szifka [Szyfra]
  • Meir, elected member of Lublin Jewish Community Board.

Yczele and Lea lived in a big house that was their property at Lubartowska 38 [currently 44], in a 3 storey building with 4 entrances, together with his daughter Szifka and her family, and other members of the family. They lived a typical extremely orthodox way of life. Besides the family, and the other tenants, there was a police station. In 1937 Jozef and his family also moved into Yczele's house.

Yczele was a merchant in iron and other metals, together with his sons Jozef and Meir. The whole family lived comfortably. Yczele expanded when he opened the lottery LOS. In 1930 he went bankrupt. Jozef started working with Luzer, his brother-in-law, selling milked margarine – until the war. Meir started working at Luzer's bank. Yczele and Lea died before the war.

Hadasa's maternal family

Her grandfather, Baruch Hirszhorn, was from Lublin. He was a merchant and he was murdered. Her grandmother, Chawa Hirszhorn, died before WW2, in July 1935. After Chawa died, Baruch lived with his daughter Rachel Halbersztadt's family. Baruch and Chawa used to live in Warsaw and had six children:

  • Rachel, interviewee's mother.
  • Jozef Szhejne Meir, born in 1901, he immigrated to Palestine in 1920 and changed his name to Keren-Zvi.
  • Czes(i)a Cila, born in 1902, she immigrated to Palestine in 1934 and married Mordechaj Chasdaj; they had one child,
  • Sara, born in 1904, unmarried; she was murdered.
  • Szmuel, born in 1907, married in the Warszawa ghetto, had one son. He was a journalist in the ghetto. The three were murdered.
  • Pola Fela, born in 1918, married to Jakow Salunczik; they had two sons: Adam and Nojberg Nachum. Pola (while pregnant with Nojberg), Jakow and little Adam moved to France. After three failed attempts to cross the border from France into Switzerland, they succeeded the fourth time, except for Jakow who was caught and sent to a labor camp in France. They all survived and settled in France.

When Hadasa was born, the magnificent corner stone ceremony took place of the Sages of Lublin Yeshiva [Jeszywas Chachmej Lublin; Jesziwa Mędrców Lublina], and the construction of the most important and prestigious Talmudic school in the world began. It was next to her home, at Lubartowska 57, on a donated piece of land of 20 dunams [1 dunam = 1000 m2] in 1930. A crowd of tens of thousands participated in the opening ceremony of the Yeshiva. Her father, Rabbi Szlomo Halbersztadt, was the first Secretary of theYeshiva, and took care of the library in particular.

After the outbreak of World War II

A year before the war broke out, the Jewish Gymnasia pupils organized a street demonstration against Germany and its expansionist policy.

During the first weeks of the war, thousands of Jewish refugees arrived in Lublin, escaping the German army. Some of them, together with a few hundred Jews from Lublin, continued east. From the beginning of September 1939, until the arrival of the Germans on 18 September 1939, resistance groups against the German army were organized. Jews took part in these activities. Various groups were set up for clearing of demolitions caused by the bombing, fire squads, digging defense trenches and more.

The first thing the Germans did after entering Lublin was the expulsion of Jews from the main street, Krakowskiw Przedmieście. Jews were forced to wear Jewish symbols on their clothing and were limited to certain parts of the city. The Lublin Jewish Community Board continued as is, without almost any changes. The committee was summoned to supply the Germans with quotas of working people for forced labor, jewelry, furniture and other appliances.

In January 1940, the Community Board became the Judenrat, with Ing. Henrik Beker, and later, Mark Alten, as President. The German demands from the Judenrat increased each day.

From the written testimony of Mina Kaplan, nee Halbersztadt (R.I.P.):

From the first day of the war, I remember the German air strikes and thousands of people preparing themselves to run away; my family, together with all the tenants of the building, stood under Targowa Street entry gate to the building, apparently safer; everyone had a shirt, a towel, a piece of soap, cotton wool, and the lucky ones had an anti-gas mask.

We all thought it was better the Germans arrived and then the bombing would stop; we would be able to undress, to bathe and to go to sleep; the Germans couldn't be so terrible as it was written everywhere; surely the papers exaggerated, as usual. And indeed, the Germans arrived, first a few, here and there, and later tanks and the orchestra; they behaved nicely, distributing cigarettes, candies, cosmetics... you could ask, and receive!, even expensive items, like shoes, watches. Many Jewish women received nylon stockings!”

It didn't last long. A very short time after the Germans entered Lublin, they caught Szlomo near his house. He was severely beaten and taken to the Lublin Sages' Yeshiva. The German officers stole the scale model of the Jerusalem Temple, a real piece of art, made of gold and other precious materials, as well as all the other valuable items, until the last book in the rich Yeshiva library.

They abduction of people off the streets increased each day. They kidnapped men, women and even young teenagers, healthy and sick, day and night. The kidnapped were taken to a hall near the bridge on Lubartowska Street.

Halbersztadt family in the Ghetto. 

10,000 Jews were sent to Rejowiec, Siedliszcze and Sosnowiec. When the ghetto was closed on 24 April 1941 [ed. - ghetto was established in March 1941, remained opened till February 1942], 34,000 Jews were forced to live inside the ghetto borders. People couldn't leave without a special permit, given in general to people working outside the ghetto. The family remained in their home at Targowa Street, as it was part of the ghetto area. Lublin Jews were among the first victims from the General Government sent to gas chambers in the Belzec [Bełżec] extermination camp.

In 1941, the family moved into a room at Grodzka Street No. 7, together with another family. Hadasa used to work in the ghetto's hospital on Lubartowska Street, and Mina in the ghetto kitchen, both outside the ghetto, and therefore they had special permits to go out of the ghetto.

Many people escaped to the Soviet Union and survived. Some of them came to Szlomo and begged him to join them: "you will be able to study Torah without any material worry". He refused to leave Lublin and his community. The ghetto area was again and again reduced. The family moved into a room, together with other Judenrat members' families; each family had a corner of the room. Their building was free of any action; they were considered as lucky people. Hadasa moved to Mina's home, located in the  “Judenrein” area (clear of Jews), Mina had somebody pull strings for her (the fact that her father was part of the Judenrat). On 31 December 1941, the Germans chose several dozen women and forced them into the German soldier's quarters. After a short time, the women were taken to the shower, under SS soldiers eyes. 

From the written testimony of Mina Kaplan, nee Halbersztadt (R.I.P.):

“…no one (woman) sneaked off; unfortunately, there were people among the Jews focused on their private interest, such as Dr. Mark Alten, who spoke and acted in the SS's name, and in fact controlled the Judenrat President, Dr Beker, and his deputy, Dr Szelf. And because everybody was afraid to speak in Alten's presence, they used to meet with my father at home".

Actions occurred everywhere, except in our building (Judenrat members' "rights); but, to be on the safe side, everybody wore several layers of clothing and carried all valuable items. One morning, the streets were completely quiet, people started going out of their houses, hugging and kissing each other; the rumor said that the Germans had stopped the actions, after they received a gold bribe from the Judenrat. But at noon we received a note from our father, telling us that he was going to be sent elsewhere, to work; with difficulty, I succeeded in reaching him, just in time to hear him whisper "I don't know how you will be able to manage in the situation without me…". He was so convinced that the Germans were only transferring him that he tried to convince me to join him, but the Germans sent me away. It was the second action…”          

Deportation's action (Pessah Holiday)

In the middle of the action, the Germans reduced the number of Judenrat members, from 24 to 12 and the 12 off the list were sent to Belzec [Bełżec], like Rabbi Szlomo Halbersztadt. SS soldiers forced everybody outside and the streets were crowded with people. Rabbi Szlomo was taken "to a labor camp"; his daughter Esther, who was not at home, saw her father being taken to the cemetery and wanted to inquire what was going on; she was taken too. They were murdered in concentration camp Bełżec.

While the action was going on, Rachel and her daughter Pola were waiting for the special permits of Hadasa and Mina, who went out the ghetto as usual every day, and sent their permits back to Rachel and Pola with somebody, to enable them to leave the ghetto. Unfortunately, the messenger arrived too late – Rachel and Pola were sent from the synagogue courtyard, as part of the 1,400 Jews, the daily quota fixed by the Germans. Nobody heard from them again. One or two days later, the Germans broke into the Jewish hospital and took all the patients and the staff to Majdanek; Hadasa wasn't at work, neither was Mina. 

30,000 Jews were murdered during the action, most of them in extermination camp Bełżec.

Hadasa and Mina in Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski

Thank to a Polish woman, paid by aunt Pola (or Mincza), Hadasa and Mina escaped to Ostrowiec, to the aunt's house. A year later, when Ostrowiec Jews were being sent on transports, Hadasa and Mina ran away to a small village, where there was a plant employing Jewish workers. Being without papers they were forced to hide constantly, taking the risk all the time of being arrested. When aunt Pola's (or Mincza) daughter was arrested, the mother decided to go with her daughter.

The power plant was in need of workers. 12 were chosen from 2,000 women and Hadasa and Mina were among the 12. First Hadasa worked in the kitchen, and later in construction. She took buckets of concrete to the fifth floor, climbing along wooden ramps. She also worked as an assistant to a furnace repairman; she had to enter inside the furnace while it was still hot, to repair it.

July 1944. The Soviets advance continued. Hadasa and Mina were sent to concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. They were in a wagon on a cattle train for three days and nights. Once a day the train stopped and the passengers relieved themselves, all together, women, men, children, old people, under German rifles pointed at them. When they saw Krakow station through the wagon's slits, everybody knew the final destination – Auschwitz.

In the German extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau

Men and women were separated. Hadasa, Mina and their group were taken to a room where they undressed. Then their hair was cut. Hadasa had long hair and remained with a boy's haircut. Next was disinfection and afterwards they received a variety of old dresses – short, long, colored, elegant, with or without sleeves, and no underpants. Last was the tattoo of an Auschwitz-Birkenau number on her arm: A16930. Finally, they were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau, barracks S2S, block 16.    

In her barracks there were 1,200 women; they slept on three wooden racks – one above the other, six per shelf and a blanket, that was falling to pieces, for the six. In the center of the barracks there was a long stove, that never worked. They received a piece of bread in the morning, nettle soup at midday and a potato in the evening.

Every morning they were counted, including dead bodies from the night before. These bodies were thrown into pits and burnt. There was a smell of burning flesh in the air constantly. The prisoners tried to pass the night without going to the bucket-toilet, so not to be forced to empty the bucket in the toilets, outside, quite far from the barracks, if the bucket was full up.

In fact, during the day, prisoners liked the toilets, because it was a closed place and warmer than outside. It was their "club, where they could eat their bread quietly – despite the smell and the noise. It was a place where Hadasa met many interesting people and heard stories about the war, the ghetto and the camps.

Hadasa was lucky when, one day, Dr Mengele grabbed her and then let her go.

January 1945. The Soviet advance continued. Hadasa and Mina were sent by train to Germany, not as crowded as the journey there. In Germany they worked in a factory for aircraft spare parts. They ate in a dining hall with nice cutlery, at the beginning, they were even offered a second helping. They slept on couches with a layer of sawdust. A month and a half later, all the prisoners were taken to another plant, on foot. They walked  for three days, each day 30 km, through mountains, snow and cold.

End of World War II

Morning 9th May 1945. The SS were gone; the prisoners were afraid of the Soviets and there was talk about running away to the west. But the Soviets arrived after a short time. They were free.

Hadasa and Mina had no place to go. They went first to Ostrowiec, to search for family members. Then they decided to return to Lublin where they arrived at the end of May 1945. Their home was "taken" by a Polish family, they didn't try to repossess it. They went to a gathering place of Lubliner Jewish children and the day after, Hadasa became their nursemaid. After two months, the Children House got a new home in Dzierdzoniow [Dzierżoniów]; Hadasa was in charge of a group of 17 children.

Hadasa met Chaim Pinkus. He was born on 5 February 1915 in Lublin and his parents were Israel and Fejge Blima. Chaim hadn't finished his medical studies, because after three years of study the war broke out.

Hadasa stayed at the Children House until she married under Jewish law in December 1945. She completed her secondary school studies and went to the University of Wroclaw to study Psychology and Education. Then she ran a large kindergarten with 200 children, most of them non-Jewish and 21 helpers. Her husband, Chaim, worked as a lab assistant at the local hospital.  

Hadasa and Chaim had two children:

  • Zipora, was born in 1946 in Dzierdzoniow [Dzierżoniów], married to Dr Shraga Hart. She has a BA and a MA in Social Work from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; she has two children and two grandchildren.
  • Israel "Ygnasz", was born in 1950 in Dzierdzoniow [Dzierżoniów]; he changed his name to Peled. He married Dr Pnina Peled, who has a PhD in Engineering Material Israel made a military career. He has two children.

In 1957, the family immigrated to Israel. They settled in Rechovot. Hadasa stayed at home for seven years, taking care of her children. Then she worked at the Chaim Weizman Science Institute of Rechovot, as a librarian. She retired in 1984 and in 1986 she volunteered to work at the buffet of Kaplan Hospital Rechovot. Nine years. Chaim Pinkus used to work as a lab assistant at the Kaplan Hospital in Rechovot. He died in 2002.

 

 

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