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 Name: Halberstadt Aharon Gabriel

Interview subjects: Halberstadt Aharon, Josif – father of Aharon, Halberstadt Esther, born Meliniak – mother of Aharon

Interview date: 19 December 2006

 

Family and life in Lublin 

Aharon Gabriel Halberstadt was born in Lublin on 19.4.1919, in his father's house at 23 Lubartowska Street. In Lublin before the war, there was a population of 120,000 inhabitants, of which 40,000 were Jews. Lubartowska street was the main street of the Jewish part of the city; it was a long street with big 3-4 floors houses, many shops, warehouses, schools, synagogues, charity institutions, the market, etc… in short, the heart of the neighborhood. The relationship with the non-Jewish inhabitants was very good and Aharon doesn't remember any anti-Semitic acts; it is interesting to note that Aharon's grandfather's house on Lubartowska 38 (the number today is 44) was a police station under terms of lease until 1950.

His father, Josif, was born in Lublin in 1885; he was a very religious man (he used two kinds of Tefilin (phylacterics), alternatively: Rashi and Rabenu-Tam); he was a Radzyń hassid (pious man) and used to travel to the city of Radzyń for almost all of the Jewish feasts, to see and hear the Admor (head of a Hassidic movement) of Radzyń.

His mother, Esther, was born Meliniak in Warsaw, in 1880. Esther and Aharon had 6 children: Mordechai, Bluma Rosa, Perl Pola Penina, Aharon Gabriel (the interviewee), Abraham and David. Josif, Esther and Aharon's 5 siblings died during the war.

When Aharon was still a boy, he was present at an event that had a strong impact on him: the construction of the Sages of Lublin Yeshiva, the most important and prestigious Talmudic school in the world, next to his home, at the 65 Lubartowska, on a donated piece of land of 20 dunams; when he was 5 he succeeded in being present at the magnificent corner stone ceremony; 6 years later, in 1930,  a crowd of tens of thousands participated at the opening ceremony of the Yeshiva.

At home they spoke mainly Yiddish and some Polish; the boys went to a Jewish school "Torat Haim", at Szeroka Street, where they had both general and religious education. The girls went to "Mandelker" school, at Lubartowska 24, in front of their home. Bluma went to a secondary school in Lublin and later to Warsaw University. Mordechai was a watch repair-man. 

Halberstadt grandparents: Yitzhak Ytchele and Lea Meliniak.

Lea and Ytchele had 5 children : Aharon, a talmid hacham (religious scholar); Josif, the father of Aharon the interviewee; Chamay Chema, director of the Lublin Hebra Kadisha (burial society); Chifka, married to Wakz Eliezer "Luzer", a very rich man, who was a manufacturer of milked margarine, owned several bakeries and the "Bank Powszechny"  at Lubartowska 2; Meir, elected member of Lublin Jewish Community Board.

Grandpa Ytchele lived in a big house that was his property at Lubartowska 38, in a 3 floor building with 4 entrances, together with his daughter Chifka and her family, and other members of the family here and there – always in a typical extremely orthodox way of life. Besides the family, there was the police station and other tenants. In 1937 Josif and his family also moved to Ytchele's house. Ytchele was a merchant in iron and other metals, together with his sons Josif and Meir. The whole family lived comfortably. Ytchele expanded when he opened the lottery LOS. In 1930 he went bankrupt. Josif started working with "Luzer", his brother in law, selling milked margarine – until the war. Meir started working at Luzer's bank. All grandparents died before the war.

Ytchele had a brother, Yitzhak Herch [Icchak Hersz], the owner of a big painting shop. His son Shlomo was the elected President of Lublin Jewish Community Board, for many years, and also the elected secretary of the Yeshiva.

In 1936, Aharon lived in Warsaw and worked as technical supply worker; when the hostilities started, he received a phone call from his father, instructing him to come home immediately – which he did. He remembers a silly picture of a (neighbor) policeman shooting his pistol at a German plane that was flying over the house, and the immediate bombing of the house, which was hit. 

Aharon wanted to escape to Russia together with a couple of friends, but Josif strongly opposed; as destiny would have it, at that very moment the Rabbi Shlomo Lerner, was in Lublin, on his way to Włodawa; Josif consulted him and the Rabbi ruled that Aharon could go, but not further than the Ukraine (part of Poland). Aharon begged his parents and brothers to join him. They all refused. They all died. 

Surviving in Ukraine and Kazakhstan

And so, Aharon and his friends, Michael Lifschitz and Rachel Kronelblat, hired a wagon with horses and went through Zamość, Bełżec, Rawa Ruska, Lwów, until Równe, already in Soviet hands (after the war, part of Ukraine). In Równe, Aharon worked in the kitchen of a Red Army camp, as buyer of food supplies, until 1941. During one meeting of the refugees with the army officers, they were told that all refugees must leave Równe because of the prohibition to stay in big cities, and must go to small villages or into the interior of Russia.

In Równe, Aharon met Batya Kuna from Żółkiewka, 20 km from Lublin. Her parents, Hanoch and Czipi Kuna, and three other daughters: Zipora, Esther and Lea. The entire Kuna family remained with Aharon until June 1941. The group went to Kostopol (Ukraine), where they found many Jews and life was a little bit easier. Aharon worked in a plywood plant. One day the Russians announced that all refugees would be able to send parcels to Poland (under German control); Aharon spent all his savings, bought several products but he could not send the parcel because there were no forms. He worked everyday of the week, including Shabbat and feasts. If a worker stayed away without a good reason, he was punished and fined; on Yom Kippur, his boss, a Polish Jew, put him on the evening shift, at Aharon's request; this way he expected to pray until the afternoon in the synagogue; when he was on his way to work, at the same moment, a chimney 25 meters high collapsed… on the plywood plant and so Aharon didn't work on that Yom Kippur!

In June 1941 Batya's parents refused to go on, they were tired. They were killed together with many thousands of Jews in Ukraine.

When hostilities between Germany and Russia started Aharon naively thought that whoever the victor, he would be able to meet his family. But within less than one day the Germans were at Kostopol, and the only thing the group thought at that moment was "run away!"; which is what they did, through Kiev to Stalingrad but refugees were not allowed to stay; so they continued to Manken in Kazakhstan, in a cattle train, and from Manken they were sent to a Kolkhoz for the rest of the war.

Aharon and Batya were married in December 1942 in the Kolkhoz; the religious ceremony was held by the famous "hazan" cantor from Lublin, Gornizki [Hersz Górnicki].

They had 3 children :

  • Itta, born in 1945 in the Kolkhoz in Kazakhstan; she was a teacher in Israel.
  • Josef, born on 16.7.1948 in Germany; he is a farmer in Israel.
  • Later, in Israel, Yitzhak Zahi, was born in 1956 ; he is an architect.

After the war, Aharon, Batya and the couple of friends returned to Lublin. There were no Jews in Lublin. It was a tremendous shock for them, as during the war they had had very little information about the Jews extermination.

Much later Aharon heard that his parents had typhus and died in a hospital, both the same day, the last day of the Passover feast 1942. The entire family had been exterminated, except for Aharon's cousin Esther, daughter of his uncle Meir; she had passed the war disguised as a catholic girl. After the war she stayed in Łódź from 1948 to 1957 and then came to Israel.

Through France to Palestine

The two couples went to Legnica, in Poland. Zionist immigration agents promised to take them to Palestine through Czechoslovakia and France, where they stayed for several months in Marseille; with all the roads to Palestina being blocked, they were transferred to Germany, where they stayed from 1946 to 1949, next to Stuttgart. They remained in previous SS comfortable quarters in an UNNRA camp. Only in July 1949 could they come to Israel, from Marseille, on the Israeli ship "Negba".

In Israel they stayed for a couple of months in a transit immigrants camp, Shaar Haaliya, next to Haifa; then they moved to Hadera for another couple of months. In Hadera they were contacted by representatives of Kfar Bilu, an agricultural village next to Rehovot, looking for new settlers. Since then, Aharon has been a farmer.

In 1964 he was elected secretary and treasurer of the village, until 1988. Batya died in August 2005. 

Aharon visited Lublin in 1976 and 1996. Ita, his daughter, visited Lublin in June 2006 with a group of the Israeli Lubliners Organization.

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