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: Chaim Akerman
Place of Birth: Glusk, Poland. Born: 1929
Father's Name: Mendel Akerman. Mother's Name: Rachel Akerman (nee Castelbaum)
Sisters: Gittel, Feige, Perla, Zelda. Spouse: Rachel Akerman (nee Fadida)
Chaim was born to Rachel (nee Castelbaum) and Mendel Akerman in 1929 in the town of Glusk [Głusk], Poland. He was the forth child, and had four sisters: Gittel, Feige, Perla, and Zelda.
His father Mendel was a partner in a horse and animal trading business and his mother Rachel worked in a grocery store, where she was helped by her eldest daughter Gittel and her other daughters.
Glusk is situated five kilometers from the large and famous province town of Lublin. A dirt road connected the two. In the autumn the mud was knee-high, and in the winter people traveled by snow carts. There was a kind of regular transport between the two places, and Chaim remembers that as a child he used to travel with his sisters by wagon to watch films in Lublin. One of the films that left an impression on him was The Dibbuk, which was shown at the “Rialto” cinema.
Chaim studied at a Heder with an orthodox tutor, although his family was secular. When he turned 7, he was sent to a Polish elementary school, where all the town's children were taught – Jews and Christians, boys and girls alike.
On the 1st of September Germany invaded Poland and conquered it within a few weeks. The Polish army collapsed. The Russians invaded East Poland and their tanks advanced as far as 10 kilometers from Lublin, where the new international border between the Soviet Union and Germany was set. Independent Poland ceased to exist.
Chaim was 10 years old.
The Germans threatened the Jewish community and demanded capita ransom from each Jew. Afterwards they robbed their houses, taking all cash money, gold and diamonds, valuables, expensive furniture, fancy clothing and furs.
Mendel Akerman, Chaim's father, found himself with no livelihood and was coerced into doing forced labor such as cleaning, maintenance of roads and digging.
Young Chaim was sent by his parents to a nearby village to hide in the house of two Christian Polish women.
He missed his family very much and wanted to share their fate, even if it had meant deserting his safe hideaway. He eventually returned to Glusk on his free will, and on October 1942 he was sent with his parents and sisters to the Ghetto.
In the Ghetto the family of 7 crammed into one single room; there was nothing to eat. All man aged 14 to 60 did forced labor as part of the German war effort. From June 1941, Germany was deep at war with the Soviet Union and mass extermination of Jews in Lublin and its surrounding area has begun.
Mendel and Rachel made another attempt to save the life of their son Chaim by rearranging his escape to the neighboring village. He returned to the two merciful Polish 'grandmothers' who gave him shelter in the past. The kind-hearted, noble women took care of him as if he were their own family member and hid him in a bunker in their potato field. The Germans kept threatening the local population into 'extraditing' any hiding Jews and turning them into the authorities. Anyone caught assisting Jews in any way – giving them shelter or food – was killed and all his possessions were confiscated; often the Germans executed an entire family that helped Jews and burnt their property for all to see and beware.
Mendel Akerman, Chaim's father, also escaped from the Ghetto. He took Chaim out of his hiding place and they hid together in the woods with a group of Jews for some time. Then Chaim became ill with Typhus. His condition deteriorated. A Jewish doctor who was among the refugees in the woods said the boy did not have a real chance of recovery and suggested to get rid of him, but his father saved his life by returning Chaim to the farm of the two Polish 'grandmothers', who agreed to take upon themselves the responsibility for his fate. Under the two women's care, which was done by using traditional medicine, the boy overcame his illness crisis and got better.
At that time the German Police, assisted by local collaborators, held a wide man-hunt in search of Jewish escapees. Local Fascist police patrols came to the 'grandmothers' house many times, but Chaim's hiding place was never discovered. After the boy had recovered from his illness, Mendel Akerman came to take him from the women's house and the two went back to hide in the woods.
The woods turned out to be a hiding place that was as dangerous as a direct encounter with the German murderers, due to attacks on Jews by anti-Semitic Ukrainian partisans; and so, Mendel decided to wander to a remote village. Father and son met a simple farmer who agreed to hide them and provide their basic needs. He dug a deep bunker in a field, with convenient entrance and exit and excellent camouflage. Mendel and Chaim Akerman hid in that bunker for a year without being discovered and were saved.
In July 1944 the Russian army liberated the Lublin province and Mendel and Chaim returned to their hometown Glusk. They discovered that from the 850-strong Jewish community that lived in the town before the war, only 18 people had survived. The rest of the population – neighbors, friends, relatives and Chaim's mother Rachel and sisters Perla and Zelda – were killed in the Ghettos and in the crematoriums of the concentration camps Bełżec and Majdanek.
His sister Gittel hid throughout the war at the house of a gentile villager who took care of her. His sister Feige obtained forged documents of a Christian woman and hid successfully using false identity. Chaim and his father did not even know the sisters were alive. Chaim accidentally met them in Lublin a year after the liberation.
Mendel Akerman, Chaim's father, tried to rebuild his life in his hometown Glusk and resumed trading in horses and other animals. He traveled with a group of Jews to Piaski, a remote village, to buy horses.
In Piaski, the Jews were discovered by armed members of the Polish resistance AK, who opened fire and killed them. Chaim was in shock when he learnt about what had happened. The emotional suffering caused by his father's murder has been with him ever since and pains him greatly even today, when he is approaching his 80th year.
After the horrifying murder, Chaim moved to Lublin and joined four other youths, aged 14-18, all of them Holocaust survivors. In a group, it was easier for them to survive the unstable and stormy post-war period. They teamed up and provided food, housing, cloths and money for themselves.
His sister Gittel had met in Lublin a Jewish refugee named Moshe Freshtman who was born in Osipov-Lubelski [Józefów Lubelski], and after a short time married him. Later the couple followed in Chaim's footsteps and immigrated to Israel. In Israel Moshe worked as a building contractor and he, Gittel and their children settled in the town of Bat Yam.
His sister Feige left Poland, moved to a refugee camp in Germany and there married Yosef Morer, who was also a refugee. The couple immigrated to Israel in 1948. Yosef Morer was a carpenter and lived with his wife Feige and their two children in Petach Tiqva.
Chaim Akerman and his group members joined in Lublin the pioneering youth movement Hashomer Hatzair (a Socialist Zionist youth movement), and its members helped them travel to the Polish-German border. In the town of Breslau [Wrocław] the youths made contact with a Jewish Soviet officer who smuggled them inside a Russian military convoy from Lublin to Berlin, Germany. In Berlin they contacted members of the Jewish Brigade, who were dedicated to saving Jewish youth.
Chaim Akerman sailed to Israel (then Palestine) with other members of Hashomer Hatzair on board of the ship "The 35 Heroes of Gush Etzion". The ship was captured near shore by a British combat vessel and the immigrants were sent to a Jewish refugees' detainee camp in Cyprus.
In 1948, two weeks before the declaration of independence of the State of Israel, Chaim Akerman finally came to Israel. The youths of his group were housed in the kibbutz Sha'ar HaGolan (situated at the foot of the Golan Heights).
Upon the commencement of the War of Independence, the kibbutz Sha'ar HaGolan faced harsh attacks by Arab gangs and a semi-regimented Syrian army. The youth of the kibbutz were evacuated to Haifa to protect their lives and later housed in the kibbutz Kfar Masaryk. Sha'ar HaGolan was captured by the Syrians and liberated shortly afterwards.
During War of Independence Chaim Akerman fought within the ranks of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and was released from duty in 1949. After his release from the military he worked as a builder and lived in Jaffa with his sister Gittel and her family.
In 1954 he went to France to visit his cousin Pierre. He had intended to stay in France for a month but eventually stayed five years. With the help of his cousin he found a job and enrolled in a French language school. After his eyes had been injured in a work accident, he was hospitalized at a Jewish community hospital. There, during his painful recovery process, when he was half-blind, he met Rachel Fadida, a Jew from a Moroccan family that immigrated to Paris. Rachel worked in Jewish community institutions as a nurse. After his recovery and marriage to Rachel, Chaim worked at a construction cranes factory. The couple's first son, Mishel, was born in France.
In 1963, Chaim and his family immigrated to Israel and set up home in Herzliya. Chaim took an insurance broker's course and began working as an independent insurance broker. He founded an insurance firm, which bears his name and is operating till this very day. Chaim and Rachel had two more sons in Herzliya: David and Ori.
In 1988, Chaim went to Poland on a 'heritage visit'. He visited his hometown Glusk and the city of Lublin, and met friends he has kept in touch with since World War II. Since then he traveled to Poland a few more times, each time accompanied by one of his sons. Chaim retired from employment and his business in 1997.
He is leading an active life and regularly visits Herzliya's Holocaust Survivors Club.