Each year, on the day of commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, Yom HaShoah Ve-Hagevurah, in Hebrew literally translated as the “Day of (remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism,” I reflect on being alive because of survivors on both sides of my family. On My mothers side, my Great Grandmother Malka Schachner was shot in the back in the middle of the street in front of her small children who were all killed while waiting for her immigration papers in hopes of coming to America to join her older children who already came to America.
On my father’s side, his parents were both immigrants from Europe and survivors. My great grandmother, Riva, had all of her children murdered and her husband, my great grandfather, murdered as well. I want to tell the world about a survivor who was the strongest man I ever met. My grandfather, Saul Gerszberg.
On 27th day in the month of Nisan — a week after the end Passover and a week before Yom Hazikaron, (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers), I think about my Grandfather Saul Gerszberg and his life. At only 11 years old, he was shot in the back but he survived.
Saul (or Shlomo), born November 15, 1931, was the second of four children of Yitzhak Dorfsman (1910-1942) and Rivka Greenspan Dorfsman (1913-1991). Yitzhak Dorfsman’s father’s name was Casille, who died of natural causes. His mother’s name was Freida, who was killed by the Germans with a bayonet. Rivka Greenspan’s father’s name was Touvya Greenspan (1860-1932 ) and her mother’s name was Baila (1865-1935). Saul’s siblings that were all murdered in the Holocaust were Avrum (1930-1943), Touvya (1934-1943) and Baila (1940-1943). Even though all of his siblings and father were murdered, he survived the Holocaust. After the Holocaust, my Grandma Riva remarried a man with the last name Gerszberg and had two more children. My Grandfather took the same last name as his younger siblings since his other siblings and father were all murdered in the Holocaust.
Before my grandfather passed away from cancer, he gave an interview to relatives:
I was born on 11/15/31 in Sabine, Poland which is 30 kilometers west of Vladavo. In 1934, my family moved to Vladavo because Touvya (my mother’s father) built a house for our family. I started to go to cheder (hebrew school) in May of 1937 and . in May 1938 I started to go to Polish school. I used to walk seven miles to the Polish school where I stayed from eight in the morning until noon. I then walked two miles towards home to go to cheder from noon until five in the afternoon. I then walked home carrying a candle in a glass.
“After the Germans came to Poland I stopped going to school. As of September 1939, I was no longer allowed to go to the Polish school, and in mid-1940 I stopped going to Hebrew school. The Germans wanted to take my father Yitzhak to work, but my brother and I went in his place. My father had wanted to buy a gun early in 1939, but my mother did not let him. This gun could have come to good use for our family. [Saul’s father and siblings were all killed and had no way to defend themselves.]
“In 1940 my brother and I would carry water to the market for the horses, and the farmers would give us bread or something to eat. In April of 1941 my brother and I went to be shepherds. We came back with some food and money. When we came back for the winter time we carried water and sold fruits and vegetables. In April of 1942 we went once again to the pastures. This time when we came, the Polish farmers gave us nothing to take home. The farmers came to check if we were still in the fields. They had reported us to the Germans so they could take us to the gas chambers. Around July, 1942, eight days before Shavuos, the Germans took my father to a cemetery and shot and killed him. They wanted him to go to Tamashuvka to work in a camp. Tamashuvka was on the other side of a brook. Before September 1939, both sides of the brook were Polish territory. But from September 1939 until 1941, the Germans possessed one side and the Russians the other. From 1941 to 1944 both sides were possessed by the Germans. After 1944 Poland was on one side and the Russians were on the other. My father knew that when you went to a camp that you would never come back. He and another friend tried to escape and a Capo (Jewish policeman) reported them to the Germans. They took my father and his friend out of the line and brought them to a cemetery and shot them. Everybody else was taken away to a camp. His friend was still alive when they buried him, but all the people were afraid to take him out so he died there.”
“In September 1942, when I came back from the pasture, my family told me the story of what had happened to my father. The people from chevra (the people who did Jewish burials), who were friends with my family told us what had happened. All of the children were still alive but my father was dead. They also killed my uncle Pesach (Riva’s oldest brother) and his son Yitzhak Mayer.”
“In 1943, there was a Judenrang to clean out all the Jews in the town. They took out Pesach’s wife (Chail) and six children. The seventh child was Yitzhak Mayer, who had already been killed, and Avrum, the eighth child and the oldest, was in Bolivia. They also took Shlomo (Riva’s brother), his wife Payro, and three children and David (Riva’s Brother) with his six or seven girls. Minicha (David’s wife) and Shlomo, one of their children, were left hiding under the floor of their house. They later came to our hiding place. Eventually the two of them went to Adompol. Touvya went to Vladavo and found out that David was killed and their children (six or seven girls) were alive and had somehow made it to a ghetto in Vladavo. They cleaned out all the Jews and kept them in one street named Blottna. Touvya used to see a Russian soldier go into their place and he assumed that the soldier was raping the eldest daughter, 15- year-old Rachel. I believe sometime in May 1943 they took these children to Sobibor where they eventually were killed in a gas chamber.
“Touvya also went back Vlodava and found his old house destroyed. After the war I went back there and the Polish were growing potatoes where our house used to stand. In early June 1943, the Germans surrounded the camp and took me, Minicha and Shlomo in a truck to Grichav. I was taken to an empty barracks and given a towel and some soap and told to clean up. I thought that this was the end. But it turned out to be a real shower. This was a death camp. People use to get human ash fertilizer from this camp for their fields. I was taken to the barracks and given only black coffee for the entire day. I was put in a triple decker bed. The next day I tried to find my way out. I went to work the next morning. At night we were given only soup with corn and a small piece of bread. On the third day here I went to work. I told friends to stand in front of me so I could run away. I hid in the bushes until lunch and when everyone went to the barracks I ran away. I went about 15 miles and recognized the fields I had run to. Later, I returned to Adompol where I was reunited with my mother.”
My grandfather wasn’t killed because he worked on a farm like a slave, he described: “The Poles had to give us food but we worked for nothing. At nights we would return and sleep in a cellar in Gauifka. In August they surrounded us again. They took Touvya (my brother) and me away. My mother, a midwife, was out helping someone have a baby. They brought all the people together and were going to shoot them. I was with my brother. I kept a German soldier occupied and told my brother to run away. He ran away and hid behind some bundles of corn harvest. There was another child hiding there as well. I was told later that the Germans found them and shot them.
“The Germans took me to the older people where they came to get us. It was 7:00 am. It took two hours for them to gather us. They told us to get undressed and just to leave our dungarees on; they then started shooting us one by one. A lot of the people started yelling “Shma Yisrael” and crying. I did not want to waste any time and I told people let us run but nobody listened. I jumped out of the line and started to run. About six or seven Germans started shooting after me but they did not hit me and I ran into the woods. This was a potato field and I did not know there was a German with a machine gun right there by the corner of the woods. I was running straight at him and when I saw him I turned to run the other way He shot me in the back. I felt something hot go through me, but still felt I was able to run. I laid down for a few minutes and then suddenly, I jumped up and ran into the woods. They then started shooting into the woods, but I hid behind a tree stump for protection.”
* * *
My grandfather was able to survive and continued to live a very hard life navigating some of the worst conditions one could imagine for a child. He eventually immigrated to America, learned to speak English, built a business for himself with very little money, had a farm, married my Grandma Sarah and had five children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
My Grandfather was the strongest and most brilliant man I have ever known. He was a survivor and his survival skills saved him as he spent many days traveling alone through forests and starving as an 11 year old child with a gun wound in his back. My Grandfather was incredibly smart in math and would quiz me on multiplication facts. He was funny and had the best laugh despite having the hardest life. He would go for runs around the lake and was the greatest grandfather who loved his children tremendously having known how important family is since he lost his at a young age. My Grandfather would come over and swim with us and I always remembered seeing his gun wound scar on his back. He was a survivor, a man who gave the biggest hugs, made an honest living, and always helped those in need.
The life that my grandfather and many survivors had to live and suffer through, and those who died the most horrific deaths, is nothing that we can ever imagine. With the rise of antisemitism throughout the world, I have vowed to do anything I can to make sure that the Holocaust never happens again. My husband, New Jersey Attorney Daryl Kipnis, owner of Kipnis Law Offices, ran for United States Congress and still speaks at events all over to discuss the rise of antisemitism and how to combat it.
We study the Holocaust not only to remember the victims and pray but to ensure this never happens again. The Holocaust still impacts survivors and their families every day. Families were separated and murdered. We must prevent future atrocities with knowledge and education. Civilization cannot tolerate hatred, antisemitism, and racism. We must stand up whenever we see it and speak out. Social media gives us a platform that can be used to combat hatred but it’s also a dangerous place where hatred grows. Be vigilant, always remember but continue to say: NEVER AGAIN.