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The Family of Israel Grosbein
By Mary Kropman
My Mother, Rochel Leah, was one of eight sisters, Sonia, Rochel, Ester, Masha, Dvoshia, Chana, Yenta, and Mary, born in Dolhinov to Israel Grosbein and Tzipora nee Gaskin.
She and her identical twin Ester, were born after their eldest sister
Sonia. As Bobba Tzippora had a difficult pregnancy and was weakened by
a long and painful labor, it was decided that Rochel would be taken
care of by her elderly grandparents (Meir and Feiga Gaskin) who lived
in Danilowitz http://www.eilatgordinlevitan.com/dunilovichi/dunilovichi.html.
Baby Rochel was fed by a wet nurse for a few months. Her
grandparents doted on her and as a small child, she was content.
Being an only child in the house. She amused herself and loved to help
Bobba Gaskin. Every few weeks her father came to visit her. He would
stretch out his arms and she would run and jump into his embrace. He
would gently rub her hair and face and she loved the feel of his soft
black beard. He carried a canvas satchel out of, which came surprise
after surprise – a toy, candy and pretty clothes.
They would sit around the kitchen table next to the warm clay oven
discussing family matters. Rochel heard about Tzippora, Sonia and
Ester. While they chatted, Bobba would serve black tea in tall
glasses. The tea was flavored with homemade red syrupy cherry jam and
sticky ginger flavored teiglach. During cherry season Rochel would
help take out the pips from the cherries – she loved the fragrant
smell of cherry blossoms, which emanated from the jam bubbling on the
As she grew older, Rochel found it harder to see her father depart.
One day she clung to him and with tears sliding down her cheeks she
begged him to take her with him. He loved the little girl, it always
pained him to leave her, and so he said, "Yes it's time you came home
my little one". The adoring grandparents were sad to let her go but
they knew that they were getting on in years and that it was not easy
for them to look after an active five year old. They packed her
belongings and put them on the back of the wagon. Rochel sat happily
next to her father as he drove the horses and soon she fell into a
contented sleep. It was dark when they arrived in Dolginhov and she
was carried sleeping to bed.
She awoke in the morning and did not know where she was. In the
bed next to her was an older girl who looked at her and told her "I am
your older sister. Let's wash and dress and I will give you a nice hot
drink. In the kitchen sat a pretty lady with a girl on her lap.
Rochel thought she was looking at herself – it was her mirror image.
Who was the lady? Rochel felt shy and did not know where to hide. Just
then her father came in and she ran to his familiar loving face. He
"Rachel, this is your Ima (mother) and sister Ester. Come and give them a kiss"
"Ima, I have an Ima"? She replied and ran to her to kiss her.
Little Ester felt threatened and pushed her away.
Rochel was happy to have a family and adored her twin. She always
tried to be good as she did not want to be sent away again. Rochel was
always ready to help in the house. In the summer, they prepared for
the long winter months by pickling barrels of salty herring and crispy
cucumbers. A crate of cabbages were sliced and salted to make
sauerkraut. There was loads of washing, water to be fetched, cooking
and cleaning to be done.
Her happiest time was when she accompanied her father on his trips
to buy flax from the peasants. She would be sad when he went to
distant towns and countries because he would be away for days and even
weeks. On one of his visits to England, he bought a lemonade-making
machine. Rochel and her sisters crowded around him in the kitchen as
he set up the machine and made them lemonade. Soon Dolginov was
buzzing with talk of the machine. The next day was market day, a stall
was set up and people flocked to buy the bubbly lemon or bright red
raspberry flavored drink. By midday the syrup and the gas, which
carbonated the drink, were finished. From this little stall on the
market, next to the village water well, developed a thriving
business of supplying coldrinks to the local shopkeepers and then
further afield to the small towns surrounding Dolhinov.
Dolginov, a small town in BeloRussian, passed from Poland to Russia in
1793 and was within Poland from 1921 to 1945. The first anti –Jewish
riots occurred in Dolginov in 1896. The population of 2,559 Jews in
1897 increased to 4,500 by 1941.
The Jews lived in the center and the gentiles lived on either end of
the town. There were a number of educational facilities; a Hebrew
School known as "Tarbot", a Culture School, chederim and Polish public
schools. There were five synagogues. In the center of the town were
the Big Shul, Chassidishe Shul, Market Shul, and Shoemakers Shul and a
little further away, the New Market Shul. Near the shuls there was an
area designated for open-air weddings. In Bathing Street, "Rochov
Hamarchetz" where the mikvah was. The thirty feet wide river Sarchista
bounded the one side of the town. A bridge across the river was not
only the route to Ponost but also facilitated separate bathing
facilities for men and women.
The schools, Chedorim, Shuls, Mikvah and separate bathing
facilities all point to a Torah observant community. The men would
spend evenings learning at their Bet Hamidrash. Rochel's father had
learnt for a few years in the Ponevezh Yeshiva with Rabbi Kahaneman.
Her Uncle Isaac was Rabbi Kahaneman's chavrusah. Rabbi Kahaneman
studied in the yeshiva of Telz and in Radin with the Chofetz Chaim. He
became head of the yeshiva in Grodno, where his outstanding organizing
abilities were recognized. He had a dynamic and winning personality
and established many centers of learning throughout Lithuania. He
became head of the famous Ponevezh Yeshiva in 1919 – by 1944, he had
laid the foundations of the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. He was in
South Africa in the early 1930's to collect funds. He visited the big
centers and made a special journey to the Eastern Cape to a remote
village where there were only two Jewish families. He wanted to meet
with Rochel, her husband and son, so that he could take a "geroes"
back to Dolginov to Rochel's family.
Generally, the Jews were on good terms with their gentile neighbors.
Market day was every Thursday. The peasants would bring their produce
for sale. Near the market were Jewish owned shops and a pharmacy.
The flourmill was owned by the Gordon family. Some, like Rochel's
father, were dealers in linen and grain. There were also craftsmen but
the majority were poor laborers. The Jews were heavily taxed and if
they were unable to meet the taxes the officials would enter their
homes and take whatever they could lay their hands on.
One morning, Rochel was awakened by noise emanating from their
neighbors home. She looked out the window and saw the police breaking
down the neighbors door. They dragged the man out of the house
shouting at him for not paying his taxes. Soon the air was filled with
feathers flying from slashed pillows and bedding. The policemen filled
the empty pillowcases with cutlery, crockery and silver items. At the
next market day, the owner saw his treasured silver Shabbos
candlesticks on display and with the help of the community, he was
able to buy them back.
One day two riderless horses stopped outside the shul. They were
soon recognized as belonging to brothers who had been missing for a
few days. Everyone thought that the boys had been murdered. However,
weeks later their anguished family received a message that they
had been found by an army unit while sleeping under a tree. They were
immediately conscripted and were on their way to the Turkish border.
Many young Jewish lads were forcibly taken into the Russian army and
were forced to serve for as much as twenty-five years.
There were outbreaks of anti-semitism and the young people were
caught up in Zionist organizations such as Betar, Hachalutz and
Hashomer Hatzair. Rochel went to meetings and became a fervent
Zionist. She only wanted to settle in Eretz Yisrael. This wish was
reinforced by some ugly anti-Semitic incidents that took the lives of
young Jewish boys.
A stranger arrived at the shul one day to daven Mincha. After
davening the men welcomed him, "Foon wanen koomt a Yid"? (Where do you
come from?) He told them that he came from Moscow. "Wos toest ir in
Dolginhov", (What are you doing in Dolginov) they asked. He told them
that he had the same dream night after night His son came to him in
the dream and said, "Abba I am lying in a grave seven miles outside of
Dolginov. The grave is under a tree and nearby are my binoculars and a
bottle of water. Abba bury me in Dolginvov". Everyone was shocked to
hear the gruesome tale. The folk offered to assist him the following
day. Rochel's father took him home and he joined them in their meal of
homemade bread, pickled herring, boiled potatoes and cream. The two
men spent a few hours learning together. The tired visitor was given a
bed with a soft-feathered "perena" to sleep on. After davening the
following morning, the men accompanied him
from the shul to the road, which led out of Dolginov to Vilna. Under
a tree, they found a bottle of water and pair of binoculars. Soon
they found the shallow grave with the boy's body. He was buried in the
Near the evergreen wooded forest on the edge of the town lived a
poor Jewish couple. They had two children, Jeinkel who was 16 and
Miriam who was 14 years old. One Friday morning the mother was baking
challos for Shabbos and the daughter was hanging up the washing
outside. Except for the twitter of birds, there was hardly a sound
to be heard. Suddenly a deafening scream shattered the silence.
Miriam ran inside, "Mama koom, zei nemem Jeinkel awek". The mother
ran outside and there were two Poles tying Jeinkel with long ropes to
the back of a horse. "Stop, stop! What are you doing"? She shouted in
Polish. However, the strong, big, young Poles carried on. The Mother
tried to pull the one Pole, he pushed her, and she fell onto the rocky
ground. The other Pole said, "Your miserable son stole a chicken from
"I'll pay you anything, just let him go", she cried. She begged
and pleaded with them to let him go.
"Keep quiet, you old Jew, or we will take your daughter too. Go
and ask the Priest for a letter saying that he is not a Bolshevik and
we will let him go".
With that they slapped the horse and off it galloped, dragging the
screaming Jeinkel behind it.
The mother holding Miriam's hand ran into the town and as she
passed the Jewish quarter the folk wanted to know "Woe geist doe, woe
leifst doe" (Where are you going, to where are you running"). She must
be "mishooga" they said, her dress was dirty and torn, her tichel
askew and she was going to a priest! No Jew ever went near the big
Catholic Church let alone inside it.
The church door was open and she called in a terrified crying
voice, "Mr. Priest, Mr. Priest, I need you". The priest emerged in his
long robes and red skullcap. He asked in a gentle voice, "What is the
matter"? Between her sobs, she told him what had transpired. "Of
course I will write the letter. I remember how your father sewed all
my clothes and my father's. Whenever I came for a fitting he would
give me a nice biscuit to eat. He gave her the note and she ran back
towards the forest. Some of the townsfolk followed behind her. When
they arrived at the edge of the forest the horse and Poles were gone.
All that remained of Jeinkel was a mass of flesh which was
battered, scratched and bleeding. The demented wailing mother was
gently led away by her equally shocked neighbors.
On a Sunday morning, Rochel stood by the kitchen window watering
her bell-like purple and shocking pink fuschia plants. She heard the
sound of a horse drawn wagon approaching on the cobblestone road. A
young Polish boy jumped off the wagon and went into the garden
opposite the Grossbeijn family. He called out to his old school
friend, "Mendel, MMMMendel". A sleepy headed Mendel emerged on the
front steps of his home. The Pole shouted, "You leave my girl-friend
alone", and with that he took out a gun and shot Mendel in the head.
Mendel fell– bright red blood splattered onto the white carpet of
snow. In seconds, the wagon and rider were gone. The boy's mother
came out of the house and fell wailing next to Mendel's body.
Neighbors ran to help her and others went to call the policeman from
the Police Station in the gentile area of the town.
Rochel stood rock-like. She could not utter a sound, only hot
tears fell one by one down her cheeks. Her mother led her to a chair,
covered her shivering body with a warm blanket and gave her some hot
tea. She told the sisters to look after her while she went to see if
she could help Mendel's mother. The murderer, aided and abetted by
his community, was smuggled to another town and never brought to book.
Rochel was in total shock for days. Her movements and actions were
automatic. The only sound she made was when she screamed during a
nightmare. Her father took her to her grandparents where she stayed
for a few weeks. Slowly she found herself feeling, thinking and
talking again. She, however, had only one thought; "I have to leave Poland.
I have to get away from the ruthless Poles. I want to go to Israel".
Rachel's sister Sonya, sent a warm and loving letter telling her
how she and her husband Jacob looked forward to her coming to live
with them in South Africa. She wrote that little Miriam, who thought
that all ladies were her Aunts, would have her own true Aunt. Coming
from a family of eight girls, it was lonely not having close family to
"oisreiden dem hartz" (to speak out from the heart).
Rachel knew that her sister, who had always cared for her, would
once more look after her. She was not afraid. However, she was sad to
leave the family. Twin Esther lived with her husband and baby son in
the nearby shtetl Glubokie. It would be a wrench to have her other
half left behind. Her mother and sisters she would miss, but most of
all her dear, caring, loving and clever father. They had a special
bond formed from the early days when he visited her in Daniliwitz. In
the same way as he would soothe her brow when she was small he was
always there to smooth away her emotional conflicts.
The family was together for the yom tovim. Rachel davened as never
before. Sometimes she would use the Yiddish text–"Oenzer Tate oenzer
Melech " (our Father our King). She prayed that the Eibeshter
(Almighty) would look after her family and guide her on the way to a
strange land called Africa. On Simchas Torah, Rachel never took her
eyes off her Father as he danced with the Torah, his feet hardly
touching the ground.
There was one Shabbos left until she would leave home. Would she
ever come back again? Everyone tried to be cheerful and make it a
Shabbos to remember. As they ate their steaming hot cholent they
exchanged light hearted stories. "Do you remember the time Rochelle
fell into a neighbors pigsty and came home covered in black, smelly
mud". They laughed about how she had warded off shidduchim. She gave
odd reasons – one young man had small hands, another had one candy and
ate it without offering it to her. Rochelle knew they were excuses.
She had an inner burning desire to leave her place of birth. Rachel
looked around the table wanting to retain it as an indelible picture.
The thought of leaving each one brought with it a painful, choking
lump in her throat and a burning, tight feeling in her stomach,
Rachel's large green trunk was packed and repacked many times. It
contained a perene (feather duvet), pillow, clothes and gifts for her
sister, brother-in-law and for little Miriam.. Her sisters gave her
hand-embroidered pillowcases, a blouse and stockings. Her mother gave
her gold stud earrings. Friends whom she had known all her life
streamed into the house with little gifts.
It was not easy to say goodbye and she hugged each one in turn and
all promised to write. Her mother took her in her arms and with tears
said, "Ich hob nisht gewoest wemen ich hob"- "I did not know who I
had". Her Father gently took her to the waiting cart and horse and
they made their way to Minsk.
Her Father gave her advice that she carried with her for the rest
of her life.
Mine tiera kind, (my dear child), It will be a new
country, new language and a new way of life - it won't always be
easy. Your sister will look after you, but she has a husband and there
will be times where she will have to do what he wants. He is your
brother-in-law so listen to him even if in your heart you feel
otherwise. Always smile, even when life is difficult – your face
lights up when you smile and you cheer up all around you. Remember
that you are a Jewish princess and carry yourself like the daughter of
the King. If ever you want to come home we will be waiting for you
with open arms. May the Eibeshter bless you wherever you are and may
you marry, have children who will be as good as you have been.
They arrived at the station as the train was chugging in, the
steam blowing with the cold wind. The moment had come to take leave of
her father. It was one of the most difficult leave takings of her
life. No words would come as they clung to each other. The whistle
blew and Rachel jumped onto the train ran into her compartment and
pressed her face against the cold windowpane. She looked at her
father's dear face, remembering his words, she gave him a tearful
smile. Would she ever see him again? Was the deep-seated feeling of
dread natural or was it a premonition of the terrors that lay ahead?
Rochel's twin Ester, married when she was 16 years old and lived
with her husband and son in Glubokie. The eldest sister, Sonya and
husband had immigrated to South Africa first. Rochel's father said that he
would rather she joined her older sister in South Africa. Rochel left
for South Africa on the Kenilworth Castle in 1928. Later her twin,
family, and younger sister Mary also settled in South Africa.
Her father and 2 of her sisters Dvosia Kraut ( and her family who lived in Glubikie) and Chana were rounded up, shot by the Nazis
in 1942, and buried in a mass grave. Her mother died a natural death at the onset of the war. 2 sisters survived by escaping and joining the partisans.
The majority of Jews in Eastern Europe lived in dire poverty. Jews
wishing to make their way to America or South Africa, saved, with
great difficulty, until they could afford a steerage ticket. Often
one family member emigrated and it could take years before he earned
enough to send for the rest of the family.
Rachel's father dealt in flax and other commodities. Rachel
travelled first class on the train until she reached the port of
Libau. There she boarded a ship to England. In London the travel agent
for the Union Castle Lines met her and escorted her to the Kenilworth
In order to make the mail ships profitable the ships were filled
with as many passengers as possible. Very few passengers could afford
the cost of a cabin and most purchased steerage class tickets. The
passengers slept on bunk beds. The place was cramped and the air
stale. On the high seas the passengers became ill and frightened.
The bowels of the ship soon reeked of vomit and perspiration, which
was compounded by the rancid smell of the ship's oil.
Rachel shared a cabin with a mother and her three young
daughters. A life long friendship was formed with them. Rachel was
pleased that they too would be travelling to Port Elizabeth. Rachel
helped care for the children as their mother was sea sick most of the
way. She would tell them stories, take them onto the deck for a
walk. Travelling cabin class they had access to the deck and the
dining hall. The first time Rachel entered the dining room she was awe
struck by the large, sparkling chandeliers, the white linen
tablecloths, shiny silver cutlery. She was escorted to a seat, the
steward pulled out a chair for her and when she sat down he placed a
napkin on her lap. He presented her with a menu embossed with the
Union Jack and "Kenilworth Castle". She could not read the menu.
What was she going to do? She asked "Kosher". 'No', he said. "Nor
tea en breit", she asked. Every meal for the three weeks on the mail
ship all she ate in the dining room was soft fresh bread, juicy oranges and tea.
In her cabin she nibbled on her mother's homemade biscuits or she ate
some of the fruit and bread she had slipped into her bag in the dining
room. Once while walking on the deck a steward walked around
offering glasses of black tea. She took a glass and while she drank
the strange tasting tea a passenger called out "Der tei iz fleishig"
(the tea is meaty). Rachel dropped the glass as though it was a snake.
Her stomach heaved and she ran to the railing and spewed her vomit
into the dark blue rolling sea.
. Rachel was very anxious. What would happen to her if she had to fill
in papers when they disembarked, as she did not know how to read or
write in English? Back in Dolginovo, her younger sister Masha had shown her how to write
her name and for hours she had practiced. In her sleep she would trace
her name "Rachel Grossbein". She would awake suddenly, sweat pouring
down the back of her neck. Would she be able to write? Why, oh why,
did her parents not send Ester and her to school? All the other
sisters had a good education. Sonya became a bookkeeper and Yenta was
studying to be a pharmacist. Rachel and Ester had thick jet black,
curly hair, rosy red apple cheeks, large brown eyes, shapely noses
and heart shaped lips. Afraid that they would bring on an ayin hora
(evil eye), their mother never allowed them to go out together. A
melamed, a teacher, came to their home and taught them to read and
write Hebrew and Yiddish. Throughout their lives, they regretted
that they hadn't had any formal schooling and like most Jewish
immigrants realized the importance of having a good education. Rachel
would say, "You can loose all your money but what you have in your
head no one can take away from you". The twins never had a problem with
figures and both became capable businesswomen.
The boat docked in the Cape Town harbor. Rachel was awestruck by
the magnificent table-like mountain. The town looked quaint and
inviting. The harbor was a buzz of activity, filled with the cacophony
of the black laborers unloading the crates off the ships. The weary,
pale faced, nervous passengers made their way down the gangplank. A
new life was about to begin in a new strange country and many were
Rachel stayed on the boat; she would disembark at Port Elizabeth.
The thought of seeing her sister and family gave her spirits a lift.
She was not afraid, rather she was excited at the prospect of the new
life and she was ready to meet its challenges.
Her brother-in-law's family met her in Port Elizabeth and drove
her to their home in Grahamstown. How different the brick houses were
from the wooden houses of Europe. The houses were spacious and filled
with sunlight. The whole world looked a brighter place. The warmth and
friendliness of her hosts gave Rachel a feeling of family.
The next day they drove along dusty corrugated roads to Seymour.
After the pretty towns she had seen, Rachel was shocked to see the
tiny hamlet. A few houses, general dealer, fruit and vegetable shop
and post office made up the village. The house was much bigger than
she had ever seen and it had a sprawling garden with fruit trees,
vines and quinces. Rose bushes and white and purple irises filled the
rest of the garden. The excitement of seeing her sister, niece and
brother-in-law took precedence over the feeling of disappointment of
the smallness of the village. Her sister Sonya hugged and kissed her
with smiles and tears. They sat down to tea with syrupy teiglach and
sponge cake. There was so much to discuss. Sonya wanted to hear about
each member of the family. They spoke late into the night until
Rachel found her eyes heavy with sleepiness. She made her way to her
soft comfortable feathery bed. Little Miriam was fast asleep in her
a bed they shared until Rachel left Seymour.
Rachel helped in the house and looked after Miriam. She visited the
shop and could not take her eyes off the black people dressed in ochre
colored blankets, speaking a strange clicking language. She was quite
bewildered. She tried to be helpful. She learnt how to weigh small
amounts of tea, coffee, sugar and flour. She also understood when the
customers would ask " Ama-tea, tickey."
She looked forward to Shabbos – her first in a home after weeks of
travelling. The challahs, chicken soup and roast chicken filled the
house with an aroma of Shabbos. Watching her sister light the Shabbos
candles made her think of her Mama lighting at home and Tati coming
back from shul with his eyes and his silk kapote shining. Rachel
eyes were moist but she pulled herself together saying "It's Shabbos,
I must be happy".
There were so many questions " Where is the nearest shul? What do
they do on the Yom Tovim? Who shechts their chickens"? Rachel was
shocked. The nearest services were held in a hall in the village of
Fort Beaufort – it was just to far to go to even by car on a regular
Shabbos. The nearest shul was in King William's Town, which was even
further.. As for shechting the chickens - there was no rabbi in the
area and they did the best they could. Rachel felt her stomach heave
and her body became hot and sweaty. What was she going to do? She
did not want to upset her sister and brother-in-law. She had to find
a way out. She told them, "I haven't been able to eat meat for a long
time. It doesn't agree with me. I am happy to eat challah and
vegetables". Rachel vowed to herself, never to eat meat again. (She
kept this vow until a few weeks before she passed on when she asked
for the parsons nose of the turkey. Everyone at the table
was shocked – but she ate it and had no after effects!)
The next trial she had to face was when she was told that the shop
was open on Shabbos. "Africa is different", her brother-in-law
explained. "It is the busiest day of the week and the black people and
farmers come from far to buy their necessities. We have to make a
living, we will starve if the shop is closed on Shabbos". Rachel was
shocked when he added, "I want you to come and help tomorrow
morning". Rachel's head was spinning. What was she to do? She had
never broken Shabbos. She could not sleep and thought of her father's
parting words to her. She realized that she would have to help – after
all she was dependent upon them. She made up her mind that she would
do what was necessary and wherever possible would avoid breaking
Shabbos. Filled with trepidation but determined to do the best she
could she went to the shop the next morning. She soon learned how to
improvise – prior to Shabbat she would cut string and paper and
fill the boxes with ready weighed parcels of goods – so that when
the Sabbath came she could avoid doing these maloches. Once the shop
closed at midday she was careful to keep the Sabbath in its entirety
for the rest of the day.
Many Jews practised their Judaism in a similar way. Helen explained
how her father, forced to work on Shabbos, tried to uphold other
My father used to come home Shabbos from work and then he would not
answer the phone. People used to say that we were very strange.
My father felt he had to do that and then he would walk to shul in
the afternoon. Eventually he sold his business and became shomer
Michael spoke fondly of his Jewish grandparents,
Zeida wasn't shomer Shabbos – we are talking about the Litvishe guys.
Everything revolved around shul and around Shabbos. When he sold his
shop he became shomer Shabbas. Bobba helped him in his business but
Friday night was Friday night and shul was shul. It was a kosher
home. It was what we call a Yiddishe shtoeb …. I don't find anyone
today that speaks in such a Jewish way as my bobba speaks. Every
second words is a brocha, but that's what we were brought up with.
Steven at thirty-five had been observant for thirteen years. His
father was the principal of a Talmud Torah. His mother maintained the
required orthodox standards in the home even though she did not feel
about Judaism as his father did. Steven said, "My father taught me
and I knew as much as a matriculant at a Jewish Day School by the time
I was twelve". Although not in keeping with stringent orthodox
standards, his father allowed him to attend movies on the Sabbath. In
Steven's words, "He wanted me to be normal". It is clear that by
"normal". Steven was indicating that is was more the norm for young
Jewish girls and boys at that time not to keep the Sabbath. Often it
was lonely for a frum young boy. Manfred described this:
Even though you were frum, you kept your frumness to yourself. If you
went to Muizenberg on holiday, it was just unheard of that
pre-barmitzvah children were in shul and not on the beach. So we
always stood out in that way and were different. There were not frum
people around, you hardly ever saw people with yarmulkes in the
It is never easy to go against the stream. Rachel, however, was
determined to hang onto as many as possible of the values she brought
with her from der heim. At the same time she knew she must learn to
live in her knew surroundings. She learnt to speak the different
languages used by the people around her. Behind the shop counter she
picked up some Xhosa words In the village she struggled to speak
English to the lawyer, post office official and the schoolteacher. The
teacher gave her good advice "Take the newspaper and read, read, read
– even if you start with the headlines." It was very difficult for
Rachel to make out the letters but she was determined to learn. She
struggled over each letter until they became familiar. The young
schoolteacher was ever ready to listen and correct her. One day Sonya
found her looking at the newspaper and asked "Wos toest ir? – What are
you doing?" She could not believe that Rachel was able to read!
In the evenings Rachel would write to her parents in Yiddish. She
described the village and how she missed the vibrant life of the
shtetl. Apart from the family, days would go by without seeing
another Jew. Sometimes a travelling salesman stopped over. On
Sundays there might be a visit from family or friends who lived in
neighboring villages. Rachel went to the post office everyday to find
out if there was a letter from home. Her excitement was boundless when
she received a letter. She would kiss the unopened envelope and run
to the house where she would call, "Shwester shwester, a briew foon
der heim – sister, sister, a letter from home". They would linger over
each precious word. The post was three months old but to them the news
was always fresh. Her father wrote and told Rachel that if she
wanted to return home she should do so. Notwithstanding all the
difficulties she was experiencing and the longing she felt for family
Rachel knew she could not go back. She dreamt of one day having a
home of her own.
It did not take long for the news to spread that a young Polish
beauty had arrived in Seymour. At a railway siding called Ngwenya,
Louis Shap helped his parents run a trading store. Early one Sunday
morning he saddled his horse and rode to Seymour. The minute Rachel
met him she knew that he was her beshert. She liked his dark brown
smiling eyes and his gentle manner. Louis became a frequent Sunday
visitor. The Abramowitz family were celebrating a wedding in
Grahamstown and the Shaps were invited. Rachel was excited to be going
to a simcha – to move out of Seymour, meet new people and to join in
the wedding festivities.
At the wedding she met Louis parents, Binjomin and Mary. Binyomin
was short while his wife was tall, plump and striking. Binyomin had a
quiet sense of humor while Mary was outgoing with a sharp sense of
wit. Mary soon summed up Rachel and decided she would be the perfect
wife for Louis. However, just to make sure, she invited her to
accompany them on the trip back home. Rachel took this as a good
sign, "They must like me", she said to herself.
Mary and Binyomin said that they would sit on the back seat but
Rachel insisted that one of them sit in the front. Mary asked about
Rachel's family. By the end of the trip everyone seemed to accept that
the next wedding they would all be attending would be Louis and
. Rachel 's friend Bessie took her shopping in Grahamstown for a
wedding gown. 'Rachel it's the one dress you will always remember, it
has to be the prettiest". In a small shop in the main street they
found the perfect dress. Soft white chiffon, trimmed with satin
ribbon, white satin shoes, a long net veil attached to a halo of
orange blossoms. Rachel felt and looked like a queen as she walked
down the aisle with brother-in-law Jacob. The guests all gave a long
protracted "Aahhh". She was indeed a beautiful and happy bride.
Louis could have taken his bride to Ngwenya. However, he decided
that it was not the way to start married life. He borrowed money from
the family business and bought his own store at Debe Nek. Rachel was
thrilled to have her own home and walked around looking at big rooms,
high ceilings, and walls painted by an Italian artist. The carved oak
and walnut furniture glistened in the bright rooms. Trees and flowers
were intricately carved out on the heavy wardrobes, tallboy and
headboards. The side board and dining room table stood on legs of
plaited wood – each leg carved from a single branch. Attached to the
black coal stove, in the kitchen, was a shining copper water tank.
The pantry was soon filled with all the wedding presents. Rachel
designated which would be used for meat or for milk and some were put
aside for Pesach. Outside the house was a huge corrugated zinc water
tank half buried in the ground. Water was pumped by hand and
brought into the house with a bucket. Off the kitchen was a verandah, which
led to a bathroom. On the red polished floor stood a white enamel bath
with brass ball and claw feet. A tank from the roof fed water into
the huge copper geyser. There was no electricity and water was heated
with burning coals. The family owned a white and black jersey cow.
Every morning Willie, the black worker, milked the cow. There was
always an abundance of milk and home made rich creamy white
cheeseformed. The milk was curdled in the warmer draw of the stove,
placed in muslin bags and hung out on the washing line until all the
liquid had drained off. Butter was bought from the local farmers. A
small wooden building stood some distance from the house hidden behind
an overgrown cactus plant. Inside the little house, the wooden seat
covered a deep dark pit. With tongue in cheek, someone had painted in
bold letters on the door W C (Water Closet). The family joked that
the W C without any "sea."
Rachel knew that she would have to help in the store. Once again
she prepared whatever she could before Shabbos – lengths of cut
string, tea, coffee, sugar, weighed and packed into paper parcels.
Thursday evening she kneaded dough and before the shop opened the next
morning the smell of fresh baked challah drifted through the house
and into the shop. She kept the Shabbos as best she could and as for
kashrut there was no compromise. Chickens ran around the hokkie in the
back yard. Every few weeks Louis took a few squawking speckled red
and brown chickens in the back of his car to King William's Town. The
reverend schechted them in the backyard of the communal Morris Kramer
Hall – often the headless chickens ran around for a few minutes.
As soon as Louis returned from the morning trip into town, the
plucking of the chickens began. The remaining feathers singed over a
small fire. First the clean chickens were soaked in cold water, then
salted, rinsed and finally were ready for the pot. If Louis was unable
to make the trip to town tinned fish was the main course for the
Dessert was homemade bright yellow canned peaches and red or green
jelly. Once on a picnic, with the reverend, his wife and family,
Rachel served bright green jelly. As the reverend took a mouthful his
wife asked, "What jelly do you use?" Rachel replied, " Why, I use
Royal Jelly?" With that the reverend spat out the jelly, little bits
of green floating in all directions. He explained that gelatine came
from the hooves of a non-kosher animal. Rachel was very upset. It was
many years before she served jelly even when the kosher variety became
Rachel rose early Friday morning to prepare the Shabbos meal.
The tall silver candlesticks, a wedding present from her parents,
shone brightly on the white damask Shabbos cloth. Friday, before
sunset, Rachel stood with her head covered, lifted her hands,
encircling the candles three times. She said the blessing and
pictured her family in "der heim" , while she prayed from the depths
of heart for their wellbeing and that the Almighty should help her to
cope in a land far away from them. As Kosher wine was not always
available, kiddush was said with the blessings on the challah. The
house was filled with the fragrance of Shabbos and once the meal was
over Rachel bentsched. Soon the candles, flickered and died. There
were no other lights and they would make their way to bed.
At midday, the last customer went out of the shop and the doors
closed. Once more it was Shabbos. After the midday meal the afternoon
was spent reading and sleeping. Later walks were taken along the
railway line or along pathways in the veldt.
However, when the High Holy Days arrived the Budow and Shap
families booked into a hotel or boarding house in King William's Town.
It was accepted that every Yom Tov the Budows ate with the Shapiro
family and the Shap's with the Zasmans. Wolf and Leah Zasman had three
big athletic sons. Mrs. Zasman dished up huge helpings for her men and
her guests too were served in the same way. Pesach, was the
exception, the family stayed home relatives arrived from Ngwenya,
Seymour and Balfour. The small house stretched it's walls. Blankets
came out of the shop and beds could be found in every room. It was a
happy celebration with the reading of the Haggadah, a dinner fit for a
king with matzos, chrain and kneidlach. All the eating interspersed
with singing, chatting and laughter.
Rachel' Twin: Esther, came to South Africa with her husband Moshe and her son.
However, a light went out when the darkness of tragedy descended
during chol hamoed Pesach of 1938. Rachel's twin, Esther, her husband
Moshe Budow and four children were returning to their home in Balfour. A
tremendous storm descended – as though the heavens had opened. The
car's wheels were stuck in the thick mud of a culvert. Moshe tried to
move the car and was swept off his feet by the gushing water, his head
hit a stone and in front of his wife and children he drowned. The
eldest son Gerald was eleven years old, his sister Fanny eight
brother Jack was four and Meyer a year old. Esther was in her
twenties - she married at sixteen. The enormity of this tragedy is
still felt by children and descendants until today. Esther mourned him
for over fifty years Rachel, her twin and Louis joined her in this
irreparable loss. They had been such a happy foursome.
The Shaps and the Budows grew up as one family. Capable Esther,
with Louis support, ran the trading store and the orange farm in
Balfour. In the day, Esther served customers and when the shop
closed, she would see to the orange farm. The orange trees were
fertilized, sprayed and watered. When ripe, they were picked and
sorted into sizes, bagged or boxed and sent to the market. Through
hard work and many difficulties such as learning to speak Afrikaans,
living a lonely isolated life, she was able to provide for her family.
The children went to boarding schools and later to far away Cape
Town to further their studies. Despite the distance from family and
from fellow Jews, strong Jewish bonds were maintained
BACK IN DOLGINOVO: On June 18, 1941, the German army captured Dolginov. In August 22,
men, including the Rabbi of the Community, were murdered by the
Germans. On March 3, 1942, a Ghetto was set up. During Shavuot of that
year, almost the entire Community was wiped out - 500 craftsmen who
were spared from immediate death. In this period many of the Jews
fled to the forests and joined the partisans operating in the Glubocka
Puscza ( Glubokie forests).
One of the partisans, Jacob Sagalchik, told the following:
" Three quarters of the shtetl was burned down. Only one quarter
remained. There were only two side-streets belonging to the peasants
left standing. The Jewish homes were almost all burned down… The
first slaughter took place in a sort of a stable, in a barn, which
they set on fire. Every single one was consumed by the flames. After
that they took a few bodies and buried them in the cemetery. They made
a great mass grave there. Two people escaped from the other stable: a
young man and a girl. In the stable, where they herded the people
there were piles of cloth. There was a warehouse in the vicinity. The
boy and girl hid themselves under the piles and they remained there.
That night, after everybody had been shot, they came out".
Two sisters ( Masha and Yenta) survived the war by escaping and living with the partisans in the forests. The rest
all perished in the holocaust.
Ysrael Grozbejn was born in Dolhinow in 1890 to Yermiyahu and Khana.
Ysrael perished in Dolhinow, Poland. This information is based on a
Page of Testimony submitted on 05-Sep-1955 by his daughter Masha Doytch of
Cypora Grosbejn nee Geskin was born in Poland in 1890 to Meir and
Feiga Geskin. She was married. Prior to WWII she lived in Dolhinov,
Poland. Cypora perished in Dolhinov, Poland. This information is based
on a Page of Testimony submitted on 05-Sep-1955 by her daughter Masha Doytch of
Dvosia Kraut nee Grosbein was born in Dolhinow in 1910 to Yisrael
and Tzipora. She was married to Jakow Kraut who was born in Gluboke in
1906 to Arie and Sara. Prior to WWII they lived in Glebokie, Poland.
Dvosia, Jakow and their daughter Sara Kraut who was born in Gleboka in
1932, perished in Glebokie, Poland. This information is based on a
Page of Testimony submitted on 05-Sep-1955 by Dvosia' sister Masha Doytch of
Jakow Kraut was born in Gluboke in 1906 to Arie and Sara. He was
married. Prior to WWII he lived in Gluboke, Poland. During the war he
was in Gluboke, Poland. Jakow perished in Gluboke, Poland. This
information is based on a Page of Testimony (displayed on left)
submitted on 05-Feb-1955 by his sister-in-law Masha Doytch of
Chana Grozbejn was born in Dolhinov in 1923 to Yisrael and Tzipora.
Prior to WWII she lived in Dolhinov, Poland. During the war she was in
Dolhinov, Poland. Chana perished in Dolhinov, Poland. This information
is based on a Page of Testimony submitted on 05-Sep-1955 by her
sister Masha Doytch of
Rywa Kuzienic was born in Dunilowicze in 1888 to Meir and Feiga
Geskin. She was married. Prior to WWII she lived in Postawy, Poland.
During the war she was in Dunilowicze, Poland. Rywa perished in
Dunilowicze, Poland. This information is based on a Page of Testimony
submitted on 05-Sep-1955 by her niece Masha Doytch of
Jafa Feldman was born in Dunilovichi in 1900 to Meir and Feiga
Geskin. She was married to Szymon Feldman was born in Ponivez in 1900.
Prior to WWII she lived in Dunilovichi, Poland. During the war she was
in Dunilovichi, Poland. Jafa perished in Dunilovichi, Poland. This
information is based on a Page of Testimony (displayed on left)
submitted on 05-Sep-1955 by her niece Masha Doytch of
Lea Gurewicz was born in Dunilowicze in 1888 to Meir and Feiga
Geskin. Prior to WWII she lived in Dunilowicze, Poland. Lea perished
in Dunilowicze, Poland with husband Shmuel and daughter Ester. This
information is based on a Page of Testimony found in the Pages of
Testimony by her niece Masha Doytch of
Ester Gurewicz was born in Dunilowicze in 1914 to Shmuel and Lea.
She was single. During the war she was in Dunilowicze, Poland. Ester
perished in Dunilowicze, Poland. This information is based on a Page
of Testimony (displayed on left) submitted on 05-Sep-1955 by her
Pesia Grozbejn was born in Dolhinow in 1894. Prior to WWII she lived
in Wilejka, Poland. Pesia perished in Dolhinow, Poland. This
information is based on a Page of Testimony (displayed on left)
submitted on 05-Sep-1955 by her relative
Some more information from the son in law of Sonia' daughter: Miriam:
In your lastest newletter No.4 you have my wife's family
all listed.I pressume you got the details from Mary Kropman to whom I
forwarded you original contact letter.Herewith is my further input into the
family tree of Israel Grosbein.I will try and get the other members of the
family to give you their info ie Saker,Abramowitz and Sapire families.
Sonia Abramowitz (Abramovich)? one daughter Miriam (my late mother-in-law)
married Sonny (Ivan Mourie) Kraitzick (Kreichik)? Their daughters Linda,
Jacalyn and Melanie married as follows.
Linda married Jackie Hershowitz (now divorced) and had son Marc Hershowitz.
Jacalyn married Owen Garbman and we have 3 daughters Nicole,Mandi and Steven
(later 2 are a twin)
Melanie married Jeffrey Schneider ( Jeff deceased last year) and have a
daughter Miko and son Dean.
Thelma Abramowitz married Meier Saker and have 2 sons Grant
Shaun married to?
Fanny Abramowitz married Sid Sapire and have three sons.
Colin marrid to Karin in USA and have 2 daughters
Geoff married to ? (wife deceased ) in Israel and have 2 sons and
Michael married ? (divorced) no children
Nathan Abramowitz married Norma and have one daughter name?
Thats about all that I can add at present but will try and fill in the spaces.
Await your next news letter with interest.Kind regards.
Owen Garbman South Africa