by Sol and Toby Rubenstein
story of our family which I have written is what I remember;
but most of it was told to me by my parents, especially my
mother, whose vivid memory of incidents and people have been
an invaluable source of knowledge and inspiration.
The story of Toby's family was told to me by Toby and by a
letter of memories written by her sister Goldie in a letter
written to our nephew, Dr. Albert Sattin.
The one-story brick house in which I was born on March 2, 1916 stood on the main street in
Łapy, Poland, twenty-five kilometers south of the city of
Bialystok. Łapy, a small town called in Yiddish "shtetl," was
a major railroad crossing for the Warsaw-Vilna line. It had
approximately one hundred Jewish families and three-thousand
gentile families in 1939. The main industry was government
railroad repair shops that employed about 4,000 gentile
people. The Jewish population was discriminated against and
denied the opportunity to work at the railroad shops.
Two of the major streets were Main Street and Railroad
Street. The few side streets were no more than alleys
inhabited mostly by Jewish residents. Most of the gentiles
lived at the outskirts of town in small villages. Each family
had a house with two or three acres of land to plant grains,
potatoes, vegetables and to raise a few livestock and poultry.
Most of the Jewish people were merchants and tradesmen. Each
family had the front part of their home as a place of
business and the back room as their living quarters. My
entire family consisted of uncles, aunts, great-uncles,
great-aunts, and their children branched out into ten separate
and independent families. Each family had their own home and
retail business on Main Street. Their businesses dealt with
the farmers and railroad employees.
FATHER IN THE RUSSIAN ARMY
Father served with the Russian Army in Finland from 1906 to
1909. When World War I started between Russia and Germany in
1914, father was again mobilized to Russian army fighting
units on the western front. During this time he was wounded in
his arm and sent to a hospital in Moscow. Father used to call
this hospital "Tzarske selow," which means "the Tzar's
palace." It was one of the military-hospitals for the Tzar's
soldiers injured in the war. After six months of
hospitalization, he was discharged and sent home. Our shtetl
Łapy was then under the occupation of the German army. My
father was arrested for being a former Russian soldier and was
sent to Germany to a prisoner-of-war detention camp; or like
Father used to call it in German, "gefangen lager." He
remained there close to a year.
I don't remember my father ever telling stories of his war
experiences, but my mother was quite a good storyteller. She
told me about my father being wounded in his arm. When I was
older she told me about the time Father came back from the
prisoner-of-war camp, and he was wearing his old Russian
uniform. As a child, having the fear of soldiers, I told my
mother to tell the soldier he should leave the house. Germany
lost the war in 1918, but the Armistice of 1918 did not last
very long. By 1920, fighting erupted between the newly-formed
Polish armies and the Bolsheviks.
As a four-year old boy, I can remember our family going to the
house of my great-uncle Jacob Ogulnik. His was a brick
house with a basement that was used as a shelter for
protection from the bombs and artillery fire. The constant
explosions of the artillery fire shook me up so that I can
remember myself jumping up or shaking at any unexpected noise.
After the Armistice, Poland regained its independence after
one-hundred fifty years of Russian, German and Austrian
occupation. The terms of the Armistice and the Treaty of
Versailles included provisions protecting the National rights
of minorities, and to abolish all discrimination due to
religious, racial or national differences.
THE POLISH ARMY AND INDEPENDENCE
These promises were never fulfilled. With
the establishment of the Republic of Poland, more
discriminations and intolerable acts of anti-Semitism occurred
during all my growing years from 1918 to 1939. My parents
always repeated the stories to me about the years after the
Armistice of 1918 to 1921. They wanted me to never forget the
pogroms and the anti-Semitic acts of violence of Poland's
newly-formed armies. A name I often heard was "Hallerczycy,"
which meant General Haller's army. This army was
responsible for the murder of Jews and anti-Jewish pogroms.
I remember coming home from school one day in fourth-grade
with a story to tell my mother. I had learned about Poland's
army and their victory for independence after so many years of
foreign occupation. Mother had an explanation for me in a few
words. She told me that Poland's independence had nothing to
do with the army. It could only be credited to the United
States of America and the Treaty of Versailles. Years later I
realized how right she was...
AFTER THE WAR
The economy after the war in all of Europe
was in a desperate situation with the shortages of food,
clothing and medical supplies. Thanks to American relief under
the leadership of Herbert Hoover, who later became
President of the United States, shipments of food and medical
supplies arrived for the starving population. My father was
the committee chairman responsible for the fair and equal
distribution of food supplies in the Łapy area. I remember the framed picture
of President Herbert Hoover as the man responsible for this
great humanitarian endeavor. My parents always mentioned that
my brother Eli, as a baby, was very sick at the time.
They claimed that the American evaporated milk is what saved
A story related to that time was about a
man in our shtetl of Łapy named Vevke Cocoa, I often asked my
parents why people called this man Cocoa, since his real name
was Bloustein. I was given an explanation that during
the time of the American food distribution, Vevke Bloustein
had always asked for cocoa and nothing else. He liked the
taste of cocoa so much that he would trade everything he had
for it. Therefore, people nicknamed him "Cocoa," and the name
of Vevke Cocoa remained forever.
THE ODELSKI FAMILY FROM Łapy
Although my father was a newcomer to Łapy,
my mother, Chaje Lea Odelski, was the granddaughter of
Joseph Odelski, the founder of the town. My great
grandfather Joseph Odelski came to Łapy from a small town near
Vilna in the 1850s. This was at the time when the Warsaw-Vilna
railroad line and the machine shops were being built in Łapy.
When the construction was finished and the railroad moved
farther north to Vilna, some of the working men sold their
homes to my great-grandfather and they moved on. The total
purchase was six large parcels of property, all located on
Main Street. Some of the parcels were built like a compound
with a well in the middle, surrounded by houses and gardens.
As newlyweds, great-grandfather Joseph Odelski and
great-grandmother Heidi Odelski established the first
general store in Łapy. Soon the name Joseph Odelski was known
all over the vicinity as the "Store," the "Place," and the
"Man" to do business with. Great-grandfather became to be
known as a man of his word, a man you could depend on. The
saying was that "you can build a building on his word alone."
His promise and his commitment did not leave any doubt.
Great-grandfather Joseph and his wife Heidi raised nine
children: four boys and five girls. Two of the girls
immigrated to San Francisco in the 1890s. Information of their
whereabouts or their families is not known. As more Jewish
families settled in Łapy, great-grandfather became
instrumental in building a synagogue with a house for the
Rabbi and his family. With the expansion of the railroad, more
Jewish families settled in Łapy which expanded trade and
commerce. Before World War I, Łapy had a Jewish population of
one-hundred Jewish families. Due to the increase in the Jewish
population, a second synagogue was built next to the old
synagogue and it was called the "new synagogue." I can
remember the old and the new synagogue as the center of all
CHAJE LEA ODELSKI AND HER FAMILY
Chaje Lea Odelski was born in Łapy in 1888.
Her father's name was Shlomo Odelski and her mother's
name was Hanna Rachel. Grandmother Hanna Rachel was a
very wise and ambitious woman. She raised four sons and four
daughters. I remember when our whole family congregated at my
grandmother's house on Friday evening for conversation,
discussion and advice. Grandfather Shlomo was a very pious man
and spent most of his free time studying the Talmud. My
grandparents were retail merchants. I was named after my
Listed below are the names of the eight siblings in my
1) Falk Odelski--died in the Holocaust
2) Gershun Odelski--died in World War I from an illness
3) Leibel Odelski--died in World War I from an illness
4) Motel Odelski--immigrated to Australia in 1939
5) Feige Odelski Zolty--died in the Holocaust--WW II
6) Chaje Lea Odelski Rubinstein--died in the Holocaust--WW II
7) Pearl Odelski Gelchinski--died in the Holocaust--WW
8) Malke Odelski Godigand--died in the Holocaust--WW II
Mother was a young girl in her early teens when she started to
work for her grandfather by helping out in the store. In time
she was familiar with all the operations. Great-grandfather
Joseph was very proud of his first granddaughter taking part
in the operation of the family business. I remember my mother
always mentioning certain sayings about great-grandfather
Joseph Odelski. For example, Grandpa said, "You can't fill up
a sack when there are holes in it." "It's hard for an empty
sack to stand upright." "God is generous to those who get up
early." "There is nothing to cheer about when you get old, but
youth also has its problems."
Mother used to tell the story about Grandpa showing a customer
two bolts of calico dress fabric. The customer asked Grandpa
why he was not saying anything about the fabric. Grandpa
replied, "There is nothing I can say about this fabric. This
fabric speaks for itself."
THE BIALYSTOK POGROM
The years of 1903-1906 were years of turmoil
and unrest in Russia and Russian-occupied Poland. Russia's
defeat in the Japanese-Russian war and the start of the
revolutionary movement were a discredit to both the Tzar and
the government. As usual, as in days or years past, the Jews
were made the scapegoat.
The Russian government gave the reactionary press a free hand
to engage in anti-Jewish incitement. The Russian word "pogrom"
became a frightening word. It meant attack accompanied by
destruction--the looting of property, murder, and rape,
perpetuated by the Christian population against the Jews. In
June of 1906, a pogrom occurred in the city of Bialystok,
located twenty-five kilometers from Łapy. It caused about
eighty Jews to lose their lives. the mob looted and murdered
under the protection of the military and police forces.
Twenty-three years later in 1929, as a young man of thirteen
attending school in Bialystok, I remember visiting the
memorial for the victims and the place on Suraz Street where a
Jewish defense unit called the "Iron Wall" were fighting back.
The Iron Wall was strong in defending Jewish women and
children. Soon the news came to Łapy that the hooligans were
coming to start a pogrom. The entire Jewish population was
invited to take refuge on a farm belonging to my wife Toby's
grandfather Hillel Zolty in the village of Yenki,
seven miles from Łapy. This saved many Jews from death and
injury. Thirty-one years later in 1937, at the age of
twenty-one, I was fortunate to marry the lovely granddaughter
of Hillel and Rachel Zolty, Toby Stolarsky.
Great-grandfather Joseph Odelski was the only one in Łapy who
refused to leave his home and business to seek refuge at
Hillel Zolty's farm. The first pogromist who broke into his
house was approached by Joseph Odelski. He asked him what he
wanted. The pogromist was stunned because he knew Grandfather
and did not expect him to be there. Joseph Odelski took out a
five-ruble gold piece and told him to get out. The pogromist
fled with the coin, but the mob looted some of the Jewish
homes. They broke windows and cut open the goose feather quilts for the wind so the feathers would carry all over town.
I remember my mother singing the revolutionary songs and the
songs of the pogroms of that period as lullabies for my
younger brothers and sister.
Great-grandfather's admiration for Hillel Zolty's concern,
honesty, and influence among the gentile population and the
authorities was the reason that Joseph Odelski named Hillel
Zolty executor of his will. As my mother told me the story,
she said it was a very difficult job, but the distribution of
the estate was fair to all parties concerned. As the
friendship of the two families grew stronger, the first
marriage of Hillel Zolty's son, Yitzchak Itche Zolty,
to my mother's sister Feigl Odelski in 1908, united the Zolty
and Odelski families. My wife Toby was born in 1912 in
Yedwabno (Jedwabne), a small town not far from the city of Lomza in Eastern Poland,
then under Russian occupation.
THE ZOLTY FAMILY
Toby's grandparents Hillel and Rachel Zolty
owned a good size dairy farm. They grew their own vegetables,
potatoes and fruits along with baking their own bread. They
were also owners of the village saloon. The Zolty family were
the only Jewish family in the village. They were respected by
their neighbors, and often their neighbors would come over for
advice about their personal problems.
Toby's aunts and uncles were as follows:
1) Sima Zolty (Slavat), mother of Abe Slavat
2) Goldie Zolty
3) Yizhak Zolty
4) Abram Zolty
After Yizhak Zolty married my aunt Feigl Odelski in 1910, they
moved to Łapy and he established himself as a wholesale
merchant of flour and sugar. He also acquired real estate and
a partnership in a lumber yard. He served as President of the
Jewish community and a member of the city council in Łapy. His
house was always opened for people to come over to discuss
their problems or to help negotiate a settlement between
conflicting parties. Yizhak was always an active participant
in social actions. His charitable contributions were always
In 1922, while Abram Zolty was taking care of the farm and the
saloon, some anti-Semitic hooligans came into the saloon and
picked a fight with Abram. His mother Rachel got so upset and
frightened that she suffered a paralyzing stroke. She died
five years later in 1927.
Grandfather Hillel Zolty, his brothers Arke and
Berke, were born in the village of Ruz, about eight
kilometers from the town of Sokoly and eighteen
kilometers from the town of Łapy. Ruz was the estate of the
Jeruzalskis (a family of Poland's gentry.) They were
landowners of large parcels of land including orchards,
forests, fields of grain, grazing land and cattle.
Toby's grandparents were involved as brokers for the many
products of the estate. The two families had a good
relationship, and as the years passed by, their children grew
up to become each one to their own calling. The Jeruzalski
siblings became a judge and the other a high-ranking military
The Zolty siblings were high-class merchants and community
leaders. Their childhood friendship continued, and as far as I
can remember, they were always involved helping each other,
especially in lawsuits--in areas around Sokoly and Łapy. Arke
Zolty and Yitzchak Zolty were involved with Judge Jeruzalski
in clarification of facts in order for him to arrive at a just
and fair verdict. (The present Premier of Poland, Woichiech
Jeruzalski, is a kin of the Jeruzalski family.)
Arke Zolty, Toby's grandfather's brother, was a very important
man in the town of Sokoly and was very well liked. He was a
member of the town's council and an excellent and successful
negotiator between conflicting parties. In all social actions,
he was always an active participant in important matters. He
owned two lumber yards. In business transactions, he was
trusted with large sums of money. He was a man of honesty,
integrity, and a man of his word.
In the Fall of 1941 when the Germans occupied Sokoly, he was
selected to the Judenrat (Jewish council.) In November 1942,
the Germans ordered four hundred horse-drawn wagons to
transport the entire Jewish population to the Treblinka
extermination camp. Many Jews ran away to the forests. Among
them was Arke Zolty. He was found murdered near the village of
Toby's grandfather's brother, Berke Zolty, lived in the town
of Sokoly. His son, Nathan Zolty "Zahavi" emigrated to Israel
with a group of young men and women before the First World
War. In Israel he joined a group of pioneers and settled in a
northern outpost in the upper Galilee called Tel Hai to
guard outlying Jewish lands.
In March of 1920, Nathan Zolty Zahavi was wounded in the chest
by a bullet alongside Tel Hai Commander Josef Trumpeldor
during an attack by Arabs on an upper Galilee Jewish
outpost. Nathan Zolty Zahavi later settled in Haifa on Mount
Carmel. He prospered in Israel and sent for his father and
sisters to come to Israel. Nathan Zolty "Zahavi" was the last
surviving defender of Tel Hai. He died in Haifa on April 1,
1984 at the ripe old age of 93.
THE RUBINSTEINS AND THE TAX COLLECTOR
After World War I, my parents' livelihood
came from a small retail store of general merchandise. They carried a
combination of groceries to kerosene for lighting lamps to wallpaper.
Anything that could be traded with the farmers or sold to the railroad
employees and general population they carried. Our living quarters were in
the back of the store. With a constant great effort and struggle, we tried
to make a living just to survive from day to day.
The government of the newly-independent Poland passed new laws of high
taxation. Commerce and trade was restricted and more poverty was created.
The authorities collected taxes in a very cruel and uncivilized way. They
did not care if a profit was made or not. If somebody was engaged in a small
business or trade, the authorities demanded that a tax be paid. I can
remember, as a young boy of fourteen, when the collector came to our home to
collect taxes. We had very little merchandise and not much of anything else
except for our one and one-half room house, and a little store room that
Mother inherited from her parents. The tax collector was looking all over
for some hidden merchandise. Not being able to find any, he took my father's
watch and chain from his vest pocket, acting like a hold-up man. I remember
my father mentioned this incidence with sadness. His watch was given to him
by his father as a wedding present.
Years later, in 1940, we established the "St. Clair Hosiery Center," a
retail store in Cleveland, Ohio. At tax time I filed an income tax return.
When the clerk at the Federal Building looked at my return, he told me that
I did not make enough money to pay a tax. He told me to go back to my
business, make more money and come back next year to pay my tax. On the way
home I thought of that terrible time in Poland when the tax collector
grabbed my father's watch. I told myself how fortunate I was and how
thankful I should be to live in this wonderful country, the United States of
YIZHAK JACOB AND CHAJE LEA RUBINSTEIN
My father was a learned man, knowledgeable in the Talmud,
Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian literature. He enjoyed giving lectures and
teaching the Bible and prayers to the children. I remember him as a man who
never said anything bad about his fellow man. The Rabbi of Łapy, Rabbi
Brisman (who later became the Rabbi in Warsaw), once remarked that
Yizhak Jacob Rubinstein is the kindest man he ever met. When somebody was
impatient or in a hurry, Father used to quote in Russian, "Drive slow, you
will get there faster." He always emphasized the importance of the Yiddish
quote, "Be a mensch." Reference: the meaning of the word "mensch" by Leo
Rosten in his book, "The Joys of Yiddish," means "an upright, honorable,
decent person, "Come on, act like a mensh!"
My parents often denied themselves for the benefit of their children,
whether socially or economically. I remember that our family always had the
front seat to the Eastern Wall of the synagogue. During the Shabbat and
holiday services, my father insisted that his sons have the front seats. For
himself, he took a seat in the back of the synagogue.
Mother always used to make reference to certain folk sayings she heard from
her parents and grandparents. These sayings were passed on from generation
to generation. When somebody was disappointed by a friend or relative,
Mother always used to say, "You will never know the nature of a person
unless you sit down with that person to eat a pound of salt." This
means that the only way you'll know the nature of a person you associate
with is by having some kind of dealings with that person. Speaking of
accomplishments in life, Mother used to say, "Your life's success will
depend on the degree you set for yourself to accomplish your goals." Another
saying was, "When you chop wood, chips fly." This means that some mischance
is always possible when you start some sort of venture. Another saying was,
"It will come into your hand..." This meant that if you have misplaced or
lost something, not to be concerned, for it will show up in time. Another
saying was, "If not for the law, people would eat each other alive." This
means that although some of the laws were not favorable to many people, the
basic idea of law and order is good.
GROWING UP IN ŁAPY
When I was five years old, I started to go to Heder. It
was a one teacher, one room school where we learned Hebrew prayers, the five
books of Moses, the Bible, and readings and writings in Yiddish. I remember
my first teacher, a kind old man with a long white beard. For lunch he had a
piece of black bread with an onion and a glass of water. Sometimes kids
would bring him an apple, a pear, a radish, or whatever their parents were
able to spare. I remember some children used to come to Heder without lunch
and beg for bread from the other children.
Yiddish was the only language I knew when I was growing up. My parents,
however, both spoke Polish and Russian flawlessly. At home they spoke only
Yiddish. When I was seven years old, I started public school for Jewish
children so I could learn Polish. At home I sometimes spoke a few words in
Polish and sang a Polish song I had learned in school, but my parents
preferred that I sing in Yiddish instead. A few years later, I started an
integrated school for Jewish and Polish children. Some of the Polish
children were always harassing and looking for fights with the small
minority of the Jewish children. I remember the parents waiting for the
children after school with great anxiety due to their fear of their children
When I was twelve years old, I attended a Junior Yeshiva to study the
beginning of the Talmud in the city of Bialystok, twenty-five kilometers
from my home in Łapy. I lived in a rented room with two other boys. I had
dinner each day in a different house. This was the custom for the young
Yeshiva students. My dinners were arranged by my parents in the following
order: Monday, I had dinner at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Rabinowich;
Tuesday, I had dinner at Mr. and Mrs. Chorosh's home, and etc. That
system was called "eating days," and in Yiddish was called "esen teg."
In 1930 the economic situation in Poland was turning from bad to worse. I
don't remember my parents ever complaining. They were always so reassuring
with their expressions of confidence that everything would be all right.
They wished, hoped and prayed that it wouldn't get any worse. Every thought
and idea in the family conversation was always in a positive tone. My
parents used to tell us the stories of the past about the good old days and
the bad times too. They believed that times would change for the better.
Although I knew that we were poor, my mind never became resigned to poverty.
I was never in despair, but always full of hope of better times to come. In
1931, I began to help in our general store. I was interested in
merchandising, buying and store organization. I was praised by my parents
that I would be a good merchant like all the other merchants in my family,
going back to my great-grandfather. At a family gathering, the possibility
of a first ready-to-wear clothing store for our town was discussed as an
opportunity. I liked the idea and became an apprentice to a clothing
manufacturing shop in order to get acquainted with the operation of the
manufacturing and the knowledge of style, fashion, qualities and grades of
yardage and patterns.
THE BETAR, THE HACHSHARA, AND ZIONISM
Also, during this time, I attended night school for four years and took
extra readings in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish. In 1931, I joined "Betar," a
Zionist Revisionist Youth Organization. We learned Jewish history and the
ideals and goals of the Zionist movement. The goal was the establishment of
a Jewish state in Palestine, in addition to putting an end to living in the
Diaspora with its persecutions, pogroms, destruction of Jewish communities,
discrimination, bigotry, prejudice and hatred. We learned the teachings and
ideals of Betar and the Zionist movement under the leadership of Zev
Zabotinski. Youth chapters of Betar were organized in every state, town
and city. We wore uniforms and learned self-defense, military discipline and
honorable behavior. It was an enlightenment for the Jewish youth, and it
made us feel good about ourselves. We were told to keep our heads up, to
walk straight, and to stand up for our rights. Most of all we were told to
approach every situation with honor and confidence.
Immigration to Israel was a goal every young man and woman looked forward to
in those days. "Hachshara," the training preparation centers for life in
Israel, specializing in farming, orchards, forestry and lumber, were
organized in many places in Poland. After six months of training, at the age
of eighteen, a person became qualified to apply for a certificate for
immigration to Israel. In 1934, I decided to go for six months to Hachshara.
I entered a training center for farming and forestry. It was six months of
hard work, but I did everything that was required of me to do. When I came
back from the Hachshara, I applied for a certificate to immigrate to Israel.
It was my hope and my dream for several years. A reply in regards to my
certificate arrived. I would have to wait my turn because there were more
than ten-thousand applicants ahead of me. At that time Britain was limiting
and restricting immigration to Palestine. Being disappointed, I found myself
in a frustrating situation of being helpless in my efforts to get out of
I inquired about some information I received about illegal immigration to
Palestine. I then contacted some people involved with illegal immigration to
Palestine and Kenya, East Africa.
THE PERIOD BEFORE WORLD WAR II
The few radios we had in our shtetl were booming with
Hitler speeches of hatred against the Jews. I saw refugees coming from
Germany; they were educated and professional people without any means of
support. boycotts against Jewish stores, anti-Semitic riots, and attacks
against Jews convinced me that I must leave Poland as soon as possible. The
question was how and where. There was no country in the world that was
willing to let immigrants or refugees in, and no country in the world was
willing to soften their immigration laws.
The period of 1936-1937 was especially a time of stress, pressure,
aggravation, fear and worry for Jews in Poland. I saw my mother turning from
a hopeful and cheerful person to one filled with hopelessness and
depression. My father, a god-fearing man, kept his hope and confidence up
through his belief in prayer. However, I do remember noticing his hair
turning gray very fast. His looks and moods changed to care and worry.
In the beginning of 1937, I was approached by my Uncle Yizhak Zolty about
his niece Toby Stolarsky who was residing in Cleveland, Ohio. She was coming
to visit Poland and through marriage it would be possible for me to enter
the United States legally. When we met in July of 1937, we knew then that
without any doubt our marriage would be for real.
MARRIAGE, THE VISA AND THE EMIGRATION
As I am writing this page, Toby and I are going to
celebrate our forty-seventh wedding anniversary on August 14, 1984. During
our courtship, we visited Toby's grandfather Hillel Zolty on his farm in
Yenki, about six miles from Łapy. To Toby it was a nostalgic visit as she
remembered the farmhouse and her grandparents when she was ten years old,
before she and her mother left for America in 1923. We traveled to the farm
and back by horse and wagon, the only transportation available at the time
except for the railroad main lines. I remember that no one in our town owned
an automobile in 1937. we were married on August 14, 1937 by the local rabbi
of Łapy with an attendance of ten people at the rabbi's house. A few days
later, Toby left Poland in order to return to the United States. She
immediately applied to the State Department for a visa to be issued to me.
In October of 1937, I received a letter from the American Council in Warsaw.
They notified me that the visa for me was denied because of the sponsor's
lack of sufficient funds as security. A second denial was issued to me in
January of 1938. This was the time during the great American Depression when
funds were limited to most people. Eventually Toby's parents were able to
borrow the funds needed for the duration to secure my entry into the United
States. They borrowed the money from a neighbor after all efforts from
While my visa was delayed, I was drafted in March of 1938 into Poland's
armed forces. I was assigned to an infantry division. My term of service was
for eighteen months ending on September 1, 1939. The Germans attacked Poland
on that day, September 1, 1939. At a family conference, Uncle Yizhak Zolty
said that risks would have to be taken to get me out of an army that was
corrupt, weak and anti-Semitic. A medical officer, who would trade anything
for a bottle of liquor, ordered me to a hospital for two weeks. After four
months of service, they discharged me and sent me home. That time held too
many fears, concern and uncertainty. Fear of war. Fear of informers. Fear of
being falsely accused and arrested. I remember my Aunt Feigl Zolty
expressing herself on the eve of Yom Kippur and not to miss a word--praying
that I should receive my visa soon.
In about ten days after Yom Kippur, I received a letter from the
American Council in Warsaw saying that my visa was finally approved and I
could leave Poland on January 5, 1939. On December 30, 1938 I left my little
town "shtetl" Łapy with hope and enthusiasm for Warsaw to pick up my visa. I
then went to Poland's port city of Gdynia to board the steamship of the
Gdynia American Line, M.S. Batory. My uncle Yizhak Zolty accompanied me to
Warsaw to pick up my visa and to process the necessary papers. When I was
boarding the train for the port city of Gdynia, I noticed my Uncle Yizhak
Zolty shedding tears of joy and accomplishment after all the obstacles, but
also tears of great concern for the future. I can never forget this
strongman with his thundering voice.
I remember observing the ship pulling away from Poland's shoreline into the
open sea with nostalgia, (leaving) the land of my ancestors for seven
hundred years. And leaving behind my friends and family: my father, Yizhak
Jacob Rubinstein, my mother Chaje Lea Rubinstein, my brother Eli
Rubinstein, my brother Joseph Rubinstein, and my sister Esther
I arrived on a cold, sunny day, Sunday morning, January 15, 1939 at Hoboken,
New Jersey. I remember the day before my arrival. I was up early to see and
be welcomed by the United States and by the Statue of Liberty. After ten
days at sea, I came off the ship and was met by Toby, my young bride, my
uncle Sam Rubinstein and his son Danny. Everyone was there with
happy, radiant smiles.
My first day in America at my uncle Sam Rubinstein's house in Brooklyn, New
York was spent with my aunt Gussie Rubinstein, my cousins Danny,
Marty and Stanley; all Rubinsteins. That day, Sunday, January 15,
1939, stands out in my mind quite vividly as I remember the children on the
street in Brooklyn, New York, playing in the snow and hearing their happy,
fearless voices loud and clear, just having a good time in the land of the
"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these the homeless,
tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
--Emma Lazarus 1849-1887
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it." -- George
"There is no greater sin than to forget." -- Simon Wiesenthal
This is the greatest tragedy to ever have befallen the Jewish people,
including our family in Poland. The history of man knows no similar tragedy.
From 1933 to 1945 the German nation had become a nation of murderers. They
conquered most of Europe and instituted a reign of terror over the conquered
peoples which in its calculated butchery of human spirit, outdid all the
savage oppressions of the previous ages. Six million Jews; men, women, and
children were inhumanely murdered.
This is a message to (our children and their families). NEVER, NEVER to
forget this tragedy, this savagery and bestiality--the greatest crime in
history committed by the German nation against the Jewish people. It should
be a "remembrance" to all of you, your children, your children's children
and for all future generations. The manifestations of anti-Jewish racism
must promptly and rigorously be condemned, and there should always be a
sharp Jewish reaction to movements of discrimination and prejudice.
1. In a moment of thinking about home
and family, while on board ship going to the South Pacific with the U.S.
Army of Occupation in 1945, I took out some pictures to look at. The only
picture (I had) of my sister Esther, a ten-year old girl, was accidentally
blown from my hand and into the ocean. I realized then this great loss,
since this was the only picture I had (of her.) I inquired from my friends
and relatives in Israel and Australia, but to no avail.
2. Aunt Malke Godigand was in her home when two German soldiers came
in and demanded money. When she told them she did not have any, they threw
her into the cellar and beat her to death.
3. Cousin Shlomo Godigand was the first victim when the Germans
attacked Poland, dropping bombs over Łapy. He was killed while he was riding
4. Uncle Motel Odelski emigrated to Australia in April 1939 with the
intention of bringing over his wife, Rivka Odelski and their two
little girls, ages five and seven. I don't remember their names (Malka and
Mira--ed.) On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland and it was too
5. Before World War II, Uncle Yizhak Zolty was an important man in Łapy. He
was president of the Jewish community, city councilman, the owner of a
successful business and a man of property. He was known in the courts of law
and he had the respect of many important people. During the German
occupation, he was hidden by a gentile in a forest bunker. Uncle paid the
man every month. About two weeks before the Germans left, Uncle didn't have
any more money to give the man, therefore, he shot Uncle.
6. Second cousin Aaron Svebrolov was shot to death in front of his
house by the Germans.
7. Grandfather Hillel Zolty died of natural causes on his farm in Yenki near
Łapy in 1942.
8. The family of great uncle Arke Zolty that included his wife Fradl,
their two sons Chaim and David, their daughter-in-law Fella,
and their grandson, a boy of two years who lived in the shtetl of Sokoly
about twenty kilometers from the shtetl of Łapy...Sokoly had a Jewish
population of three hundred Jewish families.
9. During the German occupation, Chaim and Fella escaped to the forest,
taking their two-year old son. We were told by the grandmother that a nun
found the boy wandering in the forest. The nun raised the boy for the
duration of the war.
10. When the family in New York were preparing the papers for the
grandmother and the boy to come to America, the boy contracted some disease
and died. The grandmother then came to New York alone.
David Zolty became a civil engineer.
He was very much liked by everybody, always ready to help, and honest in
every respect. He was a great Zionist and believed strongly in the
establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. During the German occupation,
he was hiding in a forest bunker for twenty-two months. His mother observed
the Shabbat and she did not eat anything that was not kosher. Although David
was not very religious, in respect to his mother, he observed the Shabbat
and the dietary laws. He often went hungry, but not to aggravate his mother.
In the summer of 1944, the Soviets liberated the eastern part of
Poland from the Germans. The few Jewish survivors from the forests and other
hiding places returned to their homes and were attacked by Polish
David Zolty called a meeting of twenty survivors to organize some kind of
defense against the attackers; also to ask for some protection from the
authorities. Suddenly the back door opened and a Polish bandit holding a
machine gun started to shoot and killed David and the other survivors. The
tragedy ended the life of the remnants of the Jewish community in shtetl of
Only five members of our large family survived: my
brother Elias Rubinstein, second cousin Lea Srebrolov, second cousin
Rivka Srebrolov and cousin Abe Slavat.
My brother Elias Rubinstein survived the Holocaust. He was sent to Russia
for training as an accountant during the Russian occupation in 1940. He was
later drafted into the Soviet Armed Forces and was engaged in combat on the
southeastern front. In the late summer of 1944, after the Soviets drove the
Germans out of Eastern Poland, he traveled to Łapy and Sokoly under the most
dangerous situations with the thought on his mind that maybe he would
find somebody among the ruins of destruction. What he did find was empty
Jewish homes. all inhabitants were taken away and murdered by the Germans.
After the war, my brother Elias Rubinstein immigrated to Australia.
Second cousins Lea and Rivka Srebrolov also survived the Holocaust. They
were saved by a righteous Christian. I don't remember his name, but I do
remember that man. He had a bicycle repair shop. I would always see him
riding a motorcycle. He provided refuge for the two sisters in a cellar at
his home for three years. When I met the two sisters in Melbourne,
Australia, they told me about their life in the cellar during the three
years. They envied the dogs outside roaming around free, while they were in
hiding in their dark cellar. In 1944, when the Germans retreated West, they
came out from their hiding place. some of their Polish neighbors were
surprised to see them alive. They wanted to know how come the Germans did
not get them. After the way, our second cousins Lea and her sister Rivka
Srebrolov immigrated to Melbourne, Australia.
Cousin Abe Slavat survived the Holocaust. A few months before the Germans
attacked Poland and Russia, Abe Slovaticki, a ten-year old boy, was sent by
his parents to a summer camp not far away from the Russian border. When the
Germans attacked along the Eastern front, the Russians retreated deeper into
Russia, taking along the children from the camp, thus saving them from the
German murderers. After the war, at the age of sixteen, Abe Slavat emigrated
to Montreal, Canada.
Great aunt Fradl Zolty survived the Holocaust by hiding from the Germans for
twenty-two months in a forest bunker with her son David, whose story appears
above. Our great aunt Fradl Zolty emigrated to Brooklyn, New York in 1946.
Fifty-three members of our family were killed by the
Germans. Two members of our family were killed by Polish bandits. Two
members of our family died of natural causes.
Five members of our family survived the Holocaust and immigrated to
Australia, the United States, and Canada.
On the minds of the victims:
Does the world outside know what is going on? Do they care?
Six million human beings were being destroyed--because they were Jews...and
the world outside was indifferent...