During my studies I made
friends with girls from Jewish as well as non-Jewish families,
such as Edith Lefkowitz, daughter of a butcher, and another
one whose father was a pharmacist. On many occasions they used
to invite me to their home so that I would help them as well
(probably with the study material).
I, on the other hand,
wasn't used to hosting friends as grandma's house was on the
other side of town. Another friend was Malka Lipner, who lived
in the city but studied at a public school operating in the
same manner of mixed age groups. I also had friends in
neighbouring houses on the same street. Uta Stein was my best
friend-our friendship lasted more than sixty years till her
death. We studied in the same school in the same class. She
was the shortest in class and I was next in line before her.
We both became activists of the Hashomer movement, which
predated the Hashomer Hatzair in Slovakia......
Youth at the Hashomer Hatzair
Hashomer Hatzair activists came
from Poland and established branches in Slovakia at the
Carpathian mountains, then part of Czechoslovakia, and today
in the Ukraine. By nature this movement was similar to the
In XXXX an international
conference was held in Vrútky, where the first branch Hashomer
Hatzair in Czechoslovakia was established. When the
international scouts day was celebrated, me and Uta including
five other children, [received] the official uniforms: a dark blue skirt
with folds, grey shirt woven with a white shoelace
(positioned on the upper chest) and a tie. In the morning we
went out to the synagogue dressed like that, and then to
school. We did not ask for anyone's permission, just showed up
there the way we did, filled with pride and enthusiasm before
all the teachers and other students. That was the beginning.
The Hashomer Hatzair branch
stood down the street where the school was. It was a house
with three rooms, two study rooms and a library. Outside there
was a large yard with trees, playground and a separate
bathroom. The rooms had no floor, and we, the young activists,
swept the floor with street brooms. We decorated it and took
care of it as if it were our own.
There at the branch was the
first time I encountered the tin box used for collecting
donations to the Keren Kayemet L'Israel. We used to go through
businesses in the city and homes of Jewish families asking for
donations. We always wore the official uniforms, which filled
us with a sense belonging to something greater and important.
At activities we
used to hold
discussions, play and learn Hebrew. Our guides told us a
little bit on Israel, on Zionism, and Jewish dignitaries such
as Max Nordau and others, as well as on socialism, bolshevism,
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (communists). In the evenings
Talmud lessons were held at the Jewish school on the premises,
which were not obligatory.
In 1928, after graduating from
the high school for girls, we moved into grandparents Moritz
and Bertha's house in Smizany, my father's parents. Moritz had
a factory for soda water and lemonade. My father bought a
truck and distributed crates with drinks in the area. In the
meantime I kept on studying in the city at a commercial
school. This school had a major in handicrafts such as sewing.
In that year registration was low and it was decided to
shorten the study period from two to one year by condensing
the study material.
Tova, Viola and I studied there
in that year. We were more mature and studied theoretical
studies as well as home economy, stenography and blind typing
with a typing machine.
On weekdays I went to school by
train, and on Saturdays by foot. At that time I was very
observant and made sure not to break the Shabbat. As Jewish
students we were allowed not to write on Saturday.
I was already fourteen, an age when
one starts wondering and thinking about life. Joining Hashomer
Hatzair and all the activities I took part in, gave me a new
perspective on life. I started thinking and wondering on what
was going on in the world, asking questions that not always
had answers. For example, how is it possible that the world
was created from nothing? Something cannot be created from
Gradually I let go of my
religious observance, though still reserved a little place for
God in my mind, while looking at the world through realistic
and rational glasses.
At home were conflicts: mother
was observant, and father, on the other hand, liked eating
pork meat. She allowed him to do so given that he does so on
newspaper and not tablecloth.
In 1929, a year of world
economic repression, Slovakia was affected as well. I
graduated from the commercial school and was looking for a job
[in order] not to become a burden on my family.
I turned to uncle Moritz,
Helen's husband, and asked for his help. He tried looking for
a job for me and Tova. Various people such [as] a businessman and
lawyers, promised me a job as a secretary, but their promises
were empty. Eventually I found myself a job at a nearby
village as secretary of a distributor and nanny to his
children. He had three children and their grandmother was
living with them in the same house. As part of my job I used
to live and even sleep there. In the mornings he would dictate
letters to me that I typed them into a typing machine. Later on I
helped his children with their homework. My presence at the
house had a positive effect on them, as they wouldn't fight
with each other or make noises.
After a while I returned home
and was back on the lookout for a job. Browsing through the
newspaper I spotted a wanted ad for a assistant to a
9-year-old girl. Since I already had experience with children,
I decided to respond. Education and mastery of several
languages were an advantage, and I got the job.
It was a Jewish family, the
Rotenbergs, and their daughter Tatiana couldn't stand
straight, walk or sit. She may have also been hyperactive. I
treated her like a comrade at Hashomer Hatzair with
friendliness, and in time she responded accordingly. She
became calm, learned to listen and how to behave herself
according to her chronological age. Her parents were
satisfied-the mother asked me to sit with her and recite
stories. On Saturdays and holidays the family used to go to
tourist resorts, such as the city of Zvolen, and I came along
with them. At that time I visited many places new to me which
I did not know before. In every new place I looked for the
blue tin box of the Keren Kayemet L'israel foundation, and at
grocery stores for Jaffa oranges (a trademark of oranges grown
in Israel and exported abroad). I was looking for contact with
fellow Zionist activists. I then contacted the administration
of Hashomer Hatzair and asked that new branches be established
at the places I visited.
The money I earned I used to
send to my mother, who I knew needed it so much, and [in] this way
[it] helped my family. During the summer vacation the Rotenbergs moved
in with Tatiana's grandmother, who highly appreciated me. Her
house was in southern Slovakia, close to a townships where
branches of Hashomer Hatzair were already running. In that
summer we travelled a lot-I even recall we once joined a group
of tourists from the USA and visited the many karstic caves
in that area. I remember one of them in particular-big and
beautiful. It took us two hours to go through its entire
for Zionist Training
It was 1932 and I was almost 18
years old. I decided to quit the job at the Rotenbergs and got
back home to my parents and family.
When I turned 18 I received an
invitation from the administration of Hashomer Hatzair to
partake in Zionist training in the Carpathian mountains, in
Mukachevo (today in the Ukraine).
It caused a stir at home-mother
did not object to [my] moving out of the house but could not hide
her worries and sorrow. She just cried. I, on my part, wanted
her to resist and not to cry. Despite of her feelings she
packed me a blanket, clothes, shoes-just about everything
necessary for every day life. That as well as groceries and
home-baked foodstuff, cookies and all sorts of goodies. I had
a suitcase where I packed my belongings, and a big sac
containing a feather blanket. Mother hugged me tightly and
wished me good luck. Father, who had a truck, came to pick me
up to the train station. He wasn't much of an emotional
person, but before we said goodbye he told me: "if you do not
find your place there, do not hesitate come back home." At the
train station father came across a friend of his travelling to
Košice, and asked him to watch me on the way. He then gave me
a little money of what he had, and said goodbye with a hug.
This is how I left home. Only
once more did I get to see my family in 1936, when I came back
to say goodbye before I immigrated to the then Palestine.
I went on the train with all my
belongings and headed off. I [disembarked from] the train at
Mukachevo, all excited of the unknown life expecting me, and
discovered I forgot mother's package on the train. I went to
the station manager and asked that the package be brought
back, but it was already too late-the train set on its way
with all the goodies on board. I left the station towards a
big court where carriage drivers were waiting.
I turned to one of them who
looked Jewish to me, and asked him to drive me to a place of
meeting set in advance. I knew it should not be far away from
there, but the driver wanted to make more money and drove on
and on in circles throughout the entire city. Eventually he
stopped by a branch of the Betar youth movement and offered
me to get down there.
I refused and demanded that he
drive me to the address I had. Again he drove through the
entire city until he finally stopped by a house of a Jewish
family, hosting students of the local Jewish gymnasium. I was
relieved. I paid him a few crowns, took my suitcase and the
sac and got inside.
A couple of friends were
waiting for me there, including Moses Gross, David Mandel and
others, who later on established kibbutzim like Kfar Masarik,
Haogen and Ma'anit. They took me to a kindergarten where a
member of the Zionist training, Yona Sofer, was working as an
assistant. At the kindergarten she kept aside wholegrain bread
and milk for the Zionist activists returning from their work
in agricultural fields. This is how I myself got to the
Zionist training. I was member number five or six of that
group, where I ate for the first time in my life wholegrain
bread, which tasted sour.
This training camp, established
by Zionist and pioneer youth movements, trained youth already
dubbed as pioneers, to various types of harsh labour to ease
their acclimation in Palestine. Usually a house or a farm was
rented-during the day they used to go out to work, whether in
the city or in the fields, and got back in the evening. Some
of the women stayed home and were in charge of making food for
the entire group. In the evenings there was an atmosphere of
soul searching discussions on matters beyond everyday life:
revolutions, socialism, ideology and points of view. We
learned folk songs of Eretz Israel, danced into the night and
even had love affairs between members of the group.
Various people went to the
training [camp] in Mukachevo, among whom was Benjamin Winter, and
together we later on established in kibbutz Ma'anit under the
British Mandate. On the training I met Benjamin for the first
time, and we became a couple.