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Memories of Mosze Szymon Rozenbaum

Written by his daughter, Helen Rosenbaum, based on her father's memoirs

Mosze Szymon Rozenbaum

February 2, 1921 - December 17, 2001

1938 Passport Photo Mosze Szymon Rozenbaum
Went to Australia, 1939

       

My father was born in Radzilow, Poland in 1921 and was the youngest son of Zundel (Chanoch) Rozenbaum and Rochla Gitla (Alte) (nee Sawicki). He had 3 sisters, Brajna (Briony), Chajche (Irene) and Shaine, and a brother Yankel, and was the sole survivor of his immediate family. His father Zundel died 4 weeks before he departed for Australia, and the remaining family all perished during the Holocaust. Zundel was the second oldest of 11 children and Alte was one of 3 children (she had a brother Yankel and a sister Frejda, who left Poland with her 3 children in 1934 and settled in the US). In Zundel's family Meir was the oldest, followed by Zundel, Sochie, Fejga, Yankel, Esther, Moshe, Rochel, Nathan, Chaim and Chajche Rywka.

The family was very religious; Zundel was a Yeshiva student and attended a Rabbinical College until he married. He then worked as a scribe, writing letters for people (many of whom were illiterate) and he had a wonderful style of writing and a way with words. He also taught a few young and middle-aged students and spent the rest of his time in religious studies and at the synagogue. He was in very poor health and my father would always pick him up from synagogue, as he had a weak heart and found it difficult to walk unassisted. As a result, Alte became the breadwinner, with the help of her children and family from abroad. Before the Jewish holidays, money came from relatives in the UK, US and Australia, and Sochie in London also sent parcels of old clothes, which were then recycled and worn by the family. My grandfather's most urgent wish was to marry his daughters off, but with no means of getting a dowry together, this was impossible. The marriage between my grandparents was an arranged match; Yitzchak Sawicki wanted a Rabbi's son as a son-in-law. Yitzchak was a wealthy grain merchant and supported them financially. However, in 1919 after WWI, an Act was passed by the Polish Parliament annulling all monies owed to merchants or landlords, and my maternal gr-grandfather became impoverished over night. This is when Alte became the breadwinner and survived by selling all the valuables she possessed, including a pair of gold candlesticks. My father described her as a beautiful woman with an olive complexion and long black curly hair.

Police Station, where Mosze Szymon and family lived in
rented premises upstairs

       
[Front row, middle]:
Yankel Rozenbaum
Yankel killed in
Radzilow, 1941
[L-R]: Brajna and
Shaine Rozenbaum
Both killed in
Radzilow, 1941
       

Dad's oldest sister Brajna was 8 years older than Dad and was a tall, thin, good-looking girl. She helped with the housework and kept the house spotlessly clean. At one time she was introduced to an elderly widower from a nearby town. He came several times but nothing eventuated from the meeting. His second oldest sister was called Irene and she worked for some relatives on the Sawicki side as a ladies and gents shirt-maker. She saved enough money to buy a Singer sewing machine and started to work on her own at home. She had many customers and established a good little business. She traveled to Warsaw with Dad and bought and paid for all his clothes. His youngest sister Shaine was 2 years older than Dad and finished primary school. She was a very good student and always helped Dad with his homework. She helped her mother with the housework and also helped her sister making shirts. When Dad left for Australia, she was the one to write on behalf of the family; in her last letter she told Dad how much the family missed him. Dad wrote back telling his family how heart broken he was without them. This was the last correspondence between them. His brother Yankel attended a Yeshiva and was very well-educated but had to leave to support the family. He became the main provider selling grain and animal skins. There was a real bond between Dad and his brother and of all his family, Dad thought that Yankel's dynamic personality and determination might help him to survive the Poles and the Germans.

As the youngest child my father spent a great deal of time with his father and absolutely adored him. My grandfather had many volumes of leather bound Talmudic and religious texts and Dad always regretted not taking some with him. The only thing my father brought with him from his parents was a pair of tefilin. He did not even have a photo of his mother and father. Zundel would often sit with Dad and talk with him about religion and the world in general. Dad slept with his father so he could watch over him and would get up several times a night to see if he was still breathing. Zundel was a quiet, reserved man, and highly respected by the Jews in Radzilow. He was a devoted husband and loving father and each Chanukah would somehow find the money for Chanukah gelt for all his children. The family was very poor and would often not have enough food to eat. On many occasions Dad went to school without any breakfast and found it very hard to concentrate on his studies. He often told us about the times he was so hungry that he couldn't sleep and would go outside and get a handful of snow to appease his hunger.  He did not have a decent pair of shoes or clothing. They lived upstairs in an old building in the main street of Radzilow (the police station was downstairs), the house consisting of 2 rooms and a kitchen ,and was always cold and damp, as they could not afford to buy wood or coal.

Best friends throughout their days in Radzilow:
Arczy (Archie) Fajkowski and Mosze Szymon
Arczy killed in Radzilow, 1941
Mosze went to Australia, 1939

       

My father was a keen student and completed 7 grades of elementary school. He always came out on top in math, history, geography and essay writing. He writes about his best friend Arczy (Archie) Fajkowski and how they studied together by candlelight, and how Archie would often bring him a slice of bread and other food to share with him. I still have one of the notebooks they shared, which contains their school notes. Before he left Poland for Australia, Archie gave my father a gift of a wooden box engraved with his initials on it. I still have this box. It was not possible for my father to further his education after 7th grade due to lack of money to pay the fees and the difficulty for Jews to continue in higher education. He then joined a free Jewish discussion group, which was held in the evenings. At this time he was 15 years old and determined to further his general and Jewish knowledge.

Wooden Box
Inscription reads: Na Wieczna
Pamiatke, Dla Kolegi,
M. Rozenbauma, Ofiaruje,
A. Fajkowski.
Translation: In token of friendship,
[Literally "For eternal memory"
a common Polish expression when inscribing something like a picture
or a nice present], To my friend
M. Rozenbaum, From A. Fajkowski.

       

Radzilow was situated on the East Prussian Polish Border and with the rise of Hitler in 1933, anti-Semitism became rife in the area. Jews were impoverished and forced to beg for food. At times there was no food in my father's house and my grandmother was forced to sell anything of value to buy food for her husband and her children. All Jewish shops were picketed and, if by chance a Pole bought from a Jewish premises, the pickets would pour kerosene over the goods and burn them. The police did not intervene and looked the other way. The Polish Government then passed a special law regarding Jews: the Poles could boycott their businesses but they could not hurt or hit a Jew. In this way they aimed to starve the Jewish population, most of who were involved in commerce and trade, and make it impossible for them to exist.

In Lomza there was a Catholic priest by the name of Trzeciak who was an outspoken anti-Semite, whose main aim was the destruction of all Jews. He was also a Member of Parliament and the editor of "Gazeta Polska," a newspaper that consisted entirely of anti-Jewish propaganda and hatred. It was almost impossible for Jewish students to obtain higher education. Jewish students at university were not allowed to sit on the same benches as Poles, and had to stand through lectures and were often beaten up and badly hurt. There was no one to protect the Jews, and with the Poles demanding their annihilation, only one voice existed: "Jews to Palestine."

From 1933 onwards the pogroms began, the worst of which occurred in the smaller towns. In the winter of 1933 a pogrom took place in Radzilow on market day. In Radzilow, the market used to be held every Thursday. Jewish small merchants from the district townships used to come with their merchandise, such as sheepskin coats, shoes, boots, barrels with smoked herrings, and many other items. The Polish farmers used to bring different grains, such as wheat, corn, barley and oats. The small Jewish merchants, mainly from Szczuczyn, used to buy up all the grain, most of which was sold onto Nazi Germany [Szczuczyn was even closer than Radzilow to the German border]. The price of grain used to rise daily because Germany was preparing for war. The peasants from nearby villages invaded Radzilow, armed with iron bars and lumps of wood, and attacked the Jews. On the same day the priest Trzeciak from Lomza came to Radzilow and delivered a chilling anti-Semitic speech advocating the killing of all Jews. As soon as he finished speaking, the peasants began robbing all the Jewish stalls and shops. The Poles killed a Jewish woman [who was in town for market day, from Jedwabne] and robbed every Jewish home. The police could not control the riots and called for reinforcements from nearby townships. In order to control the crowd the police sergeant ordered his police to shoot in the air and 4 Poles were killed; only then did the crowd disperse. Radzilow was devastated and ruined. My father was at school and ran home along the fields fearing for his family and was absolutely petrified by the events. On the Friday, the funeral for the Poles took place, with the local priest delivering the eulogy. He described the dead as great Poles and said," that if Jewish blood was not scattered to the four corners of the world, then Christianity was not meant to survive." The Jews of Radzilow hid in their attics, too afraid to venture out. This lasted for several weeks. Gradually, people left their homes to buy food, which was supplemented by basic supplies from relief agencies. The general situation was frightening and bleak; there was no future and nowhere to go. Anyone with means left Poland - every Saturday several Jewish families left for overseas, with quite a few going to Palestine. It was a constant exodus, with fewer and fewer families remaining.

Late 1930's
Mosze Szymon
working on a
sewing machine
Note: The actual size of the original photo is less than an inch on each side

       

My father was really troubled by the situation and got all the addresses from his father of relatives overseas and began writing to them, begging them to provide him with the necessary documents to leave Poland. My father was 13 years old at the time. The anti-Semitism increased daily and my father and his friends were regularly beaten up by the Polish boys. One summer while swimming in the river, my father was severely beaten and had 10 deep welt marks on his back that were unbearably painful. After this episode, he and his friends did not go swimming again. Even though my father knew the Polish boys, nothing could be done, as there was one set of laws for them and none for the Jews. At the same time a young cousin, David Sawicki, aged 11, was locked in a stable and beaten so badly by the Poles that he passed away 2 weeks later. It was the first time that my father saw parents burying a son.

Pogroms continued in town after town and new anti-Jewish laws were introduced daily. Hitler was preparing for war and the first words of all his speeches began with "the filthy, dirty, bloody Jews." It was terrifying to hear this all the time and my father decided to smuggle himself across the German border at night and make his way to Lithuania. However, the borders were so heavily guarded that he decided against it. He received no replies to his pleas for help and felt that the odds to leave were against him. In 1936 an Act was passed in the Polish Parliament by a Madame Pristerowa to ban the ritual kosher killing of meat. Jewish families were allowed only 1/2 kilo of meat per week. As the situation deteriorated, Dad wrote again to family in Australia and within 2 months (August 1936) came a reply from Ben Rosenbaum (son of Nechemiah and Fejga) saying that he would organize the permit for Dad to come to Australia. He also paid the fare to Australia of 50 Pounds, which Dad later repaid after he began working.

Warsaw, 1938
[Back, L-R]: Chajche (Irene), Mosze Szymon, cousin
[Front, L-R]: cousin,
Aunt Rochel, cousin
Mosze went to Australia, 1939
Chajche killed in Radzilow, 1941
Rochel, her husband Yudel, and
3 daughters all killed in Warsaw

       

My Father was overjoyed but had many sleepless nights thinking about the family he would have to leave behind. He waited for the post [mail] to come every day with his permit, and as the months went by, he began to give up hope. Being the youngest in the family, Dad helped his mother with the household chores and would walk 4 kilometers to a small village called Dziewiecin to buy 25 kg of corn flour with which to bake bread. The money for the flour came from overseas relatives and meant that at least the family had bread for a few weeks. Dad also went to the well to get water everyday, as the water was not connected to the houses. This was not so difficult in the summer but was quite dangerous in the winter when everything was covered in ice and snow. The toilet was outside and the sewerage also had to be taken to the rubbish tip on a daily basis. Dad also sold grain for a short period to try and bring some money home, but this only lasted from July to September. In the meantime, Dad kept writing to Australia and they assured him that the permit was being processed and that they would pay his fares. At this time, Dad learned that his cousin Lazar Kajman and family were going to Australia and that they would arrive there before him. Finally, in July 1938, the permit arrived and my father and his family were overjoyed. The necessary documents had to be obtained from Grajewo, and for the first time in his life, Dad went to Warsaw to get his passport. He traveled by train and on his arrival at the station asked a droshke driver [horse-drawn carriage] to take him to Franciszkanska 4, the home of his aunt Rochel (his father's sister). He was in awe of the city. This was his first time away from home and it was also his first meeting with his aunt and her husband Yudel and their 3 young daughters.

After lunch and in the following days, his aunt took him to all the necessary offices to obtain his legal documents. Franciszkanska Street was mainly a Jewish area, full of Jewish traders selling all manner of goods, and he awoke to the sound each morning of vendors selling bagels, pastries etc. Dad stayed with his family for several days and makes mention that this was the first time he had ever seen an indoor toilet, and that it took him sometime to figure out how to use it. With all the formalities complete, his aunt and family took him to the station for the journey back to Radzilow. His passport and visa were to arrive shortly after his return and all that had to be done was to arrange the date when he was to leave. Everyone told him how fortunate he was to be leaving Poland, but Dad was brokenhearted to be leaving his mother, brother and sisters behind. His father died 4 weeks before Dad's departure. On a Sunday at 4 p.m. on the 2nd day of Shevat in 1939, my grandfather died in my father's arms. In those days the preparation for burials took place at home, Dad went to get the men from the Chevra Kadisha, who came and lifted the body from the bed, laid it on the floor and then covered the body with a linen sheet. Candles were burning on either side of the body. The funeral took place on Monday. The body was taken to the synagogue where Rabbi Zelik Gelgor, the village elders, his brother Yankel, and his family and friends, all paid their last respects and tributes. The body was then taken to the cemetery where my grandfather was laid to his eternal rest. There were no coffins in those days and the body was placed in the grave, and then a 1/2 a meter above the body, wooden boards were placed along the grave. My father's brother Yankel put the first 3 shovels of earth in the grave, then it was Dad's turn, and then his uncle Yankel's turn, and then the grave was filled by relatives on his mother's side of the family. Dad and his brother recited Kaddish and then returned home without their "jewel in the crown." The family was devastated by the loss and Dad felt really guilty about leaving his grieving family. He had not expected his father's death and always thought he would be able to say goodbye to him.

Late February 1939
Mosze Szymon, shortly before leaving Radzilow, paying his last respects at the fresh grave of his father, Zundel Rozenbaum, who had passed away only four weeks earlier, on
Jan 22, 1939
Note: This is the only
photo ever uncovered of
the Radzilow Cemetery,
which no longer exists.

       

After the Shiva period, Dad had to go to Grajewo to finalize his emigration papers and to organize the departure date after the Shloshim Period [shloshim is the Hebrew word meaning 30; in this case it refers to the first 30 days of mourning]. The week before Dad left, he went to the cemetery with his best friend Arczy Fajkowski to say his final farewells. Arczy took the photo of Dad standing at the graveside. A night before the departure, all the family and his friends came to say goodbye. The most heartbreaking thing of all was saying goodbye to his mother, brother and sisters. The only consolation was the possibility of being able to help his family when he arrived in Australia. Unfortunately this never eventuated and Dad was never to see any of his immediate family again. Dad's sister Irene went to Warsaw with him and she and his aunt Rochel went shopping with him and bought a couple of shirts, a scarf, a gabardine raincoat, 2 pairs of socks and a pair of shoes. His aunt Chajche Rywka, from the nearby town of Garwolin, especially made the effort to come and say goodbye. This was the first and last time Dad ever saw this aunt.

February 1939
Mosze Szymon saying farewell
to his friend Wasersztejn, who later went to Israel

       

Towards the end of February, Dad bid farewell to his sister, aunts and family, and took the train from Warsaw to the port city of Gdynia [in the Gulf of Gdansk]. He arrived early in the morning; the city was covered in snow. This was his first sight of the Baltic Ocean. He boarded the small Polish boat of 3000 tons named The Baltrower about 11a.m. on a Friday, together with about 40 Jewish people. Several of the passengers ended up in Australia, where they remained in touch. There was a Rabbi among the passengers who was given special consent to board the boat on the Sabbath. As the boat sailed towards Danzig, Dad saw swastika flags on all the buildings and could feel imminent danger, but not to the extent of the Holocaust that took place. The journey took 5 days, the sea was very stormy, Dad was very seasick and was thrilled when they berthed in London.

He arrived in London at the beginning of March 1939, where his aunt Sochie warmly greeted him. He was kissed and hugged by his aunt, who wanted to know all about the family (Dad did not tell her about his father's death) and then taken to 121 Christian Street, off Commercial Road, East London, to meet the rest of the family. Their business of tailor trimmings was situated at the front of the building and the family lived at the back. This business still exists today. Dad spent 11 wonderful days in London meeting his family and their friends. He helped his aunt make up a parcel of clothing to send back to the family in Poland. His uncle took him to the synagogue to say Kaddish for his father and bought a daily Jewish paper with a Yiddish edition so Dad was able to keep abreast of what was happening in Europe. During his stay, the French President paid a State visit to London to discuss the deteriorating situation. Wherever Dad went, people were digging air raid shelters behind their houses and in all the public parks, in preparation for what lay ahead.

After 11 wonderful days Dad left London. His cousin Nat Kissin gave him 10 shillings, and this was the only money Dad had for the journey to Australia. He sailed from England on the March 12, 1939, on the 15,000-ton S.S. Ormonde, which was luxurious in comparison to The Baltrower. The journey took 6 weeks, during which time Passover was celebrated. Every Jewish passenger was given a packet of matzoh and a bottle of wine. The first Seder was conducted by an elderly man named Korczik from Lomza, helped by the chief steward Alec Goldman, who turned out to be a good friend of Dad's cousin Ben Rosenbaum. The first port of call in Australia was Fremantle, WA, on ANZAC Day, April 25, 1939. My father saw his first military parade on Australian soil. This holiday commemorates Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were killed defending their countries. The Ormonde arrived in Melbourne on May 1, 1939, and my father was met by Ben Rosenbaum and Lazar Kajman. Lazar had come to Australia with his wife Zelda and 2 young sons, Norman and Morry; his father Velvel was Dad's grandmother's brother on his father's side of the family.

During the boat trip my Father was terribly homesick and worried about what he would do in Australia with no friends, no language and no trade. Luckily, his cousin Ben spoke Yiddish and accorded him a very warm welcome. Dad spent his first weeks in Melbourne at the home of Ben and Bella Rosenbaum and their young son Maurice, at 4 Ellsmere Road, Windsor. They had a very comfortable home with a front and back garden and this was a real eye opener to Dad after the abject poverty of his home in Radzilow. One evening they took him to the Capitol Theatre and this was the first talking movie Dad ever saw. They also took him sight seeing around Melbourne and his impressions were of a very green, clean and beautiful city. He was introduced to the delights of Devonshire Tea (scones, strawberry jam, cream and a pot of English tea) and kept thinking how his family at home would enjoy this treat and the wonderful lifestyle of Australia.

After two weeks with his cousin, Dad moved to North Carlton (the suburb where all Jewish immigrants lived when they first arrived in Melbourne), to the home of the Landy's at 557 Nicholson Street, and shared a room with their son Joe. Ben had to help Dad pay for the room and board, as he had no money and no job. The only place Dad did frequent was the Kadimah (a cultural center), which was a meeting place for Jewish immigrants. All the immigrants were in the same boat and used to exchange stories about looking for work and about life in general. My father was reserved and shy by nature, and kept fretting and worrying for his family and friends. He also worried about the fact that he had no money, no trade and could not speak English, and often thought he had made the wrong decision in coming to Australia.

The next week his cousin Ben came to help him look for a job in the clothing trade. He bought him a pair of scissors for 25 Shillings and Dad's only thoughts were of how was he going to repay his cousin Ben. He got a job for a week as an under-presser and earned 7 shillings and sixpence. This lasted a week and then Dad was given the sack. After numerous attempts, he finally got a job but it did not pay enough to make ends meet and Ben had to supplement Dad's income. He lasted there for 3 months and then moved to a factory making very cheap staff shirts, pajamas and trousers. The workforce consisted mainly of women who were on piecework and worked a 48-hour week, but earned good money for their efforts. Dad thought to himself that if they can do it so can he, and eventually became the fastest machinist, making 65 pairs of trousers a day and earning 5 Pounds. With the first 5 Pounds that he saved, Dad opened a bank account. This was the first time in his life that he had money of his own.

The price he paid, however, was that he had to work on Saturdays, and this meant he could not go to synagogue. However, he went every evening for 11 months to say Kaddish for his father and also whenever he could with Mr. Landy, but felt guilty about betraying his beliefs. Eventually Dad was able to attend synagogue regularly, and in later years, was elected 3 times as president of East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation and attended weekly shiurs [study sessions of religious text]. He also learned English 3 times a week at the Kadimah and managed to pick up the language quite easily. My father managed to repay his cousin Ben for the fare to Australia, the scissors and rent money and then saved 10 Pounds (250 zlotys) to send to his family in Radzilow. However, this did not transpire since war broke out on September 1, 1939. Dad was at his cousin's house on a Sunday evening and remembers on the way home a Special Edition of The Herald that came out declaring that England was at war with Germany. Dad was devastated by the news and what would happen to his family. He received 1 or 2 letters from his brother Yankel, who told him that all the Polish officers threw away their uniforms after 3 or 4 days on the front line, only the non commissioned officers remained to the end. Poland was utterly devastated - and after that there was complete silence. Every evening a bulletin was posted in the Kadimah giving details of missing family and friends, but Dad never got any news of what happened to his family.

On the Queen's Birthday Weekend, June 1939, Dad had been taken to Shepparton to meet the Rosenbaum family. Fejga and Nechemiah (Ben's parents) were elderly and Nechemiah suffered from dementia. Dad also met his uncle Rabbi Goldberg for the first time on Australian soil. His uncle told him that he had received a letter from Zundel asking him to keep an eye on Dad and make sure that he goes in the right direction. Dad would also sometimes visit his father's brother Morry Rose on Sundays, but never felt very comfortable there as they were not on talking terms with the Rosenbaum's. They had 2 children Norman and Irene. Norman became a doctor and married out (there was some talk of him being involved in missionary work), and the last time Dad saw them was at their father's funeral. He would also visit Ben and Bella on Sundays and stay to tea. Dad developed a very special bond and friendship with their son Maurice and that lasted till my father's death.

My father met my mother Tola Liwerant in the Easter holidays of 1939 and they immediately liked each other. My mother had arrived from Siedlic on the March 20, 1939, traveling with an aunt and family. My mother was also the sole survivor of her family and left behind her parents and 4 brothers. My parents were engaged in June 1942 and married on November 26, 1942. They had 2 children: Helen born in 1945 and Arnold born in 1946. Soon after meeting my mother, Dad was called up for military service and spent 4 years with The 6th Employment Company, which was made up of friendly aliens (about 150 were Jewish). In Tocumwal, he helped load and unload goods from trains that had to change gauges and he also stacked ammunition boxes. He worked very hard in the army and was offered 2 stripes, but declined. In 1944 he was discharged from the army to work on the orchard at Shepparton and stayed there for several months before coming back to his wife and baby daughter Helen.

My father then continued to work in the clothing industry and established his own business, Oban Clothing Company, with 2 partners. This partnership was dissolved in 1958 and my father went on to run a very successful clothing company. He was extremely well-liked in business and had an excellent reputation. He was very involved in the Jewish community and the synagogue and took a keen interest in world politics, and Israel in particular. In later years he attended classes at the university, went to a weekly shiur, and read widely. He was lucky enough to travel to the UK and the US to meet his cousins, and kept in close touch with them throughout his life.

       

My mother died in 1974, aged 55, and my father later remarried in the mid-1980's. My father became ill in 1999 and died on December 17, 2001, leaving behind his second wife Miriam, children Helen and Arnold, and grandchildren Michael and Candy, Elise and Alon.

I was indeed privileged and blessed to have the most wonderful father and friend any daughter could ever wish for and will always remember him with deep love and respect. My father valued education very highly and worked hard to give his children and grandchildren the educational opportunities that were denied to him. This, together with his love for his family, was the greatest gift he bestowed on us. I will always be grateful to my father for writing his story, as it has given me an insight into his life and that of the family I never knew.

More photos from the Mosze Szymon Rozenbaum Collection:



Written by Helen Rosenbaum, 2002, based on the memoirs written by her father, Mosze Szymon Rozenbaum.
Edited by: Jose Gutstein. Editor's notes or definitions are entered in [brackets].
Copyright 2002 by Helen Rosenbaum and Jose Gutstein.
All rights reserved to the material and the photos.
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