“Shaking the Dust Off” The Story of the Warsaw Ghetto’s Forgotten Chronicler, Ruben Feldschu (Ben Shem)

, November 18, 2010

Jewish Political Studies Review 22:3-4 (Fall 2010)

Ruben Feldschu (Ben Shem) (1900-1980) was one of the best known and most prolific figures of the Zionist Right in interwar Poland. A proficient Hebraist, he kept a detailed journal of events in German-occupied Warsaw. That diary is a meticulous and excruciating chronicle of daily life and death and a poignant work of literature. Miraculously, Feldschu managed to preserve more than eight hundred pages of notes through his escape from the ghetto, more than a year in hiding, and during a difficult journey to the Land of Israel. Only fragments of this invaluable contemporaneous material have been deciphered and published. Although Feldschu’s writings represent the supreme effort of an accomplished author with the broadest intellectual horizons, inexplicably they never found a place in the mainstream historiography of the Holocaust.

“The gigantic pile of dust”

On 26 January 1961, after deciding to undertake to write the history of the ŻZW (the Żydowski Związek Wojskowy – the Revisionist Zionist underground in the Warsaw Ghetto), Chaim Lazar (1914-1997) noted in his diary:

“Yesterday I visited the home of Dr. Ruben Ben Shem-Feldschu, in order to obtain his account of our organization in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising…. Dr. Ben-Shem was very happy to hear what I said…he is going to shake the gigantic pile of dust off his brain that he intentionally accumulated there regarding this memory, and we will also lift a weight off his shoulders. He will endeavor to dredge up from the depths of the past as many details as possible in order to reconstruct the story in its entirety. We decided to meet again about this.[1]“

But the dust was hardly shaken – or at least few people noticed that it had been. In reality, the problem was not with Feldschu’s memory, but rather the dust that had gathered on his own voluminous writings. Ruben (Rubin, Reuven, Reuben) Feldschu (Feldszu, Feldshu, Feldshuh, Feldschuh), who was also widely known, even before the war, by his Hebrew nom de plume, Ben Shem (Ben-Shem, Ben Szem, Ben-Szem) rated only occasional mention in the rather meager historiography of the ŻZW.[2] Feldschu received the greatest attention from Lazar himself, who was closely associated with the movement that spawned that underground organization, and who served as its semiofficial historian and the guardian of its memory.[3]

Stranger still – and of far greater consequence in terms of the general ghetto historiography – is the fact that Feldschu’s name has received only scant notice in the rich literature on the fate of the Jews of wartime Warsaw. This omission is especially striking given the fact that Feldschu was the author of an immense, contemporaneously written, journal – only portions of which have been deciphered and published. It is all the more perplexing in light of the fact that he was one of the only Warsaw Ghetto diarists to survive the Shoah,[4] and probably the only one writing in Hebrew. Feldschu was also the author of a number of postwar books that dealt with various aspects of the Holocaust. He was sufficiently well known in Israeli and Jewish circles to rate a mention in the 1968 edition of Who’s Who in Israel[5] and the 1972 edition of Who’s Who in World Jewry.[6] And yet, these biograms may be regarded as aberrations – the exceptions that proved the rule.

According to the slapdash Anthology on Armed Jewish Resistance 1939-1945 compiled and edited by Isaac Kowalski (and with a glowing introduction by former Yad Vashem chairman Yitzhak Arad), Feldschu was born to a family “knighted by King Franz-Joseph” and was “educated in Talmud, Judaism, Aramaic and Hebrew during High School. Between the First and Second World Wars Ben-Shem was a leader in the Revisionist Movement…. In the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt he was one of the main commanders. Later he became a Partisan in the Lublin Forests.”[7] Although that thumbnail description contains many inaccuracies, there is no denying that Feldschu was a cerebral “Renaissance man” and, as will emerge, an indefatigable and intellectually insightful chronicler of events in the Warsaw Ghetto.

The fact that his name would be mentioned in a publication of such marginal significance – yet omitted from the mainstream, authoritativeEncyclopedia of the Holocaust (let alone the Encyclopedia Judaica, neither the original, nor the second edition – or the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe) – especially in light of his prewar prominence, is emblematic of the unkind and unfortunate way in which history dealt with Feldschu. Perhaps the best evidence of the extent to which Feldschu’s name has been ignored is the fact that in the extensive bibliography on Holocaust literature compiled by Abraham J. and Hershel Edelheit, containing no fewer than fifteen thousand published works including books, pamphlets, and periodicals, there is not a single reference to Feldschu.[8] Stranger still is the fact that Feldschu’s name does not appear in the works of Israel Gutman, the doyen of Israeli scholars of the Warsaw Ghetto. Nor is Feldschu mentioned in the monumental book by Barbara Engelking-Boni and Jacek Leociak – the Polish scholars who produced what is undeniably the most comprehensive compendium of information on life and death in the ghetto. Evidently, they were unaware of the existence of this diary.[9] As this story unfolds, this lacuna in their work becomes entirely understandable.

The omission of Feldschu’s activity in the ghetto is all the more remarkable in light of his prominent position in prewar Jewish public life. Indeed, the protagonist of this story was a well-known, if rather peripatetic, figure of the Jewish political firmament in interwar Poland – and an especially prolific writer. He was, indeed, an endlessly fascinating personality – and both an eyewitness to, and participant in, some of the stormiest chapters in modern Jewish and Zionist history. Several passages from his diary deal with the evolution of resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto. Why that diary has been all but disregarded in the historiography of the Holocaust is an inescapable question, but one that defies a simple or straightforward explanation.

“Only in Kraków is there a sensible man”

At least the rudiments of Feldschu’s life can be constructed from a number of sources. A handwritten curriculum vitae penned by Feldschu himself in 1963 as well as a two-page biogram written by his cousin, Menachem Feldschu, after Feldschu’s death[10] contain most of the salient facts. Additional particulars are to be found in the book Polish-Jewish Literature in the Interwar Years by Eugenia Prokop-Janiec.[11] The Yad Vashem database of Holocaust victims contains information on his family.  Still another source is a questionnaire that Feldschu completed at the request of Chaim and Chaja Lazar, founders of the now-defunct Museum of Partisans and Combatants in Tel Aviv, as part of their tireless research into Revisionist activity during the Shoah.[12]

In his magisterial work on Emanuel Ringelblum, the American Jewish historian Samuel D. Kassow described east Galicia as “a region that differed in many important ways from Jewish Lithuania and Congress Poland, just across the Russian border.” Kassow noted the existence of “a cultural milieu that combined excellent Polish education with strong Jewish nationalism…. During Ringelblum’s formative years, Galician Jewry was undergoing a fateful process of redefinition and self-examination.”[13]

It was precisely in that milieu that Feldschu was born – quite paradoxically, in the very same year (1900) and in the very same place as Emanuel Ringelblum – in Buczacz, which was also the birthplace of the great Hebrew writer S. Y. Agnon, Ringelblum’s cousin. His parents were Josef and Rachel (Róża née Safrin-Lippa) Feldschu.[14] Considering the size of the community (some seven thousand out of a total population of eleven thousand), it is reasonable to assume that while growing up, Feldschu was acquainted with the future chronicler of the Warsaw Ghetto, and may have even shared the same bench with him in cheder (religious school). The coincidence is even stranger when one considers the fact that Hillel Seidman, another Warsaw Ghetto diarist, was also born in Buczacz (1905) and was probably known to them as well.[15] Hence no fewer than three Warsaw Ghetto diaries were penned by natives of the very same shtetl in east Galicia.

Like many Jews from east Galicia, which had been overrun by the Russians at the start of World War I, Feldschu and his family sought sanctuary in the imperial capital, Vienna. It was there that he studied first at a Gymnasium and later in the university. Presumably it was during his sojourn in Vienna that he developed his lifelong affinity for German culture and the German language.[16] Not surprisingly – at least given what is known about his background – Feldschu’s earliest political leanings were toward the newborn Hashomer Hatzair. That socialist-Zionist scouting movement was born in his native Galicia and was strongly influenced by the German Wandervogel. Israeli scholar Gideon Shimoni’s evaluation of that organization’s membership casts light on Feldschu’s background and that of his contemporaries:

“The social profile characteristic of HaShomer HaTzair in Galicia was that of youth from reasonably well-to-do middle-class families who attended secondary schools (mainly Polish-language but some German-language)…the youths who joined…were young intelligentsia in the making, caught between traditionalist Jewish society on the one hand and assimilationist modernity on the other.[17]“

At age nineteen, Feldschu abandoned his studies and decided to emigrate to Palestine. Initially he was a part of the Hashomer Hatzair group active in Bitanya in the Galilee, where he worked as a watchman and a farmer. However, he soon distanced himself from Hashomer Hatzair, and in late 1920 he joined the Chalutz group that established the settlement of Kiryat Anavim near Jerusalem. In 1921, after receiving word that his father had been murdered by Ukrainians,[18] Feldschu elected to return to Poland. Once back in Europe, he resumed his university studies in Vienna. During that time he also studied psychology with Sigmund Freud. Feldschu earned his PhD from Vienna University in 1923. That same year he received his rabbinical ordination from the Israelitisch-Theologische Lehranstalt, a modern rabbinical school very different from the traditional yeshivas of East Central Europe.[19]

In 1925, while living in Kraków, Feldschu did a political volte-face and joined the new Zionist Revisionist movement, and from the very start played an important role in its leadership.[20] The movement’s leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky, held him in especially high personal regard. In March 1927, writing from Wilno to Solomon Jacobi, one of his associates in London, Jabotinsky declared, “There are in Poland not less than 10,000 registered Revisionists, but the organization is weak – as everywhere else. Only in Kraków is there a sensible man, Dr. Feldschu.”[21]

By all indications, Feldschu, a man of outstanding intellect and energy, possessed considerable literary abilities, and found in Jabotinsky – at least for a time – a kindred soul. In 1926 Feldschu took a position as a teacher of Latin and philosophy at the Hebrew Tarbut Gymnasia in Kowal. A former student recalled his attempts to establish a cell of Betar, the Revisionist Zionist youth movement, in the school.[22] Another former student remembered him as charismatic and that “he excited the students (especially the female ones…).”[23]

In 1927 Feldschu moved to Warsaw to join the Revisionist Party’s central committee.[24] Significantly, he garnered half the votes for the top leadership slot at the All-Polish Revisionist Conference held at the end of December 1927 but declined to assume the post because of his many other duties on the central committee. Together with the Yiddish journalist Moshe Lejzerowicz,[25] Feldschu edited the first issue of the Revisionist monthly Der Emes in August 1928.[26]

According to the two official chroniclers of the Revisionist movement, Joseph B. Schechtman and Yehuda Benari, Feldschu distinguished himself by his call for the Revisionists to undertake independent political activity, and also to begin a campaign of energetic recruiting among Jews  who had not yet joined any political party. He especially appealed to the intelligentsia and petty bourgeoisie who, he claimed, represented fertile ground for leftist agitation.[27] Evidence of his political activities is also to be found in various broadsheets that have been preserved. In one of them, issued during the Revisionists’ election campaign to the Tenth Zionist Congress in Poland held in 1932, Feldschu is listed as a candidate, though under the name “Dr. Ruben Ben-Szem.”[28] Among his other positions, Feldschu also headed the Polish branch of the Revisionist fundraising operation, Keren Tel-Hai.[29] In 1930 he reportedly led the fundraising campaign to purchase five airplanes for the movement’s flying club in Tel Aviv.[30]

However, it was roughly at this same time that there was a falling-out between Jabotinsky and Feldschu. In February 1931, Jabotinsky reprimanded Feldschu for allowing a situation to develop in which the Revisionist students’ organization, Masada, was directly competing with Betar.[31] This tension seems to have resulted in Feldschu’s gradual shift away from the Revisionist movement and it is manifested in the eventual disappearance of his name from Jabotinsky’s correspondence.[32]

“A young doctor of philosophy from Galicia with great aspirations”

There is no denying that Feldschu’s political loyalties were fickle and that he drifted between several political formations of the Zionist Right and Center, enjoying leadership roles in all of them – sometimes simultaneously. This vacillation seems to have aroused the chagrin of some of those deeply entrenched in the Revisionist establishment, who had no patience for such political meanderings, or any deviance from Jabotinsky’s line. In his history of the Revisionist movement in Poland, Jakób Perelman, a party activist in Warsaw, wrote of Feldschu in especially derisive and sarcastic language. He referred to Feldschu as “a young doctor of philosophy from Galicia with great aspirations as a communal leader, journalist and writer” and scathingly accused him of trying to advance in the Revisionist movement and the General Zionists at the same time, and even of offering his services to the Zionist member of Sejm, Izaak Grünbaum – a sworn enemy of the Revisionists.[33]

However, according to most accounts (and even his own writings), Feldschu was involved in the General Zionist youth movement Hashomer Haleumi at an even earlier stage.[34]  One example of his activism can be found in the Sefer Yizkor Płock. In that volume it was noted that Hashomer Haleumi was established in Płock in 1929 “after a lecture held by its leader Dr. R. Feldshu (Ben-Shem).”[35] In other parts of Poland (Galicia and Zagłębie Dąbrowskie), the movement was constituted as Hashomer Haivri. Feldschu penned the manifesto of these groups, which eventually coalesced.[36] In 1933, the Warsaw daily Kurjer Porany reported that he had founded “the Berl Joselewicz Legion” and even published his photograph.[37]

Feldschu ultimately joined the Zionist faction led by Meir Grossman (1888-1964), which elected to leave the Revisionist movement and to resume ties with the mainstream Zionist Organization.[38] The new formation was called the Jewish State Party (Judenstaat Partei). Feldschu was one of the leaders of its branch in Poland and also the editor of some of its press organs, including Jiden Staats Front. A small part of Betar also seceded, and in 1935 Feldschu established a paramilitary organization around those members who had left the Revisionist fold. The new youth group, the Brith Hacanaim, adopted a program nearly identical to that of Betar, and in its first conference, Feldschu was elected a member of the “Provisional High Command.”[39] Broadsheets from that period (1933-1935) list him as the commander in chief of the organization.[40]

According to Menachem Feldschu’s biogram, Ben-Shem was one of the activists involved in the abortive 1937 march to Palestine, which was organized to protest the British restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine.[41] Between 1929 and 1937, Feldschu participated in no fewer than four Zionist congresses.

Meanwhile, in 1928 Feldschu married the musicologist Perła (Pnina) Richter (1900-1943), a native of Czortków (near Buczacz). His daughter Josima was born the next year. In the 1930s, Feldschu lived at 66 Leszno Street, a fact confirmed by a listing in the 1939-1940 Warsaw telephone directory and the existence of a business card, in which he depicted himself as a court translator. Presumably he engaged in that activity in order to help support his family.[42] At least by his own account, he lived comfortably, in an “upper middle class” apartment outfitted with an extensive library and a collection of art, and furnished with designer furniture, carpets, and drapes.[43]

During this period Feldschu did not neglect his literary proclivities either. In 1928 his book, Noce palestyńskie (Palestinian Nights), based on impressions of his sojourn in the Land of Israel, was released.[44] Four years later, in 1932, his Polish-language novel Czerwone dusze (Red Souls) was published. That book deals with youth disaffected by what Feldschu saw as the ideological meanderings of the Hashomer Hatzair movement, of which he had once been an adherent.[45] He was the author of many other books and pamphlets, usually published under his pen name, Ben Shem.

Feldschu also edited a number of Zionist newspapers and periodicals. These included papers connected with the Jewish State Party, such as the biweekly Unzer Front, of which Feldschu was chief editor (1936-1939), as well as the Polish-language My sami (1935-1936) and Ha-Kanai, the organ of the Brith Hacanaim (1934-1936). He was also a contributor to such publications as the Lwów-based Cel (1934-1937) and the Warsaw biweeklyGłos Rewizjonistyczny, which also included the writings of Moshe Lejzerowicz and David Wdowinski. His previous efforts included writing for or editing periodicals such as the short-lived Nowa era (1928) and Nowy czas (1929) as well as several publications of the Revisionist Party, Cijon, Keren Tel Hai, Der Neuer Weg, and Zinicz, a monthly dedicated to popularizing sports among Jews.[46]

Among Feldschu’s most notable public activities – one that reveals the extent of his stature and prestige in the community – was his participation in May 1938 in the dedication ceremony at the Warsaw air club of a Polish air force plane funded by Jewish youth in Poland. Feldschu headed a committee that had been formed to purchase planes for the Polish air force with the intention of eventually creating a squadron that would be named for the Jewish youth of Poland. On that occasion, following a service at the Great Synagogue and in the presence of senior Polish military officers, rabbis, and lay leaders, Feldschu delivered a rousing speech in which he harked back to the memory of Józef Piłsudski and spoke of the Jewish population’s patriotism and its unwavering fealty to Poland.[47]

Certainly, one of Feldschu’s greatest accomplishments was the publication in 1939 of the first volume (devoted to Warsaw and Polish Jewry) of a monumental Yiddish encyclopedia - Jidišer gezelsaftlecher leksikon - that he edited and published.[48]

Feldschu was obviously held in sufficiently high esteem so as to attract the writings of many of the community’s most outstanding scholars, including histiorians Majer Bałaban and Ignacy Schipper, demographers Jacob Lestchinsky and Aryeh Tartakower, philologist Noach Pryłucki, and librarian Herman Kruk. Those in his inner circle were also enlisted, including Hillel Seidman, Moshe Lejzerowicz, and Feldschu’s wife Perła. Missing from the list of contributors to the encyclopedia, however, was the already prominent young historian Emanuel Ringelblum – which may have been an indication of the state of relations between the two men.

Feldschu’s introduction to that volume began with an ominous prediction of difficult times ahead – “dark clouds on the horizon” – developments that would endanger the future of nations in general and the Jewish nation in particular. The lexicon would indeed prove to be an elegy for the community with which Feldschu was inextricably bound, heart and soul. Paradoxically, the introduction ended with Feldschu’s expression of hope that the book would serve Jewish historians for generations to come. In fact, it was all but consigned to oblivion. There are few extant specimens,  the total print run having been only two hundred, and today it is largely unknown even to those who specialize in the history of Polish Jewry and of the Yiddish language.[49]

“Poland burning…”

Shortly after the German invasion of Poland, in which Warsaw came under intense aerial bombardment, Feldschu and his family fled to Kazimierz – only to return to the capital a short time later. There was, he claims, a widespread belief that the “civilized Germans” would know “how to behave.” Feldschu and his various intellectual Jewish friends decided that they would not try to escape from Poland, and his wife declared that “there is no fate worse than being refugees in a strange land.”[50]

Feldschu’s name does appear in the extensive Internet database on the Warsaw Ghetto, compiled by Barbara Engelking-Boni and the Polish Center for Holocaust Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences, though without any reference to the Revisionists or the ŻZW or the diary.[51] Most important, there is the mistaken presumption that in 1940 he succeeded in escaping to Palestine – “as did [Apolinary] Hartglas[52] and [Mojżesz] Koerner.”[53] Presumably, that conclusion was based on the fact that none other than Judenrat chairman Adam Czerniaków (1880-1942) three times mentioned Feldschu in his diary in the following context:

“27 December 1939: I was visited by a certain Dr. Feldschuh on the subject of emigration. I advised him to contact Jaszunski,[54] the chairman of the [Emigration] Commission.[55]“

“21 January 1940: A meeting of the Emigration Commission concerning Feldschuh, etc.[56]“

“1 April 1940: Feldschuh and someone else to discuss emigration with me. They ask for advice and [at the same time] offer adviceehrenhalber [gratuitously] about emigration.[57]“

Significantly, in that work, the English edition of which was annotated by Raul Hilberg, Stanisław Staron, and Józef Kermisz, the only supplementary information the editors saw fit to include on Feldschu was as follows: “Zionist, was concerned with emigration to Palestine. He survived and lived in Israel, where he changed his name to Ben-Shem.”[58] Here it should also be noted that Feldschu was the only figure associated with the Revisionists who even rated a mention in Czerniaków’s diary – though again that affiliation may not have been known to Czerniaków.

Ringelblum’s writings indicate that he was aware of Feldschu’s presence in Warsaw. Presumably their paths crossed from time to time. Whatever their bitter political differences, they actually had much in common. The two men were not merely Buczacz landsman - they were both accomplished Hebraicists. They also lived on the same street – Ringelblum at Leszno 18, Feldschu at Leszno 66. In his diary, however, Ringelblum made only three sparing references to Feldschu.[59] The first of these was in December 1939: “Some receive telegrams from America. They want help. Some receive documents from the consulate. Revisionists, Dr. Feldschu and [illegible] act separately. They send [their own?] memorial.”[60]

This obviously corroborates the references in Czerniaków’s diary about Feldschu’s activities in the field of emigration. But the contents of Feldschu’s memorial and the recipient are unclear – though presumably it was sent to the German authorities. The second time Feldschu appeared in Ringelblum’s diary was on 6-11 May 1941 and in reference to a conference convened by Abraham Gancwajch, head of the notorious Trzynastka (the Thirteen) group that collaborated with the Germans. These gatherings were popular with hungry members of the intelligentsia, because of the food and drink served there. Thus Feldschu’s presence there does not mean much, but it certainly did not improve his image in Ringelblum’s eyes:

“During the feverish days of roundups; Leszno 13 took 30 zloty for sleeping in their office. In the first days of May, they convened three conferences in which 60 persons took part: merchants, journalists, physicians, engineers. Among them [were present] well known people such as Lipman (the Revisionist schemer),[61] Dr. Feldschu, Lejzerowicz, Dr. Korczak and others. Some went out of fear, others out of curiosity. Gancwajch is a fascinating orator, thanks to which he gains followers who do not know of his dirty machinations.[62]“

Ringelblum’s last mention of Feldschu was made at the end of June 1941, in reference to cultural activities in the ghetto and the content of the German-sanctioned newspaper Gazeta Żydowska: ”Forced judaization. The joy of some because of the autonomy. Rozenfeld’s son,[63] a collaborator, Revisionist. Dr. Feldschu in the field of youth first aid. Rascals of all parties unite!”[64] Unlike the earlier passages, this text was unmistakably contemptuous.

Feldschu’s son, Kami, recalls his father saying that Ringelblum had detested him for his political views, which is probably why he was never recruited to work with his Oneg Shabbat group that played such an outstanding role in documenting the story of the Warsaw Ghetto.[65] While this has yet to be corroborated (one wonders whether it ever can be), it may be a plausible explanation. Indeed, no Revisionists were included among Ringelblum’s collaborators. In December 1942 and later, at the end of January 1943, Ringelblum wrote of the fate of some of the diarists in the ghetto, most notably Chaim Kaplan, whose diary he mistakenly believed was lost. He did not mention Feldschu in that context and there is no evidence to suggest that he was ever aware of the fact that Feldschu had been keeping a diary.[66]

Feldschu’s activities are also discussed, even if only briefly in the diary of Hillel Seidman. From Seidman’s account it would appear that Feldschu was a leading personage in the ŻZW: “7 January: After long and complicated negotiations it was finally agreed that Dr. Reuben Feldshu and Dr. Wdowinski should organize and lead a common front with the main resistance.”[67]

Of course, as a number of scholars have pointed out, Seidman’s diary is a somewhat unreliable source.[68] Dr. David Wdowinski (1895-1970), the ranking survivor of the Revisionist movement in Poland, questioned the credibility not only of Seidman but Feldschu as well, accusing them not merely of ignorance but outright falsification. In an impassioned exchange with Lazar, the embittered Wdowinski declared that he had never even met Feldschu in the ghetto.[69]

Feldschu’s name also appears in connection with the activities of his daughter, Josima,[70] who was widely recognized as a child prodigy pianist and who gave concerts in the ghetto.[71] Josima later succumbed to tuberculosis when in hiding with the rest of the family on the Aryan side.

In an interview with the well-known Polish journalist Anka Grupińska in 2000, Shoshana Emilka (“Marylka”) Kossower-Rozencwajg, the heroic Jewish courier who spirited Emanuel Ringelblum out of Trawniki, noted that “our leader” Feldschu-Ben Shem was in the ghetto:

“I went to him and there I met Rachel Auerbach, because she was his cousin. Later I established contact with others from Betar in the ghetto; but it had no meaning to me, because whoever is where, I thought, we are all together. And later it was necessary to save those who wanted to get out. I took Ben Shem with his wife and daughter, who had great talent as a pianist. But the girl died of pneumonia on the Aryan side and I buried her myself where we were living.[72]“

For her part, Auerbach devoted an entire subchapter of her memoirs to Josima,[73] but only fleeting attention to Feldschu himself.[74] In a subsequent article devoted to the tragic story of Josima, Auerbach claimed that Feldschu later had Josima’s remains exhumed and reburied “in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.”[75]

From Kossower-Rozencwajg’s description, it seems reasonable to presume that Feldschu was not directly involved with the military activity in which she later played an active role. In a conversation with this author shortly before her death, she made clear that Feldschu was not directly involved in any significant underground military activity.[76] For his part, however, Feldschu wrote, lest there be any mistake, that it was Kossower-Rozencwajg who was the most effective  person engaged in the smuggling of weapons and ammunition into the ghetto and that the ŻZW arsenal could, in large measure, be attributed to her efforts.[77]

“An original, densely written and hard-to-read manuscript”

The most significant source of information on Feldschu’s wartime fate is the very journal that he maintained in the ghetto – and miraculously managed to preserve when leaving it. Feldschu took the diary with him when he went into hiding on the Aryan side, and when he emerged from it – safeguarded the precious record on his long journey to the Land of Israel.

To be sure, Feldschu was uncertain whether either he or the diary would survive. On 26 March 1942 he wrote:

“I do not know if I will be able to get this journal out of here, or if it will live on without me after I have been covered by a layer of earth and oblivion. In any case, it is my wish that the truth be reflected in this journal – the truth of how people lived inside the earth, in a place where scorching lava is being formed under the burning, spewing volcano that is Hitler’s Europe.[78]“

The journal runs to over eight hundred pages handwritten in microscopic Hebrew, some of it in copybooks, other parts on decaying scraps of paper. Though utterly neglected, the document is a highly detailed source of information on the Warsaw Ghetto. Fragments of the journal were first published in the Tel Aviv-based Revisionist daily, HaMashkif toward the end of the 1940s.[79] Later, in 1978, excerpts of the entries for 1941 were published in Yalkut Moreshet, the journal of Hashomer Hatzair’s Moreshet Mordechai Anielevich Memorial Holocaust Study and Research Center – though presumably at Feldschu’s own initiative.[80]

At the beginning of the 1980s, only after Feldschu’s death, three lengthier installments of the diary appeared in the annual journal of the Massua Memorial Institute, which sought to commemorate the members of the General Zionist youth movements in the Holocaust at Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak.[81] The second installment included introductory information by Józef Kermisz (1907-2005), the founder and first director of the Yad Vashem archives. According to Kermisz:

“The original, densely written and hard-to-read manuscript, which was written continuously during the Shoah, with no subheadings, but only dates, is hundreds of pages long. These are not diary entries in the strictest sense of the term, because only certain parts of the notebook retain the character of a diary and those are, indeed, punctiliously and diligently entered daily, and they contain more or less personal, emotional and intimate details and also observational and reflexive details that accompany the concrete and objective material. On the other hand, the main parts of the notebook that were almost certainly not written on the dates noted by the author, but rather during the time he hid on the Aryan side after the liquidation of the ghetto, with the perspective of at most a year, are characteristic of reportage and essay writing, and they have more descriptions of concrete events and the reporting of facts as they were. In these sections of reportages and essays, there is an obvious tendency to deal with unique questions, Gothic viewpoints, generalization and the learning of lessons.[82]“

However, it is not at all clear on what Kermisz bases that assumption, and for the time being it must be regarded as conjecture.

The published portions of the diary do not suggest that its author had anything more than a peripheral role in the activities of the ŻZW. Feldschu was certainly not – even by his own account – a “leading commander,” and, as is evident from the fragments cited below, there is little to indicate that he was involved in the underground in any sort of leadership capacity.[83]

“Satan intends to swallow us alive”

Still, Feldschu’s diary makes it possible to independently corroborate other information on various events in the ghetto. It is an especially rich source of information on cultural life in the ghetto as well as the plight of both the intelligentsia and the religious population.

In terms of the Revisionist underground, Feldschu’s story dovetails with that of Rozencwajg who aided the Feldschu family in leaving the ghetto, but also that of the Zylberberg brothers (Moshe and Zvi) from Lublin, who brought news of the slaughter in that city to Warsaw.[84] Feldschu describes the gradual acceptance of, and even enthusiasm for, the idea of resistance. Limitations of space permit quoting only a few passages, but these reveal that this work was the supreme effort of an accomplished writer with the widest intellectual horizons; it is an outstanding and often heartrending work of literature.

In the entry for May 1942, Feldschu wrote:

“We all feel that a terrible period is approaching, perhaps the end of our days. There is a desire to be enlisted, to mount some kind of defense, some kind of war, but I see just how much the public’s strength has decreased and how its energy has been depleted. From day to day it has been broken, particularly the power of the intelligentsia. I glimpse into the circle of my acquaintances – how the power of reaction has been diminished, as well as the vitality of life. Instead, a strong, instinctive desire to live has arisen – but it is pointless; instead of energy comes inertia and a marching in place; and a grasping at life.[85]“

In the same entry he notes:

“Danger approaches. Some shake their heads in doubt and some shrug helplessly. They seek counsel; perhaps they should communicate with the Poles. Together with them they should initiate a terrible war against the enemy. They say that this has already been tried, but that the answer from them [the Poles] was that they are an organized force waiting for the order to be given by the Polish government in London. Without it, no one will lift a finger. Let our brethren in America and England know that they should use their influence, they should wake up, scream, organize! In any case, they are stronger than we are. The whole world should be “tearingkri’a”![86] They should drape themselves in black and go and ask the rulers of the powerful nations to do something to save us, because Satan intends to swallow us alive here! [87]“

From these passages it is clear that Feldschu did not have any detailed knowledge or involvement, at least at this stage, in any self-defense activity. They also demonstrate that within the ghetto there were already those who contemplated taking such action, even before the Great Aktion in the summer of 1942, in which some three hundred thousand Jews were deported to Treblinka and others killed in situ. Feldschu’s assessment of the attitude of the Poles is especially astute.

Further on, Feldschu notes (mistakenly) that Jews in Nowogródek had risen up against their oppressors. Of course, it is not difficult to determine the source of Feldschu’s excitement about Jewish resistance in Nowogródek.[88] In March 1942, Eliezer Geller, the leader of the (Zionist) Gordonia movement in the Warsaw Ghetto, published the exhilarating report of a revolt in Nowogródek in the movement’s underground bulletin. The Jews had died with dignity, he wrote, killing no fewer than sixteen autochthonous gendarmes before succumbing. That story was repeated in the papers of Hashomer Hatzair and Poale Sion-Left, in which it was reported that two hundred youths had taken part in the purported rebellion and that twenty gendarmes had been killed.[89]

In the entry for June 1942, Feldschu reported hearing the horrifying news brought by Moshe Zylberberg:

“The steps of the angel of death are coming ever nearer, surrounding us from all sides. It has been a while already since rumors reached us that in Lublin, Ir va’em in Israel [a mother city of Israel], sinister acts are being committed against the Jews: they are being killed, transferred, sent to camps, to Majdanek.[90] This week the rumors were crystallized and despite the dearth of possibilities of any link between our ghetto and the one in Lublin, the gloomy clouds of rumor were blackened and terrifying nevertheless. They are talking about thousands of people killed, dead and murdered outside of the city.”

An acquaintance of mine, my former camper from Hashomer Haleumi,[91] Moshe Zylberberg, who served as commander of theplacówka [post] in Lublin and whose brother was a policeman there, escaped from Lublin at the last minute, at the moment when he was about to be kidnapped and to be appended to those who were kidnapped, and from him we learned the whole truth. And what we heard surpassed all that we had feared, and it had the power to nullify all the desire to calm down that was in us.[92]

That event is corroborated by Zylberberg himself in a 1948 article in the Munich-based Revisionist DP paper Unzer Welt: “I gave him the information concerning the Churban [destruction] of Lublin and I remember like today recounting the gruel and nightmare. ‘Moshe,’ he said, ‘you have to write down everything so that the facts of the terrible events in Lublin won’t be lost. The world has to know what these Huns did with the Jews.’”[93] Zylberberg went on to describe how Feldschu took him to see the General Zionist activist, Menachem Kirszenbaum, who expressed disbelief and skepticism about the idea of organizing any resistance.

One could hardly imagine a more chilling description of the frenzy precipitated by the Great Aktion in which most of the Jews of Warsaw were rounded up and dispatched to their deaths in Treblinka; as Feldschu wrote:

“Monday, July 20, 1942. At half past ten the rumor is spreading. Suddenly, from underground – deportation, the deportation of [the Jews of] Warsaw. All of Warsaw! Half of Warsaw! One hundred thousand! Two hundred thousand! Only the foreigners! Only the beggars! Everyone, except the officials!… Deportation, deportation…then…like madmen, like people on fire, everyone started to run, half a million people running – to the community [building], from the community [building] home, to the police, to relatives, to strangers! Everyone is running, running, deportation, deportation! What we have feared has come to pass! Vernichtung [extermination] commando, deportation! We ran home, we fell into each other’s arms, we hugged, we kissed, we bid one another farewell forever. We swore not to be separated, but to die together, to run away, to go into hiding together! The city burst into tears, the sound of which was certainly heard all over the world, but not on high. “Deportation,” cried every child, every old person, every stone, every wall, every sidewalk. The street shook as if millions of terrified demons had jumped on it, and were running and being pushed.[94]“

It is known from Feldschu’s diary that after the Great Aktion, he with his wife and child went into hiding in the ghetto. At that point rumors were rife about what the Germans had in store for the Jews and Feldschu dutifully noted these. In the entry for 23 October 1942, after reporting the strange story of the son of a workshop manager who purportedly had read aloud to the workers a document signed by Hitler outlining the plans to murder the Jews,[95] Feldschu wrote:

“The Jews are being murdered using gas. The Jews are amazed to hear all this. The only way to save oneself is to escape to the forest. The Jews have to be ready to fight. They shouldn’t sell their lives too cheaply. In other shops a decision is made to fight – not to die like cowards, but as fighters. Everyone who dies will take with him at least a few Germans. The world will know that the remnant of the nation fought.[96]“

On 15 November 1942, Feldschu described the first concrete steps, in cooperation with activists from other political parties, in which he personally was involved to establish a resistance group in the ghetto shop in which he was working. According to Feldschu, Jews in other shops had also decided to fight. He mentions that the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) was cooperating and most significantly, the first weapons in the shop were brought by “Emilka who was my trainee in Betar” and her Polish escort “Kelta”.

On Christmas day 1942, he wrote of helping to acquire the financial means to buy arms and ammunition. Feldschu and his colleagues removed items from a workshop storeroom that contained items that had been looted from Jews:

“Expropriation – the word sounds pleasant in my ears and reminds me of revolutionary literature…. I returned home sanctified in my eyes – I had participated in a good operation, in the preparation of weapons for fighters…. We will succeed in selling the items we confiscated. We will be able to obtain…a machine gun and we will place defenders around it. Anyone who comes close to it will feel that the strength of the Maccabees has not waned. Chanukah in the world; Chanukah in the workshop![97]“

On 10 January 1943, Feldschu wrote of further developments in which both Moshe Zylberberg and Rozencwajg played a role:

“Moshe Zylberberg from the [central] ghetto paid me back a visit…. He said that there, they convened a few meetings in which all the streams expressed themselves…in favor of defense. Hiding places are being built there, not like ours – which are simply for hiding – but real bunkers. They bring weapons to the hiding places and keep them inside – if the Germans penetrate and break in, they will not be able to finish off the hostages – a battle will be conducted and they will die the death of heroes.”

“A new wind blew through the room…. He went on. The power of the Jewish people of all kinds has been strengthened. They are preparing for the last battle. In the ghetto, they do not believe in the promises of the appeasers. They see in it the hand of the Gestapo and the mosrim [betrayers] who are interested in quieting things down so that a revolt will not be organized, and so that the SS can pounce all at once and take everyone out at once. They are preparing for the battle with ammunition and provisions. The youth are arming themselves, and from the elderly they are requesting financial help, and whoever does not want to give of his own free will is threatened, and there is no doubt that they will pay what is requested. The police chief, Colonel Szerynski,[98] was killed; all of his comrades and lieutenants are going, and will go the same route. In the ghetto, they know that a new force is arising that does not take anything into consideration. It will do whatever it sees fit. It is somewhat difficult to unite all the streams, but starting from the Left, the Communists, the Bundists all the way through to the Right with the Revisionists, a way will be found and a united front will be created.[99]“

From this text, and the third-person narrative, it again seems clear that Feldschu is mainly an observer and a chronicler, rather than a leading actor in the events described.

Indeed, sometime before the ghetto uprising, Feldschu and his wife and daughter had been spirited out of the ghetto through the law courts on Leszno Street (which abutted the Aryan side) and had gone into hiding. Forty-three years old, and with a wife and daughter depending on him, he obviously could not take part in the armed struggle as an insurgent. According to Rozencwajg, once on the Aryan side the Feldschus were hidden in a house in Pustelnik, near Marki on the road to Radzymin, together with her sister and two brothers as well as another person.[100] Later they moved in to a house in Borków near Radość. It was during this time that Josima, ailing from tubercolosis, lost her life. Rozencwajg stated that, shortly after the death of Josima, Feldschu’s wife Perła “lost the will to live” and died shortly thereafter.[101] That account is corroborated in Auerbach’s memoirs in which she notes that Josima died on 21 April 1943 and that her anguished mother took her own life.[102]

“It wouldn’t be smart for him to remain in Poland”

Information on Feldschu’s activities in the postwar years can be found in a November 1970 interview with him that is preserved in the archives of Tel Aviv University’s Diaspora Research Institute.[103] According to that document, at the end of July 1944, Feldschu together with a group of several Jews made their way to Lublin, which had just been overrun by the Red Army.

Feldschu remained in the city and played an active role in the (transient) rebirth of Jewish life. At the beginning of October 1944, the newly established Komitet Żydowski (Jewish Committee) in Lublin appealed to the Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego-PKWN (Polish Committee of National Liberation), the country’s provisional government, with the request that they confirm the community’s nomination of Feldschu as chief rabbi – charged with ensuring the religious needs of the surviving Jews.[104] This marked the first time Feldschu served in a rabbinical post.

Together with the General Zionist Emil Sommerstein, who upon his release from Soviet captivity served on the Krajowa Rada Narodowa-KRN (Homeland National Council), the provisional parliament. Feldschu was also active in the establishment of the Zionist party, Ichud.[105] According to the minutes of an interparty meeting of the provisional Centralny Komitet Żydów w Polsce-CŻKP (Central Committee of Jews in Poland) held in mid-January 1945, Feldschu was a member of the presidium, representing the Revisionists.[106] Although Feldschu was so identified, perhaps because of his prewar activity, in fact he was probably serving on behalf of Ichud. However, Feldschu’s name did not appear in the minutes of the next meeting held at the beginning of February and the Revisionist Party was eventually outlawed.[107]

Feldschu was also committed to documenting the tragedy that had befallen the Jews of Poland. The Polish Jewish historian Philip Friedman (1901-1960) recalled having founded the Centralna Żydowska Komisja Historyczna (Central Jewish Historical Commission) in Lublin in the second half of 1944 and that Feldschu was among its first members.[108] Given the fate of Feldschu’s own writings, all but excluded from the immense body of Holocaust literature that evolved in successive decades, this fact seems especially ironic.

In his 1970 interview, Feldschu claimed to have had a meeting with Nikolai Bulganin in Lublin. Bulganin was the Soviet representative to the PKWN, which was headquartered in the city, so this is far from implausible. What is especially curious, however, is that according to Feldschu, Bulganin suggested that the Jews join the Soviets in the struggle against the Poles. That episode has not been documented elsewhere, but must be seen in light of the Soviet attempts to quash Polish nationalism and bring Poland under Soviet control. The purported meeting with Bulganin took place at about the time of the 1944 Warsaw Rising in which Soviet forces passively watched the destruction of the Polish capital and the forces that had attempted to wrest its control from the Germans.[109]

Michał Friedman, a Jew then serving as an officer in the Polish army in Lublin, described meeting Feldschu at that time: “In Lublin a Jewish club was established for all the survivors who registered there. It was named after [the writer Isaac Leib] Peretz and located on Lubartowska Street. The Sukkoth holiday came around. I was on duty and I thought to myself: “Let’s go and see. Perhaps I’ll run into someone.” Dinner was served; I was sitting there in my uniform – I don’t recall now whether I was a lieutenant or second lieutenant then – and right across the table from me a man was sitting, and it seemed to me that I knew his face. All of a sudden, he speaks to me: “Friedman?” And I say: “Feldszu!” It was my last teacher from Kowel! We embraced each other over the table; he delivered a toast, then I did. He had obviously realized that it wouldn’t be smart for him to remain in Poland since they would get at him for being a Zionist and a right-winger. And he left for Israel.[110]“

There is nothing to indicate that Feldschu resumed his contacts with the Revisionist movement and nothing to suggest that while in Lublin he was in contact with the small Revisionist group in the city that included Perec Laskier[111] and Adam Halperin.[112] Chaim Lazar seems to have arrived in Lublin after Feldschu had already left, which is the only way to account for the fact that he does not refer to Feldschu in his memoirs of that period.[113]

Of course, given the prevailing political climate, it may well be that Feldschu was cautious about any activity that was likely to endanger him. But it seems impossible to imagine that he was not in contact with the other Revisionists. In his memoirs, Yitzhak (“Antek”) Zuckerman describes at great length events in Lublin in this period including the attempts to reactivate Jewish political and communal activities, and though it seems difficult to believe that their paths did not cross, there is no mention of Feldschu.[114] No dossier on Feldschu has yet been found in the archives of the Instytut Pamięci Narodowej (Institute of National Memory-IPN), and this makes a thorough reconstruction of the Lublin period more difficult.

In 1945, after purportedly receiving an invitation to appear at the NKVD headquarters, Feldschu left Lublin for Palestine via Romania (where he was aided by the Revisionist emissary Josef Klarman). He was accompanied by Ruth Halbersztadt (1913-2007), a vocalist from Warsaw whom he had met in Lublin. She had jumped off a train bound for Treblinka and survived on the Aryan side. The couple was married in Bucharest and she eventually bore him a son, Nekamia “Kami” (b. 1946) and a daughter, Joezra Rina (b. 1950). Tellingly, he derived his son’s name Nekamia from the Hebrew word for revenge. According to Kami, his mother said that when she first met Feldschu in Poland, and later during the journey to Palestine, he told her that the journal he had kept in Warsaw was his reason for living.[115]

“Tiferet Israel”

Once in Palestine (1946) and after the return of the Jewish State Party to the Revisionist fold, Feldschu – like Grossman – eventually rejoined the General Zionists (which later evolved into the Liberal Party), and became a member of its central committee.[116] He settled in the Givat Shmuel suburb of Tel Aviv and earned his living as a high school principal[117] and a lecturer in social sciences. Occasionally he also appeared at public events sponsored by the Herut Party, which succeeded the Zionist Revisionist movement – for example, a 1964 evening marking the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of Betar, in Tel Aviv’s ZOA (Zionist Organization of America) House;[118] or at other events commemorating the victims of the Shoah.[119]

Feldschu resumed his literary activities immediately. Among the first fruits of his labors was Beyn Chomot Hagetto (Between the Ghetto Walls),[120] a children’s book on the Warsaw Ghetto in which the heroine is called Josima and takes up arms against the Germans. Earlier still, while on his way to Romania, he penned a booklet of Holocaust commemoration.[121] In 1954 Feldschu authored (among his copious other writings) a textbook on general psychology, purportedly the first of its kind in Hebrew,[122] as well as a book on Freudian psychology.[123] That volume was followed by several other texts on the same subject. Feldschu also established the Tiferet Israel synagogue in Givat Shmuel, over which he presided as rabbi. In that capacity he was widely known for the eloquence of his drashot (sermons) and his liberal interpretation of Jewish law.

From 1956 to 1959 Feldschu served as the cultural attaché at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and as an emissary of the Jewish Agency. After his arrival in Argentina, Feldschu and his family initially resided with Bertha Seidman, Hillel Seidman’s sister. Fostering Latin American aliyah(emigration to Israel) was one of his main responsibilities, and according to a 1958 New York Times report Feldschu was involved in an “indoctrination plan to lure new immigrants.” In that context he was dispatched to visit the Jewish communities in the six southernmost republics of South America.[124]

During his sojourn in Argentina, Feldschu prepared a major work titled Poylin Brendt, which dealt with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the first months of the occupation. Much of that book, written in erudite Yiddish and published in Buenos Aires by the Central Union of Polish Jews in Argentina, was probably based on the first entries in Feldschu’s wartime diary.[125] The book contains material based not only on his own personal experiences, but also on those of people he came in contact with. However, not all of this is entirely reliable. But one noteworthy instance is the purported bombing of the largest hospital in Warsaw with thousands of casualties. Feldschu makes clear that at the beginning of the war chaos prevailed among both the Jewish and non-Jewish population – and there is no reason to doubt that.

One reviewer of Feldschu’s book observed: “…by a miracle the diary was rescued from the burning Warsaw Ghetto. Hopefully, additional volumes of Dr. Ben-Shem’s work on the Warsaw Ghetto will be published, and a publisher will be found who will publish Poylin Brendt in Polish.”[126] However, that work was never translated into Polish or any other language – nor did it even appear in Hebrew, the language in which it was probably originally written. In effect, it was as if the book was consigned to oblivion and it is hardly ever quoted.

Meantime, the local Jewish press (in both Spanish and Yiddish) in Argentina made copious reference to Feldschu’s activities, including the fact that he was documenting his experiences in the Shoah. But outside those circles no one seems to have taken note.

Shortly after Feldschu’s return to Israel, he was summoned back to South America to serve as chief rabbi of Bolivia. He canceled those plans because of his son’s (temporary) ill health and remained in Israel. Feldschu was also the founding president of Efrata, an organization aimed at encouraging fertility among Jewish women – doubtless a reaction to his experiences in the Shoah. Among his other endeavors, Feldschu was a pioneer in women’s empowerment in Judaism. He organized a bat mitzvah for his own daughter, Joezra Rina, who was called to the Torah in his synagogue in Givat Shmuel. At that time, this was considered an act sufficiently sensational and avant-garde as to warrant extensive press coverage.[127] Meanwhile he continued to write on an array of subjects, most notably the field of psychology and psychonomics,[128] but also including a drama in three acts titled Komedia B’Midbar (Comedy in the Desert).[129]

Despite his prolificacy, Feldschu’s activities in the Warsaw Ghetto and the existence of his journal failed to attract great attention. Unlike his cousin Rachel Auerbach, or even David Wdowinski, his onetime colleague from the Revisionist movement, Feldschu was not called upon to testify in the Eichmann trial.  As noted earlier, Feldschu’s name did appear a number of times in Chaim Lazar’s book on the ŻZW[130] – receiving, in fact, no less mention than David Wdowinski.[131] But that work did not achieve a major resonance outside Revisionist circles and did not have a significant impact on the mainstream discourse on the Shoah. Thus, Feldschu’s story remained on the margins. In left-wing circles, whose influence on the Holocaust narrative was very strong, disdain for Revisionists was so great that the very fact Feldschu’s name was associated with Lazar probably discredited him.

Strange to relate, both the published portions and the remaining original were neglected in subsequent literature on the Holocaust and were never the subject of any analysis. This is so despite Feldschu’s evocative description of many events in the ghetto, particularly the mood of its inhabitants. From time to time Feldschu has been cited, for example, regarding the plight of Orthodox Jews – most notably in the work by Israeli scholar Esther Farbstein.[132] Havi Dreyfus (Ben-Sasson), an outstanding young Israeli authority on Polish Jewry in the Shoah, and one of the few researchers acquainted with Feldschu’s writings, compares  his diary to that of Chaim Kaplan and believes it is one of the most valuable  sources for understanding various aspects of daily life in the ghetto.[133]

To this day, Feldschu, who died in 1980,[134] is largely unknown, even to most of the leading scholars of the Holocaust and Polish Jewry.

“Are you the same Feldschu?”

There are several plausible explanations why Feldschu’s story never achieved a greater resonance. The fact that Feldschu was not active in a political party with any genuine influence on the evolution of the Holocaust narrative, nor was he associated with an institution of higher learning, certainly hindered his ability to make his own story known. Until the establishment of Yad Vashem, political movements, especially those of the Left, were the leading forces in creating the narrative of the Shoah. As a result, many of the details were deeply entangled in ideologies and often inextricable from them. Nor was Yad Vashem itself entirely free of political pressure and influence.

The evolution of the discourse on the Holocaust in Israeli public life has been ably chronicled by the Israeli historian Roni Stauber – and it is a telling commentary on the extent to which Feldschu was marginalized that his name does not even appear in that work.[135] To the extent that Feldschu was known, he was generally associated with the Revisionists – which meant, for all intents and purposes, that he was treyf (unkosher).

Feldschu’s own character was probably also a factor. By all accounts he was a displaced European intellectual, rather embittered by his experiences, and living, despite his extraordinary talents, somewhat on the fringes of Israeli society. Ironically, he was one of the few survivors who was able to tell the story in powerful, articulate Hebrew. But he was rarely called upon to do so, and he died long before the widespread transcription of survivor testimony on video became technically feasible and fashionable.

However, the most striking and perplexing question is why Rachel Auerbach (1905-1976), one of only three survivors of Oneg Shabbat and Feldschu’s own cousin, never seems to have made any efforts to ensure that his observations about life and death in the Warsaw Ghetto received any attention. Auerbach was one of the early members of the main branch of the Centralna Żydowska Komisja Historyczna in Łódz, which was later moved to Warsaw. By that time, of course, Feldschu who had been one of the body’s founders in Lublin in 1944, was long gone from Poland. Faced with the emasculation of that institution, which fell victim to the communist Gleichschaltung (streamlining), Auerbach, together with Kermisz and a number of  other colleagues, left for Israel.

Upon her arrival in 1950, Auerbach continued her work documenting the Holocaust. According to her biographical entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica, she “collected testimonies from survivors and published her Holocaust period writings and testimonial memoirs in various forms. She was founder and director of the Department for the Collection of Witness Testimonies at Yad Vashem.”[136]

In his study on Auerbach and her activities in Israel, the Israeli historian Boaz Cohen observed, “She considered survivor testimony one of the central pillars in the evolving historiography of the Holocaust.”[137] Quite unlike Feldschu, however, Auerbach had only a rather weak knowledge of the Hebrew language,[138] but that did not prevent her from acquiring a much higher public profile than her cousin. Could it be that even while dedicating her life to collecting survivor testimony, Auerbach was utterly unaware of the existence of her own relative’s extraordinary diary? Given what is now known – including the fact that at least for a while Auerbach actually lived with the Feldschus at Leszno 66 – this seems implausible, if not impossible.

It might have had to do with politics. Kassow notes that: “Auerbach…attacked the memoirs and writings of many nationally conscious survivors for the tendency to settle political scores and nurture ideological jealousies. Auerbach held up the model of the Oyneg Shabes, where, she felt, a shared sense of national mission trumped narrow agendas. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, a wounded nation had to look at its record, the good as well as the bad. To tell the whole truth, to add and subtract nothing, was debt owed not just to the victims who had died but to the nation that had to recover and rebuild. [139]“

Perhaps, this principled public stand notwithstanding, Auerbach’s  own, left-wing, political leanings had something to do with her failure to act. The fact is, and as has been mentioned earlier, no Revisionists or right-wingers were involved in Oneg Shabbat. Under those circumstances, one can only wonder why Auerbach did not do more to make known the writings of her own relative? What other possible explanation could there be for her treatment of cousin Ruben? A family dispute or misunderstanding might have been behind this strange and seemingly inexplicable omission, but Kami Feldschu recounts that his family was in touch with Auerbach until her death and that there was never a rupture in their contact.[140]

Irrespective of the explanation of Auerbach’s failure to help Feldschu, ultimately it meant that despite his contributions to documenting the Holocaust, Feldschu’s name almost never appears in the mainstream discourse on the Warsaw Ghetto.

Józef Kermisz, Auerbach’s colleague first from Poland and later at Yad Vashem, seems to have been the first historian to display serious interest in the diary and to recognize its historical importance. According to correspondence in the Feldschu family archives dating back to 1963, Kermisz eventually had the diary transcribed. But unlike Auerbach, Kermisz was not a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto. At the outbreak of the war he had escaped to Równo, which had been occupied by the Soviets. After the German invasion he had gone into hiding at the home of a fellow teacher, a non-Jew. Therefore, unlike Auerbach, he could not have been expected to know about the existence of Feldschu or his diary until after the liberation. Of course, as an early member of the Central Jewish Historical Commission in Lublin in 1944-1945, he probably would have met Feldschu, but it is uncertain whether he knew anything about the diary at that point in time.

Meantime, in 1966, Natan Eck, one of Ringelblum’s collaborators in Oneg Shabbat and a colleague of Kermisz at Yad Vashem, also learned about Feldschu and his diary – though entirely by chance. In 1966, while preparing the Hebrew translation of the Czerniaków diary for publication, he came across the name of Feldschu-Ben Shem and looked it up in the phone book. He wrote to the only one he found, unsure of whether it was even the same person. Eck was electrified to discover that the man he had contacted was the author of a seemingly unknown diary. A correspondence ensued. Presumably Eck learned that Kermisz was already dealing with the diary and no further letters between the two men have been discovered.[141] Significantly, Eck inquired, and quite logically, whether Feldschu had been involved in the Ringelblum archives – and also whether he had been a member of the Jewish State Party or the Revisionists.

Despite this initial flurry of excitement, the progress in transcribing the diary was agonizingly slow. A letter in the Yad Vashem archives from Kermisz to Feldschu on 31 December 1970 indicates that Feldschu’s entire manuscript had been microfilmed and then (at least hundreds of page of it) laboriously transcribed.[142]

In the first of the three installments of the diary that appeared in the Massua annual in 1981, Moshe Kol (1911-1989), a leader of the Independent Liberal Party and a colleague of Feldschu’s from before the war, warmly eulogized him. Kol was a member of the triumvirate that constituted the editorial board. That encomium also sheds light on Feldschu’s attempts to get the diary published: “Many years ago he [Feldschu] told me about his diary…and asked for help in getting it published. I promised to help, but I could not take upon myself the responsibility of having the diary published in its entirety, because of the difficulties in deciphering it. When he was sick, he sent me his diary and asked that I should see to that it be published as the duty of a friend. In this issue we are publishing excerpts from the diary. It is my hope that in publishing the diary I am performing the truest act of kindness [chesed shel emet] for my leader [from the time] when I began to make my way in the Zionist youth movement.[143]“

However, the fact that only fragments of Feldschu’s diary were eventually published, in Yalkut Moreshet and Massua, and in Hebrew alone, rather than in more widely circulated publications, and above all in English translation, must have contributed to the relative obscurity of this documentation. Undoubtedly, that the work was never published in book form added to the problem.

Another issue altogether is the fact that all too few scholars seem to have been aware of the existence of Feldschu’s diary and not all of those who did were convinced of its veracity. For his part, Israel Gutman maintains that while he is familiar with the material, he does not regard it as a credible source. Consequently, Gutman chose not to make use of the journal – and is very cautious about encouraging others to act differently.[144] Though Gutman does not say as much, it may well be that his view (and perhaps others’ as well) has been influenced by Ringelblum’s disparaging portrayal of Feldschu. On the other hand, Gutman was a member of the editorial board of Yalkut Moreshet in which extracts from the diary were published in 1978.[145]

Kermisz, however, saw this material and its author in an entirely different light, which is why he did so much to make the diary known: “Ben Shem’s journal should be published in its entirety. Because of its documentary value – the facts having been precisely and faithfully conveyed, as well as its substantive content penetrating the deepest layers of the matters of the days [divrei yamim] – and because it significantly elucidates many phenomena, from the most fateful matters to matters of daily life, his manuscript is among the most shocking diaries and journals written by Jews under Nazi occupation.[146]“

One can only imagine Ringelblum’s own reaction had he known of the existence of Feldschu’s journal. In December 1942, he despaired: “It is known that many people in Warsaw wrote diaries. As it turns out, very few of them will reach the public. The deluge of deportations floods everything, destroys everything, leaving no trace of anything. It is in vain that people are sent into the flats after the deportations in search of manuscripts. They find nothing, everything was thrown into the garbage – everything was destroyed and burned.[147]“

Ringelblum, as noted, had a low opinion of Feldschu and of the Revisionists. Still, while in hiding on the Aryan side and while striving to reconstruct the history of the revolt, he wrote, “And why is there no information on the ŻZW…. They must leave an imprint, even if in our eyes, they are unsympathetic.”[148]

Whatever the reasons, Feldschu’s diary fell between the cracks. Lamentably, neither an experienced researcher nor even a doctoral candidate has taken up the challenge of dissecting and evaluating this complex and compelling document. Now, 110 years since his birth, and thirty years after his death, one can only hope that the dust will soon be shaken off and that an appropriate place in the historiography of the Shoah will finally be found for Ruben Feldschu and his forgotten chronicle.[149]

*     *     *


*  The author would like to express his heartfelt gratitude to Mr. Kami Ben Shem and Ms. Sharon Ben Shem-Da Silva for enabling him to make use of documents from the family’s archives. He would also like to thank Prof. Theo Balberyszki, Dr. Havi Dreyfus (Ben-Sasson), Ms. Carmela Yagev, Mr. Dan Kupfert-Heller, Prof. Shalom Lindenbaum , Ms. Yvette Shumacher, and Dr. David Silberklang for their helpful suggestions and manifold assistance in the preparation of this article. A part of the research for this article was undertaken with the help of a grant from the Jabotinsky Institute, which the author gratefully acknowledges.

[1] Sarah Ozacky-Lazar, “Mismach: Mered Getto Varsha v’Hamavak neged Hashilumim,”  HaUma 170 (Winter 2007): 52 [Hebrew]. Lazar wrote that Feldschu: “…told me that all this time he has been contemplating a problem that could seem unpleasant [lo sympati] – and that is the connection between our organization and the AK-Armja Krajowa, an extreme Polish nationalist organization of Jew-haters, which over time was also busy killing Jews. He feared writing about the whole issue since the public would not understand it and our opponents could use it against us. He was going to publish it in the newspaper Hamashkif.  But after he consulted other people on the matter, the editors, including Zalman Levenberg, told him that he shouldn’t publish the story because there was something unsavory about this connection with the AK…. Along with the forgetfulness that comes with time, the very fact that he was told that he should not tell of the connection with the AK motivated him to forget the entire matter and erase it from his memory, and he succeeded in doing so.”

In fact, as it later emerged, the ŻZW was not in contact with the AK at all, but rather with renegade Polish elements, which the Jewish underground leaders (and Feldschu) mistakenly believed were part of the AK. There is little evidence that Feldschu himself played any role in those contacts. Chaim Lazar, of course, could not have been aware of this. An evaluation of the ŻZW’s contacts with Poles, and also of this sweeping – though  not at all untypical – characterization of the Home Army’s relations with Jews are subjects beyond the scope of this article.

[2] For an appraisal of that historiography, see Dariusz Libionka and Laurence Weinbaum, “Deconstructing Memory and History: The Jewish Military Union (ZZW) and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising,” Jewish Political Studies Review, vol. 13, nos. 1-2 (Spring 2006). In his widely heralded book on the Revisionist underground, Moshe Arens, who sees himself as Lazar’s successor, did not mention Feldschu and his diary. See Moshe Arens, Dgalim m’al Getto: Sipuro shel Mered Getto Varsha (Tel Aviv: Yediot Aharonot, 2009) [Hebrew]. Feldschu’s name is also absent from the two other recent books on the ŻZW, that of the Polish-born French dietician Marian Apfelbaum, Two Flags: Return to the Warsaw Ghetto  (Jerusalem: Gefen, 2007) and the work by the two Polish historians, August Grabski and Maciej Wójcicki, Żydowski Związek Wojskowy: historia przywrócona (Warsaw: Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, 2008). [Polish] Apfelbaum’s book does include the text of a Polish account, the veracity of which has already been thoroughly discredited, that contains a lone reference to a “Rabbi Feldszur” who purportedly headed a ŻZW chaplaincy bureau. See 61.

[3]Chaim Lazar-Litai, Muranowska 7 (Tel Aviv: Masada-P.EC. 1966). Lazar had spent much of the war as a partisan in the Wilno area and had no personal connection with Warsaw.

[4] The other ones were Mary Berg (b. 1925) and Hillel Seidman (1905-1995). There is no doubt, however, that portions of their works were rewritten after they left the ghetto.

[5] Who’s Who in Israel, 1968 (Tel Aviv: Bronfman-Cohen, 1968), 88.

[6] I. J. Carmin Karpman, ed., Who’s Who in World Jewry: A  Biographical Dictionary of Outstanding Jews (New York: Pitman, 1972), 81.

[7] Isaac Kowalski, Anthology of Armed Resistance 1939-1945, 2nd rev. ed. (Brooklyn: Jewish Combatants Publishing House, 1986/1987), 130.

[8] Abraham J. Edelheit and Hershel Edelheit, Bibliography on Holocaust Literature (Boulder: Westview Press, 1986). Feldschu’s name is also absent from subsequent supplementary volumes.

[9] Barbara Engelking-Boni and Jacek Leociak, Getto warszawskie: Przewodnik po nieistniejącym mieście (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Instytutu Filozofii i Socjologii Polskiej Akademii Nauk, 2001) [Polish]. However, Feldschu’s daughter, Josima, a pianist-prodigy, is mentioned but without reference to her father.

[10] A copy of that document is in the Ben-Shem family archives.

[11] Eugenia Prokop-Janiec, Polish-Jewish Literature in the Interwar Years (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2003), 243.

[12] Jabotinsky Institute archives (henceforth JI) K7B 7/9.

[13] Samuel D. Kassow, Who Will Write our History?: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto (New York: Random House,  2007), 17.

[14] In 1957, Feldschu submitted to Yad Vashem questionnaires for his mother (b. 1880), brother Henryk (b. 1903), and sister Regina (b. 1906).

[15] See Hillel Seidman, The Warsaw Ghetto Diaries, trans. Yosef Israel (Southfield, MI: Targum/Feldheim, 1997). Seidman was the Judenrat’s archivist.

[16] According to his son, even after the war his father retained his great affinity for the German language and was enamored with German culture. “The Brockhaus [German-language encyclopedia] enjoyed pride of place in my father’s library” (interview with Kami Ben-Shem, 28 November 2009).  Something of Feldschu’s views about Germans can be gleaned from a letter to the editor that he sent to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and that was published on 24 February 1965. Signing that text as “Dr. Ruben Ben Shem, Rabbi,” he called Germans “a great nation” [ein grosses Volk] that had a predestined role to play and a mission to fulfill – especially after the terrible crimes it had committed. He called upon Germans to prevent the Arabs from doing to Jews what had been done to them by the Germans in the recent past. That letter should be seen in the context of the presence of German rocket scientists in Nasser’s Egypt working on the production of surface-to-surface ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel.

[17]  Gideon Shimoni, The Zionist Ideology (Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 1995), 223.

[18] In his curriculum vitae Feldschu wrote that his father’s murder precipitated his return from Palestine to Europe. According to the biogram penned by his cousin, Feldschu’s father was wounded (presumably he died of those wounds).

[19]  Feldschu’s doctorate was titled Die Stellung Österreichs zu England im Zeitraum des Krimkrieges (1853-1856) and is preserved in the university library. According to his own curriculum vitae, he actually began his rabbinical studies in 1917. Of course, this would have coincided with his membership in Hashomer Hatzair, which only later adopted a  fervently antireligious stance.

[20] According to Joseph B. Schechtman and Yehuda Benari, “Revisionist groups in Galicia started emerging later than in Congress Poland. Their main promoters were Reuben Feldschuh (Ben Shem) in West Galicia and Adalbert Bibring in Stanisławów (east Galicia).” History of the Revisionist Movement 1925-1930, vol. 1 (Tel Aviv: Hadar, 1970), 386.

[21] Igrot shel Ze’ev Jabotinsky 1928-1929, ed. Daniel Carpi (Tel Aviv: Merkaz Jabotinsky, 2002), 15. [Hebrew]

[22] Interview of Michal Friedman to Anka Grupińska, January-April 2004, Centropa: www.centropa.org/index.php?nID=30&x=PXVuZGVmaW5lZDsgc2VhcmNoVHlwZT1CaW9EZXRhaWw7IHNlYXJjaFZhbHVlPTk1OyBzZWFyY2hTa2lwPTEw.

[23] Recollections of Shimon Goldsmith, www.israeli-kovel-org.org/museum2a.html#up.

[24] In so doing, he joined the small but very active colony of Galician Jewish intellectuals in the city, which included his landsman Emanuel Ringelblum and also the well-known Jewish historian Majer Bałaban, a native of Lwów.

[25] Lejzerowicz (Leizerowicz) was associated with the Warsaw Yiddish daily Hajnt. He perished in Trawniki in 1944.

[26] Schechtman and Benari, History, 393.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Barbara Łętocha, Aleksander Messer, Alina Cała, and Izabela Jabłońska, eds., Palestyna w żydowskich drukach ulotnych wydanych w II Rzeczypospolitej: Dokumenty ze zbiorów Biblioteki Narodowej (Warsaw: Biblioteka Narodowa, 2009), 58-59 [Polish]. Feldschu’s wife,  “Dr. Pnina Feldszu,” appears as a candidate but is not listed as a Ben-Szem. Cwi Feldszu of Mława is also listed.

[29] The objectives of that body were discussed in a Yiddish booklet he wrote, Di idee fun Keren Tel-Haj, which was published by the organization’s headquarters in London in 1930.

[30] Das Revisionistische Bulletin, 30 November 1930 as cited in Igrot shel Ze’ev Jabotinsky 1930-1931, ed. Daniel Carpi (Tel Aviv: Merkaz Jabotinsky, 2004), 192. [Hebrew]

[31] Ibid., 192-93.  This theme also appears in other letters. See, e.g., 187.

[32] Jabotinsky questioned whether Feldschu intended to establish a new political party. Ibid., 319.

[33] Jakób Perelman, Rewizjonizm w Polsce, 1922-1936 r. (Warsaw: Europa, 1937), 89-96. [Polish]

[34] This was a General Zionist group that existed until 1931, when at a conference in Lwów it was fused with Hanoar Haivri and Hanoar Hatzioni under the latter name.

[35] Benyamin Galewski, “General Zionist Youth Movement ‘Hashomer Heleumi’ – ‘Hanoar Hazioni’ – ‘Akiba’,” in Eliyahu Eisenberg, ed., Plotzk (Plock): A History of an Ancient Jewish Community (Tel Aviv: HaMenorah, 1967). That same account reports that: “In 1930 the movement split into two groups. One of it joined the Progressive General Zionist faction, led by I. Grinbaum [sic]. The second movement, called ‘Akiba’ was founded in Plotzk in 1931, and comprised mainly students.”

[36] Jugend-Zionism-Hashomer Haleumi (Warsaw: Hashomer Haleumi, 1929-1930) and Pinkas “Hashomer Haivri” (Kitzur) (Warsaw: Hatnuat Hashomer Haivri, 1931) [Hebrew]. According to Mordechai Hampel writing in the Będzin memorial book: “A scout movement by the name of “Hashomer Hatahor” had been organized in Galicia, which was led by Dr. Ben Shem (Feldschu, who today lives in Israel), and who visited our city on movement matters. The organization in Będzin decided, after extensive clarifications to make contact with this movement, and to take on its ideological discipline. “Hashomer Hatahor” began spreading out through Galicia as the “Hanoar Haivri” and in Congress Poland caught on as “Hashomer Haleumi” in 1929. The organization in Będzin made contact with the main leadership of “Hashomer Haleumi” in Warsaw…. In the years 1931-32, the “Hanoar Hivri,” “Hashomer Haleumi” and the “Herzliya” movements united into one movement that had a marked influence among the youth and was known as the national scouts organization “Hanoar Hazioni.”

“Hanoar Hatzioni,” in A. S. Stein, ed., Pinkes Bendin (Tel Aviv: Irgun Yotzei Bendin b’Yisrael, 1959), 292. [Hebrew]

[37] “Twórca Legionu Berka Joselewicza,” Kurjer Poranny (Warsaw), 25 November 1933. Joselewicz (1764-1809) was a Polish army colonel who commanded a Jewish military formation during Kościuszko’s uprising against Russian rule. He fell in battle near Kock and over time became an emblematic figure in the annals of Polish Jewish history symbolizing the patriotic Polish Jew.

[38] For that reason, in a bitter letter to Lazar dated 7 March 1969, Wdowinski disparagingly referred to him as a “Grosmanist,” JI 2/3-136. Correspondence between Grossman and Feldschu is preserved in the archives of the Jabotinsky Institute. See JI P59/2/89.

[39] The command was headed by Ya’akov Cahan. The other members were Natalie Rotman and Fritz Richter.

[40] Barbara Łętocha, Alina Cała, and Zofia Głowicka, eds.,  Dokumenty życia społecznego Żydów polskich (1918-1939) w zbiorach Biblioteki Narodowej (Warsaw: Biblioteka Narodowa,  1999), 107-11 [Polish] and Żydowskie druki ulotne w II Rzeczypospolitej w zbiorach Biblioteki Narodowej(Warsaw: Biblioteka Narodowa, 2006), 101. [Polish]

[41] That event was spearheaded by a Warsaw lawyer, Wilhelm Rippel, who led a group called the Front Młodożydowski. See Merkurjusz Polski(Warsaw), 31 October 1937.

[42] Spis abonentów sieci telefonicznej m. st. warszawy rok 1939 /40, 94 [Polish]. Feldschu appears as “11 31 47 Feldschuh Rubin (Ben Szem), Dr, writer [literat], Leszno 66.” His name is absent in the telephone book published the previous year. The visit card is in the possession of his son.

[43] Ruben Ben-Shem, Poylin Brendt (Buenos Aires: Tsentral-Verband fun Poylisheh Yiden in Argentina, 1960). [Yiddish]

[44] Ruben Feldschu, Noce palestyńskie (Warsaw: E. Gitlin, 1928). [Polish]

[45] Ruben Feldschu, Czerwone dusze (Warsaw: Perły, 1932) [Polish]. On the last page of the book, after the words “The End,” a notation appears in parentheses that this is the first book in a Czerwone dusze series, indicating that the author intended to write additional works on the same subject. A rubber stamp in the example preserved in the National Library (Biblioteka Narodowa) in Warsaw indicates that one thousand copies were printed.

[46] For additional information on these publications, see Alina Cała, Żydowskie periodyki i druki okazjonalne w języku polskim. Bibliografia (Warsaw: Biblioteka Narodowa, 2005), 28, 31-32, 53-54, 93, 97, 116, 203 [Polish]; Mina Grauer, Haitonut shel Hatnuah Harevizionistit  b’Shanim 1925-1947 (Tel Aviv: Merkaz Jabotinsky,  2000), 51, 137, 215, 218, 224, 238, 241, 245, 251 [Hebrew]; Prokop-Janiec, Polish-Jewish Literature.

[47] “Uroczystość przekazania pierwszego samolotu eskadry im. Młodzieży Żydowskiej armii polskiej,” Głos Gminy Żydowskiej, May 1938. On that occasion, Feldschu declared: “The national Jewish youth, which in its soul adheres to the dream and to the ideal of a Jewish state in Palestine, is inextricably bound to Poland by thousands of strands – bound to the land of its forefathers in which dozens of generations dedicated their strength and blood to ensure the peace, endurance, development and might of the Polish fatherland. The lion’s share of the often unappreciated Jewish youth is healthy and ready to accept the kernels of love, attachment and cooperation. In placing this plane in the steady and strong hands of those proud to serve the fatherland, it is our wish that one day, when the fire of war grips countries and reaches the borders of the Rzeczpospolita [the Polish Republic], a Jewish pilot will fall, and the blood he sheds on this airplane, constructed through the sweat of Jews, will defend the integrity of the borders of the country, and its might and strength.”

Presumably, Feldschu was aware of the fact that Jews were not admitted into the ranks of the Polish air force, and this bombastic language may well have been for the ears of the Polish officers attending the ceremony.

[48] Jidišer gezelsaftlecher leksikon/Żydowski leksykon społeczny, vol. 1 (Warsaw: Yiddisher Leksigraphisher Verlag, 1939) [Yiddish]. Elsewhere Feldschu’s name appears as that of publisher and he also authored some of the entries, describing himself as “historian.” The outbreak of the war interrupted plans for additional volumes. According to Kami Ben-Shem, once in Israel his father had thought of publishing additional volumes in cooperation with a writer called Gretzel Kretzel, but nothing came of those plans (interview with Kami Ben-Shem, 28 November 2009)

[49] Examples are to be found in the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem, in Poland’s National Library (Biblioteka Narodowa) and the library of the Jewish Historical Institute, both in Warsaw. The demographer and economist Jacob Lestchinsky, himself a contributor, cited the lexicon as one of the sources for his own research. See, e.g., “Economic Aspects of Jewish Community Organization in Independent Poland” Jewish Social Studies, vol. 9, no. 4 (October 1947): 320.

[50] An account of this period is included in his book Poylin Brendt (n. 43).

[51] http://warszawa.getto.pl/index.php?mod=view_record&rid=06011998004809000061&tid=osoby.

[52] Apolinary Hartglas (1883-1953) was a prewar Zionist member of the Sejm and a cofounder of the National Minority Bloc. He escaped Warsaw and settled in Palestine.

[53] Mojżesz Koerner (1877-1966), a prewar senator and Zionist activist, left Warsaw in December 1939 thanks to the intervention of the Palestine Office in Geneva, which arranged certificates for him and Hartglas and Italian transit visas.

[54] Józef Jaszuński, prewar director of ORT in Warsaw. He was murdered in Treblinka in 1943.

[55] Adam Czerniaków, The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniaków, ed. Raul Hilberg, Stanisław Staron, and Josef Kernisz (New York: Stein & Day, 1979), 103.

[56] Ibid., 110.

[57] Ibid., 135.

[58] Ibid., 103.

[59] In the English edition of Ringelblum’s diary edited and translated (but also abridged) by Jacob Sloan, only one of these references to Feldschu is included, and Feldschu’s name is missing from the index. See Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto: The Journal of Emmanuel Ringelblum (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958).

[60] Emanuel RingelblumKronika getta warszawskiego wrzesień 1939- styczeń 1943, ed. Artur Eisenbach, trans. from Yiddish by Adam Rutkowski (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1983), 62 [Polish]. In the annotation, Feldschu is called a “Zionist activist” but is mistakenly referred to as “Elchonon Feldszuh.”

[61] Presumably a reference to Dr. Abraham Lipman, a friend of Feldschu who was active in Revisionist circles. Before the war, he was a member of the executive of the Keren Tel Hai and edited Sefat Ami, a Warsaw monthly devoted to propagating the Hebrew language.

[62] Ringelblum, Kronika getta warszawskiego, 282.

[63] Presumably a reference to Aleksander Rozenfeld (1911-1943), a journalist associated with the Revisionists. His father was the journalist Abraham-Rozenfeld-Boncze (1881-1942), who wrote for the Warsaw Yiddish daily Moment.

[64] Ringelblum, Kronika getta warszawskiego, 295. This is an allusion to the communist rallying cry “Workers of the world unite!”

[65]  Interview with Kami Ben-Shem, 28 November 2009.

[66] Ringelblum, Kronika getta warszawskiego, 461, 491-92.

[67] Seidman, Warsaw Ghetto Diaries, 189.

[68] For example, the Polish Jewish historian Bernard Mark utterly rejected Seidman’s account as “full of fantasies and untrue facts.” See Walka i zagłada warszawskiego ghetta (Warsaw:  MON, 1959), 26. [Polish]

[69] JI 2/3-136, Letter dated 7 March 1969.

[70] In the central database of Holocaust victims’ names at Yad Vashem there is no page of testimony for Josima Feldschu, but a page submitted by Ben-Shem on the death of his wife Perła (b. 1900) contains information on his daughter. At the end of January 1943, Jonas Turkow mentioned Josima in his description of the artistic life in the ghetto: “Then there was also the phenomenally gifted eight-year old [sic] composer and pianist Josima Feldschu, the daughter of Perl Richter Feldschu, herself a pianist, and Dr. Feldschu (Ben Shem)” as quoted in Philip Freidman, ed., Martyrs and Fighters: The Epic of the Warsaw Ghetto (New York: Praeger, 1954), 124. Josima was also mentioned for her musical activities in the official German-sanctioned ghetto paper, Gazeta Żydowska, in 1941 and 1942.

[71] A broadsheet is preserved announcing a concert that she gave at the Melody Palace at Rymarska 12 on 15 March 1941, together with a forty-five-person orchestra directed by Adam Furmański. The program featured works by Mozart and Schubert’s unfinished symphony. The original is preserved in the Ben Shem family archives, presumably having been brought out of the ghetto by Feldschu.

[72] Anka Grupińska, “‘Ja myślałam, że wszyscy są razem’ – Z Emilką ‘Marylką’ Rozencwajg (Szoszaną Kossower), łączniczką żydowskiego i polskiego podziemia, rozmawia Anka Grupińska,” Tygodnik Powszechny, 6 May 2001. A 1947 testimony that she gave at the request of Yitzhak Grunbaum contained no mention at all of Feldschu. That silence might be explained by the fact that “Emilka” knew that her former madrich(scoutmaster) had left Poland illegally. Yad Vashem archives, O 33/50.

[73] Rachel Auerbach, B’Chutzot Varsha, 1939-1943 (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1953/1954), ch. 46, “Josima,” 177-84 [Hebrew]. Additional information is to be found in a lengthy article titled “Josima” that Auerbach wrote for Davar.

[74] Ibid., 82-83, 154-55.

[75] The records of the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street do not reveal that Josima was buried there. There are two likely explanations for this. Perhaps, at that time, the information was not recorded (because of the prevailing chaos or because Feldschu deliberately did not bury her in a marked grave); or, Feldschu had Josima buried in the Jewish cemetery in Praga-Bródno, which was later devastated.

[76] Telephone interview with Shoshana Emilka Kossower-Rozencwajg, 1 April 2008.

[77] Ruben Ben Shem, “Emilka m’bayt Kossover,” in Gerson Hel, ed., Sefer Zikaron l’Kehilat Radzymin (Tel Aviv: Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora, 1975), 295-99. [Hebrew]

[78] Reuben Ben Shem, “MiToch Yoman Getto Varsha,” Massua Kovetz Shnati (1982): 45. [Hebrew]

[79] “Hapesach Ha’aharon b’Getto Varsha,” Hamashkif, 21 April 1946.  [Hebrew]

[80] Ruben Ben Shem, “MiToch Yoman Getto Varsha 1941,” Yalkut Moreshet, April 1978, 5-44 [Hebrew]. These entries were from May to September 1941 and include a highly detailed account of the street life in the ghetto.

[81] Ruben Ben Shem (Feldschu), “Churban v’Mered: Prakim m’toch Yoman Getto Varsha,” Massua Kovetz Shnati (1981, 1982, 1983). [Hebrew] Like Feldschu, Kermisz (who arrived in Israel in 1950) hailed from the Tarnopol Województwo in east Galicia. These contain entries from the diary dated 10 June 1941 until 21 January 1943.

[82] Like Feldschu, Kermisz (who arrived in Israel in 1950) hailed from the Tarnopol Województwo in east Galicia. Jozef Kermisz, “B’Shulei ‘Pinkas Hareshimot’ shel Ben Shem,” Massua Kovetz Shnati (1982), 52. [Hebrew]

[83]Actually it was Wdowinski who arrogated for himself the role of head the Revisionist underground and – much to the consternation of Perec Laskier and other surviving Revisionists from the Warsaw Ghetto – presented himself as such in his memoirs and on other occasions. He was, however, almost always careful to point to Paul [Paweł] Frenkel as the actual “technical military commander.” See David Wdowinski, And We Are Not Saved (New York: Philosophical Library, 1963), 79.

[84]  Moshe Zylberberg (1912-2005) and his brother Zvi (19?-1943).

[85] Feldschu, “Churban v’Mered” (1983), 32.

[86] Rending a garment is a sign of mourning.

[87] Feldschu, “Churban v’Mered” (1983), 33.

[88] Yehuda Bauer, “Nowogródek: The Story of a Shtetl,” Yad Vashem Studies, vol. 35, no. 2 (2007): 59.

[89] Commenting on the fact that in September 1943, the surviving Jews of Nowogródek escaped, Bauer wrote: “Paradoxically, we have an invented rebellion in Nowogródek encouraging the Warsaw resisters, whose very real action then encouraged the Nowogródek Jews to escape” (ibid.).

[90]  In fact most were dispatched to their deaths in Bełżec.

[91] In his own testimony, Moshe Zylberberg did not mention any affiliation with this group, but claimed to have been involved with Betar.

[92] Feldschu, “Churban v’Mered” (1983), 35.

[93] Moshe Zylberberg, “Wer Falszt di geszichte,” Unzer Weg, 17 September 1948. [Yiddish]

[94] Feldschu, “Churban v’Mered” (1983), 43.

[95] The description of the operation of the Final Solution was surprisingly accurate, mentioning by name (Odilio) Globocnik, a key figure in the SS hierarchy charged with carrying out Operation Reinhard, the program to liquidate the Jews of Poland; Lublin as the seat of operations; and the gassing of Jews at Treblinka, Bełżec, Sobibór, Majdanek, and (mistakenly) Janów. Later, in the entry for 4 November 1942, he reported that: “Pullman cars, 2nd class, filled with Jews from France and Belgium have passed through Warsaw – they drank wine and ate cheese and asked about the colony at Tremblinka [sic].” Later still, on 10 November he wrote that according to an escapee from Treblinka, 1.5 million had been killed there in three separate gas chambers (73).

[96] Feldschu, “Churban v’Mered” (1983), 72.

[97] Ibid., 95-96.

[98] Col. Józef Szeryński (1892/1893-1943). A convert to Christianity, he was commander of the Jüdischer Ordnungsdienst (Warsaw Ghetto police) and was widely regarded as a collaborator who enabled the Germans to carry out their plans. He survived an attempt on his life in August 1942 and comitted suicide in 1943.

[99] Feldschu, “Churban v’Mered” (1983), 98. This account roughly compares with that of Seidman.

[100] According to Kossower-Rozencwajg the Poles in the neighboring house were a family named Kalata.

[101] Telephone interview with Shoshana Emilka Kossower-Rozencwajg, who claimed that had she only known that Josima was sick, she would have tried to fine a place for her in a Christian institution where she would have received medical attention.

[102] Auerbach, B’Chutzot Varsha, 183.

[103] Interview with Reuben Ben Shem (Feldschu) in the Archives of the Diaspora Research Institute, Tel Aviv University, IN V/463.7

[104] “Pismo Komitety Żydowskiego w Lublinie z 8 października 1944 r. w sprawie przedwojennych Gmin Wyznaniowych Żydowskich,” in Kazimierz Urban, Cmentarze żydowskie, synagogi i domy modlitwy w Polsce w latach 1944-1966 (wybór materialow) (Warsaw: NOMOS, 2009), 63 [Polish]. The request spoke of a “Safrin Feldszu.” Safrin was actually Feldschu’s mother’s maiden name and it appears that on occasion he used it in place of his own first name. For example, in the registry of the Centralny Komitet Żydów w Polsce-Wydział Ewidencji i Statystyki, he was listed as “Safrin Feldsuh.” See Jewish Historical Institute Archives (henceforth JHI) 303/V/425/F 3482.  Significantly, one of the tasks with which the rabbi was charged – as enumerated in that document – was arranging for the burial of Jews who had been murdered. In the same compendium of documents, there is a letter dated 16 November 1944 from the legal department of the PKWN (and signed by its director, the Bundist activist Michał Szuldenfrei) to the PKWN chairman in which the legal basis for that position is elaborated. See Urban, Cmentarze żydowskie, 64-67.

[105] The party was disbanded in 1950 and most of its remaining members left Poland for Israel.

[106] JHI 303/1, p. 2, Prezydium CŻKP, 13 January 1945, as quoted in August Grabski, Działalność komunistów wśród Żydów w Polsce (1944-1949)(Warsaw: Trio/Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, 2004), 106. [Polish]

[107] JHI 303/1, p. 4, Prezydium CŻKP, 2 February 1945, as quoted in Grabski, ibid., 107.

[108] Philip Friedman, “Polish Jewish Historiography between the Two Wars (1918-1939),” Jewish Social Studies, vol. 11, no. 4 (October 1949): 407. According to Friedman, the other founding members were the journalists D. Kupferberg, Shabatai Klugman, and the poet and partisan leader Abba Kovner. Later they were joined by the folklorists Melekh Bkalczuk and Nahman Blumental, who returned from the Soviet Union. Soon also came Hersh Wasser, a close associate of Ringelblum and the secretary of Oneg Shabbat, and Dr. Joseph Kernisz. The commission operated under the auspices of the CŻKP and was the precursor of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. Feldschu’s name appears in Natalia Aleksiun’s article on the commission as one of the founders, but there is no further information about him. See “The Central Jewish Historical Commission in Poland, 1944-1947,” Polin, 20 (2008): 75-76.

[109] It can be presumed that Soviet archives contain additional information on this episode, but these are unknown to this author.

[110] Interview with Michal Friedman by Anka Grupińska. Friedman (1913-2006) remained in Poland and enjoyed a distinguished career as a teacher and translator of Hebrew and Polish.

[111] Perec Laskier (1910-1963), one of the senior Betar figures who remained in Poland during the German occupation. He left Warsaw for Częstochowa, his hometown, in 1942, before the ghetto uprising. In 1945 Laskier went to Lublin where he helped organize the surviving remnants of the Revisionist Movement.

[112] Adam Halperin (1918-200?), one of the survivors of the Revisionist underground. In 1944-1945 he served as an officer in the Polish security apparatus in Lublin.

 [113] See Chaim Lazar, “Searching for My Brethren: 4, Organizing Lublin and Lodz, the Leadership of the Independent Bricha,” Publications of the Museum of the Combatants and Partisans, vol. 7, no. 3 (April 1988).

[114] See Yitzhak Zuckerman, A Surplus of Memory: Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 569-80.

[115] Interview with Kami Ben-Shem, 28 November 2009.

[116] This fact is confirmed by a letter in the Ben Shem family archives from N. Eliezer to Feldschu dated 1 August 1968.

[117] Feldschu was the principal of the Sokolov Laor School in Jaffa, and later of the Eshkolot School also in Jaffa.

[118] At that event, he sat on the dais alongside his onetime nemesis Jakób (Jakub) Perelman. See Perelman, Moje przeżycia spostrzeżenia (Haifa: author’s imprimatur, 1974), 244.

[119] In April 1969, for example, he was invited as one of the speakers at a Yom Hashoah event chaired by Chaim Lazar and held at Meztudat Ze’ev in Tel Aviv, the headquarters of the Herut Party, the Jabotinsky Institute, and the (now defunct) Museum of Combatants and Partisans. On the invitation he was listed as “one of the first [activists] in Betar and a member of the fighting underground in the Warsaw Ghetto.” Invitation in the Ben Shem family archives.

[120] Ruben Ben Shem, Beyn Chomot Hagetto (Tel Aviv: N. Twersky, 1946/1947). [Hebrew]

[121] Ruben Ben Shem, M’al Hakvarim Hadomim (Tel Aviv: Chazon, 1945/1946). [Hebrew]

[122] Ruben Ben Shem, Psychologia l’Kitot Ha’elyonot shel Batei Hasefer Hatichonim v’l'Batey Hamidrash Hamorim (Tel Aviv: N. Twersky, 1953). [Hebrew]

[123] Ruben Ben Shem, Ani v’Hi (Tel Aviv: HaMenorah, 1963). [Hebrew]

[124] “Israel Lures Jews of South America,” New York Times, 27 April 1958.

[125] Ben Shem, Poylin Brendt, n. 43.

[126] B. Zilberberg, “Wybitny Syjonista ktory kochał ziemię polską,” Nowiny Kurier (Tel Aviv), 16 June 1960. [Polish]

[127] Sara Tzur, “Haftarah b’Kol Sopran,” L’Isha, 26 December 1961 [Hebrew]; Shabtai Portnoy, “Joezra-Rina Kara b’Haftara l’Mitzvot,” Yediot Aharonot, 20 December 1961. [Hebrew]

[128] Rubin Ben Shem, Psychonomia: Moreh Derech L’Nivochim (Tel Aviv: Aleph Yood Shin, 1977) [Hebrew]. In fact, this was published by Feldschu himself, the initials aleph, yud, and shin representing the first initial of the names of each of his grandchildren (Adam, Yarden, and Sharon).

[129] Ruben Ben Shem, Komedia B’Midbar (Tel Aviv: HaMenorah, 1971).

[130] Chaim Lazar-Litai, Muranowska 7, trans. Yosef  Shachter (Tel Aviv: Massada-P.E.C. Press, 1966), 68-69, 97, 152, 167, 174, 176, 190, 319, 326.

[131] This aroused the ire of Wdowinski who complained bitterly. Letter from David Wdowinski to Chaim Lazar, 7 March 1969, JI 2/3-136. In that angry communication Wdowinski railed at Lazar for his mention of Feldschu, declaring that he had never even seen him in the ghetto. Feldschu’s name is not mentioned in Wdowinski’s memoirs, And We Are Not Saved, nor in any of his other earlier or subsequent writings.

[132] Esther Farbstein, Hidden In Thunder: Perspectives on Faith, Halachah and Leadership during the Holocaust (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 2007), 124-125. Farbstein quotes Feldschu’s poignant description of a regular minyan (prayer quorum) in one of the ghetto shops conducted by Rabbi Meir Alter, a son of the Gerer Rabbi. Alluding to a midrash about the Egyptians drowning in the sea while the Children of Israel had fled to safety through the parted waters, an anguished Feldschu asked the rabbi: “The work of my hands are drowning in the sea and you are singing?”

[133] Scroll of Agony: The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999). Conversation with the author, September 2009.

[134] Feldschu’s death was noted in the Israeli newspapers Haaretz (3 September 1980) and Maariv (2 September 1980). In the headline of the article in Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record, he was described as a “Leader of Zionist Youth in Poland.” In the article itself it was claimed that “In the ghetto he was an organizer and commander of a fighting detachment and after the Shoah was the chief rabbi of the surviving remnant [Sh'arit Hapletah] of Polish Jewry.”

[135] Roni Stauber, The Holocaust in Israeli Public Debate in the 1950s: Ideology and Memory (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2007).

[136] Carrie Friedman-Cohen, “Auerbakh, Rokhl (Rachel),” Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (Jerusalem: Keter, 2007),  657. For a thorough treatment of Auerbach, see Kassow, Who Will Write Our History?

[137] Boaz Cohen “Rachel Auerbach, Yad Vashem, and Holocaust Memory,” Polin, 20 (2008): 199.

[138] Ibid., 198.

[139] Kassow, Who Will Write Our History?, 205-06.

[140]  Interview with Kami Ben-Shem, 28 November 2009.

[141] Correspondence from the family archives dated 11 March and 24 March 1966. In retrospect, the tone of those letters seems almost surreal, especially as they were written years after some of Feldschu’s works on the Shoah had already been published.

[142] Yad Vashem archives, 033/959.

[143] Moshe Kol, “Dr. Reuven Ben Shem (Feldschu),” Massua Kovetz Shnati, 9 (1981): 45 [Hebrew].  Kol lamented the fact that Feldschu had not remained in the same movement as he, but paid tribute to his great intellect and the fact that despite their political differences they had remained friends.

[144] Conversation with the author, 17 September 2009.

[145] The other members were Yehuda Bauer, Shalom Cholavsky, Rozka Korczak, Abba Kovner, and Yehuda Tubin.

[146] Kermisz, “BiShooli ‘Pinkas HaReshimot’ shel Ben Shem,” 58.

[147] Emanuel Ringelblum, Kronika getta warszawskiego, 461.

[148] Ringelblum, “Michtavim,” 83.

[149] At this author’s urging, and in the presence of Dr. David Silberklang, the Ben Shem family donated the original diary to the Yad Vashem archives for conservation. The typescript of the transcribed diary dating back to the 1970s is available to researchers. See Yad Vashem Archives, 033/959.

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DR. LAURENCE WEINBAUM is chief editor of the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs and an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Israel Heritage Studies at the Ariel University Center of Samaria. Together with Dr. Dariusz Libionka he is coauthor of a forthcoming book on the historiography of the ŻZW in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

About Dr. Laurence Weinbaum

Dr. Laurence Weinbaum is director of research at the Institute of the World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem and adjunct lecturer in history at the College of Judea and Samaria.