Read Out of the Shoebox Online

Authors: Yaron Reshef

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Out of the Shoebox

BOOK: Out of the Shoebox
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of the Shoebox




All rights reserved

Copyright © 2014 by Yaron Reshef

[email protected]


Translation: Nina R. Davis and
Shira E. Davis

Cover design: Lee Oshrat


No part of this book may be used or
reproduced in any manner whatsoever without prior written permission, except in
the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. 




book is dedicated to the memory of: my father, whose image I succeeded in
reviving through this book; my mother, who passed away while this book was
being written; my father’s friend Mordechai Liebman; my aunt Dr. Sima
Finkelman; and the rest of my family members who perished in the Holocaust.

book is dedicated to my family, so that they may pass the story on to future
generations and keep these cherished memories alive.

From Past to Present

am certain that I never invited the past to walk into my life. Not that I
didn’t take an interest in our family’s history. On the contrary – in my youth,
as well as in later years, I did try to trace my family’s roots and its
history. Unlike my sister, who showed no interest in such matters, I eagerly
absorbed any information relevant to my family. But no, I did not invite the
ghosts of people long gone, nor the memories or emotions attached to them, to
come visit me in Israel of 2012. It was as if some hidden hand orchestrated the
perfect plot to pull me into the cauldron of family affairs.

was as if this plot was produced especially in order to motivate me to embark
on a year-and-a-half’s worth of obsessive searching for long-lost details
covered in the dust of history, memories erased by generations of silence.  As
if the invisible entity directing the action knew me intimately and knew full
well that I could not rest when confronted with an open case, especially a
mystery involving my relatives both near and far, and a considerable amount of
money. So perhaps it was chance or fate that colluded to pull the strings of
quite a number of people and circumstances, who jointly presented me with an
impossible riddle. It was the ultimate tool to create an emotional trap that
would not let me push the subject aside, not even for a single day.

you were to ask me what would be the best way to evoke in me the strongest
motivation to explore the saga of my parents’ emigration to Israel and the fate
of their families, I could not have come up with a more perfect puzzle; an
attraction so aggressive in its pull as Life has presented me, in the form of a
chain of chance events, during the past two years.


The Lot, Part I

had no intention of writing a book. I had no need to write a story in general nor
a story about my family and the Holocaust in particular. But life being what it
is, sometimes things happen in mysterious, even surprising ways. Stuff that
used to take center stage moves to the background, and background stuff moves
downstage and center. That’s what happened in my case.

began putting things down in writing because people close to me – family,
friends, colleagues – told me repeatedly that I simply must write the story of
“finding the lot” – a plot of land purchased by my father in 1935 and
discovered seventy-seven years later.

story begins in early July 2011, while I was in the US for work. My wife, Raya,
received an unexpected phone call. The caller wished to speak to Yaron, son of
Shlomo Zvi Finkelman. The speaker was attorney-at-law Elinor Kroitoru, head of
Location & Information at Hashava, The Company for Location and Restitution
of Holocaust Victims’ Assets. After introducing herself, Elinor asked Raya
whether she had any information about a lot owned by my father in the country’s
north. Raya said that she knows my parents came from Poland, but knew nothing
of a lot or any other property they may have owned there. Raya naturally
assumed that Elinor’s question had to do with property during the Holocaust,
ergo in Poland, never suspecting that the lot in question was in Israel. At
Raya’s suggestion, Elinor contacted my sister Ilana, who said she knew nothing
of a lot owned by my father in Israel. Elinor told her that her office had
located a lot near Haifa, purchased in 1935 by one Shlomo Zvi Finkelman who
lived in Haifa, and that she was trying to trace that person or his
beneficiaries. Apparently, her office was quite surprised to find, among the
lands purchased by Jews who perished in the Holocaust, one bought by a resident
of Haifa. Elinor was asking for my father’s address in 1935, hoping to connect
between the buyer, whose address appears on the bill of sale, and our father.
My sister replied that our father had lived at several addresses in Haifa after
reaching Mandatory Palestine in 1932, among them Massada, Nordau, Hillel and
Achad Ha’am streets. Elinor wanted to know the house numbers, of which my
sister knew only two – 6 Nordau and 4 Achad Ha’am. Ilana suggested that as soon
as I got back from the States I’d contact Elinor, because I may have further

week later, when I got home, Raya told me about this unexpected phone call and
how she had thought it was about a lot in Poland. “Talk to your sister,” she
urged, “she’ll probably have much to tell you.” Ilana mainly repeated the
story, adding that, meanwhile, she received a letter from Elinor recommending
that we contact the office of the Custodian General at the Ministry of Justice
to find out whether we had a legal right to the property in question. “You need
to find proof that the Shlomo Zvi Finkelman appearing in the bill of sale is
indeed your father,” said Elinor when I called her the next day. “I can’t help
you any further, it's out of my hands. But it would help considerably if you
knew exactly where your father lived in 1935, who this Mordechai Liebman guy
was, and what was his connection to your father.” I was quite surprised at
that, since I didn’t understand how a Mordechai Liebman fit into the story.

father died in 1958, when I was seven. Any memories I have of him are vague -- 
mostly a few images of going fishing together, when I joined him and his
friends on the navy pier at Haifa Port. These pictures are engraved in my
memory, thanks to the joint experience and because of a small but impressive
number of fishing successes, attributed by my dad and his friends to beginners’
luck. I also have some mental images of his work as a philatelist: hosting an
American stamp merchant named Fogel in our living room, or sitting for hours
sorting his stamps and trying to clean or fix damaged stamp perforations. I
don’t remember spending “quality time” with my dad, or any father-son talks.
For all I know, I may have erased memories through years of suppression. His
sudden death from a heart attack one winter night weighed heavily on me for

the other hand, I knew quite a lot about him, because my “aunts” (all relatives
other than the immediate family were typically called “aunt” and “uncle”, as
Polish Jews do), after the first affectionate cheek-pinching, would exclaim:
“Gosh, the little one looks just like Junio!” My father, being the youngest
child, was nicknamed Junio, probably the Polish version of Junior. Then they’d
continue with tidbits of information about my dad’s personality, or some other
family-related lore. I assume I collected these crumbs and stored them in my

suppose storing information in one’s memory is easier than retrieving it when
needed. But sometimes, when I have to recall things relating to my family
history, I’m awed at the stuff that suddenly pops up, not quite sure whether
these are true memories or the product of my imagination. Only after receiving
proof or external corroboration am I convinced that it was true memory, actual
knowledge. Therefore, I was not wholly surprised when I heard myself answering
automatically: “Mordechai Liebman was a good friend of my father’s in his home
town, Chortkow; I think he perished in the Holocaust…”

you can find proof of that, it’ll help when you have to provide the Custodian
General with information and documentation,” said Elinor.

it came to pass that, in one day, my life took on a new focus: my father’s lot,
and with it the questions: Who is Mordechai Liebman? What was his connection to
my father? What was his connection to the lot? And where did that kneejerk
response to Elinor’s question come from? I had some very vague childhood
memories of tales of a lost lot, fragments of memories that must have come from
two separate stories. The first was about a lot on Mt. Carmel that my father
purchased. For some reason the name Shoshanat HaCarmel (literally “Rose of
Carmel”) stuck in my mind. The story was that my father bought the lot from a
local crook who conned him, and my family never actually received ownership.
The other lot-related story is even more complex. In my childhood, years after
my father’s death, while rummaging through forbidden cupboards, I came across
drawings of what looked like an industrial building. Obviously, identifying it
as an industrial structure came years later, when I learned to differentiate
between types of buildings. To this day I clearly remember the drawing: flat,
featureless façades, a perfect rectangular block with a saw-tooth roof;
a sequence of right-angle triangles. Later, I learned at the Bezalel Academy of
Arts & Design that this type of roof was very common in industrial and
commercial buildings in the 1930s and ‘40s, meant to let in northern light
while blocking direct sunlight. I vaguely remember a conversation with my
mother, after she caught me snooping in the cupboard and looking at the
drawings. “This was Daddy’s dream,” she said, “They wanted to build a kind of
textile factory, similar to the ones in Poland… but it didn’t work out because
of the pogroms…”  I recall that she referred to the location as Yishuv Haroshet
(literally: industrial settlement) or Mif’al Haroshet (literally: industrial
plant). “They bought the place from a rabbi who was a swindler who then
disappeared.” I know it sounds a bit strange that both snippets of memory have
to do with lots and crooks, but my memory could have played tricks on me,
mixing up the facts of the two tales. As for Mordechai Liebman, I knew nothing
except that I once heard that he was a friend of my father’s, or at least
that’s what I thought.

my father’s various addresses when he first came to Palestine, and my parents’
later addresses as a married couple, I had only fragmented clues that did not
add up to a clear picture. Though my mother was a hundred and one at this
point, she hadn’t been communicative for several years.

the days that followed I began to get used to the idea that I was facing a new
kind of challenge. According to Elinor’s instructions, I was to formally apply
to Ms Hanni Amor, head of the National Unit for Location and Management of
Property, at the Custodian General’s Bureau of the Ministry of Justice,
attaching Elinor’s letter and asking them to handle the matter. And so I did:
in mid-August 2011 I applied to receive ownership of a lot which, a month
earlier, I didn’t even know existed.

Raya said decisively: “This is a message from your Dad.” “Okay,” I replied,
“but why now? Don’t you think it’s just a tad late, after fifty four years?”
This was no innocent message; it handed me quite a challenge seeking information
when there’s no longer anyone to consult or interview. That generation is long
gone, and even my mother, alive at the time, was not fit to communicate and
provide information. No way of knowing exactly what I was getting myself into…

decided to phone Hanni Amor, and was surprised when she explained to me,
politely and patiently, that she couldn’t help me. “It is up to you to find
proof that your father is the Shlomo Zvi Finkelman, who bought the lot.
Unfortunately I cannot help you or give you any info about the lot and its
location. You have to provide my office with proof of your father’s residence
in 1935 and his connection to Mordechai Liebman.”  By the end of that exchange
I felt I’d reached a dead end. It seemed like a puzzle wherein I’m expected to
join two pieces that didn’t fit and place them precisely at an unknown address
on an imaginary game board. Sounds surreal, right? That’s just how it felt.

the first few days I was at a loss, had no idea where to begin. I searched for
the smallest lead that would point me to the missing facts, but couldn’t come
up with any creative idea. I tried to put myself in my father’s shoes, tried to
imagine what he did upon arriving in Palestine, what trail he left which would
help me track down his address. The second task was even more complex.
Intuitively, I began with the basics: Who are you, Mordechai Liebman, and what
was your connection to my father and the lot?  Reason told me that Liebman’s
name appears on the bill of sale as my father’s partner.  I tried to visualize
a situation wherein my father purchased the lot with a friend, perhaps to bring
to life a shared dream, or simply in order to split the cost. This theory
agreed with the facts as I knew them: My father first came to Palestine in December
1932, then returned to Poland in July 1934 to marry my mother, Malia née
Kramer, whom he brought back to Palestine with him three months later, in
October of that year. Had my father gone abroad with the purchase documents and
recruited his friend as co-buyer? I couldn’t know for sure, but it sounded

perhaps my father had made Liebman’s acquaintance in Palestine, and they’d
bought the lot together. But after careful consideration I discarded that
possibility. Logic said that the only reason Hashava, the company engaged in
locating Holocaust victims’ assets, would contact me about the lot was if one
of the lot owners had perished in the Holocaust. Since Father lived in
Palestine during the years in question, and also died there, then obviously his
partner – apparently Mordechai Liebman – died in the Holocaust. Based on this
speculative premise, I embarked on my search for Mordechai Liebman.

began my quest with Yad Vashem archives. I searched for pages of testimony
under the name Mordechai Liebman from Chortkow, my parents’ home town in
Poland, currently in the Ukraine. Nothing. I searched for testimonials about
Holocaust victims from the Liebman family in Chortkow and found nine
testimonials, none of which had any mention of Mordechai. Most of the testimonials
were from the early ‘50s, and I assumed it would be impossible to locate the
persons in question; the addresses were old, and the people probably long dead.
Having found nothing in the Yad Vashem archives, I began searching the Internet.

My parents on board the Carnaro, on
their way to Palestine, 1934

BOOK: Out of the Shoebox
11.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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