June 14, 2007
My father, who was not a hero
He left his mark fighting in the Shoah, spearheading postwar relief efforts, aiding migration to Palestine - and on me
My father always said he wasn't a hero. "All the heroes are dead," he used to say. He said he just did what he had to under the circumstances.
My father was born in Rzeszow, Poland, as Benzion Teichholz (but he was also known as Bronislaw, Ben or Bernhard). His family later moved to Lemberg (then also known as Lviv, today as Lvov). He was the second youngest of six children; his father, Izak (Isaac), was a merchant; his mother, Henia (Helen) Glucker, came from Vienna.
My father's father was observant, a follower of the Ger rebbe. Although my father's cousin claims that my father wore payot (earlocks) as a young man, my father maintained that he practiced modern, "progressive" Judaism and wore modern dress with no beard or skullcap. He attended a Jewish gymnasium, which is akin to today's Jewish day schools, less yeshiva than a function of the quotas (numerus clausus) that limited the number of Jews allowed to attend secular and professional schools.
In Lvov, the family lived at 20 Bernstein St., the same street Sholom Aleichem had lived on. Their building was at the intersection of Bernstein and Rappoport streets, across from Lvov's oldest Jewish cemetery and down the street from the Rappoport Jewish Hospital.
Early on, my father established himself in business. From 1936 to 1939 he was a director of Polski-Lloyd A.G., the Polish arm of Lloyd's of London, involved in the import-export business. His father was a merchant, and his eldest brother, Josef, worked in a family business they ran from the home (I found their telephone number listed in the 1936 Lvov phone book). Another brother, Aron, was a banker. A sister, Adella (or Bella), married and moved to Tarnopol, where she ran the Orbis Travel agency.
In 1939, as a consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Poland was divided, with the Nazis invading and conquering the western half, while eastern Poland, including Lvov, came under Soviet rule.
Thousands of Jews fled German-occupied Poland, many arriving in Lvov as refugees. My father, along with a friend, immediately became involved in the Jewish community's relief efforts, providing clothing, food, housing and financial assistance for homeless families.
The Soviets made him a nochelnik, a foreman, in charge of a lumber operation.
His experiences with the Soviets would make him a lifelong anti-communist.
In 1941, the Nazis conquered the rest of Poland and, with the help of local Polish police and Polish and Ukrainian collaborators, soon established a ghetto in Lvov and ordered the Jews to establish their own leadership organization, the Judenrat. My father was appointed to a committee of the Judenrat that dealt with accommodating Jews who'd been dislocated from their homes. He would later say that he was eventually asked to head the Judenrat, but as the first leader had been shot and the second hung himself, he declined the position and escaped from Lvov.
In another account, my father related that on Sept. 19, 1941, he left Lvov as part of a labor detail assigned by the Nazis to cut down lumber in the forest.
My father was able to bribe a guard and flee.
As a reprisal for his escape, the Nazis rounded up his parents, brothers and sisters and sent them to their death either at the local Janovska concentration camp (most likely) or from there to the Belzec extermination camp.
My father joined the underground, fighting in a partisan group called Skole-Lawdezne. They attempted to procure arms, which were costly and often turned out to be old and/or defective. On occasion, the non-Jews who sold them those arms and supplies or who even fought alongside them in the resistance nevertheless denounced them to the authorities. They were in constant danger.
My father used to tell a story that around Christmas 1941, he was up in the mountains starving, and the group approached a Polish farmer, asking him to sell them some food. The farmer refused, and they later took one of his cows. The farmer denounced them to the police and the Nazis.
The slaughtered cow left a trail of blood, which the Nazis and police followed. There was a battle in which many of the members of the partisan unit were killed or captured. My father escaped across the border at Munkacz into Hungary, where the border police promptly arrested him.
Hungary was not yet under Nazi rule, but the border police were vigorously on the lookout for illegal refugees and members of partisan units. For three days, my father was beaten and tortured by the Hungarian police. He was beaten so badly that he had to be taken to a hospital in Budapest to recover.
At the hospital, he was visited by members of the Jewish community involved in rescue work. They arranged with a guard there to have him taken outside to get cigarettes, and once in the streets of Budapest, my father managed to escape.
In early 1942 in Budapest, he joined the Polish Rescue Committee, heading the Polish-Jewish Refugee Committee with Siegfried Moses. In April, 1943, he reported to the Hungarian leadership about the fate of Poland's Jews and the specific steps of the Nazi's plans for Jewish extermination.
The response was that what occurred in Poland could not happen in Hungary.
Nonetheless, his account was forwarded to Gerhard Riegner and Jewish leaders in Switzerland and to the Jewish leadership in Istanbul.
After the Nazis arrived in Budapest in April 1944, he operated under the code name "Glick," leading a technical unit of 120 Jewish men and women (many of them teenagers). They built bunkers, served as couriers and smuggled people and arms across the Hungarian border. They also forged identity papers and distributed false documents. My father's work brought him into close contact with such Hungarian Jewish leaders as Rudolf Kastner, Joel Brand and his wife, Hansi Brand, as well as Moshe Kraus and Otto Komoly.
On two occasions, he was arrested but managed to escape from both the Tollonhaz and Marko Street prisons.