Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Part II: One Ancestor and Celebrating Israel's Independence

Zigo with some of his friends in Poland. As apparent from their dress
in this photo, it is evident that they came were fairly well off families
and were not from very religious families.
Continued from: Part I: One Ancestor and Celebrating Israel's Independence

Let's pick up, the story of my handsome grandfather, Zigo, about where we left off yesterday. At the age of twenty-one Zigo was perusing his dream to establish and independent Jewish State. Motivated, inspired and idealistic, he left his home and family. The year was 1934 and Israel, the country was still 15 years away. Today Israel celebrates 64 years of independence. "Will You Still Need Me..... When I'm Sixty Four?" asks the Beatles song? It certainly needed young Jewish idealist in the 1930s. I say, it still needs them and their memory today.

Back in Poland, his good looks, intelligence and talents promised a bright future at the university or at the family fur business. Instead he chose farming. "Oy!" I can practically hear his mother say privately to her husband, their bright young son leaving everything for swamps, mosquitos and malaria?  But there was no stopping my grandfather. He believed in working the land and becoming self-sufficient as a people. My impression growing up was that my grandfather alway guilty for leaving his family behind. I will never know if his parents approved of his ideology or his decision to move to Israel. He never talked about it, so the best I can do, is use some deductive reasoning. Many pioneers of his generations, came from orthodox or traditional homes, where the Zionist doctrine was denounced. I believe my grandfather's family may have been a bit more open to his principles. My grandmother told me that unlike her, my grandfather spoke little to no Yiddish back in Poland. He acquired Yiddish later, in Israel, from my grandmother and friends. His lack of Yiddish, hints at the more secular nature of his upbringing, Yiddish being the dominant language, in more religious
Michael Jampel (1931-c1943)
July 1935
My grandfather's brother

households. It is conceivable therefore, that his family, business oriented and secular, supported his dream. The choice to leave Poland was a defining moment which saved my grandfather's life. In Israel, he fought the Arabs, deceived the British, battled disease and suffered from hunger but he managed to escaped the terrors of the Holocaust. While electing to peruse his dreams, defined him as a man, failing to persuade the family to join him, weighed heavy on his heart. The unprecedented dangers that loomed over Europe in the early nineteen thirties were inconceivable to most Jews who lived in relative comfort throughout the Diaspora for at least four-hundred years. If my grandfather’s parent understood his decision, they were unable or unwilling to follow him into the hardships of life in Palestine. They had a successful business to run as well as small child to raise. My grandfather's brother, was three years old in 1934.  Surely they felt blessed he had escaped the horrific years they must have endured before they perished, though I doubt this brought much comfort to my grandfather.

Zigo visited Poland three times before Germany invaded Poland in 1939.  He return to Lvov seeking treatment for eczema; a skin condition which plagued him throughout his life and which he passed on to me. Apparently there were no good dermatologist in Palestine at the time, while Lvov was a thriving metropolis with experts and specialist of all kinds. I take comfort in knowing that my grandfather had three opportunities to visit his parents and brother after he had originally left Poland. Turns out, that in addition to tending to his medical needs, these trips had a secret agenda. So secret, that he kept it from me, for many years.

During one of my trips to Israel as an adult, and after my grandmother passed away, I accompanied my grandfather on a house call. We drove north to some small town, to have tea and biscuits with a dear old friend of my grandfather's. A petite, wrinkled old woman, greeted us at door and welcomed us into her tiny yet tidy apartment. She knew perfectly well who I was, having met me many times when I was a young girl. I of course required a reintroduction: 
“This is my second wife...” my grandfather stated calmly. 

I was dumbfounded, shocked and speechless. Lost in my thoughts, I failed to hear the rest of his introductions. I remember the moment so clearly, but for the life of me, I cannot recall the woman’s name. I was his oldest granddaughter. I knew him my whole life and yet, until that very moment, I never knew my grandfather had been married more than once. Not that I have anything against divorce, or ex-wives—my maternal grandmother had three of each. But why the secrecy I wondered? As I was recovering my ability to speak, I made some quick calculations. I was pretty confident that my grandfather did remarry after my grandmother passed away, so I asked the question, I knew he was expecting of me: “And my grandmother? Which wife was she?” 
     “My third” he replied, with a gigantic grin. He was basking in the pleasure of watching me looking wide-eyed and baffled as he prepared to tell me this rare bit of his own history, a small pearl from the past. His friend, or shall I call her, his second ex-wife, was clearly in on this plot. She was enjoying my grandfather's sense of humor and my bewilderment. They both proceeded to fill-in the details of their short lived marriage.  As I listened, I realized, he could have given me a heads-up in the long car ride, but he was saving the story to share the fun with his dear friend. 

My grandfather (top left) with a group of
friends in Magdiel (The Garin-seed settelment)
were they prepared for starting their own
Kibbutz. Maybe one or two of those women were
his x-wives?
As the Nazi party strengthened in Germany, between 1929 and 1939, the largest wave of Jewish immigration to date, the Fifth Aliya, was taking place. One hundred and seventy-four thousand, mostly educated German Jews and Eastern European youth, among them my grandfather arrived before 1936. This rapid growth of the Jewish population lead to Arab demands that the British Mandate controlling Palestine, halt both immigration and the increasing Jewish settlements. When their demands were not met, the Arabs were left with no choice but revolt. The great Arab Revolt, as it became known, began in April 1936 with a general strike. Jewish settlements, largely dependent on Arab labor as well as British institutions suffered from the strike. Quickly the revolt escalated into riots and increased violence throughout Palestine. The British finally succumbed to the Arab pressure and placed unilateral quotas, restricting Jewish immigration. As the restrictions were imposed, Aliya Beit, the second and illegal part of the Fifth Aliya commenced. The Mossad La’aliya, the immigration wing of the Jewish underground movements, the Haganah and the Irgun organized a large scale clandestine operation bringing one hundred and ten thousand Jews into Israel mostly by sea from Europe and few by land through  neighboring Arab countries. 

My grandmother Shashana Lavi
 (Ruja Celnik),
the love of my grandfather's life.
As tensions and conditions in Europe worsened, one way to get into Israel, was to obtain legal immigration papers.Visas were highly sought after and difficult to come-by. My activist grandfather needed to return to Poland. Though, he did not elaborate, I am sure he was approached by the Haganah, who enlisted him to get married while in Europe. Knowing how little money he had in those days, I'm pretty sure his trips were paid for by the underground movement, or maybe by the women he married (I wished I had asked him more about this back then). He married not once, but twice. On each consecutive trip, he wed a young women friend from the youth group, obtained immigration papers, and divorced when safely back in Palestine. These were known as convenience marriages. My grandfather’s humble nature, belittled the merits of this vital contribution. He saw it as just what one did in those days. Everyone helped the Zionist cause.  
“Your grandmother, her,  I married for love,” he proudly reassured me. This explained why he did not marry anyone on his third trip back to Poland. By then, he had met my grandmother, and was already married. 

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