Thursday, October 08, 2009

An Inspiration to us all

Srulec (Yisrael ben Zvy z"l) - Haifa, January 1976
By the time my father, “Srulec” was in his mid-teenage years, the Nazis had forcibly moved his family from their farm in south-east Poland to the Rzeszow Ghetto. The men were marched out to forced labour daily, under guard.

One day, Srulec was singled out of a column of inmates, and accused of smuggling. The Nazi guard was about to shoot him in the head before a superior officer intervened. In fact he survived another 60 years, and died ten years ago, in Perth, of a heart attack. His life is an inspiration to us all.

Srulec was enslaved to the Nazis in construction at Jasionka Airport, tree felling at Huta Komorowska (where he was separated from the only remaining family survivor), at Plaszow labour camp and then the Mathausen Concentration Camp complex in North Austria, where, at the horrific “death-by-work” camp, Gusen 2, he laboured in the subterranean aircraft assembly works code-named Bergkristall. He suffered inhumane conditions, vicious physical abuse and psychological torture. More than half of the prisoners at that camp died of exhaustion, of epidemics due to the disastrous hygienic conditions, were tortured to death, shot by SS guards, or were gassed. The typical life expectancy was 3-4 months. Srulec miraculously survived there for nine months.

Towards the end of the war, he was in a group of prisoners that the Gestapo attempted to bury alive with explosives in the Bergkristall tunnels, before being marched to the hidden forest camp at Gunzkirchen to be starved to death.

Major Cameron Coffman was the commanding officer of the US troops that liberated Gunzkirchen Lager on 4th May 1945. That day he wrote:

“… Nazism at its worst was unfolded in stark reality before Doughboys of the 71st Infantry Division today when they stumbled upon a carefully concealed concentration camp six kilometers north of Lambach, Austria, which held 18,000 persons ... The living and dead evidence of horror and brutality beyond one's imagination was there, lying and crawling and shuffling, in stinking, ankle-deep mud and human excrement. …Row upon row of living skeletons, jammed so closely together that it was impossible for some to turn over, even if they could have generated enough strength to do so, met our eyes. Those too weak to move defecated where they lay. The place was crawling with lice. …A little girl, doubled with the gnawing pains of starvation, cried pitifully for help. A dead man rotted beside her…”

After liberation, Srulec resolved to make Aliya. He arrived in Israel in 1947, where he served in the Haganah for seven years. He made his home in an abandoned single-room apartment in the old, stone port of Jaffa, and drove giant Brockway trucks transporting supplies in defiance of the siege of Jerusalem, in the Negev, and in the Galil.

In 1949 Srulec married and started a family. In 1955, with his young, pregnant wife and 5-year-old son, he immigrated to Perth to join his brother, who had also miraculously survived.

Immediately after arriving in Perth, Srulec’s daughter was born. He found work as a mechanic, but resigned within months, as soon as he had saved enough to put a deposit on an old Bedford truck which he used to start his one-man business collecting bottles, scrap metal, and batteries, and eventually buying wool. His burning ambition now was to give his children the life and particularly the education he had never enjoyed himself.

For 35 years Srulec travelled to Southern Cross and other rural districts buying and selling wool in ever increasing quantities. His wool-buying business was a modest, but solid success. It underpinned the material security of his new family, which grew as the children married and had children. He acquired real estate assets including farming and rental properties. For the whole of his life, until his sudden death on 30th September 1999, he carefully guarded these achievements so that he could live independently and provide support, if needed, to his two children and six grandchildren. In retirement, his life was totally dedicated to them.

Srulec’s lifelong motivation, which he pursued with a fierce and relentless determination forged in fire, was to rebuild and strengthen his family and Yiddishkeit, which the Nazis had tried to destroy.

We commemorate the tenth yahrzeit of Srulec (Yisrael be Zvy) on Hoshana Raba (9th October 2009).

May his memory be a blessing, and an inspiration to us all.

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