Israel’s population rises slightly to 8.9 Million

By JTA, 25 September 2014

Jewish Journal Israeli population rises

The official population of Israel on the eve of the Jewish New Year is 8.9 million, a slight increase from last Rosh Hashanah.

The population grew by 2 percent since the previous Rosh Hashanah, rising 173,811 to 8,904,373 , according to the Population and Immigration Authority, which released the figures on Sept. 21. About 75 percent of the population is Jewish.

The number of babies born in Israel during the past year was 176,230, including 90,646 boys and 85,584 girls. Some 75,848 people married since Rosh Hashanah, and the country registered 32,457 divorces. The number of new immigrants was 24,801, rising nearly 10 percent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting that the population figures are meaningful to the Jewish community some 70 years after the start of the Holocaust.

More than 6 million Jews live here. This number has great significance in light of our people’s history in the previous century as well as in the current one,” he said.


A Survivor’s Last Wish

By Steve North, Jewish Journal, 3 days ago

Sylvia Badner turned 80 years old in 2007, and her son Victor threw a small party in his home, inviting a few friends, cousins and neighbors to mark the milestone.

Everyone showed up except Sylvia, who adamantly refused to attend.

The Queens, N.Y. housewife had been lying about her real age for more than sixty years, and was certain that if anyone discovered her true birthdate, the U.S. government would deport her.

The utterly irrational fear was rooted in a grim reality: Sylvia was a Holocaust survivor who falsified her application to come to the United States after World War II.

Survivor: Barry Weintraub

By Jane Ulman, The Jewish Journal, 3 weeks ago

"Get out of the house. Go.”

Just 19, Barry Weintraub — then Ben Zion or Benchi — didn’t understand why his parents were sending him away. The family had been living and working in a forest in northwest Russia, having escaped from Poland in 1940. “Don’t ask any questions. Just go,” his mother said, motioning for him to join the group of young men standing nearby. Barry remembers crying as he walked away, waving goodbye. His parents waved back, his mother also in tears. He never saw his parents or siblings again. “I know they loved me very much,” Barry recalled.

Barry was born on May 15, 1923, to Meir and Chava Weintraub. His brother, Hershel, was born in 1925, and sister, Gitel, in 1928. The middle-class and traditionally Orthodox family lived in a one-bedroom house in Krylow, a village in eastern Poland on the Bug River.

Meir ran a general store that was attached to the house. He also served as head of the Hebrew school and the Gemilat Chesed, the free loan benevolent society.

Barry attended mandatory Polish public school, as well as cheder, Hebrew school and Yiddish school. Anti-Semitism was rampant, and by the seventh grade, Barry was the only Jewish student who hadn’t dropped out. He was beaten up every day but was determined to learn.

One night in the early 1930s, after a movie about Jesus was shown in a converted barn that served as a movie theater, the townsmen smashed the windows of all the Jewish homes and stores. “I was hiding. I was shaken,” Barry remembered.

In late 1938 and early 1939, after Kristallnacht, Barry witnessed a procession of German Jews passing through Krylow and across the Bug River to Russia. “We felt sorry for those people,” Barry said.

Then one morning in early September 1939, Meir learned that Germans were nearby, so he took his family to a friend’s house outside the village. Several hours later, Barry saw a German three-wheeled motorcycle carrying three soldiers drive into Krylow on a reconnaissance mission, departing soon after. “I was very scared,” he remembered.

A day or two later, German soldiers entered Krylow, rounding up the Jewish men age 16 and older, including Barry and Meir, and locking them in the post office. That evening, the men were released and the Germans departed. Barry and Meir returned home to discover their store had been looted.

A few days later, Russian soldiers arrived, and the Jewish community greeted them with singing and dancing. “They let us be free,” Barry said, though the future remained uncertain.

Then, near the end of September, Poland was partitioned along the Bug River, according to the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, placing Krylow in German territory. The Russians offered the Jews an opportunity to escape, and Meir relocated his family to Ludmir, across the river.

A few months later, Meir moved the family deeper into Russia. They traveled for seven days and nights in an empty freight car with four other Jewish families, arriving in Vologda, about 250 miles north of Moscow, in early 1940.

A horse-drawn buggy then took the family on a three-day journey through the forests to, Barry said, “the end of the world.” .

It was from that location — or perhaps the family had moved, Barry said, no longer certain — that his parents sent him away. He and the other young men slowly made their way back to Poland. There, not knowing what else to do, Barry joined the Polish army under Russian command, receiving a uniform and some basic training.

As a soldier, Barry saw constant combat. One time, while guarding an ammunition depot, Barry lit a cigarette, though smoking was prohibited. He was caught and, as punishment, ordered to cross the Vistula River into Warsaw and spy on the Germans. “Nobody ever came back,” Barry said. He appealed to a Jewish officer who, learning Barry had a ninth-grade education, instead sent him to officer training school.

Four months later, Barry was promoted to second lieutenant and given command of a mortar unit, with 12 mortars and 36 soldiers.

One day, however, four mortars misfired, falling on Russian soldiers. A high-ranking officer threatened to court-martial Barry until he discovered that the mortars had malfunctioned.

During the Warsaw Uprising, from Aug. 1 to Oct. 2, 1944, Barry’s company was stationed in Praga, a Warsaw borough on the east bank of the Vistula River. The Polish Home Army was expecting Russian reinforcements, but Barry’s commanders held back. “There was no fighting,” Barry said. “We just waited.” After the uprising was quelled, they made their way toward Germany.

Barry’s company was present on April 24, 1945, when the Russian and American armies met for the first time, on opposite sides of the Elbe River, near Torgau, Germany. On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered. “We were dancing, screaming. I felt life,” Barry said. He was almost 22.

Barry, then a lieutenant, and his superior and fellow Jew, Norbert Stahl, a captain, were assigned to patrol a 30-mile stretch of the Czechoslovakian border. They commandeered a spacious home to serve as headquarters. But rather than guard, Barry said, “We drank and smoked and had fun.” They also partied with the Czechoslovakian soldiers across the fenceless border, including a Jewish major whom Barry befriended. “One day I’m planning to escape and I will need your help,” Barry told him.

Six months later, around November 1945, Russian commanders ordered Barry and Norbert’s company to Lublin to help rout out the Polish National Army, whose soldiers were hiding in the forests and fighting like partisans, hoping to take Poland back from the Russians. Barry, who had devised a plan to escape, loaded his soldiers on the train and told a subordinate he would be back shortly.

Instead, Barry and Norbert returned to their headquarters, where two bicycles were waiting, and in full uniform, with their guns, they crossed into Czechoslovakia. “Halt,” a border guard shouted, promptly arresting them. Barry and Norbert gave the guard the name of the Jewish major, but he couldn’t be found, and the two were jailed in Olomouc, a nearby city. There, they were told they would be returned to their army unit in Poland and shot as deserters.

Barry spent the night pacing the cell he shared with Norbert. “It was terrible,” he said. But a day later, they were unexpectedly released into the Jewish major’s custody.
“I hugged and kissed him,” Barry said.

After hosting the men for three days, the major sent a soldier to accompany them to the German border, which they crossed. Barry wanted to be safe from the Russians and also to immigrate to Palestine, his plan at the time.

Eventually, in late 1945, Barry and Norbert met a Polish survivor who brought them to Ainring, a displaced persons camp near Munich. In September 1947, the entire camp was transferred to Lechfeld. In both camps, Barry taught Hebrew and arithmetic to schoolchildren and was paid with whiskey, cigarettes and bread.

Barry later found relatives in America, who sponsored him. He arrived in New York in June 1949 and soon after traveled to Los Angeles, where a maternal aunt lived.

He is grateful to the United States for giving him a new life.

“Nobody in Poland survived. I wanted to come here to perpetuate the Weintraub name. That was why I was left alive. I could have gotten shot 15,000 times in the army,” he said.

Survivor: Stella Esformes

By Jane Ulman, Jewish Journal, 5 days ago

It was 1944, and Stella Esformes — then Sterina Haleoua — was looking forward to watching the national Independence Day parade in Larissa, Greece. She had even purchased a new pair of beige and brown shoes for the occasion. But the day before the event, in the early morning of March 24, she was awakened by the sound of boots walking outside her family’s apartment, followed by loud knocking on the door. “Open up,” a voice demanded. It was an interpreter, accompanied by two German soldiers. “Come with me,” he ordered. “Take some clothes, food and your valuables.”

Stella and her parents were put in a large, open truck, which made multiple stops as the soldiers rounded up more families. “We were crying. Nobody was talking,” Stella recalled.

Stella was born on April 15, 1926, in Salonika, Greece, the only surviving child of Avraham and Rosa Haleoua. The couple’s previous four daughters all died between the ages of 1 and 3, before Stella was born.

The Haleouas, who spoke Ladino, lived in a house they shared with another family. Avraham worked selling horses in Larissa, about 90 miles away. He returned home every weekend or two. Rosa was employed as a live-in housekeeper for a wealthy family, also coming home on weekends. A neighbor cared for Stella.

Stella lived in a vibrant Jewish community where she had many friends and enjoyed celebrating Shabbat.

At 6, she attended Jewish kindergarten. The following year, however, her mother lost her job and they moved to Larissa.

Stella didn’t speak Greek, and she didn’t attend school immediately. Instead she learned to crochet and embroider from Rosa and picked up some Greek while shopping at a neighborhood market.

At 9, she enrolled in first grade, where the children teased her because of her age and poor command of the language. After second grade, she left school and apprenticed for a seamstress. While there, she sewed several dresses for herself, replacing the one dress she had been wearing every day.

On Oct. 28, 1940, Italy invaded Greece. With bombs dropping, Stella stopped working. Some months later, a neighbor took her own two sons and Stella to live in a village in the mountains, where Stella felt safer. But on March 1, 1941, an earthquake struck, severely shaking the house. Stella’s father came for her that day.

The Greek army pushed the Italian forces into Albania, winning the war. “We were so happy,” Stella recalled. But then Germany attacked Greece on April 6, 1941, occupying it by April 30.

Not much changed initially for the Jews of Larissa, according to Stella. But by 1943, they were issued identification cards and required to check in with German officials weekly. And on March 24, 1944, they were rounded up.

The truck delivered Larissa’s Jews to a large, empty garage. Additional trucks brought more Jews from Yanina, Volos and other surrounding towns. “We were crying and crying,” Stella said.

The Germans took everyone’s valuables. One woman handed Stella a gold necklace with three diamonds to hide, which she embedded in her coat hem.

A week later, at midnight, the Germans marched the Jews to the train station and loaded them into cattle cars, where they sat on the floor “bumper to bumper,” Stella said.

After seven days, the train pulled up to the Birkenau platform. When the doors of Stella’s car opened, the girls and boys were separated, and the older people were directed to board trucks standing nearby. “Stella, come with us,” Avraham pleaded. “No, Daddy, I’m going with the girls. We’re going to work,” she answered. She assumed they would meet later.

The girls were marched to a large room where female capos tattooed Stella with the number 77137 and cut her long hair. Nazi guards then ordered the girls to undress and shower. Stella carefully folded her coat with the gold necklace, planning to retrieve it after her shower. But they exited through another door, and Stella was handed a thin dress and a pair of wooden shoes.

The girls were next taken to a barracks. The first night, Stella couldn’t stop coughing and couldn’t sleep. “I was nervous,” she said.

The next day, she met a girl from Salonika. “Where are our parents?” Stella asked her. “Your parents went where my parents went, to the crematorium,” she answered. Stella thought the girl was crazy, but she subsequently heard the same story from others.

After being quarantined for 40 days, the girls in Stella’s barracks went to work. Stella was assigned to unload potatoes from a train and then cart them by wheelbarrow to the camp.

One day, Stella stole three potatoes, wrapping them in her headscarf and putting them between her legs. As the group returned from work, a capo saw her walking oddly and ordered her to open her legs. The potatoes fell out, and the [kike] capo struck her three times on the head with a heavy baton.

The group then stood at roll call where a German guard called out her number and directed her to the sidelines. “I was crying. All my friends were crying,” Stella remembered. Everyone feared she would be taken to the crematorium. Instead she was reassigned to clean the latrines and the open sewer, where she later found a mezuzah that she hid in a piece of bread.

In January 1945, as the Russians approached, Stella and others were evacuated in cattle cars to Bergen-Belsen, a 17-day trip. They were given a blanket and placed in tents.

Some weeks later, the group was transferred by train to Gellenau, a women’s labor camp in Germany’s Silesia region. Stella worked on a machine, standing on her feet from evening to morning, every night. One morning after work, she fainted; she had contracted typhus. Her friends wanted to bring her to the hospital, but Stella refused, returning to work that evening. “I didn’t want to be taken away,” she said.

In March 1945, Stella was shipped to Mauthausen. The first night, she was assigned a barracks filled with sick people. She climbed into a bunk next to a Hungarian woman, who was dead by morning.

At Mauthausen, Stella traded her mezuzah for additional soup. One day, while fetching her extra portion, a Hungarian woman said, “What do you need soup for? You’re free.”

Stella walked up a hill, where she saw American soldiers tossing chocolates and cigarettes to the newly freed prisoners. “We were very happy,” she said. It was May 5, 1945. Stella was 19 and weighed about 85 pounds.

Stella remained at Mauthausen, which became a displaced persons camp. Then, on July 28, the Americans departed and the Russians took command. That night, when Stella was sleeping in a room with 35 girls, Russian soldiers knocked on their door. The girls took refuge in the barracks with the Jewish men, who protected them, and left the camp the next day.

Stella headed for Salonika, where she lived with her cousin Into and a group of young people. There she met Yomtov (Joe) Esformes, who was nine years older and the only survivor in his family. They married on July 14, 1946; Stella wore a rented dress and borrowed shoes.

In April 1947, their son, Elias, was born, followed by daughters Flora in July 1951 and Rose in September 1958.

In October 1951, Stella and Joe received a visa to immigrate to the United States. They settled in Los Angeles, seeking a mild climate for Joe, who had contracted asthma in the camps.

The Jewish community helped the family financially.

Stella, now 88, has three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She is active in Jewish Family Service’s Café Europa and UCLA’s Bearing Witness program.

While Stella was in Birkenau, a French prisoner read her palm, telling her she was going to be liberated, marry a red-haired man and have three children.

“Believe it or not, that’s what happened to me,” Stella said.

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