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|Where Is Shimmele?
A gripping adventure story about an
orphaned boy who survived the Holocaust
and the determined battle for his soul in the
early years of the State of Israel
by Leah Fried
Translated by Aviva Rappaport
Moznaim Publishing Corporation New York / Jerusalem
Shimmele's grandmother, Mrs. Berger, fights to save him from the clutches of Jewish Agency representatives who want to tear the young orphan away from his grandmother and from his Jewish faith.
Mrs. Berger took a step back and blocked the path.
"You really don't recognize me?" she asked in a firm voice. "It's only been a year and a half. Do you really not recognize me, Hadassah?"
Hadassah Ya'ari picked up her briefcase and made, as if to leave. "No, I do not. You must excuse me. I'm sorry. I must leave."
Mrs. Berger made no move. "You're running away," she said scornfully, "because you're afraid of me with good reason, too. After all, you know me, and you know I'm not afraid of anyone. Now, tell me please, Mrs. Hadassah," the elderly Mrs. Berger's voice rose to a threatening tone, "tell me this: where is my Shimmele? Where is he?"
excerpted from the book
Where Is Shimmele?
How Golda Met Mrs. Berger
The elderly Mrs. Berger was busying trying to put her tent in order. This tent was neither too big nor too small and was made of sturdy canvas, just like the tents around it.
"It's still better than what we had in the ghetto," she said to Golda, the girl who shared the tent with her.
Golda was the only one of her large family to survive the Holocaust. Ever since they arrived at the detention camp in Cyprus, Golda had cried almost every day.
"After all that happened," she now said to Mrs. Berger, "I thought that finally everything would be all right, that we would reach our land, Eretz Yisrael. But now we're stuck here in Cyprus, surrounded by barbed wire and searchlights all over again."
"But Golda, this is still better," Mrs. Berger consoled her young companion. "The British are hardly involved in what goes on here in the camp. We have freedom of movement, and we can do as we please. There's no backbreaking work. So what if we have to live in a tent? At least you can breathe fresh air, not like before in the bunkers or the crowded houses in the ghetto. No, Golda, one mustn't lose hope. We're on our way home, and that already makes it easier."
Our story takes place after World War II. The Germans, may their names be blotted out, wanted to wipe all trace of the Jews from the face of the earth, but the One above had other plans. His promise to the patriarchs of the nation is eternal: great and mighty nations will come and go, but the Jewish people will remain forever.
When the Allied Forces defeated the Germans, Jewish survivors came out of their hiding places. They left bunkers and attics, forests and hidden rooms. From the death camps they came forth, licking their wounds. All they wanted was to leave foreign soil and go to their beloved Holy Land as quickly as possible.
Mrs. Berger and Golda were among those Jews. They met each other on the deck of the ship that brought them from mournful exile to Eretz Yisrael.
Their ship was just an old boat that no one was using anymore. Aliya activists rented it from a Greek ship owner, repaired it, painted it and changed its name. They turned it into a transport vessel for thousands of illegal immigrants who wanted to reach their homeland.
At the time, the British controlled Eretz Yisrael, and they had hardened their hearts to the suffering of the persecuted Jews. They refused entry to the thousands of Jews, broken in body and soul, longing to enter the Holy Land. They were worried that if many Jews returned to their homeland, the Arabs would be mad at the British for letting them come. To please the Arabs, the British established a quota. Only a certain number of Jews would be allowed to enter the country each month.
What about the rest of the Jews waiting to go to Eretz Yisrael? The rest were unable to bear the decree. For years, they had been persecuted by the Germans, trampled to the dust. Their only hope, their only dream was that some time in the future, they would reach their real home Eretz Yisrael. There, they would be able to live as Jews in peace, without fear. Yet now, just when it looked like their dream was about to come true, the British government stood in their way.
With British soldiers blocking the way to Eretz Yisrael, the Jewish survivors were forced to use secret methods. They came in the dark of night. They swam or paddled small lifeboats toward desolate beaches. They followed dangerous, complex routes anything to break through the cruel barrier the British had placed in their way. At the time, these clandestine immigrants were given the name by which they are known to this day: the ma'apilim (blockage runners). Their illegal immigration was called Aliya Bet.
The boat that brought Mrs. Berger and Golda to Eretz Yisrael was one of the old, run-down boats bought by Aliya Bet activists. After its repair, it was fit to hold seven hundred and fifty passengers. Despite this, four thousand five hundred people men, women and children managed to cram into the aging craft. The crowding was unbearable, and the smell worse. The only place to get a breath of fresh air was on deck. The boat was so full of people, it was impossible to walk without steeping on someone. Down below, row after row of narrow three-tiered shelves took up all available space. On these, the ma 'apilim sat, ate and slept.
The boat's supply of fresh water rapidly diminished. Each person on the boat was given only a small amount of water each day, not enough to keep him from being thirsty. Many people became seasick and lay on their beds all day long, unable to move. Others who weren't seasick saw no reason to get up. The struggle to climb over so many people to reach the deck seemed too hard.
Golda was on the middle bed, against the wall. Next to her was an older woman who held the hand of a pale, seven-year-old boy. Golda did not yet know that the elderly woman next to her was Mrs. Berger.
Golda did not talk much. She lay on the bed thinking about her parents, her brothers, her little sister and all the others left behind, torn away by the Nazis without even a Jewish burial. Only later, when a sudden wave of dizziness and nausea overcame her, did Golda notice the elderly woman who now bent over her.
Next to her was an older woman holding the hand of a pale, seven-year-old boy.
"What's the matter?" the woman asked Golda. "Don't you feel well?"
Golda did not even have the strength to reply.
"Don't be afraid. It will soon pass," she heard the concerned, soothing voice say. "Come, Shimmele. Bring some of our water."
Golda felt a cool damp cloth on her forehead. Everything became a blur, and then she felt something soft being placed under her head to make her more comfortable.
"Mama," Golda murmured. The gentle touch of this kind grandmother reminded her of the past, when her mother still took care of her, before the Germans came.
It was there, on the middle bunk in the belly of the ship, that Golda first met Mrs. Berger. Golda was drawn to her kindness, the kindness of a mother, and became attached to her as if she was family. How she missed warmth and caring, support and mature advice in the sea of loneliness that surrounded her on all sides.
The sun was already high in the sky. Mrs. Berger was alone in the tent, shaking ants out of Shimmele's mattress.
That morning, Golda had gone to the makeshift school for girls her age. There, on the outskirts of the camp, Golda learned Torah and Prophets from volunteer teachers from among the refugees. She wanted to make up for what she had missed during the war years.
"It's a good thing she has something to occupy herself with," thought Mrs. Berger. "It will help her forget her painful memories. How good of those in charge to concern themselves with the spiritual needs of the people here."
Plates still sticky with the remains of breakfast stood on an overturned crate near the tent's opening. As she went to wash them, Mrs. Berger noticed the pail of water was almost empty.
"Oh!" she exclaimed with a start. The water was almost gone. Soon the water truck would pass by. Where was Shimmele?" Lines of worry wrinkled her forehead.
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