WYCHOWANIE

Aaron Elster

 

30 czerwca - uroczystość przyznania medalu Sprawiedliwy wśród Narodów Świata państwu Górskim. Medal odebrał w imieniu rodziny pan Grzegorz Witkowski.

Aaron Elster urodził się w Sokołowie Podlaskim, w roku 1933. Jego rodzina mieszkała przy ulicy Pięknej. Getto było likwidowane od września 1942 roku. Ostatni zostali wywiezieni do Treblinki 10 października 1942 roku, podczas Yom Kipur.

W książce „I Still See Her Hauting Eyes” (wydanej przez BF Press w rou 2008), Aaron Elster opisuje życie sokołowskich Żydów w getcie, na przykładzie swojej rodziny (pożar synagogi, pogarszające się warunki życia, ucieczka kuzyna z transportu do obozu, relacje Żydów z Niemcami i Ukraińcami, praca Żydów w majątku ziemskim w pobliskiej wsi Sabnie; poniżenie, wyzysk społeczności żydowskiej). Odwołuje się także do czasów przedwojennych (podział miasta na część polską, katolicką i żydowską).

Ojciec Aarona Elstera - Chaim Sruel Elster - zginął prawdopodobnie w Treblince, podobnie jak siostra Sara. Matka - Cywia Elster - przeżyła wojnę, ukrywając się w kilku miejscach pod Sokołowem. Tuż przed końcem wojny została zamordowana przez Polaków (co zakończyło się opisanym w książce procesem i poprzedzającymi go sytuacjami tragicznymi w relacjach polsko-żydowskich). Aaron Elster z siostrą Ireną byli ukrywani przez Franciszkę i Hipolita Górskich w Sokołowie Podlaskim przez całą wojnę (do zajęcia miasta przez Armię Czerwoną). Potem mieszkali z niewieloma ocalonymi Żydami w Sokołowie.

Po tragicznej sytuacji zamordowania w Sokołowie Żyda upominającego się o zwrot zajętego przez Polaków majątku, wyjechali z miasta. Aaron Elster udał się z bratem matki do zajętej przez Amerykanów strefy Niemiec, a stamtąd do Nowego Jorku (czerwiec 1947), a następnie Chicago, gdzie żyje dzisiaj z rodziną. Prowadzi intensywną działalność edukacyjną w Muzeum i Centrum Edukacyjnym w Skokie, w stanie Illinois.

15 listopada 2009 nazwisko Górski zostało umieszczone na Ścianie Sprawiedliwych w muzeum w Skokie.

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Do you remember any names of Jewish families from Sokolow Podlaski? What were the first names of your school colleagues from Sokolow?

There are many names in the Yiskor Book. Just when I was ready to go to Public School, the War broke out and Germany occupied the town. I was not allowed to go to Public School. Only schooling I had was religious school. Learned about the Bible and history. I don't remember any names. We used to play soccer in the street on ulica Piękna. Also in the back yard of our house. We used to make rifles out of roof shingles and shoot arrows at targets.
 
Where does your family that lived in Sokolow originally come from?
 
My family has lived in Sokolow since the 1600 hundreds. My family name Elster and Erster means "first" and "eldest". We were one of the first Jews that came to Sokolow in the 16th century. There is some information in the Yiskor Book about the first Jewish arrival to the town.
I don't know where my family originally migrated from. I have been told that it might have been Russia. Poland was open and friendly to Jewish migration in those years and therefore many Jews moved to Poland.
 
Is there any part of Sokolow that reminds you of the pre-war city?
 
I remember the names of the streets. However, they all look different now, more modern. Mostly the old Jewish ghetto was rebuilt with new homes. In 1993 is the last time I was in Sokolow. The old part of town looked very run down and empty. The market place looks different, full of cars.  When I lived there there were not too many automobiles. The house that the Gorskis lived in is also totally different. I guess in time everything changes. You now have a very modern town...
 
Do you intend to enter the building that used to be your family house?
 
My family house was bombed. There is a new home in its place. On the corner of Piękna and Krótka street. I hope to enter the Gorski’s house and go into the attic. Also, there was a small brick building next to the house that was used as a place where Mrs. Gorski used to wash clothes. And a deep dark cellar that I spent some time in.
 
Do you think the habit-ants of Sokolow should memorize the Jews  from Sokolow by putting the signs on the walls of the houses they used to live in? That happens on many streets of Paris for example.
 
That  is not very practical, I don't think the town would be willing to do that. However some kind of memorial to the town's Jewish friends and neighbors would be a very meaning full gesture. My feeling is the town would like to forget and not deal with the Jewish history.
 
There are Jewish newspapers and Jewish theater mentioned in your memories. Could you give more details about their functioning back then?
 
The newspaper was locally published in Jewish. Most of the town's Jews spoke Jewish and Polish. The Kino was fairly new when I was a kid. My parents and my older sister went to the movie on occasion. I never saw a movie, always told that I was too young.
I remember that on the weekend a Paper used to come from Warsaw and people would sit on their front steps and read the paper and look at all the pictures. It was a very festive day, people would walk the streets all dressed up. Nobody worked on Saturday. The meals were prepared the day before because there was no cooking allowed for religious reasons. The parents would nap and we children would play on the street or in the back yard. There were also local Jewish social and political organizations. I remember the Yeshiva (an advanced school for Jewish, religious learning). That school (Yeshiva) was located in the Chief Rabbi's building which was at the end of Piękna Street near the Catholic Church, also a park was in front of the church. The Rabbi's building and yard extended to ulica Rogowska.
 
Were the Sokolow Jews assimilated in your opinion?
 
Not really. Most of the Jews lived separated from the Polish people. We did business with one another. There were many trades people, tailors, tanners, shoe makers, hat makers, carpenters and cabby's mostly Jewish. Many stores were owned by Jewish families. There was always some tension but we co-existed. My family customers were all Polish.
 
Do you meet with signs of animosity in Poland nowadays?
 
The last time I was in Poland was 15 years ago. I didn't know anybody in the town and felt like a total stranger. There was nothing there for me. I spoke to two people, one knew of my Grand Parents. We were stopped by two plain clothes police and questioned why we were  there. I explained that I used to live here. One lady in a government agency was very friendly and tried to help me find some documents about my family. I left the same day for Warsaw. I don't know what the current situation is regarding animosity, Anti-Semitism. There are efforts being made on both sides to change the situation. I believe it will happen with the younger generation. That is my hope.
 
Do you often meet with pupils in our age from the American schools?
 
I speak to both students and adults. Mostly, my audience is young people. During the course of a school year I speak to many thousands of students. I speak about Genocide and the Holocaust. I ask young people to be careful how they use words against one another, to be Up standers, to speak out when they see someone being picked on. Each person can help change this world for the better. It’s up to the younger generation to help stop Racism. Each and every one of us can make a difference. I also talk about my survival and how One person took a chance and saved my life. And because of that I was able to rebuilt some of my family. I have Two sons and three grand children thanks to the Gorskis and am forever grateful.
 
Is the knowledge of the Jewish tradition enough in Poland, in your opinion?
 
I can't answer that, you are in a greater position to know the answer to this. Is there anything taught about the Jews or the Holocaust in the school system?
 
Have you met any American Jews from Podlasie or Mazowsze in Chicago or any other American city?
 
When I first came to America, there was an organization of Jewish families that would socially meet and all were from our town. But most are gone now... Some of the survivors wound up in Israel. I met some a number of years ago when I visited Israel.
 
What is your opinion about putting the Star of David into the floor of the shop standing close to the place where burned synagogue once stood in Sokolow?
 
Right after we were liberated there was a large stone placed were the Old synagogue was. I don't know if it still there.
The new synagogue on the small Market was turned into some factory by the Germans and later by the Russians.
I don't know what it is now. The best would be to turn that building into some kind of museum so people can learn about the history of the town.
 
Do you remember the rabbi of Sokolow, craftsmen, cabby's?
 
Yes, his name was Rabbi Morgenstern and his granddaughter survived on false papers (helped by one of the town’s people). I met the man in 1993. One or next door neighbors was a tailor his name was Plotner. I knew some shoe makers and wood workers that lived near us. Don't know names, it’s a lifetime ago.
 
What message do you have for us, the young ones?
 
Be proud of who you are. Stand up for the Underdog. Never be a bystander ". Remember the Past and Help transform the Future".
 
With my very best wishes to all of you.
                                                                                                        Anna Kuryłek           

 

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