Icek Jakub (Joe) Rubinstein (1920)
Love life, says Joe
Icek Jakub Rubinsztejn and his twin brother Chaim were born in 1920 at 5 Lubelska Street (now Żeromskiego). The family had been connected with Radom for generations. They were Jews, but they had many friends of Poles and Catholics, everyone lived in harmony.
Ruwin, Icek’s father had carts and carriage horses, he provided transport services from Radom to Warsaw. Icek loved to play football with his three brothers and boys from the neighborhood, and he loved to visit stables and horses with his father. Even now, at the other end of the world, at the age of 97, he still thinks that he can hear the sounds of horse drawn carts being pulled through the streets of Radom ....
Icek’s happy childhood came to an end when his father, Ruwin died. Icek was 12 years old and started working in a timber yard – he delivered wood to the nearby houses. When he did not deliver wood, he was either working at a shoemaker’s or helping his mother to sell fruit. His remaining four siblings also had to work to make ends meet. It was only thanks to their work that the family somehow got by. They also had to move to a smaller apartment at 12 Pereca Street (now Podwalna). There was a lovely vegetable garden next to it, which compensated for the loss of the old apartment. – We did not have much, but we had each other and mutual love – he said years later, recalling old times. And talking about love – Icek’s first love was a Polish Catholic girl. Icek would even accompany her to church during major holidays, like Christmas.
In the summer of 1939, Icek, along with other inhabitants of Radom was helping Polish soldiers to prepare trenches.When the Germans arrived in the city, they forced Jews to dig trenches, this time in the east, on the line separating the areas occupied by the Nazis and the Russians. When Icek fell ill there, he was sent back to Radom. In the spring of 1941, when the Germans created the ghetto, the Rubinstein family was separated. Icek, his sister, his younger brother and mother stayed in the centre, his two elder brothers were sent to the ghetto in Glinice. Two weeks after the creation of the ghetto, Icek was woken up by somebody pounding at the door. German soldiers took him as he stood – barefoot and in his underwear. He ended up in the open truck with others, and from there was sent to Auschwitz.
In the camp, Icek was forced to work on transporting the bodies of those murdered in the gas chambers to the pits where bodies was burned. He prayed that he would not come across a body of his family member. That is how he spent two years – hungry, miserable and abused. He also worked in a nearby coal mine for some time. His oppressors changed his name to “Joe”. In 1944, after the evacuation of Auschwitz, Joe was sent to camps in Buchenwald, Ohrduf and Terezin. He never saw anyone from his family again. They probably died in Treblinka, where the majority of Radom Jews were sent.
After the liberation, in Germany, Joe met a Polish Catholic, Irena. Her family lived in Germany before the war. During the war Irena lost her teenage brother Walter, accused by the Germans of spying and sentenced to death. Joe and Irena got married and they came to the USA in 1950. Over time, Joe Rubinstein became one of the leading footwear designers in New York and in the United States. Now the family lives in Colorado, and Joe is a happy father to his son and grandfather to his three grandchildren. Recently, with his wife Irena, they have celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
For a long time Joe did not tell anyone about his wartime experiences. He did it only at the instigation of the writer Nancy Sprowell Geise and that’s how the book “Auschwitz # 34207 – The Story of Joe Rubinstein” was written. In 2015, soon after the publication of the book in the USA, the photos of Icek’s mother and his brothers’ – Dawid and Chaim were found. Joe saw the faces of loved ones for the first time since 1941. “Seeing them again is the greatest gift I’ve received”, Joe said. He never returned to Radom but Nancy visited the city in 2017. She talked about Joe, she also wrote down his story for us. “Joe, despite losing so much, leads a happy life. She keeps saying that we should all love each other regardless of faith, skin colour and nationality. ‘Love life, love God, love your fellow men. It’s all that matters’, says Nancy.
Author: Nancy Sprowell Geise, edition and Polish translation: Jakub Mitek
1. Joe with a book about his life
2. Chaim Rubinsztejn, Icek’s twin brother
3. Joe and Irene
Henryk Zylberszlak/Charles Silver
Hersz Zylberszlak’s family lived in Radom for generations, just like the family of his wife, Edzia. They were not very religious, but they worked willingly for both the Jewish community and the whole city. Hersz also loved sports, especially football and skating. Edzia, a graduate of the local gymnasium, was very sociable and eager to meet new people. They ran a family business, trading in porcelain products. A quiet life ended in 1939. The business was confiscated by the Germans, the family had to move to a large ghetto. – During its liquidation, the grandparents, just like many aunts, uncles and cousins were sent to Treblinka, where they died in gas chambers. My parents managed to avoid deportation. They stayed in Radom and worked in the German labour camp in Szkolna Street – says Charles Silver. It was there that he was born in December 1942, as Henryk Zylberszlak. – It was, to put it mildly, not the best time to be born as a Jewish child. My parents even considered having an abortion, but my grandmother talked them out of it before she was taken to Treblinka,” he said.
Henio was hidden in forced la‑bour camp Szkolna Street for 9 months, until it finally became too risky and the decision was made to send him somewhere outside the camp. He was looked after by Marianna Kopyt, who already hid other Jews at her home – a child and an adult, which put her in great danger. Therefore, to provide Henryk with a safer place, Marianna Kopyt arranged for nuns to take care of him. They, in turn, found a childless family in Pionki who took him in.
Henryk’s parents were in camps in Majdanek, Płaszów and Auschwitz and miraculously survived. After the war, thanks to Marianna Kopyt, they learned where their child was. Henryk was already two and a half years old, and the family who took care of him was so close to the child that they refused to give him back. The case went to court and after his parents got him back, the Zylberszlaks first travelled to Munich, and in 1949 to the United States. There, Henryk became Charles Silver, he graduated from medical school and became a surgeon. He served in the US Army as a field doctor in Vietnam. Almost 50 years ago he married Kathi.
– She is a wonderful woman. We have three wonderful, successful children and four grandchildren,”says Charles. One of our daughters – Elisabeth, is a lawyer and is an advocate for abolishing death penalty in the United States. Charles’s parents lived to a ripe old age and they both died in their late nineties. It was only after their death that Charles came to Radom; he felt he had to do it. He visited his hometown twice – in 2014 and in spring of 2017. Unfortunately, he could not attend the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto.
He says that he will always remember those who saved him. “I would like to express my gratitude to the Poles who helped me to survive this dark time. Thank you Marianna, thank you nuns from the orphanage, who gave me temporary shelter. Certainly they knew that, despite my light complexion and fair hair, I was a Jewish child. A big thank you goes also to the family from Pionki,” says Charles.
Marianna Kopyt was awarded with the title of Righteous Among the Nations for helping Jews. She died in 2015 and is buried in Radom in the cemetery in Limanowskiego Street.
Author: Charles Silver, edition and Polish translation: Jakub Mitek
Photo: Charles Silver now
Dawid Garfinkiel (Garfinkel)
David Garfinkiel’s father – Mendel (born in Radom in 1859) painted a little, sculpted in wood and earned a living by carving matzevot. Almost all of the nine children of Mendel and Gitla Rakocz (born in 1862 in Radom) had artistic leanings. However, the only one who developed his talent and survived Holocaust was David, the youngest of the Garfinkiels, born in 1902. The family lived at 12 Lubelska Street (now Żeromskiego). David studied at the art academy in Krakow, and after serving in the Polish army, also in Warsaw. Like all young artists at the time, he dreamed of living in Paris, the center of the art world.
He succeeded in 1932 and with time France became his second home. His parents: Mendel and Gitla both died in 1924, but David kept in touch with the other siblings in Radom even after the war started. After the German invasion of France in 1940, David, his wife and daughter fled to Lyon. This area of France was controlled by the Vichy’s government, which collaborated with the Nazis. Although the Garfinkiels had to hide, David did not abandon his work – he painted and even exhibited his works. In 1946, the family (with their three children) moved back to Paris.
The war, however, took its toll – his studio had been plundered and all his works stolen. To his horror he also discovered that his immediate family was killed in occupied Poland. It is not known exactly how and when his five sisters and three brothers died; whether they were killed in the Radom ghetto or murdered in Treblinka.
• Chana Ruchla, the eldest sister (born in 1882) and her husband Mosiek Szymon Milchior and their three children: Szaja, Izrael Icek, Bina;
• Rozalia (born in 1885), she did not get married, she liked to socialise with her family and friends, she painted and exhibited her works, she lived in 1 Maja Street (now 25–go Czerwca);
• Hirsz, the eldest brother (born in 1885), his wife Chaja Perla Kadysiewicz and their four children. Hirsz was also a painter;
• Sura Laja (born in 1890) and her husband, accountant Chaim Tenenbaum. They lived in Radom until 1938, then they moved to Łódź;
• Feliks (born in 1892) with his wife Cypa Gutstein, their two children: Frania and Marek. The family lived in Warsaw, where Feliks was a photographer;
• Dora (born in 1894) together with her husband Yossip Baum and their daughter. She was a teacher in Jedlińsk.
• Elka (born in 1896) with her husband Lazar Kogan, photographer from Tomaszów Mazowiecki and daughters: Niusia and Ida;
• Hilary (born in 1900) and his wife Ruth and two children, they lived in Radom.
The last letter to have reached David from occupied Poland, was sent on 10 July, 1941. It is very moving – the signature says that it was written in a small ghetto in Glinice, where Rozalia and Hirsch had been sent with their family.
The only member of the family to have survived was Basia, the daughter of Sura Laja Garfinkiel and Chaim Tenenbaum, born in Radom in 1919. Abraham Kaufman, a US citizen, came to visit his family in Poland in the summer of 1939, met Basia and fell in love with her. A few days after he returned to America, the war broke out. Ignoring danger, he returned to Poland, married Basia and in November 1939 they were already in the States.
The story of the Garfinkiel family was written down by David’s daughter – Edith Chomentowski. – “My father, David Garfinkel, never told me about his family and his life in Poland. Like many other children, I did not have the courage to ask. It’s too late now... My father died in 1970”, she wrote. It was not until several years after his death that Edith realized what kind of pain her father experienced after losing the entire family. Art provided some respite from these thoughts; he was busy creating his art and left a huge collection of paintings, watercolors and drawings. They were presented at exhibitions all over the world many times. The last exhibition took place in 2017 at the Polish Library in Paris and turned out to be a huge success.
Author: Edith Chomentowski, edition and Polish translation: Jakub Mitek
Photo: Radom, 1920s. David and his sisters