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Izak Wiesenfeld

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born:
May1947
Experiences:

Interview Summary:

Izak Wiesenfeld was born in Przeworsk, near Lvov, Poland. He was the second of 4 children. His father was a watchmaker and his mother’s father was a watchmaker and inventor. The family were very religious and his father belonged to the Kolschitze Chassidim. The small Jewish community in town were mainly religious Chassidim. They lived in a 2- room apartment in a house in a Jewish area and just made a living. Everything was used and nothing wasted. Shabbos was special because the best food was served then. They drew water from a well and had paraffin lights. Izak attended cheder in the Beis Hamedrash and the non-Jewish school but they were always set upon to and from school and in the end had to be let out 5 minutes early. Often they avoided school for fear of being attacked. They lived simple lives with few toys and little leisure. Most time was spent in the Beis Hamedrash. 

In 1939, the Germans invaded and immediately burnt down the Shule and a number of adjacent Jewish houses. Their house was burnt down with all their documents and possessions. They went to stay elsewhere but after a month they were told to leave town and to cross the new border into Russian occupied Poland. They rented 2 rooms and his father tried to make a living with his watch repairing. He did not attend school but there was a Jewish community there. In 1940 the Russians demanded that they become Russian citizens. When they refused the family were put on cattle trucks to Siberia. After a 4- week journey they arrived in Novosibirsk where they were put into barracks. Izaks’s father died there. Izak had to work in the forest cutting trees and filling in swamps. He caught malaria but recovered with quinine. His mother, brother and sisters did not have to work. He lived on berries and mushrooms and they got very small rations. When Germany attacked Russia, the Polish citizens were given the opportunity to return. They opted to go to Uzbekistan which was near Iran, with the hope they might escape. They went in trains to Djuma and then went to a Kolchos (a collective farm) which was growing cotton wool, where Izak had to work. His older sister went elsewhere to work. There was little food. In 1942 his mother died and they were orphaned. They were put in an orphanage run by a Polish woman and were there until 1945. They received no lessons and did little but they received food. In providing age details they reduced their ages by 4 years since they had no documents and so Izak was 11 when he was really 15. Life was very primitive. His older sister married another refugee. 

In 1945 at the end of the War they were taken back to German occupied Poland and met by secular Zionists. They were taken to a kibbutz and were there a short while before their Uncle Yaacov found them. He took them out of the kibbutz and put the boys into Yeshiva Vaad Hatzolla in Katowice. His sister looked after the home. 

In 1947, Dr Schonfeld came over and took a group of them to England, including the 3 of them they came to London where Izak and Chaim attended the Etz Chaim Yeshiva. Izak attended for 3 years. He also acted as a Chazan on the High Hoy Days at a Shul in Jubilee Street and then afterward on Shabbos. He went to evening classes to learn English. After Yeshivah he got a job with London Board of Shechita, working in the Office and he started to teach in a cheder in Woolwich, where he became the headmaster. He met his wife Henrietta Goldfischer and married in December 1952. 

[About his time in Siberia] We were families together. But the people who were single who were sent to Siberia, they were treated very badly. Like real prisoners. I mean we couldn’t go anywhere; it was in the middle of the forest. We had no transport, no paper, no radio, we didn’t know the world existed, or anything like this. We couldn’t see at night, because of the lack of vitamins. One of the Russians said “If you get hold of a piece of liver and eat it, your sight is going to be restored.” And eventually we got hold of one, and it came back.

In 1945 we were still Polish citizens, in a Polish orphanage, and we were given permission to return, and that is how we went back. When we were repatriated, we never went back to our town. In our town there wasn’t one Jew left. Even the cemetery is a bus station now. And it is written on top that once upon a time it used to be a Jewish cemetery. There is nothing there now.

Everything that seemed a tragedy, led to something good... Hadn’t they deported us to Siberia, we would have remained in Poland and we would have had the same fate as the other Jewish people.

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@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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