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Unsung Heroines of the Holocaust

Dr. Pearl Herzog

When the Nazis began their reign of terror, these four women were just young girls. Yet despite their age, they risked their lives for their fellow Jews.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

holocaust starChava Bursztyn (Berenstein) — 12 years old

It was Erev Yom Kippur 1940 in the shtetl ofGoworowo,Poland. The Nazis had marched into the city, leaving destruction in their wake. Most of the 500 Jewish homes had been razed to the ground.

This was not the first act of anti-Semitism that the local Jews had endured. During World War I, the citizens of Goworowo — situated on the Warsaw-Lomza railroad line — were accused of espionage by the Russian army because the eiruv around the shtetl was made with the use of a telegraph pole. As a punishment, on Shabbos Nachamu of 1915, the town was burned to the ground.

Ever resilient, the Jews rebuilt the community, likely aided by two wealthy brothers — Nota and Isser Rein — who owned a flour mill and the town’s electric company. Decades later, these two men invited the entire community, now homeless, to take refuge in the flour mill, which had been emptied by the Nazis when they confiscated the entire stock of flour. Even so, there wasn’t enough space to house the entire Jewish community; some families were forced to rent rooms from non-Jews in the surrounding area.

With no food to be found and Yom Kippur fast approaching, the rav of Goworowo — a prominent talmid chacham named Rabbi Alter Moshe Mordechai Bursztyn — began to worry. He feared that since no one had eaten, the Jews of the community would be too hungry to pray and fast properly on Yom Kippur.

Overhearing her father voice his concerns, the rav’s 12-year-old daughter Chava began brainstorming. Who could they ask for help? Then, suddenly, she had an idea. There was a Pole by the name of Karolek (Polish for Charles) living in the neighboring town ofSochochin who had always been a friend to the family. Maybe this non-Jew — who still had access to food — would be kind enough to provide bread for the community?

Chava related the idea to her father, offering to go by foot to Sochochin to ask Karolek for help. Rabbi Bursztyn was hesitant: How could he allow his young daughter to take such a long and dangerous journey? Then again, how could he not, if it meant feeding the entire community? After realizing there was no alternative, he agreed, telling her, “Go, my child, and bring bread for all the Jews of Goworowo.”

Chava asked her friend Esther Leah Gamra to join her, and together the girls walked alongside roads and overgrown paths to avoid the Nazis, who were swarming all over the highways.

After some time, they reached Karolek’s house. He and his wife were astonished upon opening the door. They had heard that all the Jews were killed, and were certain that the two Jewish girls standing before them were ghosts. When they recovered from shock, they invited the girls in. And as soon as Karolek heard their request, he instructed his wife to bake a batch of bread as quickly as possible.

Karolek served the two young girls some food and inquired about all of his Jewish friends. The girls waited there until the early afternoon, at which time the bread had finished baking. Then Chava and Esther Leah were given several loaves each for the community. Karolek added an extra loaf for Chava to give to her father, and begged the girls not to reveal his name to the Germans if they were caught. They gave him their word and hurried back to Goworowo.

Chava and Esther Leah arrived at the Reins’ flour mill shortly before sundown, just in time for the Jews to eat the seudah hamafsekes. The Jews were overjoyed at the sight and aroma of fresh bread, which enabled them to fast better on Yom Kippur. The rav shared the extra loaf, baked just for him, with his fellow Jews.

That Yom Kippur was the last one to be commemorated by the Jews of Goworowo. They were later expelled, some to the ghetto in Bialystock and some to death. Chava was deported toAuschwitz, but survived. She married Rabbi Moshe Berenstein and made her home in Netanya, Israel.


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