| Family First Feature |

Tell Our Story 

“What gives me life is talking about death.” Tziporah Feivlovitz is driven to tell the world 

Visitors to Rechov Chanita in the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood of Haifa see an ordinary street, featuring the standard white stone apartment buildings. But for 11 years, on Yom HaShoah, the scenery would change.

The Feivlovitz family, who owned a kiosk on Rechov Chanita, would string a long rope reaching from the kiosk until the bank located 100 yards down the road. They’d then hang thousands of Holocaust photos from the rope. Children who came to see the exhibit would sit down on the sidewalk and Pinchas Feivlovitz would tell them his story

Pinchas and Tziporah Feivlovitz, both Holocaust survivors and eventually residents of Neve Sha’anan, made it their lives’ goal to memorialize the Holocaust. Their modest, excruciatingly painful exhibit was a small part of their collective work, which included four books and led to Tziporah flying twice a year to lecture in Germany.

Pinchas’s delivery to the children always ended with the same poignant directive: “Remember, don’t forget.”

Because that was the Feivlovitzs’ message to their children, their neighbors, and all future generations. Remember. Don’t forget.


Childhood Cut Short

Tziporah Klein was born in 1927 in Transylvania, Romania, and enjoyed a halcyon childhood. Her father, Aharon Hy”d , was a textile merchant, as well as a chazan. He also played the violin. She had two older brothers who helped out in the business, and a sister, Tova, as well as a younger brother, Avraham Moshe.

Tziporah remembers the prewar period as idyllic. “We were a very musical family. Every Shabbos, we sat around the table, singing zemiros with beautiful harmony. My father was a talented musician, and he played a lot. We often had guests and loved to host.”

In 1940, after a territorial dispute arbitrated by the Axis powers, Hungary annexed Northern Transylvania, where the Kleins lived, and life began to change for Transylvania’s Jewish population. They were no longer allowed to engage in business, and their stores were confiscated. The older Klein brothers were drafted to Hungarian labor camps.

“I remained at home with my parents and younger siblings,” Tziporah recalls. “We hardly went out to the street because it was dangerous. I was sent out every so often to help with parnassah, to secretly send merchandise to Budapest.”

In 1944, things escalated drastically, and Hungarian Jewry were deported.

“We were nearly the last ones to come to Auschwitz,” Tziporah says. “At the time, it was no longer a secret that something heinous was going on there, but until the moment the Germans arrived, my parents didn’t believe that it could actually happen to us.

“One night, Hungarian military police knocked at the door and demanded that we leave the house immediately. All the neighbors gathered around us to see us leaving, waiting to loot our possessions and money. We were taken to the big shul. After three days and three nights, we were packed onto a cattle train. .

“It Wasn’t Life”

Together with the rest of the town’s Jews, Tziporah and her family were deported in cattle cars to Oradea and from there to Auschwitz. “My grandfather was with us too, but he passed away in the cramped train. We couldn’t even lay him down.”

“I remember it as though it were yesterday,” says the 94-year-old with a shudder. “They led us between electrified barbed wire fences illuminated with bright lights to prevent us from running away. Next to the gates were guards who shot at anyone who tried to flee. I was 17, and my sister was 15.

“The first day of our stay in Auschwitz was the most traumatizing of all. There was a huge tumult, and then there was a selection, during which we were separated from our parents and taken to the barracks. I was with my sister the whole time, and after they shaved, cleaned, and disinfected us, they stood us in front of Mengele yemach shemo.

“‘Do you know why you were brought to Auschwitz Birkenau?’ the satan then asked us. ‘Anyone who isn’t needed by the Third Reich will be sent over there,’ and he pointed to the smoking chimneys. He made it clear that our parents and loved ones were already there, in the crematoria.

“That was when I realized I had nothing left — no parents, no little brother, no hair, not even clothes. I pressed my sister’s hand as tightly as I could. We understood that we were alone now and decided to do everything possible not to lose one another.

“Daily routine in Auschwitz was horrible,” Tziporah says. “We got up at four or five in the morning, freezing cold, and huddled together ahead of roll call. Then we got a bit of bread. The most important thing was to be at roll call. Staying in the barracks was literally putting your life in danger.

“There was an infirmary in Auschwitz,” she says. “But anyone who entered didn’t come out alive. One day I had high fever, but of course, I had no intention of going to the infirmary. I asked the kapo to allow me to remain in the barracks for roll call because I couldn’t stand on my feet.

“To my surprise, she agreed. She took me into her room and sent someone else in my place. That’s how she saved my life. To this day I wonder to myself how I had the courage to turn to the kapo, because that could have been a death sentence.

“Life in Auschwitz wasn’t life,” Tziporah says simply. “At night we froze; we didn’t even have blankets. During the winter, we had to wash ourselves in the snow in order to maintain hygiene.”

She shares one of her most painful memories. “It was Erev Tishah B’Av 5704 / 1944. I was with my sister in the famous Block 18 in Auschwitz, when suddenly, someone remembered that it was Tishah B’Av. I remember how we sat and discussed whether we should cry for the Churban Beis Hamikdash, because after all, our entire existence here was one long, strangled cry. We didn’t know the answer, but some of us recited whatever Kinnos we remembered from home. We all cried bitterly, feeling that our existence was one long ‘Eichah.’ ”

Tziporah is quiet. It’s clearly hard for her to continue.

“When I speak about it, I live through it, I breathe the terrible smells that only someone who was there can understand, I hear the sounds and feel like I’m there all over again…”

But she’s empowered by a sense of mission, to share the atrocities she endured with the world,  and so she goes on.

“Two months before Auschwitz was liberated, we were transferred to Germany to work in a huge bullet factory. And then finally, we began to hear the Allied bombardments. Every so often we heard an explosion right nearby, and we rejoiced. We knew that we could get hurt, but we also realized that the explosions heralded the end of the war.

“One day, the Germans didn’t come to take us to work. We saw them fleeing, and then the camp gates opened, and an American tank rolled in. It was the greatest day of my life. We were free.”


Together Again

Tziporah and her sister Tova were alive. They were free. But they no longer had a home.

“Only after liberation did I realize the extent of the tragedy,” Tziporah says. “The most natural thing would have been to go home, but what home? We had nowhere to return to. I looked at my sister, and then the deliberations began: What should we do? We were starving, emaciated, sick, and wounded. Would we be able to recover?”

Tziporah and Tova decided to return to their town in Transylvania. But when they reached it, they discovered that their house had been taken over by a local gentile, and all their possessions had been looted.

With no choice, the girls moved into the local refugee hostel. They knew their parents and younger brother had been killed in Auschwitz, but what of their older brothers, who had been drafted to a Hungarian labor camp years earlier?

“We didn’t know what happened to them and were very anxious,” Tziporah recalls. “Each day, I ran to the train station to ask the travelers, ‘Perhaps someone has seen two short brothers, Yosef and Mordechai Klein?’

After two weeks of searching, Tziporah found a glimmer of hope. A bochur stuck his head out from the train window and said to her, “Yes, I saw them. They’re sick with typhus and are in the hospital. Wait for them, they’ll be back.’

“And they came back,” Tziporah says tearfully. “But they didn’t look like we remembered them. They’d become human skeletons.

“During the war, my brothers were in the Carpathian Mountains, near Poland. Toward the end, they were taken to Austria on a death march, over thousands of kilometers. Thousands of men departed together, and only 500 of them survived the torturous conditions. My brothers were among the survivors.”

After the war they’d been hospitalized for typhus. Mordechai overheard one of the doctors say that Yosef, his younger brother, wouldn’t survive. “How is that possible?” Mordechai cried out. “I’ve been fighting for four years to save him.

“Mustering up his last drop of energy, he went down to the hospital basement, where he saw lots of bottles. One of them was labeled ‘wine vinegar.’ He took the bottle and gave it to Yosef, who drank from the bottle until he was cleansed of the typhus.”

The brothers left the hospital, but they hadn’t reached safety yet. “Mordechai didn’t even have a proper set of clothing. So when he saw a truck with Nazi uniforms, he took one of the coats for himself,” recounts Tziporah. “But an American soldier who saw him mistook him for a Nazi and raised his weapon to shoot him.

“‘I’m a haftling (survivor) Jew, I just came out of the hospital,’ Mordechai cried weakly. But the soldier didn’t understand German. At the last second, Mordechai opened the coat, and the American saw his scrawny body and realized that he was dealing with a young man who was barely among the living.

“He took the two brothers into the home of a gentile woman whose husband was a Nazi and ordered her to feed, wash, and dress them, threatening to shoot her if she didn’t care for the boys. She kept them for two days and then threw them into the street. From there, they continued to our town, where they heard that we were waiting for them.

“They went to the refugee hostel and found us there. Finally we were reunited.”


Fragile Foundations

The Klein sisters had found their surviving relatives. They had no reason to remain in Europe any longer.

“We decided to leave,” Tziporah continues. “We traveled by train to the Hungarian border, where we joined a hachsharah group that had 40 members from Czechoslovakia and Hungary.”

While waiting to make aliyah, Tziporah met her future husband. Pinchas Menachem Feivlovitz was a Gerrer chassid who had been born in Poland. He was the lone survivor of his family. The couple got married in Koblenz, Germany and continued with the group to Italy.

The journey was difficult. The group traveled through the Alps, crossing narrow passes on rickety bridges and improvised rope ladders. In the summer of 1947, they finally boarded the ship that would take them to Israel.

But it wasn’t to be. The ship was captured by the British, and the passengers, the young Feivlovitz couple among them, were taken to a detainment camp in Cyprus.

Tziporah’s oldest son, Shlomo Aharon, was born on Erev Yom Kippur in the detention camp. Then, in November, the Queen of England announced her intention to commemorate Prince Charles’s birth by allowing 609 babies to leave the detention camp with their parents and enter Palestine. The Feivlovitzes were part of that group.

After arriving in Eretz Yisrael and settling in the immigrant camp in Ra’anana, Pinchas Feivlovitz traveled to Bnei Brak, where he hoped he’d find close friends of his family, the Weisses, who’d moved to Eretz Yisrael shortly before the war.

Tziporah recalls the poignant encounter. “‘What about tefillin?’ Mr. Weiss asked him. ‘Do you have tefillin?’

“My husband replied, ‘I can’t bring myself to put on tefillin since the day I fled from yeshivah with only my tefillin in my hand. I was trying to get to my parents in Zhalov to warn them to run for their lives, because the ground in Poland was burning. I wasn’t able to reach them; the Nazis noticed my tefillin and arrested me. I never saw my family again.’

“Mr. Weiss took out a pair of tefillin said to Pinchas, ‘My dear Pinchas, these tefillin belonged to a holy man. Guard them because they’re very special. They are meant for you, the only survivor of a family.’ Mrs. Weiss then brought two pillows and gave them to him too.

“Pinchas returned home with a pair of tefillin, a tallis, and two pillows. We used the pillows, but he put the tallis and tefillin in an orange crate on the side of the room. I pleaded with him, ‘Pinchas, you came from a home of Gerrer chassidim, why shouldn’t you start putting on tallis and tefillin again?’

“‘I can’t,’ he cried. ‘I see the kedoshim Hy”d in front of my eyes, entering the gas chambers in tallis and tefillin. I just can’t.’ ”

The Feivlovitzes moved from the ma’abarah in Ra’anana to Binyamina, where they stayed for three years, and from there they went on to settle in Neve Sha’anan in Haifa. Pinchas was drafted to the army, along with 800 other survivors, 400 of whom fell in battle. Pinchas himself was injured and hospitalized in Tel Hashomer.

“I came to visit him in the hospital,” Tziporah remembers. “The doctors told me that he had shrapnel in his lungs. He said to me, ‘Go home and bring me the tallis and tefillin.’ That very evening, I returned to the hospital.

“Pinchas wrapped himself in the tallis and sobbed wretchedly as he cried, ‘I have tefillin and I have a tallis, but I have no friends and no family.’ He wept for the parents and eight siblings he’d lost in the war, and yet, he was still praying and thanking.

“Just then, Professor Tzundak, the department director, entered the room. When he saw him lying with the tallis and tefillin he turned to me and said, ‘Ma’am, help your husband write down what he went through. He won’t be able to bear what he has inside. It’s too much — the Holocaust, the destruction, and a battle injury.’

“Then Professor Tzundak added, ‘He’ll be hospitalized for a long time, but he’ll stand on his own two feet again.’ And that’s what happened. Pinchas was released a few weeks later but came regularly for treatment at Tel Hashomer for nearly a year.”

After about a year, things seemed to settle down for the young couple who’d been through so much. They had two daughters, and with the compensation they received from the government because of Pinchas’s injury, they opened a kiosk near their home in Haifa, which brought in steady income.


To Tell the World

While the family moved forward and grew, Pinchas and Tziporah never forgot the Gehinnom they had come from. Teaching about the Holocaust became their mission.

“It was clear that it was our task to convey these messages to the next generation, so that no one should forget, so that there shouldn’t be a single child in the country who didn’t know what happened,” Tziporah says. So she and her husband established their private Holocaust exhibit, which was open for 11 years.

Then came the day that they decided to start writing. “My husband, who knew how much I was bottling inside me, asked me to lock myself at home and not to open the door until I sat down to write,” Tziporah recalls. “I wrote the rough draft by hand, and then my daughter typed it up.”

The writing gave expression to some of the intense longing Tziporah felt. She describes in her book how even after having arrived in Eretz Yisrael, she would search for her father in the streets. “Although I knew he’d been murdered by the Nazis,” she says, “something gave me no peace. I continued searching, and each time I saw someone with an aristocratic face and white beard, my heart began to pound. Perhaps it’s my father?”

That longing passed to the next generation as well. When her daughter Zehava typed the work, she told her mother for the first time that she was also constantly looking out for her grandfather in the streets.

Tziporah’s first book was called Mipi Ud Mutzal (From the Mouth of a Survivor), followed a year later by another book titled Bamatzok Ubitechiyah (Struggle and Revival). Though her husband Pinchas was the one who had urged her to commit her memories to writing, he himself was reluctant to write. But a few years after his wife published her books, he finally agreed.

Tziporah remembers, “He spoke and I wrote, quickly, afraid it was the only opportunity I’d have to write his words. That’s how the third book was born, entitled Odeni Zocher (I Still Remember), a name that Pinchas chose to convey the message: I haven’t forgotten.

“Later, in the 1980s, we both took a leave from work, and spent entire nights writing once again — Pinchas spoke and I wrote. That’s how our jointly written book came to be — Bein Shnei Olamos (Between Two Worlds). It’s divided into chapters that I wrote and chapters that Pinchas related and I wrote in his name. Pinchas described what he had endured in 19 camps and the unfathomable tragedy of it all.”


Propelled by Passion

Neither old age nor illness could deter Tziporah from her mission. “Time passed, and Pinchas fell ill,” Tziporah continues. “He had heart surgery and was in serious condition. Then he moved to a nursing home, and I found myself continuing the commemoration work myself. I was invited by the Education Ministry to accompany youth delegations to Poland, and I accepted without even deliberating.

“I traveled for ten years, telling, remembering, documenting…. This is the mission HaKadosh Baruch Hu designated for me.

“One day, I received an invitation to come and lecture in Germany, for German youth. This time I thought twice.” Tziporah asked her husband what he thought, and he encouraged her to go ahead. He said, “Go, because you know how to speak, and you’ll be the one who will succeed in conveying the tragedy we endured.”

For the next 13 years, accompanied by her daughter Malka, Tziporah traveled to Germany twice a year and lectured, sharing everything she’d endured in the Holocaust.

The lectures were usually well received by her German audience. “I almost always saw compassion in their eyes,” she says. “Sometimes they stopped me and asked, ‘Are you blaming us, the third generation?’

“I don’t know you, and I can’t blame you for anything,” I would answer, “but I have an obligation to tell you about the Holocaust, and you have an obligation to make sure Nazism never rises again.

“The walls of the halls trembled from their promises.

“Last year, on International Holocaust Day, which incidentally falls on my birthday, I was invited to the German Parliament. This came after 13 years of giving lectures to Germans. My daughter joined me, and when we entered we saw a huge picture of me on the wall. There were 600 people seated in the Parliament waiting to hear my story.

“After that, I refused to come again. I felt that I’d completed this part of my mission. I’d done my part.”

Back home in Haifa, Tziporah continued to work on documenting the Holocaust. She was often invited to schools to speak. In recent years, she’s been living near her daughters in Jerusalem and lectures for Yad Vashem. During Covid, she continued to teach on Zoom.

It isn’t easy for her, but her sense of mission overpowers the pain. “Who said it’s not hard?” she says. Her voice cracks a bit. “But it’s my job, to speak about it. It’s my mission, my destiny.

“Baruch Hashem, I have so much nachas. My children and grandchildren have married; even some of my great grandchildren are married already. I baruch Hashem have eight great-great grandchildren.

“My daughter says to me, ‘Mommy, you’re the queen of the family,’ and I tell her that this is my victory over the Germans. Our mission is to continue the mesorah. It’s a decision I made for myself the day we came to Eretz Yisrael, and I aspire to fulfill it until my final day.”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 771)

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