Be Innocent

The Life Story of Abraham Zandman


1. Before the War



A. Religious Childhhood in Gostinin and Lodz


I was born in 1906 in the town of Gostinin, Poland, near the city of Lodz. My father, Yaakov Aryeh Zandman, Follower of the great Rabbi of Gur, was a rabbi and a grocer.


I was about five when Moses, my oldest brother, a student at Yeshivat Lomza, died from tuberculosis. He got a cold in the mikveh bath, where he went every midnight.

Moses was an ascetic who learned Kabbalah, and was very popular among the yeshiva students.

After his death, one of his closest friends got mad. He was standing at the window of his house, shouting: "Moses died because you did not return to religion"!.


When I was ten my mother died. My older sister, Gutta, became caretaker of the children. At the age of fiveteen I was sent to study at a yeshiva in Lodz. My father remarried.


I was a son of poor in Lodz, who ate by "days" I received from the Yeshiva's management. Every day in the week at a different householder, who agreed to support with meals poor yeshiva students. Sometimes I slept on a bench in the synagogue. After two years I got tired, and decided to go home.


I came back to Gostinin, and along with my older brother we were the founders of the local branch of "Workers Association of Israel" party.

My older brother and I decided to immigrate to Israel. We wanted to learn a useful skill, and we chose carpentry. Our father demanded from us to learn from professional Gentiles, because he feared that we shell become secular. This was a real threat with Jewish artisans.


I worked in a carpentery for about a year. Then I got an offer to work at a carpentry in Lodz. But I'd already cut my hair wigs and had more secular customs, and my family in this city was very religious. So I left Lodz after a brief period and went to Warsaw.



B. Secular Adulthood in Warsaw

Two years I shared, in a cramped hostel in Warsaw, not a large bed with a guy named Burstein. We slept against each other, with the head of each one close to the other's foot.

Burstein was very talented in theater, could play the violin well, had a talent and a voice for singing, could act, draw characters, and dress and do makeup to players according to drawings.

Thanks to him I became interested in the theater art.


I knew through him a girl named Pola Kovalski, who became my wife. We had two sons, David and Michael. They were five and seven years old when the war broke out. My wife was an excellent dressmaker, and earned good money from sewing fancy dresses to Warsaw's elite women.


I was hired as a production worker in an electric wires factory. It was one of the only Jewish factories in Poland, and one of the few who employed Jews. I worked there for several years on the assembly line of the wires. Then I became a maintenance man.


All the time I continued to learn on my own and became self-taught scholar. Once, while walking a few hours, I read a book of hundreds pages.


I was active in amateurs' theater that I founded with friends. The theater was called "The Central Ensemble for Drama." I was there an actor and assistant director.

The ensemble produced dozens of plays, reduced to a smaller format. We were famous in Warsaw and its surroundings. Among other things we were minor players in "In Poland's Forests", which was made acording to a novel by David Opashoto.

I started my career in theater as a prompter in one of the largest Jewish theaters.


I was a member in "Workers of Zion Left." Party. When we, five party activists, turned to the activist Gruenbaum from big "Mapai" party, to provide us certificates for immigration to Israel, he drew us a little circle in black pencil, and said: "This is the land of Israel." He went around the circle with spiral growing lines, and then cut it straight to center. "You", he said, "come to Israel after you have made big rounds. We, however, we got it straight."


He referred to the Communist side of my party, who opposed his party's pure Zionism.

He gave us five certificates. But since I had a woman, and needed two, I did not take one.


I was also a secretary in the Jewish Wood Workers' union in Warsaw. I was positioned at the Employment Bureau and delivered working days, right up until the outbreak of war.


I joined the Jewish Brigade, who had planned to join the socialist forces who fought in Spain during the Civil War. Only the beginning of World War prevented the trip.



C. Outbreak of War

On 9 September 1939, several days after the war began, at midnight, the prime minister of Poland turned on the radio, in a dramatic announcement to the Polish people: "Polish citizens! The Nazis invaded Poland, and are moving toward Warsaw. All men who are able to take up arms should evacuate the city and move east to the Bug area, where we shell provide them with weapons, and get organized to attack the invader."

The roumor then was that the Nazis are not going to hurt women and children.

I talked with my wife, and we agreed that she will stay with the kids, and I will get to the east.

In three in the morning I went out to the street. We lived in Mila Street, in a large apartments building with an inner yard. The street was full of people with all their belongings in carts, and they all went east.

We walked for three days and nights until we got to the Bug area. The Germans bombed us from the air many times.

But in the Bug did not wait for us no guns and no commanders. There was also no way back. So after several weeks we boarded the train to the Russian border, to Lvov.



Next Page - During the War



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