On one bright night in June 1944 there was
an explosion that could be heard in the whole of Penne, a quite village in the
Gran Sasso Mountains in Italy. We were in total darkness till sunrise in the
early morning. Nobody dared to go outside his home to find out what happened. In
the morning people tried to find out what caused the explosion and the failure
of electricity, then, at about noon, ten Italian soldiers, not the Fascist ones,
entered the village and told us that the Germans have withdrawn from the area
and we are liberated. Before retreating from the area, the German army has blown
up the electric power station.
To inform their headquarters that the
village has been "conquered", the Italian soldiers used pigeon mail.
We were liberated!
Meir Deutsch was born in Zagreb Yugoslavia, today it is the Capital of Croatia.
His father Josef was born in Mattersdorf and after his service in the
Austro-Hungarian army in the First World War he studied mechanical engineering
in Vienna. In the late 1920's he opened the first scales and cutlery factory in
Yugoslavia in Zagreb. The family lived in comfort and after the Anschluss of
Austria to Germany helped, together with the Jewish community, the many refugees
that passed and settled in the city. The family gave shelter in their house to
an Austrian family, mother and two daughters. In 1940 and early 1941 Josef sent
hundreds of food parcels to Jewish families in Austria, Germany and German
occupied Poland, including to the family of the Gerer Rebbe, families Alter in
Gora Kalvaria and Warsaw.
In 1941 Germany occupied Yugoslavia and put up a puppet government in Croatia
– the Ustasha. Josef was arrested and sent to the Jasenovac death camp, from
where he never returned. The factory was confiscated and later sold. Now the
wife with three small children, aged 7, 4 and 2 had to decide what to do to save
herself and her children.
A couple of days after her husband was arrested she decided to flee to Italy,
without a Visa or any entry documents, where they were put in a camp in Malo in
Northern Italy. They stayed there till the armistice in September 1943.
After Italy signed the armistice with the Allies, German troops occupied Italy
and the fate of the Jews changed. They were arrested, killed or deported. The
family, together with another two families, decided to go south and meet the
advancing Allied forces. One day we were stopped by the Germans who asked for
Identification Papers. There were none that we could show. Mother, who was born
in Czechoslovakia, spoke fluent German, so did we the children, and German was
our second mother tongue. Mother said to the German Officer that she is from
Czechoslovakia. The German Officer started talking to us, the children. When he
realized that we all spoke the language, he asked "are you Sudeten
Deutsche?" Mother replied "yes, we are." That is how we were
saved that time.
At the beginning of June 1944 we were liberated. The Jewish unit from Palestine
who served in the British eight's army, more or less adopted us. After being out
of school during all those years we started visiting a school put up by the
British for refugee children. The teachers were soldiers from the Palestine
Towards the end of 1944 President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill decided
to issue about 1,000 certificates each for entry of refugees to the USA and
Palestine. We were given the opportunity to choose where to go and decided to go
to Palestine. We boarded a British War Ship "Princess Kathleen" and
arrived at Haifa just before Passover of 1945.
After the UN resolution of 29 November 1947 to divide Palestine into two States,
one Arab and the second Jewish, the British decided to leave Palestine on
Saturday the 15th of May 1948. On Friday, the 14th of May 1948 David Ben Gurion
declared the establishment of the State of Israel, the Jewish state according to
the UN resolution. The surrounding Arab states, and Iraq that had no border with
Palestine, invaded the new created state. We, at our Youth Aliya orphanage's
roof, watched the Egyptian Air Force bombing Tel Aviv. It was very disturbing,
especially for young Jewish children that just survived the Holocaust. I was a
child at that time, but never imagined that I would have to take part in the
other wars that Israel had to fight.
As my father has no grave, I included in the book a chapter about Mattersdorf,
his birthplace, as a monument for him. Besides the parts of the holocaust and
War, other parts of the book include our youth and family in Palestine and
Israel, the German Mentality as seen through its History, the Allies' policy
toward the Jews during the holocaust and a visit with my elder son in 2001 of
our roots in Mattersburg, Zagreb and Italy. Yes, people in Italy still remember
us as the children who wore shorts in winter. The scales factory in Zagreb is
still there. In Mattersburg the Jewish quarter disappeared, the Synagogue is
gone, even the cemetery is destroyed (the only one in the seven communities that
was destroyed). Some tombstones were used to cover the Wulka River; others were
broken up and plastered to a wall without any order. The only thing to remember
the Jewish Mattersdorf is the Judengasse. It is just a name of a street, no Jews
live there. No Jewish shops can be found anymore in Mattersburg.
Preface of Prof. Shevach Weiss
How can one describe the power of the
Holocaust and imagine the systematic and barbaric destruction of six Million of
our people? It is difficult, maybe even impossible!
The survival itself acts as witness; therefore putting in writing the memories
of that period are important for the future generations.
In his memoirs Meir Deutsch describes a family, whose father was taken to an
extermination camp, and the mother, a courageous woman, managed to navigate in
impossible ways and with daily struggle, to save herself and her three children.
Among other things Meir Deutsch describes the township where his father was
born, Mattersdorf, which was a well known Jewish community and one of the
"Seven Kehilot". The author describes the German nation, as seen by
him according to her history. The story goes on beyond that period, meeting the
Jewish Brigade, his arrival to Palestine still under British Mandate and
founding a family in a country he witnessed its birth, are an integral part of
the book and are the side of rebirth.
This documentation is important beyond the monument for his family, and it
reflects to a wider scope.
Prof. Shevach Weiss
Chairman of the Council of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem