“A Grodno Tale”, by Paul Malevitz

This true “Grodno Tale” is dedicated to the eleventh yortzayt of my father’s first cousin, Rayzel Diskin Goldwasser aleha hasholom, born: Grodno, Belarus, 1912; died: Bat Yam, Israel, 1999.

My grandfather’s sister, Hadassah Malevich, married Moshe Diskin in Grodno, Belarus in 1897. Moshe owned and operated a grocery store in the Grodno neighborhood of Fershtot, the residential area just south of the Nieman River, which divided Grodno in two. Hadassah was a true balabosta who occupied herself with the rearing of their seven children – six daughters and one son: Sarah, Shayna, Chaya, Nochum, Shifra, Leah and Rayzel. The Diskins lived well and even had a Byelorussian maid named Sofia.

After the Communist Revolution, Grodno became Poland and the situation for Jews deteriorated. The Grodno Jews under the Poles suffered discrimination, pogroms and an increase in crimes against them.

One day in 1922, Hadassah noticed that their maid, Sofia, was in the kitchen. Hadassah became suspicious because she had forbidden Sofia from entering the kitchen for fear that Sofia might inadvertently make the dishes traif. When Hadassah went into the kitchen, she saw Sofia pouring poison into the meal that Hadassah had prepared for her family’s dinner. Hadassah screamed and Sofia ran out of the house. Moshe and Hadassah filed a report with the police and even though the Diskins knew where Sofia lived, the police were “somehow” unable to find her.

On a Friday evening a few weeks later, the Diskin family was sitting around their Shabbos table when they suddenly heard a loud knock on the door. Ten-year-old Rayzel ran to open the door. Three drunk Polish soldiers with rifles in hand burst into the house and without saying a word, lifted their rifles and aimed directly at Moshe’s head. The entire family remained frozen in their places out of fear, but young Rayzel jumped up from her chair, ran over to one of the soldiers and screamed in Polish: “Don’t kill my father!” The soldiers were taken aback and again, without saying a word, left the house.

Immediately after the soldiers left, Moshe got up from his chair and said to his family: “Hadassah and children, I want you to know that after Shabbos I’m putting up the house and grocery for sale. We’re moving to the land of Israel.”

The following morning at shul, Moshe learned that groups of Polish hooligans entered many Jewish homes Friday evening where they robbed, destroyed property and wounded the people living there. After Shabbos, Moshe also learned that nine other Jewish families had decided, as he, to leave Grodno and move to Eretz Yisroel.

Hadassah and the children were in agreement to make aliya, but there was a problem. The oldest daughter, Sarah, had recently become engaged and the two had already written tnoim. Sarah told her fiance what had happened to her family, and about their decision to move to Israel. She told him that she still hoped to marry him and invited him to join them in Israel. They could marry either in Grodno before they left or else in Israel after they arrived. Sarah’s fiance became angry. He didn’t want to leave Grodno because he had his family there and, most important, his work. Unfortunately, Sarah and her fiance had to break the engagement.

Moshe’s house and grocery were up for sale. In the meantime, Moshe had to travel to the British Embassy in Warsaw to request visas for him and his family to go to Palestine.

Nine of the ten heads of household who wanted to make aliya with their families decided to all travel together from Grodno to Warsaw on the same train. Only one man named Laib did not travel with the others by train. Laib was a very wealthy man who was among the very few people in Grodno to own his own car. Since Laib left Grodno very early in the morning by car, he was the first of the group to arrive at the British Embassy.

When Laib entered the embassy, he immediately felt himself in a hostile setting. The secretary gave him several applications to fill out and when he was finished with all his documents, she informed himthat Great Britain does not want needy and indigent people settling in Palestine and that he has to prove that he possesses at least one thousand zlotys. Since Laib was a very rich man, he already had a thousand zlotys in his pocket, and possibly more. When the secretary saw such an incredible amount of money, she couldn’t say another word to him and had to sign and approve his documents.

When Laib left the Embassy he saw the nine Grodno heads of householdat a distance walking toward the Embassy from the train station. He ran over to them and told them what had happened there. The nine Jewish men were beside themselves with grief. Where would they get one thousand zlotys? They didn’t even have one hundred!

Laib immediately took out one thousand zlotys from his pocket and gave it to my great-uncle Moshe. You, Moshe, be the first to go into the embassy. Show the secretary the thousand zlotys, and after you leave, give the money to the next person and so on and so on. When you return to Grodno, have the last man in line come to my house and return the money.

And that’s exactly what happened. In 1922 my grandfather’s sister, Hadassah Malevich Diskin, her husband Moshe Diskin and their seven children between the ages of 10 and 24 fulfilled their dream and made aliya.

In Israel Moshe worked in construction and the family settled in the new city of Tel Aviv. The oldest daughter, Sarah, 24 years old, who had broken off her engagement with her fiance in Grodno, met a fine young man in Tel Aviv. They were married and became the proud parents of two sons. All seven children married in Israel and continued the golden legacy of Judaism in the Holy Land. The youngest daughter, Rayzel, married Benyomin Goldwasser and settled in Bat Yam.

Moshe died of a heart attack at age 60 and Hadassah passed away from a brain hemorrhage a few years later. All seven Diskin children are also now in the other world may their memories be a blessing, but there are now hundreds and hundreds of their descendants throughout the entire country of Israel, may their numbers increase.

Paul Malewicz’s father arrived in the U.S.A. from Grodno (then Poland) in 1938 as Pinchos Malewicz. Pinchos left his entire family in Grodno, including a wife, two children, parents and five married sisters and their families with the intention of working a year in Chicago to save money and send for as many of his family members as he could. A few weeks after the outbreak of World War II in September of 1939, Grodno became part of the USSR and although the visas that Pinchos had sent for his first wife and daughters arrived in Grodno shortly thereafter, Stalin refused to permit anyone to leave the country. Since Grodno is so close to the Polish border, after the Germans attacked the USSR in June of 1941, they were in Grodno later the same day, making the evacuation of the Grodno Jews impossible. Pinchos’ entire family was murdered at Treblinka. After the war, Pinchos married the former Edith Pearlman, a native of Chicago, whose parents had arrived in Chicago from the Ukraine shortly before the Communist Revolution. Paul was born in 1949.The Malevitz family moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1961. Paul and his wife, Zelde-Miryam, live in the Fairfax area of Los Angeles.