Her Bravery, Her Luck
Her Challenging Destiny
Years ago Shlomo Adler heard the story of the miraculous rescue in Bolechow, Ukraine of the Jewish couple, Solomon and Malka Rainhartz, by a Ukranian girl. After the liberation, the Ukranian girl revealed her true identity as that of a Jewish girl born in the village of Synowodzko Nizne. The girl saved herself and the Jewish couple with courage, ingenuity and luck. “Jump my child. Maybe, thanks to you, there will remain a trace and memory of our family.” These were the last words Donia heard from her father. She was 17 1/2 years old girl when she jumped into the unknown from the train that led her and her immediate family from Synowodzko Nizne, Ukraine to the extermination camp at Belzec. Shlomo Adler is a masterful storyteller who has taken it upon himself to reveal and memoralize the many stories of tradedy and also heroism of the Holocaust. The English lanuage version of his new book, Donia: Her bravery, Her Luck and Her Challenging Destiny is a must-read for those intersested in the Holocaust history, Jewish studies, human nature and psychology.
This book is based on real events in the life of the heroine. The author received her approval to write about them. Years ago I heard the story of the miraculous rescue in Bolechów of Siumek (Shlomo) and Malka (Miriam) Rainhartz by a Ukrainian girl. After the liberation, the Ukrainian girl revealed her true identity as that of a Jew born in the village of Synowódzko Niżne located over the mountains not far from my hometown, Bolechów. The girl saved herself and a Jewish couple with courage, ingenuity and luck. She challenged fate using fake Aryan papers.
When, in 1994, I began documenting the Holocaust by filling out Pages of Testimony for Yad Vashem and writing my memoirs, I asked the Rainhartzes a number of times to give me the name and address of their savior. I wanted to get the full testimony and the story of the courageous stand she chose. I was convinced that Donia’s story should be told; to set as an example of resourcefulness and bravery for future generations. Mr. and Mrs. Rainhartz would always say, “The woman wants to remain anonymous.
She is not looking for fame.” Shlomo and Malka Rainhartz’s rescue story was known and told but not in detail in books by Anatole Reginier, Damals in Bolechów, published by Bertelsman Germany; in The Town Square is Empty, by Yad Vashem Jerusalem; in Daniel Mendelsohn’s book, The Lost; and in my book, I am a Jew Again, published by Yad Vashem. Who saved them was not known until now. She is Jewish but does not want to talk about it and wants to remain anonymous. “Please there is no reason for you to create a relationship with her,” the Rainhartzes always said. Apparently, this couple was not eager to talk about their experience although they spoke briefly to several authors who drafted the story. No further details were given. Shlomo Rainhartz passed away several years ago. Malka (Miriam), his wife, was still living in Beersheba, Israel and I was in touch with her. Unfortunately she recently passed away. May 12 her soul be blessed. About a year and a half ago I happened to speak with Malka’s daughter and this is how I learned that Donia’s husband Joseph had died. “Who is Donia?” I asked. “The woman who rescued my parents,” she replied. I asked her to give me Donia’s phone number so that I could contact her. I wanted to tell her I was sorry for her loss. Malka’s daughter gave me Donia’s phone number (as they continued to call her). That is how I learned who the Ukrainian, Dina Ostrower, was. I called.
At the other end of the line I heard a pleasant, relaxed woman’s voice. I introduced myself and realized I was talking to Mrs. Ostrower herself. I was not expecting this direct encounter. I thought the receiver would be picked up by someone else in the house. For years I wanted to speak with this courageous woman who, in my mind, I was comparing to the family who saved me. The feats she accomplished were absolutely comparable to that of my rescuers. And here I was, talking directly with this courageous woman. First I wanted to offer my condolences to her over her husband’s death. I opened the conversation by telling her that for years I had longed to meet her and to hear her go into the details of her story. I was surprised to learn that Donia knew of me. She would come with the Rainhartz couple to the memorial services I have been organizing over the years for those from Bolechów and the neighborhood that perished in the Holocaust. I naively thought that if the woman was interested in memorials in which the main theme was the Holocaust, I could try to ask her to provide testimony. I asked her to allow me to interview her so that her story would be heard and would be taught to the younger generation and would remain forever in libraries and archives.
Donia refused saying: “I don’t have anything to tell. What I did was just to quiet my tormented conscience because I was the 13 only one in my family to survive.” I spoke with Donia for half an hour using all the arguments at my disposal. I told her that her testimony would be given to Yad Vashem and that it would remain in their archives for research and study. This did not move Donia. I suggested that I could send her testimony to a film maker and maybe write a book that would be read by thousands of people here and abroad. Nothing convinced her. Donia kept refusing. I told her, “I will leave you my phone number. If you change your mind, contact me. I would love to hear your story and to write the details.” About two months after my conversation with Donia, in early November 2008, my home phone rang. Donia was on the line. “Mr. Adler,” she said. “I’m getting old. My sons ask that my story become known and not remain in the dark. As long as I can trust my memory, I am ready to tell you my story.” It was the day before I was to leave on a two week vacation. I promised I would contact her when I returned, and I did. I interviewed Donia for about six hours. I was equipped with a tape recorder. Then there were countless phone calls to complete the story and clarify one thing or another. Donia’s story amazed me so much that I gave up writing my second book and devoted myself to writing the story of Donia. Bolechów, a small town in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Galicia was, for generations, a stage of events. Governments occasionally passed from hand to hand.
The “education” movement flourished in this region in its early years. The pioneers who established the k 14 After such conviction and wild hatred for the Jews it is no wonder that, out of a population that numbered more than 7,000 Jews in the town and surrounding area, there were only 48 survivors, each with a story and a heroic rescue. During the memorial events that I organized for the victims of the Holocaust, I used to see a nice looking, blue eyed woman who came with the couple from Beersheba. I was always busy during the memorial events and did not make contact, not even to introduce myself. When finally I came to her home in Ramat Gan, I met that lovely black-haired, blue eyed woman. In spite her age, the years of suffering, the years she dedicated to her husband who had recently died, she remained a beautiful woman; lucid and young spirited. On the wall of her living room multiple certificates were hanging. The first and most prominent was: Certificate I: Certificate of Registration in the Golden Book of the Jewish National Fund. Dina nee Pikholtz 15 Magnanimous She, in a perilous situation during the Holocaust, was courageous and saved two lives All who saves one life is considered as one who saved the entire world Recorded by Rainhartz, Miriam & Shlomo Certificate II: Chai (18) trees Jerusalem Forest The name Dina Ostrower nee Pikholtz Gave us our lives as gifts. Rainhartz, Miriam & Shlomo 16 Certificate III: Chai (18) trees Jerusalem Forest The name Joseph Ostrower Dina’s faithful husband In recognition and appreciation Rainhartz, Miriam & Shlomo Chai = 18 in Hebrew, is a lucky number, meaning life At the beginning Donia said: “I did it for my soul and to ease my conscience. My life had no value, having lost everyone. So I decided that if I had to stay alive, out of my entire extended 17 family, saving this couple will compensate for that. Now, at an advanced age, when I still remember most of it, I want to keep my story as the evidence that human nature may roll down the drain, or alternatively rise to unexpected levels.” For many years, Donia remained secretive. She did not tell anyone what had happened to her during the Holocaust: the hard work in the leather factory, the sad farewell to her entire family on the way to Bełżec, the jumping from the train that was taking every one to their death in Bełżec, the loss of her entire family, and her amazing act of heroism. Donia requested of those she saved not “to tell” in order to remain anonymous. Her partner of this heroism, Maryjka, originally named Frydka, decided afterward to renounce her Judiasm. Two days after their liberation by the Red Army and the mutual discovery of their Jewish identity, they separated. Fridka went back to Kolczyce village near the town of Sambor and nobody heard from her again.
Anonymous Righteous Among the Nations
After the liberation and recovery, Donia also wanted to return to her village, Synowódzko Niżne to see if a miracle had happened and perhaps someone from her family was saved. In the Stryj train station Donia met an old acquaintance, the conductor, a Polish man, Mr. Pulsa. She knew him before the war because every day she took the train going to school in Stryj. Pulsa recognized her and told her what the Ukrainian neighbors did to the Jews living in their village before gathering them in the Stryj ghetto.
After hearing what conductor Pulsa said, Donia didn’t go to the village. She found that in Stryj, not one single person of her large family had survived. Donia went searching in Sambor where her father’s brother, Chaim Pikholtz and his family used to live. Not one of them remained. In order to be near Sambor, Donia stayed there until the summer of 1945.
She worked in a restaurant. When she finally realized that no one from her huge family survived, Donia 18 decided to go with the Jewish youth movement, Noham, through Kraków and Bytom. Donia remained in Bytom for several months.
The house of the conductor Pulsa Later, in December 1945, she moved to Czechosłovakia through forests and mountains along with other members of her youth group. About a week later they moved from Czechosłovakia to a displaced persons camp in Laibhaim, Germany. After a year in the DP camp, her whole group moved to Italy, to the Arona town on the shore of Lake Maggiore where they lived in a luxurious villa named Verrazano. From Lake Maggiore, they were transported by bus to Venice.
From Venice they were taken by boat, in groups of 25-30 people, to the island of Palestrina where they boarded an illegal immigrant ship “Kadima” (Forward) together with 794 other people. Donia could not disembark in the motherland. Along with the other passengers on the “Kadima,” the British deported her and imprisoned her in a camp on Cyprus for many months. She finally arrived in Israel in 1949 where Donia married her husband Joseph who she’d met in Cyprus. When I started to write the story of Donia hiding the Rainhartz family, I thought that, as one who himself survived the Holocaust and remained in hiding for a year, I could easily 19 get into Donia’s and Malka’s skin, and so it was. Often I began to think like them. I was able to understand what they went through and describe their feelings. In order to be really and thoroughly authentic in all that I added to the story of the two elderly women, I even went to Donia’s village of Synowódzko Niżne in August 2009.
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