shoshana and leon rauchwerger.
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
After 63 years of living in Israel, Shoshana and Leon Rauchwerger think they might just be here to stay. Although he was born in Vienna and endured the Anschluss before escaping, and she is a second-generation American, they share 64 years of married life, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and, perhaps most of all, a delightful sense of humor which has kept them going in the hard times - of which there were plenty.
When the Germans came to Vienna, Leon was thrown out of university, but after some years of playing cat and mouse with the Nazis, he was able to get a US visa and left for America. Shoshana was born to a very Zionist family - her mother was president of Amit - and she became a teacher.
In 1942, after Leon discovered the fate of his parents - his father died in Buchenwald, his mother in Auschwitz - he decided to volunteer for the US Army. He saw action in Italy, was seriously wounded in 1944 and spent 18 months in the hospital. After the war, he made an official request to his future parents-in-law for the hand of their daughter and they were married in August 1945.
"It was his idea to go to Palestine," recalls Shoshana. "I was young, in love; I had no choice but to go with him."
Her eyes twinkle remembering the emotions of 63 years ago. "I suppose I really did want to come too," she says.
They traveled on a troop ship, 30 people to a cabin and three-tier bunks, separated of course, on a journey which took two weeks.
"But it was fun," Leon recalls. "We were a group of 70 young people and we pooled our food, living mainly on sardines and tuna. We had a good time and the food wasn't important."
From Haifa where the boat docked, they traveled to Tel Aviv where, as luck would have it, Shoshana's mother, Belle Goldstein, was actually here in her capacity as president of American Mizrachi Women, attending the post-Holocaust Zionist Congress in Palestine. Later, much later, Belle caused a sensation by making aliya in 1998 at the age of 102 and living here until her death at 106.
Another aunt, Batya (Bessie) Gottsfeld, the founder of Amit in the US, was already living here, and with the good connections they had, they found a place to live in Tel Aviv while waiting for their belongings to arrive.
By the time their lift arrived and Leon set out to pick it up, the British authorities had imposed a curfew and he was arrested. He managed to free himself by showing his US passport, but found there were no buses to Haifa. He did manage to get a bus to Petah Tikva and by the time he arrived, there were no buses there either.
"Luckily I bumped into an old friend from Vienna and was able to stay there," he recalls.
They decided to move to Jerusalem and rented a small apartment owned by a German woman, which meant having to be careful not to spill a drop of water on the floor. Leon began his studies at the university, but in 1947 joined the Hagana doing mostly guard duty.
The siege of Jerusalem during the War of Independence was especially hard for Shoshana, who was alone at home and pregnant. Leon had gone to Tel Aviv and couldn't come back for a month until he managed to get a place on a convoy.
They recall the hardships - rationed food and water, the shortages, the shelling - but now, it all seems like a distant dream.
They moved to Kfar Batya, named for their aunt Bessie Gottsfeld, established after the war as a village for Holocaust survivor children. Leon administered the place and Shoshana taught. Needless to say, the traumatized children, some saved in monasteries, often orphaned, were very difficult to nurture and teach. They recall many dramatic problems at the time.
LIFE SINCE ALIYA
After 10 years they left Kfar Batya, and Shoshana continued to teach while Leon was in charge of a building company in Tel Aviv. Two and a half years ago they moved to a retirement home in Kfar Saba, where they are very happy at the level of comfort and activity provided.
BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL
"That it's Jewish," says Leon with conviction. "You have to remember where I come from. As a young man I was beaten up by Nazis, forced to scrub the streets, running all the time not to get caught. Here, I'm free to be a Jew."
ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS
"Don't come," they joke. "In every sphere prepare yourself very carefully, make sure all the information you are given is up-to-date so there are no unpleasant surprises."