My father - a builder of Tel Aviv

Hirschel Joffe came to Palestine, worked in Tel Aviv, moved to Paris, and was sent to Auschwitz.

By RACHEL JOFFE
April 28, 2009 04:00
4 minute read.
My father - a builder of Tel Aviv

Hirschel Joffe 248 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Both my father, Hirschel Joffe, and my mother, Gittel Joffe (nee Rabinovitch), came to Israel in the early 1920s, as pioneers. They came together with thousands of youths who called themselves halutzim, all under the influence of Herzl's Zionist speeches, to build a land for the Jews. They were all enthusiastic and eager to give their lives to the task. My parents came, each one separately, before they met each other. They both came from shtetls; my father from one near Riga and my mother from one near Vilna. Hirschel was sent to the Hula Valley to clear the swamps. It was hard work and very hot, and to make matters worse, he caught malaria and became very ill. When he recovered, he was sent to participate in the building of Tel Aviv, but it was too soon; he wasn't fully recovered yet, and he fell off a building on which he was working. The fall caused more emotional than physical harm, but he lived in a shack and was constantly hungry. His brother, Rafael, who had been working with him, was so fed up that he decided to leave Israel and go to South Africa. After a while, Hirschel decided to follow his brother to South Africa. But by this time, Jan Smuts had become the president of South Africa and he didn't want Jews immigrating to the country. Hirschel was in a quandary, and why in the end he decided to go to Paris instead I will never know - for I was a little girl when he told me his story and for me, it was normal to live in Paris. I mustn't forget to write about my mother too, or else I wouldn't have been born. Gittel, when she came to Israel, was put to work plucking oranges in a pardes in Petah Tikva. For the three years that she lived in Israel, she plucked oranges. But after three years of oranges being her staple diet, living in a shack and not earning anything, it got a bit much! One day, she went to see the sea in Tel Aviv, and that is where she met Hirschel, who had come to say goodbye to his friends before leaving for Paris. They talked a lot and fell in love, all within a few hours. Hirschel said that when he got to Paris, he would get a job and find an apartment and then he would bring her over and marry her. This is what he did. He married her on February 28, 1928, and I was born in December 1928, exactly 10 months later. Then I had a little brother, Charles. The war with Germany was declared and the Allied Forces invaded Paris. Shortly afterwards, a law was passed that all the Jews had to wear the Star of David, which made it very easy for the French police to arrest people in the streets. It was said that people were sent to "do labor" in Germany. We didn't know what was going on behind the scenes - that Jews were being dispatched to death camps in Germany, Poland and elsewhere. On July 16, 1942, there was LA GRANDE RAFFLE. All the Jews in Paris were visited by the police, who came to arrest us. They came to our home at 2 a.m. and ordered us to pack a few things and go with them. They didn't tell us why or where they were taking us; they were very stern and wouldn't answer any questions. We did as we were told, and we became another group in the dark walking with our parcels. They took us to the nearest police station. It was appalling when we got there because, as we looked in, we could see people who had been arrested before us, looking out at us, trying to see who the new detainees were. The intensity of their stares was like fire. I can still feel the burn of it today. At the door of the police station stood a policeman ticking off the people who were being brought in. My father and his brother (another brother, Moshe, who had been living near us) were both taken in, but my mother, my little brother (aged five) and I (13) were released. So were my aunt, Moshe's wife, and their three little children. We, the children, had all been born in France and therefore we were French. At that time, they were not arresting the Jews born in France - at least not yet anyway. My father and his brother were arrested on July 16, 1942. They were detained briefly in Drancy outside Paris (from where we received a postcard from him, which is now at Yad Vashem) and they were both murdered six days after their arrest, on July 21, 1942 at Auschwitz. Last week was Holocaust Remembrance Day. Near Jerusalem, at Kibbutz Roglit, is a memorial wall with the names of the Jews from France who were murdered, 80,000 souls, and my father's name and uncle's name are listed.

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