Veterans: Dov Breier

"There was only one place I wanted to be - Palestine."

Dov Breier 88 224 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Dov Breier 88 224
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Dov Breier spent the war years in Stalingrad and later in small villages in Russia where he worked in the fields, collecting and sorting the cotton crop. In the evenings he would get together with fellow Polish exiles and play his mandolin. "The war was far away from us and we had no idea what was really happening. Only when I returned to my village in 1945, I began to understand the catastrophe that had befallen the Jews and my family. There was not a soul left." Gradually the enormity of what happened began to sink in, especially when he arrived at his family home, still with the familiar curtains on the window, and found a strange woman living there. She was a Polish widow and had been given the house, which had long been emptied of its original inhabitants. Breier was in touch with an aunt in San Francisco who sent him an affidavit to come to the US. "I tore it up," he recalls. "There was only one place I wanted to be - Palestine." With the help of the Joint, Jewish survivors got themselves organized into groups, and it was in one of these that Dov met his future parents-in-law, Binyamin and Gittel. As soon as Gittel saw him in the street, wearing rags, she brought him home and Binyamin made him a suit. Later he met their daughter Ella, and for Dov it was love at first sight. He and Ella married in 1947 and already had one son when they left for Israel in 1950. To this day he has not returned to the place where his entire family was murdered, and has no desire to. "It's as if I was born here," he says. THE JOURNEY "Terrible," say Dov and Ella in unison. "We took a train to Naples and from there sailed on the Galila. The boat was overcrowded, full of refugees. We were sitting one on top of the other; the children were sick and screaming; and the conditions were unbelievable. But we got to Haifa somehow." ARRIVAL The first thing the authorities did when they disembarked was to spray them with DDT. "It was the most humiliating and dreadful thing that can happen to you," remembers Dov. "Here you are, finally in the Promised Land, and these burly, uncaring sabras are spraying you with disinfectant." They were taken to a very large barracks called Sha'ar Aliya (the gateway to aliya) where they stayed for a few days. "There was no fruit or vegetables," recalls Ella who had a two-year-old toddler at the time. "We ate bread, margarine and jam." SETTLING IN They were moved to a transit camp in Pardesiya where they shared a tent with two other families, and just at about this time a polio epidemic broke out. Ella was terrified for the baby but managed to get some medicine after waiting in line for hours at the children's clinic. When some Russian friends came from Kfar Saba to visit them, they were horrified by the conditions and insisted they come back to live with them. They had a small house with a shed for the goat, which was unceremoniously kicked out so the Breiers would have somewhere to live. DAILY LIFE It was now 1951 and the period of austerity was at its height. Even had they had money, there was not much to buy in the shops. Dov went to work on a building site, pushing a wheelbarrow full of bricks up and down and found the work very hard. But he had other plans. He had always been musical and came from a very musical family. "My older brother was the concert master of the Lvov Symphony Orchestra and he taught me the violin, but during my time in Russia I discovered the bayan - the accordion - and decided that my future lay there." With some help from Ella's parents and by selling a few things they'd brought, he was able to acquire enough money to buy his first accordion and began to play evenings at the first café in Kfar Saba, Fiedler's. But it wasn't much of an income, so during the day he would travel to Tel Aviv to work for a photography studio, go out to shoot weddings and often fall asleep on the bus back to Kfar Saba. Ella had no idea where he was most of the day. LANGUAGE He knew Hebrew from his early studies in Poland, and by the end of 1951 he had a few private pupils and was beginning to be known as the only Hebrew-speaking music teacher in Kfar Saba. In fact the only music teacher in the town. LIFE SINCE ALIYA One day he got a call from the principal of the Ussishkin School who told him they needed a music teacher. Breier felt that he was not qualified to take on a whole class. "We'll wait until you learn," said the principal. Breier traveled to the Bialik School in Tel Aviv three times a week and in 1956 began teaching in the school and stayed there for 30 years. For many years he was the only music teacher in Kfar Saba and the whole town knew him. He built an orchestra and a choir. "There wasn't an event or a happening that took place in the town without our orchestra playing at it," he recalls. BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL "I try to look for the best but it's harder to find today. We've left the best behind. Things started to deteriorate after 1967 - before that there wasn't the widespread crime and corruption we see today. "If I have to answer that question for me it's the home and family we established. We have two fine sons, five grandchildren who all served in the army and now we have a great-granddaughter. And we've had a lot of appreciation from the family and the community." ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS "It's hard to give advice, since we came from such a different background - we were refugees and went through such hard times, we had no education. Today people coming here have professions and education and money behind them and they are not running away from anything. "I think as long as you realize that you have to work hard, be optimistic and know that nothing just falls out of the sky, you should be all right." And with this Breier picks up his accordion and begins to play a cheerful melody to lift the spirits, something he has been doing for much of his working life. To propose an immigrant for a 'Veterans' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: [email protected]