Veterans: From Wiesbaden and London to Jerusalem

Moshe Tiefenbrunner, 91, made aliya for the second time on his 66th birthday.

moshe tiefenbrunner 88 2 (photo credit: Netanya Hoffman)
moshe tiefenbrunner 88 2
(photo credit: Netanya Hoffman)
Moshe Tiefenbrunner made aliya for the second time on his 66th birthday. A father of four, grandfather of 16 and great-grandfather of 11, he is known by all as "Saba Motek" ("Grandpa Sweetie"). PREPARATIONS Born and raised in Wiesbaden, to Orthodox parents who were active in the Jewish community, Tiefenbrunner describes life in Germany as "mostly normal, with some restrictions," even after Hitler came to power. He helped at his parents' kosher grocery store and also did window dressing for the future owners of Jerusalem's iconic Ma'ayan Stub. Suddenly in 1938, everything changed when he came home from work to find that his parents had been arrested. He offered to stay in prison in his mother's place so that she could go home to care for her two young daughters. The next morning his entire family was deported to his parents' native Poland. The train picked up other Polish Jews along the way, and crossed the border on Shabbat. The family got off at the first stop and sat in the station until Shabbat ended, whereupon they continued on their way to the home of relatives in Krakow. THE JOURNEY In Poland, Tiefenbrunner got a job dressing windows, but after he completed the task, his employer refused to pay him because refugees received a stipend from the government. This abuse combined with his conscription into the Polish army convinced him to join his older brothers in Belgium. There he learned to be a diamond cutter, but was soon threatened with deportation for working without a permit. He joined a local group of the Revisionist movement that was organizing an illegal voyage to Palestine. They were smuggled across the border into France in the stealth of night and hid from the police until they could get to their ship, the Parita. After a harrowing 10 weeks at sea in a boat packed with more than 900 passengers instead of the intended 250, the voyagers' health was ailing and their food was running out. When told that they were to wait for sailboats to pick them up in Europe rather than continue directly to Palestine, the passengers took matters into their own hands. They bribed the crew and when the captain still refused to take them the rest of the way, they hijacked the ship and made their way to their destination. ARRIVAL Tiefenbrunner and his comrades were arrested by the British immediately upon arrival on August 22, 1939, and were interned at a military camp. However, due to the outbreak of World War II, amnesty was declared several days later and all the prisoners were issued immigration cards by the Jewish Agency. Unsatisfied with the menial jobs he was able to find and wishing to contribute to the war effort and the plight of his family in Europe, he volunteered to join the British Army. His service took him on adventures through North Africa, where he was wounded, and later was surprised to come upon a large group of Ethiopian Jewish slaves. Hearing the Hebrew spoken by the soldiers, the villagers were certain that the Messiah's army had arrived to take them home to Palestine. They were dismayed to learn they were mistaken, and his memorandum to the Jewish Agency wasn't able to get them rescued for several years. While on his way to meet the American army in Tunisia, he was captured by Italian soldiers and was a prisoner for two and a half years until the war ended. He began the long journey through Europe and back to Palestine. On leave in London, he bumped into a family he had known in Germany, and fell in love with and became engaged to their daughter, Friedel Sturm. He returned to Palestine to earn a livelihood so he could support her. They married in London a year and a half later and traveled to Palestine on the first Jewish ship, the Kedma. They moved to Tel Aviv in 1947, on the eve of the UN partition vote. Tiefenbrunner was soon conscripted into the Israeli army and fought in the War of Independence. SETTLING IN After the declaration of the state, Tiefenbrunner found work in the diamond industry. He, Friedel and their children lived happily in Tel Aviv until Friedel's father took ill in 1956 and asked Moshe to come run his factory in London. Thinking it would only be for a year or two, the couple acquiesced. Two years turned into 25, during which time they visited Israel whenever they could, and three of their four children made aliya. Finally, after Moshe's retirement in 1981, the Tiefenbrunners' dream came true and they made aliya for good. They bought a spacious four-room apartment in the San Simon neighborhood of Jerusalem, where Moshe still lives, taking care of himself and doing all his own chores and errands. DAILY LIFE He had planned for his retirement in advance, taking evening courses in bookbinding while still in London. He occupies himself with this hobby, binding and repairing books for friends and for public libraries. He also volunteers at the Israel Museum and at Yad Vashem. He is a very active member of his synagogue, and was offered the presidency several times, but declined, having served as president of two synagogues in London and one in Tel Aviv. "I'm retired now," he says, though he still gives advice on occasion. He is also a lifetime member of Emunah and serves on the executive board of the English-speaking lodge of B'nai B'rith. Tiefenbrunner, now a widower of 16 years, describes himself and Friedel as having been "very happily married for 44 years." "I am very emphatic on family bonds," he says. "Family is the most important thing." After his brother's son in Belgium passed away suddenly, Moshe resolved to attend the weddings of all 12 of his nephew's children. He has been to eight weddings so far, and his relatives expect to see him at four more. "After losing everything in the Shoah, I am proud to have rebuilt my family." Last year, at his 90th birthday party, he told all his guests that he looked forward to seeing them at his 100th birthday. His father was a Torah scholar of the Bobov Hassidim, and knew the entire Talmud by heart. "I was brought up by very Orthodox parents," Moshe says, "and I am very proud that I succeeded in bringing up my children the same way." CHALLENGES "There was nothing hard about moving to Israel. For me it was going home." BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL "You feel good about being among your own people in your own atmosphere. I am Israeli and I am Jewish. In Germany I was a Galicianer; in Poland I was a Yekke; in England I was a refugee; and here in Israel I am British. Thank God I'm an Israeli now. Thank God I've come home to Jerusalem." ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS "Anyone who wants to come, with a family or by himself, he should not expect too much. There are no miracles here. You have to work hard to find your place and your means of living." 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