Bruria Dascal Barish
BORN: JULY 28, 1930 IN TIMISOARA, ROMANIA
CHILD SURVIVOR OF WORLD WAR II
Bruria Dascal Barish was born on July 28, 1930 in Timisoara, Romania [although when she later requested her birth certificate, it indicated August 20, 1928]. Her parents were Yehudit Klein and Israel Dascal; she had an older brother Meir, a sister Edna who was eleven years younger, and a sickly younger brother who died at age six.
“Life was beautiful – a very warm, very orthodox life” – until her father left in 1941, first to Hungary where he was caught and jailed in Szeged and then sent to Auschwitz with his brother Rafael, who perished there of typhoid fever.
“In those years there was very, very bad anti-Semitism; the legionnaires were very, very rough with the Jews.” But, since she was a child, Bruria’s life in Timisoara did not change much. “With us children, I played around with the neighbors who were not Jewish. But the school that I went to was Jewish. No, I could not say that I suffered those years. It was only that there was war…. I did not have any toys and if I would ask my mother, ‘Ema, I would love to have a doll,’ she would say ‘I would have to take that money out of your food and you don’t want me to do that.’ So I was missing children’s toys and books…. But I had a lot of experience of life.”
“Zionism was not part of my upbringing. Religion was part of my upbringing.” So when somebody from the Zionist party Bnei Akiva came from Budapest and tried to get youngsters to join Bnei Akiva, “I was told I shouldn’t tell anything about it to my parents. My mother would not have allowed me to be a member of Bnei Akiva. That’s how religious she was.” Nevertheless, Meir joined Bnei Akiva, and in 1944, he wanted to go to Israel. “But my mother said ‘no way; I will not give you permission. You will have to ask your grandfather because your father isn’t home and I will not permit you to go to Israel.’” So on Pesach, when they went to their grandparents, and their grandfather asked for the afikomen back, Meir asked in return for permission to go to Israel. Very surprisingly, “he said ‘go mein kind and I hope we will be able to get there too.’ This is how it changed during the war. They realized that we had no place in Europe. We would have to go to our homeland. And so my brother left in 1944.”
Somehow, the family knew that Israel and Rafael were in Auschwitz. “I don’t know how, but news always came out and good ones and bad ones…. My mother was sure that he would survive. She would always say ‘my love keeps him alive’ and he survived.” On a Friday morning in 1945, her father “knocked at the door and I did not recognize him. And he called me a name which only he and my grandparents called me, ‘Sureh-Bayle, di derkanst mach nisht,’ you don’t recognize me? Well that’s when I recognized that that was my father. I burst out crying. But anyway we were all very happy.”
Although he spoke very little about Auschwitz, “Here and there he would drop something like when my mother would come back from the shoichet she would burn the chicken so she could clean it better. And when my father smelled that, he would shake and say that ‘this smell I cannot take because that was the smell of the burnt skins,’ which he apparently absorbed.” Only recently, Bruria discovered that he was not only in Auschwitz; he also was in many camps.
Bruria was in school until the day she left Timisoara for aliyah to Israel at the beginning of May 1946 “when we were told by the madrichim from Bnei Akiva, get yourself ready; don’t bring any clothes, any papers. We are going to Bucharest and from Bucharest to Constanza and from there you are going to board a boat, a ship, and we are going to go to Israel.” She left her mother, father, and five-year-old sister and boarded the Max Nordau (aka Smyrnie), which was probably an old Turkish ship, with 1,800 other youths – “mostly survivors of Auschwitz, 14, 15, 16 years old…. It was very small. We were like sardines. And we were not allowed to go on deck” The captain of the ship “actually was a high general in the Russian army; he buried his uniform, joined Haganah, and became the captain of that ship.” Despite the miserable conditions, “I would do it again because I had a goal. I knew where I am going. I knew I am going to the country that will eventually be the home for the Jewish people. And I was a young girl, but apparently I was so well trained by Bnei Akiva that I have become a very devoted Zionist.”
The passengers were told that if the British caught them, “which they did, we were to tell them that we were going to Mexico. Well figure out, we are on the Mediterranean approaching almost Turkey, but we were on our way to Mexico? The British are not that stupid and a day later two submarines were taking this little boat with 1,800 Jews into Haifa. We were supposed to land in Nahariya at night and get lost because the English … had some kind of arrangement with the Arabs that they won’t let in too many Jews in Palestine.” So all of the passengers were taken straight from Haifa to Atlit, the British detainee camp in what is now Israel’s northern coast. Although they were in jail and could not go out, “we were not treated badly.”
She was in Atlit for six months and, with others from the Bnei Akiva group, started a kibbutz in Kfar Ata. She left and, after taking a first aid course, joined the army – the Haganah – as a medic in 1948 – first on the frontier and then in a clinic for four years.
Meanwhile, in Timisoara, “although the Russians came in and therefore we knew that the Germans would not return, the Russians were not so pro Jews.” So her parents and younger sister followed Meir and Bruria to Israel a few years later, helped by another group, Tchiya, traveling from Timisoara through Yugoslavia to Italy, where they stayed for two years before coming to Israel. Her grandparents followed them to Israel two years later.
After her army service, Bruria studied nursing in London, received an RN degree, and returned to Tel Aviv in 1955. “All I can say is no matter how hard life was for me in Israel, life for everybody, it didn’t bother me. I was in my place. I was able to work. I was able to do whatever…one has to do. I worked in a hospital. I lived home with my mother, my sister; my brother got married.” In 1959, she was sent to Detroit for research of cardiovascular disease, met and married her husband Ben Barish, and returned to Israel in 1963.
Since “I can’t sit and do nothing,” in 1967, she started volunteering for an army office, Vaad Lemaan Hachayal [Committee for Israeli Soldiers], working with bereaved families. “But that wasn’t enough for me. I needed something else. So first I decided that I am going to do something with the situation of the peace. I live in Israel since 1946. And I don’t know my Arab neighbors…. How can I make peace with somebody I don’t even know?” So she started a camp for Jewish and Arab sixteen-year-old kids “to talk it out to get to know each other.” She also had camps for children from deprived areas of Tel Aviv.
In 1986, Bruria became chairperson of the Progressive Judaism Movement in Israel and helped establish Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv in 1991. “It says in the Torah that you have to do one good thing a day. You can’t do one good thing-you have to do whatever you can.” She has written a book My Life, A Spiral. “Well wasn’t it a spiral? It went all over; back and forth; good and hard. I couldn’t call it any other.” And she speaks to Jewish youth “to have them remember and not to forget what happened in Auschwitz…. Love thy neighbor; remember where you come from; then you will know where you are going.”
Date of Interview: September 17, 2014
Length of Interview: 1 hour 2 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Fred Safran