Interview with Margalit Kavenstock
Margalit Kavenstock's wedding. At her side: Yaakov Liash and Yehezkel Pularevitch.
I was born in
Most people know very little about the Antisemitism that prevailed in
We spoke Romanian and French at home. In
Very little is known about the history of Romanian Jewry, either. My mother never talked about it, and the information I have is partial. What I recall is how much she disliked having had to live in the constant feeling of fear. My parents were afraid of their neighbours, and always concerned about what they might say, because neighbours often reported to the authorities on Jews in their building.
My parents were granted their emigration visas to
In the end, my grandparents fled
My mother never even knew that her parents had arrived in
I have never visited
My Involvement with the Association for the Prisoners of
In 1976 I was demobbed from the Israeli Army (the IDF) and began my studies in Social Work at
In my second year of study, we took a course on self-help organizations and all the students had to select an organization that met specific criteria, namely that it must not be an organization dedicated to providing assistance to others, but for their own group. Such organizations tend to be formed where there is no official recognition of a particular need of a specific group of people, and they were being created in
Ben Yehuda Blvd in Tel Aviv, because the address was convenient and decided to go there. Migdal Or is a large building and on the same floor there were offices for the Georgian Song and Dance Ensemble and other organizations founded by olim from the Soviet Union. Later in my life, my future husband would wait for me to finish work at the rehearsals of the Georgian Ensemble.
Anyway, I arrived for an appointment and entered a darkened room chock full of files and papers, where Yehezkel Pularevitch and Yaakov Liash sat. I explained to them about having to write a paper for university and asked their permission to present their organization. They showed me documents and explained exactly what they did. I had soon completed my paper, which unfortunately I no longer have, but stayed on to work with them in a voluntary capacity for another two years. I think this would have been between 1977 and 1980.
The Work of the Association for Prisoners of
As I got to know more about the organization, I began to appreciate how important its work was.
Yehezkel Pularevitch and Yaakov Liash founded the Prisoners' of Zion Association and it is thanks to their efforts and those of their associates that
At that time, Israelis held very stereotypical ideas about olim from the
But Yehezkel Pularevitch and Yaakov Liash claimed that these hardships had a name and had a price. People who had been deprived of their freedom and lost their health in their struggle to come to
They were not the same as everone else, and the State of Israel needed to grant formal recognition of that fact. There were many cases of extreme hardship, personal stories, despair – and I heard all these stories… They were unfit to work and some of them were mentally ill. Even in terms of their personal testimony, their life history, they had been deprived of their professional life and lost their good health. But they had not given up their dream of coming on Aliyah, although they lost so much in this cause.
All this was unknown to the general public at the time. Many years later, in light of my own grandparents' personal stories, I understood what happens to people who are deprived of the freedom to choose where they wish to live, who are sent to prison or forced labour camps, physically and emotionally abused – and all because they want to live somewhere else…
For an oleh to be establish his or her status as a Prisoner of Zion, evidence was required and testimony had to be documented. A great many applicants were unable to provide the necessary documents, so this meant transcribing verbal testimony.
Yehezkel Pularevitch and Yaakov Liash compiled, formulated and provided detailed documentary support for all the applications by people who asked for recognition as Prisoners of Zion. Every one of these required evidence and substantiation, but where people had not been given copies of relevant documents, notarized testimony had to be provided instead, both from the people in question and from third parties.
Both Yehezkel and Yaakov knew their population well, and understood the realities of Soviet life. They questioned people methodically, while it fell to me to compile and prepare the files for submission with all the documentation. They would make copious handwritten notes – I used to read each file and sometimes I would help draft the documents.
Yehezkel had superb organizational abilities and knew how to persuade people, explain to them how important this issue was, put demands on the table, organize strike action with people. As a member of the Betar Movement, Yehezkel was well known in certain circles and knew Menachem Begin personally. He set up the infrastructure for the organization and many people are indebted to him for his work.
A lot of time was dedicated to appointments. Masses of people needed to come to the office and the numbers went up each year: new people were always arriving in
Yehezkel and Yaakov were neither trained in nor inclined towards office administration: they were no good at organizing files, running an office, creating an archive, and did not know how to type, so I took over this side of the operation. For two years, I helped organize the office: there was a vast volume of paperwork all over the place, and I collected it, put it in order and filed it so that all the information about a particular person would be in his or her personal file. On the other hand, there was no problem with the work in Ivrit, because both of them had an excellent command of Hebrew, having received a Jewish education in their youth. Yehezkel even wrote books in Hebrew and composed Hebrew poetry: he had been a Hebrew teacher before his arrest and during his exile in a camp in
At first, I would go into the office once, then twice a week, and eventually three times a week: my minor academic paper ended up being a two-year commitment! It involved a tremendous amount of typing, transcribing Yehezkel's handwritten notes into letters. On many occasions, I sat in with Yehezkel and Yaakov when they received clients, to take down the testimony directly, and I also helped draft a number of applications.
I was responsible for the micro-management of the organization, including making sure of supplies of tea and biscuits, keeping the waiting list in order, organizing the waiting area. I tried to optimize the use of their time, so that there were no bottlenecks of people waiting, and to avoid having people arriving all at the same time. This was important, because many applicants had to travel into Tel Aviv from
Yehezkel Pularevitch's and Yaakov Liash's Stories
Yehezkel talked to me about his life and his family. At the time, I did not realize how important it was to write up these conversations.
Yehezkel was arrested in summer 1941, just a week before the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union, and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment (exile) in a prison settlement in
He also talked a great deal about his son Yakov Shavi, who served as a doctor in the Israeli Navy and perished on the Dakar, the Israeli submarine that sank without trace on its maiden voyage in 1962. Despite the great tragedies in his own life, he remained a cheerful, kindhearted man, and showed tremendous patience with other people. He always had a positive outlook on life and appreciated the good moments. Both he and Yakov Liash were products of the European academic culture and social status was far more important to them than money. Yehezkel held down a full time job elsewhere, I think it was in the Tel Aviv Muncipality, while he worked for the Prisoners of Zion Association on a voluntary basis, without any financial remuneration. Yehezkel also wrote numerous articles, as well as prose and poetry, he was extremely talented. In 1987, he was awarded the prestigious Jabotinsky Prize for his contribution to Literature.
Life was hard on Yehezkel, he suffered like Job. He went through innumerable trials and tribulations, torments and tragedies: the camp, exile, forced separation from his wife, the death of his son… It is incomprehensible how he managed to build a normal life after all of this. His son was so successful – he served as a doctor in the IDF and had not been scheduled for the outgoing sea voyage of the
When I knew Yehezkel and Yaakov in the late 1970s, they were already not young men – Yehezkel was about the same age as my own grandfather and in many ways he was a grandfather to me and we developed a special bond.
Yaakov also told me about his life – his story was marked by a great deal of sadness, He and his family came to
Today, with hindsight, I am sorry that I did not keep in contact with both of them: I got married, moved to
I have told my own children that when we are young, we begin something and then move on, and lose contact with people from our past – and that this is wrong. I deeply regret that I did not take the initiative to maintain contact with Yehezkel and Yaakov.
Yaakov Liash: A Short Biography 1916-1996
Translated and reproduced with the kind permission of "The Soviet Jews Exodus" website © www.angelfire.com/sc3/soviet_jews_exodus/POZ_s/POZ-45-1.shtml
Yaakov Liash was born in 1916 in
From 1937-1938, Liash served as movement commander for Betar in Shaulai. Following the Soviet Occupation of Poland in 1939, the movement went underground and he was responsible for its clandestine group, which included Dov Shilansky, future member of the Israeli Knesset, and was in close contact with Yehezkel Pularevitch, who was Betar Operations Officer for Lithuania and responsible for all Betar's clandestine operations.
From the beginning of the
Liash finally received an emigration visa for himself and his family to go
Bibliography and Further References
For more about Romanian Jewry, please see:
The Ransom of the Jews: The Story of the Extraordinary Secret Bargain between
Research project: www.tau.ac.il/humanities/ggcenter/promania.html#3
Biographies by year from:
Boris Morozov, Documents on Soviet Jewish Emigration. Routledge, 1999.
Ya'akov Roi, The Struggle for Soviet Jewish Emigration.
Ya'akov Roi, Avi Beker, Jewish Culture and Identity in the
בלהב המאבק: זיכרונות, מאמרים ושירים/ ארגון אסירי ציון מברית המועצות – (ניו-יורק: הועד הפועל של ארגון אסירי ציון מברית המועצות, 1987. 344, 5 ע', 31 דפי לוחות: איורים, פורטרטים, פקסימילים
מצעד שירי המחתרת:/ שירים ששרנו בואר ובסתר. – תל אביב: משרד החינוך והתרבות מרכז ההסברה, 1991. 39ע'
[from 1991: The Organization of Prisoners of
Because My Land Awaits Me, Yechezkel Avi Shavi Maor (Polarevitch)Nechama Lifshitz
Maor (Pularevitch) Shavi Yaakov
Memorial page to Shavi Yaakov. Hebrew/English
Yehezkel's poems to his son: www.dolphin.org.il/?CategoryID=174&ArticleID=58
Biography in Hebrew by unknown author – possibly his father.
אבי שב"י מאור, יחזקאל
נצלכתי אל הכוכב האדם: קובץ שירים עבריים שנכתבו בברית המועצות. תל אביב, יחד, (תשכ"ח)1968 108, 3 ע': איורים
אבי שב"י מאור, יחזקאל
אבי-שב"י מאור, יחזקאל
אבי שב"י מאור, יחזקאל
צוהלים גלי גלים: שירי העשור הראשון במולדת. – תל אביב: יחף, (תשל"ה)1977 119 ע', פורטרט
אבי שב"י מאור, יחזקאל
עצים בשדרות החיים / מאסף ליחזקאל אבי שב"י מאור פולרביץ. העורכים:.איזיק אולקניצקי- ויסף קיסטר- תל אביב: היקב מועדון לתרבות לאומית, תשמ"ד 1984 154 21, 4 ע': פורטרט, פקסימילים
אבי שב"י מאור, יחזקאל
שתי זריחות: סיפורים ושירים. – תל אביב: העמותה להפצת תודעה לאומית, תשמ"ז ,1987 312ע': איורים, פורטרט