An English resume of an interview in Hebrew that took place in Israel, as a part of the Polish Roots in Israel project. Interviewee name: Shammai Golan
Date of Birth: 05.04.1933
Place of Birth: Pułtusk (60 kilometers north of Warsaw)
Shammai Golan’s (formerly Goldsztejn) parents, Solomon Dawid Goldsztejn and Syma Goldsztejn (nee Goldmacher), got married in Pułtusk in 1924. Shammai had one brother and two sisters. (He might have had another brother who died before he was born. The eldest brother, Michael (Michał) was born in 1928. Shammai's older sister Jona Tauba was born in 1931 and his youngest sister Szendelle was born in 1937. More than half of the town was Jewish. During the Jewish holidays the entire town would close down and there would be no commerce.
Shammai's grandmother Devora Golmacher lived with Shammai's family in the same house. The household was religious. Shammai's father Solomon Dawid used to go to the Shtibel to pray every day. He also belonged to the Gor [Ger] Chasids and possibly had some affiliation with the Radziner Chasidic Rabbi. Solomon Dawid was a religious Shatz (representative of community prayers) and an Over Lifney Hateva (leader of prayer). Shammai's paternal grandparents: Jakow (Jankiel) and Feige Leah Goldsztejn also lived in Pułtusk until 1938 when they moved to Warsaw. They were a well known and respected family in Pułtusk. They had twelve children amongst whom Shammai's father Solomon Dawid was the eldest. He wore modern clothes during the week and had no Peyot (side locks – a Jewish tradition). However, on the Sabbath, he wore the traditional Kittel (overcoat).
All Jewish holidays were strictly observed in the Goldsztejn grandparents' house. On Succoth a large Succah was constructed in the courtyard next to the Shtibel.
At home Yiddish was the main language. Shammai's family also spoke a basic Polish.
At the age of four Shammai started to learn Torah studies with a private Melamed (teacher of religious studies). Some time later, he began to attend the Talmud-Torah (religious school for young boys) in Pułtusk. Shammai did not have the opportunity to go on to public school because the Second World War broke out. Shammai's brother Michael attended both the Talmud-Torah school and the Polish public school designated for Jews. Shammai's sister JonaTauba also studied at a Polish public school for Jews.
Shammai's father Solomon Dawid was a tailor. He imported men and boy’s clothing from Warsaw and sold them at the Pułtusk Rynek (market) on Tuesdays and Fridays. The family also owned a shop on Rynek Street where the house was located as well. There were three or four Jewish employees in the small workshop. On market days the merchandise was spread out in a tent and farmers from the area would come and buy things. Shammai's mother Syma used to help in the family business.
In the summers, Shammai and his family used to travel to a small village called Popluwitc [?]; it was in the woods beyond the river by that name. The distance was approximately two or three kilometers away from home. The family rented a cottage for the entire summer. Shammai's parents would join the children at the weekends.
It is assumed that Shammai's parents were Zionists. In the 1930s three of Shammai's paternal uncle and aunts immigrated to Palestine: uncle Motel (Mordechai) Goldsztejn was affiliated with the Poaley Agudath Israel religious Zionist party and settled in Moshav Bnei Reem. Many years later he moved to the more orthodox area of Bnei Brak. Shammai's paternal aunt Pesia (Pola) Bartuv (nee Goldsztejn) was also religious. Shammai's paternal aunt Chanka Grenek was affiliated with and educated at the Hazhomer Hazair Zionist secular movement.
Shammai's family lived only 200 meters away from the Pułtusk Cathedral, which was the biggest church in the city. The family witnessed all the festive Christian processions and parades. Generally, there was a feeling of fear amongst Shammai's family during the prayers and masses at the cathedral. The city was dominated by Christians. The rule was that the Jews were always afraid of the Poles. Shammai does not recall anyone ever physically harming him, but there were always anti-Semitic verbal insults, such as “Leopard Jew” or “Żyd” [Polish for "Jew"]. During Christian holidays especially, the tension would rise and along with it the fear. The Jewish children did not play together with the Polish children. They played amongst themselves pretending they were soldiers, since there was a Polish military base close by that the children were influenced by.
In Warsaw Shammai had a relative by the name of Fybel Goldsztejn who finished medical school and enlisted in the Polish army in 1937.
With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the Germans ordered all the Jews to leave their houses and assemble at the city monastery, where they were searched and all jewelry and goods were taken away from them. The city was to become “Judenrein” (clean of Jews, in German). The Jews were immediately expelled from the city. Jews were killed on the streets and sent to forced labor camps. The Jews were told they were not allowed to enter the city any longer and they had to cross the Narew River. Crossing over the bridge, many Jews were thrown into the river by the Germans, some were shot and killed. Shammai read somewhere that with the expulsion of the Jews from Pułtusk; the non-Jews entered the Jewish houses and looted all the valuables. In return the Germans were upset since they wanted the loot for themselves and therefore expelled the non-Jewish population from the city for two days. Shammai's mother Syma wanted to flee to Russia whereas Solomon Dawid wanted to remain in Poland and try to reach Warsaw where he had relatives and close family. Finally the decision was made to flee to Russia and cross the border. During the day the roads were terribly dangerous since Germans were attacking Jews and killing them, therefore Shammai and his family walked during the nights hiding sometimes on farms. In Małkinia they were able to cross the Polish-Russian border and proceed to Białystok where they found shelter in the Jewish synagogue. In Białystok Shammai's parents had to decide whether to accept Russian citizenship or to hold onto the Polish one. In the end they remained with their Polish citizenship and as a result were awoken one night and transported to a work camp in Siberia. The work in the camp was extremely difficult and the conditions were terrible. In 1940, Shammai's sister Shyendelle died. After June of 1941, Shammai's family was released from the work camp and was free to go. They decided to go to Uzbekistan where the weather was warmer and they heard that there was food. The family traveled for months until they finally reached Uzbekistan. However, they were not permitted to enter Tashkent and therefore settled in a Kolkhoz where they had to pick cotton. Shammai's father became ill and had to seek medical care in Tashkent. He was never admitted into the hospital and died on the street in 1942. Half a year later, Shammai's mother died from a disease or epidemic that were common in the region. Shammai and his two siblings became orphans. They heard that a Polish orphanage was accepting Polish children and decided to go to the orphanage in “Yangi Yul” (approximately 100 kilometers from Tashkent). They walked along the railway tracks in order to get there. The orphanage had a school that taught in the Polish language. Extra curricular activities were taught in Russian. There were Polish non-Jewish children that made fun of the Jewish children, but there were beautiful friendships as well between Jews and Poles. In general Shammai felt comfortable at the orphanage.
In 1946 after the “Repatriation” treaty between Poland and Russia, the orphans were transferred back to Poland. The journey lasted for several weeks. In Poland, still on the way, Shammai noticed slogans and notices in various villages that read “Jews to Palestine”. That experience aroused doubt in the Polish patriotism he had bred in him. Shammai and his siblings were brought to a Jewish orphanage in Helenówek (near Łodź) where they started to hear more about Zionism and Palestine. Jewish Holocaust survivors visited the orphanage and so did the delegates of the Jewish agency, promoting the Zionist idea. Finally Shammai and his sister Jona Tauba joined a Zionist group that assembled in Łodź and with which they started their long journey to Palestine in 1946. They traveled through Czechoslovakia and France, where they stayed for several months in a preparatory camp of the Palmach. They were taught Hebrew and Kapap (abbreviation for Hebrew: Krav Panim El Panim – Face to Face fighting). The children were taught to be courageous and ready to fight.
In February of 1947, the group was taken on a boat that sailed illegally to Palestine. The children were not permitted to go up on the upper deck during the day for fear of the British Navy. Shortly before the boat arrived in Palestine, it was discovered by the British. A fight broke out and the British took control of the boat. Shammai and the rest of the group were sent to a DP camp in Cyprus.
In the summer of 1947 they were finally entitled to enter Palestine.
Shammai was taken to Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh and his sister Jona Tauba was placed in Kibbutz Tel-Yosef where she was drafted into the Palmach. Shammai describes the warm and friendly welcome he received at the kibbutz. He liked the Hebrew language as well and quickly advanced in his studies. Shammai was transferred into the regular kibbutz school where he studied with the local kibbutz members. Shammai always wanted to become a writer. In 1951 Shammai joined the Israeli Army. He became an officer and enlisted as a full time soldier after completing his compulsory active service. In 1957 he was released from the army and started to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shammai married Dr. Arna Golan and they have four children and three grandchildren.
Shammai wrote many books and essays. A new book of his “And if you have to Love” is about to be released soon.
Shammai visited Poland several times: in 1983 as the chairman of the Israeli Hebrew Writers Association. It was strange for him to return to Poland as an adult. The Poles received him very hospitably and Shammai Golan saw that they were trying to revive the Jewish culture.