Alex Orlander and is sister, Metuka Alex Orlander was born in 1935, near Lvov in the town of Zolkiew in Eastern Galicia. His sister, Metuka, was born four and half years later. Their mother, Rachel, came from one of the richest families in the area, the Reitzfeld’s, who owned a nearby oil and barley factory. Their father, Hirsh Leib, orphaned at a tender age, was a successful fur manufacturer – and Zolkiew was the center for Poland’s fur industry, center of fur manufacturing for the whole world. Hirsh’s aunt had adopted him and he had learned the fur business from his cousin. Currently Nesterov The big guns of the industry were all mostly Jews, in fact. Prior to the war, many of them had taken their commerce to Paris, London and Brussels, quickly flourishing there and maintaining their network throughout Europe. But Zolkiew remained the nexus of activity in this line; its furs could be found in the most elegant shops in every capital of the world. Metuka would certainly have enjoyed this facet of life herself – and Alex would certainly have risen up in the business – were it not for the war. Zolkiew was originally built as a fortress in the sixteenth century. There were Jews there from the beginning, and by the 19th century the Jewish community had built its central synagogue there with contributions
from rich Spanish Jews. True to the city’s origin, the synagogue was actually planned as a
citadel for Jews in times of invasion or war – a prescient notion, no doubt, but one that fell
short of the right conclusion: a national homeland in Israel. A “Soldier’s home” based
on a model of the Zolkiew synagogue was built in Beer Sheva by David Tuvyahu, a former
resident of the Polish city, to keep the tradition alive. The composer of the Israeli national anthem, Naphtali Herz Imber, was born in Zolkiew in 1856. The famous Yiddish poet Moshe Leib Halpern was born there thirty years later. Zolkiew saw the birth of the Jewish-American poet, playwright and
chemistry Nobel laureate for 1981, Ronald Hoffmann in 1937. The city was home to 5000 Jews at the outset of the war. Nobody then believed – certainly not the Reitzfelds or the Orlanders – that there was a safer or more pleasant place to live. Nevertheless, the city was full of Zionist activity; Alex and his uncle Manek (Rachel’s brother) both tried incessantly to persuade their rich
grandfather of buying land in Eretz Israel and directing some of his assets there. A conservative businessman par excellence, he rejected the idea with a charitable smile. Sometimes it is the naïve, not the canny, who are in the right. The Orlanders lived comfortably in the countryside. Their estate at the city’s periphery was ensconced in orchards and gardens. It was the ideal life that Rachel and
Hirsh Leib had wished for their children, one that Alex nostalgically pines for seventy
years later – the explosion of happy summers, the excitement of picking fruit off
neighbors’ trees. He was rather hyperactive as a child in Zolkiew, but the overspill of
energy became initiative as he became a man in Hadassim and an officer in the IDF.
After the army he became a businessman, and he has remained a successful one –
affirming the tenacity of his grandfather’s genes. The Reitzfelds had always lived in prosperity, and Rachel herself was a benevolent and loving hostess and homemaker, always providing a joyful atmosphere. Both she and Hirsh had believed that God would take care of them and theirs. It was an
infectious, steady loyalty to happiness, and even after sixty years, in spite of what they
endured in the Holocaust, Alex and Metuka, along with their children and grandchildren,
are still as optimistic and open-hearted, and just as generous with their guests. We
interviewed both of them several times for long hours, and we feel that their story is a
microcosm of Hadassim’s success. We felt that their story is Hadassim’s Success story.
Both of them have affirmed this last, and encouraged us to make clear that very little
would have been left of them without Hadassim. Several days into the war, the Orlander’s welcomed
several relatives who were escaping from Krakow into their home. Despite the nature of the visit, the atmosphere in the house was stubbornly happy and even light. With the din of war in the background, they actually played cards. No one saw the writing on the wall; no one even spoke
of trying to escape, of finding real shelter from what history had promised all these years. They’d all thought of Uncle Manek, always harping about moving to Israel, as adorably neurotic. Sure, the Soviet border wasn’t far, but the Russians were easily dismissed as philistines, but the implications of the combined German and Ukrainian attacks against the Jews of Zolkiew, in September 1939, seems to have been utterly lost on this family. It should have been clear what was waiting for
them if German and Ukrainian anti-Semitism would join forces.
The Germans turned the city over to the Soviets after only five days. “It was then
that the population really began to feel the war,” Alex remembers. Members of the
communist party, some of them Jews, readily handed the Russians the names of all
wealthy citizens; relatives denounced relatives, each hoping to bring about utopia.
Everyone of substantial wealth was arrested, and by June of 1940 most of them were
exiled in Uzbekistan. These included many members of the Reitzfeld family – the
grandfather, the aging pater familias, included.
This prefatory exile seemed catastrophic, of course. But in the end, many of the
exiled survived while most of those left behind in the city did not. With the Germans
pressing against the Soviet Union in June 1941, many Jews fled east alongside the
Russians. But the Reitzfelds and Orlanders stayed in the city.
temporarily to help her. Thankfully, Rachel soon recovered and the three of them moved
into the Ghetto center to avoid the epidemic.
Metuka: “On my fourth birthday, April 3, mother went out with uncle Joseph
searching for food, so that we would at least have something to eat on my birthday. My
eyes followed her from behind the shutters. Most of the Jews had already been murdered
at that point, or sent to the camps. Mother probably also intended to go and consult with
her family on how to rescue us from this inferno, but along the way suddenly German
cars burst through the streets and started shooting in all directions. It was one of their
tricks: baiting with an announcement of food supplies, then switching once the Jews had
crawled out from their hiding places. They drew them in and then shot them wholesale.
This is what it meant, their ‘Judenrein’ – Jew cleansing. Some were killed right there in
the streets, while others, some 3000 of them, were taken to the Borek Forest to be shot to
death. The Germans left about sixty of them alive, my mother and uncle among them, to
‘clean’ the streets.
“Two days later, in the evening, mother and Joseph finally tried to come back to
our hiding place, but they were captured and executed almost immediately. I didn’t see
them hurt, but the sound of the bullets still pierce and echo in my ears to this day. Alex
and I were left alone in the attic. He was seven years old, and I four.”
David Maneck was still busy along with fifty or so others in cleaning the Ghetto
and carrying out corpses. After two days, he managed to sneak up the attic and tell the
two children that “Mama will be back in a few days,” and leave them some food. Several
days later, on a Sunday morning, he led them out to the Ghetto gates. He instructed Alex
to walk hand in hand with Metuka to his friend Igor Melman’s house, where they would
meet Valenti Back7 and ask for Aunt Sara.
So on they walked on the main road, and as it was indeed Sunday most of the
Poles and Ukrainians, who were quite religious, were busy praying inside their churches,
allowing for them to cross the city safely back to the Melman house. Metuka remembers
every little detail of this trip:
“People in all manner of austere clothes were walking past us in the other
direction; various higher-class Poles could be seen riding their carriages. I asked David
Maneck, years later, if any of this had really happened or I’d dreamt it all. He told me,
‘No, you weren’t dreaming at all. Your only chance of getting past the Gestapo was that
Sunday, when everyone was at church.’”
Valenti recognized Alex and Metuka as soon as he opened the door, and he was
genuinely shocked. It was only a year since he’d refused to have Rachel and her children
under his house, and her death was now clearly on his conscience. “What are you doing
here?” he asked tentatively.
“We know that Aunt Sara is here. Can we see her?”
The Germans turned the Melman house over to the Back family during the occupation.
Valenti pulled the children inside quickly, before any of the neighbors could
notice, and he repeated his warning to Alex that Metuka would not be allowed to stay –
that she couldn’t be trusted to stay silent. Alex already seemed to know what he would
say. “I’m almost a man now. I’ll leave and join the resistance in the forest, so she can
take my place. Please – just let her stay in the house.”
Valenti was expectedly moved by this. It was an astounding gesture, an unheard
of thing for a boy of seven. So he took them both into the attic, handed them toys
belonging to the Melman children, and then left them to talk to the family in the burrow.
“Are you willing to have these children?” The families then held a long discussion, culminating in a disgraceful majority vote to the effect that it would be too dangerous to take Alex and Metuka in – that they should be sent away. It was left to a Pole of German ancestry – an unimaginable reversal of fate – to persuade them: “These children found their way here from all the way back in the center of town; no one saw them, no one harmed them. I tell you, it is God’s hand in this. Only God could decide to allow them here, it is his command. Therefore, as the owner of the house I veto your
decision. They stay.” Then he brought Clara and Sara up to the attic, where they washed
the two children, cut their hair off and led them back down where they joined the other
dwellers. Their number had now grown to eighteen.
It was very soon afterwards that major catastrophe took place: a fire had spread
through some twenty houses, and whole blocks were incinerated, including the nearby oil
refinery. The Melman’s roof started burning, and as more and more smoke seeped into
the house the residents began to suffocate. While their lives were in danger inside, their
fates were equally vulnerable outside, where neighbors could easily spot them and report
them to the Gestapo. Luckily the house had extra underground sanctuary built at the start
of the war, and only a wall separated them from this additional space. As the smoke
pry through. One of the girls, a fourteen year old girl by the name of Manya, couldn’t
take the panic, and she decided to leave the house altogether. She ran upstairs and out to
the courtyard, where she cried back, “Father, I won’t be buried alive – I want to live!”
The fire was extinguished shortly thereafter, but for Manya it was too late. She had
already run out to the street from the courtyard, where some of her old peers from school
identified her. When the Gestapo got wind of it, she was arrested and taken to their
headquarters, where she was interrogated and tortured – but she revealed nothing about
the location of the burrow or its inhabitants. She died, of course, but her loyalty inspired
fierce rebellion in the other prisoners. “These soldiers are nothing but dogs – you can
talk, but they’ll murder you anyway…”On July 10, 1942, two months after Alex and Metuka were accepted into the burrow underneath the Melman house, the Germans ended their liquidation of the
Zolkiew labor camp and finished off the remaining forty prisoners in the nearby forest.
The hunt continued for the last scattered remains of Zolkiew’s Jews, with the last victims
executed on the grounds of ancient Jewish cemetery. It was with this ultimate
desecration that the Nazis declared the city “Judenrein”. The burrow and its dwellers, however, were still intact. There were four young children there now, including Alex and Metuka. Clara entertained them by drawing comical stick figures on newspapers, which they clipped out and goofed around with. She taught Alex how to read Polish, and eventually began reading all the books the
families had brought down with them, along with those that Valenti occasionally
As for Valenti, his incessant drinking became worrisome. He worked at a local
police station, so there was ample reason to suspect he could let something slip if he
wasn’t careful with his Vodka. He even had his colleagues over at the house for weekly
card games, in order to buy their trust. Local policemen and Gestapo men played gin and
drank to their hearts’ content while Alex and Metuka listened silently, inches below their
feet. Some of them would occasionally stay the night, and towards the end of the war the
authorities even appropriated part of the house for two of its soldiers. One of the latter
was in charge of the nearby train station that saw the transport of Jews to the Belzec
situation improved quickly: Jews had once again proved their tenacity – their unbreakable
will to survive. They had an accountant by the name of Moshe Altshuler-Eshel who
eventually became treasurer of Hadassim.
Metuka: “We lived in a big apartment, and as more money came in we started
eating like crazy. Meanwhile, I kept hearing that mother was still in Russia and kept
expecting her to come back. It was really two years later that I realized she would never
return to me, and I actually started calling Aunt Sara ‘mother’.
“Our building was solely occupied by Jews, and as I was the youngest I had no
one to play with. One day Elisa Bar and her relatives moved in. She was as thin as a
matchstick, with little blue eyes. She looked pallid green with malnutrition.
But it was great to have her with me, and we bonded immediately. We ended up
taking the escape routes through Europe together on the way to Eretz Israel, where we
grew up together in Hadassim.”
These were on three events of 3 out of 100 Children that I grew up with. We have never heard about this stories. We have all the detail of all the “kids” story at our book “Oasis of Dreams”.
Our book about Hadassim
Now I was supposed to organize the Reunion. Uri and I finished the book and published 250 of them to be able to give each of the participant in the Reunion a book. They did not know about it until they received the book. It was a secrete between me and Uri Milstein. I made sure that the book was published on a first class hard copy with the best grade papers.
Uri Milstein and some of the books in the Acadia Hotel
To organize the reunion I needed a professional. I met few of them in Israel but was the most impressed with Dalia. Dalia organized unions before and some meeting to government officials among them Arik Sharon. She knew her business. In our meeting before signing the contract I told her:
“Dalia, I have two request for you to organize this reunion: First one is that it is going to be the best meeting you have ever organized. The second request is: You will never be able to organize in the future a better on”. She laughed with me and we start working on the Reunion.
I start gathering photographs from over the years. We design the invitation to the 250 “kids”. We hired the Master of Ceremony, Haiem Kinan which was one of the students in Hadassim also. One of the “Kids” was Gila Almagor the famous Movie star that played the Mother in the Munich movie.
Of course, Dani Dasa my Physical Education teacher was invited from Los Angeles.
Dani Dassa and Gila Almagor day before the Reunion
The hotel I chose was one of the best in Israel on the Mediterranean sea by the name Acadia.
I made sure that the food will be as should be in a five stars hotel and everything should provide in first class to all participants.
We started with the reception outside on the Sea:
Acadia on the Sea
The emotion ran high. Some of the “kids” were hard to recognize. They are all around 65 years old. Last time we saw each other latest was when we were around 18 years old. Even though some of us used to meet all these years, but only few of us.
The emotion ran high. There were no dry eyes for the next few hours:
Preparing for the Reunion in one hour
And now we are going to the meeting hall for the presentations:
Haiem Kinan conduct the Ceremony
Students and Teachers tell their stories about the past
Signing the books
The reunion was amazing event. We have met together after so many years. All the “kids” in Hadassim accomplished so much in their life. The educational system produced great citizens that contribute to their country and their family.
I can summarize the Reunion as 360 degrees circle. I started with Hadassim which created my foundation and I finished with Hadassim which give me sense of accomplishment. I know all the “kids” feel the same. It was amazing journey. Uri and I put it in our Epilogue: From the Miracle to the Routine:
Sixty years have passed since the first eight holocaust survivors began their new
journeys in the unparalleled marvel of Hadassim. We, as authors and as fellow travelers
in that odyssey, view Hadassim as the one-of-a-kind experiment from which the world
can – nay, must – draw lessons and inferences, in order to remap and rejuvenate their
institutions of learning, now surely on the verge of collapse. The originals and the
geniuses will flourish despite such collapse, and it is perhaps best that they remain
outside the common fold, as in Einstein’s case. But the level of achievement possible for
the everyman in every realm is far greater than what we have ever seen. The World has