Chapter 20: The Reunion

Alex Orlander and is sister, Metuka

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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.

On June 28, the Germans occupied Zolkiew, and by the next day they had already

burned down its ancient synagogue. The mass abduction of Jews for forced labor began

after a month, once they were properly sealed and helpless – and still they didn’t realize

what was going on, not fully. “It was common to hear that the ‘barbarians’ who had

come in initially and exiled the rich were gone, that our German captors, the ‘civilized

Germans’ had taken their place, and once Romanian allies entered the city some people

thought we were saved. They [the Romanians] brought lemons with them, and we even

bought lemons from them in exchange for food! Then the Gestapo arrived, and slowly

rumors descended that they were going to kill Jews. As it turned out, there were no

murders in the city, and people continued their lives, but trains were passing through,

transporting Jews to the Belzec camp which wasn’t far. Some of them had been able to

jump from the trains, and they started telling stories of horrible cruelty and random

murder in the outlying villages. My cousin Clara and some of her friends knew first aid,

so they treated some of these people. Mother had just then bought a cow for the family,

so we’d have more milk for the kids.

“When the Germans began fighting Russia, Father was recruited into a Soviet

Polish unit, and we eventually heard that he’d died near Ternopol, eastward toward the

Soviet border.”

As German actions became frequent in the city, with Jews butchered in plain sight

and others sent to the extermination camps, sixteen people from the Patrontch, Melman

and Reitzfeld families holed up together under the Melman residence. But they refused

to have Rachel, Alex and Metuka with them for fear that the two year old Metuka

wouldn’t hold still and silent and that they would all be exposed. The three of them were

therefore forced to leave and move in with Aunt Cohen in the Ghetto at the end of 1941.

Overpopulation in the Ghetto eventually spread plague – typhoid fever – and the

rate was atrocious, with one tenth of the population succumbing every day. Cousin

Akiva lay dying right before our eyes, and then their mother’s condition began to

deteriorate as well. Aunt Sara snuck out of the Melmans’ hole and came into the Ghetto

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

grew denser everyone clawed harder at the wall, looking for a loose opening they could

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

smuggled in.

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


One of the things Valenti smuggled into the burrow was a globe, which the

children could use to follow the course of the war while listening to BBC broadcasts

through their ceiling. “Eretz Isreal was a frequent topic of discussion for us at the time,”

Metuka remembers. “Many of the adults argued bitterly about what the Jews might have

been able to do if they’d only had a state of their own prior to the war.”

On July 27, after days of constant bombardment, the Soviets finally entered the

city. Some of the bombs and shells had exploded very close to the Melman house.

Metuka describes it:

“Shells were blasting heavily outside, and many were dying. I remember thinking

how unbelievable it was that we could die now from some random explosion, after

having made it this far. The only thing I wanted and looked forward to was a big slice of

bread covered in butter and jam; it’s all I could picture to myself now.

“Suddenly, there was dead silence. Valenti knocked on the burrow entrance and

we let him in. ‘The Russian are here. You’re free…’

“We were stunned. It just didn’t seem possible, it couldn’t be happening – and

we were hesitant to move at first. We waited another half-day to make sure it was really

safe enough. The adults could hardly even move, as their muscles had atrophied after all

this time. The light outside was piercing white. My eyes went straight to the Katopiski

flower – big and yellow, smooth as silk on the inside and shaped like a duck’s beak. I’d

hardly remembered that there could be something so beautiful out there in the world.”

Metuka, born and plucked away from her mother in springtime, had only

discovered the real wonders of spring at the age of five. And yet, she would go on to live

through eleven years of uninterrupted spring in the paradise of Hadassim. There she

blossomed like the flower she was destined to become, and took flight as the prima

ballerina of the dancing troupe. That was the nature of Hadassim: a school in the mold of

a rising Phoenix.

Only five thousand were left of what had originally been seventy-thousand Jews.

Ukrainian gangs now took to wandering the streets at night and fell upon the survivors,

while Russian soldiers could be seen taking freely and cruelly of defenseless women. It

was an expression of the new regime’s hostility, a regime that felt every bit as

comfortable dealing in violence. Mass expropriation of homes and possession, along

with implacable intolerance toward any criticism, was the order of the day.

Valenti couldn’t hold back his reams of obscenity at the soldiers who had come to

strip bare the Melman house. He was immediately arrested and sentenced to death, and

he fell to the ground pleading for his life. When his claims to have saved Jews during the

war fell on deaf ears, Metuka and Alex came running to help him. The commander’s

heart softened at such a display from the children, and Valenti was released. He

subsequently took his family west away from Soviet territory.

In 1945, when the whole region was formally annexed to the Soviet Union, Alex

and Metuka, along with the rest of the families, found their way to the city of Lignitz in

western Poland. There the families rehabilitated an oil factory, and their economic

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

needed the model of Hadassim, needed it badly; now, as we look to the horizon, we see

no better solution for it than the one offered in this book.

Lessons can only be drawn from the unordinary, whether positive or negative,

and only so long as one first has the proper foundations. Otherwise, myth would

eviscerate understanding, and any attempt at separating the good from the bad would be

doomed to failure.

The conceptual stepping stone, the foundation for understanding, lies in the fifth

dimension – the dimension of meaning, perceived by the few and imparted to the

uncommon, not for any intellectual superiority but primarily because of the stultifying

influence of the anti-intellectual outlook, borne of “Original Sin,” the idea that

knowledge itself is corrupt. Hadassim was equally plagued by that outlook, one of the

reasons for an improved model.

The dogmatic and the mythological, the already known and self-evident – all

prevail not only in totalitarian cultures but in the most progressive of our universities.

The search for the unknown is everywhere hindered or obstructed: Gideon Ariel learned

it the hard way, in the course of his study in the US and later in the battle waged against

him by the bio-mechanics establishment. I learned it during my long career uncovering

the roots of human behavior and uncovering the truth about Israel’s wars. The Hadassim

project was a success, in our opinion, primary because of the complex, sometimes chaotic

evolution of a radical idea: creative dialogue. The concept was given to its founders,

Rachel and Jeremiah Shapirah, by Schwabe, Buber and Yehoshua Margolin – each

implementing his ideas in practice, in his own realm, unsatisfied with mere theory. But

Rachel and Jeremiah’s ability to fashion and crystallize that concept in institutional form

– a rare perspicacity among educational professionals – was the sustaining pillar of

Hadassim. They succeeded where others might have failed, because they took their

philosophical masters both seriously and critically, giving authentic material form to their


The critical period for Rachel and Jeremiah, with regard to their eventual mission,

was their preparation in Schwabe’s “Teacher-Scout” group, where they absorbed theory,

and the “Scouts Legion” group where they applied their lessons directly. The same

creative dialogue was imbedded in the Ben Shemen Youth Village. I’d first heard about

the quality of discourse in the latter organizations from my uncle, Moshe Shiponi, a

central figure in both. I originally heard about the Shapirahs from him, as well. Until

their opportunity in Hadassim, Rachel and Jeremiah underwent more than ten further

years of preparation, combining theoretical study with practical work. Thus we arrive,

with Plato, at the same conclusion we would draw from the biography of Moses:

There are no born leaders. Men must persist through a long and thorough

grounding, both theoretical and practical, before they ascend to virtuous leadership. For

Rachel and Jeremiah in their youth, as for students of Hadassim in the forties and fifties,

“Careerism” was a particularly nasty pejorative. Many of us wondered why: where is the

vice in the desire to climb the peaks, to achieve the summit of success in one’s career?

During our work together, Gideon and I came to view the negative aspect of “careerism”

as the ambition for success without the multiple stages of effort, requiring great sacrifice,

implied in every field. Hence the distinction between a doctor who becomes a

professional after at least seven years of rigorous experimentation and study, and an IDF

officer who attains “professional” officer status after a mere six months in Training Base

1. No advanced study could compensate for what such a leader should truly endure in his

basic studies, requiring years of preparation. The same thing holds, mutatis mutandis, in

the realm of education. Even if today’s schools of education could suffice in preparing

worthy teachers, they still fall pathetically short when it comes to producing the likes of

Rachel and Jeremiah Shapirah. The education of leaders and originals requires

something wholly different.

Leaders conventionally plan and act in glorious, if bitter, isolation. Those

surrounding them exhibit loyalty or sycophancy, as the case may be, but generally don’t

engage them in meaningful dialogue. Yet history proves that a transcendent leader, he

who departs from the march of folly, tends to share in valuable company, as a primus

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