Shmuel Elhanan

Elhanan relatives in Israel

As long as I am catching up, here's information from a newly discovered distant relative who turned up in Walter's researches. He is Shmuel Elhanan, and is a descendant of Binyamin Rubinowitz, the fourth child of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor. That makes him our fourth cousin. He lives in Rehovot, Israel, with his wife Zippora.

Walter discovered him while preparing for his trip to Lithuania, when he was told that another Spektor descendent had made a similar trip some years ago. Following are two emails that Shmuel sent in response to Walter's inquiries.

Dear Walter Ruby shalom,

It was most interesting and touching to receive your mail. As you are asking for quick reply i am doing so and might be a bit short.
Our home address is:
5 Goldberg street
Rehovot, 76283 Israel
Phone: 972-89471139

We live in Rehovot since 1958, when we came there with our son Binyamin, two weeks old, as my wife came to the Machon as a Postdoc. My two brothers were sent to Palestine in 1940, from Kovno, at the age of 13 and 14, to their grand parents (mother's parents). They both changed their family name to Elhanan in 1944 when they thought that we perished (that is a separate story). My parents did not change their family name Rabinovitz.
Onfortunately my brother Binyamin fell in our Independence War on July 18th 1948. My eldest brother Amos passed away in 1965 from leukemia, at the age of 65, leaving after him a widow and two children. My two brothers were born in Berlin in 1925 and 1926 where my parents met and married. They moved to Kovno, after my father finished his studies as DrPhil. in Chemistry with Prof. Fritz Haber.

We are descendens of Binyamin the youngest son of Rabi Itzhak-Elhanan Spector, the Gaon of Kovno, who was murdered at the family home on Gardino street in Kovno in 1906. I am fifth generation of the Gaon who is my Great, Great Grandfather.

Our family was imprisoned in the Ghetto of Kovno, from 1941 to 1944, then we were deported to the Camps in Germany. My mother was separated frm us to the KL Sttuthof and was released by the Red Army on March 10 1945. My father and I were imprisoned in Kaufering Camp One, which belonged to KL Dachau.We were releasedby the Japanese unit of the US Army on May 2nd 1945 in Waakirchen bei Hauserdorfl in Bavaria near Bad Tolz.
Fortunately we met in July with my brother Amos, a soldier of the Jewish Infantry Brigade Group from Palestine, and with our mother, at the boarder in Italy. On 8th of November 1945 we reached Palestine as legal new comers.

We will be happy to hear from you and to tell you moreand we invite to be our guests in Rehovot.

Best regards

Shmuel and Zippora

Best regards to your family and to Regina in Vilnius.

And the followup email:

Dear Walter shalom,

In reply to your questions, and following our phone conversation tonight I am sending bellow the following answers:

1. Binyamin the youngest son of the Gaon was killed by a robber, who was the son of the laundress who worked with the family, and therefore was let into the house. He is buried with his wife, who died in 1929, in the cemetery on the "Green Hill" in Kaunas.

2. To the best of my knowledge, and stories told at home, the reason for the family name change was the following: At a population census the Russians who performed it have asked who are the children playing in the yard. They were told that they are the children of the Rabbi and therefore registered them as Rabinovitz (children of the Rabbi in Russian). So the reason for the name change is not mobilization to the Russian Army.

3. My brothers changed their family name after the name of our father. But their excuse to our Grandfather, who told them that the Ashkenazi community, does not name after people that are alive, was that they named themselves after the great, great grandfather the Gaon of Kovno.

4. My wife works at the Department of Biochemistry, and did not know your father.

5. I did receive the e-mail of your brother Dan, and in our case our son is a fifth generation cousin of your children.

I would like to add to our phone conversation the following in writing: Rabbi Itzhak-Elhanan Spector with his son Rabbi Zvi-Hirsh Rabinovitz are buried in the active cemetery in the suburb Aleksotas (across the Niemunas river). They were transferred to Aleksotas in 1984. The wife of the Gaon, and his son Binyamin with his wife Dvora remained buried on the Green hill (see 1. above). I have repaired the gravestones of Binyamin, his wife Dvora and my grandfather Israel-Isser Rabinovitz during my first visit to Lithuania .

The name of the guide who guided us during our visit to Kovno is:

Chaimas Bergmanas

P. Luksio gatve 37/22

LT 49391, Kaunas, Lithuania (Lietuva)

Mobile : 370-37-779948

Home: 370-68-177166

Best regards

Shmuel Elhanan

Unexpected "will" in book from Shmuel's mother Shulamit

[Update: Following Walter's call with Shmuel Elhanan, we know there are errors in the original post, which I will leave to preserve the context for future posts. Yitzhak Rabinowitz did not change his name; his sons change theirs. Shulamit's family should be Rosenblum. Other spellings are in error.]

So after reading YES' will several times and reflecting that our family maybe held up his hopes in item 3 if having failed him in most of item 2, I began leafing through the other chapters of the book. Imagine my surprise in finding as the last item in the Holocaust section the text of the letter written by Shmuel's mother Shulamit Rabinowitz from Kovno on June 6, 1944 to her two older children just days or hours before she expected to perish along with her husband Yitzhak and eight-year-old son Shmuel.

This letter (and a shorter one that follows by Shmuel's father Yitzhak Elhanan Rabinowitz) is incredibly moving. She remains proud, though she is accepting of her likely fate. Her biggest regret is that Shmuel (whom she calls by the pet name Muka) will have his life cut short. Beyond that, rather than summarize I will let you read for yourself.

We know that in fact Shulamit, Yitzhak and Shmuel did not perish in Kovno. At this time, I do not know the full story of how they escaped and made their way to Palestine. I believe that Walter knows at least a short version of the story and perhaps he can fill us in. He may also follow up directly with Shmuel for more of the details.

What I do know based on Shmuel's 1996 correspondence with Morris Spector is that Yitzhak Elchonan (he later dropped the Rabinowitz name) died in Tel Aviv in 1992, Shulamit died in March 1996 in Haifa, and that Shmuel is alive and well in Rehovot at age 78 with his wife Zippora. They have two sons Benjamin and Ofra.

The two older sons to whom the letter was written both went to Israel as well. They were not in the United States when Shulamit wrote to them, but in Palestine. Benjamin was felled in the Israeli war of independence in 1948. Amos lived until 1965 and died in Tel Aviv of natural causes.

Here are the two documents, three pages by Shulamit and one page by Yitzhak. (Click to enlarge.)

By the way, Riemer's introduction to Shulamit's letter contains several errors. First, Shulamit became a Rabinowitz when she married Yitzhak, who was a great-grandson, not a grandson, of YES. Shulamit's last name was Rozenbloom before she married. When she mentions "your grandfather, grandmother and Aunt Jennie" in the letter, those are Rozenbloom family members.

Sad news of passing of Zippora Elhanan z"l

I have just gotten off the phone with our wonderful relative in Rehovot, Shmuel Elchanan, who had informed me shortly before by e-mail of the passing of his beloved wife Zippora last December at the age of 76. As Shmuel explained, Zippora suffered a stroke at the Weizmann Institute where she had been a faculty member for 50 years while chairing a session at an International meeting on Photosynthesis, her subject of research for years. If I understood him correctly, she was rushed to the hospital and remained in a coma for five days before passing.

Shmuel, whom I have never met face to face, but have had several extended phone conversations about our family history, is a wonderful man with I feel an instinctive kesher (connection). His warmth, understanding, deep empathy, primal Jew to Jew connection and sheer humanity amidst all the horrors he and our people have endured, is emblematic of what I have loved about Israel and Israelis all these decades; indeed, what keep my love for Israel unconditional though I have spent far too little time in Israel over the past decade and despite my disappointment with Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, etc. I am so sorry we never got to meet Zippora, who must also have been a wonderful person.

Shmuel urges us to come to Rehovot to talk family history and we really should all do that as soon as possible. It is so moving to me that he is so connected to Rehovot and the Machon Weizmann which is of course where Jo, Danny and I spent that mind blowing life transforming year of 1961-62 as children, when our father Stan was there on sabbatical. Rehovot is a kind of lodestone for us and here it is again.

In the meantime, Shmuel has agreed to a conference call with Dan and myself to help us to better understand many things, including that 'last letter' from his parents to his elder brothers of June 6, 1944, when they thought they and Shmuel himself were about to be liquidated by the Nazis. Kol hakavod (all honor) to Dan for getting hold of Ethical Wills and finding those letters as well as gthe last will and testament of our common ancestor Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor. Thanks also to Moshe Spector and Jeff Spector for connecting with Dan and providing us with so much new information.

Shmuel also mentioned a book by a well known Israeli writer, Hanoch Bartov, entitled "BEYOND THE HORIZON, ACROSS THE STREET" published in 2006, about our family. Apparently the book focuses on the stories of young men killed in the 1948 War of Independence, including one of Shmuel's older brothers, who had apparently served alongside Bar-Tov, It is unfortunately only in Hebrew which I read with great difficulty but I'm sure we will find a way to get the relevant sections translated.

Tomorrow, July 27, I will finally make it to the Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Queens and, God willing, see the graves of Joseph Rabinowitz and Lena Lincoff Rabinowitz, our great grandparents.


Review of Hanoch Bartov's Beyond the Horizon, Across the Street

See below review of Hanoch Bartov's Beyond the Horizon, Across the Street sent to me earlier today by Dan, after we learned of the book in an email from Shmuel Elhanan.

At its core, the book is a history of the Spektor-Rabinovich-Elhanan family from the days of the Gaon of Kovno to World War II and the Holocaust. It tells the story of the two older Elhanan boys, Amos and Binyamin, who had moved to Palestine as youths in the 1930's and who Bartov came to know as comrades in the Jewish Brigade in World War II. The family was reunited after the war when Amos found them in a refugee camp in Italy, having miraculously survived the Holocaust in the Kovno ghetto and the death camps.

Unfortunately, the book itself is only in Hebrew. Just reading about it is very powerful as it so palpably connects our own family with the larger sweep of Jewish history of the past 150 years from Isaac Elchanan Spektor and the shtetl through the horrors of the Holocaust and the emergence of the Jewish state. And, of course, the review helps to answer many of the questions Dan and I had for Shmuel whom we hope to interview by phone in the coming days, though there will be plenty more to ask him.

The excerpt follows. Go here for the original.

2006: In an article entitled “Another Page from an Epic Chapter,” Danny Rubinstein reviewed Mihutz laofek, mi'ever larehov (Beyond the Horizon, Across the Street) by Hanoch Bartov.

"In 1943, at the age of 17, Hanoch Bartov, a native of Petah Tikva, joined the Palestine Regiment of the British Army, which was fighting Nazi Germany and which features prominently in his novel "Pitzei Bagrut" ("The Brigade"). In the Jewish soldiers' barracks at the end of World War II, one heard tales of emotional encounters between a Jewish soldier and a member of his family who had survived the Holocaust. At the time, Bartov heard, but did not have a strong recollection of, one story. It was about a man named Amos who had immigrated to Palestine, joined the British Army's Jewish Brigade and found his parents and younger brother, who had been in a displaced persons camp in Italy and had miraculously survived.

After the war, Bartov moved to Jerusalem, spending much of his time with a group of university students who were commanders in the Haganah (pre-state militia). One of them was Binyamin, nicknamed "Rabi," who was killed during the summer of 1948 in a battle in the Negev. Rabi was Amos' brother and he was also astounded to learn, after the war, that his parents and younger brother had survived the Nazi inferno after being thought dead for some time.

Many years later, in May 1978, on the morning of Israel's 30th Independence Day, the telephone rang in Bartov's home. He was busy completing a biography of David "Dado" Elazar, chief of staff during the Yom Kippur War, whom many see as one of its victims. The older man on the other end of the line introduced himself: "I am Rabi's father."

The reason for the call was the obituary Bartov had written about Rabi and the members of his generation - the "1948 generation," who fell in the War of Independence. Bartov recalls that he was surprised to hear from the bereaved father. "I was thunderstruck," he wrote. Following the telephone call, Bartov felt he must continue writing about and preserving the memory of his many comrades-in-arms who had died in that cruel year of 1948.

That call thus led to a connection spanning many years, between Bartov and the two parents who were Holocaust survivors. He began visiting their North Tel Aviv home and heard about their experiences in their native city of Kovno in occupied Lithuania. He interviewed relatives and friends of this couple, and perused letters and memoirs. The result is "Mihutz laofek, mi'ever larehov" ("Beyond the Horizon, Across the Street"), which has appeared 25 years after the conversation with Rabi's father and presents one East European Jewish family's fascinating story. The family's life revolves around the destruction of Europe's Jews and Israel's establishment - namely, what is sometimes termed "Holocaust and rebirth."

"Holocaust and rebirth" is an epic chapter in Jewish history, although many consider it to be an overused, anachronistic topic. Bartov relates the saga of an intriguing family that enjoyed considerable social status and whose history he finds moving. He has been able to convey some of that emotion to his readers. Although he avoids excessive emotionalism, some passages will cause the readers to feel goose bumps and a lump in their throat.

The family is Rabinowitz-Elhanan. The father, Yitzhak Elhanan, was a descendant of Yitzhak Elhanan Spektor, a prominent 19th-century Jewish leader who was Kovno's chief rabbi under the Russian czarist regime. In 1924, in Berlin, Yitzhak married Shulamit Rosenblum, daughter of a wealthy Jew who was proud to be a descendant of the great Rashi, loved Zion and was related to Israel's third president, Zalman Shazar, and to supreme Court chief justice Dr. Moshe Zmora.

While Yitzhak and his wife remained in Kovno to manage their extensive family business, Shulamit's elderly parents moved to Palestine in 1933, investing in private property and orchards (for example, the Rosenblum orchard, site of the present-day Givat Shmuel, adjacent to the Geha Highway). Their three sons were born in Kovno: Amos (1925), Binyamin "Rabi" (1926) and Shmuel (1930). When World War II broke out, the parents sent the two older sons to Palestine, where they grew up with their maternal grandparents in a spacious apartment on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard.

The parents and their youngest son remained in Kovno. Although Holocaust scholars are familiar with the story of the Kovno ghetto, readers will be stunned by the eyewitness reports on the insane cruelty of the Nazis and the masses of Lithuanian collaborators there. The book introduces us to a previously unknown document from the ghetto: a letter from the head of the Juderat, Dr. Elhanan Elkes, who considered it to be his last will and testament. He wrote it in Hebrew two days before his deportation to Dachau, where he later perished, and sent it to his children in London.

Preserved by a Holocaust survivor, this letter describes the events leading to Elkes' appointment as Judenrat head and notes how, with "shaking, worried hands," he and the other Judenrat members tried to steer the "mad ghetto boat in the middle of the ocean" to save as many Jews as possible. Elkes addresses his son Yoel: "My beloved Yoel! Be a loyal son to your people! Concern yourself with the welfare of other Jews, not with the welfare of the gentiles. In our long exile, they have not given us even a fraction of what we have given them. Try to settle in Palestine."

Elkes' children did not settle in Israel, but instead made their homes in the United States and England. Bartov believes this is the reason why they avoided publishing their father's last will and testament for so many years. Along with the letter, Bartov summarizes the debate in the Israeli public on the role of the Judenrats (many books and research studies exist on this topic).

In addition, he presents not only the memoirs of Elhanan and Shulamit; he also describes the adolescence of their sons Amos and Binyamin. The drama's climax is the chance meeting between Amos, a soldier in the Jewish Brigade, and his survivor-brother Shmuel. Amos was looking for his parents (who were separated when the ghetto was liquidated and did not know the other's whereabouts) and arrived one day in Pontebba in northern Italy to meet a friend.

That evening someone told him that a truck had just come in from Munich "and there might be somebody there who has heard something about your father." Amos approached the truck and that very moment Shmuel, his younger brother, jumped to the ground. Although in this passage Bartov tries to offer a simple description, without emotional clichés, there will almost certainly be a tear in the reader's eye.

Rabi, Bartov's comrade, was killed in 1948. Amos died from a fatal illness at age 40. Shmuel, who immigrated with his parents, fought in the War of Independence, serving with the elite Palmach strike force and participating in the battle of Malkiya. He may have been one of the "last ones on the ridge," to use a term coined by Yitzhak Tischler, who describes the battle in a book and is also mentioned by Bartov. Shmuel accompanies Bartov on his meetings with Shmuel's parents.

Certainly one of the most important of the "1948 generation" writers, Bartov has always been considered an excellent reporter. Few have perhaps read his superb reports for the Lamerhav newspaper, some of which appeared in books, which I enjoyed very much and made me laugh. In "Beyond the Horizon," the writing is somewhat heavy, perhaps due to a sense of awe for the book's contents. Sometimes Bartov burdens the reader with details that do not contribute to the protagonists' dramatic saga, which definitely deserves to have been written.”


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