My Mother’s Family — Part 15

The First World War broke out early in august 1914. My grandfather was 54 years old and therefore he was not drafted into the Austrian army..His economical situation was good but as the war went on it worsened as did the situation of all the Jews in the country at that time. Turkey declared neutrality but it did not last long. About five weeks after the war started, on September 8, 1914 Turkey declared the annulment of all the capitulations without exception. Germany protested most strongly, for only several months earlier it made a great friendly gesture and gave Turkey a present of two warships: The “Breslau” and “Goaben” but to no avail. Turkey felt itself high and mighty due to this important addition to the small Turkish Navy and started attacking Russian ships and Russian harbors in the Black Sea. Finally Russia, Britain and France (the Allied States) declared war on Turkey towards the end of 1914.

The Jewish community in Israel was alarmed by the annulment of the capitulations in September. It was clear to everybody that they will be plundered by the Arabs and Turks who became more encouraged daily by the news about the German victories on the Western Front and the Turkish victories in the Dardanells. The Jews who were citizens of Germany and of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, both allies of Turkey, were still treated reasonably but they were the minority. Most Jews in Israel at that time were citizens of Russia with a few British and French citizens. As soon as Turkey joined the war commerce, building and business in Jaffa came to a standstill and food was getting scarce. At the end of 1914 the food situation in Jaffa was very bad. Grandfather shared-out the amount of food which he had in his house among family members and friends. The Turkish government started the expulsion of all foreign citizens from the country. Most of them were of course Jewish. The only ships which arrived at the shores of the country were American ships. The government had also declared a moratorium (remission of debts) which was a two-edged sword for grandfather as well. On the one hand he stopped paying back his loan to the German Bank but on the other hand he stopped getting rent from the rented shops and flats on Bustros Street and since not a single customer entered into his shop the money he had was getting scarce. A black-market started developing and what little food was still available cost a fortune. The Turks decided to do something which will fill the population with awe and dread of the authorities and therefore they hanged two Arabs which were accused of spying and signalling to the enemy warships. They hanged them in the town square, left them hanging there for three days and ordered the people of all the villages and colonies to come and see them so as to put the fear of the authorities in them. In addition to all these troubles came the locust which arrived from Africa in huge swarms and wiped out anything which still grew on earth. Early in 1915 the country was in hunger.

Grandfather’s daughter Rachel and her husband Henry Amzalek, who were British citizens, were forced to leave the country immediately and move to Egypt where they spent all the war years in very tough living conditions and almost without income. The residents of Jaffa and Tel-Aviv started digging pits and cellars and hiding in them everything which was valuable. Grandfather also dug several pits in his garden and buried in them several valuables and jewelry. Meanwhile British and French warships started arriving close to the shore and shelling the city with their guns. The Governor of the city, Hassan-Beck, decided to carry out some works in the city and extorted from the residents their last pennies. It became clear that one had to move somewhere else. No invitation came from the Chernov family in Rishon-Lezion to their family in Jaffa to come and stay with them. These were hard days, so to each his own.

On the eve of Passover, March 28, 1917 the Turks ordered all the residents of Jaffa and Tel-Aviv to leave within 72 hours. Dizengof with the Rabbis and eminent residents of the town begged the Governor who gave them one week, until after Passover, to leave the town. Grandfather was an Austrian citizen and therefore did not hurry to leave town and waited to hear from the Austrian Consul who did not leave town either. Most of Jaffa’s residents left. Only a few had a cart, donkey or camel. Most of them went on foot. On April 10, 1917 grandma, uncle Boris and aunt Minna with their two daughters: Tsilla and Dora, my aunt Leah, my mother and my uncle Yosaleh left Jaffa and moved to Petah-Tikva and stayed with the Goldenhirsch couple at their house. Ignatz Goldenhirsch and his wife were also immigrants of the first immigration and founders of the Petah-Tikva colony. They had no children and altough they had a big house it hardly contained all the Schönberg family members.

Grandfather remained by himself in his house at Neve-Zedek. He spent most of the days and nights at home. Three to four times a week , during the early evening, he used to go out and walk to Petah-Tikva, walking in the deep sand despite his 57 years of age, so as to see his family and return to Jaffa during the hours of dawn. It had been very difficult for grandma and Yosaleh to abide by the Prussian discipline of Mrs. Goldenhirsch and less than one and a half months after their arrival they asked grandfather to take them back home which he did. It was May 20, 1917.

On June 26, 1917 grandfather was ordered by both the Civilian and Military Governors of Jaffa to open his shop which was closed long ago so as to “sell necessities to the army”. Grandfather made a list of the things they took: The Military Commissar Shukry took for military purposes 6.5 Litres of Eau-de-Cologne and a case of toilet soap. The Prosecutor-General who was very concerned about the soldiers took a case of ladies face-powder. The Military Governor of the city took various cosmetics and perfumes. A few days later the Commandant (the Military Governor of the city) decided to carry-out a “General Requisition” and confiscated 228 cotton shirts, 50 silk shirts, 6 night-gowns, 50 pair of stockings,10 undershirts etc’. All this without bringing along with him a list but simply by snatching anything which was available. The Mayor who came along with him also took “officially” several items and unofficially grandfather saw how the Mayor was glancing hither and tither and as soon as it seemed to him that nobody was looking he snatched and put in his pocket two expensive silk ties. Grandfather looked and kept silent. Let them take whatever they want, he thought to himself, as long as they will let him stay in Jaffa. But my uncle Boris thought differently. He would not let all this simply pass and as soon as he heard about the “Requisition” he went immediately to Jerusalem and complained to the Austrian Consul-General. The Consul acted immediately. Half of the merchandise was returned and for the other half my grandfather was given a “receipt”.

On September 16 the Austrian Consul at Jaffa called him and told him, while he was packing his personal effects and documents, that he was explicitly ordered to depart from Jaffa with all the Austrian citizens. The British have already taken Gaza and were on their way to Jaffa. Having lived, toiled and troubled in Jaffa for 35 years of his life grandfather packed his few belongings in a back-sack and left, walking north to Petah-Tikva. On his way he stopped at the “Sarona” colony and asked those whom he naively considered as his friends: The German farmers, to lend him a cart but these Germans were suspicious of grandfather and thought that since he was Jewish he could be either a spy or at least an enemy of Germany and Turkey. And so grandfather went, this time as well, on foot to Petah-Tikva with his heart full of sorrow and despair.

The family had been lodging with the Goldenhirsch couple, in their house for over five months and it was not easy especially for Mrs. Goldenhirsch. One could not find a flat or room in Petah-Tikva which was loaded with refugees. There were several thousand refugees there and they were pestered by the Turks who also nagged the residents with all sort of Draconian bans and daily interdictions. As if this was not bad enough the colony committee issued an explicit instruction saying that those who were not landowners of the colony must leave it immediately.

My aunt Leah, so as to ease the overcrowding at the Goldenhirsch’s house went to live with some distant relatives at Zichron-Yaakov. One day she showed-up in Petah-Tikva, afraid and trembling with fear and told how the Kaimakam (the Governor of Nazareth) at the head of the Turkish Army arrived at Zichron-Yaakov to look for Jewish spies and how they jailed Yoseph Lishansky and his friends (who were members of the Nili spy-ring) and how with unbelievable cruelty they tortured to death Sarah Aharonson and her father Fishl Aharonson. As soon as my aunt Minna heard it she demanded my uncle Boris to leave Petah-Tikva and move to Damascus, the soonest possible.

Jacques (Yaakov) Mushly, son of Mushly the Jaffa watchmaker, who was very friendly with grandfather and was the Chief-Engineer of the Turkish railway network in the middle-east sent my uncle Boris, my aunt Minna and their two daughters: Tsilah and Dora in his special personal waggon which was always at his disposition, to Damascus. With them they took a certain quantity of merchandise from the shop in Jaffa and made their living in Damascus by selling it piecemeal.

The situation in Petah-Tikva became so difficult that not long after they left, my grandfather asked them, with Mushly’s help, to come to Petah-Tikva for a consultation regarding the future steps that needed to be taken for the security of the entire family. My uncle did indeed return from Damascus and decided with grandfather that the whole family should be transferred to Damascus until the situation calms down. My uncle did not stay on but returned immediately to Damascus.

The nearest railway station was at Ras-El- Ein (Rosh-Haayin today) and this is where the whole family waited, in the open field, for 4 days and nights until at midnight of the fourth day the train finally arrived (this was the famous Hejaz train). They had to load their luggage and other effects by themselves. Finally they all boarded the train with empty stomachs and were so tired that they all fell asleep. Grandfather was stricken with dysentery and yet he remained standing throughout the whole voyage since not one seat was left vacant. This is how they arrived at Tzemach station. They were kept at Tzemach for 24 hours because the line to Damascus was blocked by a train which was derailed. On November 6, 1917 they finally arrived at Damascus. 10 days later the British conquered Jaffa.

When they arrived in Damascus grandfather was too weak to take care of the luggage and other effects. He was the only man there, the others were women and children. Totally exhausted my grandfather remained, with the rest of the family, to sleep near the train-station, in the mud. Next day my uncle Boris became very worried for he heard that the train had arrived one day ago and the family was gone. He went to the train-station and found them in a hell of a state. For this courageous man, for this strong and proud man, my grandfather Moritz Schönberg, this was a degrading and despairing day. They were finally transferred to the city with the merchandise which they brought with them. About half of the merchandise was sold immediately wholesale and for the rest they started looking for a shop. They finally found a shop and living quarters in a remote corner of the city.

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