Can you tell us where you were born?
My name is Rabbi Leibish Adler. I was born in the village of Brister, Czechoslovakia. Brister had about 100 Jews living on one long street. Geographically, the gentiles lived closer to the mountains. One of my memories of them is the strange shoes they wore on their feet, in the shape of hamantashen.
I remember Brister as a pastoral, beautiful village. The Jews who lived there struggled with poverty during the week; however, I remember that Shabbos in our little town was special. One could sense the uplifting sanctity of the day. The peace and joy, the sense of family and happiness, descended even on the poorest of families. Even those who struggled to put food on the table during the week sat at their tables on Shabbos lacking nothing. The people of Brister were generous, kind people who took community chessed to heart. Everyone enjoyed Shabbos as equals.
The beis knesses in our village was very beautiful. The important people of the community sat on the eastern wall. We sat by that wall, too. As a child, I loved going with my father to the beis knesses.
Our house had four bedrooms and a salon. When a famous Rebbe came to be our guest he was given the guest room. He was shown a great deal of appreciation and respect.
In 1938 we moved to Munkacs, where I met two types of people: the chareidim and the followers of Jabotinsky. On Shabbos, the chareidim would stand by the road and yell, “Shabbos!” when they saw someone be mechallel Shabbos in public. I did not identify with the chareidim, I identified with Jabotinsky — a modern-day thinker.
The town was very idyllic and quiet. Who would ever dream that anything could happen to our happy, peaceful town?
What memories can you share with us about your family?
I was the eldest of four children. My parents, Mayer and Breindel Adler, were in the business of cutting trees to sell as wood. Our house was one of the largest in the village and we were considered one of the wealthiest families in Brister. We sat down to a lunch meal of meat every day.
My mother descended from illustrious Rabbanim who were well known in the Jewish world. My maternal grandfather, Harav Moshe Dovid Ostreicher, the Chimper Rav, lived in the town of Arad.
My paternal grandmother, Hinda, was a unique woman who constantly searched for ways to do chessed. She would prepare food for the town butcher, who was very poor, so that he would not go hungry. She would put the food for Shabbos in a basket and give it to me to deliver. I would place the basket by his door, knock, and run away. He would retrieve the food but never knew who put it there.
My grandmother had an only son — my father. My father taught us how to respect parents by his devotion to his father, Ben-Zion, and his mother, Hinda. Unfortunately, my father did not live long, but the trait of respecting elders was ingrained in us and we continued to show respect to our grandparents and anyone who was older than we were.
Many people came to my father for advice and counsel. He was considered a highly intelligent and successful person, who was kind as well. He was an unusual man who was very firm with his values and religion.
My parents dressed me in well-made suits and I had to have shoes that matched every suit. I was never allowed to join a ball game with the other children for fear that my suit might get soiled. I had to stand on the side and watch the game. I was not very happy with the situation.
I was the spoiled son in the family; my parents poured into me the best of the best. Nothing was too good for me. They were very proud of my accomplishments and I felt like the world was at my fingertips.
What kind of education did you receive?
In my youth I learned in cheder. The melamed, Rabbi Bendes, was a warm man with a great love for children. All he did was out of love for the children he taught. He knew how to relate to children and teach them properly. The children who learned in our group were considered talented. Anyone who didn’t learn up to par was pulled by the ear by force. I recall when we children went on a tiyul, he would pull the ears of anyone who came late. At the time I thought it was very painful, but I had no idea yet what pain really meant.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.