Chapter 22: In Pursuit of Palestine
It must have been about a quarter to one in the morning when Srulek, wearing typical Czech civilian clothing, walked up to the two border guards. Jaroslav and Havel stifled yawns while they sat at their post, finishing another boring round of cards. “Hello, fellows, why such a somber mood?” Srulek greeted the guards in animated good cheer.
Jaroslav and Havel perked up, immediately attentive to the sudden appearance of the young lad.
“Who’re you? Where are you from?” Havel sounded a bit threatening as he laid his hand on the holstered pistol at his side.
“Not to worry, boys,” Srulek replied as calmly as could be. “I’m not trying to cross the border. I’ll tell you, I’m living with my uncle in Liberec, and he’s taken up the noble profession of whiskey distilling. Now, since he’s trying to refine his product, he’s given me the task of giving out some free samples in order to, you know, test the quality. I thought that maybe you boys would want to help us out,” Srulek concluded, smiling engagingly.
“Ho, why didn’t you say so?” Jaroslav said with a little chuckle. “C’mon,
Havel, let’s do a good deed for the lad’s uncle.” “I’m game,” Havel said, relaxing his grip on his pistol.
Srulik pulled two tin cups from his small satchel and a bottle of strong whiskey. He poured the eager guards a nice-sized “sample” of the sharp
beverage and proffered it graciously. “Cheers!”
“Cheers!” Jaroslav and Havel replied in unison.
The two Czechs downed the drink in no time and repaid Srulek with a smile of satisfaction.
“How was it?” asked Srulek with a facade of serious interest. “Do you think that the balance is right? Or does it need adjusting?”
“Hmmm. I think it was a bit weak,” said Havel.
“Weak?” Jaroslav interrupted. “Ach, you have no sense of taste. It wasn’t weak, just a bit too bitter.”
“I have no taste? Look who’s talking – he could have served you cod liver oil, and you probably wouldn’t have noticed.”
“I’ll have you know that I could be employed as a professional connoisseur!”
“Well, whoever would employ you must be selling vinegar!” This was not what Srulek was expecting. “Now, now, boys, it’s no problem. It often takes several tastes till we can really describe the flavor. Here, have another,” Srulek offered. The two partners readily accepted the drink, and then another, and a few more, and were soon thoroughly inebriated. “Thanks for your help, gentlemen,” Srulek said, preparing to depart.
“Let us know if we can help you again,” Jaroslav managed to blurt out before he nodded off in a drunken slumber.
Satisfied, Srulek stepped out of view of the guards and signaled to the other member of his Bricha team. Soon hundreds of refugees were being successfully led out of Czechoslovakia into Germany.
Srulek continued this work for several months, assisting hundreds and thousands of Jews who had survived the Nazi terrors to reach the relative safer haven of the German DP camps. But working for the Bricha required Srulek to be committed every night. He was exhausted.
“What do you think, Taibele?” Srulek asked, stroking the bird nestled in his lap. “I’m quite gratified that I could help so many Yidden with my participation with the Bricha, but I see that it’s taking its toll. I can’t rest at night, and hardly by day. How do I know when it’s enough? Maybe now it’s time to help another Yid…a Yid named Srulek.”
Two days later, Srulek bid farewell to Benny, and after bribing the guards for the last time, he, together with his new friends Yossel, Avremel, and Nosson, quickly traversed to the German side of the border.
Just as Budapest was one of the main meeting and dispatching centers in Eastern Europe, Munich was the center in the west. At a Munich camp that had formerly served as a Kaserne, the incoming survivors were assigned to the various DP camps being supported by such organizations as the Joint Distribution Committee and the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration). Srulik had no experience with the DP camps, and began to investigate which ones would prepare its members to depart for Palestine.
Before they’d gotten their bearings, Srulek and his friends were approached by a young man and a young lady. “Hello,” they said, introducing themselves with friendly smiles, “we represent a kibbutz in Leipheim, which is only about thirty kilometers* from the town of Ulm on the Danube. Our kibbutz was established to bring people to Israel. Would you like to join?”
After a brief consultation, the four boys agreed, exclaiming, “How fortunate, this is just what we were looking for – a way to reach the shores of Palestine.” Taibele watched from a distance, his feathers standing on end. Could these kibbutz members be trusted?