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Michael (Moishe Mordechai) Goldberg

Michael (Moishe Mordechai) Goldberg
Michael (Moishe Mordechai) Goldberg, who was born in Pinsk, Polesia,
in 1916, presents a story that is not at all untypical. Like most
Jews, he was raised in a household that was religious, conservative,
and intensely nationalistic; was brought up in a community that
fostered those values, and attended religious schools that molded the
young generation in those traditions. These became lasting values that
Goldberg, despite his many transformations, never forsook.

... I soon began to attend school. The schools at that time were
styled in the form of a cheder, (a Hebrew school), but with a more
modern system which taught the Polish language and mathematics.
However, the main emphasis of our education was based on Jewish
religious and nationalistic ideals which planted in our young minds
the roots of Jewish heritage. I thus completed five years of private
studies. As a result of the influence of my religious school teachers,
I became very religious during that span of time. I remember that I
used to go to pray three times a day in the neighborhood shul.
... My father [who ran a successful tailor shop], on the other hand,
was far from the religious persuasion. He was, from his earliest
years, very active in the Marxist-Zionist party.
At the age of 17, I met a girl my age. ... She became a great
influence on my thinking and she brought me into the Halutz Youth
organization. This was a Zionist organization which believed in the
creation of a Jewish homeland. I became very active in this
organization whose ideals I saw as the only solution to the problems
of my people.
... During this time, I met a new friend, Rosenberg, who was to play a
large role in my future. He was one of the leaders of the illegal
Marxist youth organization in Poland. He brought me into the dream of
a society which would solve all the international economic and social
problems. I was carried away with this dream - that only a socialist
revolution would solve the Jewish problem as it would solve all the
other societal problems. I felt I had to join a movement which could
improve our life in all aspects. I gave up the dream of leaving Poland
as an impossible dream.
... This was the year [1937] I was to be called to serve in the Polish
army, a situation which created problems for my father. First of all,
he had become dependent upon me, and second of all, being a smart man,
my father predicted the oncoming war. He decided to do everything in
his power to see that I avoid serving time in the army. He went to a
special complex to lose weight and arrived at the stage in which he
was unable to do any physical work. Then he went for a government
medical examination which decided that he could not support his
children. I thus became the only provider for our family. I realized
later what a personal sacrifice my father had to make to accomplish
the task of keeping me out of the army.

... On the morning of September 17th, I saw the remaining Polish
soldiers crossing the bridge over the river, leaving Pinsk on their
way south, hoping to escape the Red Army. We witnessed the destruction
of the bridge by the retreating Polish army. That was the end of the
Polish rule of Pinsk. A few hours later, we saw the oncoming Russian
troops. I remember a moment when my sister Yetta and I started to kiss
each other from excitement when we saw the And again my intelligent
father passed a remark. 'Don't celebrate, give the new rule a chance
to see how it is in life'. For me, personally, this looked like the
final judgment, the beginning of an era of justice for all.
... Before the war, when I was active in the illegal Marxist movement,
we had organized a group which was trying to educate itself and to
prepare for a time when we had to really participate in leadership in
a new society. Our teachers were students from Vilna [Wilno]
University and leaders in the illegal movement. They taught us
economic and political science from a socialist perspective, and also
the Russian language.
... To establish the new rule, the Soviets needed to organize local
political cadres, and people like me found themselves in demand as
... With the establishment of the new rule, my friend, Isaac
Rosenberg, who brought me into the Marxist movement, had become one of
the top leaders in the regime and also sponsored my activities. When
the tailor cooperative was organized, I became the manager of the
... Despite the political turmoil and economic hardships of the time,
our family's life began to improve. I was paid a large salary and I
found a job for my sister Yetta as the supply manager in the same
... I advanced higher in my political career and when the central
bureau of city cooperatives was created, I became the chief of
propaganda. At the same time I became active in the city party

Golderg maintains that his disenchantment with the regime started to
set in in the winter of 1940, when the Soviets: ... began to conduct a
reign of terror against the local populace.... First, during the
night, portions of the Polish population of Pinsk started to disappear
and were deported to Siberia. After that, came the deportations of
Jewish people who were suspected of being members of socialist and
Zionist organizations under the Polish rule.
... My father's younger brother [Moishe Goldberg] was a very rich man,
one of the few Jews who was active in the former Polish ruling party.
Suddenly, Soviet security police were looking for him.
... My father approached me to help hide my uncle, as he felt that I
had the power to do this.
At that time, I was seriously involved with Raizel, who was living at
her uncle's home in Pinsk. She found an apartment in her uncle's
neighborhood which was formerly inhabited by a deported Polish family.
She encouraged me to take this apartment, which was free from the
... When I moved to the apartment, my uncle came to live with me.
Actually, he was hiding there and I provided all the necessities for
him as he was afraid to leave the apartment. His family was meanwhile
deported from Pinsk to some faraway village. This was part of the
campaign to deport all of the (formerly) rich people from Pinsk. After
hiding him for four months I helped my uncle escape to the town of
Vilna, which had just become [part of] an independent Lithuanian
... After my uncle left my apartment, my girlfriend Raizel moved in
with me. Our parents, with their beliefs, started to pressure us to
get married. In October 1940, ... At the home of Raizel's aunt was
gathered the entire family, with a rabbi and a chupah. Thereafter a
ritual Jewish wedding was performed.
When I look back at that period of time, I can see that my personal
life had improved radically. I had a high position in the political
administration which paid much better than the average worker. My wife
obtained a government office position. We had a nice apartment.
... But I was not satisfied with my life because I started to detect
more injustice in the new regime than in the previous ones.
... Besides that, with my Jewish nationalistic outlook on life, I
realized that this new regime would not bring salvation to the Jews. I
found myself becoming assimilated into a society which had no place
for Jewish culture. For someone who had been raised in a completely
Jewish environment during the Polish rule, an environment filled with
Jewish daily newspapers, magazines and other publications, and with
theatrical productions which were renowned world wide, it seemed to me
that there was now no future for Jewish society.
By the end of 1940, the local party administration came to the
conclusion that it no longer needed the help of the local cadres. ...
Administrators from the original Soviet territories started to replace
the local leaders, among whom I was one. At the time I had become very
friendly with a couple from Leningrad who were in the highest party
positions in the city. They were Jewish ... The husband confided in me
one day that he had been approached by Soviet security people who were
quite interested in my background of Zionist activities under the
Polish regime, and that I was in danger of being arrested. He advised
me to resign from my position and to look for some less noticeable
means of employment. ... I achieved my resignation by stating reasons
of poor health ...
In March 1941, with the heightening of international tensions, I was
suddenly called up to join the armed forces.

Having spent the war years with the Soviet army, Goldberg - now an
ardent Zionist again - decided to sever his ties with the Soviet Union
and to take advantage of the possibility of "repatriating" to Poland.
"Repatriation" was an option that Polish citizens of Jewish
nationality, who once cheered the Soviet invaders could access with
few obstructions. For tens of thousands of them, Poland was just a
stepping stone on the way to Palestine or the West.
... I read in the Moscow official paper "Pravda" a communique about a
treaty between the Soviet Union and the new Polish republic and the
repatriation from the Soviet Union of former Polish citizens. This
could give me a chance to free myself from the Russian army in which
it appeared I might otherwise have to stay for a long time. By the
same token, it would also get me out of Russia. I composed a letter
requesting transfer to the Polish army because of my Polish
citizenship and gave the request to my commanding officer to be
forwarded to the higher authorities.
At the beginning of September 1945 Petya, Volodya and I got a pass for
the first day of Rosh Hashanah to visit the city [of Galat in
Romania]. After the Holy Days services, we went, as usual, to Leo's
home ... I met Bunya's brother, David ... David turned out also to be
part of the Bricha organization in which he played a big role.
... We were informed by a general that we were going to be transferred
to the Polish army.
... During the months of December 1945 and January 1946 the Jewish
population in Pinsk grew to the thousands, only to diminish thereafter
when the mass exodus to Palestine by way of Poland commenced.

For personal reasons, however, Goldberg decided to remain in the
Soviet Union. Although he had a "stormy relationship" with a Russian
woman, who saved his life, he had broken up with her several times
because she insisted on marriage; in his words: ... although I had
made clear to her several times that I would not marry a non-Jewish
woman. Indeed, he married a Jewish woman from Pinsk and did not leave
the Soviet Union until the late 1950s, when a smaller "repatriation"
of former Polish citizens, again largely Jews, were allowed to leave
the Soviet Union. Having made a full circle, Goldberg and his family
arrived in Legnica, Poland, in October 1958. They soon obtained: ... a
nice apartment, where for the first time in our lives we had a
bathroom, running water and even gas. But he remained bitter because
he: ... was taught by the Poles and later by the Russians to hate that
land which had swallowed all my dearest people, who were actually
murdered by the German invaders. Goldberg did not waste time in going
to the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw to register for immigration to
Israel, but decided to join his sister in America instead. He arrived
in the United States in January 1961, settled in and became active in
the Zionist movement.