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Joe Shedletsky

posted 2 Sep 2019, 17:57 by Charles Greene   [ updated 2 Sep 2019, 17:58 ]

Joe's Story

As told to Judy Hazan


I first met Joseph Shedletsky in synagogue, some months after I became a member at The Lodzer Centre Holocaust Congregation in Toronto. Joseph, like most of the older members of the Lodzer, is a survivor of the Shoah and one Shabbat morning at our congregational Kiddush, I went over to where Joe was sitting and introduced myself. A small man, slim and fit looking, Joe has a decidedly handsome face, chiseled features and a quick smile. I was charmed by him immediately; his soft-spoken demeanor; his clear eyes; his old-fashioned, gentle manners. There was something about Joe that made me feel comfortable and at ease right away. He was like putting on a pair of warm slippers. We began to talk that Shabbat morning and over subsequent Shabbats Joe began to reveal small parts of his story of survival to me. I was intrigued – not so much because his story was so different than thousands of other stories told by survivors about the most unspeakable time in civilization’s memory, but that Joe, in his struggling English managed to recall details that were tremendously vivid. The picture he painted for me with his stories compelled me to ask him for permission to write them down. He looked at me with eyes that revealed the deep sadness in his soul and told me that he would be honoured to tell me his story. We set up a time to meet.


Joe came to my house on Tuesday February 16th, 2004. His story was told to me over many weeks, sitting at my kitchen table. He refused to eat anything I offered him. He wouldn’t take a cup of coffee or tea. Occasionally he accepted a glass of water. We cried together often. This is Joe’s Story.



Joseph Shedletsky was born in Sinca, Poland during Chanukah 1925, which made him 78 years old at the time of the telling of his story.


Joe's father Saul was a butcher by trade and operated a lucrative business in Sinca. His mother was Chaya. He had an older brother Benny and 2 sisters, Malka and Kayla. Sinca was not a large town, but it was only 10 miles away from Minsk Mozovyetski, a fairly big city. Joe recalled a rather ordinary childhood. He remembered being sent to a summer camp run by the organization Betar (which came to be outlawed in Poland because it was a leftist Zionist group). The songs Joe learned from Betar, the contacts he made, would play a very big part in his life later.


Joe began his story. The year was 1940. He was 17 years old. Things were bad in Sinca. Money was scarce. Food was scarce. He was working cutting stones for Messerschmidt, a German company. He was paid in food parcels, which he took home to the family. Brother Benny was in the Polish army. Joe and a couple of friends were identified as Jews and were turned over to the Gestapo. They were sent to a concentration camp at Yuzefaf Natvisof in Poland. There he was put to work digging ditches for irrigation. Joe would not elaborate on the details of his treatment at the hands of the Nazis. He was anxious to get on with the story. I noticed that he was uncomfortable talking about the cruelty he certainly suffered. I didn't press him. 


After some time in the camp, Joe and his 2 friends Arizitrech and Avron found an opportunity to escape. They ran. They ran all night, until 3:00 am. They ran until their hearts were about to explode and the breath from their lungs was hot and thin. They ran until they could no longer feel their legs beneath them. They ran through brush and field and forest until suddenly they saw a light and they ran towards it. A house. Alone in the countryside. They knocked on the door and begged for directions to Warsaw. They were told to follow the river to Uzefof Nadvisvo where they would be able to find transportation to Warsaw. Hungry and tired they made their way along the river and eventually found themselves at a synagogue in the town of Uzefof Nadvisvo. They were greeted warmly by the rebbe and his congregants. They were invited to stay. They were fed and given soap and water. They told the rebbe that they wanted to get to Warsaw. The rebbe sent two young women to buy tickets for passage to Warsaw on a ship.  The three friends boarded the ship.


Joe sat on a hard, wooden bench aboard the ship that would bring him to Warsaw. As the boat slowly moved he allowed himself to think, to plan, to wonder. He missed his mother and father and his brother and sisters. Would he ever see them again? He looked around at the passengers on the boat. The stress of the Nazi occupation was obvious. People were tight-lipped, their arms firmly wrapped around their clothing and packages. Eyes stared ahead or at worn shoes. Crying infants and the constant whirring of the ship plowing through the black water were the only sounds that punctuated the oppressive silence.


The ship coughed along for hours. Eventually, they arrived at a German military base at Demblin. Here there was a lift bridge. The boat ground to a halt, awaiting the lifting of the bridge.  Suddenly, there were dozens of Gestapo officers on board. They passed through the crowd roughly, screaming filthy language, barking orders. Confusion and fear gripped the passengers. The Nazis seized upon three young women from the crowded hold. They pushed them towards an open space and forced them to disrobe. The women were frightened and ashamed. As they tore the clothes off them, a most ghastly scene ensued. Each of the women had draped the bloody carcass of a pig beneath her clothing. They were smuggling meat, a crime in wartime Poland punishable by death. The Nazis were screaming and shoving the women. They peeled the pigs from the women's naked bodies and cast them on the floor of the boat. Several officers pushed the women out of the ship. Other Nazi officers grabbed Joe and his friends and told them to pick up the pigs and bring them. They did as they were told, frightened, terrified, they lugged the reeking pigs behind the officers. They were taken to a Nazi military base. The pigs were taken from them and they were beaten and kicked until they could barely stand. The Nazis eventually tired of beating the boys and they were allowed to return to the ship. Joe could barely make out the cityscape of Warsaw when they finally arrived. His eyes were almost closed from the beating. The three limped off the ship and searched for a friendly face in Warsaw. 


Joe had a couple of aunts living in Warsaw. They headed to Aunt Feigle. Her apartment was closed and the windows were boarded. No one was around to tell him where she was. The trio headed for the other aunt's home. Luck was with them and they were greeted by Joe's Uncle Yankle. He warned them that the Warsaw ghetto was about to close and they should go home. "Don't stay here," said Uncle Yankle. "Go home." His relatives found train tickets to Poviet Minsk, the closest train station to Sinca. The three boys headed home.


It was now 1941. Sinca had been ravaged by the invading Germans. Much of the town was burned. People's homes were destroyed.  Joe and his father tried to make money any way they could. It was hard. There was a black market for meat and through connections they bought slaughtered animals, butchered them and sold them. One night Joe and his father bought some sheep. They split the load and took different routes home, it was safer that way. Joe had four sheep loaded on a wagon, hidden under sacks. Suddenly he was stopped by Ukrainian Police; a particularly cruel detachment of Nazi henchmen. He was thrown into jail and beaten badly. Joe again glosses over the details of his injuries. He doesn't like to talk about this part. His eyes fill with tears. His voice catches. I take his hand into mine. It's OK, I tell him. Take your time. My own tears are streaming down my face. I know this is hard, I tell him. When you are ready.


In desperation, Joe's family contacted the Judenrod from Minsk, who bribed a Gestapo official. Joe was released. Joe had resisted telling the Nazis any of the details concerning the purchasing of the meat he had been caught with. As a result, the Polish farmer he had bought it from was so grateful to Joe, that he lavished food on Joe's family. This helped the family stay alive another year.


By Rosh Hashona 1942 the war had exacted a terrible toll on the Jewish population of Sinca. Most of the Jewish families had been taken away to concentration camps. One day before Shmona Esrei, the Nazis, with help from the local gentile population, rounded up the remaining Jews. Joe and his family were among them. They were taken by wagon to Morozes train station, some 19 miles away from Sinca. Joe remembers clearly 2 Ukrainian SS men playing mandolins. Joe pauses. The memories are too difficult. He begins to weep. The music from those mandolins have haunted his memory for over 60 years. The melody portends the terrible tragedy to come. As Joe cries softly, my own resolve begins to melt into the sadness that has gripped my friend and I cry silently with him.


By a twist of fate, the young Polish woman who was driving the wagon that contained Joe and his family, knew the two SS musicians. They told her that all the Jews would be put on trains that night; trains that would take them to certain death at the infamous concentration camp Treblinka. The family sat, defeated, together, awaiting the inevitable. They had survived longer than most. They were grateful at least for that.


During the vigil at the train station, Joe learned through the local Yudenrod leader, Libel Yetzrek, that the Nazis needed a hundred young people to work at a labour camp called Miyenyu. Joe, brother Benny and sister Malka were selected. Joe's parents and young sister Kayla were left behind, at the train station. They perished into the jaws of the Nazi death machine, another three Jewish lives snuffed out by hatred, evil and indifference. Again Joe begins to sob. "I never saw them again," he tells me.


The three remaining Shedletsky's were taken by the SS to Miyenyu where all of their personal possessions were confiscated. They were put to work. While at the camp, two young men they knew from Sinca, who had escaped from Treblinka, confirmed what Joe already knew. His parents and young sister, together with all the remaining Jews from Sinca, had been killed at Treblinka.


They laboured in that camp for several months and it became obvious that they would either die there or eventually be shipped off elsewhere to be killed. A group of young people from Sinca, about 35 or 36 people got together and decided that escape was the only possibility they had. But they had to break up into small groups to facilitate the escape and the dodging of the authorities that would follow.


Joe’s group consisted of his brother and sister-in-law, her brother, his sister Malka, his friend Ariz. They escaped on a Sunday morning at 4 am by cutting through a wire fence and crawling through 5 foot high bushes. They split their group up into two – traveling at night and hiding in the bushes by day. Joe traveled with Malka and Ariz. Brother Benny, pregnant Chava and her brother Avram traveled separately.


Malka, Ariz and Joe eventually arrived at the farmhouse of a lady who Joe’s family had known for some time. She was what the Jewish world calls a “righteous Gentile” – and Joe believes their survival is very much due to her bravery and kindness. His father used to deliver meat to her. Her name was Pani Shevatkova. They approached her home gingerly – not really knowing what her reaction would be. They were tired and hungry and desperate. Joe knocked on her window. She opened her door and her eyes filled with tears at the sight of them. They must have been quite the vision! Dirty, malnourished, dressed in rags and exhausted. 


“Children. Where are you coming from?” she asked them. 


They told her that they had escaped from a concentration camp and had nowhere to go. She beckoned them inside and instructed them to move a large wooden cabinet so they could fit behind it. She hid them there, behind that cabinet. She shared her food with them. For six long weeks they hid there, out of sight. It was Malka’s hair, however, that was almost their undoing. 


Malka had long hair and she hadn’t brushed it in six weeks. On Sunday when everyone was at church, she came out from behind the cabinet and was combing her hair and someone spotted her through the window. After supper, the leaders of the farm workers came to the door with a big lantern on a pole and said, “Lady Shevatkova, are you hiding Jews here?”


The three captives were sitting there, right behind the cabinet, terrified, certain that their breathing could be heard, sure that their beating hearts sounded like pounding drums. Mrs. Shevatkova replied, “I never saw any Jews. I don’t know anything about Jews.”


The workers said that if the Gestapo finds out that you are hiding Jews they’ll kill us all. They’ll kill you. And they’ll kill us. She held to her story. They left.


She came to us and she said, “Kids, I’m not telling you to go. The Gestapo will come in and kill me. I am 70 years old and I am not afraid. But you are young kids. It is not safe here for you now. But you do what you want.” She left us to decide.


Joe’s eyes fill with tears. “What choice did we have, after all?”, he says, “We could not put our friend in jeopardy and it was not safe for us either. For sure one of those farm workers would try to be a hero and curry favour with the Nazis. We had to leave.”


As soon as it was dark they opened the door and slipped through Mrs. Shevatkova’s apple orchard into the night. 


Before they had split from Joe’s brother, they had agreed on a meeting place on the property of a sympathetic farmer by the name of Schuber. There was a certain tree on Schuber’s farm that Joe and Benny had agreed to use to signal each other’s whereabouts with the use of a coded stone. The brothers met there and it was a tearful reunion. Chava was due to give birth any moment. Benny had taken her to another farm and left her with people he prayed would look after her. Chava had the baby, but somebody reported her to the police and two local policemen, who were known to the family, arrived with shotguns. Chava was livid. “You’re going to shoot me?” she screamed, “My father didn’t give you enough money?” The pair was visibly embarrassed. They agreed to fire into the air but told Chava that she would have to run. Chava left her newborn son with the farmer’s wife with the promise that she would return for him as soon as she could. Having just given birth hours before, Chava left a trail of blood in the white snow that lead four miles away to where her husband, Joe, Malka and Ariz were waiting at Schuber’s farm. As soon as she arrived, Joe and Benny went back and got the baby. They took him to a village called Krescheen – it was a town that they knew very well. They took the infant to a lady who had two children and they told her that they were partisans. They asked her to take care of the infant and that after the war, they would repay her generously. She gladly agreed. 


Joe and Benny went back to Schuber’s farm to join the others. Every few weeks they sent someone to check on the baby. After just six week they received the news that the baby had died.


They split up again into their small trios, the death of Benny and Chava’s baby just one more terrible sadness in a litany of heartbreak.


Winter was in full force. There was nowhere to hide from its bitterness. They survived day by day – hiding in haylofts, scavenging for scraps of food, keeping silent and being invisible.


When the warm weather came their survival was much easier. They took food from the fields around them. They hid in the corn fields. They slept during the day and scavenged at night. They had made a small camp for themselves in a corn field.


They heard from a farmer that three Russian soldiers had run away and were in the area. Joe realized that they needed a weapon – something for protection. Just as they were discussing this, they came across an abandoned rifle! Granted it was a mess, but Joe and Ariz, through tears and kisses pledged to clean it and fix it up. This rifle would save them. All they needed were bullets.


When they returned to their makeshift home in the corn field, all of their possessions were gone. Perhaps the 3 Russian soldiers had helped themselves?


They brought the rifle to a farmer named Chuskin. He was an ex-con who had been jailed for seven years for hanging a red flag. A devout communist, Chuskin was sympathetic to their plight as partisans. He agreed to do what he could with the rifle. A month later they met Benny at Chuskin’s and the rifle was like new. He gave them 5 bullets – for the price of 500 zlotes. The brothers tried it out. It was like shooting a canon! But it gave them at least a chance to protect themselves! The noise from the rifle attracted 100 SS men, leaving Chuskin to make up a story about having his rifle misfire while he was cleaning it.


So now they had a working rifle and four bullets. Not an arsenal. The challenge now was to get some ammunition. Opportunity came in the form of a coat.


As the boys and Malka traipsed the countryside hiding out and scrounging for food and shelter, they relied on the kindness or at least the apathy of farmers who they had known in better times. One such farmer had supplied milk to the family. They came to him one day. He was distressed. It seemed that all the Jewish tailors had been taken by the Nazis and he was in desperate need of a coat. The farmer invited them for dinner that night and over a hearty meal and glasses of vodka Joe struck a deal that if the farmer would provide them with food and shelter, he would make the farmer a brand new coat. Whether it was the vodka or the hearty meal – the trio slept soundly in their new quarters in the farmers barn that night. The next day Joe set to work learning how to fashion a coat. 


Resourceful by nature, Joe dismantled the farmer’s old coat and studied it carefully. As a young child he had watched the neighbouring tailor stitch together handsome suits and coats and although he had never done it himself, he learned on the job! The farmer provided him with the cloth and needles and thread and buttons and all the supplies that he would need. Joe meticulously sewed the coat, making every stich a work of survival. The longer it took, the longer they would be housed and fed. It took six weeks. And then the coat was finished. It was perfect. The year was 1943.


The group went back to the farmer who had given them the bullets. He took them upstairs, away from the curious eyes of his large family. He told them in a hushed voice that he had recently seen a “parabel” at his nephew’s house. A parabel was a German automatic that shoots seven bullets at once. Far better protection than the awkward rifle they had refurbished. 


It was decided that they would go to the farmer’s nephew’s house to get the parabel. En route, they found out that their old friend Schmulek had been caught by a Nazi collaborator in the village, tied to a horse and  buggy and dragged to the Gestapo. They were angry and heartbroken. Benny had the rifle in his arms. Suddenly he spotted the guy who had turned Schmulek in to the Nazis. He aimed his rifle. Joe got in between the rifle and target.


“You don’t shoot anybody, Benny,” he said. “We are not animals like them.”


The collaborator ran away.


Joe, Benny and Arietzik went on to the nephew’s house to see if they could get the parabel. The fellow was kind hearted and told them to take whatever they wanted. Joe assured him that it was only the parabel they were after. He gave it to them and they returned to the farmer to buy more bullets.


Unfortunately, the nephew was kind but not too bright and a couple of days later in church he told everyone how these Jewish partisans had come to his house and took his parabel but would take nothing else. 


The group was in grave danger now. They had been identified and they were armed. They came together into their original larger group to plan their next move.


It was the summer of 1944. They could hear the sounds of guns and planes. They realized that the Russian army was advancing. They overheard a group of farmers talking. The farmers were talking about releasing all their animals and running – they didn’t know who to be more afraid of – the Nazis or the Russians – they were panicking.


Joe and four of his group members hid between bales of hay in the recently cut fields and witnessed chaos – Ukrainians, Germans – seemed to be everywhere. Suddenly there were Russians everywhere too. Relief spread through Joe and his group – and then disappointment. Two hours into the melee the Russians retreated. 


The five partisans made their way from the hay field into the bush. A dozen Russian soldiers hiding in the woods captured them. Joe explained that they were Jews but the Russians didn’t believe him. The Russians thought they were German spies because of the parabel. 


“We were sitting in a group, the five of us, crying – actually sobbing. We were so tired of hiding, so tired of surviving. And now when we were so close to being saved, the Russians thought we were spies!” said Joe


A huge Russian solider approached them. He was a good 6’6” tall with bright red hair. He spoke to them in Yiddish. 


“I am also a Jew,” he said.


Now the group started crying even more. 


“Don’t be afraid,” he assured us.


They were taken to the Russian Command Centre. They were awaiting their interview when a couple of men from the Polish underground signaled to them to come with them. They shook their heads no.


Hours later they went into Russian interrogation. The top General there was Jewish. He asked them, “Kids, what do you want to do?”


They told him they wanted to go wherever they were taking Jewish survivors. They wanted to be with their people.


And so, they were provided a letter offering safe passage, signed by a four-star General of the Russian Army and military transportation which took them to the city of Jelehoff about 100 miles away. There were about 120 Jews there. Joe and his group stayed in Jelehoff for six weeks while the Russian army headed towards Warsaw.


Ten people from Sinca were reunited in Jelehoff. The ten traveled together back to Sinca to see what remained of their city. They reclaimed their homes. The Russian army was now just 30 miles from Warsaw. A division was in Sinca and they received regular reports. Joe and his friends brought Jewish fighters home regularly to feed them and offer some comforts. 


Joe tells a story about a friend of theirs – a man by the name of Eli Goldstein who was in hiding with his brother Jonas and his wife Chaytya. The family were shoemakers. Eli took a horse and buggy and went to Igles, a small town about three miles from Loutoid – he went there to take back a family farm that had been confiscated by the Nazis. It was a farm that produced turf – which was used for fuel. On his way back, the Polish underground stopped him. They pulled him from the wagon, they stole all of his possessions and they shot him with his own gun. The horse came back on his own. A group of Eli’s friends followed the road that the horse had returned from and that is how Eli’s body came to be discovered. Sadly, they gathered him together and took him to Minsk some 10 miles away to bury him in the Jewish cemetery there. It was the closest one to their town. 


After the murder of Eli Goldstein, the surviving Jews of Sinca had a meeting. There were the 5 members of Joe’s family (Joe, Benny, Chava, Malka and Avitrech) and one other family. That family went to Warsaw. The Shedletsky’s chose to go to Lodz.


“We found an apartment on a large street in Lodz. Soon we opened a butcher shop on Kilenskego Street  - number 47, between Nartovetcha and Seganlano.” Joe says with such pride in his voice. I am dumb struck at his memory for the small details.


The family operated the shop, buying cattle, butchering and selling. For the first time in a very long time things were going fairly well. The year was 1946. They became friends with a family across the street – the Pruzenovski family. Genya and Monek and Rouga and Jack Swatvte lived their – Genya and Rouga were two sisters – beautiful girls and they lived there with their husbands and a single girl who Joe used to go out with now and then. 


Joe and Benny would go to a town called Gherz about 70 minutes from Lodz to a market to buy cattle for the shop. One Polish guy they did business with warned them to leave Gherz. He said there were these renegade Polish Cartchevakies who’s aim was to destroy Jewish businesses and murder their owners. Joe and Benny hightailed it back to Lodz.


Another family the Shedletsky’s came to know in Lodz were the Blaidies. According to Joe, they were wonderful people with three sons and a very large store. They were well known in Lodz for their kindness and generosity. 


Joe recalled a story about travelling to a town 20 miles from Lodz to buy cattle. He had a truck and driver and was returning to Lodz when the Polish police stopped him, confiscated his meat and threw him in jail. Joe had a cousin in the Russian army by the name of Pavel Breve (now living in Israel) who was able to pull some strings and get Joe released from jail. But the family was visibly shaken and three months after Joe’s release from prison, they closed the store. Shortly after that, late one Saturday night, as the family slept, the doorbell rang. When the superintendent answered the ring, there were five or seven Polish policemen at the door. They put a gun to his head and demanded to be taken to the Shedletsky’s apartment. Their leader pressed the Shedletsky’s bell. Benny went to the door and asked who it was. They screamed at him in Polish to open the door. Benny refused, telling them to come at a decent time, not at 1:00 am when everyone was asleep. The police threatened to break the down door. Benny threatened them right back.


“The first guy who comes in here will get killed”, he said.


They knew he had a gun and they knew it was loaded because they were the people the brothers had bought ammunition from in Lodz! Benny’s bravado worked and they policemen left. The family cheered and made so much noise they awoke everyone in the building. It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.


But the family had some thinking to do. Poland was no place to stay. They had narrowly escaped being killed by those policemen. The next day, Joe left the apartment. He strolled down streets that had become familiar to him. He thought about his days as a child when he was part of the Betar organization – founded by Begin and Jabotinski – Betar was now outlawed, as were all Jewish organizations in Poland. Joe loved attending the Betar summer camp. He loved the comradery he felt for his fellow campers, his fellow soldiers. 


On The Palavnova he picked up a Jewish paper and was pacing back and forth with it tucked under his arm, deep in thought about Betar and what he was going to do when he was approached by a young man. The young man asked Joe what he was looking for. Joe told him that the previous night, the Polish police had come to his apartment to kill his family. He told the young man that he wanted to leave Poland. He decided then and there that he wanted to go to Israel.  The young man simply said, “Come with me”.


The pair walked together to Seganyano Street. The houses were all burned; ravaged by the Nazis, the Russians. They went to a broken-down house where Joe was told to wait in a room. The young man disappeared behind a door.  Another young man emerged and began to question Joe. He asked him what had happened to him and Joe recounted his story with much detail. Then the man asked Joe about his knowledge of Betar and Joe was happy to talk about his summers at camp and his knowledge of Betar’s founders and heroes, Trumpledor, Jabotinski, Begin. The man asked Joe about his family and Joe told him that there were now 6 people – 5 adults and little 3-month old Chaim. Benny and Chava had had a little son. He told the man that they wanted to leave immediately. Joe agreed to sign everything he had in the world over to Betar in exchange for passage to Israel for himself and his family. It was agreed. He signed over the apartment at 15 Siganlanu Street, whatever inventory was left in the store and all of the contents of the apartment. It all went to Betar to help Jews relocate to Israel.


Joe was told they had to be at the station at 3:00 pm. He left Betar’s secret office and returned to the apartment with the news. The family packed hurriedly and made it to the train station on time. They were met there by yet another young man from Betar who retrieved the key to the Shedletsky’s apartment and handed them their tickets and documents.

What remained of the Shedletsky family, huddled together in the Lodz train station – Benny, Chava, infant Chaim, Joe and Malka and Chava’s brother Avram. 


The train took them to Berlin – to the Russian side. There were thousands of people there, awaiting transportation out. Joe had been instructed to locate the Betar Commissioner who would arrange transportation for them to the American side of Berlin. They were prepared to hand over all their jewellery to two soliders who promised to take them to Minchal – where they would hook up with Betar.


The soldiers made good on their promise and the Shedletsky group were taken to the Betar camp. There were treated well by the organization – fed, given hot coffee. A man approached them and handed Joe a letter with instructions detailing where they were to go, the transportation that had been arranged for them. In due course, they boarded a train for Degendoff – a camp for Jews. 


The group arrived in Degendoff on a Friday evening around 6:00 pm. They walked across a bridge from the train station in order to enter the camp and were immediately turned away. Apparently, a pass was needed to enter the camp and the Shedletsky’s didn’t have one. A very officious Jewish soldier refused them entry and the dejected group sat outside the entrance to the camp on a grassy hill. Malka began to nurse the baby. Many people passed by them on their way in and out of the camp; many stared at the sight of the exhausted group of survivors with a tiny infant at the breast of his mother. The sight was heart wrenching and several passers-by went to the police guard at the entrance and demanded an explanation why the group was being turned away. One angry gentleman was from the organization Magan David Adom. He grabbed the guard by his lapels and demanded that the Shedletsky’s be allowed to enter. The guard complied and the family was allowed entrance to the camp. 


Once in the protective arms of the camp, the group could relax for the first time in a very long time. They were well cared for at Degendoff and there were many opportunities for the future. Benny began to do business in the camp. Joseph sought out Betar. He was determined to become involved with the organization that he had loved as a child and had saved his life as a young man. Joseph let it be known that he was ready, willing and able to serve his beloved Betar in anyway necessary.


One day, Joseph received a letter from the Betar leadership explaining that they needed four people to go to Israel. The news from Israel was very bad and help was needed desperately. Joseph volunteered immediately and was sent to Paris with other Betar members – a total of 96 men and 4 women. They wore the Betar uniform – Polish boots, green pants, black jackets. At the time there was a World Conference happening in Paris. Prime Minister Bevian from England was in attendance. Suddenly, the French newspapers were filled with stories about plots by a 100 Jewish Poles who were planning on assassinating Bevian. This paranoia was fueled by the recent attack on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, where Haganah forces blew up the hotel in order to rid the State of Israel of the British.


Joe’s group was described as Jewish Terrorists from Germany. Could anything be more ridiculous? Here was a rag tag group of people who had managed to survive death at the hands of the Nazis being described as terrorists! It was absurd!


After the King David Hotel incident, Ben Gurion left Israel and came to Paris. He was planning to make a speech in a large theatre. 

“We were instructed to attend the speech and should Ben Gurion mention anything about the Irgun or Jewish terror, we were to cut the cables to the microphone to silence him.”


A Russian officer in Joe’s group, a big man by the name of Calus was positioned on the end of a bench beside the microphone cable. Ben Gurion came to a point in his speech where he mentioned Jewish terrorists from Africa. Calas immediately cut the cable. Bedlam ensued. There was yelling and screaming from all directions. The French police entered with clubs – Joe’s group quickly disarmed them and threw them out the cinema doors.


The next morning, the French papers accused the Jewish terrorists from Germany of cutting off Ben Gurion’s speech. The repercussions were instant. The Israeli Immigration Agency (the Schnut) halted the group’s application for aliyah to Israel. Instead they were sent to a farm near Marseilles. The farm – H’atzor was a safe haven for the Betar members. In time a communication arrived advising that Begin’s 2nd in command, Juleh Epstein was coming to Europe to organize an official Israeli underground. 


Eventually, the 100 people in Joe’s group became known as Shem Yisroel Epstein Gudoot Betar Al. The leader’s name was Menachem.


The group stayed at H’atsor for 4 or 5 months. One day they received orders to go to Marseilles and there board a ship bound for Israel. There were more than 600 people aboard the ship, people from everywhere and from organizations from all over the world. The trip was estimated to take a week but instead took 6 weeks. It had been poorly outfitted for the long journey, there was almost no food at all and people were packed in like sardines. The ship was reminiscent of the death trains that had been so prominent in the very recent past.


One morning the ship was stopped by a small boat with 2 Italian officers on board. They came aboard and left quickly after smelling the stench of the raw sewage that emanated from the ship. It was terrible.


The ship arrived in Haifa on a Friday night. It was denied entry and no explanation was given. The boat started to approach the harbour anyway under the cover of darkness. Within minutes the ship was flanked on both sides by British destroyers. They opened fire and the ship immediately split in half. Joe and his group began to fight the British on the deck. In the melee that ensued, two Jews and one Brit were killed. The British boarded the passengers onto the two destroyers and took them to Cypress.


The refugee camp at Cypress was quickly organized into a habitable tent city. Joe’s gang settled in with a flag raising routine, evening news, and singing. And they were instructed by their leaders to keep every glass bottle they came into contact with.


Under cover one night, the group raided the supply stores and took large quantities of matches, spaghetti noodles, bottles and cans of gas. These were fashioned into effective Molotav cocktails which were well hidden within the camp and were routinely used to throw at the hated British.


Joe received a letter from his sister who had made it to Canada. She sent him a visa to come to Canada.


Joe ripped up the visa. He was determined to go to Israel and become an Israeli citizen. That was the only dream that kept him going.


It was May 4th or 5th, Joe can’t recall exactly, when word arrived that many members of the group was been granted entry to Israel. One good friend of Joe’s had not been so lucky – Joseph Yezemski – and so Joe and his buddies put Joesph in a box and smuggled him into Israel.


By May the 8th Joe was in his beloved Israel at last. He quickly located his aunt who was living at Arba Artsot on Rehov Jabotinsky in Tel Aviv. She made room for him in the tiny apartment.


Sometime later, a small girl came by the apartment with a message for Joseph Schedletsky. She told him that he was to come to an address at Allenby in the Shuk Carmel the following day. She took a pencil and broke it in half. “Bring this with you”, she said handing him the half pencil. “And carry a newspaper. Be there at 8:00 pm sharp.”


The following night, Joe, pencil in hand and a copy of an underground paper put out by Jabotinsky tucked under his arm, waited at the Carmel Shuk. Suddenly he was approached by a man who asked him if he had a pencil.


Joe showed him the pencil and the man drew the other half from his pocket and put the two pieces together. A perfect fit.


“Come with me, Joseph,” said the man.


They went to a building. It was cloaked in darkness, barely visible against the inky sky. Joe was told to wait outside. 


A half an hour later another man approached him. His words were terse, “Come with me.”

Joe followed the man inside the building into a small room, where there was a table spread with a map of Israel and a gun.

The man said to him, “Are you ready to give your life for Israel?”


“Yes,” Joe replied.


“Put your had on the map and swear. Know that your life is in our hands now. We can take you anytime. You have to do whatever we tell you. Are you ready to swear, to be a member of the Irgun?”


Joe answered, “Yes.”


He left and returned to his Aunt’s apartment and waited to be contacted.


A couple of days later the little girl returned and gave Joe a meeting place for the following day He was told to leave Tel Aviv and go to Ramat Gan. It was May 10th. Joe had been in Israel exactly 2 days.


Joe made it to the Irgun rendezvous, in an orange orchard. A number of people were in attendance. From there, the group was taken to Yaffo, an Arabic part of Tel Aviv. They were warned to stay close and obey orders. A big battle had taken place in Yaffo.


The area was completely surrounded by Irgun who had thrown out the Arabs, but not without casualties. Ben Gurion would not allow Magen David Adom ambulances to attend to the wounded. Instead, the Mayor of Tel Aviv – Rokeyah sent help and got the wounded out.


Joe became a soldier in the Irgun . His unit left Tel Aviv, sleeping in holes outside of Arab cities. They were told to stay hidden, not to shoot. Conditions were terrible.


In time, Begin made a pact between the Israeli Army and the Irgun. Joe and his fellow soldiers entered the Israeli Haganah at Bet Lit. Many groups became united into the Haganah, including the Palmach.


Joe’s unit leader was a former Palmach soldier named Kitsindorf. He got along well with him and worked hard. While awaiting orders at Bet Lit, Joe received a letter from his brother Benny who had made it to Pardes Chana. He asked for permission to go see his brother. Permission was granted. Benny had arrived from the ship “Exodus”. The reunion between brothers was tearful and joyous. They had survived.


Upon return to his unit, Joe met up with a cousin from Lodz who had also miraculously survived. And Pavel Breve from Warsaw. Another tearful reunion.


One evening, Joe and a dozen fellow soldiers went to sneak out of the army base in order to hear Begin, leader of the Urgun deliver a radio address. It took convincing guards and cutting fence wire to do it, but the group ended up in a restaurant listening to the beloved leader. He urged them all to stop fighting between themselves, “My sisters and brothers,” he said, “Do not put a hand against another Jew. We cannot have war between ourselves.”



Joe stayed in the army and was stationed at the base Faluja in the Negev. Here his unit prepared for battle against Nasser’s forces. They received their orders and were preparing for a fight. A Rabbi came to see the unit at 6:00 pm the night of the scheduled battle. He brought them wine and blessed them. The famous Israeli singer Shoshana Gamari came and entertained the troops. She sang Sharhoret. Joe was so touched by the song that he immediately committed it to memory. That night he sang it back to his unit friends verbatim. It is a song which Joe says was etched into his heart the moment he heard it. To this day, Joe still sings Sharhoret and it never fails to raise goose bumps on the listener.


The troop headed for Kis Faluja, the site of Nasser’s camp. They came close to the fence and someone inadvertently tripped the fence wire. The place lit up like a stadium. Night became day. Nasser’s army began to shoot.


Joe’s leader Ktsin Dov was killed. Joe himself was wounded in the leg. The second in command ordered Joe back to camp. He walked with his wounded leg over a mile before being picked up by Military Police in a Jeep. He was taken to Beersheba and then by ambulance to the hospital Telafirsky. There were injured everywhere, so many men with terrible injuries, missing limbs, broken spirits. Joe thanked God for the shrapnel in his thigh – it seemed so trivial compared to what others had suffered. Some of that shrapnel is still with Joe, 46 years later.


He stayed in the hospital for a few weeks, enduring an operation to remove what shrapnel they could. When he could travel he was sent back to Tel Aviv.


Joe and his cousin, Irca Kurtz, made their way to brother Benny in Pardes Chana. Benny lived on Sachna Davich, not far from Tajani Hospital where Joe was admitted to recover from his injuries. Joe spent four more months in hospital. While he was recovering, he discovered his love of singing and would shower those around him with beautiful renditions of songs he had picked up throughout his life – Yiddish songs, Hebrew songs, Polish songs. Joe knew them all by heart.


One day, while at Benny’s apartment, he opened the window and saw a most beautiful girl with long curly hair, standing on the street below. Overcome with the instant love he felt for this stunning girl, he burst into song at the open window. The girl looked up at the window and smiled. Joe’s heart melted.


Her name was Nisa, a name that rolled off Joe’s tongue like sweet chocolate. Nisa. He couldn’t stop thinking about her. Benny told him that Nisa was just 14 years old. She lived across the street with her mother,  sister Miriam and brother Herschel. Nisa worked in a factory.


Unbeknownst to Joe, Nisa was asking questions about him. She discovered that Joe was Mr. Shedletsky’s brother from the army and that he had been wounded.


One morning, Joe watched Nisa from the window on her way to work. He ran down to the street and followed her to the bus stop. There they struck up a conversation. Joe was completely and totally in love with this spectacular girl. Nisa, on the other hand, was a little hesitant. It took four or five times of asking her out on a date for her to finally agree to accompany Joe to see the movie Dr. Zhviago.


Nisa quickly became the love of Joe’s life and he told me with shining eyes,  “We are married 54 years and I love her now as much as then.”


Joe and Nisa were married in Israel and moved in with her mother. He recalls that the first time she made him breakfast, she tried to make boiled eggs and burned the pot. She had never cooked before. Joe ate the burned eggs anyway, his love for her overcame the bitter taste of the charred eggs. After that incident, Nisa put her head into learning to cook and she became one the greatest cooks in all the world, according to Joe. 


In 1952 Joe and Nisa’s first son Sammy was born. Sammy is now a teacher in Kitchener, Ontario.


Joe was working in Jaffa as a butcher. He had a butcher shop and a fish store with an Israeli partner on King George Street. Life was tough in Israel in those days. The young family struggled. Joe thought about moving to Canada where his sister Malka lived. Nisa agreed that it would be a good move for them. Joe called his sister and within six weeks had the paper work necessary to leave.


The Shedletsky’s arrived from Halifax by boat to Toronto on a Thursday night. Malka picked them up at the train station in Toronto with a friend called Benny Miller who had a car. The next day Joe scoured the Toronto Star classified ads, looking for a job as a butcher. He was turned down at Goodman’s on College and Brunswick. He took the bus to Lansdowne and Queen, to Ontario Meat Cutters at 1538 Queen Street East. There he met Mr. Louis and his brother, the bosses. Mr. Louis hired Joe immediately after seeing what he could do with a piece of meat. At the time a first-class butcher earned $40 per week. Joe was given $38.


After the first week, he was handed a pay envelope which he brought home to his sister Malka. She opened it and counted out $43. Everyone was shocked. Malka called out to her husband, “Yanek, you work for 3 years for $30 a week. Joe just got a $5 raise after just one week!”.


Joe worked for Mr. Louis for seven weeks, getting a $5 raise each and every week until he was making $65 a week. And then Joe learned of a good opportunity with potential for the future with a couple of brothers who had three butcher shops. One was at Harbord and Brunswick, one was at 1010 Eglinton and the third was at Bathurst and Wilson. 


Joe met with the owners, Willy and Harold Martin and was hired to work in the Wilson store. It was far from where he was living with sister Malka at Kendel and Dupont. Every morning Joe would rise at dawn and take various buses to the store. He was never late.


One day Harold got sick. Willy called Joe that night to come in a little earlier to get the meat ready for the day. Joe arrived at the store at 3:30 am and began the task of cutting the meat. At 7:30 am he heard a noise at the door and looked up to see Mr. Willy standing there. 


“Boychik, when did you come to work?”, he asked Joe

Joe replied, “I was here at 3:30.”


Willy shook his head in disbelief. 


Every Friday Joe would make up a parcel for himself from the meat in the shop and paid for it from his weekly pay envelope. One day Willy came in and saw the package Joe had made and asked what it was. One of the other workers told him that it was Joe’s and told the boss how Joe made up a weekly package and paid for it out of his pay. 


Willy approached Joe and told him that from that day forth, he was to take anything he wanted from the store, that he did not need to pay for it. “Today you will take 2 boxes of food and I will drive you home,” exclaimed Willy Martin.


Joe appreciated the boss’ generosity, but more importantly, appreciated his respect. 


The Shedletsky family had grown considerably since moving to Toronto. There was Sammy, of course and then came Marvin and Heather and Karen. 


Joe had saved his money wisely and in 1959 he opened his own store at 292 Wilson Avenue. He called the store Northwood Kosher Meats and struggled to keep the business going. It wasn’t easy, despite Nisa’s good head at bookkeeping and sales and after 6 years, they closed the store. Joe went into business with Al Tribich Partners at Sherborne Meats at Queen and Sherborne. He worked there until 1988 when they sold the building and Joe retired.


Joe Shedletsky has been a member of the Lodzer Congregation since 1952. He came to know of it through Willy Martin’s bookkeeper, Julius Sachenofsky, who was president of The Lodzer Society.



Joe’s story is one of persistence and resourcefulness. He was and is an ultimate survivor, and the most incredible thing about Joe Shedletsky is that through all he suffered, through the loss of his family and his youth at the hands of the most unimaginable cruelty, Joe has an indomitable spirit of sweetness, kindness and generosity. He is a true inspiration and in my eyes, a true Tzadik. 


God bless you Joe.


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