Monday, December 05, 2005

Naphtali Berlinger

My great-grandfather. Rabbi and teacher in Buttenhausen, southern Germany, and for all children in a thirty mile radius thereof. Killed/died in Theresienstadt in 1943.

Some of his children and family and about half of the town of Buttenhausen also were killed or did not survive the war. One daughter, Berta and her husband and children were transported from Amsterdam to Sobibor where they died. Others of his children escaped to England, Switzerland, Palestine, or the US.

His son, Jacob, managed to get to England with my grandmother Martha, my father Eli, and aunt Hannah in June, 1939, by leaving almost everything. My aunt Hannah was born the day they were supposed to leave (April 1939), but they managed to get another chance. Jacob was interred as a P.O.W. in England for 2 years before being allowed to reach New York. My father was 2 when he came to England and 4 before he saw his father again. They would have gone to Palestine except that Palestine (read: the British) wouldn't let them in. The U.S. wouldn't have let them in either except that my great-aunt Margeret (Grete) was their "sponsor".

My aunt Hannah finally moved to Israel in 1976 along with her entire family. My brother David came in 1986, my brother Ben and I came in 1991. My father and mother came in 1995.



Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that your parents, after living in the states for 54 years moved to Israel. Based on the dates you provided and guessing that everyone got to the US in 1941, your Aunt & Family was in the US for 35 years, your brothers and you were in the US for your entire lives. But then everyone up and moves over two decades.

I'm not trying to be dumb, I'm genuinely interested why everyone would move after so long.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Life in America was still tough for immigrants during and after WWII. They had to work hard just to avoid poverty. They had to leave almost everything and they had to learn a new language. So they didn't have much time to think about moving to Israel (aside from their daily prayers).

In general, most people didn't think about trying to move to Israel until after the six day war in 1967, due to Israel being a tiny country, the constant threat of war, and economic difficulties. America had also been good to my parents, and they were starting to prosper in a new community on Long Island. My aunt and her family still lived in NYC.

By 1975, my parents and my aunt's family had saved up enough to take their first trip to (the new) Israel. I still remember the trip although I was only six. My aunt, who did not have a house to keep them in America, moved with her family the next year. My parents had a house, and my father a higher paying job as a professor, so they stayed, with possible dreams of moving after retirement.

Meanwhile, my brothers and I lived in a Zionistic community where people moved to Israel every year, and went to a Zionistic school where we learned to love the State of Israel. Students were encouranged to take a year in Israel after graduating; so much so, that they crammed all the coursework into 11 years instead of 12 in the hopes that they would use the last year to go to Israel.

We had also made several more trips to Israel during various summers, for each or our bar-mitzvahs, and so on. My oldest brother David eventually decided to drop graduate school and move in 1986. Ben moved a year or so after college, finalizing his immigration a few years later. I had already decided to move during high school after college and working for two years. Which is what I did.

By then we had all of the grandchildren hostage in Israel, so my parents had no choice but to move, as well.


Anonymous said...


People move from one country to another because they believe that life in the new country will be better. It seems your family and many others of the jewish faith believe that living in Israel is better than living somewhere else. (The US and presumidly other countries as well.)

What I don't understand (and this is not an insult to Israel, just an example of my ignorance) is why living in Israel is better. I had a friend when I was younger who was Jewish, I went to his bar-mitzvah, stayed at his house a few times, and I don't remember hearing any conversation about moving to Israel. (It was our moving out of state for a job that I lost touch with him.)

Is it living in a place where the majority of people share your faith? Because the government is founded on that faith? Because of Israel's closeness to major religous locations? Or is it another reason all together?

Thank you for sharing about your family, your own life and faith.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

How shall I put this?

If you lived in New Orleans, and you were forced out of your house, and then, 19 weeks later, the house was completely rebuilt and you had the chance to go back, even though you were living in another location already, you would probably go back.

If every day of those weeks, you, your parents, and your children prayed three times a day to God to please let you go back to your house, and then it became possible, the only thing stopping you would be whatever roots you had already put down somewhere else.

For me, nineteen hundred years is not so much different from nineteen weeks. I was kicked out, I had a chance to go back for which we had been praying for for so long, so I did. That's it.

Now on top of that, there are many amazing things about living in Israel. In Jerusalem, there are hundreds of kosher restaurants, hundreds of synagogues of every persuation, constant Jewish learning, and so on.

When you walk in Israel, you can point at a hill and say, "David walked across the valley to that rock, Goliath came down into that field, and then David picked up a rock from about over here and threw it over there. Here is where they carried the body back." And so on.

And yes, living in a country where I don't have to explain why I am taking off early on Friday or missing the Jewish holidays is nice. However, other than that, I personally wish there was much MORE separation of "church" and state in Israel. As far as my government being religious, George bush quotes scriptures more than Ariel Sharon does.

Like any home, however, you can get annoyed at the people, even though they are your family, and you can find nice things to do outside your home.


Anonymous said...

My family moved around quite a bit when I was younger, I've lived in 7 different states. Now, living in Michigan, I feel very settled. Of course, I graduated from high school here, got married here, bought a house here, had my first child here. So I've come to know southwest Michigan as home and love living here. I had no point of reference.

Your last reply gave me some understanding of what your family felt and their desire to return to their home.

As for Bush, well... I didn't vote for him. My comment about religion and government being tied was based on an impression I got from the reading I did in trying to learn about Zionistic communities and Israel.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Thanks for the interesting questions. I liked looking at your Lego pictures.


Unknown said...


I know it's been a while since you wrote this post but I would love to be in contact with you. You see Reb Naphtali Berlinger's daughter Fanny is my Father's (Naphtali) mother. So your great grandfather is also my great grandfather!!

Hoping to hear from you.

Yossi Weisz

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Happy to, but you didn't leave any contact info!