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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
INTERVIEWEE: Perla Meissner
INTERVIEWER: Lea Freund
November 27, 1981
F: Today is November 27, 1981. We are in Miami, Florida. I am Lea Freund
interviewing Mrs. Peria Meissner, who lived in El Salvador for twenty-
three years and is now living in Israel. Perla, where were you born?
M: I was born in Czechoslovakia, part of Karpato, Russia, in Muncach.
F: Your parents were from the same town and the same area?
M: It was the same area, but not the same town.
F: You come from a big family. What kind of a set-up did you have in
M: A very traditional, large family. Both sides of my family had about
eighteen or nineteen aunts and uncles. It was a very big family.
F: Your father, mother, and sisters?
M: I had two sisters.
F: Tell me a little bit about the Jewish life in your childhood.
M: It was what they called a Yiddishe sthetle. The majority of the Jewish
people lived there.
F: How many were in these families?
M: In the city of Muncach there were about 30,000 people and 15,000 were
F: What kind of Jewish life did you have?
M: It is very difficult to explain. I did not know any other life but the
Jewish life. We were surrounded by Jews, who were doing all the work.
Except for farmers, I did not know any other people but the Jews:
shoemakers, dressmakers, bakers, shopkeepers. Everybody was Jewish,
except for a few teachers and maybe the policemen, and the manager of
the post office. They might have been non-Jews, but the rest of the
people were Jewish. I have lived in a Jewish environment since I can
F: You went to a Jewish school?
M: I did not go to a Jewish school. We lived in a village by the name of
Slotvene and did not have a Jewish school. The girls did not go to a
Jewish school. The boys used to go but they really just went to the
Heder, a Jewish school. I never managed to go there. My sister went
later, when the war started, and she learned Hebrew. I never learned
F: Why did you say you did not manage to go?
M: Because the background of the school was anti-Hebrew. "Hebrew school"
meant being a little bit assimilated already. That was not accepted by
my family. During the war, when my sister was still of school age, she
was sent by my parents. They changed their policy towards so-called
assimilation, and she went to the Hebrew school. I was not such an
exceptional student so I stayed out of school.
F: What did you do with your time when you were out of school?
M: I would have to add that, in the time of 1929, 1930, and 1932, the
economic situation was very difficult and my parents moved to Prague.
So I went to school in Prague. I did go to a Jewish school in Prague.
F: How old were you then?
M: From age six until age ten. Then I went to a so-called high school for
girls until the age of twenty. When Hitler came, we moved back to
Karpato, Russia at that time. It was turning back to Hungarian and I
did not speak Hungarian. I would have to learn Hungarian at the age of
thirteen and as I mentioned before, I was not such a brilliant student.
We had an affidavit to go to the United States so my parents figured I
should learn a profession that would be useful in the States. They
tried to teach me to sew. They were not too successful and neither was
I so I just stayed home. There were no maids anymore because everybody
was afraid to have a maid. There were problems with food and I became
a useful member of the family by helping my mother do home chores. Then
in 1944, the Germans took over that part of Hungary, and I went to a
F: Which concentration camp?
M: I went to several, starting out with Auschwitz and then I moved from
one concentration.camp;.to another. In.1945, I was freed and liberated
by the Russians.
F: What happened then? Were you with your family?
M: No. When we entered the concentration camp, I was left only with one
sister, and I never saw the rest of my family again--my immediate
F: When you came out, where did you go?
M! I went back to Muncach. Muncach is not what it used to be. I went
back because I thought I could find somebody from my family.
F: Where was Muncach on the map? How far from Prague?
M: Czechoslovakia was like a long strip--the first part was the Czechs,
and then Moravia and Slovakia. The last part was Karpato, Russia and
that was given.back to the Russians. They wanted it back. When the
war was over, Karpato, Russia belonged to the Russians and I did not
feel like living in the path I lived before so I went back to Prague
with my sister.
F: What happened in Prague?
M: In Prague I started work at the repatriation office at the minsa-
nodrashy--a train center. No, that is not a train center. What is it
called, where the trains come in?
F: The railroad station.
M: The railroad station. There were many, many immigrants coming through.
The Czech's were behaving badly and you had to help every train that
came in as much as you could. They were on their way to some other
F: They were coming from the concentration camps to...?
M: People, in 1945 were travelling from one part to another. Many-- not
only the Jews--wanted to return home. The Creeks, Poles, Yugoslavs--
the whole world was travelling to see if they could find another home.
We were not only there to help Jewish immigrants. That was an organiza-
tion put out by the Czech government. They needed food, tickets, and
help so the train used to come in. We used to give them whatever they
needed. Sometimes it was clothes and food, and the train would go on.
Very few stayed in Prague. I think they were not allowed to stay in
Prague. In 1947, I registered for illegal immigration to Israel.
Illegal immigration was, at that time, to Palestine. There was an
agreement between the Czech government and the Jewish agency to put up
and organize a Czech brigade with military preparation. I had four months
of military preparation in theCzech village that was especially given to
the Jewish underground. The Czech army officers gave the people who
registered for that program military preparation so they could participate
in the war. By the time we got to Israel, it was already the first of
January in 1949. When I arrived with the.-Jewish brigade, it was already
Israel so I did not participate in the war.
F: How did you arrive? What was the method used for your arrival?
M: They had Italian boats which were prepared to carry people. They were
not passenger boats. They were cargo boats. Riches were not put out,
so we had about 500 people in a boat that was not meant to carry people.
But, it took only four days. It was not so bad. They went to the army
straight from the boat. The bus was waiting for us. It took us to a
military camp and I was a soldier in the Israeli army. So was my sister.
F: When and how did you meet Wehrner? How did it happen that you left
M: Some friends of ours introduced me to my future husband in 1956. I
promised to join him in Salvador because he did not wait for me. I
was working with a kindergarten teacher in Haifa and when the school
year was over, I went to Salvador. This is how we met. This is how
I happened to be in Salvador.
F: So you arrived in El Salvador in 1959?
M: Nineteen fifty-six. It was between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in
F: What was your first impression of the country and the Jewish community
when you arrived?
M: It is very difficult to remember impressions. I did not consciously
see much of the country. I was very homesick for Israel at first.
There were usually very bad feelings there. I did not consider myself
a typical yured and yet it was very unpleasant. It impressed me with
it's high standard of living, especially in the Jewish community and,
these were the people that I saw most of the time in El Salvador. I met
other people, too, but my life was almost a continuation of my life in
the Stetle--having just Jewish friends. All my good friends were Jewish
people who used to be invited to our home. Outside of this Jewish
community, I had good friends, but somehow they never formed a part of
F: As far as a Jewish life, do you remember how many families existed then
M: The numbers were not reliable, but I was told that there were a hundred
Jewish families in Salvador. There were maybe fifty,.not more. When.
I say a hundred families in the community I mean that you saw maybe
seventy families at the synagogue at the high holidays. Some were just
registered as such. I would say that not more than forty families
actively participated in the Jewish life in the community.
F: What kind of Jewish life did you find when you arrived?
M: I think I told you that I came at the high holidays. When I dame to
Yom Kippur, the synagogue was full. They had a good rabbi from Miami--
a retired gentlemen-who spoke only English and he was too old to leave
the Jewish Community. My friends brought us a wedding present. The
friends there felt they were committed Jews and as such, I immediately
felt a good rapport with my friends the whole time I was there. I do
not know much about Jewish life, but one and a half years later, Rabbi
Granat came. The small group was looking for a rabbi. They had the
synagogue on a volunteer basis and had people working for the community--
president of the Jewish community, secretary, etc. WIZO already existed
and was working actively. In that respect, nothing changed. This
existed the whole time.
F: Was there minyan on Friday night and Saturday morning?
M: Friday nights, Saturday morning, and on all the holidays, of course.
F: All of them, Pesach?
M: In the synagogue you had mainly services. It was not yet the center for
the Jewish community, though there was an active Zionist movement
organized by the then generals consulate for the state of Israel.
F: His name was?
M: Mr. Ernesto Liebes, who was later assassinated by the leftist group.
There was an ambassador for the state of Israel, an ambassador for all
of Central America who used to come and visit. The first one was
stationed in Mexico. I have not met that gentlemen, but then General
Chaltiel came and he was stationed in Guatemala, I believe. The work
was based on a voluntary system. Rabbi Granat, I believe, had a very
difficult time for many years. Everybody wanted something from the
rabbi. He should be a teacher, he should be a rabbi, he should be a
hazan, and he should be an advisor. One man for all the jobs. It is,
of course, impossible. He was, and probably still is a man of peace.
Whatever the community told him to do, he did. He was not always in
agreement with what the community asked him, but in his very quiet way,
he influenced the community by being such a man of peace--he never dis-
cussed and never argued very much. He saw that this community had to be
led the way they would like to have it and the services remained very
orthodox. Nothing was left out. Holidays used to be celebrated--the
Pesach for two days, then two days attend, and the same with Succoth.
Because he had such a lovely voice, people who used to come to the center
enjoyed him so much that they are still looking for Granat, I believe.
Granat's contribution was enormous in his preparation and in his work
with the boys. Every boy whom he prepared for bar mitzvah became at-
tached to him and the whole bar mitzvah ceremony became an important
factor in the Jewish community. It was not for the show later or the
party--it was because being caught up into the Torah was very emotional,
very beautiful. The few weddings we had were beautiful because of Rabbi
Granat. He was not part of the community but he knew everybody. He
talked to the bride about the parents, about what they owed to the
community of the Jewish people, and what is expected of them. The
marriage went straight to the heart and everybody felt he was talking to
them. It was, in a way, a kind of family matter. Very few people were
outside of this family. That was what made Salvador such a special
F: Tell me about your participation in the celebration of the Jewish holiday
and how you got involved.
M: I think I mentioned that I was a kindergarten teacher and that I came
from Israel on Yom Kippur. I did not speak any Spanish. I do not think
I spoke English but I did understand some English. I was asked if I
could prepare something for Chanukah for the children.
F: Was that done before you arrived?
M: I think the community had several people who used to come. One was
always mentioned--nobody mentioned the name, but they used to call her
the "mora"--and she was the one who prepared the Chanukah celebration.
F: Was she part of the community?
M: No, she was sent by somebody. I do not know what happened. She did
not stay long. Something happened in the community. I think she tried
to influence people to move to Israel. She was actively promoting Aliah
and nobody wanted to go. This active promotion was not toward everybody's
liking and it was with bad feelings that she parted from the community.
I remember people telling me about her and there was a celebration of
chanukah that Mrs. Guttfreund once madekat. the-house- ft rnesco:Liebes
that I mentioned already. So I was not the one who introduced it. I
believe if there was a contribution, it was more that it was done on a
regular basis. The first chanukah celebration that I organized consist-
ed of no more than fourteen or thirteen children.
F: Of different ages?
M: Different ages. Most of our children used to go to the American school
because it was a good private school. Most of them belonged to the
Catholic church and there was an American school but they did not have a
high school, so most of the kids from the community were sent away at the
age of fourteen. That later changed when the American school opened up
a high school. It was quite successful. The drug problem of the states
was becoming very serious and people wanted to have the children at home,
not giving them the best education possible but being watchful over the
children, and not having them involved with drugs. When I started with
the kids, I knew that I could help them until the age of sixteen or
F: What exactly did you start?
M: Starting with the Chanukah celebration, they were introducing songs,
dances and the little stories about Chanukah. The first Chanukah
celebration was done in the synagogue. I became a permanent teacher at
the synagogue and after chanukah, I was asked if I could do something
F: Do you remember which year that was?
M: Yes, it was in 1956.
F: It was the same year you arrived?
M: It was the same year, yes. I believe the kids had a hard time with me
because they did not understand me, but songs are songs and dances are
dances, and you do not need too many words. That group was already a
little older and they understood my poor English so we got along quite
F: Which group of youngsters was the oldest? Do you remember names?
M: Andre Guttfreund, Rutita Reich, Roby Solamon, Richardo Shoening, Laura
Shoening, that was a group. I never had some of the kids because
everybody was afraid I might influence them too much toward Zionism and
I believe it took many people in the community a long time to realize
that I was a permanent member of the community and as such, I was
interested in the Jewish religion, and very much interested in Israel.
I did tell them openly that whatever I teach and whatever I say about
Israel is going to be positive. Some people, like Mr. Baum, will never
send their children even to religious classes. He accepted that at
face value and did not want to expose the children to my influence.
But his grandchildren are very much exposed to so--called influence--
to somebody who is a Zionist. Rabbi Granat used to give classes in the
American school after regular classes were over. Granat used to come
and give the children religious instruction one hour a week.
F: From what age?
M: From the second grade.
F: Then they were bar mitzvah when they were older.
M: They were part of the community, and because of the bar mitzvah and
because I felt at ease with Granat, I did not want to disappoint him,
they kept coming to the synagogue. They were very useful members
because of their small community where everybody knew everybody else.
The children made a happy contribution to the Jewish life by celebrating
Purim, Chanukah, Pesach, Yom Hatzmaut, and Simha Torah. They felt they
were responsible for giving the community whatever it had. They felt
very important and knowing of their importance, and the parents coming
because their children participated. A great majority of the parents
used to come to the synagogue because of the children having an important
role. The children used to read on Friday evenings. Sometimes on
Friday nights they would do the services and the children actually con-
ducted the whole service. Without the children, the community would not
have had such an enriching experience on every holiday.
F: Let's go back then to the teaching. The rabbi...
M: The old rabbi had a heart attack. He was a young fellow and he had his
first heart attack and I felt I had to volunteer to do his job in the
school so I became the teacher. I was teaching history and the importance
of the holidays, the context of the holidays.
M: I did not teach Hebrew. I used to teach reading at school but there
was a large group of children who had private lessons. We had a large
group of grown-ups who took Hebrew. Hebrew is not a language that you
teach for obvious reasons as your teach any other language. You could
communicate if somebody came to you and said, "I would like to learn
Hebrew. We would like to learn more about customs, the Jewish people,
religion, and history." For me, teaching was getting to know people
better. If you teach them you get the fantastic feeling that you know
a lot. Of course, I do not but I felt that, in comparison with other
people, I was almost a university professor. I love history and I love
Jewish history in particular.
F: You were magnificent giving your knowledge to others.
M: Yes, but you should not give me compliments.
F: It is part of the interview.
M: The Jewish community was growing and by growing, I do not mean so much
grown-up people as young families were established and all of the sudden
there was a group of thirty, forty, or fifty children. Each one was in-
corporated in the youth movement that was established by young members of
the community who went to a Jewish camp and came back very enthusiastic
about the idea of a camp. They called it Noashalano. This Noashalano
seemed.almost futurless. It was difficult to see these young people, who
had no preparation, lead a group of other youngsters who did not know
anything. Yet, as it was established, it flourished and each child saw
himself as a future madrich which they became in due time. As they were
growing, they were very much looking forward to being the leaders and then
they perpetuated this Noashalano. It became, I think, more important than
the rabbi, more important that I--something that kept the community and
the children very much in a cohesive group. In the small community, each
child felt an attachment to another member of the community because the
madrich used to take care of the little ones and there was a relationship
between brothers and sisters. It was more than kibbutz. It was something
that could not be copied by any other community just because they were so
small. Experiences were mainly bad ones so they started to depend on
themselves. They were wise enough and clever enough to ask for advice,
and everybody was willing to give. Everybody was willing to help if the
children needed something, and the community was very proud to give the
synagogue and the garden at their disposal. A succoth was built in the
garden-that was their office and headquarters. It was a fantastic feeling
to see how they developed and grew with this movement and they always had
their parents, the rabbi, and me to ask for advice. Later some Israelis,
who used to madre sin, came with their families. These Israelis had child-
ren so they became a part of the Noashalano and incorporated the Israeli
children. Interestingly enough, the Israeli children brought their
parents to the synagogue for Friday night services and for holidays, and
the majority of them never celebrated any Jewish holidays. I mean,-they
celebrated the holidays but not by going to the synagogue and making it a
religious holiday. For most of the Israelis who came to Salvador, it be-
came a unique experience. I have been living in Israel for two years and
I still have contact and I am in touch with Israelis who used to live in
Salvador. Kemachlihout for the embassy and for tahal and for solenponer.
What they miss very much is the Salvador-type synagogue and the youth
movement. They are not going to the synagogues anymore-- they did not
find a synagogue they would like go to. They kind of mourn Salvador for
the loss of a Jewish life. It sounds very, very uncommon and I.would say
unbelievable. I suppose that is true.
F: I would like to go back to what you used to do with Gerta Guttfreund as
far as the holidays were concerned: Pesach, Chanukah.
M: Once we finished this Chanukah we started preparing for Purim. When I
say we, it was together with Gerta Guttfreund who had a lot of imagina-
tion, energy, and experience. We used to look for material together,
dividing our labor of love and each holiday was prepared together. We
used to work on the preparation for five or six weeks and see what it
was we were going to do next. We tried to incorporate most of the child-
ren--sometimes at the age of two they were already participating. As I
said before, on Chanukah we always had a play in the Jewish context. We
never prepared anything that was not part of the Jewish tradition.
F: We are talking about twenty or twenty-three years of preparing Purim and
Chanukah. Where did you look for the material every year for the program?
How did you do that?
M: I used to go to Israel on vacation and I was in Mexico once on vacation--
wherever I went, I asked for material. The problem was not so much the
lack of material, but the translation into Spanish. I had plays in
Hebrew and in English. I found very good material in the Bible, and some
of it was written by us. We did a story once--I think for Purim--about
Abraham sending Niazeph to look for his wife. We took half of it from
the Bible. Then on Chanukah, the story was in Spanish with bits of
material in English and Hebrew. The problem was finding materials. I
think I used to bother everybody and some people promised--some really
kept their promises-and when I used to go to Israel, I looked for mater-
ial in Itsokawhayemich. When I saw a play, I would just make something
up. I would get somebody else to translate it to see if the Spanish was
correct. There was no problem because we had tapes and I did remember a
lot of songs that I used sing in Israel. When I came to Israel, I joined
a group of Rekoudeyam, folk dancing, and it was not difficult. The
difficult part was finding something for each age group because it was
so important for everybody;to participate. We had every child and every
parent participating with everybody else. The reason for celebrating the
holidays was to have each child be part of it. Each child was given
something to read from the Hagadda and the songs. I do not read music,
so it was just be ear, but I would bring whatever songs I picked up while
I was away.. I remember in Haifa I went to the conservative synagogue
every Friday evening. I was trying to remember songs, and I used to come
back to Salvador and introduce new songs into the services. Many songs
were introduced into services through the conservative synagogue. I know
that I could have done much better. I knew that I could have come to Miami
for an example, or gone to one of these communities and asked for material.
I felt I was on an island, and I depended and was dependent on myself.
The young people used to come back from the so-called Machon, they called
it. It is the FEDECO--Federation of Central America Jewish Communities--
and most of our older children participated in these camps. From these
camps they used to bring songs and dances. I was their teacher and then
they would teach me, so it was really a two-way street. It was a camp and
the children came with new ideas, and each holiday and travelling enriched
my experience. I should have done it on a professional basis. I always
felt I was a volunteer worker--not a teacher, not a community leader, and
not a madrih. I did not act as a professional does.
F: But you were.
M: That was a big mistake. I could have done much better.
F: But you were a madrih.
M: I was all these without a title and without professional knowledge. There
is a saying that, among the blind, the one-eyed man is a king. This is
what I was and I believe that, if not for this experience, I would have
known much less. I contributed to the community but actually I was the
one who gained the most. It was not only what I gave the community.
Basically, the community gave much more to me.
F: That is a matter of opinion.
M: It is not a matter of opinion.
F: Together. Fifty-fifty.
M: More than fifty-fifty. I had much more.
F: Perla, can you tell us a little bit about the preparation of the Pesach
and the community seder?
M: Yes. It started with Rabbi Granat. He was asked by the community to make
a community seder and he, of course, said yes. He always said yes. What-
ever the community asked he was willing to do. At the first seder in 1958,
there were not more than forty people participating. As the community
grew and people were more connected to the community and the synagogue,
the center became a permanent fixture in the community-- a very important
one. It was down by the WIZO (Women International Zionist Organizations)
and the ladies were in charge of the preparation of the menu, and of look-
ing for a place where the seder should be celebrated. It used to be a
catering place, a very beautiful place. They were in charge of technical
things. The rabbi and I were in charge of distributing the readings.
F: Would you say that most of the things that appeared in the community, the
technical part, the food and everything, was...
M: Was done by the women of the community.
F: And the religious part was you and...
M: The rabbi and I.
F: On holidays, like chamukkah, you made a play with Gerta Guttfreund, and
the WIZO made the food and beverages that were served.
M: The community was kind of one big family. The Israeli's used to call it
the kibbutz of Salvador. I do not think that it could have existed the
way it existed without the group of women who volunteered to help. It was
not only a question of collecting money for Israel--they were what friends
of the state would call a sisterhood. I mean, WIZO was in charge of
absolutely every technical preparation, the food, the decorations, and the
seder. Everything was done by the women. The men were in higher position
-members of the board--and whenever the women asked for a contribution
for the WIZO, it was always given. There was a lot of good will in the
community and this is why it had such fantastic results. For the seder,
we used to get together with the rabbi and decide who was going to read
which part. Reading was not only part of the Haggada-explations and
stories were read and we had as many songs as possible. By the time the
celebrations of community became a permanent fixture, we had about twenty-
five or thirty songs and most of the children knew all the songs and did
not need much preparation because they remembered the songs from one year
to another. The beginning was slow but I have a loud voice and once I was
loud, they wanted to be louder. The rabbi helped and I asked some very
good friends, like Lea, to sit with me and help the children disciplined.
They were having so much fun that it was a bit difficult to keep them
from laughing and having fun with each other. We insisted that the
seder celebration was a religious holiday and a religious celebration.
They could have fun when the food was distributed and they had a little
extra time when they could run around, talk and laugh. I believe that
nothing the children will ever have in their lives will be as beautiful
and as memorable as what they had at the community seder, with all the
children sitting in the middle of this room and the parents warning the
children to come back through the seder. They were the one who were
reading. They were the ones who were signing. They were the ones who
made the seder what it used to be. It was exciting and almost painful to
see how it came out because we used to have 120, 130 people at the seder
(it was quite.a show) and if it went well, it was to our honor and if it
went badly, it was our mistake. It never went badly.
F: It was always a beautiful seder.
M: We had a nice seder. We used to celebrate Simcath Torah at the synagogue,
and again, the children were the ones who were dancing and singing. The
parents used to come because the children were celebrating Simcath Torah.
The same for Succoth, because a Succah was built, decorated and all the
children wanted to come to see the Succah, so the parents came. It was
a case of the children bringing the parents to the synagogue and not
vice-versa. I do not know if many parents realized that and that was the
F: What you just said is very interesting in comparison to what you said in
the beginning-that when Granat came, it was basically a very conservative
synagogue, that everything was read and that everything was done and yet,
those people were not really very religious-minded and they wanted it that
way, but the children were the ones to bring them to they synagogue and
M: I should not be the one to tell you the history of the Jewish community,
but since we are talking about that, the Jewish community was established
by the members originally from Strasburg, or the areas surrounding the
Starasburg. Most of these people had a strict religious upbringing but
left home very early. Maybe they were orthodox in their way of
celebrating, but not knowledgeable. Anyone from Karpato Russia, the place
I came from, had a lot of Jewish knowledge because they used to Heder at
the age of three and were very often sent to the Yeshiva. In part of
France, orthodoxy consisted of having the services and the tradition but
not the knowledge. When they came--even the German Jews-the community
consisted mainly of Jews from Alsace and from Germany, and this was the
kind of Jewish life they wanted to establish. They wanted to have Hassan
of the synagogue and the services done exactly the same way they used to
with no changes whatsoever in the services, with women and men still sit-
ting separately. This is the way the synagogue was built but they used to
work on Shabbat. I do not know if anybody had a kosher home, but these
were older generations. When the new generation came, they accepted the
services as such and thanks to Granat's pleasant voice he made a very nice
service. No Spanish was introduced for many, many years and we later
introduced reading the Haftarah in Spanish, so people would know what
Haftarah is all about. Never was there an except for the part
that the children used to read when they participated in the services so
they were given some parts to read. Somebody was reading in Hebrew and
another child would read the Schmah in Spanish or the epics of the
father ___, what they used to read in Spanish as an additional lecture,
but the services and everything stayed exactly the way it used to be many
many years ago. Nothing changed, so it was a very Reform community with
very Orthodox services. It is a paradox, but many communities still do
the same thing.
F: About the Hebrew lessons given to the boys that were going to bar mitzvah
or private lessons--you gave all of them Hebrew private lessons?
M: No. We would give money to children if they wanted to study Hebrew.
Let's say your boys wanted to have or you told them that they should have
Hebrew lessons. Because the mother'had the very strong influence, the
children accepted it and, since the Freund children had Hebrew, Danny
Guttfreund wanted Hebrew; if Danny Guttfreund wanted Hebrew, David Bernhard
wanted to have Hebrew lessons. It was kind of a snowball and I had many
private students. I have many of my ex-students in Israel now. Some are
university graduates and they have six or seven children who graduated
from the Hebrew University. They are not in Israel now because they are
my students, but the fact that the parents sent them to have Hebrew lessons
it made the children want to go to Israel. I would like them to be prepared.
F: I think it would be nice to make clear here that there were very few that
did not want the children to be exposed to the Israel's side.
M; Not many that did not. When you came in 1959, you did not have children.
By the time your children were a little older and followed my so-called in-
fluence, six or seven years had past. At the beginning I had difficulties
in getting children to participate in other celebrations. I had a lot of
difficulty, too, in having children sent to the synagogue to prepare for
any celebrations. For many children, the parents kind of said, "You want
to have them, come and pick them up." So I used to take my car and pick
up all the children and bring them home. That was kind of a compromise
done very unwillingly. As these celebrations and plays were more and more
successful, the parents became jealous of the children who had such a good
time and they came, and said, "Could I have this child participate next
time?" It took about seven or eight years before it became an established
thing and I think that most of the parents wanted it. It was not so from
the beginning. I found that I used to have a play and needed six, seven,
or eight children, but no play when the children's group grew and the
parents wanted it. It was just jealously that one group of children had
such a wonderful part, and they asked "Why not ours too?" It was not so
from the beginning. Not all the parents sent their children to the American
school. They sent them to American school but not to me when I took over
from Rabbi Granat when he was sick.
F: So when he was sick...
M: I took over.
F: You took over all his classes in school with the children?
M: Then I took over some of the preparations for the bar mitzvah because
he was indisposed.
F: Besides your work with the Hebrew classes in school with the children,
your private Hebrew classes and your preparations of the children for
the different states, for the different holidays, etc., you also worked
M: The people also worked at it. My husband was always a member of the
board so why would not I work for the WIZO? WIZO was working for the
community, and working for Israel. There was no reason why I would not
do that. You always worked and helped others, so I was working like any
other member of this group. I was no exception.
F: Do you remember Sheliel besides that Mora that came to the Salvador com-
munity. Can you tell us a little bit....
M: I never met the Mora. They used to call her Mora and she ended up teaching
just a few adults because the children did not want to work with her any
F: What I am trying to bring you to is to say the Jewish life we have in our
community was due only and exclusively to the people in the community
itself. But I do know there was some sheliah that came from Israel. Can
you tell us a little bit of what you remember of those sheliah and what
it meant to them?
M: I do not think that I wanted to talk about Shelihim. I do not know if
the Jewish agency is aware of the harm she is doing by sending people who
should not be sent in the first place. If you would engage a teacher for
any school, then you would ask, "What kind of a school do you have? What
kind of people?" You would want to send a suitable person. The Jewish
agency probably had some kind of compromise with the different political
parties, so in a very conservative...I mean conservative not only in the
Sway the service is conservately-minded, not leftist group Jewish community.
She did not send one person from Shomer Hatzairo. I remember asking one
of the schlejim to do me a favor and proposed something for the children
for Oneg Shabbat, and he asked me what Oneg Shabbat was. I could have
killed him. I mean, he had absolutely no right to come and be a sheliah
at the Jewish community-the whole Jewish life was centered around the
synagogue and the Jewish life--and ask "What is the Oneg Shabbat?" He had
different purposes. It is one thing to know when you want to teach
politics and ideology, and another thing when you have a group, but this
was not Noarsheuano. That was not the Jewish community. The Noar felt
they needed some help and they got some help from the Zionist group. It
was not politically left-oriented or right-oriented. It was kind of the
middle of the road. We never had a sheiah who would be in the community
for a longer stay. Schlejim was to come, give some talks and leave, so
actually we had no influence whatsoever. Some-of those Israelis-who were
shlihut in Salvador (not the Madriuim) made quite a contribution. Peter
prepared the children for the dances for Yom Hatzmaut and we used
to make a Yom Hatzmaut celebration. Israelis used to live in the
community and they got to know the community. They were the ones who
knew what kind of contribution they could give and they gladly gave it.
Not all but most of them. We never had a sheliah, and he had absolutely
no influence. The strength of the community was its voluntary spirit--
the kind of spirit that Gerda had.
F: They basically were the spirit of keeping Judaism with the Children but
also the love for the state of Israel. The combination of two things.
F: The state of Israel did play a tremendous role although people did not
emmigrate until much, much later. Right?
M: I hate to contradict you. Judaism itself was very important, but you
have in the Jewish community this group that consisted of Mr. Guttfreund
and his wife, Ernesto and Lea Freund, and Carlos Bernhardt, and they
were the pillars of the community. Since they had a love of Israel and
a deep knowledge of the importance of Israel (consciousness of what Israel
means to Jews in general), and since they were the ones who were managing
the whole community, they introduced Israel as an important fixture and
the community was given a choice to take it or leave it. It was kind of
introduced to the whole set up. Everybody took it because it was wrapped
in a beautiful package and the children enjoyed it. The parents wanted
the children to enjoy themselves so they got Zionism as Judaism and
Judaism as Nionism, but not because the community wanted it. The com-
munity showed its feeling for Israel in time of crisis and danger, and
then all these feelings of what it really means, and the unconscious love
for Israel became very obvious, as long as everything was okay. They
were sometimes bothered by it and made a very nice face, a not-so-nice
place, but as I said, you could not say no to Lea Freund or Gerta
Guttfreund. Maybe I am telling you something that you did not want me
to say in the interview but that is the truth as I experienced it.
F: Israel became something that people were very proud of and it became a
nation that showed the world that we can have our heads up, and people
felt it was necessary for Israel to help somehow.
M: That was unconsciously so and it became evident only when Israel was in
F: The government of El Salvador respected the Jews and Israel as a country,
and that gave the people a feeling that it is nice to belong to a world
M: As long as the government of Salvador was on good standing with Israel,
Israel was in good standing with Salvador. It was very easy for the
Jews to identify with them, but it did not come spontaneously. It did
not come as something they wanted to perpetuate, and very often they were
very much afraid of the children being influenced and going to Israel.
I will give you a very good example. You had a very large group of good
Jews who wanted their children to be Jewish, who themselves had never
visited Israel all the years they had been travelling to Europe so there
is no such thing as connection. The same group of people went to Israel
again. It sometimes took twenty or twenty-five years until they got to
Israel. Then they stayed there one week, and found a lot of faults. So
it is not a love for
F: Perla, you left Salvador two years ago. When you left, you left the com-
munity going, Rabbi Granat still was there, and Hebrew lessons were still
going on in school. Your place was taken by one of the youngsters in the
community that was sent to Israel, Sara Suster. Unfortunately, as we
know, right now there is not much of the Jewish life we have talked about
in this tape and I think we all miss it very much. I think the older
generation misses it--the young people who are all over the world now.
They have childhood memories that are something that will always stay
with them. On the basis of that, I believe and hope that they will
prepetuate this feeling for Judaism in their children-maybe not everybody
but certainly a large group of the children. I want to thank you for all
the help and all the magnificent work you did in our community. I was
waiting for this interview for a long time and I am glad I did it. Thank
you very much. We wish you all the best in Israel.
M: Thank you.