Portrait of Michel Werber taken while he was in hiding.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 67109
Circa 1942 - 1945
- Photo Designation
RESCUERS & RESCUED -- Belgium
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Moshe Werber
Portrait of Michel Werber taken while he was in hiding.
- Abusz Werber was born in a religious family in Radom, Poland on September 17, 1908. He was the seventh of eight children of Moshe-Leib and Feiga-Zlata Werber (nee Frydman). Until the age of 11, Abusz studied in a Heder before leaving to earn a living as a leather cutter. Concomitantly, he continued his education on his own, first in Radom and later in Brussels, where he attended for two years commercial sciences evening courses, as well as those of Brussels People's University. Already in Radom, in parallel to his work and studies, he joined the youth movement of the left-wing of Poalei Zion (LPZ) movement, becoming its leader in 1925. In February 1929, he left for Belgium and joined Bunim (b. 1900), one of his older brothers, who already was in Brussels, working in the shoe industry. He also made contact there with the local subsidiary of LPZ and was elected to the Party Committee as Head of the Culture Department. After a brief sojourn in Poland to represent the LPZ in the "Congress of Workers for Palestine," held in Warsaw, he returned to Belgium in June 1930 and resumed his political activities. At a party meeting in Brussels, he met his future wife Zofia (Shifra) Trocki-[Musnicki], her brother David (Dode) and his wife, Paulina (Haya) nee Avsrijtsky, who came respectively from Vilnius and Kishinev to study in Ghent Belgium. Shifra Trocki was born in Vilna on March 31, 1908. At the age of twenty, she went to Ghent to study accounting; her older brother Dode Trocki, (b. Vilna 1904) had preceded her to study chemical engineering. Abusz and Shifra married on July 1, 1931. Abusz, Shifra , Dode and Paulina remained active in the LPZ. In the years 1932-37, Abusz set up the Youth Organization of Poale Zion -Yugnt, and he formed several institutions of the Party, including, among others, "Folks Klab" (People's Club) and "Shul & Dertziung" (School and Education); he became its first secretary general. At the same time, he continued his career as a journalist, first as editor of a youth newspaper. He wrote articles in Yiddish for "Arbeter-Zeitung" of Warsaw in 1932, as well as political articles for the "Arbeter Wort" of Paris (The Voice of the Workers), the weekly organ of the LPZ, widely read throughout western and central Europe. Together with Dode Trocki, he founded the "Jewish People's University,"
where Abusz taught the history of the Jewish labor movement and the Jewish sociology and Dode taught Jewish history.
In May 1940 Germany invaded and occupied Belgium. The Werber and Trocki families fled to
Revel. Like many West European Jewish leaders, Abusz and Dode, could have obtained a visa to the United States, but they decided to return to now occupied Belgium to save what could still be saved. After returning to Brussels, Abusz became the de facto leader not only LPZ, but of the entire Poalei Zion. By September 1940, he, together with Dode, Shifra and Paulina, as well as personalities of the two streams of Poalei Zion, Israel Tabakman, Ziskind Rabinovitch, Abraham Domb, Charles Grabiner and Fela Perelman (who became its President), set up the "Kegnzaytike Hilf" (Secours Mutuel, or Mutual Aid). This organization functioned throughout the Occupation, providing thousands of Jews with financial assistance, clothing and/or false documents. In addition, in order to provide cultural action in the Jewish community, Abusz reopened the vast library of the LPZ in the building of the Jewish Community at rue de la Regence. It became the only Yiddish library to operate in occupied Belgium without interruption till the end of the war. In early 1941, the Cultural Committee of the Jewish Community, which also included members of Tseirei Sion (Maurice Kubowitzki , Ishayahu (Shaye) Zandberg and Baruch Maizel, decided to create a school in the same building. In order to counter the Nazi propaganda, Abusz initiated the publication of leaflets, and after December 1941, became the editor of the monthly Yiddish "Unzer Wort" (Our Word), which published 28 clandestine editions until Brussels' liberation in the beginning of September 1944.
In 1942 Abusz, together with other leaders, established the "Comité de défense des Juifs en Belgique" (Committee for the Defense of the Jews in Belgium or CDJ) under the umbrella of the "Front de l'Indépendance de la Belgique" (Front of Belgian Independence). Its primary role was to protect the Jewish community from deportation. Abusz was responsible for providing Jews with false papers and overseeing propaganda and press throughout Belgium. The CDJ published two newspapers: Abusz edited the French, "Le Flambeau" (The Torch) and Léopold Flam edited the Flemish "Het Vrije Gedachte" (The Free Thought), but both men (and others) wrote for both newspapers. The papers were intended to help non-Jewish readers understand the plight of Jews in Belgium. However, the main goal of the CDJ was saving Jewish children and adults. For Abusz, as well as for all members of CDJ, the first priority in the struggle against the Nazi occupation was to rescue children and hide them with non-Jewish families (that same year, Abusz and Shifra put their own son Michel into hiding). To carry out that task the CDJ put together a team, which included Yvonne Jospa, Shifra Werber and Fela Perelman.
In the second half of 1943, Abusz established the "Neuvième Brigade" (Ninth Brigade) consisting of a large number of Jewish fighters, most of them from LPZ, under the command of Menahem Konkowski and Abraham Domb. It was the only combat unit in the country, which acted as a separate Jewish Brigade, and it was affiliated with the "Mouvement National Belge" (Belgian National Movement). It also was supposed to take part in the final confrontation for the liberation of Belgium.
During the Nazi occupation, Abusz went under the false identity of Henri Desmet. He worked tirelessly and displayed incredible courage; even his typically Jewish appearance did not dissuade him from plastering posters and tracts on the walls of Brussels which appealed to the Belgian-Jewish solidarity in the war against the Nazis and their collaborators. Abusz had several close calls with the Gestapo. He was arrested twice. Once, Belgian agents arrested him when they were rounding up Belgians to work in Germany and only let him go when they discovered he was Jewish; another time, police stopped Haim Perelman and him. They checked their papers and again let them go. Each time Abusz carried incriminating documents, but fortunately, he managed to escape. This did not cause him to bring his activity to an end; on the contrary, he amplified it even more relentlessly. His friends said about him that during the dark years of occupation he was' the pillar of fire of the Jewish community.' However, his brother-in-law Dode Trocki and his wife Paulina were not as lucky. They were rounded up in August 1944 and deported; while Paulina survived the camps, Dode died in Ebensee concentration camp in the night between March 20 and 21, 1945. Also, Abusz's mother and his six of his siblings (and most of their families) were deported from Poland and perished: Hinda (b. 1887); Israel (b. 1889), Chana (b. 1892), Dyna (b. 1898), Chawa (b. 1906) and Szlomo (b. 1910).
After the liberation of Belgium, Abusz directed LPZ's intense activity, to include women, youth, cultural and sports organizations to help rebuild the community after the difficult years and the terrible losses of the war. Abusz became president of the Party Committee in Brussels and president of the Party Central Committee. He also actively participated in LPZ's newspaper "Unzer Wort" (now a weekly). Under his influence the party's home (first at 17 Rouppe and later at 43 rue Bara) became a center of economic aid and a spiritual and moral support for the Jews returning from the death camps and survivors of the decimated community in Belgium. Abusz, and other members, participated in the important work of restored Zionist institutions: the Zionist Federation, the Palestinian Bureau, "Aliyat ha'noar" (Youth Aliyah), "Keren Kayemet", "Keren Hayesod," etc. . Abusz represented the party in the economic, public and cultural institutions of the Jewish community, as the CDJ, that later became the AIVG (Assistance to war Jewish victims). Abusz was also appointed President of Jewish organizations in Belgium (the Belgian section of the World Jewish Congress) and assisted in the organization of illegal arms shipments to the Haganah and facilitated the illegal immigration to Palestine of hundreds of members, especially teenagers and children. In 1945-46 Abusz initiated and participated in many conferences in Brussels and other European cities where he reported on the deeds of heroic Jewish resistance in Belgium. At the end of 1946 he also participated as a delegate of Belgium, at the Zionist Congress in Basel. After repeated requests, by the World Conservation Union - "Brit Olamit" of Mapam finally allowed him to make Aliyah and on September 23 1954, he and Shifra settled in Israel.
After a short period of absorption difficulties, he devoted most of his energy to the YL Peretz ("Peretz Farlag") publishing house. He had always shown great interest and love for literature, particularly literature and Jewish culture. A collection of his articles and letters to writers about their books, considered to be rare essays, were posthumously published in "Fun Unter der Pen" Peretz Farlag, 1986. Abusz Werber died November 24, 1975. He was survived by his wife, the poet Shifra (who died in 1997), his son Moshe Michel and his two granddaughters, Smadar and Ardat.
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Moshe Werber
Record last modified: 2013-08-20 00:00:00
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