Bela Ya’ari Hazan
Bela Hazan was born in December 1922 in the town of Rozyszcze in the Volhynia region into a family of eight children. Her father, David, who led the prayers in the local bet-midrash, died when she was six, leaving the burden of earning the family’s livelihood to her mother Esther, who owned a small grocery store. The mother sent all the children to a school of the Tarbut network, mainly so that they would gain fluency in the Hebrew language, which was spoken at home. After completing elementary school, Hazan was sent to the ORT vocational school in the city of Kowel, where she shared a room with a young woman from her hometown and supported herself by giving private Hebrew lessons.
A member of the He-Halutz ha-Za’ir-Dror youth movement, Hazan participated in its seminars and summer camps. In the summer of 1939, the Rozyszcze (Rozhishche) chapter of the movement sent her to a Haganah course held in Zielonka, near Warsaw. There she made the acquaintance of two prominent members of He-Halutz’s head office: Frumka Plotnicka and Zivia Lubetkin. Upon completing the course, Hazan immediately began serving as a combat instructor at the kibbutz hakhsharah (training program) in Bedzin. Three months later, World War II broke out, and in late September 1939 occupied Poland was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union. Members of Dror in Bedzin learned that in Vilna, which was still unoccupied, it would be possible to continue the movement’s activities and perhaps even depart from there for Palestine.
At the end of September 1939, Hazan was one of a group of five who left Bedzin intending to steal across the German border and reach Vilna by way of eastern Poland, which was under Soviet control. While crossing the San river, near Przemysl, the entire group was captured by Russian soldiers and imprisoned. Hazan was separated from the others and held in a small cell housing twenty-five women and three little children. Three weeks later, Hazan was released, finally reaching her hometown of Rozyszcze at night some time in late December 1939. After an emotional reunion with her family, she continued on her way to Vilna several hours later. This was the last time Hazan saw her mother and the rest of her family.
With the help of the kibbutz at Luck (Luts’k), Hazan reached the Shahariyya kibbutz in Vilna, then the training center for hakhsharah groups of the He-Halutz movement, on December 31, 1940.
In the latter half of 1941, after the Germans had occupied Vilna and begun murdering the city’s Jews, Hazan, who was “Aryan” in appearance, volunteered to serve as a liaison between the various chapters of the movement. She was able to obtain the passport of a Polish acquaintance, Bronislawa (Bronia) Limanowska, and after changing the passport photo Hazan assumed this name for the duration of the war.
Hazan was assigned the task of maintaining contact between the movement’s center in Vilna and the chapters in Lida, Grodno (Hrodna) and Bialystok, smuggling information and relaying bulletins, money and weapons. After leaving the Vilna ghetto in October 1941, Hazan purchased a crucifix and a small Christian prayer book. In Grodno, she found work as an interpreter for the Gestapo and was given Polish identity papers. While there, Hazan entered the ghetto, where she met with members of He-Halutz, Judenrat members and Dr. David Braver, head of the Judenrat. She told them of the slaughter of the Jews in the Vilna ghetto, and Braver gave her money and false papers to deliver to Vilna.
In January 1942, after fourteen members of Dror (among them, one Yitzhak Engelman) had been smuggled from Vilna to Bialystok, Hazan was asked to transport Shahariyya, Engelman’s one-month-old baby girl, from Grodno to Bialystok. Together with Lonka Korzybrodska, a fellow member of Dror who was passing as a Polish woman named Kristina Kosowska, Hazan traveled with the baby to Bialystok and gave her over to her father. Under her assumed name, Hazan continued on to Volhynia, Luck and Kowel (Kovel’), meeting at every stop with the remnants of her movement and recounting what was happening in the ghettos of Vilna, Grodno and Bialystok.
In April 1942, while in Bialystok, Hazan was asked to transport two handguns to the movement’s kibbutz at Czerniakow (Chernyakhuv), near Warsaw. At the border crossing at the Malkinia (Malkinia Gorna) railway station, Hazan was taken off the train and arrested. Two Gestapo men dragged her to a small detention camp in the forest and interrogated her on suspicion of belonging, under her false Polish identity, to the Polish underground, Armija Krajowa (Home Army). From there, Hazan was transferred for further interrogation in Warsaw, where she was held in the Pawiak prison and severely tortured. There she met her friend Korzybrodska, who had also been imprisoned as a Pole, and from then on the two were never separated.
In November 1942, Hazan and Korzybrodska were among fifty-three women prisoners transported from the Pawiak to Auschwitz. Both were interned at Birkenau and sent to work the fields as part of the same forced-labor detail. Hazan was later given work in the hospital at Birkenau, in the barracks housing German women patients. After contracting typhus, she was hospitalized, and when Korzybrodska came to visit her, she discovered that she too was ill. Hazan recovered, while Korzybrodska’s illness gradually worsened and she came down with mumps and dysentery. Despite Hazan’s tireless efforts to save her friend, Korzybrodska died in her arms on March 18, 1943.
At the end of 1944 Hazan was transferred from Birkenau to Auschwitz, where a Polish woman doctor placed her in charge of a barracks of women patients. In late January 1945, when the Germans evacuated the inmates from Auschwitz, Hazan was sent on the forced “death march.” Reaching German soil four days later, she was transported by train along with hundreds of fellow prisoners to the women’s concentration camp at Ravensbrück. Shortly thereafter, Hazan was transferred to the Malchov camp, near the port city of Lübeck on the Baltic Sea. There she was again appointed as the nurse in charge of a building of women patients. Hazan was liberated by the Americans at Malchov in April 1945.
After the war Hazan went to Paris, where she discarded her assumed identity as Bronia (Bronislawa) Limanowska. Together with soldiers of the Jewish Brigade whom she encountered, she made her way to Bari, Italy. For three months, Hazan served as a counselor for a group of young girls, most of them survivors from the family camps of the partisans. On October 1, 1945, she immigrated with the group to Palestine.
Hazan married Hayyim Zalshinsky (d. 1982), a journalist and member of Kibbutz Gelil Yam who later changed his last name to Ya’ari. The couple had two children, Esther (b. 1948) and Yoel (b. 1950), and later moved to Tel Aviv.
Hazan Ya’ari, Bela. They Called Me Bronislawa (Hebrew). Tel Aviv, undated; Zik, Gershon, ed. Rozyszcze, My Old Home (Hebrew). Association of Rozyszcze Jews, 1976; Zilberscheid, Ya’akov, and Arye Fialkov, ed. Tel Hai: A Hakhsharah Kibbutz in Poland (Hebrew). Tel Aviv: 1979.