Ezriel (Izzy) Reitzfeld was born Azriel Rajcfeld in Przeworsk, Poland, on June 2,1925, to Isak and Etel Rajcfeld, the youngest of five children. He had three older brothers, Mendel, born in 1919; Shmuel in 1920; and Boruch, born in 1922, and a sister Lea, born in 1924. His father was in the textile business.
On September 14, 1939, Izzy had just finished his public schooling when the Germans invaded his town. Jewish men and boys were forced to work for the Germans. At the end of September, the Nazis assembled the Jews into the town square, confiscated their valuables and gave them twenty-four hours to vacate their homes.
The family walked east towards the Russian border. By the time they arrived in the Polish city of Rawa Ruska, the family had became separated from their father, sister and younger brother whom they never saw again.
The family remained in Rawa Ruska for a month. By this time the city was under Russian occupation, in compliance with the German–Soviet non-aggression pact, known as the Frontier Treaty. The Russians offered the Jews Russian passports. Some took the passports, but others, including Ezriel, his mother and brothers, Mendel and Shmuel, refused. Shmuel was forced to work for the Russian army. Ezriel his mother and brother Mendel, were loaded with other Jews onto a freight train and sent to Siberia. The journey took about seven weeks.
Life was very difficult in the Siberian labor camps. At first the family was sent to Irkjutskaya province and later to the Bodajbinski Rajon and then to Uczastek Seniuga-Tamarak. They worked hard cutting trees in extremely cold weather. Five to six families lived in a barracks with a stove. They were given a daily bread ration. Izzy’s mother and brother Mendel died under the brutal living conditions in Siberia.
When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Jewish laborers were able to leave the work camp. Izzy and his brother Shmuel, now the sole survivors of their family, traveled to Kirensk where Izzy found work as a coat check in a restaurant in exchange for room and board while Shmuel worked for the Russians providing leather uppers for making shoes. In 1943, Izzy and Shmuel moved to Krasnyku Saratovski where Izzy assisted Shmuel. All Russian businesses were now collectivized under Communist rule.
When the war ended in 1945, the Polish government sent trains to repatriate all its citizens. Izzy and his brother travelled to Lesnica, in eastern Poland. They were assisted by various organizations such as ORT and the Joint Distribution Committee. Joining a group eager to go to Palestine, Izzy and Shmuel traveled through Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany until they reached Marseilles, France. On July 11, 1947, they boarded the famous ship, the Exodus with 4,515 immigrants, including 655 children, on board. As soon as it left the territorial waters of France, British destroyers accompanied it, informing their American captain that his passengers would not be allowed to enter Palestine.
On July 18, near the coast of Palestine but outside territorial waters, the British rammed the ship and boarded it. British warships towed them to the port of Haifa, where the immigrants were placed on freighter ships back to France. The French government refused to force them off the boat.
Eventually, the British transported the immigrants to DP camps in the British occupied zone near Lubeck, Germany. Izzy was sent to Sengwarden in Pocking, Germany for about seven months. The Camp was heavily guarded by the British to ensure that no one from the Exodus would escape. The Jewish defense organization, the Haganah, however, needed to fill its ranks so they organized a group of young men to go to Palestine and serve in the military. Escaping from the camp at night, they were replaced by older people from a neighboring DP camp so that when the British counted Camp members, the number was always correct. Ezriel arrived in Palestine in 1948, one month after Israel was declared a state.
Drafted into the army and with very little training, Izzy worked on opening a road to Jerusalem which Jordan had blocked, making travel difficult. Many of the young soldiers were killed, but Izzy survived. Upon reaching Jerusalem, Izzy went to boot camp to train for combat. He fought with the Haganah for two and a half years. Izzy met his wife, a survivor who had become a soldier in another division. They moved to Lud where Izzy worked on construction.Their first child Ephraim was born in 1950 and another son Isaac was born in 1952. When his wife’s aunt and uncle, living in Rochester, discovered that their niece, Ezriel’s wife, was the only family member to have survived the war, they signed affidavits and secured visas for the family to come to America. Ezriel’s wife and two boys left for the US, but Izzy remained behind to fulfill his obligation to the Haganah. Six months later, with his service completed, he joined his family in Rochester.
He found work at Harry Smith delivering produce and later for nine years at Sargent and Greenleaf until he obtained employment at Gleasons making gear for Russia. When Gleasons had to lay off a good number of employees, Ezriel was referred to Kodak where he worked in quality control until his retirement in 1987.
Ephraim and Isaac now live in Florida and Atlanta with their families. Ezriel and his wife had since divorced and she subsequently died. He met his current wife, Pauline, at a dance only to discover that they lived one block from each other. They have been married for 36 years and have many grandchildren and great grandchildren between them.
Biography by Phyllis Kasdin, Paulina Kovalsky and Barbara Appelbaum