The Story Of Pua Steiner

“I wrote two novels from the point of view of a young girl that are quite precise, which I know, because I gave them both to my mother, Matilda, to review for accuracy. She confirmed that my memory is accurate. “From Inside the Coup,” which was translated to Russian and English, and “Forever My Jerusalem.”

I also wrote another novel about my father from the point of view of an adult man on the period of the siege and captivity.

In 1948 I was seven years old.

I lived here for three years. However, my parents were born in the Old City of Jerusalem. And their parents were born in the Old City. My father’s side traces back to multiple generations in the Old City.

We do not have any original photos because they were all burned in the siege. My mother’s grandfather immigrated to Palestine from Baghdad and died in World War I because there was a famine in Jerusalem. My mother’s parents came to Palestine from Belarus. They were married in Jerusalem, as were their children.

The wedding ceremony was in the Raisin Seminary. Now, it is part of the Muslim Quarter – the revitalized Jewish Quarter. One of my daughters and her husband, when they left the house, were the first couples to settle there. They were a young couple with no children. Her husband studied at the Mercaz HaRav Religious School, where they asked who would be willing to go settle in their house after it was purchased. They would live there until my son-in-law’s father passed away.

My mother would say that in the Quarter there was a street full of only Jews – Maale Chaladia – Hebron Street. The entire street was lined with children’s stores. Today, my sister lives in the Muslim Quarter. It’s not simple living there, but she does not have memories from the war because she was born after it ended. I, on the other hand, had nightmares at night from the war.

I remember that we hated the Brits very much because they would constantly search our homes and stop us every now and then. They would search us for weapons and check our homes for members of the Underground Resistance. We hated them because they limited the immigration of Jews to Palestine after World War II, and we knew that there were many Jews who wished to immigrate. They did not even permit entrance to children.

The proposal for the Partition Plan was announced. My father was in the Haganah and said he knew that the majority of our village was against the use of terror. Most people were pragmatic. His reaction to the partition plan was that his country was now divided.

It was a completely different time and different circumstance back then. We did not have a State, the British were in control. Either they would remain and then Jews would continue to be barred from entering the country, or we would separate from them. We must take what we are given. Afterward, we believed, we would expand our borders.

After the UN decision to approve the 1948 Partition Plan, the school was outside the walls of the Old City. There was no bus to get back in. The city was filled with people singing and dancing. It was an unforgettable experience. Everyone was singing that we have a state. We went by foot to the Yafo Gate, as the Arabs signaled to us that they would behead us. They were showing us that they were powerful. Three days afterward, on February 12, they burned down the commercial center (where it is today) and besieged the Jewish Quarter. This was when the British were still here and cooperated with them. The so-called “protected us” so that we would not be harmed on our way to and from the house, but when my father tried going to school in the morning, he was beaten by an Arab and the British told him to return home and remain there. People did not leave their homes after that.

My sister and I were in school when it happened and our teacher told us to go straight to our grandparents’ house. My grandparents on my mother’s side left the Old City already in 1920/1921. There had been a wave of riots and they left and moved to a neighborhood called Beit Israel. We were four months outside of our house. My parents wanted us to continue attending our school. The caravan of people who arrived in the Old City were new immigrants and the British would ransack their homes searching for weapons. There were no phones or ways for people to communicate remotely. We were five children. Naomi, age nine, was the eldest, I was seven, Yehudit, Ruti, Haim, and Yehudah, who was born two weeks before the decision in the UN.

My paternal grandmother lived in the Old City. Her name was Alta Bergman. When my parents got married, they moved there from the mountains. My father was the Rabbi of Bayit V’Gan for 40 years. My grandmother Alta came to bring us back home sometime between Purim and Passover because I remember that we celebrated Passover in the Old City. We were upstairs in our home and heard gunshots below. We continued the Passover Seder.

In the surrender, when we left the Old City we were without our father a lot. Because we had small children in our family, I became responsible. We went to live next to Bus Line #38, near the walls that lead to the Zion Gate. My mother turned to me once and said, “Pua, do you remember when we left the Old City through this path? There is no way, you were only three and a half years old. I remember that you gave me your hand and we cried the entire way.”

We returned to visit our home and were very happy. We wanted to go see the Wailing Wall but people laughed at us. There was an Arab neighborhood there. After the Partition announcement, there was no going to the Wailing Wall. We still didn’t know if the British would leave or not. But then Gush Etzion fell on the Fourth of Eyar. We saw a military parade and watched as the British left. We felt good. We did not need them there. We would create our own State.

The following day the establishment of the State of Israel was announced from Tel Aviv. On the Sabbath, from our windows, we saw Arabs from the Silwan fleeing. Many people fled because they believed we were powerful. On Sunday morning there was heavy fire – much heavier and more serious than what we had experienced before. We lived on the third floor. We went down to the second, and then even further down.

We eventually crowded three families into one room. The walls on the bottom floor were thicker and thus served as a shelter. I prayed and played with five rocks to distract myself but was very afraid. We always remained inside the house. My father had a public position. When we prepared for the siege before the UN’s decision, we created a neighborhood committee to take care of the residents’ needs. The head of the committee was Rabbi Orenstein, who was the Chief Rabbi of the Wailing Wall. My father was the treasurer of the committee but dealt with several things. He was the connection between the residents and the military. In captivity, they called him the Mukhtar. He spoke English, German, French, Yiddish, Romanian, and Hebrew. […]

The shelling began on a Sunday morning. On Monday, we were attached to the Arab military wing. They broke through the military checkpoints set up by the British on Chabad Street and on the Jewish street. These were the roads that provided residents of the Jewish Quarter access to the market. They broke through and came wielding knives to riot against us. We had very little bread, with fewer weapons. It would not have been logical to fight against them.

The Arab militias arrived, and all of a sudden we heard screaming coming from outside. They were entering homes and threatening us to leave. All of a sudden, I found myself outside with panic-stricken people pushing and shoving. Inside, people were praying and screaming. Our soldiers retreated. During these difficult hours, my father took Naomi and I and asked to speak with us. There was no knowing what would happen. He told us that if God did not want him to remain with us that we should remember one thing. That there is only one important thing in the world, and that is the Torah. He told us that when we are older, he wanted us to marry men who studied the Torah.

In the end, we experienced a great miracle. Our people rose up and started shooting back and God spread his fear over our enemies. There is no other explanation. They were so many. They retreated to the market. Our people set up the checkpoint once again and that same week on Wednesday the Jordanian Legion arrived at Mount Olives. They wanted to take control of the land, not to kill. They wanted to conquer the Temple Mount because here, whoever controls the Temple Mount controls the Land of Israel. […]

The Legion arrived, spread themselves around the Old City and conquered. Slowly, we realized that the land that was in our hands was shrinking, because more families started running towards us. Two days before the end, they evacuated Misgav Hospital, and brought them to us, to our sheltered house. I remember Yehudit screaming. On Friday, two weeks after the announcement there was quiet in the morning. It turned out that we were negotiating a surrender. At first, I was glad because we would be safe. There were rumors that they would allow us to leave. I left my house, only to see that our combat soldiers were throwing their rifles into holes in the ground. I did not understand why they would be throwing away such expensive weapons. Afterward, they announced that all of the soldiers would be taken to captivity. In the end, they took both residents and soldiers. 351 men were taken.

The women and children were taken through the Zion Gate to Katamon. That was where we spent most of the war. The men were in captivity for nine months. Those who were injured left a little before then. My father was also in captivity. It was a very difficult period because we left our home without our possessions and remained with nothing. We lost everything. Even our clothing. We were permitted to bring one package each, but it was nearly impossible to carry a package for belongings and also all of the children. There was shelling, but no water. They were distributing food to the refugees. We are the refugees of the Old City of Jerusalem. We had no sheets or coats. Later on, they distributed them to us from UNWRA. We tucked our hands into our sweaters because we were freezing. We were worried about my father, who was still in captivity. The entire community was this way.

My father was released from captivity after nine months. The State of Israel was established throughout the war.

I returned in 1977, ten years after Jerusalem was freed by the Israeli military. […]

Our parents were born and raised in Israel. My father was in Germany for a short period but returned in 1936 to live in a Jewish village, Neve Yaakov. His parents left and went to live in the Old City. We arrived in the Old City in 1944. My father was very active in the community. After the Six-Day War, he did not want to return to live here. I was also afraid of returning. But in the end, I returned with my husband in 1977 to 17 Beit El Street. “