The two families are closely intertwined in terms of geography, family and friendship, but they are not related by blood.
The Bar-Lev line descends from Shimon Bar-Lev (1904-1992), who was the son of Eliyahu (Elly) Balaban and Batsheva [last name unknown]. Batsheva died young, when Shimon was only four years old. Elly’s second wife was Malkeh Maidenberg, eldest daughter of Solomon and Perel. To Shimon, Malkeh was mother, as a tragic entry at Yad Vashem would show.
Shimon Balaban was born in Dzygivka, and knew the Maidenberg family well. He did not change his name to Bar-Lev until 1950, after Israel’s independence, when there was a widespread movement to leave behind European names. “Bar-Lev” translates to “master of the heart,” meaning “of good, strong, character”. It was an apt name.
To all in Israel he was known as Syoma, the familiar form of Shimon in Russian.
In 1989 Shimon and Luba sat for an interview and oral history. They told of how they came from Russia to Israel in the 1920’s. Shimon’s story is gripping. He tells of secret work for Zionist causes after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. He suffered imprisonment and torture in Russia and Rumania. An English translation of the oral history is here. A video of the interview (in Hebrew) is on the Video page. Scroll down to it.
His family was proud of the fact that Shimon was an early, committed Zionist, one of the “chalutzim” or pioneers. In a 2000 letter, Nelly Bar-Lev, wife of Shimon’s son Dan, wrote:
Shimon studied Hebrew in the cheder. He became a Zionist. He escaped Ukraine as a teenager, going through Romania. Both countries thought he was a spy and he spent over a year in jail in both places.
In 1925 at the age of 21 he came to Palestine as a pioneer. That time was called the Fourth Aliyah Movement.
In 1925 there were about 100,000 Jews in Palestine and the Fourth Aliyah Movement was of about 20,000 people. In 1948 [when Israel became independent] there were 600,000 Jews in Israel. He worked in agriculture, road building, drying out swamps, like so many others.
In 1933 he had come to Moshav Avihayil near Natanya, and settled there as a farmer. He was involved in the Haganah fighting to expel the British and establish the state of Israel. He died in 1992 at the age of 89. He had no papers or documents when arriving in Israel.
Luba [wife of Shimon], Dan’s mother, was born in Ukraine in 1908.She came to Palestine in 1926 in the last ship that could get out of Russia for many more years. She was also a “chalutza”, suffered also hunger and diseases such as malaria. She married Shimon in 1928. They met at one of the workers camps near Haifa.
Neither Luba nor Syoma were religious, rarely entering a synagogue. Luba in particular despised the orthodox, her daughter-in-law Nelly remembered. Their sons did not have bar mitzvahs.
A 1992 letter from Nelly and Dan to Mike contained a startling item:
The Maidenbergs first came to Ukraine around 1870 from Germany; their original name was Maizenberg. That is the information Shimon gave us.
There is no other confirmation of the 1870 date, nor the arrival from Germany. Joseph, Solomon’s son, never referred to it in his letters about the family. Solomon himself was born about 1860. We have presumed he was born at least in the province in which Dzygivka is located, Podolia, which had never been part of any German state.
Unless and until more accurate birth records are found, the “1870 from Germany” proposition has to be considered possible but unproven. In a 2015 note to Mike, Nelly speculated that Syoma might have meant the Balaban family came from Germany.
The pronunciation of the name is a different matter. There is good reason to believe it sounded more like “Maizenberg” that “Maidenberg”, that is, there was a “z” sound rather than a “d” sound.
The best evidence for this is how David Maidenberg’s name was written on the ship manifest, filled out in Liverpool. His name was spelled “Masinberg” which strongly suggests David gave his name using the “z” sound.
Shimon became close to his half-sister Frida, the daughter of Malkeh and Elly Balaban. Fima, Frida’s son, described how it happened in his memoir.
Fima recalled how his mother parted from her brother in 1926 and went years without any news about him.
She “lost all hopes for seeing him one day. She did not know whether he was alive. However, in 1963 a miracle happened: my mother received a telegram from Shimon’s wife Lyuba who was touring the Soviet Union those days; it was a short message that Shimon was alive and living in Israel in good health. It contained also Shimon’s photo. Immediately after that we took a flight from Baku where we resided then to Odessa where Lyuba had appointed our meeting – at her native brother David Shkolnik’s.
She told us about Shimon’s absolutely fantastic life. It was a story we could not have heard being separated by an “iron curtain”.
In 1966 Shimon came from Israel to Odessa. It was a meeting of brother and sister after forty years, an acme of their happiness. They never parted for a week and a half. It was their single meeting. During many successive years, up to my mother’s death, they were corresponding with each other.
Here I will just note that it was due to Shimon that in 1926 an Israeli family branch has appeared. We used to meet Shimon and his wife Lyuba, together with their three sons (Uri – a pilot; Dan – who worked in finance and marketing, married to Nelly, a lawyer; and Gileh, a housewife married to an architect), both in Odessa and Israel.
Unfortunately, after Shimon’s death our contacts appeared cut short.
Mike never met Shimon, to his regret. Milt Maidenberg did, as did Sylvia Rosen Greenberg. Though not a Maidenberg, Shimon felt deeply connected to the family, primarily through his stepmother, but also through the American branch of the family.
Uri, Shimon’s eldest son, was the El Al pilot who heroically foiled a skyjacking in 1970. Read an account here.
Shimon’s two younger children, Dan and Gila, both died of cancer, Dan in 2004 and Gila in 2012.
Dan’s wife Nelly has a moving family story in her own right. You can read the Degany family history here.
The death of Malkeh at the hands of German soldiers is recounted in the Line of Malkeh essay. When Mike went to the Yad Vashem archives to enter the name of Malkeh as a victim of the Holocaust, he found he name already enrolled—by Shimon. He listed himself as her son.