David was basically a happy person who bottled up inside a weight of unhappy events, the heaviest of them was his being so far from his parents when they were incarcerated within the walls of the ghetto and later sent to their deaths in Treblinka. He was also burdened by his separation from his sister who worked as the principal messenger for the Warsaw Ghetto and who when caught was sent to Auschwitz to her death. His being far from his friends who fought in the ghettos, far from those who fell and far from those who survived. It was only after he returned to Europe at the end of the war, having served as a translator for the American army, did he realized that he was the sole member of his family to survive.
During all of the forty-nine years of marriage to David, he rarely spoke of the death of his dear ones, but he spoke of their lives more and more as years went by: of his father, who was impassioned with both the Hebrew language and the Yiddish theater, who sent as many as his students to Israel as he could, but who himself stayed behind because he limped as a result of an accident and was convinced that Israel was in need of only the fittest. Of his mother who, when both of her parents died at an early age, took it upon herself to parent all ten of her younger brothers and sisters, and it was she who instilled in David the love of Jewish folk song. Of his sister, Lonka, pretty, tall, talented, and a student of French literature at the Warsaw University.
He was Dodek – a podgy, strong boy who wasn't afraid to get into a fight, who was a great soccer player but loved a good book, and who at some point started to grow lanky and became known as "Kozeh" means 'goat', the first part of his unpronounceable surname – Kozhebrodsky. He was a born leader, one of the leading youth leaders of Dror in Poland.
He was in complete control of his grief – and appeared to be, as we all knew him, a happy person, always smiling, in good spirits, abounding in humor and good will, even to the man on the street or in a line. He never missed any opportunity to exchange a few words with people. Even abroad, at any chance meeting, he would start up a conversation in their language whatever it might be and whether he knew it fluently or not, always ready with a word in the appropriate language to make himself pleasantly understood. For instance, he would speak Yiddish with the person who spoke Swiss-Deutch and they would understand each other perfectly. Many of those journeys ended with an emotional parting and expressions of regret at losing new found friends.
He spoke Yiddish (the only language that makes every phrase an implied question) with his parents, and it remained the language of his choice for the rest of his life.
When he was twenty-six he made the adventure of his life from Vilna through Russia, Siberia and Japan to the USA. He learned English in the States. His English was self taught and it seemed to me, especially when he was telling a story, that he was talking in Yiddish with an English accent. He spoke Polish with his sister, He learnt French at the Warsaw Gymnasia, yes and German, which allowed him when the time came, to talk in that language with his Yekke wife’s family. He picked up Spanish from his pupils at the Machon which he then improved because of his love of that language and in order to work with youth movements in South America. Back in Franco’s Spain he gathered surprising political disclosures from casual acquaintances who trusted him from the very first moment even to the point of possible danger to themselves.
He learnt Serbo-Croat in the United States as he was supposed to have gone to Yugoslavia on a special mission for the army. "You know what the army’s like, when I finished the course", he would say with his special smile, "they sent me to the Pacific". So he then learnt some Japanese, also with the help of the US army.
His Hebrew dates back to his childhood, from the school where his father was the headmaster; the "Ivria" school. When the letters that he had sent from Vilna to the heads of his youth movement in Israel at the beginning of the war were published it was amazing to see how well written and how natural the Hebrew sounded, and even expressing all the bitterness and frustration that was part and parcel of life his in those days.He learned Russian simply because the encyclopedia that they had at home and which he needed to complete his homework from school, was in Russian, so he had no choice but to get to know the language. That language stood by him at a later age in many curious and different situations, in war and in peace. Later on, in helping new immigrants from Russia overcome the Israeli bureaucracy. The conversations that went on in our house with new immigrants, who often came to visit, sometimes revealed the unexpected. For instance the couple who in an extraordinary turn of fate, turned out to be relatives of a Ukrainian soldier who was a barber in the Russian army in Korea, where David was once sent to act as a translator for the American army. David went into the barber shop to have a haircut and immediately recognized the young man as being Jewish. They struck up a conversation and when David was about to leave the barber told David that he had a sister in the US, in Chicago, and even though he didn't know where she lived and he didn't know her married name, he asked David if he would find her for him and tell her that she had lost all her immediate family in the war except for this brother who was now serving in the Russian army. Consequently, David on his return to America, advertised in the Yiddish newspaper "Forwards" and actually succeeded in finding the sister and giving the message that he had been asked to deliver. When telling this story to these new immigrants who had come to find help in filling out some forms, David discovered to our amazement that they were in fact distant relatives of the same army barber (who died meanwhile), who had heard the story from the soldier on his return to their village, and who told everyone of the American sergeant-major who had found his sister for him. "Yes, yes, that was me" David smiled. So another story made a full circle.
I have talked at length of his language abilities because this multi-language capability has always struck me as being an integral part of the broad social and cultural vision so characteristic of David’s personality. The vision based on his own wide experiences and the fact that he himself was a historian.
In the late 1940's he was very disappointed when the Hebrew University turned down his request to research an aspect of the Holocaust on the grounds that it was "to close and not scientific enough”. Instead, he researched "Jewish Anarchism" and indeed became an expert on the subject.
He was a very tolerant man but on certain subjects he had his principles and wouldn't budge from them. He was almost alone in his milieu to unhesitatingly forego his American citizenship, for him dual citizenship was out of the question for by holding an American passport he considered himself to be sullying his Israeli citizenship. He even went so far as to break off all contact with a friend from New York who although engaging in Zionist activities never made aliya but kept postponing it time after time for one reason or another. On the other hand, many of us were surprised by his warmly receiving German tourists even at a time when so many people openly demonstrated their opposition - he who had so much to be bitter about. He wouldn't judge a person by their affiliation but by their own attitude, by his own impression of them, if he liked them he accepted them.
There were some little things with which he absolutely had no patience with at all, one might say even detested, for instance Jimmy Carter's smile or any kind of "nudnikim". On once occasion, a cupboard in our house that had always stood to the right of the door found itself on the other side of the door and that annoyed him terribly. Our Russian lessons came to an end because of my pronunciation of the Russian "l" - it just wasn't good enough for him. He couldn't understand how his wife appeared with a new pair of shoes when she had so many unused pairs in the cupboard.
We met in a camp in Cyprus where we were both had been sent as teachers for the survivors of the deported peoples camps of Europe sent there by the British as illegal immigrants. We both had scenes from there indelibly etched in our memories. When we returned to Israel, now married, I taught at the Machon Lemadrichei Chul, and David would come to Jerusalem to meet me from Haifa where he was in charge of a programme at Bet Rottenberg for Machal (Israel army volunteers from Abroad) and Gachal (Enlisted soldiers from Abroad). We would travel together to Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha, where at that time the fourth Machzor of the Machon was studying. He got to meet the chanichim from South America and Australia and became friends with their madrichim, the late Chaya Kaufman and Elisha Linder. It was only a small step from there at the end of the War of Independence that David joined the staff of the Machon, and later to become its director.
The work with youth from abroad gave David all he needed – a mission, a challenge and substance to his life. When the Machon was still situated at its old address on Hizkiyahu Hamelech Street , near to our home it became an integral part of our life, almost an extension of our home. David used to say about his pupils, partly in awe partly in pride "look at the difference in them from when they arrived and look at them now when they are leaving- just a year in Israel at the Machon is sufficient to change a group of sweet and mixed-up children into a group of determined youth".
Ada Brodsky z"l who also taught at the Machon passed way in April 2011 at the age of 86.
She met David Brodsky in Cyprus just after the Second World War, where they taught the immigrants who had been interned by the British. Her passion became music, she worked in the Israeli Brodcasting station Kol Hamusica and wrote several books on composers.