Featured Artifacts from the Yad Vashem Museum Collection

Joseph Top’s Barber Tools

Barber tools that Joseph Top took with him when he fled Poland with his family to Soviet territoryBarber tools that Joseph Top took with him when he fled Poland with his family to Soviet territory   More photos

Joseph Top was born in the town of Nowy Dwor, Poland in 1907. He married Rivka née Spektor and the couple lived in Pruszkow on the outskirts of Warsaw. The couple had two sons, Hirsch and Meir, and Joseph made a living as a barber.

After the outbreak of war, the family fled to Joseph’s sister’s home inside Warsaw, but the house was bombed and the family returned to Pruszkow. Joseph was injured during the bombings, which freed him from the forced labor that able-bodied Jewish men in the town were required to do.

When Isaac Spektor, Rivka’s brother arrived in town with his family, the two families decided to flee the area occupied by the Nazis. They boarded a train that was traveling towards the Soviet border but when they saw Nazi soldiers boarding the train they jumped off and ran away. They made their way to a Polish village where a Polish farmer hid them in his attic overnight. In spite of the intensive search carried out by the Germans, the Tops and Spektors weren’t found and in the morning they managed to cross the border into Soviet territory.

Like many other Polish refugees, Joseph and Rivka refused to accept Soviet citizenship so they were sent to Siberia, to Arhangelsk province where they were assigned to forced labor felling trees. Once a week, Joseph would walk five kilometers to a local power station with his barber tools, where he would shave and cut the hair of the Russian workers in exchange for food.

The family stayed in Siberia for two years, until the Soviet authorities released them at the end of 1941 and they were able to make their way to Uzbekistan. In a kolkhoz (collective farm) near Turkestan, Joseph continued to cut people’s hair in exchange for food, and in this way he was able to save his family from starvation - the fate of many.

In 1943, Joseph enlisted in Anders’ Army and Rivka decided to send the boys, Hirsch and Meir to Tehran with the Jewish Agency. Rivka herself was forced to remain in the Soviet Union until the war was over.

The children arrived in Tehran. While preparations were underway for their immigration with the “Tehran Children”, Joseph arrived with Anders’ Army in Tehran and was able to meet the boys. From there Joseph was sent with the troops to Iraq. When Hirsch and Meir finally reached Eretz Israel, Joseph deserted the army and joined them.

Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection
Gift of Tzvi Segev (Hirsch Top), Ramat Gan, Israel