The Jewish Nationalist Movement
IN ORDER to describe the activities of the modern nationalist and socialist
movements in our city, we must first return for a -moment to the age of the
Jewish Enlightenment. Although the Jewish Enlightenment was not directly
related to these movements, to a certain extent it laid the groundwork for
their development by producing talented individuals, who later served the
It should immediately be mentioned that the Jewish Enlightenment found
relatively little sympathy in Chrzanow. The movement did not inspire the same
selfsacrificing enthusiasm in our city as in the rest of Poland, or in the
Russian Pale of Settlement, where love of secular culture was an overwhelming
passion. In those regions this passion demanded many young Jewish sacrificial
victims, who lost their health and became tubercular in the brutal conditions
in which Jewish students lived at the time. The lack of involvement may perhaps
be explained by the fact that Chrzanow was located close to the centers of
culture. Since no particular restrictions were placed on Jews, and since they
could eat openly the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, the evil impulse had less
influence and the passion lost its sharp edge.
Only a few individuals permitted their children to be students at the end of
the last century. Interestingly, these Jews were not "secular." The
fathers of the future doctors and lawyers were pious men with beards and peyes,
who wore Chasidic clothing, shtreimelech, and silk overcoats. They had
certainly never missed an afternoon or evening prayer in their lives, nor had
they failed to pour water over their fingertips when they arose in the morning.
We would like to name here two of these citizens of our town who, in letting
their children study, were motivated by Enlightenment impulses and Jewish
nationalist ambitions in addition to practical material considerations. The
first was Reb Leybl Cyfer along with his wife Fannie, who gave Dr. Shmuel Cyfer
to our city, and in whose house the first Zionist circle in Chrzanow had its
earliest meetings. The second was Reb Mordechai Shaul and his wife Chane
Schwartzbart, whose children were among the first Zionists in Western Galicia
not to mention their son Itzchak, the future Sejm deputy. They raised their
children not only in the spirit of the Enlightenment, but first and foremost in
the nationalist Jewish spirit. The eldest son, Engineer Dr. Joseph
Schwartzbart, who lived in Bruenn (Czech territory), was a pioneer of Zionist
thought and developed strong Zionist activities. He died in Israel. Their
second son, Dr. Aron
(Adolf) Schwartzbart, a well-known medical expert and active Zionist, lived in
Tel-Aviv. Their only daughter, Dr. Eli Rieger, was a professor in the teachers'
seminary in Tel-Aviv. These details demonstrate the Zionist character of the
education these parents gave their children.
These two families gave Jewish Chrzanow two brilliant personalities of whom the
city was justly proud: Dr. Shmuel Cyfer and Dr. Itzchak Schwartzbart. Although
the latter took no major part in the development of the youth organizations of
Chrzanow, they served as an example of national pride and Zionist enthusiasm in
a time of deeply-entrenched political and cultural assimilation, which touched
a large portion of our people.
THE FIRST ZIONIST SOCIETY
Reb Leybl Cyfer also deserved credit for having the initiative to be among the
founders of the first Zionist organization in Chrzanow after the publication of
The Jewish State.
This group consisted of Enlighteners and Torah Jews who raised money for the
settlement of Erets Israel, working under strictly conspiratorial conditions.
In order to avoid attracting the attention of all the various rebes of the
time, who suspected Zionism of heresy, those true idealists continued their
work until the youth took over the Zionist idea and carried it into the open.
The names of the first Zionist pioneers may be recorded here for posterity:
The minutes book of this first Zionist society in Chrzanow was, until 1939, in
the possession of Boruch Holander, who died in Auschwitz.
Reb Leybl Cyfer
Reb Mordechai (Saul) Schwartzbart
Reb Yehoshua Holander
Reb Ziml Shternfeld
Reb Shimen Biderman
Reb Shabsay Vurtsel
Quiet, modest, without noise or tumult, were the beginnings of the first purely
Herzlian Zionist society, Bnai Zion. If we are not mistaken, this group was
created in an attic room in Eliezer Boruch's house across from the community
building (the magistrate). Conspiracy was a necessity because the first
comrades of the Bnai Zion were "silk and satin," youth from the
privileged classes. They were students of the Talmud who had left their studies
and wore silk coats and
a sable shtreimel which the Chasidic youth used to wear on the Sabbath. Since
they had no trade to earn a living, they lived at the mercy of their pious
fathers, and their dependence on their parents forced them to be discreet. Most
of all, however, they were well-raised children who did not want to cause their
parents any unnecessary anguish. On the other hand, their love of Zion was
genuine and hot, full of enthusiasm and commitment.
This initially small circle eventually developed into a significant pleiad of
conscious Zionist activists, who carried out thoroughgoing nationalish and
Zionist propaganda activities. Their forum for these activities was the
so-called "Toynbee Hall, " which took place on winter Saturday
evenings in the large room at
Leybisch Klein's house, where well-known Zionists from Cracow, such as Dr.
Shimon Feldblum, Dr. Bulva, Dr. Itzchak Schwartzbart, Dr. Chaim Hilfshtein and
others came to give lectures.
Some 30 plus years later, the first pioneers left the ranks of the Bnai Zion in
Chrzanow for Erets Israel, carrying Herzl's
in their packs. They led the way toward realizing Zionism, even though they
were the children of well-to-do parents. They were the avant-garde of the
several hundred Chrzanow Jews who later emigrated and thus saved themselves
from Hitler's Hen and slaughter. Hershl Klein, Shimon Volf Yungervirt and
Shloyme Guter-these Enlighteners and
had enough sense and courage to forge a better future for the Jewish people.
After the departure of these first members of Bnai Zion, the work did not
diminish; on the contrary, it increased in intensity. Thanks to the effective
and energetic Zionist work of its members, such as the tragically murdered Lipe
Wiener, Hershl Bochenek, Kalmen Proper and Moyshe Leyzer Wachsberg (Pidele),
Bnai Zion always took the lead in all of the Zionist institutions, such as the
Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Foundation Fund, and the rest of the national
and Zionist undertakings.
After World War I, thanks to the establishment of the general Zionist youth
organization Akiba, which acted as a transfusion of new blood on the older
Zionists, Bnai Zion became even more lively. Hebrew teachers were brought to
town, and thanks to the tireless Zionist activist Aron Grajower, served their
people faithfully until their tragic death. May these few lines serve as a
monument to them.
In fairness, we must admit that the Jewish Socialist Party, as it was
originally called- later known as the Bund- at first displayed impressive and
moving activism in Chrzanow. There were two reasons for this. First, there was
strong support from the Polish Socialist Party, which was then at the height of
its strength, and which boasted its popular Galician tribune, Daszinski and
Marek in Western Galicia and Diamant and Liberman in Eastern Galicia. These men
enjoyed extraordinary popularity among the working masses. The second reason
was more important. A group of socialist idealists, fanatically intense
fighters and competent, intelligent Chrzanow organizers, including the major
Bundist activists Nachman Shneyder, Herman Helfer, and later Sholem Goldshtein,
filled in the gaps in the Bund as a Jewish movement with their own personal
acts, sense of life, and faith in socialism. It wasn't the Bund as an
ideological movement that was successful in Chrzanow. However, until the
Zionist parties appeared on the scene, the leaders of the Bundist party managed
to gather around themselves certain parts of the Jewish population.
Undeniably, the Bund was the first group to bring a bit of light to the
oppressed artisans of Chrzanow. This was accomplished more in the spiritual
than in the economic realm. The Bundist activists were the first to bring
delegates from Cracow, who arranged various cultural productions and also
supplied the young people with Yiddish literature.
The Bund's appearance among the Jewish public in Chrzanow caused a stormy
reaction on the part of the pious Chasidic masses. The latter were not
acquainted with the movement's goals, and saw the Bund as attempting to destroy
Judaism and lead the youth away from the true path. But the reaction of the
Chasidirn, who later responded in force, was not really aimed against the Bund;
rather, it was primarily a natural agitation against progressive tendencies,
against the "little Gentiles" who didn't want to obey the good and
pious people. The Bund, through its open hostility to traditional Judaism, only
summoned the wolf from the forest. It became the scapegoat for a major
offensive carried out by the pious Jews of Chrzanow one Sabbath in the summer
One Friday afternoon the Bund displayed a sign announcing that on the afternoon
of the Sabbath, a speaker from Cracow would be present. (Apparently this was
Dr. Bros.) The rabbi, Reb Naftoli, countered this with an announcement that
people were to assemble and forbid this desecration of the Sabbath. After the
Sabbath meal, crowds of Jews in their Sabbath garments streamed to the assembly
area in front of the synagogue, foregoing their accustomed Sabbath nap. A large
demonstration began at the synagogue and went to Krzyska Street, where Bund
headquarters were located. When they arrived at the locked headquarters, the
rabbi and the crowd stopped. In the rabbi's presence, one man in the crowd
broke through a window and threw out everything he could lay his hands
on-books, newspapers, and correspondence. He also came upon a postcard bearing
information concerning the time of the speaker's arrival. With such clear
evidence, the rabbi and the entire crowd set off for the train station. (Here
they had to wear their kerchiefs around their necks, because they were outside
the boundaries within which they were permitted to carry objects during the
Sabbath.) The speaker arrived at the station and unwittingly fell into the
crowd of Chasidirn, who gave him a thorough thrashing, beating him mercilessly
and piercing him with pins they had brought from home. He was barely
recognizable when they were through with him.
The epilogue of this incident, played out in court, is unimportant for our
purposes. But two elements are indeed worth noting. One is the decisiveness and
aggressiveness of the zealous defenders of religious Judaism and especially of
their leaders, Reb Shloyme Naiman, Tall Yoske, and others, who rightfully or
wrongfully threw themselves into the battle. On the other hand was the calm
behavior of the youth at that time, who avoided physical arguments throughout
that period of hot debate.
At first the Socialist Zionist workers' movement had difficulty establishing
itself firmly in Chrzanow, since the Bund had already captured the loyalty of a
significant portion of the working class. It was even harder to take on the
Bund"s talented leaders, Herman Helfer and Nachman Shneyder. But the power
of the Zionist idea overcame every obstacle. Energy, patience, and stubbornness
on the part of the Labor Zionists strengthened the organization at a time when
the Bund ruled the hearts and minds of a large number of workers.
In a short while the Labor Zionists, thanks to their energetic activist
Mordechai Shor, the two brothers Blitzer, Chaim Wiener and, first and foremost,
the eternally youthful Motl Rosner
began to make headway among the workers. Their frequent meetings, speeches, and
entertainments brought new life to town. Thanks to the Labor Zionists and their
activities on behalf of Jewish culture in general, Chrzanow soon was graced
with such world-famous guest speakers as Dr. Natan Birnbaum (Matisyohu Akhar),
Dr. Chaim Zhitlowsky and Dr. Yitschok Schiper. Zionist labor leaders such as
Berl Loker, Leah Chazanowitsh, and (Casriel) Nachman Mifelev were frequent
guests among the Labor Zionists of Chrzanow.
Although stagnation was the general rule among the Jewish parties during the
war years 1914-1918, since some of the young men were at the front fighting for
the Austrian empire, others were serving with the military behind the lines,
and many remained "neutral" in attics and cellars- nevertheless the
Labor Zionists of Chrzanow did not stop working. Motl Rosner, who was the
ideologue and, for all intents and purposes, the leader of the Labor Zionists
after Mordechai Shor's departure for America, strengthened the party's work.
The group known as
was transformed in later years into a Zionist pioneering movement, led by Avrom
Tagner, who emigrated to Palestine a short time before the Holocaust.
After the split between Left and Right Labor Zionism, the group known as Unity
reigned in Chrzanow thanks to the activities of the well-known Hebrew teacher
The socialist Zionist idea took hold among ever-widening circles of the working
class, thanks in large measure to the intelligence and dedication of the
leading comrades of Unity, such as Yechezkl Guter, Berek Laufer, and Izak
Urbach. After World War 1, this labor Zionist group provided the largest number
of Zionist pioneers, and in the last years before the Holocaust, a youth group
named Gordonia was established, by the active Unity member Yakov Forst. This
group was very helpful in spreading the pioneering spirit among the young
people of Chrzanow, thanks to whom quite a number managed to get out in time.
This girls' society in Chrzanow only existed from about 1910 until 1914, and
its precise nature cannot be delineated. Actually the group was not connected
to any of the Jewish parties but was, rather, an artificially created umbrella
group, beneath which Enlightenment tendencies took shelter. In the conditions
which obtained at that time, it was worthwhile in itself for daughters of
Chasidic homes, of pious fathers and mothers, to have the chance to come
together in their own space, in a thoroughly Jewish atmosphere, to hear
lectures about Jewish and general literature and Jewish current affairs. This
alone was a real gain for these Jewish girls, who were destined to bring up the
next Jewish generation.
But in fact, the "Rachel" society actually did preparatory work for
all of the Jewish nationalist parties. It awakened national consciousness among
the Jewish women at a time when assimilationism and pietism combined to combat
the national consciousness of the Jewish people.
Cadres of women sympathetic to Jewish nationalism and members of WIZO were
among the products of this society.
The "Rachel" society was unique to Chrzanow. Its members were
recruited from amongst various classes and segments of the population. Its
leaders, as far as we can remember, were: Libe Klein; Chayetshe Lezer, later
Karol; Faygush Gasner, later Fishler; Yocheved Dunkelblum, later Haftl; Malke
Rosenbaum, later Klein; and the sisters Zajac.
Mizrachi was virtually the last of the Zionist parties to be established,
although in a city as religious and pious as Chrzanow, it should have been the
first. On the other hand, Mizrachi's task was much easier, because the ground
had already been prepared for Zionism by the other parties. Zionist
fund-raising was already functioning well, and many people longed to go to
Erets Israel. Mizrachi served as a line of defense against the Agudat Yisroel,
which promoted an uncompromising antiZionist line. And though its numbers were
not large, Mizrachi grew into an influential force with which the Zionist
parties had to reckon. Its moral influence on otherwise uninvolved religious
Jews grew steadily, thanks to its charismatic activists, such as Avrom Zilbiger
and Betsalel Cuker, the latter of whom later played such a bitter and tragic
role. Other activists were Yechezkl Reich, Chaim Hirshtal, Chaim Gutter (all
victims of the Nazis) and, may he enjoy long life, Baruch Hirshberg. These
experienced activists devoted all of their energy to the Zionist idea.
One of the finest accomplishments of the Mizrachi was the maintenance of its
synagogue on the Plantn. In addition to Zionist activists, the place was
frequented by a group of music students devoted to Reb Hirsh Leyb and Reb
Leybish Mayzeles' musical works, such as Avrom Zilbiger, Simcha Shenberg, Berl
Frankel, and others. Prayers were sung with musical competence and piety. It
was sheer pleasure to worship at the Mizrachi synagogue on the Sabbath or on
holidays; every comer was fined with wonderful melodies.
Mizrachi was also the first group in Chrzanow to introduce the custom of
holding modem Sabbath parties, following the example of Chaim Nachman Bialik's
Sabbath parties. It was delightful to observe Jews in their shtreimelech and
Sabbath garments discussing contemporary issues between hymns, or listening to
the various speeches that were given.
Mizrachi also established a youth group called
(the Religious Guards). However, this group's achievements were unimpressive in
comparison with those of other Zionist youth organizations, especially Akiba.
We have tried to give a brief account of the most prominent movements in the
political and social life of Chrzanow. But in the last years before the
Holocaust two other parties came as well which, although they played a major
role on the global scale, were hardly significant in Chrzanow. These were the
Agudat Yisroel and the Revisionists. While they had a fair number of members,
they had little influence on public opinion.
We should also mention the Anski Drama Club, which was apolitical, and a source
of true Jewish culture and secular knowledge.
It is also worth noting that despite the various differences of opinion among
the parties, there were never any serious conflicts or personal rivalries in
Chrzanow. On the contrary: the young people of every tendency lived together in
friendship. It was truly an ideal to which one should look up.
Jewish Students in Chrzanow
by Engineer S. Schwartz
LIKE EVERY Polish town, Chrzanow had its Jewish students. The Jewish
Enlightenment had been at work in nearby Cracow for quite some time, and the
spirit of progress began to seep into neighboring Chrzanow.
While still under Austrian rule, Chrzanow had possessed a gymnasium and in its
streets, as in the rest of Austria, the students strode about proudly in their
black uniforms and tall hats, with gold stripes on the collars of their jackets.
True, even before the gymnasium was established a few families, such as the
Schwartzbarts, the Cyfers, the Riesers, sent their children away from Chrzanow
to study. They did not belong to the student circles of Chrzanow.
Later, Jewish students were recruited from among the families who lived on the
Plantn. Called the "Plantn people," or the "better class,"
they lived in fine apartments, dressed in "German" (that is, modern)
clothing, employed Polish servants, sent their children to secular schools,
generally spoke Polish with them, and generally aspired to have well-educated
children. The parents were religious, but tolerant. The mothers went to the
synagogue on the Sabbath and on holidays just like everyone else, behaved like
Jewish women, maintained Jewish customs. The fathers were well-respected
merchants, who had even worn shtreimelech at first, which they later exchanged
for modern European hats. They sent their sons to Cheder, and saw to it that
they studied well. On the Sabbath they examined their children to be sure that
they had thoroughly learned the Torah portion of the week. If the children
studied diligently, they were rewarded, but when they didn't learn their
lessons thoroughly, the Sabbath was ruined. Fiery slaps found their mark
more than once. The shouts of the father mixed with the weeping of the children
could be heard in the street.
When the children finished the fourth or fifth grade of elementary school, the
parents usually decided to send them to the gymnasium. The fathers, however,
only agreed on condition that the
would come to the house after school and tutor the children in Jewish subjects.
Thus the parents were confident that their children would be respectable in the
eyes of both God and society.
At first the Jewish students were excused from gymnasium on the Sabbath, so
that they could join their fathers in prayer. Later, when the gymnasium was run
by the Polish state, the Jewish students had to come on the Sabbath, but they
were not forced to write. Nevertheless they had to wear the student's
on their heads, and many parents were embarrassed when their children came to
I remember keeping another cap in my pocket and exchanging it for the
before I entered the synagogue.
I always went to pray in the little synagogue at the Plantn, where my father
was the secretary for many years. I can still feel the warmth and hospitality
that surrounded me there on winter Sabbath afternoons, before the afternoon
prayers. A group of Jews sat around a table, listening to a lesson in Talmud
taught by the wellknown scholar Reb Shachne
Around the iron stove sat prominent elders, serious and preoccupied during the
week, but today with cheerful, calm smiles on their faces. They chatted of
politics, dissecting Itshele's "Political Letter" and Kipnis's
"Over a Glass of Tea." (Itshele and Kipnis were famous commentators
at the time.)
While there, I forgot about the meaningless world of the student, forgot about
the piercing remarks of the anti-Semitic Polish professors, and the mockery of
my Gentile comrades. There one was surrounded by an unforced, free atmosphere,
and an intimate Jewish warmth informed by the light but sharp wisdom of the
During the years after World War I, the Jewish students numbered around
fortyfive or fifty. As assimilation increased, they became distanced from
Jewish national sentiment, and empty arrogance reigned among the Jewish
students of Chrzanow. They were ashamed to speak Yiddish or to find themselves
in the company of Jews; it wasn't befitting for them to go to the speeches
organized by the hard-working Zionist organizations. After they finished their
homework, they strolled back and forth on the Plantn with nothing to do. They
flirted with girls, lay around on the hills or by the river, and sat listening
to the concert of frogs, speaking of football or idly joking until late at
The efficient Zionist student organization in Cracow tried to make some headway
in the provinces and establish cells in the smaller cities. The Polish Jewish
published inspiring articles by our beloved leaders, the unforgettable Dr.
Tohn, Dr. Itzchak Schwartzbart, and Dr. Berklamer, who stormed against the
indifference and passivity of the provincial intelligentsia, trying to force
their way into the closed minds-of our provincial Jewish students.
Certainly some of our students in Chrzanow were sensitive to the ideas of the
time. Hershl Brener certainly wasn't one of the "Plantn crowd." A boy
who had been to cheder and had a good mind, he would sneak off into the
Libianzer woods early every morning with Marx's
under his arm. Izak Daytsher with his offbeat sensibility later became a
talented journalist in Warsaw. Yosek Bester from the village of Lipovice, a
pitifully poor child of the countryside, later became a popular doctor in town.
The socially conscious Chane Dunkelblum, the sisters Wolf and the committed
Zionist youth leader Rose Orenstein also belonged to this group, as did Idek
Verner, the intelligent Chrzanow youth who became a lawyer. Izak Reffer, who
only began to devote his youthful enthusiasm to socialist community work after
he completed gymnasium, made his way to New Zealand after finishing the
Politechnikum, where he occupied a government position and worked as a scholar.
I also want to mention my friend Yosek Bochner, a brilliant mathematician, who
later studied in Berlin and went to Moscow, where he worked in an airplane
factory. There was also a seminary in which about fifteen Jewish girls studied,
several of whom took active part in Zionist organizations. Among the latter was
the unforgettable Chava Schwartz, the leader of Gordonia in Chrzanow.
This picture of the Jewish students of Chrzanow would not be complete without
mentioning a small, dosed group of older scholars, who actually did not study
in Chrzanow, but who came home on vacation each year. These included the
talented, serious and very intelligent Heniek Rieser (who became a doctor and
engineer in Milan), the "Casanova" and prankster Heniek Nadel (in
Shanghai), the brothers Yosef and Dovid Bachner, both engineers (in Canada),
the rebellious son of the Chrzanow magnate Reb Zisme Kinreich, Boruch (later a
doctor of economics in Berlin), and the extraordinary student and joker Yukl
Kurtz. They looked down at the younger students, as if they were talking to
puppies, to use Yukl Kurtz' words. When they came from "outside" to
Chrzanow, they kept to themselves, speaking about theatre and about new books,
attracting youngsters and mocking them endlessly.
In the 1930s the distance between the "Plantn Jews" and the
"city Jews" began to lessen and the students changed as well,
becoming more imbued with sensitivity and involvement with Jewish national
PLACES FOR AMUSEMENT AND STROLLING
(The Synagogue "Bobowianka" Lawn and the Polish Bridge)
CHASIDIC JEWS occupied the so-called Synagogue Lawn as far as the
slaughterhouse, and from the Polish Bridge lengthwise from the railroad station
to the cemetery. Within those boundaries on summer evenings one could see
respectable Jews in black overcoats with wide silk belts, long pipes in their
mouths and carrying sticks as protection, taking in the fresh air from the
surrounding woods, a blessing which Chrzanow enjoyed in plenty.
Usually the evening strolls of our fathers, Chasidim and scholars, were a
continuation of the rambles they had just taken through the Talmud and law
codes. Their minds were still mulling over the material they had learned in the
course of the day. Naturally, when they began to breathe the fresh air, they
sometimes permitted themselves to speak about lighter matters, such as pithy
sayings or interesting parables attributed to Chasidic rebes.
Young men who studied at the study house delved deeply into the particulars of
the material they were working on. Women wearing hair bands and wigs settled
modestly on the lawn, chatting about their daily concerns, sometimes throwing
in a bit of gossip as well. When a male had to pass, the women withdrew to one
side, so that he wouldn't be forced to pass between two females.
In fact the synagogue lawn was quite overgrown, both literally and with the
Jewish life of Chrzanow. Before Passover, it was the place to light fires to
bum one's leavened goods
Here Jewish children from the nearby municipal Hebrew school played games of
nuts, and on Lag Baomer the youthful troops fought battles with bow and arrow.
On the Ninth of Av pranksters took burrs from the lawn to all of the study
houses and Chasidic synagogues, to torment the worshipers during the recitation
of the laments for the destruction of the Temple. On Yom Kippur Jews who were
beginning to suffer from the odors of the melting candles in the main synagogue
and the other houses of worship came out onto the lawn wearing their taleisim
to get a bit of fresh air.
Although the lawn belonged to a Gentile, the Jews considered it their own.
Despite the owner's protests, they felt as if they were in their own father's
For younger people seeking pleasure, there were the Plantn (Alea Henryka) and
the suspension bridge near the railroad station. There the atmosphere was freer
and the mood lighter, as the spiritual realm gave way to the material. Young
men permitted themselves a glance at young ladies, and sometimes even greeted
them, nodding their heads awkwardly and blushing as they did so. Once upon a
time, speaking to a girl was not taken lightly in Chrzanow. It took both
courage and a bit of audacity. People took into consideration those who might
be watching, and even more so the girls themselves, who might go bearing tales
later on. In the earlier years, the Plantn served as a sort of passageway to
the suspension bridge. As a rule Chasidic mothers and fathers did not permit
their grown children to go out strolling unaccompanied by those older and more
experienced. But the young people always found excuses, saying that they had to
meet someone at the railroad station, or see someone off. However, the real
goal was the suspension bridge. In addition to students from the study house,
young people of every sort, from every class and estate, boys as well as girls,
gathered there. Of course, the boys and girls were in separate groups.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, when the socialist and nationalist
youth organizations were established, the Plantn changed radically. The young
people began reading fiction, both good and bad. They became bolder, and a
short time later both accidental and arranged rendezvous began to take place,
as is the modern custom. The Plantn and the free air also influenced the
spirits of the youth.
For the modern youth, aspiring to freedom, these areas had become too narrow,
too stuffy. They set off for the forest nearest to the city, about one
kilometer away from the Jewish cemetery. Until 1918, the forest was the ideal
spot for the more mature Jewish youth. Here they weren't afraid of their strict
mothers and fathers. They were also safe from the all-seeing eyes of God's
spies and everyday gossips, who were always seeking new material.
In the forest the youth passed their time free and unconstrained, but their
behavior was cultured and respectable. "Love affairs," Platonic and
romantic, were carried out on an elevated level. Intelligent, informed
discussions were held on general as well as Jewish topics, about the newest
creations of that shining period in Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, and German
literature. If trees could speak, they would have much to relate about the
young people of Chrzanow. Achad HaAm and Max Nordau, Peretz and Nietzsche,
Bialik and Mickiewicz were read in their original languages.
With the collapse of Austria everything in the forest changed for the worse. A
locomotive factory was established and a workers' dormitory was built in the
forest. The local Poles began to harass the young Jews in various ways,
eventually resorting to physical attacks and stone throwing. This embittered
the Jewish youth, filling them with hatred for the grandchildren of Kosciuszko
These frequent aggressions led the Jewish youth to seek another place to relax.
Thus they spent the last several years before the catastrophe at the piaski
This was a pretty spot near the river Hechlo, which had played a part in the
lives of the Jews of Chrzanow for many years. Thousands of Chrzanow Jews went
to the river to perform the
ceremony on Rosh Hashanah. Willow branches for Sukkoth came from the banks of
the river. Jewish housewives waited by the river for peasant women to come on
market days, so that they could get a bargain on a chicken for Sabbath or for
the kapore ceremony before Yom Kippur. A number of Jews lived at the Piaski. A
Jewish tannery was located there, and people felt more secure there than in the
forest. The Chrzanow youth spread their wings, finding a sandy spot and bathing
just as if they were at an elegant beach.
But the old magic of the forest was missing. The very fact that the forest had
to be surrendered to newcomers discouraged the youth. To spite their enemies,
the young men and women of Chrzanow refused to give up entirely. Although they
were originally forced to the Piaski, they made it their own. Herded about,
first by the Poles and then into the ghetto by the Germans, the young people
gathered at the Piaski, and in summer evenings the sound of Yiddish and Hebrew
songs could be heard. They sang from the heart, with hopes for a better future.
The Piaski remained the only place for strolling outdoors during the German
occupation. Then its cheerful atmosphere faded away altogether, as some of the
young people were already in forced work camps. Only occasionally did
individuals go there, along with small groups of "politicians,"
looking forward to some news of the outside world. Now the secret may be
revealed: the town's "Jewish radio" was located at the Piaski. It was
the source of illegal news during Hitler's war- news that helped to keep hope
of redemption alive.
NICKNAMES IN CHRZANOW
Unfortunately not all can be translated effectively- Publisher.
In Chrzanow nicknames were used as if they were entirely natural. According to
older Jews from Chrzanow, the nicknames began because once upon a time, when
the railroad station was still at the old Station Street, young people would
wait for the arrival of every new bridegroom from out of town, and express
their opinion of him. Of course there were always jokers among them, and after
the "evaluation" of the new member of the community, they would
assign him an appropriate nickname. to a certain extent these nicknames were
individually earned-some referred to one's occupation; others expressed
physical qualities, while still others had to do with the owner's character.
Today it is hard to give an accurate philological account of these nicknames,
even though in its time each one was appropriate. Following are a few examples:
He had no beard, or it was barely visible.
His store consisted of a stall of boards nailed together.
Baal-Shem A (Saint):
Jew who dealt in old clothes and rags; quite learned, could resolve difficult
points of observance, and because of his modest bearing he was called a saint.
A musician who played this instrument.
Cap (Male Goat):
A nickname for someone who didn't understand much ... a dope.
A glutton; a slob.
Almost an idiot; schlemiel.
Ciol: Thick-headed, slow to comprehend.
Jajcorz (from Polish for egg):
An egg dealer.
Tall and thin. Since the first "Loksh" was named Shiye, others named
Shiye were also called Loksh.
Mentioned in Chrzanow folklore.
Naser (The Wet One):
He had been rescued from drowning in the river.
A Jew who had a textile goods store in the market; whenever a Gentile customer
didn't want to pay the stated price, this was his response. It's a fact that
90% of the Jews of Chrzanow didn't know his real name, and called him by this
Son of an innkeeper, whose father often ordered him to draw beer from a barrel.
There were two brothers, and since one of them was called Cow, the younger was
called Calf .
Someone who was lively, half wild.
A tavernkeeper who served beer on credit on the Sabbath, since he wouldn't take
any money. He had a book containing the names of his steady customers, and in
order to keep track of their tab, he would bend over the sheet with the
appropriate customer's name. Every time he poured a glass of beer, he told his
daughter, "Mirl! Bend!"
An enterprising Jew. He was the first to bring a booth with a stove to
Chrzanow, and it looked a bit like a car. He roasted potatoes and chestnuts,
drew apple wine with seltzer from a copper jug, and most impressive, had a sort
of roulette game- a wheel with a wooden stork in the middle. One could win an
entire string of figs, or a round coconut. The whole business was called the
Kozemashin. Even the owner's children and grandchildren were called
This insulting nickname belonged to a Jew named Ruven, whose nose always
dripped. People would say: "Ruven
(your nose is running)." That evolved into Ribbentrop, later the name of
Hitler's foreign minister.
A boastful character who was actually a wind bag.
In addition to all of these, there were others which were faintly derogatory,
and which designated people by the locales they had come from, such as:
Cracow nibbler; Oswiecim doltnfreser;
The people from this town were considered immoral.
"Purebred," born Chrzanowites.
An epithet for people from Congress Poland.
Those who stemmed from Central or Eastern Galicia.
A large number of Jews weren't called by their last names, but rather by their
father's or grandfather's names, such as: Yosl Moyshe Reb Simen's, Shloyme
Moyshe the Rabbi's, Itshele Reb Yankev Ruven's, Moyshe Avrom Heshl's, Yankele
Aba's, Faygele Melech's, Mendl Cini's, and so forth.
Names deriving from physical characteristics included: Big Aron, Tall Motl,
Tall Dovid, Little Shmuelke, Fat Pinkhas, Skinny Leyb, White Zelig, Red Shmuel,
Black Dovid, Green Gershon, Pink Moyshe.
Names indicating where the individual came from were Reb Shloyme Kotzker,
Miriam from Mentkov, Reb Meir Tshebiner, the teacher from Cracow, the teacher
from Dombrowa, the teacher from Warsaw, Polish Mendl, and so forth.
All of these nicknames were used on a daily basis, to the extent that someone
from out of town with the address and last name of the person he or she was
looking for had a hard time finding where to go. A number of comical incidents
also arose because a stranger couldn't properly pronounce a certain nickname.
Thus, trying to indicate who he was looking for, he instead invented a new
nickname ... and it stuck.
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