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[Pages 49–55]

An Obligation to Remember

by M. Rafali [Rafałowicz]

Translated by Roger Kaplan
Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang

Anniversary

Every year, a gathering of survivors
Come together, to sit, to mourn
The Działoszyce and Skalbmierz
communities
that exist no more.

Every year I will show you around
Around me, my city, so beloved
Everything that no longer remains
There, where my happiness was, it hurts

Among the alleys and bridges
Under which there flowed the streams
And from the river where I drew “our water”
Holy, I cast into the stream, crumbs of tashlikh[1].

Your stream – to return a soul, to quench a thirst
But now, from your days, waters quiver like after a flood.
To visit you, I yearned and what a shame
I won't see you anymore, a real tragedy.

As is the nature of things, we forget things that flow like the distant past, and time goes its own way. As our day of remembrance approaches, which begins a few days before Rosh Hashanah, let us remember and gather even the smallest bits of memories of our town, about the gray days of every day life, all year long, and also about its wonderful days.

Our city was rich with all sorts of people, from all different economic and social classes. This time, we will try to bring up from the depths of oblivion images of the cantors and congregants during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, those who once were but are no longer. The cantor about whom we will speak used to pray every day of the year in the shtibl [small shul] of the Hasids of Trisk[2], but every year during the Days of Awe [High Holy Days], he would lead the services in the besmedresh [house of study], accompanied by his sons and grandsons. They would stand on each side of the rails of the stairs that led to the Holy Ark. The cantor, standing erect, with his long white beard adorning his face, looked like the High Priest. He would lay out his warm prayers before the Creator in a pleasant manner like an old hand who had done this many times. When he stretched his hands upward and raised his voice during the “avoda” prayer service of Yom Kippur, there was a stillness in the besmedresh amid the large congregation. And from the increasing silence arose the eternal tune of “The Priests and the people standing in the Temple Azara [outer room containing the altar upon which sacrifices were offered]…quench the yearning for redemption and kingdom...” The echoes of the prayer leader's voice would float and blend with those accompanying him.

On the side, completely bowed, stands one of the penitent, with tears streaming from his eyelashes and rolling down his face. And his lips say, “Please, G-d, forgive me.” He forgets his distress and turns his thoughts from his personal tribulations. He is caught up in the fast and prayers on the awesome holy day, the Day of Judgment.

Such as these were the congregants and cantors in our town, may the Lord avenge their blood. I am sure that some of our friends knew them. They were the prayer leader, Reb Chaim Szaja Kac, z”l, a Hasid who followed the straight path, and the congregant Reb Zalman Majer, the tailor, z”l, who was humble and G-d fearing. There were other good cantors in our town who were appreciated and desired by all, such as Reb Abraham Lejb Solny, z”l, who was well known for his sweet voice. Echoing in the ears is the sound in the besmedresh of his first slikhes [prayers of repentance preceding the High Holy Days], when he would call out, “God instructed us to say the Thirteen Attributes.” Reb Abraham Icek Zając, z”l, a wonderful Torah reader, also led services. Reb Moszek Dawid Pomeranc, z”l, led the services in the shtibl of the Hasids of Chęciny, and Reb Abele Granada was the established leader of musef [additional morning prayers] for the rabbi from Chęciny. There were many more. In general, Działoszyce had a good reputation, near and far, regarding the quality of its cantors.

As all that once was in our small town and is no more passes before my eyes, like a fleeting dream, it is hard for my mind to accept that its human richness no longer exists.

A Day In A Year

Every year I'll see you around me
Me, my town I so love
Of all its treasure, nothing remains

A place where my happiness dwells
Among your narrow alleys and bridges
Under which rivers flowed

To visit you, I yearned for many years
I will not see you until the end of days
Every year, a gathering of survivors
Come together, to remember, to mourn
For the Działoszyce community, which is no longer…

As I now recall the memories of my dear town where I spent my childhood, when I think about and ponder about this small town of “Poor King Giter,” a great sigh bursts from my heart, because it is no more and has vanished on the altar together with its good people.

I dreamt once of visiting there to see members of my family and all the people of our town. I wished also to lie down on the graves of ancestors, on my mother's grave, may peace be upon her, who died in the prime of her life. (Incidentally, she was a teacher of girls; she taught Russian and Yiddish.) And then came the catastrophe that cut her life short, and I was not able to visit her. My lips are unable to express the whisperings of my heart and bring to mind the memories of the past. Our town was a one-of-a-kind special town, and perhaps, justly so, was called the “mother town” of the rest of the towns in the area. They lived a real Jewish life (gelebt ein yidishkeyt). Only now am I able to properly appreciate it, for I was young when I emigrated to Israel. It was at the beginning of the 1920s, and I didn't have the experience to be able to appreciate fully the town and its dear people. A wide variety of all types of different people lived there – the rich, the middle class, laborers, rabbis, rabbinic judges, scholars, craftsmen, storekeepers, and workers of many different kinds. Life was peaceful, natural, without commotion, and far from the tumult of the big city. It was a town that had a wonderful mix of Torah and Enlightenment, and Zionism also held an honorable place in its time. I remember, among other things, among the newspapers that came to our town, there was the first Hebrew paper, Hatsefirah, whose editor was Nahum Sokolow. This was about 1910. Other Hebrew periodicals came regularly, too. The Hebrew language wasn't foreign to the Jewish youth in our town, especially to the boys of the besmedresh.

I remember once during a Talmud lesson that they found one of the boys had a copy of Hatsefirah underneath his book of Talmud. One of the town leaders made a big fuss about it. If my memory serves me correctly, it was Izrael Chaim Szac. From today's perspective, our town held Zionism and Enlightenment in high regard.

I also remember World War I and its aftermath, when we heard the news about the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo Agreement[3]. What a spontaneous awakening and general happiness came over the town and its residents. Everyone in the town gathered together in the besmedresh, and there were vociferous speeches by those from Mizrachi [Orthodox Zionist Party] and Zionists. The speakers were Herszel Moher, Hercel Karmioł, Icek Kołatacz, the Tall Jankiel, and others. There was a great commotion; they called this gathering “a gathering to redeem Israel.” The gathering was lively, people from every class contributed money, and whoever couldn't give money brought various gold objects. Many removed their own jewelry. Then a committee was formed that gathered all of the property and took it to Warsaw, to the Zionist Center, or some other place. This detail I don't remember exactly.

A committee to purchase land in Eretz Yisroel was also formed. It seems that all of the town's residents wanted to travel to the Holy Land. And thus, after all those years of my living in Israel, I met here a delegation of Jews from Działoszyce. This was in the late 20s, when they came to Israel and purchased farming settlements for members of the Zionist organization. Among those in the delegation were Avish Grundman, Moher, and others. They came, but I don't know what happened to them.

After the Balfour Declaration, the town's residents joined together to form different political parties: Mizrachi [Orthodox Zionist Party], Ha-Mizrachi Hatzair [religious Zionist youth], the General Zionists, and even the youth of Agudas Yisroel [non-Zionist Orthodox party]. There was a general excitement for the redemption of the Land. And, of course, a variety of activities began in the socio-cultural arena. These activities were fruitful. The result was that the youth began preparing to emigrate to Eretz Yisroel. Among the first pioneers who emigrated in the month of May, 1920, was me. We came straight from Działoszyce to Eretz Yisroel. There was no need for visas then, except for identification documents, and when we arrived, there wasn't anything except diseases. Amazingly, I found two people from Działoszyce who came before me. One of them was named Jakowicz, and the other was the son of a scholar in our town. The two are no longer alive.

This was the chapter about Zionism in our dear town Działoszyce.

Life in the Town

Now I will dwell a bit on describing the simple Jewish life and institutions – the community, the religious courts, the kosher butcher, etc. Everything is a blur to me, because in 1914, World War I broke out, and I was only 13 then. I was orphaned then by my mother, may peace be upon her, and I wandered to Olkusz, Kielce, since I had relatives there. One thing I remember now, while writing this, and this has to do with the Zionist youth of the time. This was in 1910 or 1911, when the Zionist organizations decided to hold a memorial for Benjamin Zeev Herzl [Theodor Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization] in the main synagogue. The rabbi of the town at the time, it seems to me, was Rabbi Staszewski, may the Lord avenge his blood. He did not permit holding the memorial ceremony in the synagogue. A great commotion arose, but the Zionists got the keys to the synagogue from Arele, the shamas [sexton], and the memorial took place.

As I said, my memory is weak, but what is engraved in my memory is the Jewish life of the town. Every household was a fortress for yidishkeyt [Jewishness]. Here, I remember the different kinds of shtiblekh [small Hasidic synagogues] and the highly elaborate main synagogue decorated with wonderful art. By the way, my grandfather had a Stätt (a fixed seat) in that synagogue. I remember that the besmedresh was always humming because of the many people praying and studying Torah. They took a brief break only for lunch.

I have a vision of our town after lunch in the summer, from my time, of course. People used to go out a bit shpatzirin (to stroll) and enjoy the smell of the fields. There were those who walked to the stara rzeka [old river] and to Chmielów to Anka's. Among those walking were also the students of the besmedresh, dressed in shortened frocks. There were also some young people of this type, progressive youth, caught up in the Enlightenment, who took with them bikhlekh [booklets] by I. L. Peretz and other books, even some by the French author Michel Mufson. And mothers with their little children came out into the streets; they went out to buy themselves egg bagels and small matses. I recall the different names particularly in Yiddish, because all of this is fixed in my memory as such. Before evening, of course, for the afternoon service—all of the workers, craftsmen, sellers who stood in the market with their shtekelekh [small sticks] left and went to pray at the afternoon and evening services and to hear a sermon, if by chance a preacher had come to town.

On Thursday afternoon, people began returning home again, among them my father, may the Lord avenge his blood, who made his living in the distant and nearby towns in the area. They would return also from the market in Skalbmierz, the sellers of cattle, feathers, leather, and more. Housewives prepared for Shabes. This was on regular weekdays. Friday afternoon, before the Sabbath, the preparation became very serious. Everything was done at a fast pace. Housewives cooked and baked for Shabes. On Friday afternoon at one o'clock, the shrill of the siren was heard, a signal that it was time to get ready to go to the bathhouse. Who didn't go to the mikve? It seems to me that no one from the town was absent. In particular, no one missed going to the steam bath. The Jews bathed, sweated, and appeared really like “the herd that slipped down Mount Gilead.” Everything was done for the honor of Shabes. The flow of people to the synagogue on Friday evening at dusk was a sight to be seen. The old and the young went as one. Whoever hasn't seen Shabes evening in Działoszyce has never seen anything so amazing in their life.

To everyone, whether rich or poor, the holiness and restfulness of Shabes were well known. Everything shone brightly, the kidesh [blessing over the wine] and the songs burst out from every house and courtyard. Hasids, on Shabes night after eating, went to the communal table of any Hasidic rebbe who happened to be visiting our town. They went to hear Torah from his lips. They also went to the local Hasidic rebbe, Rabbi Epsztajn, may the Lord avenge his blood, the son of a rabbi from Neustadt, the grandson of “the Good Jew” and brother-in-law of the Hasidic rebbe of Komarno, z”l. In our town, there were very active Hasidim. They would travel to visit Hasidic rebbes, and these rebbes would also visit Działoszyce frequently. Rabbis Reb Motele, Reb Nachumce, Reb Mojsze Lajbele, and Reb Jakob Lajbele were the Hasidic rebbes of the Trisk lineage. Among those who lodged with my grandfather, Joel Kołatacz, z”l, was the rebbe from Pitrszew [Piotrków? Pińczów?] and also the rebbe from Chęciny, as I recall. My father was also a Chęciny Hasid, and when I was a youth I traveled with him to visit the rebbes.

Up to here, is the chapter on Hasidism.

A Shabes morning

On Shabes morning, I don't think there was another place where Shabes was felt like it was with us. Peace and calm hovered over the town. The streets and the alleys were empty. Only the flow to the synagogue continued. It was possible to see only the janitors sweeping the sidewalks and nothing more. There was complete quiet. After prayers, again the same picture was revealed – kidesh, a meal, songs, etc. And sleeping on Shabes, that was such a pleasure! Even about this, they were adamant. After they got up from sleeping, there were those who went to visit family or went out for a walk. But most went to the besmedresh to study “Ethics of the Fathers” or to hear a sermon. After that, of course, came the “third meal” and again songs, evening prayers, lighting the Havdole candle [signifying the end of Shabes]. Life went from a holy pleasantness to the non-holy, to work and to toil.

My Town

Stormy waves wash over you.
I yearned for you
Cruelly, your roots were pulled out
And I won't be able to see you any more.

From your springs, the saturation of man
Great waters surrounded you
Which transformed into rivers of blood.

Your treasures are forever hidden.
Desecrated are the synagogue and the study house
Ohhh, God, don't be silent
The cemetery was desecrated at the hands of the cursed Nazis

My mother's name was erased from her gravestone
It was destroyed and silenced, and left for ruin
Mother, your disgrace I will remember

The cemetery of all generations
Gravestones are bent over the rib of the oak
Dwellers of dust, great ones of the caves
Have been uprooted by the hands of foe, the great disaster

Gazing at me during my sorrow
Demolished and destroyed
Is the 'tent' (mausoleum) of Rabbi Yossi
May he be exalted and praised.

About my grandfather Reb Jakob Rafałowicz, z”l

It is my wish to recall pleasant memories, from my days of youth, about my grandfather Reb Jakob Rafałowicz. Although I walked along side him for only a short while, memories remain with me of his honest and worthy behavior. A few memories deserve to be re-awakened in my heart while I recall his image. I cannot forget the pleasure that I got from traveling with him to the rebbe of Chęciny, and the experiences of that Shabes have not been forgotten by me. I also remember the elderly Jews of Działoszyce from 50 or more years ago – the witty, the learned, and the strong in their faith. They prayed and studied, hoped, and lived a modest life. They had the Torah, the holy Shabes, and the joy of holidays and festivals. In the midst of all this, the life of my grandfather, z”l, was intertwined. Every morning, he was up early to go to the besmedresh, and before prayers, he was immersed in Mishne [Jewish code of law] or Psalms. He sent his sons to study in the Gur [Góra Kalwaria] and Radzymin yeshivas. He gave his daughters to marry into respectable families. His financial situation was fairly stable; he was in the business of trading crops with nearby and distant landowners of the area and was beloved among the circles of businessmen in our town. May his memory be blessed.

God forbid that I neglect to praise my grandmother, Surele. She was a devoted wife to Grandfather and modest in her lifestyle. She reached an advanced old age but was caught by the cursed Nazis, and her fate was like that of all the Jews of Działoszyce, may the Lord avenge her blood.

In Memory of Masza Rozenblum of the Kołatacz Family

Here, I turn my thoughts to and plunge into the very distant past. My faithful journey, which I made in a cart through dangerous obstacles, from my home to Sosnowiec and from there to the border, on the way to Eretz Yisroel, stands before my eyes.

It was the end of World War I, during clear spring days. At the time, it occurred to her to tell me something, clear and wise, with absoluteness and confidence. She said, in her native tongue, “Motel, you will not go to the Polish army! We will find some way out of Działoszyce and get permission to pass through the passport control station. This shall be!”

And so it was; she arranged my travel with a passport, and I dressed as a girl. We left town in Reb Lajbele Ptasznik's wagon, if my memory is not mistaken, on the way to Będzin-Sosnowiec, in order to pass the border next to Katowice. She accompanied me, together with Grandma Marida Kołatacz, z”l. Of course, the route and the disguise were dangerous for the three of us, and that is how we, with God's help, reached the appointed place, the Polish-German border.

From the mists of the past, there is a clear memory of my last farewell. My aunt told me this in these words, “Never regret that you are going away from us. Everything will be for the best, and God willing, we will meet again sometime.” Tears were in her eyes because of the great emotions, and as if she wanted to diminish the distress, she added, “After all, you are going to Eretz Yisroel. And soon, we, too, will join you.” She always longed for Eretz Yisroel. But she was unable to fulfill her dream. There are those who dream about a nice life, and then fate intervenes, and the whole thing is turned upside down. Such was her fate, my dear aunt.

When I bring to mind her image before me, it is the image that shone from her beautiful eyes, which all the afflictions of time and fate could not remove from her. She hoped and believed in the light emanating from the Supreme Source, and she succeeded in hearing from me how I was managing in Israel but not in seeing me. In the midst of the days of her flowering and her youth, the thread of her life was cut.

For a long time I have wanted to honor you but was unable to do so. Now, I will memorialize your name in the holy book of our town Działoszyce. May your memory be blessed.


[Pages 56–59]

The Beginning of the
Enlightenment Period in the Town

by Josef and Baruch Blat
(As we remember it.)

Translated by Roger Kaplan
Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang

Enlightenment penetrated Jewish homes on the edges of Europe and Poland back in the 19th century, but only light echoes of it reached the town of Działoszyce, which lay in a remote corner, cut off from the larger world, without means of transportation, without connecting paved or unpaved roads even to the villages in the area. A change in values, which began among Jews all over the world, touched only those certain special individuals who succeeded in leaving the narrow domain of our town and managed to glimpse the changes that were occurring in the Jewish street.

In 1911, about three years before the beginning of World War I, the first sparks of Enlightenment reached our town. A few young men, members of the besmedresh [house of study], who, day and night, were immersed in the study of Shisha S'darim [the six Orders of the Mishne] and verses, began to glance upon the hidden, in the Hebrew secular books of Mapu, Lilienblum, Pinsker, Shedal, Smolenskin, and others. After having a glimpse, an intense hunger for Enlightenment took hold of them; there was a desire by these youth who were thirsty for knowledge to broaden their horizons. Zionism was foremost and naturally an inseparable part of the cultural flow. They wanted to delve into the Zionist idea, the idea of the liberation of their people from its 2,000-year-old exile to become an independent people settled on their land in Zion. Included in this group of young men were Awramcze Frydman, Aron Blat, Icek Tenenwurcel, Salat, and Moszek Szklarczyk. They were active in the organizing of clubs. Meetings for these clubs took place in our house, because my father, Reb Abraham Moszek Blat, was often out of town on business, and there was no one who would interfere with us holding the activities in our large apartment. In addition to the cultural activity, we began collecting funds for the Jewish National Fund [JNF], the fund whose purpose was to redeem the land of Eretz Yisroel from the hands of its occupiers. Members of this group mentioned above placed bowls among the other charity bowls in the synagogues in town during holidays on the eve of Yom Kippur and Hoshanah-Rabah [seventh day of Sukes] to collect contributions of cash for JNF.

The need for information from various books was felt in the activity of the clubs promoting culture and Enlightenment among the youth. And thus, the idea arose to establish a library, which would acquire books in the fields of science, history, and the belles-lettres [literature] and would loan them to the youth whose eyes had just opened and who drank in the words of the authors no matter what the subject. A committee was organized for the task of creating the library. In a similar manner, leaders from each of the many groups in the town were selected. A large bowl, a ballot box of sorts, was placed on the table, and the names of the candidates for the committee were put in the bowl, and I, Baruch Blat, being the youngest, pulled out the slips of paper. And in this way, the first committee of the library was chosen.

Even though those of the old generation, the shtiblekh Hasidim [Hasidim who attended the small synagogues], opposed the young people's work in the library, at clubs, and collections for JNF, that didn't stop them; they continued their work with great success.

But in the meanwhile, in 1914, World War I broke out, in which the nations of Europe were thrown into turbulence, and even the Kingdom of Poland, occupied by the Stalinist Russian authorities, was not exempt. Most of the youth hid in various hiding places; some of them were drafted into the army, and the work of the clubs spreading Enlightenment ceased. The group's desire to do something for Enlightenment and Zionism came to a halt; only the great desire of an individual to keep his family whole during this insane period remained.

In 1918, the war ended. Poland became independent. In liberated Europe, many new independent nations arose. In the name of Great Britain, Lord Balfour proclaimed, on October 2, 1917, the historical declaration of the creation of a national homeland for the persecuted Jewish people. Great happiness engulfed world Jewry, and this happiness and joy were felt even in Poland. When the news reached Działoszyce, the rabbi from Kutno, J.I. [Jechiel Isaiah] Trunk, one of the Mizrachi leaders who came to our town, spread the news and declared in a general meeting at the synagogue the approaching of the Messiah and the beginning of redemption[4].

Immediately after this, an organizational framework for the Zionist Union was created in the town, and its active members were Icek Kołatacz, Josef Blat, Dawid Skóra, Pejsach Sternberg, Herszel Kopec, Alter Spokojny, Moszek Groswald, and Dubiński.

The work was expanded. All types of Zionist youth movements were created. Professional associations for workers were established. All of these were the direct result of the initial work on the spread of Enlightenment, which had begun before World War I.

Commerce and Labor

The economic life of the Jews in the town was usually stable. On the one hand, there were the prominent well-to-do Jews, respected businessmen and owners of large estates and mid-sized agricultural land, such as the Szental, Szwimer, Spiro, and Moszkowski families. On the other hand, there were many minor craftsmen who made their living honorably from their work, whatever it might have been. There were never local beggars in town; if beggars happened to appear at doorsteps, they were wanderers who came to the town from other places.

The wealthy Jews used to establish houses of prayer and minyans [quorums of 10 needed for prayer] in their private homes. The general masses, the small businessmen, and various craftsmen prayed in the besmedresh and the beysakneses [synagogue][5]. Each group of followers of a certain Hasidic religious leader (Admor) prayed in its own Hasidic shtibl.

Father's House

My father, Reb Abraham Moszek Blat, was involved in commerce and in the export of coral necklaces. He used to travel to different countries in Europe to import from them the needed raw materials to create and market the finished product. Many Jews from our town made their living from a unique light industry. Our brother Aron, the oldest in father's house, used to organize the making of necklaces; he employed many women, young and old, in threading the coral, and afterward, he would send the finished product abroad. They would bring the raw materials from Czechoslovakia and later on from Częstochowa, Poland.

The Grodzisk Shtibl

On the first Slikhes Shabes [Shabes before the High Holy Days on which prayers of repentance are recited], about 200 people used to pray in the Grodzisk shtibl [for followers of the Grodzisk rebbe]. I remember that close to the shtibl there lived a baker who sold fresh hot pretzels at midnight before the beginning of the slikhes prayers. And we young people, what did we do? We would lower the sash of the long robes we wore; with joy and happiness, we would thread the pretzels through the sashes, and we then walked toward the prayer house. The many hoodlums who trailed behind us, running in the midst of the crowds there, used to remove the pretzels from the sashes and eat them, until only the empty sashes remained in our hands.

The shtibl leader, Reb Arish, made the arrangements for the slikhes prayers, lit many candles, and welcomed Reb Alter Jakub as our shaliakh tzibur [prayer leader]. He was gracious, with a pleasant voice, and he would make a plea to the Ruler of the World both in his name and in the name of all of the community. After he passed away, Reb Alter Ptasznik continued in this role in the synagogue. His prayers were very pleasant, even though in regular speech, he stuttered.

After prayers, there was a meal fit for a king, with alcoholic beverages, all sorts of meat, goose, fowl, and more. Whoever didn't partake of this meal missed great happiness in his life.

Baruch Blat's Story

In 1912, a special generator to produce electricity and lighting for the town was installed in the Wdowiński flour mill. Only a handful of rich people in town were connected to the electricity. The electricity did reach the synagogue for lighting. The wealthy Karol Rajsfeld contributed and donated a chandelier that was attached to the ceiling of the synagogue. At the same time, an overhaul of the synagogue was conducted after the prayers. They renovated, plastered, and painted anew the walls with eye-pleasing artistic drawings on the ceiling. At the conclusion of the work, a housewarming with a large public celebration was held.

The great cantor and opera singer from Lwów, a native of our town, Ignacy Mann, who appeared in a concert of cantorial music, was invited to the celebration. The whole town – men, women, and children – came to see and hear the town's native son at his best. All of the Jewish residents in our town who knew him when he was just a small, miserable two-year-old boy experienced his pleasant and strong voice, the echoes of which reached great distances.

Josef Blat's Story

In 1922, in the month of Shvat, it snowed like it never had before. The snow covered all of the small structures and the roads, reaching one and a half meters or more. I, already engaged, was to become a godparent at the circumcision for my brother-in-law's son, who was born in Charsznica. It was very cold, and to get to Charsznica from Działoszyce, a distance of 30 kilometers, was just about impossible; yet I couldn't refuse this honor, because according to the tradition of our ancestors, the groom is to be the sondek [godfather] for the circumcised child of the bride's family.

It got colder in the meantime; barely anyone could be seen in the snow-covered area. Despite this, I went out onto the street and looked for a way to travel. Visibility was impaired, and I was barely able to drag my feet through the deep snow. Suddenly, I saw before me a prominent wealthy man of the town, Reb Szyja Srebrny. And since I had always liked him and it was normal from him to pinch my cheeks, he asked why I was so upset and why I was so surprisingly walking in this horrible weather. I told him what was happening, and with that, I ended by saying that I had to get to Charsznica that night.

And he turned to me, saying, “Don't be so worried, my friend; see, you found me and now you will be able to get there.” I could not believe what he was saying. I thought to myself, what kind of crazy guy would take his horses out in this snowy hell? But Szyja Srebrny, who sensed my skepticism, turned to me, stopping me, and said, “Come to the market square at two o'clock, and you will be able to get there.”

At the appointed hour, I went out, and I saw before me a winter carriage hitched to a pair of horses that resembled lions. On the carriage bench sat a driver, a mustached non-Jew, with his mustache and even his eyebrows covered with snow. He invited me to get on, handed me a fur cloth and felt boots. I wrapped myself in the fur, I put on the felt boots, which went up above my thighs, and then it became clear to me from what the non-Jew was telling me, that at 12 midnight, he had to meet the next train from Charsznica.

Srebrny consequently sent the carriage to bring him from the station in Miechów to Działoszyce. And this is how I happened to have this one-time opportunity to travel [to Charsznica].

We left. All around us the road was invisible; there was only snow and more snow. The telephone poles were covered up to half their height. The driver was unable to restrain the horses. They trotted wherever they wanted, and only after 11 hours of traveling, we arrived very late at night in Miechów.

I didn't go to my grandfather's, Reb Jakub Icek Blat, because of the late hour. I went to Reb Dawid Binem's hostel, whose lights shone from it and lit up the darkness on Charsznica Street. The driver sipped a few cups of brandy and happily ate a piece of sausage. I also didn't sit idle, and after a short rest, we were on the move again, and within four hours, we arrived in Charsznica.

All the guests who gathered to celebrate the circumcision looked at us as if we were crazy. I myself was very proud of the bold mission, to make a dangerous journey in the snow and all, without being able to see a thing, in 40 degree cold, alone, just to be the godfather. What's wrong with that?


[Pages 60–61]

There Once Was A Town

by Chawa Karmioł (Rozenfrucht)

Translated by Roger Kaplan
Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang

Działoszyce was, at the beginning of this century and until World War I, a small town with a large Jewish population and a few Christians.

Among the Jews, a few wealthy ones stood out, like Moszkowski, Przeworski, Rajsfeld, Spiro, Szental, and other families.

Moszek Szental owned a few estates in the villages, one of them was Buszków Raba and the second was Buszków Zuta. Hundreds of hectares of land belonged to him, as well as horses and work animals, used mostly to work the fields. He also had a flour mill, where area farmers would grind their flour and rye. Moszek Szental had two sons, Arish and Szmul, who followed in their father's footsteps but were great misers who loved solitude. They weren't friends with the town's people and lived their lives without being involved in the Jewish communal life or activities.

A short while after the end of World War I, a band of thieves made their way through the area. Headed by the well-known thief, Kuzin, they brought fright and fear among the town's wealthy residents. Alter Szental was murdered in one of the robberies.

During the war, the Russian army didn't make its way to Działoszyce; it was stopped in the area of Pińczów and Busko. The Austrians conquered and held the town. They treated us like family. In their eyes, our place was like a village farm, and they would say that the rolled straw smelled like tobacco. In fact, sometimes we would dry the straw there and roll cigarettes from the straw to smoke.

My father, Reb Szlama Rozenfrucht, whom everybody called Szlama the Lererin [teacher], had a school. He would teach Tanakh [Scriptures], Hebrew, nature, math, and more at the school. My father would study by himself; he never finished any schooling, neither secondary nor higher education. All of his knowledge he gleaned from books that he read himself.

Jewish Działoszyce was involved in a wide variety of commerce. Textiles, precious stones, the field's harvest, store supplies, various goods, flour, and eggs. Most of the Jews would wander the villages selling to the landowners different goods and buying from them various crops, chickens, eggs, leather, etc.

In addition, different craftsmen lived in the town – shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, cart makers, and others. Among the cart makers, there were those who would smuggle things that were in demand. I remember three bakers who baked bread, challah, and before Passover, matse, too. They were called Nachman the Baker, Moszek the Baker, and Judka the Baker.

There were also tailors and shoemakers who worked for the landowners in the area, and the landowners would pay them for their work with the harvest from the fields, dairy products, chickens, and eggs.

From among the bead sellers, I remember the Szlamowicz and Blat families. They would bring the raw materials from abroad and employ workers, especially women and young girls, to thread the beads.

A number of fires broke out in the town. The first fire that I remember happening in Działoszyce was in the middle of the 19th century, and I heard a lot about it from my parents. The second fire broke out in 1906. The flames began at Nachman the Baker's and burned nearly one half of the town, because most of the houses were built of wood. The fire stopped near Arish Szental's house; only part of Kraków Street was left unharmed. The third fire broke out during World War I. After the fire, an epidemic of typhus broke out and took many lives.

Now I would like to describe the beginning of the Enlightenment period in Działoszyce. My father, Szlama Rozenfrucht, z”l, studied in kheyders [small Jewish religious schools], as was the custom. When he was a teenager, these studies didn't satisfy him, so he continued his studies at the besmedresh [house of study], and there he immersed himself in studying Talmud and poskim [Halakhik adjudicators] with the rest of the Torah students until his wedding. But secretly, without anyone knowing it, he would take a peek at “external” books and thus enriched his knowledge with science and other languages, in addition to the Hebrew language, which he knew fluently.

At the same time, he would read different newspapers. He had a subscription to Hatsefirah [The Dawn], which came out in Warsaw and was edited by Chaim Zelig Słomiński.

In the village Dziekanowice, there lived a landowner by the name of Rafał Herc Spiro, who had a son named Szyja and a daughter named Dwosia. My father used to teach them, Hebrew and other Jewish subjects, like Torah and Mishne. In the village Buszków, he used to teach the same things to members of the Szental family. And in this way, education penetrated many homes in the town and the area. The habits and way of life of the Jews of the past generation became a bit old-fashioned. Something from the progress and education of the world slowly, slowly made its way into the remote cities in Poland. My father, z”l, spread the idea of Enlightenment among his friends. And he had great influence upon such families as Meryn, Rotenberg, Książki and Alter Profesorski.

Finally, I want to describe the activities of the drama societies that operated at different times and in different forms. Usually, an outside troupe of actors would appear in town, but sometimes they included a few residents in their show in different roles. Dawid Skóra was especially active in this field; he excelled in theater more than others, until a much later period. He succeeded in organizing a drama club made up only of town residents. I remember a few shows they put on: “The Jewish Heart,” “The Jewish Soul,” “David's Fiddle,” and “Shulamit.” The shows ran in the firefighters' hall, in Yiddish, and most of the Jews of the town frequented them.

These are the things I managed to recall from my memories about Jewish life in our town, Działoszyce, most of whose sons and daughters, including my family, perished in the Great Holocaust at the hands of the cursed Nazis.


[Page 62]

From the Mouths of the Elders

by Izrael Dov Skóra

Translated by Roger Kaplan
Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang

When I was still a child, I heard from the elderly different stories about the greatness of Margrabia [Margrave – title of nobility] Wielopolski. What a rich man he was; how he loved Jews; that he had 100 estates (sto majątków). He sold one of them just so people wouldn't say that he had 100 estates, but rather 99, because that was more modest and sounded better. He hated the goyim [gentiles], and when he died abroad, his bones were brought through Działoszyce on their way to his ancestral graves in Chroberz. His coffin wasn't brought to the church, but rather it was placed next to the synagogue. The famous cantor, Majer Ziegelschmidt (whom the wealthy families of the town – the Przeworskis, the Moszkowskis, the Rzędowskis, and others – brought especially from Kraków for this 'joyous' ceremony) recited Psalms, yizkor [memorial] prayers, El Maleh Rahamim [God of Compassion], and kadesh [prayer for the dead].

They also told me that noblemen, the sons of the margrabia, publicly thanked the Jews for the respect they had shown the deceased man.

A few years later, when I was 20 years old, I happened to be in the voluminous library of Władysław Woźniakowski. This goy [non-Jew], who was an intellectual man, had a rich library with valuable books. While skimming through some books, I found one thick book that was a collection of periodicals that were published in Warsaw at the beginning of the 80s of the previous century. I found something in it about the incident that happened in Działoszyce that I mentioned above. The article confirmed what I heard from those who were present at the “ceremony,” but in a different form, a bit more understandable.

The story is that a few years before the January 1863 insurrection broke out, in 1861, the Russian authorities knew about the restlessness and the Poles' plans to rebel. They tried to prevent it in different ways, and one of them was to appoint Margrave Wielopolski as head of the civil administration in Poland. Alexander Wielopolski was known as a Polish patriot, a moderate politician, who loved peace and was against the rebellion, because he knew that the rebellion could bring destruction and ruin to his country. But the hot-tempered of those days saw him as a traitor.

The appointment of Wielopolski didn't bring any support to the czar, Alexander II, who himself was a moderate man, an exceptional person among all the czars. The insurrection broke out, the margrave fled to Switzerland and died there. When his family, in accordance with his will, brought his bones to his ancestral gravesite in Chroberz, not a single Pole and only a small number of the nobility and family came to his funeral.

When the funeral procession passed through the town of Działoszyce, bells didn't ring, and the Catholic priest refused to appear. Only near the synagogue did the funeral procession pause, where Dr. Steurmark said prayers for the deceased. The first words he said were from Jeremiah 22:6 [sic]: “Don't weep for the dead, neither bemoan him” [Jeremiah 22:10]. And after that came the cantor's prayers and appropriate remarks by those present.


Editors' Footnotes

  1. Tashlikh is the ceremony of casting bread crumbs into a body of water as if casting away one's sins. Return
  2. Turisk, Poland, now Turijs'k, Ukraine. Return
  3. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 stated that Britain viewed with favor the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The San Remo Agreement in 1920, made by the four principal World War I Allied Powers, gave Britain the mandate for Palestine and Iraq. Return
  4. The Mizrachi (Orthodox Zionist party) believed that settlement in the Land of Israel would be the beginning of Redemption. Return
  5. According to survivors, the beysakneses [main synagogue] was only used for Shabes and holiday prayers and for large assemblies, while the smaller besmedresh [house of study] was also used for Torah study and for weekday prayers. Return
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