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Jewish Sporting Activity in Mezritsh {cont.}


[Page 563]


When he came home for Passover in 1924, Widra directed the play “He Who Gets Slapped” by Leonid Andreyev. Gavriel Szapira, Berl Manperl, Widra, Sonia Feldman, Solsky[4]and many others took part. The leading role was played by Gavriel Szapira. The entire set, including the makeup, was brought from the Vilna Troupe.

The sports activities of the club were directed by Mordechai Berman on the premises of a former factory in Radziner Way, as well as in a yard.

Youth came every evening, practiced gymnastics with various pieces of equipment, and also played sporting games. The chief instructor was Moshe Zauberman. He came from Warsaw[5], where he was involved with the local Maccabi[6].

Participation was low. The football games were not as popular after the playing field on the Warsaw Highway was liquidated. The cultural center housed at Moshe Reichman's flat was also closed due to factional friction. The football group played wherever they were allowed – in the sand on Radziner Way, and in Stolpno, where local hooligans always threw stones at the players.

In 1928, there was a turning point and a revival of the Jewish Sports Club. Many active youths left Hashomer Hatzair and joined the Communists. These people saw the chance to use the sports club to conduct cultural and political publicity work alongside the sporting activities.

This was an explicit plan of the left leaning youth – registration, en masse, in the sports club. By the time the club's management realized what was going on, the Communists had seized control.

The era from 1928 – 1933 was the most dynamic. New members became actively involved, including Feivel Najsztejn, Nachum Zyto, Velvel Hecht, Isser Ejdelman, Szimon Fiterman, Yosele Migdal, Pinia Tugender, Pesach Boksenbojm, the writer of these lines, and many others.

There were approximately 300 members in the club. All were active participants in the various sports activities. Gymnastics was obligatory. Football, basketball and volleyball players were divided into groups. Many members participated in lighter athletic activities such as running, jumping, and throwing. Among them, Yitzhak Laufer, Avraham Szedlarsz, Szlomo Zelonka and others excelled.

Bicycle and swimming races often took place. During that time, the gymnastics teacher from the Polish gimnazjum often helped to further the sports activities [of the Jewish Sports Club].


[Page 564]


He was a passionate, avid sportsman, who did not discriminate based on national or political affiliation. He introduced various competitions between the Polish gimnazjum and the Jewish Sports Club. One of these took place in the summer of 1930 in the field of the Polish gimnazjum. Izakl Pogoszeliec took first place in the 100-meter sprint. The writer of these lines took part in pole vaulting.


mie564.jpg [33 KB] - A group of tournament players
A group of tournament players from the Jewish Sports Club
with their instructor A. Blutstajn


With very limited means and in a very brief time, the sports club developed and nurtured a nucleus of instructors who directed the sports groups. These included Yossel Lewin who reached a very high level, Pinia Tugender, Berl Erdfarb, Fiterman[7], and others.

In the summer months, people were involved mainly with sporting events, light athletics, and hiking through the nearby forests. In the winter months people competed in the headquarters. Then the well-known Turnfest[8] were started, which became very popular in Mezritsh.

The Turnfest took place during the days of Passover in the Olympia firemen's hall, where there were men and women's groups with implements and ladders. During the first Turnfest, there was a ping-pong match between the two best players, Szlomo Zelonka and Yosele Migdal (Fiterman).


[Page 565]


The final Turnfest made a special impression. The Roza women's group excelled in a rhythmic dance accompanied by the orchestra conducted by Yentshe Wajnapel.

Almost every Sabbath, a dance evening or a reading session with discussions took place in the club.


mie565.jpg [33 KB] - The Morgensztern women's group
The Morgensztern women's group in the sports club
with their instructor A. Fiterman

(Szmuel the Vissn's son[9])


An especially important chapter in the sports life of Mezritsh was the establishment of the football field on May 3rd Street in 1931/1932.

The sports activists in town had approached the mayor several times, requesting that the city make available to the club a field for football games. The mayor rejected the request as unnecessary. He stated that he was already over 70 years old and had never taken part in sports.

When the city council finally rejected the request, the activists within the Jewish Sports Club decided to rely on their own prowess to build a football field. A committee formulated a plan. The primary obstacle was raising money.

With great success, subscription tickets were distributed for all of the sports events. This brought in a significant sum of money.


[Page 566]


Special dance evenings and various lotteries were also organized.

The committee conducted a lengthy search for an appropriate site close to the city. There was no talk of purchasing the site. With its meager financial means, the Sports Club was able to rent a field from a farmer for five years, with the option of extending.

During Shavuot, the members, with their own hands, erected a fence, flattened the ground, set up a few rows of benches around the place, set up stalls with boxes[10], and arranged the uniforms.

The football team and the orchestra of the 34th Pulk Piechoty[11]were brought from Biala Podlaska for the solemn opening ceremonies. The entire city participated in the festivities.

I want to make it clear to the readers that all the sporting activities of the J.S.C. were conducted under the direction of its own instructors and trainers. The club did not belong to any central organization.

The club was under the scrutiny of the political police. As the activities of the club grew, and esteem for the club within the community swelled, the scrutiny increased as well.

All of the football groups from other clubs had to rent the field from the J.S.C. and made use of the free day when the J.S.C. did not play. The Staszeliec Polish football club was quite perturbed at having to request the use of the field from a Jewish organization, especially a left-leaning one. In addition, anti-Semitism was increasing during that era. Rumors spread that the club received money from Moscow.

From day to day the club members felt the ground was burning under their feet. It was a shame that such a fine, important youth organization was to be destroyed. The leadership of the J.S.C consulted with sympathetic people in the community who were not under police surveillance, such as Leah Diment, Mejer Podoljak, and Lyowa Frydman. They were able to petition the powiat [county] for a permit for a non-partisan club named Jewish Sports and Scouting Organization. When the authorities prohibited the activities of the J.S.C., all of the members automatically registered for the new club, which was set up in Zauberman's orchard[12].

Sporting and cultural activity expanded in the new location. New people, such as the teacher Fejgel Pawajn, Mischa and Lyowa Frydman, and Leah Diment were attracted to the sports and cultural activities offered by the Jewish Sports and Scouting Organization.


[Page 567]


Furthermore, the sporting facilities were better, with more appropriate settings for basketball and volleyball.

One of the finest accomplishments was the improvement made to a pond in [Moshe Zauberman's] orchard to accommodate skating with lizszes[13] in the winter months. The pond was lit up with electric lights, and there was musical accompaniment. The working youth were able to skate in the evenings.

In 1935, the police liquidated the Zh.K.S.S. [the Jewish Sports and Scouting Organization] as well. Some of the members joined Morgensztern.

When the non-partisan Jewish sport club fell apart due to the political strictures and conflicts, each political faction took care of their own sports needs. Morgensztern was set up by the Bund, Hapoel by the Poale Zion, and Beitar by the Revisionists[14].

The Zukunft [future (Ger.)] youth organization of the Bund at first took part in gymnastics in the headquarters of the bristle-cooperative in Wajzglus'[15] yard. The activists and instructors were: Szmilka Wisznia, Yankele Muszynski, Chaim Bojgman, Yisraelke Kawa, Yehoshua Zdanowicz, Golda Cukierman, Yitzchak Kogut, and others. The Oksenhorn brothers, Arke Epsztejn, the Lederman brothers, Grynberg[16],and others played in the football group.

A revival began when they [Zukunft] affiliated with the Morgensztern headquarters in Warsaw, which extended activities into additional areas, such as basketball and volleyball. From time to time, the central headquarters offered courses for instructors, in which the instructors Avraham Fiterman and Arke Epsztejn participated. During these courses, a great deal was accomplished in the area of combined gymnastics exercises with various instruments and apparatuses, which were used successfully during the annual Turnfest in Mezritsh.

As has been mentioned, other political parties also conducted sports activities for their youth. Hapoel, under the auspices of the Poale Zion party, had a football group, a gymnastics group, and others. Their activities were conducted in the Poale Zion headquarters. The founders and supporters were Eliezer Perkelwald, Turkeltaub[17],Velvel Edelsztejn, Alter Rozenbojm, Velvel Zegelbojm, Itzke Wisznia, Rafael Goldsztajn, Szlomo Wernik, Velvel Wajnberg, and Markel Tabakman. The last two also participated in an instructor's course at the Warsaw Hapoel.

Beitar conducted its activity in the Revisionist Party headquarters at Rogoszyk's[18].There were several exceptional players in their football group.

In general, Jewish sporting activity in Mezritsh declined when the Jewish Sports Club was abolished and the football field was closed down.


[Page 568]


This situation persisted until the outbreak of the war, during which many young, healthy sportsmen were killed, including Velvel Hecht, Szimon Fiterman, Avraham Fiterman, Yehoshua Lederman, Chaim Grynbaum, Moshe Rojzman (Epele), Yossel Lewin, Pinia Tugender, Moshe Skura and many, many others.


mie568.jpg [33 KB] - The First committee of Hapoel in Mezritsh
The First committee of Hapoel in Mezritsh

In the photo: Judel Zilberman, Markel Tabakman, Lejzer Perkelwald, Chaim Turkeltaub, and others
[September 23rd, 1933]





Translator's and editor's footnotes
  1. No given name for Solsky is provided. return
  2. Moshe Zauberman was born in Mezritsh to a longtime Mezritsher family that owned a farm in Stolpno, a non-Jewish area of town on the south side of the Krzna River, which bisects the town. return
  3. Maccabi – A Jewish sports league. return
  4. No given name for Fiterman is provided, and could refer to either Avraham Fiterman or Szimon Fiterman, both of whom are mentioned elsewhere in this chapter. return
  5. Turnfest (German) – a gymnastic competition. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, all kinds of physical exercise, including football, running and long and high jump were included as "gymnastics". return
  6. Szmuel the Vissn's Son – This nickname may mean the son of 'the knowledgeable person'. return
  7. “Stalls with boxes” – refers to a type of dugout or team changing room. return
  8. 34th Pulk Piechoty – refers to the 34th Infantry Regiment of the Polish Army, which was stationed in Biala Podlaska from 1919-1939. return
  9. “Zauberman's orchard” – refers to the farm and orchard owned and operated by Moshe Zauberman in Stolpno. return
  10. Lizszes - is from the Russian word for skis. This may refer to some form of cross-country skiing. return
  11. Reference is made to several Jewish political organizations: Bund – the Jewish Socialist Party; Poalei Zion – the Marxist Zionist Labor Party; Revisionists – probably refers to the New Zionist Organization founded by Ze'ev Jabotinsky which was focused free immigration to and the establishment of a Jewish State. return
  12. No given name for Wajzglus is provided. return
  13. No given name for Grynberg is provided. return
  14. 17. No given name for Turkeltaub is provided. return
  15. No given name for Rogoszyk is provided. return


[Page 569]

Volunteer Firefighters Association

by H. Bojgman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The large number of fires that affected our city during the years 1900–1904 and spread mercilessly through tens of hours, driving their inhabitants out to the street, inspired a few local residents ––Wolf Kozes, Y. Tugender, and the city hall cashier Mr. Wyszniewski – to take the initiative to found a volunteer firefighters association. This association would have the task of rescuing the belongings of any resident, without differentiation, in the event of a fire.

The founding meeting of the first members took place on May 3, 1904. The Justice of the Peace of those days. Mr. Wolicki, was elected as the president, and Mr. Wyszniewski was elected as the fire chief.

The first organizational meeting of the active members took place on May 21, 1904.

The first fire that the newly organized Firefighters Association was involved with took place on June 19th of that year in “Stolpno”[1].

On July 10, 1904, the firefighters received the city's firefighting equipment from the city hall. These consisted of two firefighting machines (shikovkes) and ten second–hand water barrels.

As can be seen from the ledgers, during its first year, the Firefighters Association recruited 200 active and 50 inactive members, intervened in 16 fires, and had a budget of 350 rubles.

In the following year, 1905, through the initiative of Mr. M. Brott, helmets and uniforms were purchased for the active firefighters and their own orchestra was set up. This orchestra was instrumental in popularizing the activity of the society.

In 1907, Dr. T. Rosenblum took over as president. He remained active until 1915. The position of fire chief was taken over by Mr. Grodnicki, who remained at the helm of the association from 1907 until 1921.

During the time of the German occupation, the association came under the supervision of the city hall, which covered its budget. As a result, there were no more inactive members.

[Page 570]

 

Mie570.jpg
The Orchestra of the Firefighters in Mezritsh. Shepke Adler is at the center of the photo.

 

[Page 571]

In 1922, Radzewanowski was chosen as the chief engineer. From that year until 1926, the late Dr. Adler filled the office of the chief and worked with great dedication.

 

Mie571.jpg
The grave of Shepke Adler

 

The Justice of the Peace Mr. Krinski occupied the office of president of the association from 1919. Mr. Grodnicki became the president in 1921. After the death of Mr. Adler, Mr. A. Kozes was chosen for the office of the chief.

As we can see, the association existed for twenty–some years. Throughout this period, the vital association was very active. It always stood on guard to protect the possessions of the population of the city and the area. Through the help of various collections, voluntary donations, and institutions, it raised the necessary funds to purchase firefighting machines and a few horses, which stood ready in the event of a fire.

With the initiative of Dr. Adler of blessed memory, Mr. Grodnicki the president, the chief of that time Mr. Kozes, and others, the association set out to build a three story building in 1926 on the land where the theater hall and cinema had once stood. This was to serve

[Page 572]

as a source of income for the association[2]. Ignoring the obstacles that the association faced from various sides in obtaining the land, as well as the lack of money for construction – thanks to the strong work of the association, they succeeded in putting up the roof. We must also note that the city council along with the mayor, Mr. Korzak, provided the association with needed subsidies as appropriate.

From an article in the “MezrItcher Tagblatt,” March 25, 1927.


Editor's Footnotes:

  1. Stolpno was a neighborhood of Mezritsh across the Krzna river from the main town. It was mostly Christian, whereas the main town was mostly Jewish. Return
  2. In many towns, including Mezritsh, the fire hall doubled as a performance hall. It was rented out to generate income for the fire department. One example of such a rental can be found in this Yizkor Book on page 576, where the Mezritsh Jewish Folkschoir, the Lyre, performed its opening concert. Return

Coordinator's note

A calendar was created in Mezritsh in 2009 which displayed photos of the old Mezritsh fire department, its members and its equipment. Its name is: “Kalendarz miedzyzrecki 2009: Jedzie, Jedzie straz ogniowa…”. Photos are from the “firefighters collections”, text by Zbigniew Laziuk, project graphics by Zbigniew Tichoruk, produced by Intergraf Miedzyrzec Podlaski. Very few people featured in the photos are named. Please contact the editor of this Yizkor Book for more information.


[Page 573]

The “Lyre” Folks Choir of Mezritsh

by Gershon Frydman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In the books and documentary sources dedicated to our hometown of Mezritsh that were published after the Holocaust, the image of its exquisite Jewry is portrayed: its ancient history and the specific uniqueness that was created by the Mezritsh Jews, from the common person to its greatest leaders through the passage of generations.

Much has already been written about its societal composition and its cultural and educational institutions. I wish to hereby discharge an obligation and mention a cultural institution that has not been mentioned to this point: the Lyre Folks Choir of Mezritsh. This cultural institution was created at the beginning of the 1930s, and brought joy and spiritual satisfaction to the hearts and moods of the Jews of Mezritsh during its three–year existence.

Mezritsh Jews were great lovers of music and song. Mezritsh always had famous cantors in its splendid synagogue. Elderly Jews mention the famous cantors with nostalgia: Bogomolnik, Jankel Rowner, the Bialystocker Cantor, and the final cantor – Rabinowicz. From time to time, the city would bring in famous cantors such as Sirota and Koussevitzky[1] for one–time performances. The audience would prepare for the great guest with expectation and enthusiasm. Tickets were sold out weeks in advance. Poor Jews skimped on their Sabbath tables and saved a few zloty so that they could purchase a ticket and have the pleasure of hearing and seeing such great people. The synagogue was packed on such occasions. Jews stood shoulder to shoulder outside, in front of the synagogue, trying to catch an echo of the sweet song from one of the world–famous cantors.

The magnitude of the love for song in all strata of society can be seen from the fact that when a cantor was being chosen for the city, the toiling Jews – porters, wagon drivers, and the like – all had something to say, and they voted for, and expressed their opinion regarding the candidate to no less a degree than the scholars and music experts.

The wind orchestra of the Jewish volunteer firefighters already existed during the Czarist era. Many Mezritsh musicians played in that orchestra and thereby gained musical experience. The orchestra had competent conductors at all times. It was

[Page 574]

not content to simply play marches at parades during the firefighting practices and exercises. Their repertoire included compositions of famous composers, which they played at events in the splendid theater hall, built by the Jews of Mezritsh at the beginning of the 20th century, and so became known throughout the entire Podlasie region. The famous artist Moshe Appelbaum and the famous native of our city, the artist Hirsch–Liber Podolak were involved in setting up that theater. The orchestra was also invited to play guest concerts in various cities in the Lublin district and in the annual competitions of the firefighters' orchestras throughout the district, in which it always placed first despite the discrimination against Jews and Jewish institutions.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish People's School[2] had a mandolin orchestra under the direction of Chaim Lew, who was an instructor and teacher. The orchestra existed for many years. The writer of these lines, who was a student in the Folkschule at that time, under the direction of the well–known cultural activist and educator Madame Adler (Anushka), recalls the music teacher Chaim Lew with love and nostalgia. He was the man who first opened the door to the world of music for me.

The Mezritsh orphanage, which was founded immediately after the First World War with the help of Mezritsh natives in America, also had a string orchestra. The aforementioned Chaim Lew was the first instructor there. Later, Aharon David Lewengarten conducted it together with him. Its final music teacher was Pesach Podoljak, who raised the orchestra to a high level. The orchestra had over 100 children.

In 1926, the orphanage, together with the educator Yosef Danilak and the teacher Podoljak, emigrated to Canada where they were set up in a collective farm, thanks to the tireless work [and financial support] of the Mezritchers in America There, the orchestra continued to exist under the direction of the selfsame Podoljak until the children grew up, left, and settled in various cities near the farm, as well as in the United States.

The colossal financial undertakings of the Mezritsh committees in America was probably accompanied by foreshadowing and knowledge of the upcoming destruction that overtook the Polish Jews some 15 years later. The transfer of the orphanage to Canada during the 1920s saved a large

[Page 575]

branch of the Jewish Mezritcher tree by transplanting them to the American continent. These orphans have since given birth to two generations who are proud that their parents and grandparents were Mezritchers.

Mezritsh was in a difficult economic crisis at the beginning of the 1930s. The brush making industry, which was the main source of income, was in an especially difficult situation, but other branches of the economy were also at a standstill. Unemployment was high. Handworkers and small businessmen were ruined. The tax office extorted the last bit of life from the Jews of Mezritsh. The youth who were coming of age, without opportunities for livelihood, began to search for ways to emigrate abroad. A large portion of the culturally active and creative youth left Mezritsh. They spread out to every continent. As a result of the difficult economic situation, the musical groups of various party organizations disbanded.

The large synagogue always had a choir. In the final years, it was directed by the gifted director Avrahamele Garbaz, who had earlier directed the Hazamir Folks Choir of Siedlce. He raised the level of the synagogue choir to a high level. As a result of budget cuts during those times, the community eliminated the position and salary of the choir director, and placed the role of directing the choir upon Cantor Rabinowicz himself. The cantor had no choice, and had to go along with this.

When the director Garbaz lost his position, he prepared to return to his hometown of Siedlce. Then, a group of people who loved music and song came up with the idea of creating a Jewish folks choir in Mezritsh that would be independent of any party affiliation. The director Garbaz agreed to work for this choir for a minimal wage.

Mezritsh was not short of singers with good voices. They were also not short of time. The greater portion of the population was unemployed and they were content to sing and somewhat forget their day–to–day concerns and worries.

A committee was formed to lead the project. The first committee consisted of Shlomo Kamien (a former vice–mayor), Mordechai Szapira, the brothers Moshe and Menashe Libman, the brothers Moshe and Berl Obersztern, Avraham Cuker, Golda Barab, Shaya Fajerman, Pinia Szajnmel, and the writer of these lines. The committee

[Page 576]

published an announcement in the Mezritsh weekly “Podlaszer Zeitung” to recruit members for the choir that was being created. The committee also undertook the task of recruiting several hundred members to the choral society. Each member was expected to contribute a minimal donation of a half zloty a month. This was intended to create the financial basis to pay the director. The Handworkers Union gave over its headquarters gratis two evenings a week for rehearsals and meetings.

It began auspiciously. Approximately 70 people who were prepared to sing in the choir, as well as about 100 non–singing members of the choral society, gathered together.

From among the applicants, the director selected approximately 50 people whose voices qualified for the choir. The director had a rich repertoire of choral music: folksongs in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish; lyrics and music from Jewish poets and composers such as Bialik, Peretz, Shneur, Tchernichovsky, Segalovitch, Kulbak, and others. Music from Leov, Michael Gelbart, and many other Jewish composers, as well as general secular compositions of Mozart, Bach, Handel, Moniuszko, and others were included. Choir training followed a regular schedule. The singers and their director formed a tight, close–knit family. The choir was named the Lyre Jewish Folks Choir [Mezritscher Yiddishe Folkschoir Lyre]. During its first year, it performed its first concert in the large concert hall of the firefighters. The performance was a great artistic, moral, and financial success. At the request of the audience, the concert was repeated a week later with great success.

The reaction in the local Jewish and Polish press was enthusiastic. The reviews were full of love and admiration for the choir, its founders, and its directors. They praised the coordination, harmony, and colorful richness of the voices, as well as the director and the variety of the repertoire.

The prestige of the choir grew after the two concerts. Its songs were sung while people worked in the workshops, and when out on strolls. The work of the choir had its effect on the atmosphere of the city and drove away the sadness.

After the passage of forty–some years, it is impossible to remember all the members of the Lyre choir. The time and the migrations have blurred the faces and effaced the names. I beg

[Page 577]

the forgiveness of those who have been forgotten. I will mention only the names that I recall.

 

Names of the Participants in the Choir

Sopranos: Sonia Feldman (soloist), Golda Barab, Berta Diszel, Chanale Rybak (living in Australia), Rachel Lamsztejn, Chayale Prizant, Hentshe Elzon, Chinka Prizant, Sonia Gorman, Dinache Chajet.

Altos: Olga Diszel (soloist), Freidka Libman, Perele Wysznia (living in Israel), Zisele Weisgloz, Binche Nudelberg, Yehudit Gorman, Esther Sniezak.

Tenors: Moshe Obersztern (soloist), Berele Obersztern (living in Israel), Pinia Szejnmel, Yosel Szejnmel, Asher Barab, Hershel Barab, oske Kogut (living in Los Angeles), Libche Kagot, Avraham Cuker, Itche Rosenzwajg, Aharon Rajnwajn (Los Angeles), Abe Buraczyk, Wili Diszel, Samy Diszel, Lolek Frejdlendler (living in Australia), Yankel Barg (living in America), Hershel Twarderjewo, Gershon Frajdman.

 

Mie577.jpg
Committee of the Lyre Mezritsh Jewish Folks Choir

First row from right, standing: Moshe Obersztern, Gershon Frajdman, Golda Barab, Avraham Cuker, Itche Rosenzwajg
Second row seated: Menashe Libman, director Avraham Garbaz, Pinia Szajnmel

 

[Page 578]

Baritone–Bass: Moshe Libman (living in New York, soloist), Hershel Szyker, Menashe Libman, Moshe Chajet, Avraham Mandelblat, Baruch Solski, Mordechai Szapiro, Fajwel Snjezak, Berke Knopmacher.

During its second year, the choir excelled with even greater success. New singers and supporting members joined. The repertoire was enriched with creations from classic composers, whose works, after a year of training and practice, could now be performed.

The reputation of the choir spread through the neighboring cities, and the choir was invited to perform. Two concerts were performed in fully packed halls in Biala Podlaska. The choir received rave reviews in the Jewish and Polish press of that city. One successful concert was performed in Radzyn and two concerts in Mezritsh itself.

During its third year of existence, the Lyre was enriched with a drama troupe, which was created with the initiative and under the direction of our fellow native Mordechai Szapiro – a high–caliber man of culture, a lover and connoisseur of the dramatic arts, one of the few members remaining in Mezritsh from the dramatic group that had existed under the German occupation and continued for about a decade after the First World War, and performed theater works of that era on the Mezritsh stage.

Mordechai Szapiro gathered the few remaining people of that group and complemented them with the younger talent from the Lyre Choir. He created a studio for cabaret theater with the choir and collected the material, converted songs into musical dialogues and acts, transformed city events into parodies, and set them on stage where the character of our communal leaders could be candidly portrayed.

Szapiro coached us in the stage arts with patience and love. After countless rehearsals, a performance was put on featuring the best cabaret theater in Poland of that time: single acts from Sholom Aleichem, Der Tunkeler[3], Broderzon[4], and others, as well as scenes from local situations, and solo songs with the accompaniment of the entire choir.

The debut, which included a combination of the drama troupe and the choir, was coordinated and directed by Szapiro and Garbaz. It was an artistic festival of the city's talent.

[Page 579]

The decor for the performance was produced by the young, gifted painter Aharon Rajnwajn (living in Argentina).

The following people participated in the Lyre drama troupe: Mordechai Szapiro (director), Menashe Libman, Mania Feldman, Perele Wysnia, Golda Barab, Leibche Kagot, Pinia Szajnmel, Yosel Szajnmel, Avraham Cuker, Baruch Solski, Rachel Lomsztejn, Chayale Prizant, Lolek Frajdlender, Gershon Frajdman, and possibly other participants whom I do not recall.

The participants of the Lyre choir, both the singers and the supportive cast, came from all strata of the Jewish population, both the rich and the poor. They belonged to various political organizations and parties, or were non–partisan. All were brought together through their love of music and song.

Quarrels and friction began during the third year of the existence of the choir. This first began with regard to the repertoire. The Yiddishists wanted Yiddish songs to dominate, whereas the Hebraists wanted Hebrew and nationalist songs to have the upper hand. The political parties in the city, from the extreme right to the extreme left, aspired to form a majority in the choir and to turn it into an arena for their political activity.

The management of the choir, knowing that many long–standing Jewish institutions had met their downfall due to ideological conflicts, utilized all of its energy to ensure that factionalism would not disrupt the choir, and that it would stick solely to the aim for which it was created. They appealed to the members and warned them of the consequences of factional disputes. Supporting members as well as singers seceded. The membership dues, which formed the financial basis from which the director was paid, shrunk. Our appeals to the city council and the community fell upon deaf ears. After attempting all means and methods to improve the financial situation and morale of the choir, the committee was forced to dismiss the director, who had given so much love, work and soul to build up and strengthen the cultural institution to a high artistic level. He left Mezritsh with a pained heart.

The native of our city, Mitush Wyrde, offered to direct the choir on a voluntary basis. He was a good musician and a good instrumentalist. He received no salary.

[Page 580]

A short time after taking over the directorship, he accepted the job of playing as the saxophonist in the third orchestra in the famous Oaza nightclub in Warsaw. He left Mezritsh.

Bereft of a director, and given the difficulties with which it had to struggle, the management decided to dissolve the choir. Thus did the Lyre disband after three years of activity.

From time to time, the choir members gathered in private houses and on excursions outside the city, to sing their songs. They did not allow themselves to forget, and they preserved in their minds the treasury that was left ownerless after so much effort and diligence.

The echo of the choir songs, sung when groups of former choir members gathered together, could still be heard in the Mezritsh air at the time of the outbreak of the Second World War – until the Nazi invasion overtook the cities and towns of Poland, silencing the Jewish songs of Mezritsh along with the last breath of its singers.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. For more on Cantor Gershon Sirota see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gershon_Sirota. The article does not specify which Cantor Koussevitzky. There were four famous brothers who all became cantors. For more information, see http://www.milkenarchive.org/people/view/all/650/Kusevitsky,+David Return
  2. For more information in the Yiddishe Folkschule, see pages 551–554 and pages 555–559 of this Yizkor Book. Return
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yosef_Tunkel Return
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moishe_Broderzon Return

 

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