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Yiddish Newspapers Published in Piotrkow Before World War II

'Di Yiddishe Shtime' - Agudat Israel
“Di Yiddishe Shtime” – Agudat Israel

 

'Piotrkower Weker' - Jewish Labor Bund
“Piotrkower Weker” – Jewish Labor Bund


Our Newspaper, “ Unzer Tsaytung”

How did I get sidetracked? We were just talking about the print shop. In fact, during the three years prior to the beginning of the “ Hurban,” I remained in the print shop on Thursday evenings to help prepare a new issue of “ Unzer Tsaytung,” which would be ready on Saturday for the Jews of Piotrkow. This was during the weeks when “ important events” (like elections) were taking place. During other weeks, Yankl Baron and the printer compiled the issues. As time passed, a routine was established. “ Unzer Tsaytung” became like the old “ shtraymel” in the anecdote: if you put it on the table, it would, by itself, crawl further.

The founder of the Piotrkow weekly newspaper “ Unzer Tsaytung” was “ davka” a “ Galitsyaner” –– Dr. Tsvi Zemel, director of the Jewish “ gimnazium.”

Following the signing of the Balfour Declaration, the Jews believed that the “ geula” had arrived. The Zionist dream captivated Jewish hearts. During that period, several enthusiastic Zionists decided to establish the Jewish “ gimnazjum” in Piotrkow. I'm not going to tell you about the “ gimnazjum”; that's a story all by itself and should he told by its ex-students, the few that are still left. I still remember the first director, Dr. Katzenbogen, who started it on its way. He remained in Piotrkow only two years longer. Following him, Dr. Tsvi Zemel was engaged as director. He was, as they say, a man of substance –– “ mechikmo u-mala.” During his tenure, the “ gimnazjum” blossomed and Zionist activity in Piotrkow had a new purpose. Dr. Zemel immediately became the head of the Zionists in the city, and through his initiative it was decided to publish a Zionist weekly newspaper.

Decisions are easily made but expediting them is more difficult. However, since Abraham Eli Rozenthal stood behind the decision, it soon became a reality. This is how, one Spring day in 1924, the first Yiddish weekly in Piotrkow, “ Unzer Tsaytung,” was born.

Every Friday for 15 years, “ Unzer Tsaytung” stirred up the generally sleepy Jewish community of Piotrkow. A poke was made at a communal leader who had “ made a mistake”; it was discovered that the “ gmina” was up to no good; the paper took a stand against Grabski's schemes, but also announced cultural and artistic events in the city; it agitated during the “ Sejm” elections, the “Rav” elections, the “ Magistrat” elections, and the “ Gmina” elections and, of course, “ guarded and protected the interests of Zionism in Piotrkow.”

Well, what did you think? That the Zionists would have their own newspaper in Piotrkow and the Bund would sleep? Immediately, they came out with their “ Wecker”; following them the “ Agudah” issued their Shtimme. True, from time to time the Wecker seemed to “ sleep” a little and Di Shtimme was quiet, but you may be sure that when the scent of elections was in the air, the newspapers rose to the occasion and let themselves be heard.

Yiddish Newspapers Published in Piotrkow Before World War II

'Unzer Tsaytung' - Zionist Movement
“Unzer Tsaytung” – Zionist Movement

 

The Zionist Movement 'Freiheit' at an outing in 1931
The Zionist Movement “Freiheit” at an outing in 1931


The Gray Eminence Of course, “ Unzer Tsaytung” was a simple provincial weekly which barely existed, and only miracles kept it alive. That such a miracle occurred every Friday for a period of fifteen years can only be credited to several “ mishugoyim,” several of whom are worthy of mention.

I have already mentioned Abraham Eli Rosenthal. As far back as I can remember, A. E. Rosenthal had been the secretary of the Zionist organization in our city. Usually he did the daily “ groye arbet.” I never saw him get angry nor raise his voice. He was a fanatic about order and punctuality. I was always amazed by how organized his office was –– his desk neat, the minutes recorded, the papers catalogued, everything in its place. Behind all the Zionist events and actions lay Abraham Eli's organizational hand. He was the “ groye eminents” of Piotrkow Zionism.

He also “ made” “Unzer Tsaytung” from its inception until 1938. Then, for personal reasons, he withdrew from communal activities. He had been the editor, administrator and provider of most of the newsworthy material. Throughout those years, Abraham Eli Rosenthal was Unzer Tsaytung and Unzer Tsaytung was Abraham Eli Rosenthal.


Yankl Der Rebbetsin's

Corrections on Unzer Tsaytung were always made by Yankl Baron. He was called “ Yankl Der Rebbelsin's.” The “ Saba Hakodesh” of Radoshitz was his great-grandfather. He was raised by his grandmother, the widow of the Piotrkow “ rov,” Rabbi Eleazar Shalom Morgenstern. In our city she was called “ Di Rebbetsin,” so of course, he was called “ Yankl Der Rebbetsin's.” The name stuck even after he left the “ Beyt Hamidrash” and started to befriend the Zionistic Socialists of the S.S. Party, which was beginning to be organized in Piotrkow.

For several years, Yankl Baron was the secretary of the LodzerTogblat. Even then he was known to be knowledgeable in Yiddish literature. Sometimes he even “ sinned” with a poem and a “ peyrek” of prose. With the outbreak of World War II, he returned to Piotrkow. At that time drastic changes were occurring amongst Polish Jewry. The shtibel and the “ Beyt Hamidrash” were no longer of primary importance in Jewish life. People started to be more involved in worldly matters. There was a growing interest in Yiddish literature and in secular culture in general. In Piotrkow, the people began to feel this. The young people who came from the “ cheyder” and the shtibel and, even more, the Jewish girls who had no place at all where they could learn, were starving for knowledge, culture and any fresh breeze from the broader world. That was when the “ Hazamir” was founded in Piotrkow –– it was to be the first swallow of the approaching Spring.

Yankl Baron promptly got involved with this cultural activity and, together with Shmelke Folman, organized and directed the “ Literarishe Gezelshaftn,” as it was then called.

“Unzer Tsaytung” was actually published by the “ Algemeyne Tsionim,” but it was far from being simply a party publication. In fact, all the Zionist factions, from the “ Mizrachi” to the “ Poalei-Zion” were represented in it. And, in general, it took a liberal stand on social issues. Yankl Baron, who at that time identified with the Poalei-Zionists, saw no difficulty in joining the editorial staff and started to work for “Unzer Tsaytung” immediately. From time to time he published his articles under the name of “ Doresman” (his wife's name was Dvorah), but essentially he did the proofreading and saw to it that correct grammatical Yiddish and a superior style were used. More than once he had to correct the writings of various community leaders who wanted their work to appear in the newspaper but were, unfortunately, rather weak with the pen.

Every Thursday afternoon, he left his kiosk at the “ hoicher kole,” from which he barely eked out a living, and took his place in the printing room. All night, until Friday at dawn, lie remained at his job until a brand new issue of “Unzer Tsaytung” was completed. The few “ Zlotys” he received added somewhat to his income. The Bundists could not forget their earlier arguments with him, ever since he had been the leader of the Zionists, and constantly accused him in their Vecker of “ selling out to the Bourgeosie.

I can only remember Yankl Baron during the last three years before the “ Hurban.” Engraved in my memory is a scene which took place late one winter's night in the printing office, which was simultaneously the editorial room. Yankl Baron was standing in a comer near a “ shtentser” wearing a worn coat and an old, misshapen hat on his head. On his hands were knitted half-gloves, from which his naked fingers, swollen from the cold, and looking like red sausages, protruded. He held the pen awkwardly between his fingers, dipping it constantly into a small bottle containing only a drop of ink on the bottom. Thus he stood patiently correcting the material printed on narrow strips of paper for the compositor.

By that time, it seemed that the revolutionary fire of his youth had been extinguished. He never participated in the heated arguments of the small groups of idlers who always hung around the print shop. Seldom did he make a comment. But when he did, one saw, through the lenses of his misshapen metal frames, a spark of the old fire in his eyes.


“Yerubel”

On almost every Friday for many years, there appeared in Unzer Tsaytung, under the pen name “Yerubel,”' satiric poems and rhyming parodies. In funny, pointed rhymes, full of humor and wit, they accompanied the events of Piotrkow's Jewish world. Week after week they reflected in a “ krumer shpigl” the humorous side of our life. One did not envy the “ parves” whom “ Yerubel” whipped for his “ sheyne maysim.” It was pitiful to behold the” kokhlefel'' when Yerubel honored him with his stabbing mockery because of a clumsy misstep. The readers delighted in the light, playful lines which excelled because of their folksy but very rich Yiddish.

Not only were sharp arrows aimed at wrongdoing and injustice; not only were there biting satires of the distorted and oftentimes ridiculous shape of our Jewish reality: Yerubel also knew how to illustrate, with warm sentiments, the beautiful aspects of Jewish life, to draw sincere pictures of simple folk manners.

However, although the readers were greatly pleased by his humorous parodies, his comic rhymes and witty lectures, which always made their point, the author himself was always clouded and embittered.

Yosef Berish Rosenblum, known as “ Yerubel,” earned his living as a Hebrew teacher at the Jewish Gimnazjum. I had the honor of knowing him closely. He was really “ aley v'gadash” with ''khakhmay Yisroel, Tanakh, Talmud, rabbinic S'farim” to the latest research on behalf of Judaism, not to mention all of Yiddish and Hebrew literature. Everything was known to him, and he was the “ bal-habayit” of it all. Judging from his knowledge and abilities, he could have been a professor in any Judaic institution. With his pen he could have shone as a writer of human interest stories in the most important Yiddish newspapers. His satiric talents could have succeeded in social and political newspapers in the broadest sense. But fate had cruelly trapped him in Piotrkow. There he taught in a small provincial “ shul.” His witty satires dealt with small provincial muck and were published in a poor provincial brochure.

This was his tragedy. And another thing: Yosef Berish Rosenblum was a fanatic Zionist. He had a premonition about the Holocaust. As a representative of the Zionists in the “ Kehila,” he fought bitterly against the local teachings of the “ Bund,” which either did not hear, nor did not want to hear, the approaching heavy footsteps of history. In speech and writing he tried to influence the indifference of the Jewish masses, who, while involved in their daily problems, did not sense the oncoming storm.

This almost brought him to despair. The last drop in his bitter cup was that his tragic destiny prevented him from realizing his greatest dream, to make “ Aliya” to Eretz Israel.

Hundreds of young people heard his talks in the “ gimnazjum” and during evening courses. He implanted in their hearts the love of the Hebrew language and Jewish culture. Thousands of his readers memorized passages of his satires and parodies and entertained themselves with them for many years. Those who remain still remember him with gratitude and love.

The satire which he published in “ Unzer Tsaytung” on Erev Pesach 1924, which, if I am not mistaken, was his first, opened with the following lines:
Do you know the city
That's at God's mercy,
Where the Jordan doesn't flow,
And not, too, the Rhine,
But the genuine
Strawa itself?

Let's alter the first line a little and make it the motto of our “ shpatsir”:

Do you remember the City? …


The Loyal Soldier

And last, but not least, Fayvl Shteinberg. Who didn't know Fayvl, the son of Menil Shteinberg, who owned the tavern on the “ Farna,” across from the “ Tushiner Feltsher?” Everyone knew that at Menil Shteinherg's one could get the best glass of beer in town. Whenever we passed by, we would always stop in for a cold glass of beer with “ zokher arbes” and thin “ zalts-matselekh.” Fayvl himself would fill our glasses with a particularly large head. He could always he found in the tavern, except when he was involved in his Zionist activities.

Do you remember Fayvl? Short, thin, a “ halb droybele” with a long neck and protruding Adam's apple right in the center? It was always thought that he would lose his trousers and jacket, which were always several sizes too large for him.

He was neither a writer nor a speaker. He was only a simple soldier, always on the alert. He made sure that the Zionist interests were taken care of. Without wisecracks and without arguments, he alone did the major share of the daily “ shvartze arbet”: he took care of the necessary chores, retained contact with the “ responsible leaders.” He never seemed to be in a hurry, yet he always managed to be everywhere. He knew everyone and was aware of what was going on in the entire city.

Fayvl was an unusual kind of soldier. No one gave him any orders. His orders seemed to come from a higher authority. Nevertheless, he made sure that the “ generals” did their jobs. He supervised each and every one and did not relax until everyone in the organization accomplished whatever they undertook to do or what Fayvl thought they should he doing.

At the time that 1 was coopted by the staff of Unzer Tsaytung, an embittered Yerubel had already ceased contributing his rhyming “ felyatonen.” Abraham Eli Rosenthal had also withdrawn during the past year. It seemed that Unzer Tsaytung was going to close up shop. But Fayvl was on the alert. When the generals fall, the soldier takes command. Unzer Tsaytung continued to appear.

On Sundays, Fayvl would begin to remind me that the paper must he ready for Friday, and on Wednesday afternoons he moved into my house and did not leave until all the material, including my editorial for the new issue, was in his hands.

The same thing happened on the last day before the beginning of the great disaster. On that Friday, September 1, 1939, I left my apartment in the morning for work, as I did every day. I never saw it again. I also never saw the last issue of Unzer Tsaytung, which appeared that Friday, and I never got to see my editorial. I would give a great deal to know what nonsense I wrote in the final hour before the catastrophe hit us.

I also never saw Fayvl Shteinberg again. Nor did I ever hear from him again. Now, after so many years, I read witnesses' accounts that Fayvl Shteinberg provided secret underground literature to the small ghetto and the “ block.” He never stopped carrying out the orders of his “ higher authority.”

He was the loyal soldier to the very end.

Heidim

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