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[Page 159]

School and Cultural Activity, the Zionist Movement

By Tzvi Malewanczyk

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Already during my childhood years, I had heard my oldest brother Shlomo discussing that he studied with the teacher Alechnowicz. I did not even know whether the teacher was a Jew or a Christian. I recall only that parents of greater means let their children study “secular subjects” with Alechnowicz.

My brother Shimon already studied with Mordechai Tzvi Mintz, or, Mordechai Hirsch as they called him[1]. He was tall and slender, and very strict with the students. He was born in Sierpc. He was educated, and became an active and good pedagogue. In the school he was a teacher, and in the synagogue, he was a fine shofar blower and Torah reader. As one says, he was good to G-d and man. He educated a large portion of the Jewish youth of Sierpc, despite the fact that in those times there were other teachers such as Shmuel Pefer, Chaim Yosef, Moshe Sofer, Shmuel Wilk, Wolf Chazan known as the son-in-law of Kalman Fenster, and others.

Only 12 students studied in Mintz's school. He did not take more. However, the situation had changed when I began to study. The desire and striving for knowledge grew, and the school grew as well. Mordechai Tzvi took on a teacher by the name of Rosenbaum from Plock as an assistant. He was short and chubby. The school premises grew from one small room to two large rooms with a small room for Gemara study, where David Noach Silberberg and sometimes also Binem Weismel taught.

It is appropriate to note the form and program of that school, which was different from a cheder. The students did not call the teacher rebbe, but rather lerer [teacher].

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Our teacher did not believe in vacations, so we indeed studied year round. We even attended school on the Sabbath when we learned laws from the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] and then sang Hebrew songs.

Friday was the only day that we studied only until 2:30 p.m. A half an hour was dedicated to reviewing the weekly Torah portion. One student recited the verses with the cantillation, and all the students responded as a choir in training. They concluded by singing the haftorah. It was no surprise that when a student of the school celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, he did not have to be taught the haftorah. For whatever maftir he was called up for, he would know how to recite the haftorah for that week. Mothers and other people would listen to the chanting of our Torah portion review.

Aside from holy studies, Hebrew literature, grammar, etc., secular studies and arithmetic were also taught in our school. Suffice it to say that the students who graduated from the school were able to enter the fourth grade of gymnasium with a brief preparation.

The school was also a location for Zionist preparation. The students maintained a “Hebrew Speakers Club,” and their own “Post” in Hebrew. One wrote to the other, and in that way, they became experienced in writing, avoided mistakes, and found their style.

Already during their childhood, the students took part in the collections for the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet), and national celebrations such as Chanukah, Tu Bishvat, Purim, and the like. Therefore, it was not surprising that the later Sierpc Zionist leaders were the former students of Mintz's school.

After the First World War, in 1920, Mordechai Tzvi Mintz immigrated to America. As I have found out, he was active in school leadership there as well.

Dedicated to the Zionist ideal, Hebrew Language and national education in 1924-1925, with societal initiative, they organized the Tarbut School, and later built a Hebrew People's school with a Prevel School[2], in which 75% of the Jewish children of Sierpc studied. The Tarbut School was well established and was at a high level. The building, which stands to this day, became a Polish school.

 

The Jewish Library

The Jewish library, which was established thanks to a small group of volunteers and dedicated youth, contributed a great deal to the spiritual development of the youth. I wish to mention here a few names of the first idealistic disseminators of culture: my sister Sara known by the name Salka, Bronka Gorfinkel, Tzesha Lubaszka, and others. I only mention the girls, for at that time they were from other circles, revolutionary oriented by not Zionist. Each of them earned a “salary”[3] and they donated the book prizes that they received for excelling to the library. In this, the first group of books was obtained, which were used by a small group of readers. The book collecting expanded in a larger library, with all kinds of books in a variety of languages.

[First unnumbered page after 160]

sie160a.jpg
A hachshara group in Sierpc working in the
lumber workshop of Mendel Gorfinkel
In the center of the photo: the owner of the warehouse, his wife (Fradel), their daughter (Chana Gitel Lenter), and their son (Simcha)

 

sie160b.jpg
A hachshara group in Sierpc in 1930
Some of those standing at the edges are Sierpc natives

[Second unnumbered page after 160]

sie160c.jpg
The final performance of the play “Azef” performed
by the dramatic club of Poale Zion (united with Young Socialists)
Right to left: 1) … 2) Mlawa Gitkind, 3) … Dorfman, 4) …, 5) Wolf Aharonowicz, 6) Yaakov Pukacz, 7) Shlomo Reiczyk, – the first and fourth were members of the Hachshara kibbutz of Sierpc

 

sie160d.jpg
The Freiheit Youth Movement in Sierpc, 1933

[Third unnumbered page after 160]

sie160e.jpg
The Bund committee from 1932
Right to left: seated: Avraham Rybak, Leibish Uszer, Chaim Jurkowicz, Shmuel Alba
Standing: Zalman Cudak, Avraham Hirsch Jurkowicz

 

sie160f.jpg
The organizing committee of the tradesmen on the occasion of the aliya of the chairman of the committee Avraham Mlawa in 1934

[Fourth unnumbered page after 160]

sie160g.jpg
The committee of the Charitable Fund of Sierpc, 5690 (1930)

Right to left: seated: Yitzchak (Itche) Meir Silbersztejn, Nota Plonsker (secretary), Eliahu Dov (Ber) Czronczipka, Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldszlak, Baruch Mendel Gotlibowski, Yakir Flatto, Mendel Lipszicz
Standing: Nachman Eichler, David Bergzon, David Manimczuwka, Mendel Stejnhauz (Menachem Avni), Moshe Berman
On the table. The Golden Book of the committee

 

sie160h.jpg
Charitable fund of Sierpc: Gmilus-Chesed.
Stowarzyszenie Dobroczynne
[4]

[Page 161]

The first premises that I recall was located on the old market. Sierpc did not yet have any electric lighting at that time. The library was lit with large flashlights. The keepers of order were volunteers. Their tasks included filling the lamps with kerosene, cleaning the tubes, sweeping, going to bring a flask of kerosene from Moshe Horowic, the wholesale merchant in the city at that time.

In 1913, at the time of the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Russian Czarist dynasty, the library was located in the house of Szmigelski on Plocker Street. At that time, all of the Zionist youth were invited to the library. Only a few individuals of the original founders participated. The walls of the reading room were decorated with pictures of Yiddish and Hebrew writers. Well attended reading events took place every Sabbath eve. At the time of the celebration of the Romanov Jubilee, the balcony of our library was illuminated with torches.

In the later years, the first library was given over to the Zionist organization. The Poale Zion and Bund parties created their own libraries. The Herzlia Zionist youth organization, which established its own library, united with the general library for a certain period of time. The library was indeed organized and running at a high level. It no longer ran through volunteers. They no longer had to burn kerosene and light cylinder lanterns, for electricity already existed in Sierpc. A paid librarian was employed.

 

The “Agudat Zion Sierpc” Zionist Organization

The “Agudat Zion Sierpc” Zionist organization was created precisely during the time of the First World War. The majority of its members were indeed graduates from Mordechai Tzvi Mintz's school. Then, at the time of the First World War, the organization was located in the anteroom of Mordechai Tzvi Mintz's school. People came there every evening in order to hear some news. Membership dues had to be paid once a month. The joy was great when they conducted a bit of Zionist work.

Zionist activity was taking place in Sierpc already before the First World War. In 1913, during my childhood years, I went out on Purim to collect for the Jewish National Fund together with my friend Tzvi, or Hershik Wluka as he was known. We were both 13-year-old lads.

We visited Avraham Yitzchak Lipsker the tinsmith. He was asked to give a full “tzener” (5 kopecks). After much negotiation, he put down another “tzener.” My friend wrote a receipt for 10 kopecks. There were houses where in “principle” they would not support the Keren HaKayemet. Later, the number of donors grew. The children had an effect on those parents who thought that the Keren HaKayemet was not sufficiently kosher. The children influenced them, and they indeed began to pay

[Page 162]

through their sons or daughters who collected for Zionist funds.

 

The Maccabee Sports Organization

With the blossoming of Agudat Zion, the Maccabee Zionist Sports organization was also founded. Yaakov Bachrach, the son of the former owner of the food warehouse Zelig Bachrach, was its prime organizer. At that time, Yaakov was a young lad who had just returned from Belgium, where he went before the war to live at his aunt's home and to study. We utilized Hebrew commands during our formal ceremonies.

Boys and girls took part in Maccabee at that time. The training place for our sporting exercises was in the Monasz place near the Reitschul that had remained standing from Czarist times, when the 48th Dragon Regiment was stationed in Sierpc. When it was raining, we practiced in the Reitschul itself.

When Poland became independent, the Maccabee lost its building, which turned into a factory for agricultural machinery. After some time, the factory was liquidated and a grain storehouse was set up in the building, belonging to the Jews Binem and Azriel Dobroszklanka, the son of Yakir and Sara.

Maccabee had its own uniform: a velvet hat with a gleaming visor and a blue and white lace band. The uniform was worn at Maccabee practices. We exchanged greetings of “be strong and powerful”[5], while extending the right hand and placing three fingers on the visor.

We went out onto the street in our Maccabee uniforms for the first time on Lag BaOmer of 1916. We marched to the synagogue singing “Raise a banner and flag toward Zion the flag of the camp of Judah.” The blue and white flag that was carried by one of the older members fluttered in the wind.

A year later, in 1917, we made an excursion to the Jewish village of Chamsk that belonged to the Jewish magnate and forestry merchant Labendsz. We traveled with the “Kolejka” that crossed the Nasielsk-Lubicz route. That mini railway was built by the Germans who occupied Poland during the First World War, and connected us with the two large centers of Warsaw and Torún. We rented the railway and wrote our own tickets in Hebrew. We also took over the controls of the train ourselves. All of this led to good cheer. When we returned from the excursion, we marched through the city with our blue and white flag, in two rows, led by our commander. We went along singing Hatikva.

With the rise of independent Poland, our members were drafted into the army one by one, and Maccabee was liquidated. After some time, the Zionist organization moved to its own premises on Plocker Street. Mizrachi was headquartered in the new house of Izik Kutna across from Agudat Zion.

[Page 163]

The Talmud Torah school was located in the yard of the Zionist organization, in the premises of the former low cost kitchen.

 

The Zionist Movement

The Zionist movement laid deep roots in our city already before the First World War. Orthodox, well-off householders were also taken by the Zionist idea. I recall a few people from the first Chovevei Zion[6] such as Eliezer Wesselik, a tall Jew with a pale, serious face, slender with wrinkles on his forehead; and Chaim Tanwel, who was short, with a proper belly, a black hat on his head, a fine semi-grey beard, known by the name Uncle Chaim Nachum. His wife, Aunt Rivka was a merchant who ran a haberdashery shop on the Jewish street. Chaim Nachum and his wife were childless. They raised my friend Moshe Belt, who later became the commander of the Maccabee in our city.

At that time, Chaim Nachum visited the land of Israel, but he did not settle there. He brought back a bag of soil from the Holy Land. That dedicated Zionist occupied himself with collecting money for the settlement of the Land of Israel, and also took part in other Zionist campaigns. Efraim Yosel Wluka (Efraim Talmai bears his first name) was also among the Zionist activists of that time.

As everywhere, Zionist activity was small-scale at that time. It began during the years of the First World War. Avraham Fried, currently the chairman of the Organization of Sierpc Natives and Avraham Yerushalmi, a brother-in-law of Eliezer Wesselik, headed the organization. Moshe Cyprys served as the secretary.

In 1918, after the rise of Poland, Moshe was drafted to the army and Fishel Szampan took his place. After some time, Fishel left the position, and I took the position of secretary. At the beginning of 1920, I went to the army, and the office of secretary was given over to Yerachmiel Wajngarten.

Zionist activity in the years 1919-1920 was especially difficult and serious. Anti-Semitism spread. Soldiers of General Haller, who had returned from France, began to beat Jews, cut their beards, and perpetrate other such acts. The Jewish National Committee of Poland was founded at that time under the leadership of the Zionist leader Yitzchak Grynbaum. A political committee, which had the role of defining protocols to counteract the excesses against the Jews, was active in every Zionist organization.

The writer of these lines, Yechiel Moshe Senderowicz (Sidroni today in Israel), and Yitzchak Zumer worked in the Sierpc committee. We devised a protocol against the wild attacks of the Hallerczyks and also provided a certification from a doctor or a feldscher (medic) when a beaten Jew was wounded. Feigenman, a young man from Warsaw and a brother-in-law of Hirsch Krasner, worked as a feldscher at that time.

One morning, my mother had just gotten up when the milk carrier Roboto,

[Page 164]

or Biksel as he was called, a stout Jew, thickly built and also deaf, knocked and entered. Thinking that nobody heard, he shouted and woke up all the people in the house: “Where is your son?”

We were three brothers. My father was no longer alive at that time. My mother asked the milk carrier what he meant. He answered, “Those who are paying for the beard which the Hallerczyks cut off.” “You know that the Jew did not allege anything. This is what the feldscher quipped after conducting the post mortem examination.” To Roboto-Biksel's question about what will be, the feldscher responded,” Malewanczyk is paying money for the beard.”

We sent the protocols to the district office and the police, and sent a copy to the national committee in Warsaw. It is worthwhile to mention that we were once called to the police, and the district officer together with the police commander accused us. In fact, things later changed for the better in a positive way.

At one time, the three of us -- Senderowicz, Zomer, and I --were away in the army. After concluding our military service, we returned to Sierpc one by one. Each of us had our own worries, but we took upon ourselves the yoke of Zionist responsibility. In the meantime, Avraham Yerushalmi made aliya to the Land of Israel, and his role of chairman was taken over by Yeshayahu Frajdman. Unfortunately, like many faithful Zionist activists, he did not succeed in settling in Israel.

In the later years, the Zionist organization grew apart. When Yeshayahu Frajdman entered the city council, I became the chairman of Agudat Zion and Moshe Belt became the secretary. The following people were on the committee: Yitzchak Meir Silberberg currently living in Israel as Yitzchak Simchoni, and Yechiel Moshe Sidroni.

After returning from the army, I made appropriate efforts to organize the work of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael [Jewish National Fund]. We succeeded in enlisting representatives from all the Zionist parties into the Keren Kayemet Civic Committee, as well as in organizing a youth brigade of the Civic Committee, which carried out the money collection in a regular, diligent and serious manner, and distributed the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael charity boxes to the Jewish homes.

Later, my position was taken by Shmuel Wluka. Active workers included Feivush Lipka, Fishel Szampan, Yeshayahu Frajdman, Meir Cyprys, Tzvi Krystal today Elgabish, Izik Najman, and others.

Maccabee renewed its activities in 1927-28.

Unfortunately, to our great sorrow, many of the Zionist activists did not succeed in witnessing the realization of their ideal. They were tortured along with the Jews of Sierpc.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Hirsch is the Yiddish form of the Hebrew name Tzvi. Return
  2. I am unsure of the meaning of this term. Return
  3. Probably here meaning a “scholarship.” Return
  4. The Polish term on the seal means “Charitable Association.” Return
  5. Chazak Veamatz a traditional Hebrew greeting. Return
  6. Lovers of Zion -- a precursor of the Zionist movement. Return

 

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