by K. Najman (Australia)
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
It was a small town, a point of contact between Dabrowa, Sosnowiec, Modrzejów and Myslowice. All the traffic passed through these roads that ran between Olkusz, Wolbrom, Mechów, Dzialoszyce, Pilica and other cities in Greater Zagłębie.
The Jews of the towns will remember that they needed to pass through Zagórze before they reached the larger cities in Zagłębie. If there are still Jews that survived from the aforementioned towns, that were merchants in the Zaglembian market, in grains, fruit, eggs, butter and so on, they will remember the grocery stores in Zagórze, from Majdl Guterman whose apartment was near the entrance to Zagórze, up to Herszel Zaks, Szmalke Zajdler, Mojze Grinwald, Mojze Zaks, Balcia Zajdler, Arie Skoczylas, Alter Kazimierski and Mendel Najman, who were located at the other end of Zagórze.
Week after week, on every Monday and Wednesday, they'd know, that the same Jews would come again to tender their wares. In Zagórze, they were used to seeing the same merchants year after year. If there was an instance in which one of the merchants didn't arrive on the designated day, the Jews of Zagórze did not rest and were not satisfied until they knew that nothing untoward had happened to them.
The Jews in Zagórze were not just food salesmen. They also owned shops for fabrics, butchers, bootmakers, tailors and other trades, that were a source of livelihood for all the Jews in Poland.
The Jewish community life in Zagórze began as follows. As in all Zagłębie, Zagórze was rich in coal and the renowned coalmines of Mortimer, Kazimierz, Jadwiga and others were located there.
There was also a foundry in Zagórze that employed a large part of the Christian population, in a place that provided a decent profit and a respectable livelihood for all the Jewish community.
The Jewish shopkeeper and tradesman would give goods and food products on credit, because the workers would only receive their wages twice a month. If the worker felt like getting drunk and squandering all of his wages once again, it was the Jewish storekeeper who stood by the worker and continued to give him credit even in a difficult period.
The contact between the Christians and the Jews emerged in this manner, and each side took part in the celebrations of the other side. When a Jew married his son or daughter, he would invite his Christian clients, would prepare a special reception for them and treat them with respect. If a Christian had a celebration he knew that the Jews would not come and not eat non-kosher food but he would still send invitations to his Jewish friends and in these instances the Jews would send them fine presents.
On Saturdays and holidays, when all the Jewish shops were closed, the Christian
customers would wait patiently till the evening. When evening came and the Jews
were engrossed in their evening meal and the Ma'ariv prayer the Christians would bang on their windows with a cry:
Mr. Najman, Mr. Najman. You are already allowed to open the shop.
There are already three stars in the sky. During Pesach, every Christian knew that for the eight days of the festival they would not receive chametz [bread products], and because of that they would prepare a supply for themselves for all eight days, in advance.
Thus the Jew lived a tranquil life in Zagórze and when there were no livelihood problems, he began to think about spiritual matters. And where did the Jew find his spiritualism in previous generations? It is quite clear that he found this in the synagogue or Bet Midrash.
For this reason, there were four synagogues in the small town of Zagórze. When the Jew had a means of livelihood and also a fine home he also wanted to go to his own synagogue, and a spiritual competition began amongst the Jews of Zagórze. Jews began ordering the writing of torahs. They would organize large celebrations when the torah was finished, and all the Jewish community would take part in the joy of completing the torah, even from the Mitnagdim [opponents to Hassidism] In this holy celebration there was no room for jealousy or hatred.
The young generation of Zagórze was also taken care of. There were two cheders [religious elementary schools] in Zagórze. The cheders were run by elite scholars who were brought from the larger cities in Poland. The Jewish youth would learn in the cheder till the age of 12. Even if the youth was interested in reaching the lamdan” [Talmudist] stage he was obligated to know how to pray and learn the bible using Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki paramount Bible and Talmud commentator]. Indeed, the greater majority of Jewish youth in Zagórze knew Mishna, Gemara and even, Tosafot [annotations to the Talmud].
In Zagórze there wasn't a family whose children didn't study in the cheder and there were many amongst the girls who knew how to pray well.
Thus life went on in Zagórze for many years until the youth began maturing. The boys began learning a trade. At the same time the new generation began looking for new directions, new ways. They began organizing themselves into political parties or cultural and educational groups. These new spirits began appearing in all directions in the town.
At the beginning of the thirties a deep financial crisis emerged in Zagórze, and together with the financial crisis came a political crisis that took a fiercely anti-Semitic manifestation. The anti-Semitism scourge spread with lightning speed throughout Poland. The Nazi neighbor somewhat assisted this. This wild anti-Semitism reached Zagórze as well, the youths began leaving Zagórze, and those that found work in the larger cities returned infrequently. Others emigrated over the border.
The financial crisis thus severely harmed the small community. The coal export
diminished, and several of the coalmines ceased operation. Those that continued
to operate did not work more than two to three days per week. The foundry also
stopped working. Unemployment grew daily. Due to unemployment people were
unable to cover their debts. A large number of the Jewish shopkeepers and
craftsmen lost everything and remained impoverished.
On the other hand, the Christian customer didn't show an inclination to buy in the Christian shops, because the Jews would sell at lower prices and even gave credit. Still the Christian customers were forced to succumb to the terrible anti-Semitic terrorism. The Jews remained in their businesses and anticipated a miracle, waited fro the Christian customers to realize that the Jewish shopkeeper was more righteous than the Christians.
However, miracles didn't occur. A number of Jewish businesses did indeed remain, though to make a living from them was harder than parting the Red Sea.
During this period the Zionist vision spread amongst a large majority of the youth in Zagórze. Only in rare instances were youths not affiliated with the various Zionist parties and movements.
There was a Jew in Zagórze by the name of Gecel Erenfryd. He owned a
large men's clothes business and he earned a good living from this. When the
crisis came his life was truly destroyed. He did not have a profession and had
nothing to keep his business going. He came up with the idea of establishing a
training kibbutz belonging to the Hapoel Mizrahi
movement. It turned out that in establishing this kibbutz he sought
a sanctuary for himself and his family. The kibbutz
did not exist for long because of a lack of work places for its members. Only
a small number of the kibbutz members managed to find
work with the Klajn brothers in Dabrowa and
Fersztenberg in Bedzin. The greater majority was compelled to find black market
work, and frequently even this type of work was unavailable. For a certain
period, the kibbutz fought for its survival but was then forced to
be closed down. However, the Jew [Erenfryd] received his payment: He and his
wife and his two children, and also a sister that he recorded as his, all
received a certificate to immigrate to the Land of Israel. They immigrated to
Israel, and thus five souls were saved from the Nazi Holocaust that was to
My parents continued to maintain the grocery that was once a source of our
livelihood. Then it was difficult to make a living from the store alone. Of the
six children in our family there were two married sisters and who didn't live
in Zagórze. Two brothers wandered as far as France. I remained with
another sister at home with my ailing parents.
I managed a furniture factory, that had previously belonged to my older brother, who after seeing that there was no future in our little community, had transferred the factory to me, and he himself had gone to France, to our eldest brother. I managed the factory till the outbreak of war. I earned quite well because there was still no Christians in the furniture profession. Three years before the war passed quickly till the storm came.
The Polish Jews, and the Jews of Zagłębie inclusive, were put face to face
with a terrible and cruelest enemy known to our history that had been full of
richness, suffering and distress, destruction and turmoil.
by Majer Lancman, Tel-Aviv
Translated by Hannah Berliner Fischthal
24 August 1939 I received the order to present myself to the Second Flying-Regiment of the Polish military in Krakow. That is how I came to leave Sosnowiec and arrive in Krakow on the red ferry.
My job was to register all those who reported. I was there for a week. Although the war was hanging over our heads, we still hoped and believed that a miracle would happen, and that the western countries would not allow Poland to fall.
When I received the invitation, my wife was not home; she was in Krynica with the children.
In the very midst of the registration, the first of September, airplanes were visible over Poland's skies, and they began to fire over our heads.
The bombardment came so surprisingly that the entire city lost all control, even over work. The confusion led to our liquidating the place the next day, and we began to march to Lemberg [L'viv / Lwów]. We went by foot. We marched at night and hid ourselves from the air-assaults by day. By the time we arrived at Lemberg, we seldom saw any more of the officers. They had simply disappeared.
In Lemberg we scarcely had time to catch our breaths in the grammar school. We immediately headed further by foot in the direction of Zaleszczyki, close to the Rumanian border.
The command of the few officers who still remained to escape was interesting. Hearing the drone of oncoming German airplanes, they put us out in the free field, across from the German fliers. I received a wound in my leg in such a bombardment; I was placed in a truck. All in all it was lucky; at last I was able to get into a car, and I did not walk anymore.
We were heading towards the Romanian border. We began to understand what was happening in the Polish army. The officers, together with the soldiers, gave up their weapons, and in this way we crossed the Romanian border. We arrived in Czernowitz [Chernivtsi].
We were surprised by the warm reception of the population there. Tables in the streets were spread with all good things, including fruit and cigarettes. We fell on the tables and did not wait to be begged. As I was a wounded person, another Jewish soldier was sent, Lewkowicz from Cieszanów. I was transferred to a hospital in Fălticeni until I could stand on my feet and come a little to myself.
I arrived at the hospital a day before Erev Yom Kippur. The head doctor of the hospital was a Jew, Berkowicz. Disregarding my condition, the noble Dr. Berkowicz took me home for Yom Kippur. 80% of the Fălticeni population was Jewish. In the synagogue on Yom Kippur, the Jews genuinely interested themselves with my fate and also with the fate of my friend Lewkowicz. From the Jews in the synagogue, we learned that all those who crossed the Romanian border were concentrated in separate camps, military and civilian. Right after Yom Kippur, the big-hearted Jews there provided us with civilian clothes, and they advised us not to report to the Polish camps. They gave us a sum of money and also tickets to travel by train to Constanta.
When we arrived in Constanta, we first of all looked for a place to lay down our heads. After several days of living in the quarters of a poor woman, we remained without means to live, and we began to hunger.
The poor woman noted this, and then her ties to us became even warmer. Every morning she affectionately brought us breakfast, and she did not ask for any money.
In Constanta we learned that in Bucharest a committee of Polish-Russian Jews was organized. It had been there from the First World War, and it brought help to needy wanderers. We immediately went to Bucharest and registered as refugees. We received our first help from them, including winter clothes, which we badly needed.
In Bucharest I began to search for ties to the land of Israel. I applied to
various businesses in writing, to those familiar to me from my Zionist
activities, like Jicchak Grinbaum, Lejb Jafe, and so on. In a short time a
messenger came to Bucharest from the Jewish agency, engineer Anszl Rajz, who
was known in Poland.
After efforts and communications with friends working in the land of Israel, a confirmation came from Vilna to grant a certificate to me and also to my family, which had remained in Sosnowiec.
Having with me the photographs of my family, the certificate was made out according to a group family photo. I immediately sent my wife a photograph, and for a large sum I succeeded in getting a passport.
In a short time I left Romania, and my wife and two sons arrived after two weeks.
After several months of being in the land of Israel, the Polish Consulate announced that all Polish refugees needed to register. Each soul would get 6 pounds a month. In this way the fat times came to us unexpectedly. Soon, however, I had to pay dearly. On a certain day I was invited to the Consul, and he announced that I needed to voluntarily go back into the military, which was then located in Syria and Egypt.
I had, for a certain time, searched for a minimal means of existence for my family. Unfortunately I did not succeed. I made a calculation: my family is here and that is my main goal. If I go into the army, I will have the means to fight against the Nazis. In this way I went though all stages of the war, in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and in Italy.
After demobilizing from the army, I again was in the country together with my wife and children. I received a position through the Histadrut [General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel] in a production company. Afterwards I returned to my old calling for security. God helped and I was successful.
But I went through the experience and brought a dear sacrifice to the altar of the fatherland. In 1947-48 (Hebrew: 5708), in the War of Independence, my son Josef, of blessed memory, fell in the Negev battles. He was 18 years old. May his memory be honored.
Also my unforgettable life partner, my wife Hela, may her memory be blessed,
died in the Six-Day War, 12th June 1967 (Hebrew: 4th
of Sivan 5727). Towards the large bill, which was paid for our construction work,
I also added a contribution: my prayer that the coming generations should build
their homes here in peace and tranquility, and be freed from all the horrors that
our generation lived through.
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