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[Page 100]

Customs

Dawid Grabiner

Translated by Bill Leibner

Each city and shtetl had its own particular customs, mannerisms and traditions that were rooted in the local folklore and were handed down from generation to generation. Our community also had some customs that were an integral part of the life of the kehilla in Zloczew.

Purim

Each holiday, whether a religious or national Jewish holiday, was celebrated in a particular way. But Purim was a holiday (in spite of the old saying that Purim is not a holiday and fever is not a disease) that was celebrated popularly, since it had many customs and traditions. I still remember from childhood that when Purim arrived, the Jews loved to masquerade, especially as Kozak riders. But even when celebrating, they did not forget their poor brethren and used the opportunity to raise money for the needy. Two well known people in Zloczew, Yossef Grabiner and Leib Hershlikowicz, dressed in costumes that easily revealed them, went from door to door and collected alms for the needy. They were well received by the donors since they were well known. When they reached their homes in the evening, the poor people were already waiting at the gates for their charity. This repeated itself each year.

The Beadle Knocks on the Door

A special custom existed in Zloczew whereby the beadle went from door to door before candle lighting on Friday and knocked three times on each door. This indicated to everybody that the Sabbath was about to enter. However, if a misfortune arrived and somebody passed away, he only knocked twice on the door. During the days when Selichot are recited, (usually prior to the High Holidays) the beadle would walk very early in the morning in the small streets mainly inhabited by Jews and announce loudly, “Awake for the recital of Selichot, Awake for the recital of Selichot”


[Pages 101-102]

The Cossack and the Heroes of Zloczew

by Arieh Faiwlowicz

Translated by Andre Goodfriend

When the Russians, under pressure from German forces, had to evacuate the town during the First World War, one of them stayed behind seeking shelter (a Jewish saying is “It just takes one tooth for a tooth-ache”). The one who stayed was a Cossack. Because of his small height, we called him “s'kazakl” (“little Cossack”). No one knew the secret of why he hadn't evacuated with his army, since he was the only one of his group that had remained in the town. But in light of subsequent events, it appears that he was simply a prankster, and he wanted to show the Germans a little pain and suffering. And, in truth, for a while, things were going very well.

At first, the Germans thought that there was a large group of Russian military in the area because he was active only at night and each time he shot from a different side of the town. But the Germans organized themselves into large search parties, and so it happened that they had the good fortune to capture and convict him. But we didn't have any prison available, only a provisional cell, the so-called “kazeh”, with wooden walls, double locks, a barred window, and so forth.

The Cossack knew what awaited him and had decided to escape at any price. How he did it, no one knows; but the fact is that, in the morning, when the Germans were prepared for the “ceremony”, they found an empty “kazeh”...

This situation very much affected the prestige of the German Empire and they couldn't swallow it. They decreed that if no one turned the Cossack in within three days, alive or dead, they would burn down the entire town. The population in the town was about two thirds Jews and one third Christians at that time; but the Germans were primarily worried about the Jews. Whatever happened, the Jews were always the first victims. Quickly, the Jewish young men (some can be seen in the picture) organized themselves and divided into small groups, closed off the fields and forests, sealed off the roads and assessed all of the previous movements in order to rescue the town from a devastating fire.

By Chance

On the road that leads to the cemetery, there were, together with the other groups, Michal Zilberberg and Shlomo Schmidt, may they rest in peace. Proceeding cautiously, they came across a farm girl who had set off for the town. Approaching her, they asked whether she had by chance found anyone in the field, a man, small in height, etc. They asked in Polish, and the Gentile stammered with a broken mixture of Russian and Polish. It was clear that things were not what they seemed. So they asked her what she was carrying in her basket. She said that they could buy it; but when they wanted to see what it was, she resisted. This turned into a short struggle, and they hit the “farm girl,” who turned out to be no one else but the “little Cossack”. In the basket, they found the Cossack cap. During the struggle, the “little Cossack” bit off a piece of Shlomo's finger, but they brought the “little Cossack” back to town with a parade. The Germans, rejoicing after such a victory, reached Berlin.

And now the heroic story of the innocent young men was given great significance. In the small town, there was nothing for the young men to do. During wartime, the Germans were not permitting any entry into the German Reich from the occupied areas. But an event like the one with the “little Cossack” could not go without appropriate recognition and reward. The young men boldly approached the Germans to request that they be allowed entry into Germany for two reasons: First, in order for them “to work and help the German Reich in a difficult time;” and second – on account of the capture of the Cossack, they were clearly not connected with the hooligans who had shown themselves to be friendly to the Russians.

The application soon received a positive response, and in addition to the travel permit, they received a very fine letter thanking them for their great accomplishment. In their list of names, they had also included friends who hadn't assisted them; but they had to do it to rescue the young men. And when, after several days, the group arrived in Breslau, they even turned away a representative of the regime at the train station and, in a procession, made their way to the local Jewish community. Soon they were taken to a clothing shop and done up from head to foot, in the German style, so that they couldn't even recognize themselves... Later, they took part in a reception, and the main thing was an interview with journalists.

Group of men from Zloczew that captured the “Cossack”
and subsequently traveled to Germany

Three days later, all the newspapers printed their pictures with the article about their achievement, under large letters proclaiming them as “The Heroic Jews of Zloczew”.

The Jewish Community divided them up into little groups where they worked a little. This is how they spent their time until the end of the war.

However, the two main heroes each had different fates. Michal Zilberberg survived the war, immigrated to Israel and died in Ramat Gan. In contrast, Shlomo Schmidt, may God avenge his blood, perished during the Nazi occupation. Here too, he displayed his heroic character.


[Pages 105-108]

The Star of David Went Up the Hill

By Arieh Kshepitzki

Translated by Moshe Shubinsky

Arieh Kshepitzski

“He who climbed God's mountain and he who stands up in the holy places will be righteous and good hearted” it was said, and it appeared as if these words were guiding two Zloczew youths in a special mission they carried out when they erected a Star of David on the main synagogue roof as a symbol of the revival of the vision of the return of greatness to Zion. From there, the Star of David projected its light to the multitude of Israel, blazing a shiny path to national salvation and hopes for a better future. So dedicated were those youths that they were prepared to put up with any challenges and dangers that might befall them as long as they could try and achieve their mission.

Arieh Kshepitzski and Mordechai Majerowicz were not just adventurers who wanted to climb the high synagogue roof just for show, they were driven by ideals that permeated their being as a flame, propelling them to do the deed and give them strength and motivation to achieve this impossible task.

This cannot be seen as an isolated incident, but as an integral part of the life in the youth movement “Hehalutz Hamerkazi” (the Central Pioneer) at that time. This movement promoted and propelled Arieh and Mordechai to move forward in the leadership of the movement and to promote the ideals of this movement.

Before we go any further, let us look back a moment and see what the circumstances were like at the time. One of the participants, Arieh Kshepitzki said a few years after the setting up of an independent Poland (in 1919), in the years 1920-25, the Jews of Poland started to develop commerce and industry in that country and achieved considerable gains. This provoked resentment amongst the Gentiles (non-Jewish population) who started to fight against the Jews. How did that manifest itself in Zloczew?

There was a firm by the name of Noble dealing in oil and petroleum products in the town and it did not wish to engage Jews as agents selling its products. The villages, coming to town on market days, used to go to that firm to buy their needs, knowing that they were buying from non-Jews and so the Jews had to put up with this discrimination, causing economic hardship. Another way was by using the system of rewarding concessions for shops and merchant houses for selling alcohol and tobacco know as “Propenzia” or “Axis”. Many Jews were prevented by the anti-Semitic influence of the ND party from gaining concessions or licences to trade in alcohol or tobacco and those who wished to renew their existing permits were usually turned down. I know this from personal experience, as my brother Yaakov had such a licence and when ordering new stock, did not receive what he wanted, as Polish wholesalers preferred selling the best quality products to non-Jews. And so we had many cases of anti-Semitic discrimination, obvious and subtle and so on. The youth saw this and decided to get involved in trying to stop this from happening.

Establishing the Hehalutz

While attending the Jewish school, Mordechai Majerowicz and I saw what was happening and started a series of discussions, which led us to the conclusion that we must contact the local Zionist organisation. So, we started to attend nightly club meetings where we listened to speeches and lectures about the Zionist movement from Yaakov Bilewski, Moshe Lewkowicz, Avram Dawidowicz, and others. Sometimes, emissaries from other towns would appear, such as Moshe Goldstein from Warsaw, Moshe Poliakivitz, Pinkhas Kaminer and others.

Front row, from the left - Schindel Shnaper, Yerachmiel Moshkowicz, Hanna Weistman
Second row, from the left Paula Diamant, Haya Feiga Susak, Mendel Bram,
David Bendet, Glika Moshkowicz, Hinda Hershlikowicz.
Third row, from the left Hana Herschberg, Ruhama Loel, Avraham Joseph Kochman,
Gutch (Tova) Kazuch, Zelig Loel, Kila Susak, Alter Bendet.
Last row, from the left Yitzhak Kochman, Ruza Kochman, Yacov Grabiner,Shlomo Loel,
Naska Kochman, Avigdor Biald, Bracha Zilberberg, Rivka Zemel, Tzirl Golbart, Gabriel Dzubas,
Alter Jachimowicz.

We also had cultural evenings, where we sang together and spent time in conversations amongst friends. We walked in the Sieradz forest on Saturday afternoons and also took part in annual gatherings. The main event in the life of the movement, occurring year after year, was the remembrance service for Benjamin Zeev Hertzl, the founder of modern Israel. The regular speakers on these occasions were Yaakov Bilewski - the chairman and Beinish Frankel. We also took part in gathering contributions for the Keren Kayemet (National fund) and Keren Hayesod (Foundation fund).

On Two Fronts

The Zloczew Zionist movement had to struggle on two fronts - on the outside with Polish anti-Semites and internally with religious circles within the Jewish community trying to thwart us at every turn (they objected to Zionist ideology as being non-Jewish). They prevented us from collecting money for the Jewish National fund and they broke the collection boxes. They told the parents of members of the youth movement that their children were becoming secular and sometimes, usually on Saturdays, before the reading of the Torah, they would announce that a particular person couldn't join the congregation because his son committed a sin. And so they attributed the sins of the sons on the fathers.

During the national and local elections to the Polish parliament, they used to attack us, sometimes with violence, and any person who read a secular paper such as “Heint”, was set upon and told to desist and was denounced in the Yeshiva and the Shtiebel (a small ultra-orthodox synagogue). Anyone who did not promise to stop reading the secular paper was not left alone until he did so.

This happened to me before the elections to the “Sezm” (Polish parliament) in 1928. Yaakov Bilewski had to give an election address in front of the congregation in the Yeshiva. In the interval between the morning and afternoon prayers, the Gur (Goria) Hassidim Shtiebl decided to go out amongst the congregation and to disrupt the speech. As I was praying in the shteibel at that time, I hurriedly left and warned my friends in the Yeshiva. Unfortunately, I was spotted and upon my return to the shteibel, I was attacked and severely beaten. If it was not for my brother Yaakov who was present, I would not have been able to escape my attackers. Bearing all that in mind, we had to organise for counter action although the religious people were in the majority and many more than us. Following what I have just described, it may be worthwhile to demonstrate this with an episode that happened at that time.

The Star of David Ascending the Heights

The Zionist organisation decided to make a point by placing a Star of David, made of metal, on top of the main synagogue in town. This was an unusual operation. The synagogue was well built and high and so we could be seen. It was also impossible to find a ladder long enough to reach the synagogue roof. And so we had to improvise by joining several short ladders into one. When we approached the synagogue, the Agudat Israel (a religious organisation), confronted us, wanting to know what was going on. We told them that we had to repair the roof as it was leaking. We do not know if they believed us or not, but they went away, but the look of incredulity on their faces left us wondering. There was no time to waste and our decision was final - we had to take the chance - as long as we could achieve our mission.

In the best tradition of the secret service, we approached the task at hand in a stealthy, determined fashion. Our group was divided in two, myself and Mordechai Majerowicz and other youths from the movement who had to act as lookouts. The two of us had to go onto the roof, erect the Star of David, and all the while the lookouts below making sure that if anybody wanted to stop us, a real possibility, bearing in mind the hostility of the religious community to our enterprise, they would warn us.

“In cunning ways you will do it for me” it was written by He who is the wisest of all, and so, when we came to plan our caper, we assumed a military bearing (against an enemy that is about to break through), employing intelligence and planning “on the eve of battle”, by reconnoitering the area beforehand and deciding on how to carry out the operation. It became clear to us that we could not approach the objective directly and a flanking movement was planned. The building was approached from the back through the women's quarters, which had a little opening, designed to facilitate access to the roof for repairs. We jumped on that and used it as a way of achieving our objective. Having ensured that we had all we needed, it was time for the real thing.

We were very tense before the operation and waited for darkness to descend and so, in the middle of the night, when most of Zloczew was fast asleep, we gathered, the climbers and the scouts in a prearranged place and silently moved to the main synagogue. The night was cold and wet with constant drizzle and we felt that perhaps somebody above was not happy with what we were doing, or the weather would not be so bad and we could slip when we got on to the roof. But there was no time for excuses and we had to continue and we marched toward the objective. It did not matter what the weather was like. And so, when we got there, we deliberated on how to drag the very heavy Star of David.

In the end, we decided that one of the climbers will shoulder the Star while climbing the ladder, by placing it around his neck, leaving his arms free for climbing and also to carry the rest of the materials we needed, such as sand and cement, water and tools. Slowly, but surely, we proceeded to carry all the materials up the ladder to the women's quarter. We opened the hatch and realised that the opening was quite small and far from the end and so we had to slide our way along the ridge of the roof. Reaching the centre of the roof, we positioned the main beam and reinforced it with cement and then attached the Star of David. It was not easy and took 3-4 hours, but finally we managed it safely.

The Storm Breaks Out

It is difficult to describe in simple words the storm of protest that broke out when what we did came to light the following day in our town. Everybody was agitated and there was much discussion amongst the religious people and the Zionists and many heated arguments ensued. In certain places, there were even fights. The Agudat Israel tried to undo what we did first by prayer and fasting but, when that did not work, they tried more concrete methods. First they tried to knock it down, then to convince us that it was not nice to hurt the feelings of religious people. They brought craftsman and paid them good money to remove the Star of David by force, but we stood as a rock and did not allow them to remove this symbol.

These efforts to remove the Star of David from the synagogue roof lasted for a long time but, in the end, they realised that all their efforts came to nothing. They let it go and so the symbol was there for all to see as a flag on which the wishes of our movement were engraved and the wishes of our people to return to the land of our fathers and to be free people in our own country was evident.

Widening Our Ranks

With the end of the storm of protest about the Star of David, we carried on with our Zionist activities. We undertook training camps before our emigration to Palestine and we actively recruited new members. We succeeded as the youths reached the conclusion that there was no future for them in Poland. They saw us as pioneers struggling for their futures and what we did fired their imagination and encouraged them to join our ranks and so we became the bearers of the national revival movement flag. We, Yoseph Pik and myself, went to a training camp in Lodz where we worked in a brick kiln for 6 months and when we came back it was decided that the time had come to be given a certificate to emigrate to Palestine and shortly afterwards we made the trip in a ship called “Karnio”.

Invitation to a Hehalutz Hamerkazi conference in Lodz
on October 18-19, 1930 giving Mr. Kshepitzki
the status of a delegate from Zloczew

 

We were a group of “Hehalutz Hamerkazi” members and we decided to build a kibbutz near Zarnoga (an Arab village near Rehovot). We managed that by working on the land and suffering from all the problems typical to pioneers in Palestine at the time; hot sun, malaria, and so on. We were greatly helped by other members of the Zionist movement by obtaining credit in the shops and by work provided in the orange groves and in building of roads such as the one between Rehovot and Nes Ziona. The Arabs were contemptuous and called us “walad el maut” (a child of death). In spite of all our efforts, we failed, and the kibbutz was dismantled and all had to make their own way.

Making gravel by hand on the road between Nes Ziona and Rehovot in 1930.
Hahalutz Hamerkazi veterans amongst them Arieh Kshepitzki

 

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