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Brzezin Between Two World Wars (cont.)

The Agudah – as we called the political party of religious Jews [Orthodox and Hasidic], of which most were Gerer Hasidim – organized the Shiri Erev [“evening prayer” group], where we studied Tanakh [the five books of Moses] and other subjects every evening and where questions about everyday life were discussed.

This very group deserves to be specially described, since from it came the leaders of almost all the other political and social organizations in town.

The teacher or mentor of the group was Reb Mordechai Kochman, an interesting type of observant Jew who was thoroughly knowledgeable in worldly matters. A poor man himself and burdened with a sick wife and sick children, he would basically come to life when he would meet with his grown-up students every evening and educate them with love and attention, inculcating in them a respect for education and an attitude toward work that revolutionized the entire way of life of the town. The young people with whom he spent time were not students but friends. And it would not be an exaggeration to characterize Reb Mordechai Kochman as the educator and guide of youth about whom much would have been heard had it not been for the war and its terrible tragedies. Among the more promising of the group were the brothers Szulc, the brothers Gerszt, the brothers Swiatlowski, Jakubowicz, and others.

At the same time the Zionist element remained almost without a following – but not for long. Soon a group emerged, actually from the Shiri Erev group, which had, together with a number of intellectual workers and with the help of the leaders of the older Zionists in town – Chaim-Baruch Szulzinger, Gerszon Krauze, Wolf Dzigan, Aron Fogel, M. W. Ginzburg, and Szymon Mandel – created the Hitachdut Party [Socialist-Zionist labor party]. This party was based on the foundations of Labor Zionism. Its sister party in Eretz Isroel was the Hapoel Hatzair [non-Marxist] – the present day Mapai.

 

brz093.jpg - Membership cards and identification papers
Membership cards and identification papers
for various organizations that functioned in Brzezin

 

brz094a.jpg - A group of young girls from the 'khalutsim' [settlers] organization
A group of young girls from the khalutsim [settlers]
organization Gordonia [pioneer youth group]

 

At the head of that group were Fiszel Mitlesztajn, Israel Bundowski, Jeszaja (Zeygermacher [watchmaker]) Rozenblum, and the writer of these lines. Later other leaders of the group developed who expanded the work and created the Hakhaluts [settlers] that devoted itself to preparing the youth to make aliye [emigration to Eretz Isroel] as khalutsim and pioneers of the present day Medines Isroel [Homeland of Israel].

Another organization that played a big role among Brzeziner youth, was Gordonia (Labor Zionist youth), the youth movement of the previously mentioned Hitachdut Party.

Intensive courses were conducted for the young through local means and by invited guests from Lodz, the nearby large city.

Aside from this, Hebrew teachers were brought from afar to teach the young Hebrew, all a part of Zionist pioneer education.

Several earnest attempts were made to organize a Hebrew day school, but it was very difficult to implement because of the heavy costs connected with it.

 

brz094b.jpg - A group of Zionists in Brzezin
A group of Zionists in Brzezin

 

There was a time when these organizations – Hitachdut, Hakhalutz, and Gordonia – were the only active ones in the social-cultural domain among Jews of Brzezin.

Jewish Education

Of the three state public schools in Brzezin, one was set aside especially for Jewish children. The head of the school was Herr Kopler, and most of the teachers were brought from Galicia [southeastern Poland, a province of Austria before WWI]. Among them were Hanka Erich, Sasza Auster, Mr. Glazer and Mr. Gonzuar [Gendzier?], Professor Rozenblum, Speigel (today a leader of the Communists in Lodz), Kujawski, Regina Weisberg, and others. Most of them did remain in Brzezin; they got used to the job there and married young Brzeziner Jews.

The school was located in Majer (Olek) Dymant's house on Mickiewicz Street. Later the school moved to a building that was built especially for it by Chaiml (Blacharz) Fiszer. The building was in Nowe Miasto [new town] near the glazier's place.

Besides this, there was a gymnasium [high school] in town, on Koluszki Street, in which many Jewish children studied after they completed the public school. The gymnasium was on a very high level and had good teaching personnel who were brought in from other cities.

In addition to the lessening of Jewish rights and the strain on making a living, the number of students in the gymnasium also dropped. For example, it was accepted that children of observant parents were not required to attend school on Shabes. This right was later withdrawn under pressure of the anti-Semitic mood.

During all the years of the existence of the gymnasium, it was the Jewish sector that actually financed the school. The Christian students – with few exceptions – were exempt from tuition. Consequently, it was natural, with the lessening of the number of Jewish students, that the school closed in 1930. Brzeziner Jewish children who wanted to continue studying were able to do so in Koluszki, where a Polish gymnasium existed, financed by the government, for children of railroad workers.*

Jewish Private Schools

Efforts for their own Jewish education began with great ardor. Right after the First World War, a number of institutions of education that Jewish Brzezin could rightly be proud of were created.

 

brz095.jpg - Bes Seyfer Yavneh [Yavneh School]
Bes Seyfer Yavneh [Yavneh School]
The teacher, Jehuda Fuks, and the director, Lachman.
In the second row from the bottom, one can also see Abraham Rozenberg

 

The first large institution was the kheder Yesod Hatoyre [Elements of the Torah]. All the teachers in town were admitted to the general educational institution, and they gave up their own unsanitary, and in many cases, shocking khedorim.

The united kheder was organized in a modern fashion and divided into kites (classes). Also, the students from the kheder were excused from attending the state public school. This was a concession on the part of the government for their having given up their separate khedorim, which were, in most cases, conducted in the homes of poor teachers in the kitchen or bedroom, often the teacher's only room. However, they had to study general, worldly subjects, and our landsman [fellow countryman] Judel Fuks (now in America) was employed as the teacher for subjects like Polish and arithmetic.

The director of the Yesod Hatoyre kheder was a son-in-law from a distant place, Mr. Joel Dymant. He led the institution with an iron hand. And immediately quarrels arose among the teachers. Understand, a political battle almost arose from this. The teachers who participated in the united kheder were Icie-Dawid, Majer Rozen, Szmuel Mojsze (Litwak) Gajer, Szmuel-Jekiele, Mordechai Kochman, Nechemia Melamed, Luzer Watemacher and Jehoszua Teitelbaum. After lengthy quarrels, the director, Joel Dymant, was removed, and Pinkus Parzeczewski, a son-in-law of Fiszel Shoychet from Lodz, was appointed in his place – an ardent Agudahnik [member of Agudah] and Gerer Hasid.

The quarrels, however, were not quelled but, just the opposite, flared up even more. The new director led the educational institution in a much more sectarian manner. And consequently, a private kheder was created by the very same former director, Joel Dymant. A large number of the children transferred to him. He took the teacher Szmuel Mojsze Gajer with him, and it did not take long before Yesod Hatoyre closed completely.

The new kheder, under the leadership of Mr. Joel Dymant, lasted for several years, and the teacher of general studies was Mr. Spiegel, son-in-law of the well-known Doctor Korman. The teachers who had been dropped because of the liquidation of Yesod Hatoyre returned to private teaching in their homes. The competition between them was intense, and the poverty, even greater. There were fewer students all the time because of the pressure to begin working at an early age and because many parents were not able to pay tuition.

Under such conditions, it is easy to imagine the increase in ignorance among the Jewish youth of the town and the immense burden that was placed on the youth organizations to give a minimum Jewish education.

If this did not succeed in systematizing and developing Jewish education for the [male] youth in our town, it is worthwhile to note that in the field of education for daughters, it actually did succeed.

In the town, during all the years between the two world wars, an observant girls' school existed under the name Bes Yakov [House of Jacob]. The school had a large number of supporters and was conducted like a supplement to the government public schools. The school elicited great fondness and operated under the intellectual influence of Dawid and Esther Sulkowicz. Later the administration was officially taken over by Judel Grinbaum, Jekiele Kishkemacher's [kishke maker's] son, a gentle young man who also later became the leader of a religious kheder for youth – Khorev.

Only a few years before the Second World War did they succeed in establishing a kindergarten, where Jewish children of school age received a Jewish education and also food supplement. The writer of these lines, who was then working in the Tarbut [Zionist Educational] Center in Warsaw, dispatched for the cause one of the best Froebelian [follower of German educater Froebel] school teachers to direct and teach in that kindergarten, which functioned until the outbreak of the war.

Sport Clubs

In the town several sports clubs existed; two of them were the HaPoel of the Hitachdut Poale Zion and Stern [star] of the leftist Poale Zion. However, they were not active in proportion to what they should have been because of the lack of interest in sports on the part of the leaders of the political parties.

There was, however, a Jewish club in town that included all groups. The managers of the club were Icie Lechtreger (now in Argentina), Dawid Szotenberg, Tuwia Krawiecki, Jehezkiel Bercholc, Izrael Triber and others.

The club had a good football [soccer] team that played every Saturday afternoon. The competitions took place with clubs from the surrounding towns and caused great interest among the public. On Saturday afternoons hundreds of Jews used to go to the play area on Koluszki Street that was designated for that purpose by the town authorities. Previously, the area was at the Szymanickis', and they used to have to walk three miles in order to attend a football game.

Counted among the best players were the brothers Kornblum, Stach Krengel, Moniek and Janek Zygmantowicz, and Benisz Piotrkowski.

Finally, it is worthwhile to mention that the people of Brzezin were very keen about theater. In another article in this book this striving is described and the way it came to be expressed by the local intellectuals. Here I only want to mention that the finest Jewish and also Polish troupes used to come to Brzezin to perform, including the Wilner Troupe, the Ararat [Yiddish Theater in Lodz] and also American actors such as Jack Rechtzeit, Julius Adler, and others.

Aside from these, in almost every organization a drama circle existed that used to offer several presentations a year with their own home talent. An orchestra was also organized by Hitachdut headed by Fiszel Kleinert, the felczer's [barber-surgeon's] son. This very group not only appeared in Brzezin itself but also traveled throughout the province, to places such as: Strykow, Jezow, Siedlowiec, Glowno, and elsewhere. Everywhere they went they brought happiness and life to the lethargic Jewish youth from small Polish towns. Its every appearance, whether in Brzezin itself or in the surrounding neighborhoods, was a holiday.


*Koluszki was a great railroad center in Poland and was located seven kilometers from Brzezin – the railroad in Poland was operated by the state.


[Page 97]

Election of Rabbis in Brzezin

by Fiszel Maliniak

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

As a rule, in the monotonous life of most Polish towns, the election of rabonim was one of the high points that brought a little excitement and often left behind it squabbles for the entire year.

Such an election of rabonim occurred in Brzezin in the 1920s. Usually two candidates would have run – the moyre hoyroe [rabbi who renders decisions on matters of rabbinic law] at the time, Reb [title of respect] Jekutiel Zalman Borensztajn, and Reb Berl Fajnkind, the rov's [official town rabbi's] son, the natural candidate and the unofficial rov of the Gerer Hasidim [followers of the rebbe of Ger/Gora Kalwaria].

But Reb Berl had declined to run because of the large business he managed in Lodz (together with his sister); consequently, the Gerer Hasidim were left without a candidate.

The Gerer Hasidim, together with the Agudath Israel [religious Zionists], set out over the land to find a suitable rov candidate. After lengthy searches they agreed upon Harov [title of respect] Gutentag (Yontov), a man from Warsaw and a pious man.

When Harov Gutentag came to Brzezin for the first time to deliver a sermon, the entire town came to hear him. He made a good impression on everyone who came in contact with him.

However, inasmuch as the Zionists, the Mizrachis, and the ordinary middle class had earlier made up their minds that the moyre hoyroe should become the Brzeziner rov, absolutely nothing helped.

The Agudath and the observant Gerer Hasidim employed all their ammunition. All the important leaders from the big cities of Lodz and Warsaw – such as: Zysio Friedman, Icie Majer Lewin, and other notable personalities of that time from Agudath Israel and other entities – came to town to the Gerer court.

Meanwhile a debate unexpectedly took place in town. There were those who did want the outside candidate – but only because he was the representative of the Agudath. Regardless of the fact that he was personally an affable person and from his entire person there shone out the saintliness a town rabbi had to present, people could not bring themselves to vote for Harov Gutentag.

The commotion went on until the election. The candidate, Harov Gutentag, stayed with Reb Szmuel Broder, himself a relative of the Gerer rebbe. People by the thousands came to say goodbye and apologize to the candidate. But they voted for the local candidate, Reb Jekutiel Zalman Borensztajn. In addition, another point was added, that Reb Abraham Icek Gutkind, who was also a moyre hoyroe and a grandson of the old Brzeziner rov, was also running. So good Gerer Hasidim were forced to vote for the local candidate.

The most interesting part, however, came after the election, when it turned out that Harov Gutentag was quite a Zionist and a leader of the Mizrachis in Warsaw, and Brzezin had lost the opportunity to have as their rabbi one of the nicest personalities that modern Jewish Poland had at this time.

It was already too late. The voting ballots were already counted, and until the last day, Reb Jekutiel Zalman Borensztajn and Reb Abraham Icek Gutkind, of blessed memory, remained rov and moyre hoyroe.

 

brz097.jpg - Mojsze-Pinkus, son of Zelig
Mojsze-Pinkus, son of Zelig,
well-known community leader
in Brzezin town government

 

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