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[Page 70]

Worker Nurseries and Folks-Shul
Named After Y. L. Peretz

by Haya Wage-Ratman

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The founding of the nurseries. – The work's program. – The rise of the Folks-Shuln [public schools]. – The support from Czenstochower in America. – The founding of Tsysho [Central Yiddish School Organization] division. – The solemn welcome for our own school building. – Difficult period in the existence of the school. – Celebrations and holidays.

The beginning of the secular Jewish educational system in Poland was the nurseries that were created during the First World War. Their purpose was to save the homeless children and orphans from hunger and plagues. Y. L. Peretz, [Jakob] Dinezon and, later, Vladimir Medem, the head of the Bund, stood at the head of the first nurseries. However, their basis was the love of the Jewish child, not any philanthropy. Therefore, they blossomed and grew and became the great wonder in the life of the cultural development of the workers and poor masses in Poland.

The first nursery in Czenstochow was founded by the S.S. [Socialist-Zionist] party, which immediately was revived with other parties and groups under the German occupation.

The committee that was appointed to carry out the work consisted of: Moshe Weksler, Chaya Waga, Rywca Weksler, Dudek Szlezinger, Rafal Federman, Rayzl Fajertag, Ester Fuks. The first sum of 70 marks was raised from our own comrades. We searched for premises of five light, sunny rooms on Krutke Street 17. This was the most suitable neighborhood for the nursery because it was not far from Warsawer Street that bordered Garncarska, Nadrzeczna, Kozia and Senatarska. The premises were close to the ramparts on the other side and the street itself was clean and sparsely inhabited.

The furniture for the nursery was bought from a liquidated Hebrew nursery that was located in the granaries of Szlezinger's factory. The organizers moved the “furniture” into the freshly painted rooms of the nursery themselves. Comrades chose and donated toys. Comrades created tools for cooking and eating. A piano was found and the joy was indescribable at seeing their own nursery before them.

It was difficult to find the first suitable teacher. However, God helped and sent Yuzshe Stam, who was experienced in the area of a Hebrew nursery. Her folksiness, understanding and deep love for the Jewish child elevated her to the level of an ideal pioneer for the Jewish secular school. In the beginning she herself had to create even the Yiddish pedagogic material from Hebrew and Polish.

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Her assistant, Chaya Waga, was chosen from the committee's own ranks. She initially worked as a helper with Yuzshe Stam and, later, became an independent leader of the nursery, Fareinikte [United], which was opened at Strazacka 10.


The house at Krutka 17,
where the first nursery was located

 

The children from four to seven came from the poorest levels of the ghetto. They were hungry and physically neglected. They were nourished, the neglected heads were healed, the sick eyes; their hair was cut, washed and they were taught to keep themselves clean. It was necessary to provide doctors and medicines, mainly lebertron (cod liver oil), which each child received every day; gatherings of the parents had to be arranged and they were provided with lectures about hygiene for a child. This demanded so much work and devotion that it is hard to describe.

Only those who knew the nurseries from the first day of their creation under the terrible conditions of war and German occupation can evaluate this work. One had to see how the children looked when they arrived with swollen stomachs, bent feet and all of the remaining afflictions that war, hunger and poverty brought to them, in order to later admire their development that came to expression in their dancing, singing, performances and work as children.

The nutrition of the children consisted of a main meal prepared in the kitchen of the nursery and a lunch that at the beginning was brought in large pots from the workers-kitchen on Strazacka Street. The manager, that is, the boss of the nursery, Comrade Fradl, or the “the dark Fradl,” was a true, loving mother to the children. Later, lunch was also cooked in the nursery kitchen.

Music occupied a large spot in the nursery. The children carried out their rhythmic exercises, marched, danced, sang and played to the sounds of the piano. Consequently, the music teacher, Terenyela, Mrs. Terena Fajgenblat, was much beloved by the children. Music in the nursery and, later, in the school had the greatest effect on the artistic development of the children.

The songs that the children sang were: children's songs and marches specially written for the nurseries, songs about spring, summer, winter, fall and songs about Jewish holidays: Chanukah songs, Purim songs and other holidays. The singing from the nursery was carried through the poor Jewish


The first group of children and their teachers from the Fareinikte nursery

 

homes and streets and brought joy and cheer into the difficult and gloomy life of the poor Jewish masses.

The program of the nurseries consisted of

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telling stories, of conversations adapted to every opportunity and of practical work with paper, wood, sand and clay. The development of the childish feel and eye for color and painting was one of the most important tasks of the nurseries. Frequent walks in the fields, meadows and parks awakened the love of nature. In summer the children spent time mainly in the garden near the nursery.


The house at Strazacka 10 where the second nursery was located

 

The nursery became not only a pedagogic help and cure institution for the children, but a true home. The love of the children for the nursery and for the teachers was indescribable. A number of children did not leave the nursery until it was time to go to sleep.

The nursery was the most beloved institution for the progressive people and workers, without distinction as to party affiliation. The worker-professional unions supported the nursery in every way possible.

At the end of the First World War, after the revolution in Russia and the collapse of Imperial Germany, Poland was resurrected from the dead. Fresh winds of freedom were carried east and west. The workers movement was strengthened and it spread the most beautiful and greatest creation of the Jewish worker and working masses – the nursery and Folks-Shuln [public schools].

A second nursery at Strazacka 10 with the name Fareinikte Nursery opened immediately after the war. The S.S. [Socialist Zionists] then changed its old name from the years 1904-5 to Fareinikte. Everything that was created in this period bore the name of the party, just as the Bundist institutions were designated by the name “Medem and the Paolei-Zionist – Borochov.*

*[Translator's note: Vladimir Medem was a Bundist leader; Ber Borochov was a founder of the Labor Zionist movement. Paolei-Zion – Workers of Zion – was a Marxist Zionist organization.]

The residence for the second nursery was given to the party by Joszek Finkelsztajn. He was a very young member of the S.S. [Socialist Zionists] in 1904-5, in a uniform of a Russian gymnazie [secondary school] student. Later, he disappeared from Czenstochow like many others and returned after the First World War. His grandmother lived in the residence. After her death, he placed the furniture in the granary warehouse and gave the apartment to the party. This was a very great bargain because there were no empty apartments to be found in Poland.

The management of the second nursery was taken over by Chayale Waga. One managing committee and pedagogic council, in which Rayzele Fajertag-Berkensztat took an active part, ran both nurseries. The manager of the second nursery was Malka Brat, who died at a very young age.

The place of an aide in the first nursery was taken by Faygele Berliner, a daughter of pious parents, who excelled in her love of children. Under the direction of Jozsa Sztam, she grew into a distinguished pre-school teacher. Later, with Masha Kalabus, a nursery teacher who came to Czenstochow from Vilna, she raised the Czenstochow nurseries as a model for the Jewish nurseries in Poland.


A group of children at play

 

When the children grew, they opened the first class [of the] Folks-Shul, led by Natsha Warsawska and Rayzele Fajertag. Later her place as teacher in the first

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class was occupied by Rywka Cuker from Siedlce. The second class [of the] Folks-Shul was led by one of the sisters, Pola Frydman, also from Siedlce. When Jozsa Sztam left Czenstochow, the other sister, Manya, became the teacher of the nursery at Krutka 17. The first and second classes of the Folks-Shul along with Nursery number 2, Fareinikte, were located at the house at Strazacka 10.


A group of children eating

 

In the summer of 1920, during the very fervor of the Polish War with the Soviet Union, Friend Mendl Szuchter visited Czenstochow. He brought with him help for the schools sent by the Czenstochower Relief in New York and from the Aid Union in Chicago. He brought Rafal Federman's plan to build a house for the nurseries and the Folks-Shuln with him.

In 1922 the two delegates from Czenstochower Relief in New York, Louis Szimkowicz and Louis Szwarc came to Czenstochow with instructions to buy their own house for the nurseries and Folks-Shuln. Until then, the Jewish schools in Czenstochow were led by three parties: the Fareinikte – two separate nurseries and


The children from the Borochov Nursery

 

three Folks-Shul classes; the Poalei-Zion or Borochovtses [followers of Ber Borochov] – one nursery and one Folks-Shul class; the Bund or groyser klub [large club] that already arranged for the furniture and was prepared to open a nursery. There were also three separate party libraries. However, a joint distribution committee already was functioning which divided the sum that arrived from America among the cultural and aid institutions of all parties.

Under pressure from the delegates from America a joint management committee was created that administered all of the schools. The management committee consisted of five from Fareinikte, two from Poalei-Zion and one Bundist. Rafal Federman was the chairman of the management committee.

The delegation from America did not find any suitable house for the schools. Therefore, they decided along with the school management committee to buy the plot with the small house on the courtyard at Krutka 23. The actual house for the school then had to be built. The task of working out the plan to build the house was taken over by Mikhal Alter.

On Sunday, the 6th of July 1924, the solemn dedication of the house took place in Czenstochow. A children's concert took place in the Nowosci Theater, First Aleje 12, on Shabbos, the 5th of July in honor of the opening of the building. On Sunday at six in the evening a solemn gathering took place with the participation of the leaders of the Central Jewish School Organization in Poland and a banquet took place in the hall of the Neye Welt [new world] at night on the same day.

The leaders of the Jewish workers' parties, such as Dr. Josef Kruk, Zerubavel and Beynish Michalowicz came to Czenstochow for the dedication alon g with representatives from many cities and shtetlekh in Poland. Greetings arrived from a series of personalities. It was the first house of their own that was erected for Jewish schools in Poland.

The new house had brightly lit corridors, large halls for the school classes with wide windows with Venetian blinds. A garden of various trees and plants was planted near the house in order to acquaint the children with botany, which was completely strange to children from the poor alleys.

The school year 1924 began in their own house in the brightly sunny halls. The nursery at Strazacka 10 also moved.

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The nursery at Krutka 17, in Szmilewicz's (coffee roaster) house, was run in the same house as before.


The house of the Y.L. Peretz School at Krutka 23

 

At the end of the 1924, A. Chrabalowski returned from America. The schools already had a large [number] of teaching personnel because with each year a higher grade was added. The financial situation was difficult. The schools suffered a great deal because Rafal Federman left the majority faction, which was called “independent,” and joined the Bund. Mikhal Alter ran the school. The chairman of the management committee was Sh. Nirenberg.

In 1925-1926 the management of the school was taken over by A. Chrablowski [spelled Chrabalowski above]. The beginning of the school year until around the new year of 1926 was very difficult for the schools. The women teachers simply starved and the school was in danger of closing. The Czenstochow city hall – this must be remembered favorably – then voted for a one-time subsidy of a thousand zlotys, which was divided among the teachers. Later, help began to come in from Chicago, from Czenstochower Relief and the Ladies Auxiliary in New York. That year the teaching personnel received normal payments of wages. The pedagogic direction of the schools also improved during the year.

At the end of 1926, A. Chrabalowski left Czenstochow forever. The management of the schools was taken over by Avraham Brat, who remained at his work until the Second World War.

The first group of children who spent a total of nine years in the nursery and school graduated from the school in 1928. The names of the children were: Fradela Berkowicz, Shimshon Berkowicz, Gitkela Rozen, Rayzela Kricer, Zlakela.


The Parents' Committee of the Y. L. Peretz School
Sitting from right to left: Asher Himelman, L. Berkowicz, Avraham Brat and others

 

The completion of the school year in the summer of 1929 was a great event. The celebration was recorded in a film that was sent to Relief in New York and to other cities.


The first graduates of the school with their teachers

 

The situation of the schools again worsened from day to day. The depression in America and the struggle between the right and the left stopped the aid en masse that the schools would receive from Czenstochower Relief in New York. At the same time the situation in Poland in general and in Czenstochow in particular became unbearable. The reaction and the dictatorship of the military clique,

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which seized power, grew. They fired decrees at the schools without stop. All subsidies from city hall were ended even help with coal, which the Y.L. Peretz nursery had received from the city. In addition, there was the danger of the houses being auctioned because of a debt of several hundred dollars that the managing committee had borrowed. The situation also intensified because of the party struggle in the managing committee. Mainly between the Bund and “independents.”


The teachers and a group of students from the nursery and Folks-Shul in 1926-1927

 

The result was that the Y.L. Peretz Folks-Shul with all of its seven classes closed. The residence of the nursery on Krutke 17 was relinquished and the nursery was again located in the house where the school was located before. Because of the difficult situation, a residence in the house in the school courtyard was also rented to a private person. However, the support of the school itself was also difficult because of the meager help from America. In order to create local help, a women's committee was founded in Czenstochow under the leadership of Mrs. Sarna. Mrs. Terenya Fajenblat-Kapinska (wife of Maritz [Moshe] Kapinski), the former music teacher of the nursery, was also active in the committee.

In 1938, the “independent” party was shut down by the Polish government. Several active workers from the schools, such as Avraham Bart and Wolf Fajga, joined the Bund. Changes for the better took place in the managing committee and the leadership of the nursery. The well known communal workers, Ahron Peretz and Moshe Berkensztat, entered the managing committee. However, it was not long before the Nazi murderers attacked Poland.

After a time under the Nazi occupation, Jewish refugees from Lodz and Krakow were placed in the schoolhouse. Avraham Bart and Wolf Fajga continued to have supervision over the house.

*

One of the most beautiful accomplishments of the schools and nurseries was the artistic education of the children.

The mandolin orchestra and choir, led by the well-known musician, Zaks of Czenstochow, was one of the most stunning achievements of the school. The choir and mandolin orchestra was founded by A. Chrabalowski in 1926. It was enlarged later by Avraham Brat with the help of 150 dollars, for which the Czenstochower Arbeter Ring [Workmen's Circle] branch 211 especially raised money for this purpose. The mandolin orchestra appeared at concerts at various opportunities and was enthusiastically welcomed by its listeners.


A thank you letter from a group of school children to Czenstochower Relief in New York

 

The area of the visual arts was not ignored. From 1926 on, the painting teacher in the school was Perec Wilenberg, the well-known Czenstochow artist, who was also

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a teacher of painting and drawing in the Jewish gymnazie at the Artisans School.

Celebrations of holidays and public performances were the great days for nurseries and Folks-Shuln. The traditional Jewish holidays such as Passover, Shavous, Sukkos, Chanukah and Purim were revived in the school in a new form. In addition, literary holidays were added dedicated to Yiddish writers such as: Mendele, Sholem Aleichem, Y.L. Peretz, Avraham Reisen and others. Each year a memorial gathering was arranged for the yahrzeit [anniversary of the death] of Y.L. Peretz. They prepared for the performances and holidays for weeks and months. The nurseries and schools educated talent in the areas of singing and dramatic art. Shimson, Dina and Eidele Berkowicz (the children of Leibush Berkowicz), Ruchla Testuler and a whole row of others particularly excelled. A number of them appeared on the stage as children and later as grown-ups with adults and they were the treasure of the Yiddish theater.

The enthusiastic spectators at the presentations mainly were the fathers and mothers of the children. And when the children appeared on the stage with their songs, dances and adaptations of children's stories, there was no strength in the world that could hold the fathers and mothers in their seats.


The Mandolin Orchestra with Zaks, the director, at the Folk-Shul 

 

The children's performances also had a good reputation in the city. Groups of children from other schools in Czenstochow would come to the performances with their teachers.

Innumerable songs were sung in the school. Songs by modern Yiddish poets, children's songs, original and absorbed from other languages: songs of work, of Jewish holidays, of spring, summer, winter and autumn. The songs from the nurseries and schools were spread by the children to the Jewish courtyards and to the workhouses. Entering a courtyard on a Jewish street, one could often hear a circle of children singing and playing the songs, dancing and games from the nurseries.

The hymn of the Y.L. Peretz nurseries and Folks-Shuln that was sung at the beginning and end of each celebration and performance was the following:

“Open every door wider –
A good holiday, things are good for us,
We all, all march
Full of courage to our holiday.
We all go in rows
One and two, one and two –
Everyone carries good news
As follows, as follows.
Hand in hand given with joy,
The row is trim, the voices high,
The feet are light; here they soar.
A good holiday, they call.”
The slogan of the school was free movement in the free air. During the winter, the children played with snow and with sleds in the courtyard of the school. They also took the sleds along on walks in the alleys during the winter. When spring arrived, the children spent a large part of their school time with nature, at Krutke 17 and later in their own house, in the “small botanical” garden, which Mikhal Alter had so wonderfully arranged. The older children also had a small garden in the courtyard of the new house, which they planted and cultivated themselves.


A group of students and teachers in the garden of the school courtyard

 

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However, the great dream of the students and teachers was for a summer colony outside the city. The best place for such a colony was the Ostrower pine forest that extended for many miles to Herby.

They were successful only once, in 1920, in arranging for a full summer colony in Ostrow for the children.


Summer colony in Ostrow in 1920

 

The children from the nurseries and Folks-Shuln were divided into two groups. Each group spent four weeks in the colony. The children's colony consisted of a group of houses with verandas, as summerhouses were built, and with large courtyards. The children mainly spent time in the courtyards and in the forests. They slept in the houses. The children's beds were provided by the school's managing committee. The children brought their own bed linens with them from their homes. Comrades Mikhal Alter and Yehoshua Nirenberg strove to organize the children's colony and provide the food for the children. Comrade Nirenberg was occupied with preparing the food for the children. In general, the summer colony was a difficult and costly undertaking and demanded a great deal of energy and money.

Therefore, the results were splendid. The children, many of them anemic, many with symptoms of other diseases – under the influence of the sun and pine scent from the forest – blossomed and developed their strength.

The teachers at the colony were Yuzsha Sztam, Shoshona Czenstochowska and Chaya Waga. The manager was Malka Brat, with an assistant.

*

The nurseries and schools were visited by a series of friends and aid workers from America. There were: Friend Pete Owiecki and his wife from Chicago, who brought a larger sum for aid from the Chicago Aid Union. They attended a children's performance in the Straczecki Hall and at a banquet at the close of the 1926 school year. Friend Nirenberg, Friend Gryn, may he rest in peace, Friend Win, may he rest in peace, who on his own accord went to visit a large number of children. Friend Szlingbaum, Friend Szwarcbaum, Friend Yankl Kopin (Kopinsk) and Rose (Rywca) Kuperman.

Among the esteemed personalities who visited the schools were: [Dudley Leigh Aman] Lord Marley, a deputy in the English Labor Party, who visited Poland, Sholem Asch, Dr. Chaim Zhitlowski, Dr. [Zemach] Szabad from Vilna.


American guests at the school: Y. Kapinski and
R. Kuperman with the teachers, L. Brener and A. Brat

 


Foreign guests at the school, sitting: Dr. Kruk and Lord Marley

 

When the famous singers, Moshe Rudinow and Ruth Leviasz, gave a concert in Czenstochow, they visited the school and sang especially for the children.

 

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