by Jakob Rudoler
Translated by Amy Samin
The natural order of life is to move, to work and to live, but the thought that the Jews of my city, her children, youth, women, men and old people were all exterminated by a murderous hand accompanies me like a nightmare, with each and every step. In hours of seclusion and isolation it seems to me that the figures of the slain, the drowned and the burned, demand and plead that we not forget them, and that we erect tombstones and give them a Jewish burial. They demand that we immortalize them in writing so that all the generations will know that their lives were destroyed through no fault of their own.
Fifty years ago, Dąbrowa Górnicza was a small town, without many Jews. The community organization only ensured that the necessary religious items were in supply. Life was colorless and the Jew devoted himself to making a living. The family was the only social unit. This did not bother our parents. The tradition demanded that one believed in God, and prayed to him in sorrow and in happiness. Children followed in their parents' footsteps, accepted their attributes, and religious approval was supreme over all. Tradition and the community leaders were so firmly established that no one could have believed that one day things would change. Children were sent to cheder, learned for a few years, absorbed Torah values and then they immediately joined the family in bearing the burden of earning a living. Occasionally the peace and quiet would be disturbed, there would be pogroms and massacres, and Jews were uprooted from their homes and businesses.
Those waves of violence reminded the Jews that they were not floating on peaceful waters. Thoughts of changes taking place in their lives began to penetrate their consciousness, and a sense of national pride began to take shape. Teenagers began coming to the realization that the homes of their parents weren't able to provide them with all they needed, that they must broaden their horizons and change their way of life.
Even now I don't understand how this change came about. Like every other Jewish child I studied in a cheder, together with my brother Aron of blessed memory. I was taught by dear Jewish teachers who had extensive knowledge in Torah and who saw the passing on of Torah knowledge to Jewish children as a mitzvah ordained by God. They worked hard, those dear Jews: Rabbi Menasze and Rabbi Szymon of blessed memory, Jews who made do with very little, just enough to survive on, and who worked to inculcate and to instill in us the customs and the tradition that kindled the purifying furnace of generations.
My first cheder was on Dambanik, in the house of the Szpigelman family. My brother Aron and I studied there every day. Sometimes we went happily, other times unwillingly. The cheder gradually stopped influencing me, because there were changes going on around me.
In 1916, while I was a student in the cheder, I listened to the conversations
of the adults: it was during the two years when the world war was going on,
nations were fighting and in the fields of death men were falling. That war
brought about a change of the systems; the old world would fall and a new world
would arise, freer and without our being controlled by one ruler and republics
would be elected by the people. Even in the Jewish community there was change,
the San Remo Agreement was signed promising a national home in Eretz Yisrael.
When I heard all of these things, as I sat within the confines of my narrow
cheder, I felt as though it shrank even further. I saw that it was no more than
a girls' school, and that my dear teachers who only yesterday had been so
beloved had frozen on their watch and did not prepare us for life in the real
world. They continued to analyze the Chumash as if life was carried out on calm
waters and nothing at all had changed in the world. As I left the cheder with
my Chumash in my hands, I saw Christian children around me playing and running
around. The tremendous difference between Jewish child and Christian was very
strange to me; I couldn't understand why the lives of Jewish and Christian
youth were so different. I was jealous of them; I wanted the Jewish youth to be
as free as they were. My enthusiasm for the cheder and the manner of education
was dampened, and I could no longer immerse myself in the wonderful Jewish
past. I searched for the Jewish future, and when I grew up I left the cheder.
The Yavne Hebrew Gymnasia
World War I shook up a lot of conceptions that were once thought to be absolute, ideas about society, economics, medicine, the relationships between a man and his friends, and others. The 1920s were on the horizon, with the hope that promised for man.
The Jewish city of Będzin was one of the largest in Poland, along with
Łódź, Warsaw and Bialystok where, we understood, it was
possible for Jewish youth to receive a modern general education, so that when
he grew up he could assimilate into modern society. In spite of that, there was
a punctilious determination not to abandon Jewish tradition, the Hebrew
language was taught and the ability to speak Polish fluently was required.
|Reb Eliezer Rechnic zl
One of the first settlers in the city and a representative in the city council.
His son Naftali and wife, may they live long
Jewish Będzin, which founded the Jewish gymnasia, immediately encountered opposition from the religious population, which was of the opinion that a modern education exposed the Jewish youth to an evil culture. There began to be whisperings and a boycott in the Houses of Study, and more than one father called for the rabbi of the city to censure this heresy. My mother of blessed memory was religious but also forward-thinking in her views. Based on her knowledge of this gymnasia, she immediately decided to send me to study there, in spite of the incitement which arose against her. My father of blessed memory was against her decision, more because of the thought what would they say in the House of Study, and he came to realize that there was no point to his opposition.
From the first day, when I crossed the threshold of the gymnasia, my eyes sparkling, everything was new: spacious auditoriums, lots of windows. Each student has his own bench facing a small stage where the teacher stood, with a blackboard on the wall. The dramatic differences between the cheder of yesterday and the school of today awoke my interest. Even the journey every day from Dąbrowa, which was part of Austria, to Będzin, which was part of Germany, had something magical about it. I was captivated by the green hat with the blue and white stripes which I wore proudly and with upright carriage. My Jewish surroundings still did not come to terms with this. I remember one episode: one Sabbath day I went to the synagogue with my brother Aron of blessed memory. On my head was the green hat. When I arrived, people looked at me and at my father with an expression of pity, as if to say, Look, Reb Chanina, what you have done to your son. I responded with an air of indifference and unconcern, and everyone understood that it was a fait accompli and could not be changed. My attendance at the Yavne School and my appearance in the green hat made quite an impression at the time on my friend Mosze Siwek. He longed to attend the school as well, but owing to pressure from his father, who saw the school as heresy and a desecration of God, he was prevented from doing so.
The House of Study of Efraim Siwek of blessed memory was a modest one, but always crowded with worshippers from among the residents of Dambanik. I prayed there for many years. I remember a gallery of Jews at their prayers: the innocent whispering to God in heaven to provide an honorable living, to help in marrying off daughters when they come of age. In the women's section, if the walls could speak they would surely tell of the explosion of prayers which each one whispered to God. During the Days of Awe the House of Study wore a special air of sanctity, glory and fear: long wax candles dripping in the heat as if they were also taking part in the prayers, the white kittels (robes) worn by the worshippers and the house slippers on their feet, added to the sense of fear and mystery of the Day of Judgment.
Of those who came to that House of Study, I remember the Szpigelmans, the Zygrajchs, Prentka, Lajzer Rechnic, Cymbalista all of them of blessed memory.
And so from year to year I grew up, moving from one grade to the next,
absorbing Torah and religion. My good friends at school were: Szymek Gutman,
Sliwka, Miodownik and others.
From a very early age I sensed unrest and rebellion against the conservatism that prevailed in the Jewish environment. I sensed that change must take place, and my teachers in the Yavne gymnasia helped me with this. The school opened my eyes to the good and the beautiful in life. I met young people with idealistic aspirations. I listened to their conversations about the problems young people experienced growing up, and about the problems of the world. I argued, and I delved deeper; I wanted to understand the essence of the problems. I read a lot and my horizons were broadened. I became convinced that seclusion within the Jewish community was detrimental to us: there was a need to be active and to activate others. In Dąbrowa there already existed some influential social and political streams, but a suitable youth movement was missing there. The scouting movement existed in the Christian community, but it was firmly closed to Jewish youth. We longed for the structure of a movement of our own.
The Hashomer Hazair Movement
With the end of World War I a nationalist spirit began to permeate the Jewish community. The first expression of that was the establishment of the Hashomer Hazair movement.
Dąbrowa Górnicza did not lag behind in this awakening. The Hashomer Hazair movement was established and at its head were Emil Grynbaum and Jakob Frochtcwajg, who were the most active in the movement. The movement became popular, and within a short period of time had drawn to it the best youth in our city. It was mainly a scouting movement, and every Jewish youth who longed to belong to it either because of its scouting character or the special uniform, or because of its secret ideals, which were hidden within Jewish youth, to one day become guards in the fields of Eretz Yisrael. The leaders of the movement were Lipnek Szpigelman, Emil Grynbaum, Jakob Frochtcwajg, Bialystok, Rechnic, and Pinchas Szwarcbaum. The first large gathering of the Hashomer movement in our city was held in 1920 in Siewierska Street, in the lumber warehouse belonging to the Bugajer family. It was an unforgettable sight as the groups of youth with their flags were concentrated all together in one place.
With the occasional changes and the beginning of settlement in Eretz Yisrael,
there began to be unrest within the movement of Hashomer, which up until then
had been only a scouting movement, to make it more a movement with an ideology,
so that it could become a force for direction and influence. After stormy
arguments, it became a youth movement with a cohesive political leaning:
Hashomer Hazair. The movement appeared at Zionist congresses and in Zionist
|The first sports club in the city with its supporters|
During my time, the best Jewish youth of our town were concentrated in the
Dąbrowa chapter, but the arguments divided the chapter into two opposing
camps and interfered with its development. Gradually the groups with the good
members dispersed and in the end one group was left, with Pinchas Lustiger at
its head, and they continued the tradition of the chapter.
In 1924 1925 Jewish sport flourished in Poland, soccer in particular. It's possible to call those years the period of HaKoach of Vienna, for that city had a tremendous influence on the Jews of Poland, giving them a source of great pride, encouragement, and upright bearing. During those years a sports association was established in Dąbrowa which was comprised of youth from all levels of society. It was an apolitical sports association, whose organizers were: Jicchak Borensztajn, Ados Mitelman, Lolek Szternik and I. From a small sports association it developed, adding members and fans, and it because the pride of the Jews of our city. In the beginning, we exercised in the marketplace; in time we were joined by Erlich, Zając, Goldblum, Fasko, Szajer and Rozencwajg. We decided to emphasize soccer, which at the time was very fashionable. We played against many other Jewish sports groups, and every game was a big event, talked about in office, the shop and even among the youth studying in the House of Study. We played against Christian teams on Sundays, sometimes accompanied by a band. If we won we were extremely happy and the pride of our young people was limitless, and if we lost, we were forgiven.
Our athletic development was not a bed of roses, the municipality tried to throw up roadblocks, we had no financial support from the community, but the main problem was that we did not have a field on which to practice, and without that we had no way to improve the players' level of athleticism. We practiced on the field of the marketplace, on uneven ground, without even the minimum of athletic equipment. This was a big problem for us, because we could not reach the appropriate level of skill in the games, nor compete against big name teams. The situation changed when some of the respected people of the city got involved. They became interested in our sports association and began to support us financially; a number of people also joined the association, including: Abram Neufeld, Bernard Rechnic, Freund, Waldek, Erlich and others. We received a practice field, the quality of our uniforms and shoes improved (the members said that it was wonderful), and the level of our athleticism improved. The municipality was asked to provide support, but it declined; instead, they demanded taxes from us. The fine quality of the games awakened jealousy amongst the Polish groups in our town and the surrounding area, and more than once they sent hooligans to bother us and to hurt us physically. I remember one game in the city of Klementov [Klimontów]. We played soccer against a Polish team. At the beginning, they demanded that we let them score goals against us, of course we refused; in fact, we did the opposite, scoring against them instead. After the game they threw stones at us and shouted a variety of insults. Fortunately, we had many friends and fans with us, which prevented a serious conflict. That's just one fact among hundreds. In that hostile and anti-Semitic environment we, the athletic association of Dąbrowa, had to make our way in the world of sport.
Our sports association didn't only focus on soccer games. We also had a tennis club, and one for ping-pong. We trained people for soccer games and they always appeared with us at the start of the competitions. The association brought about an awakening in the life of the city of Dąbrowa and for a long time we were at the center of attention for the youth from all of the levels and strata of the city. On the day of a game the city's residents would throng to the soccer field, and those who could not buy tickets would crowd together along the fence and the cracked road to watch the game.
[Translated and edited from the Yiddish by Juda Londner]
by Ajzyk, Kalman, and Eliezer Nusinowicz
Translated by Amy Samin
Although no photographs of our dear parents remain, their likenesses and way of life are engraved on our memories. Our father, Jakob ben Dow of blessed memory, was born in Boysko married to a woman named Sara-Towa, daughter of Szmarja, who was born in Shidlov. They were both from the Kielce area. After their wedding they set up their home in Dąbrowa Górnicza; this was before the outbreak of World War I.
My father served in the Russian army during the time of the tsar, and took part in the Russian-Japanese war in 1905. He suffered a great deal in that war, both as a Jew and as a soldier. During World War I a terrible crisis befell my parents. Overnight, all of their savings became worthless. For the rest of their lives they were unable to make a fresh start. In their hearts they asked that there never be more wars, that we their children would never experience a war.
We were 7 brothers in the house, and we understood how difficult it was for our parents, we witnessed the day-to-day financial struggle of our family, a struggle for survival in the purest sense. The life of a workshop owner was very hard. The source of our existence steadily shrank in the wake of anti-Semitism and the banishment of foreign workshop owners and merchants. Taxes were heavy and disproportionate to our resources especially burdensome to the middle class.
Our parents, who preserved the heritage of their fathers, were barely able to accept the changes that took place within their children. They were opposed to our belonging to any secular youth movements. Our brother Abram-Alter of blessed memory was the first to fight our war so that we, the rest of the brothers, could belong to youth movements. After a hard fight and struggle, our parents came to terms with the fact that their children did not keep the mitzvot outside of the house. In our home, no one dared to remove his hat or to rebel against tradition. At home, we laid tefillin, prayed every day, perhaps just for appearances, but no one dared to upset our parents, because we knew that they believed with all their hearts.
I recall that my brother Abram-Alter of blessed memory and after him Yisrael-Efraim, long may he live, and my brother Hillel of blessed memory, left the chapter of Shomrei for the Poale Zion Left party. The Shomrit movement was not leftist enough, did not put up enough of a fight in the class war The arguments at home were fiery and many layered: Berobijan or Eretz Yisrael, which would bring salvation to the Jewish people? Which first, the class or the Zionist idea?
World War II brought an end to the dreams of our brothers and our parents of
blessed memory. Just a few of us remain from our widespread family. We will
remember our beloved parents of blessed memory, my brother Abram-Alter, his
wife Chana and their son Berele, my brother Hillel, may God avenge his blood,
who fell in the war with the hateful Nazi, and his wife Miriam, my brother
Jicchak who died in a concentration camp. All of them died cruel and tragic
deaths. May their souls be bound up in the bond of everlasting life.
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