by Juda (Lajbcze) Parasol
Translated by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal
Everything in our lives flies by, becomes transformed into shadows, and disappears into the abyss of the past. All people, especially in their last years, carry deeply within themselves small cemeteries, not only of relatives and near ones, whom they had loved, but also of events and things with which they were intimately involved.
In the rush of time, the past becomes partially sleepy, sometimes even erased from our memories; but there comes a day when forgotten events awaken in our minds, corpses leave their graves and speak to us with their bloodless lips.
A terrible sadness rules our hearts then. We feel deeply alone, and the thought that all is in the past, and will never return, tortures us. We think that we would give everything in our lives for one day of those beautiful, sunny days of our youth.
An enormous desire awakens in us to revisit the places where we had spent our youth, the young carefree years.
I spent the first 20 years of my life in my birth town Dąbrowa. I also spent a time in Krakow, Warsaw, and later settled in nearby Będzin, where I lived until the Second World War broke out. During this time I often visited Dąbrowa, where my father and close family lived.
After the outbreak of World War II, during my wanderings and assorted transformations, my home town beckoned to me more than once like a flame in a dark night in both the fat years, spent in Baranowicz, or in the distant Siberian Taiga, where I was sent together with my wife and child, as well as in my difficult battles with death languishing in the hard tower-rooms. More than once, I had a sickly vision that had no compassion: Never. All of a sudden, the giant factory chimneys swam up as though in a fog, with the black, smoky skies of my home town lying so far away, with all my near and dear ones, to whom I had said farewell, and who endlessly waited for my return.
On the 15th of June 1941, my blessed father, tragically cut down, wrote me a letter sent to the Siberian Taiga, so far away from Dąbrowa which was already occupied by Hitler's criminals. Among other things, he wrote: Don't complain about your fate On our sky in our town heavy, black clouds are moving, and only one God knows how this will end! And he concluded, Mazel-tov to you, my dear Lajbcze, your sister Fajgele gave birth to a daughter.
Unfortunately, I never saw them again; all were burned in the crematoriums in Auschwitz. These are heavy memories, which eat at me day and night, weaken my body and often lead to depression...
Now after 15 years I revisit my old birthplace Dąbrowa-Gur. In the bus I don't see a single Jewish face!
The wheels clap monotonously, and looking through the window at the passing
scenery, I search for a small remnant of my previous years. But nothing. My
thoughts run with the speed of the telegraph wires, which rise and fall, and
carry me over to the distant past, when the buses here were overflowing with
Jews. As we were travelling through Będzin, I searched the characteristic
Jews with their long, black capotes [coats], and round hats.
They used to be busy, hurrying to their jobs. The old marketplace in Będzin was always full of people from the whole neighborhood buying all the goods. There were so many overcrowded businesses and stores. But now, there are benches set outside, there are planted shrubs and flowers, and people relax in lonely silence! The Jews of Będzin's old Market are gone forever, and their former stores are walled up and have been transformed into private apartments.
And so, travelling through the streets of Będzin, and erasing the well-known panorama of the Koszelow mine, from Aleksander Zawadzki, I am schlepped to my shtetl of Dąbrowa-Gór.
I go out of the bus, step on home territory, look into the eyes of people, search for a familiar face, and I am prepared to run towards the best person and beg him to shake my hand!
I sense strangeness in the place where everybody had known me, and I get the chills. Nobody knows me, and I don't know anybody!
It seems to me, that I am not myself, but somehow somebody else, that my former ego was taken away by the tragic times, that here only my shadow soars. I span emptiness. In my city, which was always open to me, where at every step I was met by acquaintances, I am now unknown.
It is spring; four days divide us from our most beautiful holiday, the holiday of freedom, Passover, the happiest and nicest holiday of our childhood, of our youth. We used to feel this way in every corner of my birth town Dąbrowa, by the rushing and tumult in the stores, especially by the tailors and shoemakers. Every Jew, no matter what his material situation, worked hard so that his children could renew something on Passover; we would already be counting the days.
There was the smell of the newly baked matzos. Before dawn, the Hassidim themselves would bake the special Shmura [guarded] Matzos. Today there is not a sign of this in our town. And the weather is cold and rainy like it is in autumn, which is similar to our moods and feelings.
Your soul becomes sad when it comes in direct contact with the town in which you were born and spent your childhood, in spite of the fact that our street was never too jolly. Our childhood was never too nice, as reflected in the black mud puddles of Dąbrowa. Yet childhood is always nicer, happier than today. There is no sign of our former presence.
The bus threw us out on the main street of our shtetl Sobieskiego, which has changed very little in appearance: it is spread with black tar-soot from the giant foundry chimneys which never stop, which were so characteristic for our town. On the entire front of the main street, black soot would pour down on the fresh, white blouses of our pretty girls walking before the pond on holidays, where the Frenchmen would slowly swim with special nets to catch fish.
The Frenchmen, who owned the Huta Bankowa, the colony Paris, and the colony Reden, were a privileged caste in our shtetl; they lived in special, pretty houses near the foundry. In addition, they had their own street, which, by the way, was called the French Street for a long time; we, the Dąbrowa inhabitants, only had the right to breathe from a distance the unpleasant stink emanating from the standing water.
With the disappearance of the French, the stinking pond, with its afternoon croaking of the frogs, also disappeared. Today flowers grow there. Only the Christ monument remains the same on its place, which is on the very front, full of greenery, surrounding the moss-covered pond.
We turn into Fabryczna Street. With slow steps, I try with my weary eyes to
search every corner, in every house, in every passing person, and all at once I
am standing at the house of Josef Siwek. Characters like shadows, like visions,
twinkle in front of my eyes, and disappear.
There is a crazy stillness reigning around here. The external is freshly washed. The windows are smeared with fresh lacquer, covered with shades and curtains, which means that people are living in all the rooms; yet when I try to speak with somebody, it seems that nobody knows me, nor longs for those who had lived here, created, or built the house. Nobody has the slightest interest in me, a living person, who stands in front of him or her.
Nobody cares about the former fellow townsman, once known by the entire street. After such a long absence, I come with a broken heart to glance at my former hometown, which pampered and rocked my youth, and used to fill my heart with joy and hope!
The street is the same, but it became prettier, cleaner, fixed up. It is only missing my brothers and sisters, who should be greeting me! There is nobody with whom to reminisce about good times. Here, by the Siweks, was a concentration point for the very sympathetic, intelligent youth of Dąbrowa.
Saturday afternoons young people of assorted ages would gather in the garden, entertaining themselves by discussing everybody and everything. There used to come to Jicchak Siwek his friends and acquaintances, like Szlomo Wajnrajch, the Hebrew teacher; Symcha Nusbaum the former school boy; our so well-liked teacher Mindl Nusbaum; Chaim Grajcer, and all those who used to come there, whom I am not in a situation to remember, like friends and acquaintances also from their son Pinchas and his daughters. There was also a time when young people learned the basics of working in their garden, preparing to go to Israel.
The Siweks were a well-to-do family in Dąbrowa. They also had a telephone quite early, with which they would, on more than one occasion, allow themselves to play mischievous tricks. Red-headed Abram used to come to them from Pińczów and bring butter, eggs, and cheese to sell; that was his livelihood. One time he learned from them that eggs were up in price, and butter was down. Red-headed Abram said to Josef Siwek, If I could relate this to my wife and daughters, I could make a little money. Why not? Josef answered him, while sending his daughter upstairs where they had an extension to their telephone. Red-headed Abram screamed into the phone: Gitl, you hear me? And Josef Siwek's daughter answered from there: Of course I hear you Abram, I hear every word very clearly. Know, Gitl, that eggs have increased and butter has decreased, so buy more eggs and do not buy any butter! Happy, Red-headed Abram marveled over the wonderful machine that enabled him to connect with his Gitl so quickly. But when he came the following week with eggs and butter, and Josef asked him if his Gitl had done as he asked, Abram disappointedly, quietly answered him that his Gitl had never spoken with him.
Deep in my thoughts, I stray with shaky steps over the streets of today's Dąbrowa, which by the way, has spread out, in the direction of Gołonóg where the so-called new Dąbrowa is growing. Where there used to be the market place is now a built-up a Culture palace called Zawadzki, but I don't encounter a single Jew in the town, and I feel as though I am losing my balance. In my head is confusion.
And so I went to the French street, on the corner of the French Street and
Okrzei stood a nice, presentable Jewish house, whose owner was Chrzanowski. In
that building I studied under my fine Rabbi Szlomo Josef Monele. Here several
grown up Gemara students would come and carefully look at his ascetic face,
when he taught us so finely.
Szlomo Josef was a fanatical but honest Jew. He would not speak directly to a woman, including his own wife Sore-Laja. He would turn his back to her and speak in the third person. He spoke directly only to one daughter, with complete reverence. She was a pretty girl with long, blonde braids and a pale complexion, with a sickly appearance, although, as it turns out, she was not ill. He was very generous to her, giving her money to buy white rolls. That was his Rochele.
My blessed father and Szlomo Josef were with the first group taken to Auschwitz in late September (?) 1941 and burned there.
The local chapter of the left Poale Tzion was located for years in that same house.
I remember several stores in that building. Among them was a wig-making store owned by Hairdresser Londner (the son of Mendl Jakman). His father called him that because of his giant height and silly-looking face.
The door used to be open in the summertime, and we used to, on our way home, watch for a long time the women with soaped up heads waiting to be shaved.
Going out of the intersection on Okrzei Street, there were many stores, most of them owned by Jews. On the right side leading to the synagogue were also workshops of artisans. Szmul Szramp (Grinberg) also had his shoemaking workshop; few people knew his real name. We called him Szramp [scar] because of his cut lip, which he brought home from the First World War. He was a son of Zalman Kate [tomcat], who also received his nickname from his wife, who bore 24 children, all giants, healthy, and spread throughout the world.
The closer to the synagogue, located on Szopena Street, the smaller, the lower, the older the houses. Some are dilapidated. There in a corner not far from the synagogue, by the water pump, the lame Mayer taught the first clever things about the alphabet to his small children. Some of the houses even closer to the synagogue, which exist to this day, resemble houses of an old story, with crooked roofs, half fallen chimneys. In the middle of a hole there is an entrance to the cellar, in which there also used to live whole families. Here was also a bakery, and across, Jankel Wloszczower taught in a cheder. These houses have not changed in appearance up until the present.
Dąbrowa did not have too many rich Jews, and the town itself was not especially rich. Yet life flowed interestingly enough, and people loved their shtetl.
In the shtetl many people had nicknames that were chosen; not always was it possible to give the derivations, or the reasons for the names. This was not specifically a Dąbrowa quirk, but the weakness of all small towns. For example, Herszl, a Jew who went through the First World War, was widely known, but not for his cleverness, with which he never sinned. He was able to make a little more money during the time of the Austrian Occupation, and he had in Dąbrowa a wholesale business of colonial articles.
(Various jokes used to circulate in the shtetl about the newly rich man, and especially about his slovenly wife and his oldest son Moszke).
On Saturday nights we would often call for Dr. Mitelman, because Herszl
Glezerman [glasses-man] would almost die from overeating the Shabbes foods.
When he would question Herszl if he ate too much, the patient took half an hour
listing all the fatty, special Shabbes foods, like fish, cholent, kugl
[pudding], and roast ducks. While reckoning, he would add:
You know what, Herr Doktor, I am convinced that the piece of cake my wife gave me today early in the morning before praying did me harm. Yet he did not die, and Dr. Mitelman often had to rescue him from death on Saturday evenings.
And how was it fitting that Mr. Herszl did not have a telephone, and that was the only thing he was missing. There were many in the shtetl who did not allow him to sleep peacefully. They used to wake him at 2:00 a.m. One time the rich Sheynglach [nice smooth] desired to have elegant shoes. Without thinking too long, he went to Szmul Szramp, who had had the reputation in Dąbrowa as a specialist of men's shoes. When he picked out the style, and measured his feet, Herszl turned to Szmul Szramp: Mr. Szramp! I beseech you, no matter how much the cost, I want a pair of elegant shoes. The other answered him: Mr. Sheynglach, if I will make you shoes, they will certainly be elegant and good. How are you speaking this way to a customer? Am I called Shmentloch? And my name then is 'Szramp'? Szmul answered.
And so they almost came to blows and the transaction understandably did not materialize.
One of the most interesting and characteristic types in our shtetl, spread his kingdom on the Baybe [?], not far from the ritual bath, where Zysia Luksenburg with his wife also carried on their kingdom until deep old age.
Over there lived also Mr. Ruwen Lichtcyjer [candle puller] (Gluzerman). We called him that because he occupied himself with the production of candles, which he produced in the old hall of the former brewery. There, in a modest house, he also had his kingdom. The interesting, characteristic candle-puller, who like one of the righteous 36 souls, paced through the shtetl with his greasy sack on his back, in spite of his already thoroughly white beard, which betrayed his age. He would appear every day on Okrzei Street, where all the butcher shops were, and he would buy out the cheap fat for the production of his candles.
There was not another Jew in the town who was as popular as he; who would not take the opportunity to greet him with a hearty good morning? His popularity did not come from his candle factory, but from his special, characteristic behavior. He was famous for being a big philanthropist, and his house was open to all who were hungry and those who were searching for a place where to put down a tired head.
He had many and varied children. In the shtetl people would say that his living wife was already the third who bore him children, and that she used to be his maid. She had enough work, not only by having his children and taking charge of the household. She additionally had to cook a giant pot of food every day that would be enough for all those who wanted to come in and eat.
Assorted legends in the shtetl were told about him. Once he took off his boots in the middle of the street and gave them away to a Jew who begged him for a pair of shoes. And he himself continued to walk in the street barefoot.
One of his philanthropic weaknesses used to be marrying off poor girls, the number of which, unfortunately, was very large in our shtetl.
After he had already dissipated his fortune, he still did not want to quit his
generous philanthropic activities; he decided to make collections from all of
Zagłębie for the needy. The old, gray Ruwen Lichtcyjer became a
popular speaker, and Shabbes he would show up everywhere where Jews assembled,
in their study houses in his black silk caftan he wore on Shabbes, with his
wide, combed, white beard, with his fat, smiling, good appearance, and
immediately after finishing the Shachrit prayers, with his heavy hand he would
give a bang on the lecturn and begin to sprinkle passages of Midrash.
He held long enough speeches, which had the contents of one aim and call: Jews, give me money, the more the better, in order that I can continue my philanthropic activities, and help all those needy who wait for our aid.
There was a rich man in the shtetl from whom it was hard to get out even a few złotys: Chanoch Rechnic, owner of a colony. But for Mr. Ruwen Lichtcyjer, even Chanoch's heart of stone became weak. Ruwen would loan him money for a business that would supposedly bring large profits, yielding Chanoch a gain of 50%. When the return took too long, and he did not receive his money back, Lichtcyjer was forced to declare to him that with the borrowed money he married off, with luck, two old maids, and he gave them the money for dowries. The profits of that business, he declared, will be reaped in the next world.
In the Dąbrowa cemetery, demolished by the fascist vandals, there lies a walled in old tombstone, the remains of Chanoch Rechnic.
Not far from the Jewish ritual bath, on Mieszka, also lived Chaimke Shochat [ritual slaughterer], a corpulent Jew in his middle years, who used to, in spite of his girth, wear a long jacket that was twice as wide and tall as his own large, fat body.
With his wide appearance and dark blonde, wide beard, he would pace slowly and majestically the length of the study house, up and down, and fuss with his beard. He had no children.
When I accidently learned that he, Chaimke, learned in the Woloszyner Yeshiva, with the great Jew Nachum Sokolov, I decided to discuss this with him.
And when I asked him if he remembered Nachum Sokolov from the Woloszyner Yeshiva, and what he was like at the time, silly Chaimke answered me with a smile, you mean that Sokolov? Go on! Go! He was barely respectable
That is how our shtetl lived and breathed, with assorted types, with which the towns in Poland were rich.
Dąbrowa had its Herszele Ostropolier, known in the shtetl as the small Merele because of his especially short growth. His wife and his three already old maids were also short; in their entire lives, they never knew the feeling of being full.
None of this stopped him from pushing his way through his difficult life with an eternal smile, and weaving the pains of his life into jokes.
There was in the shtetl a difficult year with an etrog [used during the Jewish celebration of Sukkoth]. The sexton would, for a certain price, carry around the single etrog in the shtetl to the businessmen so they could bless the etrog. Then Merele came to the Rabbi and asked, can he free him from having to make the blessing on the etrog, because he blesses etrogs a whole year round? When the Rabbi did not well understand his question, Merele said, What is there not to understand, Rabbi? A whole year when I make the blessings, I am hungry for an etrog, Merele screams out and bursts our laughing.
In the shtetl it was told later, that when he was already very sick, in the
last minutes of his poor life, he lay in the hospital attended by Dr. Lipski.
After a serious, difficult operation, he noticed in the doorway the familiar
figure of the soul catcher Wowe, so he motioned with his finger for him to come
over to the bed, and then he used the opportunity to tell his last joke, saying
to Wowe with a barely audible voice, You should, Wowe, be as desirous to
live as I am desirous to die.
Such was the small town of Dąbrowa Górnicza, as it was called. In spite of the fact that geographically it did not stop existing and growing, it was for us only historical, the tragic history of a cut-down shtetl, with its approximately 4,000-5,000 Jews, who lived here, loved, suffered, worked and created. Remaining are only the mute walls of the former synagogue, which only externally can remind us of those who had lived here, of the masses of Jews that would gather here on a holiday or on the Sabbath, in order to pray in the synagogue to their God for health and luck and their future lives
And I am again in Dąbrowa after an interval of 17 years, and again I pace over the streets of my birthplace. It is a Sunday. The streets are empty and quiet, and I can listen to every rustle of the shadows that stray around here, of our so tragically cut down near ones and dear ones.
What happened to us here is long over, and now I alone wander lost among many, for me empty, rooms, in whose windows I search the well known faces of my near ones, beaten, laboring and smiling, of the children of my annihilated people.
And from the empty windows, winds wail their gloom Now I am standing in front of my father's house, and tears, dismal, bloody tears, wash the window panes, and from the doors blow cold, distant, strange winds, and my heart does not want to believe that here was once a Jewish life
I pace over the Okrzei Street, where there once were so many poor Jewish shops. Today there are few stores to be found, and yet it is all so similar to that which used to be. Little changed here, and it all reminds me of what was. I pace and I search for a sign of my people! And bothering every passerby, I reached the last Mohican! In the house of Dawid Josef Grinbaum on Okrzei Street lives his lonely sister, sick, old, broken and left over like a remnant of the murdered 9,000 [sic] Jews from Dąbrowa, who worked here, lived, and suffered, and more than once heard the curse, Jew to Palestine. Still there is so much reverence for the place of your birth, for your childhood home! It is difficult to learn from her what is keeping her here in this place; she is the one and only Jewish woman! But now all is behind her. She just left the hospital; rarely do any of our near ones come to her. But today was a holiday for her. We visited her for a time, and two Jewish boys from Będzin surprisingly showed up and brought her matzos for Passover.
After so many trying years, I still did not become enough of a person, and the dreams of my youth still did not change Up until today I have not found a reason for my longing. My blood boiled up when I stood in front of the Dąbrowa synagogue, the one concrete monument of our former Jewish life here! This, by the way, is the single Jewish synagogue that remained whole in Zagłębie after the Holocaust. I stand in front of the synagogue and cry out my entire sorrow, which had been accumulating from before the time I wandered over the town!
We still strayed for a long time over the town, searching for at least a little shadow of the past, and here we again met descendants of Dąbrowa Jews who live in Dąbrowa: Josef Stawski from Okrzei, who lives in his father's house, and works as a pourer in the former Huta-Bankowa, and has, by the way, many awards for his good work. He lived through many of Hitler's camps, and I learned from him that also his older brother Lajb Zalman lives in Dąbrowa on Cmentarna Street, and also works in the same foundry.
I came home today as a visitor where once my cradle stood, I came today
to my parents. The cemetery is silent, but somewhere a leaf touched my deep
pain for everything that is no more to be found
In my home, where once my cradle stood, the kingdom of the dead rules today with a thin silence!
But life is stronger than all the deaths. It has long forgotten about those who were so cruelly torn up with their roots.
We will not forget them!
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