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[Page 501]


Experiences and characters – a string of memories

by Josef Piwniczni (Nitzani)

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld


I was born in in the Debniki neighborhood of Dąbrowa in 1909, the youngest son of my parents Szymon and Szewa z”l. There were four brothers: Jechiel, Szlomo, Chaim-Dawid z”l and one sister Cyrl z”l. My father Szymon, son of Nuta Piwniczni z”l, arrived in Dąbrowa in order to settle there in around 1903, from the Kielce district, a distance of about 120 km from Dąbrowa. He settled in the Debniki neighborhood and opened a convenience store. It seems that as a result of the development of the coal mines and the steel industry in the region, a rumor spread afar about the opportunities of a livelihood for the Jews in commerce and trades. Together with the influx of the Christian village population to Dąbrowa, seeking to find employment from work in the region, Jews were also drawn in. After the first settlers succeeded, others followed, and many reasoned and found that it was possible not only to make a living, but also to save, and with a little luck it was even literally possible to become rich. In short: A Little America.

This matter strengthened with the background of the financial reality in the Jewish villages of the time. The livelihood of the Jews was dependant on the surrounding village population. Farmers brought their agricultural produce to the town to be sold, whilst on the other hand they bought their supplies in the markets and Jewish stores in the city. Since the farmer's situation was dire, because of their primitive production means, from generation to generation they became more and more impoverished, because of the necessity of distributing their lands to their children who grew up and became independent, the livelihood of the Jews in the villages that as mentioned was dependant on the villagers, was extremely difficult.

On the other hand, the livelihood of the Jews in Dąbrowa was based on the working class, whose income was relatively higher and easier. Because of this their needs were greater and they brought a livelihood and wealth to the Jews.

Apparently my parents z”l also came to Dąbrowa with the influx, and also following after my Uncle Mendel Najman z”l who settled in Zagórze, a suburb of Dąbrowa. He was the first to be sent in order to travel about the country and see if it was good or bad. During that period Dąbrowa was comprised of neighborhoods: Old-Dąbrowa, Reden, Huta, Gliniaki, Miejska and Debniki. In administrative terms it was an independent entity, however in financial terms it was connected with the nearby town of Będzin, mainly because the small storekeepers in Dąbrowa needed the wholesale trading houses in Będzin. For many years, till wholesale trading also developed of in Dąbrowa, Będzin served as a supply source for the many of the town's merchants.

Apart from our store there were other convenience stores in our neighborhood, of which it is worth mentioning one whose owner was Russian. Everyone called him by the nickname of “Kacap”. Kacap's store existed up until the outbreak of the First World War. In 1914 he left the town together with the Russian authorities.

By the way, there were also one or two other stores in Dąbrowa whose owners were Russian. I clearly remember a store in Sowicki Street called Kroch. The very fact was amazing; how from distant Russia did he find himself in the relatively small Dąbrowa, where the Russian regime manifested itself in that, once a week a policeman came, “Strosznik”, to the neighborhood, passed through all the stores in order to receive a “mento”: half a ruble or a packet of Wisotzky tea, according to the best Russian tradition. With this payment the stores could be open all day without restrictions, and on Christian holidays to carry out trade through the back door. This was a regime of a single authority from top to bottom at all ranks. In these conditions my parents z”l managed to respectably maintain our family and even save two thousand rubles, or a decent sum, that would simultaneously procure its owners respect and jealously. However, in the end we lost the money in a unique way. My father loaned the money to my grandfather, who was a timber merchant, as a gift, or because he hoped to receive benefits because of this. It turned out that he had invested the money in a dubious venture. Grandfather bought a forest in the government office for forests, paid a full price, however when he came to the designated place, learned that wasn't a single tree there, as it is written: neither bears nor forest.

There were about ten Jewish families living In the Debniki neighborhood, and I will endeavor to describe them to the best of my memory.


*


Blat Family

Abram Blat z”l was the owner of a convenience store. An unpretentious Jew, who they would mention all year round as: “A Yid fon a ganz yar”.


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In the six working days his mind was mainly involved in the store and livelihood. However, even on “Shabbatot” [Saturdays] as well, when every Jew, as is the custom, would take off his weekday clothes, and put on princely attire, forget his business and materialism, receive an “oversoul” [the extra soul every Jew acquires on Shabbat, according to the legend] and enjoy the spiritual world, Abram Blat did not receive this privilege. Apparently the fact that they didn't have children and that family life was not a happy one, influenced the matter, and even though from a material viewpoint his situation was good, he didn't enjoy life.

He died in the Holocaust. May the Lord revenge his blood.


*


The Mastowski family

He was a religious Jew of the former generation, honest and good. He made his livelihood from his manual labor as a tailor. He strove and did everything in order that his sons rise up in the social ladder. For this reason he sent his sons, Jechiel and Cwi, to study in “yeshivas” [seminaries]. Indeed Jechiel z”l learned and studied and became educated. Cwi, as well, was learned but together with this he studied the watchmaker's profession. At the end of the First World War he emigrated with all of his family to the United States.


*


The Szpigelman family

Chaim-Lew Szpigelman z”l was the owner of a large courtyard in which there were residential buildings along its whole length. He was considered at the time to be a wealthy Jew and apparently in his own eyes. He saw himself as deserving of receiving preference in the prayer house when the food was distributed, and had a large appetite for the fattest parts. Since the prayer house existed in the house belonging to Efraim Siwek z”l, and there were other candidates for the refreshments served in the “Kiddush” [small repast or refreshments served following Sabbath morning services after the recitation of Kiddush], who served as serious opposing rivals, he went out and bought a torah and organized a “minyan” [public prayer service] in his house.


*


The Zygrajch family

Mendel Zygrajch z”l was the son-in-law of Chaim-Lew Szpigelman and lived in his house. At the beginning, as is customary, he would dine at his father-in-law's table. He was a religious Jew but not exceptionally. In his opinion, in that world and this world, to be a religious Jew did not mean avoiding the pleasures of this world. He was a clever Jew but had no practical talent. At the end of the “kast” period, when he had to make a living for his family, it appeared that he needed a partner to invest money and manage a business in a professional manner, and from his side, would invest all that he had. When he couldn't find a partner like this, he approached his natural partner, his wife. His wife Chana z”l was a capable woman who was endowed with a practical sense in commerce and succeeded in providing a livelihood for her family; he planned the opening of a store and she carried it out in practical terms.

Their five sons were: Izak, Fiszl, Pesach, Chaim-Lajb and Abram-Jakob, and two daughters: Fajgele and Dwora-Ita. When the sons grew up they also helped out. Izak and Fiszl worked in the business of their uncle Dawid Lajbisz Zygrajch z”l, who had a wholesale pottery and household ware business. They gained expertise in the profession and earned well. Izak married the daughter of Szymon Wolf Wajszalc z”l. Their daughter Fajgele married my brother Szlomo. They lived in Berel Kanarek's house, on the 3rd of May Street. They opened up a convenience store.

All the family, including the sons and grandchildren, were killed in the Holocaust. May the Lord revenge their blood. The only survivors were: their son Abram-Jakob who now lives in Australia and their grandson, Natan, my brother's son. He went through the concentration camps and stayed alive. He emigrated to Israel in 1948 on the “Altalena” boat. He was conscripted to the Israeli army and participated in the War of Independence. He lives in Israel with his wife Dwora.


*


Mosze Melamed

I don't remember his family name. He was known by everyone as Mosze Melamed [the learned]. He taught young children. At the age of three I was sent to his “cheder”, more to “get rid of” me from the house, so that I wouldn't disturb, rather than with the intention that I study. It was worth paying out two rubles per month to be under rabbinical supervision, and if by-the-way I'd also learn Jewish law, this would be a clear profit. Mosze Melamed was a hunchback. In his sixties, but completely and devotedly capable, and endeavored to provide us with his knowledge and in the field of supervision he did as best as he could. It was forbidden to leave the “cheder” alone, only in a group and under the guidance of the “belfer” [assistant teacher in a traditional Jewish school]. We also went in pairs to go home accompanied by the “belfer”.

One of the pleasant things that remain in my memory of the time is: when a son was born to one of the families, we would go, the children from the “cheder”, every evening to a “brit mila” [circumcision], in order to read the “shema” [“Hear O Israel” prayer] (“Krishme lajnen”).


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We were made very welcome and they handed out sweets to us. We, the young ones, were full of self esteem from this great act, and from the fact that the adults needed us.


*


The Gelbart family

Berisz Szmul Gelbart z”l taught children aged from five years old upwards. Children that finished studied in Mosze Melamed's “cheder” were transferred to him. I studied with him together with my brother Chaim-Dawid z”l, who was two years older than myself.

I don't remember many details from that period. Apparently with the outbreak of the world war in 1914, revolutionary changes began occurring in our financial status. The town was divided into two authorities: Austrian and German. The border was the bridge over the railway line. It was forbidden to transfer food from one side to the other. We, children aged 5-6, turned into smugglers. Each took a loaf of bread and went across the border. We later changed clothes and went across again. The sentry smiled and pretended that he didn't realize our trickery.

What I do remember from that time is that we learnt the Proverbs by heart - a rare thing at the time. As usual, we mainly studied “Mishnah” [part of the Talmud consisting of a collection of oral religious laws of Judaism]. Bible studies were a matter for the educated and the simple people didn't deal with this.

Berisz Szmul z”l was a quiet and modest Jew. He was reticent, giving the impression that something was burdening him, that he couldn't overcome. He had two sons and two daughters who established families; all of them were killed in the Holocaust. May the Lord revenge their blood.


*


The Milchman family

Icchak-Hersz Milchman z”l was a respected homeowner in the neighborhood. He was a pious and learned Chassidic Jew. He had a handsome face. During the “yamim no'raim” [the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur] he was the cantor in the prayer house of Efraim Siwek z”l, and up till old age he wouldn't surrender the “holding” that he'd gained. He made his living as a watchmaker, in accordance with the expression: “the study with the Torah goes together with an occupation”, and he also educated his sons, Szmul; and Melech, in this approach. He also chose his son-in-laws according to his taste, amongst which I should mention Israel-Hilel Klajnfelc z”l, who he chose amongst the residents of the “bet midrash” [prayer house], and as was customary, he paid his maintenance for several years. His wife, Ester-Malka was a capable woman, who ran the household energetically and knew how to stand steadfast at the gate and oppose the “Gentiles” [non-Jewish persons] who came to harass her Icchak-Hersz. Her strength was in her tongue till the “Naczelnik” [provost, leader, governor] arrived, in her efforts to find a defense against those who plotted against her.

Her son Szmul was the owner of a large watch and jewelry store on Sowicki Street. He was a simple character and down to earth, and even though he was wealthy, he was not arrogant and kept in contact with his relatives, including the poor ones. His keeping of the mitzvah of respecting his father and mother should be especially noted. During the difficult Nazi period, he kept his mother in his home. She was semi-paralyzed and confined to bed. Szmul z”l looked after her by himself, lifting her in and out of her bed, and took care of all her needs. His daughter lives in Israel, in Haifa.


*


The Cymbalista family

Lewi Cymbalista z”l, was a homeowner and the owner of a well-known convenience store in the neighborhood. He was a religious Jew, quiet and humble. He was gentle, spoke infrequently and introverted. In his home, as well, he acted quietly, and he allowed his children the freedom to choose their direction in life, as against what was then customary. He had a good heart and was willing to help others. There was an occasion in which our mother, may she rest in peace, was arrested by mistake, and put in jail, as a result of which a very difficult situation was created in our home. We children were left without someone to look after us, no-one to prepare food for us, and there was also no-one to look after the store, because my father z”l had to run about to take care of mother's release. When the news reached Lewi Cymbalista, he sent two of his daughters to us to help out; they sat with us for more than a week, one in the store and one at home, till our mother came back. He had two sons: Icchak and Aron and three daughters: Rochcze, Mindosze and Rjwka.


*


The Siwek family

Efraim Siwek z”l, was a well known and important homeowner. He was one of the first homeowners in our neighborhood, was the owner of a convenience store and considered as wealthy. He was a tall Jew, sporting a long and impressive beard which went down his whole height. He was healthy in body and spirit.


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He had always had a “minyan” [prayer meeting] in his home in spite of the difficulties and inconvenience related to this. He kept the smallest to the greatest mitzvah, and saw himself as an integral part of fundamental Judaism, to which he was willing to devote to this with all his soul. Over time his son built and erected a new house, modern and spacious, for the prayer house, with a separate room for the women's section, and for the convenience of the worshippers he built and organized an absolutely kosher “mikveh” close by. It should be noted, that in spite of the fact that the upkeep of the prayer house and the “mikveh” (including hot water), entailed substantial expenses, above the initial investment, he opened them up to the public free of charge. It would seem logical, that to a certain degree there was an element here of competition, since Chaim-Lajb Szpigelman also started a prayer meeting in his home, and since the total number of worshippers wasn't great, he had to make an effort to draw them to his house. The issue seems reasonable, if we recall, how the Jews fought valiantly in order to receive the remnants of the rabbi's meal or how being honored by being called to the Torah for the reading of “Yonah” or “Ata Hara'it”, sometimes meant “life or death”, however, there is no doubt that the main factor here was the [expected] payment in the next life. In short, according to outlook on life of Efraim Siwek z”l, this was a worthwhile investment from all points of view.

He brought up and educated his sons and daughters in traditional religion. He was adamant that his sons grow up to be learned and G-d fearing. For this reason he didn't spare money or effort and sent them to study with the finest teachers. He was of the opinion, that in family life all matters were determined by the head of the household according to the patriarchal system, and he decided what was good for his children.

After the First World War, influenced by the organization of the Socialist Zionist parties, his sons were also drawn to them, left the family nest, traveled afar and eventually went to live in Israel. However, there is no doubt, that much of their positive characteristics were inherited, however they themselves would not be willing to admit to this.


*


The Prentka family

Mosze Prentka z”l was a G-d fearing and Chassidic Jew, a simple man, down to earth and with a pleasant nature. He owned a convenience store. He did not have any sons, only daughters, whose every efforts were applied within the home. He was the “gabbai”; [beadle] in the prayer house of Efraim Siwek z”l for many years. Once during “Simchat Torah”, (it was customary to select a “gabbai”; during “Simchat Torah”) on wanting to replace him with someone else, he shouted: “I've been a “gabbai”; for ten years, who dares to replace me.” By-the-way, this was after he had drunk one too many glasses.

I remember that once after the First World War, he met my father z”l, and during their conversation about the difficult situation said: “ Where Reb Szymon, are those days that you would read the blessing for the [new] month, in those days we had good months and good times”. In his naivety he believed and was certain, that if my father z”l had carried on blessing the [new] months, life would have continued to be good and blessed.


*


My father's home

My father z”l, Szymon son of Nuta Piwniczni, was a G-d fearing Jew, Chassidic and orthodox. He behaved piously. He was a follower of the Rabbi from Aleksander, during the period that Rabbi Reb Jechiel z”l served. His Chassidism was absolute, down to earth, of the type practiced by Haba'al Shem Tov. It was characterized by its simplicity, its pleasant attitude to every person, without taking into account background, financial status or social standing. His way of life was paved by the “Shulchan Aruch” [collection of Jewish laws] with no deviations. Each morning he would rise at five o'clock, filling his day with “Mishnah” [collection of oral laws] and the psalms, making sure to carry out public prayer and on his way to the “shacharit” prayers [morning service] he would not omit bathing at the home of Efraim Siwek z”l, and in later years in Zysza Luksenburg's home on Miejska Street. The Shabbat was entirely devoted to G-d: he finished the studying that he hadn't managed to complete during the week. He went over the “parasha” [portion of the Torah which is read], secondly over the “Mishnah” and then over the translation of the commentaries of Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki, paramount Bible and Talmud commentator], and later it was the turn of the “Midrash Raba” [collections of legends on passages from Pentateuch and the Five Scrolls]. In the meantime it was time to go and pray, and even though we walked quickly, we were always late.

At the end of the prayers, my father z”l had to go back to what he had missed out in the beginning, and hence we were also the last to leave the prayer house. In general, my father z”l was constantly racing against time, so that he fulfill the duties that every believing Jew was obliged to; he never managed to do this, he was also behind time, and remained in debt to the Master of the Universe.

On returning home he didn't immediately start dinner. After he had ascertained that we had already managed to bless the wine and taste the Shabbat cake, he believed that he still had time to complete his studying.


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However here my mother, may she rest in peace, intervened, claiming: Doesn't father have any compassion for his hungry children? My father z”l would concede to mother with a smile and out of pity for us children, but from another aspect, he pitied us because we preferred bodily food over spiritual food. After dinner came the customary rest of Shabbat afternoon and after this eating fruit in order to complete the hundred blessings. Then once again he continued on with the Torah. During the summer there were “Pirkei Avot” [Ethics of the Fathers], and if there was some more free time, there is still hope, there is, blessed be the Name, much to do, there is no shortage of holy books. There were educational books on Jewish laws and customs, there is classic literature: Talmudic and much homiletic literature, there is symbolic literature: the “Zohar” of Bar Yochai and kabalistic [Jewish mysticism] books, and there are biographies of the “Admorim” [Chassidic leaders], great Torah scholars, in the “Peoples” format of Sokolow.

My father z”l was a complete Jew: he behaved strictly with himself and with the members of house, and treated others with understanding and he would have discussions with any person to hear them out. His version was: Sins will cease but not sinners, and the Jews, even though they have sinned, they are still Jews. He had a good heart. His fairness and honesty were embedded in his personality without any pretensions. He spoke the truth, he would say what he thought, and I can testify that he never told a lie in all his life. He educated and guided us, his sons, in the ways of tradition, the way of Torah and mitzvah, endeavored to do everything in order to instill in us knowledge of the Torah, from the best teachers in the town. He didn't impose his ideas upon us from above using the power of his paternal authority, but rather implanted belief in us, and instilled his good characteristics through a daily personal example. Therefore our relationship to father, was a relationship of respect and courtesy, not from fear, but through love and affection. And even though we did not fulfill all his aspirations in our way of life, all of us were unconditionally connected to Judaism and to the people, and none of us abandoned the garden of Judaism and went to graze in other pastures. Indeed he wasn't completely satisfied with us, but taking into account the general situation, he made a compromise with the reality.

In the final years he became dedicated to helping the needy. He had regular customers of those that gave and also those that received. Amongst those that gave there were those, who because of a personal relationship, could not refuse him. On the other hand there were those who secretly received gifts, who trusted him to keep the secret and didn't refuse him. Frequently he went out by himself to collect money, just when he had the time and the need for it. He had a partnership with Israel-Mosze z”l. They would go out together and the sum that they collected would hand out between themselves, each for the benefit of his own needy people, and there was no shortage of needs and the needy.

In order to give an example of the philanthropic characteristics of my father z”l, I have recalled three instances:

(a)   With the outbreak of World War One in 1914, there was a ban on marketing foodstuff and the rationing of food was organized by means of coupons. The customers in our convenience store, all of them would buy on credit, and no-one paid their due. As a result of this we were left without goods and without money and our store was closed. On the other hand, my father z”l sold all that he had, and paid his debts to the suppliers. It turned out that he didn't have enough to pay his debts and still owed seventy rubles to Jekel Rozen for tobacco products. This debt hung over him like a heavy load, and didn't let him rest till he could pay. During the difficult war period, on the days that a portion of bread needed to be distributed by size and weight, my father reiterated on various occasions the issue of his debt to Jekel Rozen, even though by nature he didn't talk much. I clearly remember the pleasure and the joy in his facial expression, on coming home with the news that he had reached an agreement with Mr. Rozen on paying back the debt.
(b)   During and after the First World War, we underwent a difficult time from a financial viewpoint. After the convenience store was closed, father tried his hand at selling anything possible, alone and in partnership, but was unsuccessful. All the attributes that he was endowed with, didn't help him in that bizarre period, on the contrary – they hindered him. Apparently matters reached the ears of his own kind amongst the Aleksander Chassidim[1], amongst whom was also the wealthy Mr. Heniek Rechnic, the owner of a coal mine. He offered a loan. Father refused to receive the loan, on the excuse that he didn't want to place other people's money in jeopardy, even not of a wealthy man like Heniek Rechnic. It was preferable for him to remain a untainted poor man, he said, rather than, Heaven forbid, he remain in debt, and in fact didn't take the loan.
(c)   In the thirties, after I began working and earning money the financial situation improved. Father could dedicate himself much more to businesses in which profits long term could be evaluated. He once gave a loan of fifty zlotys to one of the neighbors. Some time later he again lent the neighbor fifty zlotys. When I said to father: It seems to me that he has yet to return the first loan; he replied simply: It is difficult and bothering enough that he needs to request a second loan. This proves his distress, and could I refuse him? Nothing would make me lie and say I don't have, can you even consider that I would lie?


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These things didn't help him when the Nazi reaper rose above Polish Jewry. In the summer of 1942, during the general deportation of Dąbrowa Jewry, he was taken together with everyone to Auschwitz. May the Lord revenge his blood.

Mother, Chaja Szewa z”l, daughter of Icchak Gliksman, was an exemplary housewife, a faithful assistant to father in the store business, and a dedicated mother to her children. And if in all matters she relied on father and was satisfied in the position of his wife, there was only one matter that she wouldn't rely on him to do, in the matter of saving up for the long term: for Heaven in the next life. This she wanted to achieve with her own resources in her own right. Every day she would pray the “shacharit” [morning prayer] and finished with a measure of psalms as well. On the other hand she quietly helped the needy. Around us there were families with children living in cramped conditions and many of them couldn't manage to welcome in the Shabbat. Mother collected money in a unique way; each day she would take from the drawer in the store, supposedly without father knowing, a single zloty and on Friday she would hand over this money that she had collected to one of the needy neighbors. It was worth seeing her face which shone with joy, on her return from her clandestine activities. I said that she supposedly took the money without father knowing, though in reality father knew about the “theft”, but pretended that he didn't know.

She was “spared”, on the eve of the deportation of the Jews from Dąbrowa. In the month of Iyar [April-May] 1942 she passed away at home and was given a proper burial in Dąbrowa. May her soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life.


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Mordechai-Lajb Miodownik

He was one of the first settlers in the town. He was a homeowner and a bakery owner. He was a handsome Jew, with a well-groomed white beard, a personality that inspired respect. He was a Chassid of the Rabbi from Radomsk. A town leader for many years and one of its most distinguished. He was one of the wealthy, who served as an address for applications and requests for charity, and who also responded and gave graciously. A prayer leader during the “yamim hanoraim” [Days of Awe], and was willing to invest a substantial sum, so that he would have an elegant “etrog” [citron] for the “Sukkoth” [Tabernacles] holiday. He stood at the head of the supporters of the Rabbi from Pacanów for the rabbinical throne in the town and under his influence the rabbi was elected to be the town rabbi.

He educated his children in the spirit of the Torah and mitzvoth, made efforts to ensure that his sons would be learned and G-d fearing. His son-in-laws, Abram-Szlomo Szternfeld and Jekele Gruszka, the first being a Gur Chassid[2], and the second a Radomsk Chassid, were brilliant students and men of integrity. His son Mosze was an exceptional young man amongst the Gur Chassidim. In addition, he had another six sons: Zelig, Benjamin, Szlomo, Naftali, Dow, and Icchak.

Reb Mordechai Lejb Miodownik - dab506.jpg [21 KB]
Reb Mordechai Lajb Miodownik
one of the first settlers in the city
and one of the founders of the first “kehila“ group

All of them established homes and families. The Nazi beast destroyed them and left not a trace of them. May the Lord revenge their blood.

Amongst the other members of the Miodownik family, Mosze-Szlomo Miodownik should be noted, the owner of a store on Kosciuszki Street. A religious Jew, was dignified and had a pleasant personality, and belonged to the Gur Chassidim. His sons, Abramcze and Mordechai, na´ve in their beliefs, followed in the footsteps of their father and dealt in Torah and mitzvoth.


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Aron Miodownik

He was a homeowner and the owner of a store for the sale and repair of watches. A modern Jew but he kept tradition, and was exceptionally honest. He refused to receive a watch for repair, if he knew the watch was in such a state, that it wasn't worth investing the cost of the repair. There were those who claimed that he acted out of convenience, since in these cases he was likely to have to do a further repair without cost.


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However we, have only the facts before us, and cannot grab hold of what can't be seen. In particular it is written in “Pirkei Avot”: Every man should be judged on his merits.


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Jekele Gruszka

He was the son-in-law of Mordechai Lajb Miodownik. He was a quiet Yeshiva student, gentle and humble. He spent most of his time in learning Torah, however he wasn't ignorant in practical matters. In his late twenties, when the bakery business of his father-in-law's house was going badly downhill, and the financial situation worsened, he took on the burden of work, as simple as this; with himself working in the bakery and also managing it. On sensing the responsibility to his family, he worked and took on the burden of the business without looking back, and thanks to his tenacity and personality he managed to renew the confidence of the traders, and brought the bakery up to a situation that provided an existence and honorable livelihood for the many members of the Miodownik family. Indeed he wasn't able to return the former glory of the family, but succeeded in preventing them going downhill.

His son, Naftali, was a charming man, handsome and successful in all aspects. His second son, Szlomo, remaining as the only survivor of the family who were killed in the Holocaust, went to live in Israel before the war and passed away in Ramat-Gan in 1968. May his soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life.


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Szlomo Rechnic

He was the son of one of the well-known and respected families in the town, in which there were: Lajzer Rechnic, a community leader for many years and a public activist: Heniek Rechnic, the owner of a coal mine, one of the wealthy for which the rabbi would also honor him and the Rechnic family, that lived in Chech│ówka, affiliated with the intelligentsia in the town.

Szlomo Rechnic was one of the earliest settlers in Old-Dąbrowa, a store owner and respected homeowner and popular on all levels of society. He was an easygoing man, and everyone held respect for him because of his honesty and exceptional integrity. He was widely educated and knew different languages, but together with this, he was a religious Jew who diligently kept all the Jewish customs and laws. He wore a short suit and a brimmed hat in the style of the Jews of Frankfurt and for many years carried out the “minyan” [prayer meeting] in his home. He was a member of the town council during the period that Mr. Czenszymik served as mayor. He served as his personal secretary. Amongst other things he prepared and formulated the mayor's speeches. He took advantage of his status for the benefit of the Jews and endeavored to help all those who approached him.

He educated his sons and daughters in the ways of tradition. Amongst whom we should note his son, Abramcze, who was the owner of a shoe shop on the 3rd of May Street, and a Chassid of the Rabbi from Krimolow, and his son Herszl, who had a clothing store. Of all the sizeable family the only survivors who remained after the Holocaust were two daughters and his son Naftali who live in Ramat Gan.

All the rest of the family, including the sons and grandchildren, were murdered by the Nazis. May the Lord revenge their blood.


*


The Szapir family

Abram Szapir, one of the first in the neighborhood, was the owner of a convenience store. He was tall, a down to earth character, and a philanthropist who responded generously to all requests. To the contrary, his wife was short and suited the saying of our learned Sages: If your wife is short, then bend over to her and talk with her, that is to say, take advice from her on every issue.

His brothers Jechiel Szafir and Chaim Szafir were well-known in town amongst the Radomsk Chassidim. He had two sons and a daughter. There is not a single survivor from the whole family. May the Lord revenge their blood.


*


Szlomke Brandys, z”l

He was the son of the multi-branched Brandys family that was well-known in the town, a learned student, gentle and refined. He was a member of the “Mizrachi” movement from the period of his youth. He stood at the head of the “Gmilot Chassidim” [charity] fund in Old-Dąbrowa and under his encouragement I took on the accounting of the funds. Sometimes I also dealt with collecting money. The basic capital came from wealthy people in the neighborhood and from membership fees. Loans of 50-150 zlotys were given, and even though the sum was modest, many would jump at it. It seems that the financial situation of many of the residents of the neighborhood was so difficult that even a loan of 50 zlotys was some type of help. The fund was very important, and the fact of its existence, for many years, was the proof of this.

In 1926 he made “aliya” to Palestine with his wife and two children. He didn't have a profession and made a living from transporting gravel for buildings. In 1928, during the difficult period in Palestine, he was poverty stricken, couldn't manage and returned to Dąbrowa, in which the large Brandys family lived.


[Page 508]


He was together with the son-in-law of Szlomo Finkelstajn who made his living from roasting coffee. His fate, the fate of his family and the fate of his brothers Mosze, Abram and sisters Malka, Bluma and Chawa and their sons and grandchildren, was decreed in Auschwitz together with all the Jews of Dąbrowa. May the Lord revenge their blood.


*


The Felzensztajn family

Jechiel Felzensztajn, was a simple and na´ve religious Jew, a “peoples” Jew, who made a living from his labor as a tailor. Even though he was emerged in physical labor, he strove towards spiritual activities that gave him great satisfaction. He had an “evil inclination”, typical of many Jews of that period, to pass in front of the Holy Ark. He didn't strive for greatness – to pray on Shabbatot [Saturdays] and festivals as a cantor – he made do with small things: to lead the maariv [evening] prayers during the week and up to recitation verses on Shabbatot. Reciting the maariv prayers at the end of Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] was already an achievement for him. I am sure that he received the greatest pleasure from this, a piece of “this world”, even though he probably promised himself something in the next world.


*


The Lask family

Abram-Majer Lask, the son-in-law of the elderly Szmul Miodownik, lived in a large building that he inherited from his father-in-law. He was a religious Jew, with a golden beard, held a minyan [prayer meeting] in his home and on the three pilgrimage festivals he would pass in front of the Holy Ark. He was a learned man. His wife Sarale was a capable woman, and in addition to taking care of their home also managed a convenience store. She guarded her Abram-Majer as she would her eyes; she made sure that as soon as he woke up in the morning he would have hot water to drink as he liked, and only after this would she dare request that he come to help in the store. It was difficult for her to manage by herself in the store with the many customers in the early hours, and she needed assistance. He would unwillingly respond to her request, though she didn't receive much pleasure from his presence in the store, because of his attitude to the customers; for him they were Gentiles who were fated to die. The fact that most of the customers were women did improve his mood. In general, the whole business was not for him; he was willing to put effort into worshipping, learning Torah, which would earn him credits for the next world. She, his wife Sarale, toiled for the present life, and he toiled and accumulated credits for the eternal life, and the credit for which was preferable, was absolutely clear.

Abram-Majer tried to understand why the Messiah had not yet come. Had all the efforts made by the Jews of Poland, and in particular the Chassidim, of which he was one, wasn't enough for this? Yes if the Messiah would come, bread rolls would grow on trees and there wouldn't be a need to leave off learning Torah and deal with Gentiles in order to make a living. There was no escaping the conclusion, that the Devil and other mysterious forces were delaying the matter, and until we succeed in overcoming them we must suffer.

At dusk, after the mincha [afternoon] prayer and the time for the maariv [evening] prayer had not yet arrived, the congregation sat around the table, on which festive candles burned, and Abram-Majer was at its head. Everyone's attention was directed to him, to hear his opinion on topical subjects. He felt great satisfaction then on the honor he had been presented. His mind wasn't troubled by it being an unworthy sentiment, the feeling of pride, since the honor wasn't given to him personally, rather to the Torah that he studied, and our Sages of blessed memory allowed clever students an eighth of an eighth of pride.

He was killed with all his family in the Holocaust. May the Lord revenge their blood.


*


The Leszczyna family

Itche-Majer Leszczyna, the son-in-law of Naftali Brandys, was a G-d fearing Jew, learned and a Gur Chassid. After he took on the burden of a family, to his dismay he was forced to deal with secular matters, from a livelihood aspect. His hands and legs dealt with this, but his heart and mind were not with them. His wife Blima, who assisted him as it were, but in fact, was the one that worked and he helped her. Of his two daughters, one survived and lives in the USA.


*


The Edelist family

Israelka Edelist was a Gur Chassid and a religious and learned Jew. He was a homeowner and owned a wholesale warehouse for food products, in partnership with Lajzer Welner z”l. I worked there as an accountant for about ten years. The business turnaround reached one million zlotys and the revenue in accordance. He was a wealthy man and sensitive his prestige amongst the Gur Chassidim.


[Page 509]


For this reason he was amongst the important contributor whenever it was required, for charitable causes and public institutions.

His wife Malkale mainly dealt with housework, she would readily help the needy, and particularly amongst relatives. They had two sons: Lajbl and Herszl, and two daughters: Towele and Porla, all of them were killed in the Holocaust. May the Lord revenge their blood.


*


The Klajnplac family

Israel-Hilel Klajnplac, was an educated Jew, and one of the most well known and important Gur Chassidim in the town. His roots were deeply implanted in the bosom of Judaism. His outlook on the world was that every Jew served as a part of the Jewish entity, and the continuation of generations who sacrificed their lives to sanctify the Name, and thus he was obliged to be prepared for this. The world in which we live is a corridor and transition to life in the next world, and one needs to get ready for this. For this reason, three things should be carried out: to study Torah, to study and study again. When you study Torah in depth there is no time for inappropriate and foolish thoughts. On the other hand he was of the opinion, that he had to make a livelihood for his family, and not according to the Midrash, that being righteous all the time, would be the livelihood of his wife and sons. For that reason he also studied the watchmaking profession. And thus, each day he kept his family by his labor. Israel-Hilel indeed determined times for Torah but in fact all his free time he dedicated to this. During Christian holidays in which it was forbidden to work, he sat all day long studying Torah.

He educated his sons and daughters in the way of Torah and mitzvoth; he firstly installed in them knowledge of the Torah and only after that he dealt with matters of this world. His main influence was from his personal example. And indeed, all of them followed in the footsteps of their father, resisted new directions, which already prevailed in the Jewish street, and continued in traditional ways. His son, Abram, may the Lord revenge his blood, when in a labor camp in Germany during the war, refused to eat meals because of them not being kosher, and asked his father, if it was permitted for him to eat non-kosher foods in the camp conditions, however he didn't receive a unequivocal reply. Apparently this was the essential reason that he did endure and died in the camp. During the war years, Israel-Hilel refused to work in the Szwert's workshop, since this was related to desecrating the Shabbat, however this wasn't sufficient wasn't enough to save his life.

His son Juda-Lajb was the only one to remain alive of all Israel-Lajb's Klajnplac family. He went through all the Nazi terrors in the labor and concentration camps. From there he left, physically shattered and crushed but whole in spirit. He made “aliya”; in 1947 and lives today in Tel Aviv. He lives a traditional life and traditional values are still dear to him.


*


Alter Kornblum

He was known by the nickname: “Alter the butcher”. He was a modest and reticent Jew. He was seemingly a simple person. He made his living from his labor as a butcher. Every day, after work, at around 11:30, he would come to the Bet Midrash, bringing two candles with him, lit them and worshipped the “shacharit” [morning] prayer, usually by himself, because at that time of the day there weren't enough for a “minyan”.

Alter excelled in his great generosity however he was far from being wealthy. He helped and supported many poor families. Every Thursday he sent “chalot” [bread used on Sabbath and festivals] and meat with his children to the poor on Miejsak Street and to several he even sent money. He did this simply and modestly, without any pretension. He didn't do any favors to himself, and didn't see this as something to boast about. I witnessed several of his deeds from close proximity: He made a deal with a yeshiva student by the name of Beryszl Maksower, according to the agreement that was reached, that on one side all the student's livelihood and that of his household would be come from Alter the butcher, and in exchange he would share in the student's Torah studies. Every day at five o'clock in the morning he would accompany him to the Bet Midrash, and in the evening at eleven o'clock he would accompany him home, in order to defend him from attacks by Gentiles in Miejsak Street. There is a basis to assume, that he made this deal more so that the yeshiva student would agree that he support him, rather than he being a partner to the student's studies. The quiet and modest way that he presented help to the needy, proved that he chose this way out of an understanding, apart from his generous and good nature.

The Jewish legend relates that in every generation there are 36 righteous men who appear as simple people, common, as water drawers or porters, and in fact they have high ranks, and in their good deeds that they carry out modestly, they ensure the continuation of the people. Alter Kornblum z”l was undoubtedly worthy to be counted amongst them.


*


Efraim Lubling

He was born in Wolbrom, and had a store for milk products in Miejsak Street, opposite the synagogue. He was a simple Jew, good and modest.


[Page 510]


He was philanthropic and hospitable. His home was amongst the first to which poor people were sent, by the Bet Midrash students, to receive breakfast or dinner. His home was open widely at all hours of the day to receive the poor. It was also because his wife Sarale wanted this and according to her will, since without the approval of the homeowner this would have been impossible. It should be noted in particular, that this differs from the saying of our Wise Sages: “A poor woman is miserly in hospitality”. They didn't have children and invested great efforts in order to achieve a child. Their good deeds were apparently one of the efforts through which they hoped be redeemed. Together with this Efraim Lubling and his wife Sarale were naturally good and compassionate people. It would also be truthful to think, that he wanted to supplement with his good deeds that which he missed in Torah study. In that period of time the Jew found spiritual peace in studying Torah and good deeds. There were few that could carry out both of these together, others were compelled to suffice with one of them, and those would weren't able to study Torah, fulfilled the missing part with good deeds, and because of this their great generosity. They were killed in the Holocaust. May the Lord revenge their blood.


*


The Krimolowski family

Zelig Krimolowski, son of Szmul the “shochet” [ritual slaughterer] who was well known in the town. He was a Chassid, belonging to the Chassidim of the Rabbi from Alexander, learned, clever and popular. His wife passed away at an early age and remained a widower all his life with his seven children. In spite of this he was of good spirit. He always had a smile and jokes told fluently. He sought that his children would keep the traditional way, however didn't force his way on them. The fact that they were orphaned from their mother at an early age, and he was a father and a mother for them, created a tender relationship between him and his children. He earned a loving and respectful relationship from them. His sons Jechiel-Lajbisz and Abram-Zew, came to the “shtibel” [small synagogue] together with their father to pray, not only every morning, put also to pray the “mincha” [afternoon] prayers, they came to the “three meals” and sat till after the maariv [evening] prayer. The boys were then in their twenties and older and were alone there, since most were older than them, and they did this solely to please their father. By-the-way, Zelig also brought the requisites of the “three meals” to the “shtibel”, during the most difficult days of war, even though he barely made a living. He was an upholsterer, however he didn't work in his profession. His honesty and simplicity can be learnt from the following story:

Once during the period of financial hardship he was asked: “Reb Zelig, it's known that your father is a “shochet”, why didn't you learn the trade from your father and you could have made a prosperous livelihood”. Reb Zelig relied thusly: “Indeed, I did want to learn to be a “shochet”, and for this I started reading the Zebachi Ratzon book and in the first sections I found that it was written: A “shochet” must be G-d fearing. This I couldn't take upon myself”, Reb Zelig continued, “and so I desisted”. This was a simple and accurate reply, proving his high moral standing.

Zelig passed away in Krakow after an appendix operation. His children, two sons and five daughters, with their wives, husbands and children were killed in the Holocaust.


*


The Kalmowicz family

Kalman Kalmowicz, was a good, simple and pleasant Jew. He would wake up early to pray the “shacharit” [morning] prayer, every day of the year and all types of weather. He lived from the sweat of his brow as a shoemaker. He was honest and easy going man. He was likeable and even popular amongst the Christians. He was a good father who conveyed his belief to his three sons, and when he was elderly there worked to make a livelihood for the house till they were married, and Rabbi Kalman helped them out. Only his young daughter Miriam survived from the family, and is now in Israel.

His three sons and daughter Cyrl, together with their families, were slaughtered by the Nazis. May the Lord revenge their blood.


*


Chaim Minc

He was known by the name of Chaim the “shochet” [ritual slaughterer]. He was a learned scholar and had a handsome face. He was a Chassid of the Rabbi from Aleksander, however he himself acted as a rabbi. He would finish the eighteenth prayer last and the “chazan” [cantor] would wait for him. He kept the mitzvah “Look after yourselves”; he wore warm clothing all year round, and a scarf was around his neck even in the Tamuz [around July] season, to prevent catching a cold. The detailed paragraph is: Everything is in the hands of the heavens apart from the bitter cold. In other words a cold is caused by the Devil, Heaven forbid!

Chaim the “shochet” would give a lesson in Talmud to the Bet Midrash students however he developed his own system. He tried to clarify and explain the difficult sections with commentaries of his own, without taking Rashi or other commentaries into consideration, as if they didn't exist.


[Page 511]


He would say: Lets assume that we don't have commentators, and lets try to reach the correct explanation on our own. It's clear that in most cases he was unsuccessful, however it was typical that he, who saw himself worthy of presenting explanations of his own to the Talmud.


*


Futerko Family
[Translated by Peter Bush]

Alter was father of a well known family, a religious Jew. He had great understanding of the times. He managed a wholesale flour business and he was amongst the wealthy of the town. He was a respected personality. At the end of the 1920's I remember one episode when radio was first introduced, they made them in that time with earphones. When he was told about it he said 'if it is possible to hear in Dąbrowa what is said in Warsaw that is nothing new! Because we pray down here and Hashem hears our prayers in heaven!'

To his sons and daughters, he gave a religious and secular education. The family was middle class, intelligentsia. Lipka, his son was a studious and particular person, open handed to help the individual community people and a head leader of the Zionist movement in town and a general representative of the community. None of the family remains.


*


The Klajnplac family

Kalman Klajnplac, was a member of a multi-branched family, who gave us Rabbis and famous scholars. He was a Chassid of the Rabbi from Gur, learned and popular. He ran his convenience store with his wife Rachel, with the help of his elder children. The store was named after her “Rachel di Shochetes”. She was the daughter of Szmul the “shochet” [ritual slaughterer]. It was emphasized that she had her own lineage. The three sons Jekel, Dawid-Szlomo, Juda-Lajb, and his two daughters Itele and Chana continued in the traditional way. Jekel, the eldest son, was a Chassid, learnt and studied. He was clever and intelligent and had understanding in commerce.

Dawid-Szlomo was a simple youth, honest and traditional, with a good heart, and was always willing to help his fellow man. He learnt the weaving trade that was then fashionable in religious circles, and was financially successful. During difficult times in the family, he took on the burden of supporting his parent's household.

The third son, Juda-Lajb, was an exception in the family. He was lured away, that is to say, he became an atheist. Apart from that he continued with the art of reading. He had a talent for singing and recitation. He studied and practiced, and even successfully appeared in recital evenings in the Zionist Histadrut hall. At the beginning of the war he ran away from Dąbrowa to Lemberg [Lvov, Lviv, Lwow], after he learned that his name appeared on the list of people that would serve as hostages in any event, which was transferred to the Germans by the Jewish “kehila”. He went from Lemberg to Stanislawow and from there to the village of Tluste, where he lived till the invasion of the Nazis into Russia. During the Nazi period I received a letter from him, in which he announced that he had a hiding place. It seems he was killed in the final searches carried out by the Germans and the Ukrainians.

During the war, as the belt of annihilation tightened around Zaglembie, Jekel lost his mind. He found himself in a tragic situation; his wife and son were in Pilica whilst he himself wandered between Dąbrowa and Pilica, as the edict of deportation hung over them. He clearly realized what the deportation meant, and his nerves didn't hold up. All the family, including all the children, were killed in the Holocaust. May the Lord revenge their blood.

The sole survivor was their grandson Majer, son of Itla and Szlomo Klajnplac. He went through the Nazi horrors. He was sent to a labor camp at the age of thirteen. He reached the infamous Mauthausen camp. He lives in Israel today with his wife and daughter.


______________
  1. Aleksander (Hasidic dynasty) – now nearly extinct, the Aleksander Chassidim were originally one of the larger sects in pre-holocaust Poland. Chassidic Jews from all over flocked to the small village of Aleksandrów Lódzki near Lodz, to spend the holiest days of the year under the presence of their spiritual leader, their Rebbe, Rabbi Icchak Menachem Dancygier (1879-1943). Their Rebbe attempted to remain neutral in political issues while emphasizing communal prayer and the study of Torah. His life ended in the concentration camp of Treblinka. return
  2. Ger, or Gur (or Gerrer when used as an adjective) is a large Hasidic dynasty originating from Ger, the Yiddish name of Góra Kalwaria, a small town in Poland. The rabbis who lead them have come from a family by the name of “Alter”. The founder of this group was Rabbi Jicchok Majer Alter (formerly Rothenburg or Rottenberg, 1799-1866). return



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