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{Page 75}

Between Two World Wars

Translated by Jerrold Landau

War and Exile

A sudden rupture in Jewish life of Dembitz came with the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. As the Russian army approached Dembitz several weeks later, the vast majority of the Jews left Dembitz. Some left in vehicles and others in wagons, and they only took their most precious belongings with them. The houses with their furnishings, and the stores with their merchandise were abandoned. The Russian army entered the deserted city on a Friday afternoon, a day or two before Rosh Hashana, and immediately began to pillage the stores, starting with the taverns and liquor stores. Since the soldiers of the Austrian army purchased most of the food, sugar, rice, and other such goods before their retreat, there were very few provisions to be had in town. They began to request food from the Jews that remained, and whenever they found some, they ordered the Jews to cook for them, and to taste the food first, lest they had put poison in the pots. There were very few incidents of beatings.

Immediately after the invasion, the raping of young women began. They raped whomever they could find, and the women would attempt to find refuge in the attics. The people were afraid to remain alone in their houses, and each night they would gather in a few houses. The Russian soldiers occupied the abandoned houses, and they lit the ovens with the furniture. One of the schemes of the Russians was to ask a Jew for the time, and as the Jew removed his watch from his pocket, the Russian would steal it from him. The Jews of Dembitz did not imagine that things could get worse than this. Hunger increased at that time, and the Jews would endanger themselves by going out to neighboring villages in order to obtain some food, such as potatoes, etc. They had to grind the wheat into flour by themselves. This situation lasted for eight to ten days. It is told that before the Russians left, a strange Jew entered the synagogue and prophesied that the Russians would leave on such and such a day at such and such a time, and indeed it came to pass exactly in that manner.

The Russians left and the Austrians entered. The Jews danced outside for joy, however this joy was not to last. After several days, the Austrian army was forced to retreat. With them, the entire Jewish population left, and only two or three Jews remained.

The Austrian army provided transport wagons for the escaping Jews, upon which was loaded all of the remaining merchandise and all of the Torah scrolls from the synagogues. The other books were buried in the cemetery[80].

The Austrian government housed the refugees in Bohemia, around Reichenberg, and Teplitz-Schenau[81]. They were brought there in transport trains over a period of several days. At first they were housed in large dance halls, where they slept by the hundreds on straw mattresses.

The Jewish refugees were afraid of the gentiles on account of their unusual dress, their full beards and peyos. Nevertheless, they were politely received by the Germans of Bohemia, without any trace of anti-Semitism. They were offered jobs, since many of the refuges were able to read and speak German. These are the same Germans, that about thirty years later would be among the chief henchmen of Hitler in the extermination of the Jews! Nevertheless, they put themselves out to assist the Jewish refugees in Bohemia with great warmth and boundless mercy.

The refugees slowly began to get organized. Families spread out among the villages of the area. They found themselves modest dwellings, and the government distributed a stipend to them. They slowly began to acclimatize to the living conditions of their new place, and they began to do business in all areas, while at the same time they continued to receive their stipend. The young men of army age were drafted, and their families received a stipend from the army. Their relations with the local population continued to remain polite. They also began to concern themselves with their spiritual life. When they found out that a Tzadik buried in the cemetery of Tachau, they began to visit there in large numbers… Many of them traveled to the Rabbis of Galicia who had also fled, mostly to Vienna. Since the living conditions in the small villages were much better than in the larger towns, the refugees of Dembitz remained peacefully in those places until the government sent transport trains at the beginning of 1916 to return them to their homes. They returned from their places of refuge laden with merchandise, some with less and others with more. Thus, they had sufficient means to re-establish their lives as previously. The city was for the most part destroyed and burned, however they began to set themselves up to the best of their abilities.

{Page 75}

Destruction and Rebuilding

In late August 1914, when the Russian army neared Dembitz, the Jewish population fled to where ever they could. The great majority were evacuated to German-Bohemia.

When the Russians were driven back after the large, second German-Austrian-Hungarian offensive, the Jews of Dembitz began to return home gradually. They found a destroyed and looted town. A large part of the marketplace had burned down. The long arcade and the other arcades were gone with the fire.

The municipal administration quartered the returnees in the government school buildings and erected a big barracks in the marketplace for shops and stores. And thus was Jewish life in Dembitz gradually reestablished. And this became even more the case when more Jews began returning from the evacuation. Some needed their old livelihoods, which other looked for new ones. Of course, not all residents of Dembitz returned home from the evacuation. Some young people who had been drafted into the army during the war fell on the battlefield. Other young people remained abroad, some in Vienna and others in Germany. Some, upon their return, settled in larger cities in Galicia.

The war period and the evacuation had a great impact on the Jews of Dembitz, as well as on the Jews of Galicia as a whole. The war taught everyone that the world in which they lived was not eternal, fixed, or secure. If what had happened to them could happen, if you could suddenly lose everything that you had owned, then it could happen again. During the war, it was revealed that even familiar non-Jews, with whom one had lived together without (may it not happen) pogroms or big conflicts, were not such lambs after all, and that one could expect more and more from them in the future. And the evacuation had also revealed another world: cities and villages with such civilized order and cleanliness, the like of which they had never seen in Dembitz and its environs. Jews, in their own homes, hadn't paid much attention to appearances. For who, alas, did you have to appear refined and civilized? Who, after all, was there to please? But it was different during the evacuation. In alien surroundings, one must perforce be quieter, one must observe the dominant customs, not provoke any snobbish laughter, not call attention to one's difference from the norm. Indeed, there were soon more Jews dressed in German fashions, more trimmed beards, more shaved faces, fewer satin hats--and indeed, more cleanliness, fewer loud voices--more civilization.

Immediately following the war, when the Austro-Hungarian monarchy had fallen and Galicia, along with Crown Poland and Posen were declared an independent Polish state, the Jews of Dembitz, along with all Jews in Galicia, sensed the need, for the first time, for an active Jewish political life to defend their rights and lives. Already in the very first days of Polish independence a wave of attempted pogroms swept western Galicia, and not all of them were successfully repulsed as had been the case with the disturbance in the Jewish town of Brigl[99]. The returning Jewish soldiers organized armed self-defense groups, and at the same time, the Jewish National Board for western Galicia was created in Krakow at the initiative of the Zionists and Poale Zion, with the participation of the Zh.P.S., with branch National Boards in other cities and towns, in order to carry out the defense of Jewish rights and lives, and in general, to see to the establishment of a more organized communal life. The old kehiles[100] were not suited to this.

And Dembitz too was menaced with a pogrom. Dark anti-Semitic forces among the Poles were mounting a strong incitement. The fear was so great that even those circles who had never before agreed to cooperate with Zionists, gave in this time and took part in the National Board, which was under Zionist leadership.

{Photo: R. Naftali Eisen}

The chairman of the National Board was Shemaya Widerspan. Meetings were held day and night. A way to prevent a pogrom in Dembitz was sought. At the suggestion of Poale Zion and the General Zionists, a self-defense militia was created. Many returning soldiers had brought revolvers and other weapons back from the war. A member of the National Board, R. Naftali Eisen, took it upon himself to furnish 100 bayonets that were in his lock factory. The self-defense organized itself. The town was divided up into districts. Patrols were sent out day and night to all the roads leading to the town. On the National Board, however, were a couple of Jews who did not agree with the more modern political methods. Without the knowledge of the National Board, this small group, under the leadership of Itshe Kaiser (Fink), began collecting money from among the house-holders, and when they had amassed a considerable sum, they bribed the commander of the militia -- who was, by the way, a Ukrainian who hated Poles. They also offered a considerable amount of money to the chief of police, Hornug-- who also wasn't a Pole, and was, I believe, Hungarian, and also no great friend of Poles--so that neither of them would allow any pogroms against the Jews. It was expected that pogrom was going to erupt at the next monthly fair.

On the day of the fair, the commandant of the militia stationed men on all the roads leading to Dembitz. A few suspects were arrested; a lot just had their weapons confiscated and were sent home. Those who resisted arrest were brought before the magistrate, where Police Chief Hornug was already waiting. He received a few of them in very cordially; that is, he laid them on a bench and gave them 20-30 strokes of the whip. Their screams reached the heavens.

The peasants and the town hooligans were terribly disappointed. That is, what kind of Poland is this that doesn't allow a little robbing and murdering of Jews? In vain, they used to say: "Poydshe tsos, bedzhe nos?"[101]

That same day, hooligans who had infiltrated the city tried to break into Leyb Hershlag's bakery. But they met with resistance. Elish Dar and Shaul Morgenendler stood up to the band with sticks and forced them to flee with great regret.

Thus did old-fashioned methods spare Dembitz from a pogrom.

The more Jews returned home to Dembitz, the more pressing were their needs. There was no business and no government. The aid came from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. A representative of the Joint came down from Krakow for a meeting of the National Board and it was decided to establish an aid committee, to which belonged almost the entire National Board. On the committee sat most of the representatives of Poale Zion: Shimon Grünspan, Dr. Pinkhes Loyfman[102], and Naftali Shnier. From America came packages of oil, canned meat, and flour for Passover matzohs. All of them were distributed to the needy Jewish population. Great sums of money also arrived, and were used to purchase sewing machines, which were distributed to tailors who needed them. A school to teach various crafts and professions was opened. This work helped more than anything in the rebuilding of the destroyed town.

{Page 77}

The First Elections After The War

The disintegration of the Hapsburg monarchy and the founding of independent Poland left their marks on the municipal government as well. Already in the first years of the renewed Poland, a significant reformation took place with regard to elections to the town council, to other democratic issues, and to the participation of the workers' party. During the time of Austrian rule, the electoral rights of the Galician towns were very limited. This right was only given to three groups:
  1. those who had higher education and served as overseers,
  2. property owners and those that paid high taxes, and finally
  3. those who paid lower taxes.
Each group would elect an equal number of representatives to the town council. Whomever was not included in one of these groups was not a member of the electorate. Thus, the electorate only consisted of a very small proportion of the populace. This was of some benefit to the Jewish population, where the proportion of taxpayers was larger than that of the Polish population.

With the democratic reforms in the area of elections that took place, a fourth group as added to these three groups, which consisted of the remainder of the adult population. The result was that the proportion of Jews in the electorate decreased further. Nevertheless, the extra privileges which were granted to the first group, in which there were very few Jews, remained as previously.

The first elections in Dembitz according to the new laws took place in 1921. The fourth group chose some candidates from among the workers of Poale Zion, and this was also the first time that the Socialist Workers' Party (P. P. S.), also fielded candidates. These were over and above the candidates of the anti-Semitic Polish “All Polish” party, which had a priest at its helm, and other such parties. The election campaign was very tense and heated. The two groups of workers' parties, the Jewish and Polish, both did very well, since they supported each other. Dr. Pinchas Laufbahn and Naftali Schneur were elected to the town council from Poale Zion. However Schneur did not take his seat, as he decided at that time to emigrate to America. Another member of the Poale Zion list took his seat in his stead.

Before Schneur's emigration to America, a party in his honor was planned by the Poale Zion organization in the city, however, this party did not take place. The events took place as follows: The office of Poale Zion at that time was located in the home of Shemaya Widerspan. An officer of the gendarme also lived there. After the crowd had already gathered around the set tables and listened to the farewell speech of Shimon Grünspan, an officer of the gendarme entered with several policemen, and the entire gathered assembly was arrested on the pretext of “disturbing the public order”. The entire group was brought to the town hall, where they were detained for some time and then sent home. Of course, the party did not continue.

This event took place in democratic Poland. The customs of the old Austrian police were not uprooted. Rather, the enthusiasm displayed with regard to this event increased further in the following years, first under the “Andak” government, and later under the government of the men of Pielsodoski – “Ozon”, that is B.B.R.

{Page 78}

A Community under Government Scrutiny

The organized life of the community of Dembitz as it was conducted according to its customs did not resume immediately with the return of Jews from their exile in Bohemia. Reb Chaim Mahler, one of the important people of the town, felt that everything should be run as it always had been, and that he was still the head of the community. He remained in this role during the turbulent first years of the Polish state. However, not too long after, the Zionists and those that supported them, headed by Shemaya Widerspan, turned to him and requested that elections be arranged, and that he give over the communal ledgers that were in his possession. He refused and stated: “The communal ledgers are a segula [82] for long life.” He continued in his refusal until they frightened him by shattering the windows of his house, and then he gave in. In these elections, the following were elected to the communal council from among the Zionists: Shemaya Widerspan, Dr. Pinchas Laufbahn, Moshe Kerner, Naftali Schneur. Shemaya Widerspan was chosen to head the communal council.

{photo in right column of page 78 – Reb Tzvi Hirsch Taub}

This council continued its activities until the controversy broke out with respect to the issue of the appointment of a new Rabbi for the city after the death of Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz. The Orthodox camp in the city was divided into three groups with respect to their relations to the new Rabbi, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech the son of Rabbi Shmuel, who fought with a high hand against the influence of the Zionists. Finally, the supporters of the Rabbi succeeded in influencing the regional government to remove Shemaya Widerspan from his chairmanship of the communal council, and to appoint Reb Hirsch Taub in his stead. The secondgroup did not agree to this, as they found reason to invalidate him as well, so Reb Tovia Zucker was appointed in his stead. In 1928, with the end of the term of office of the council, a new election took place and the Zionists again gained the upper hand. Dr. Pinchas Laufbahn was appointed as the head of the council. However, the regional government in Ropczyce did not agree with the election results, and a new election took place. Reb Avraham Goldman, one of the supporters of the Rabbi, was elected as head of the community. He served in this position until the outbreak of the Second World War. He passed away a few years ago in Bnei Brak, Israel.

{photo at top of left column on page 78 – Reb Tovia Zucker}

In the census of 1931, as in the census twenty years previous, the Zionists requested that the Jews register their spoken language as Yiddish or Hebrew. In opposition to this, the Hassidim in 1911 urged their supporters to register Polish. This time, as opposed to during the period of Austrian rule, it was permitted to register any language. Nevertheless, most of the Jews of Dembitz registered Polish. The Orthodox did likewise, even though a word of Polish would only very rarely pass their lips. This was done due to fear of oppression by the authorities. This fear was spread by the spread first and foremost by the anti-Zionist Orthodox.

{photo at bottom of left column on page 78 – Reb Avraham Goldman}

{Page 79}

Assistance and Charity

An assistance organization called “Gemilus Chassadim” existed in Dembitz prior to the Second World War. The organization was founded due to the efforts of Reb Pinchas Kuss, who was one of the chief activists of the organization from the time of its establishment. It operated like a bank, and it was lead in a democratic and popular fashion: There were twelve trustees who directed the organization along with a board of advisors of twenty-four. The organization was headed by Naftali Eisen, with Reb Chaim Schlesinger as the vice chairman. The other directors included Nathan Gruenspan, Baruch Shneps, Liebtshe Liebenheimer, Shmuel Fishler, Aharon David Schuldenfrei, Leib Sluman, Chanina Mahler, Shmuel Taub, Moshe Kerner, and others. The activities of this assistance organization, which had at its disposal several thousand Austrian crowns, stopped with the outbreak of the First World War, and did not resume until 1925.

The organization was able to reopen due to the generosity of one of the residents of Dembitz who turned over 1,000 gold coins to the organization in an anonymous fashion. Now it is permitted to reveal that this person was Meir Schwartz, who was not well to do at all, and who himself was responsible for his own family which consisted of many children. Daniel Kerner the son of Reb Shaul also turned over a sum of 2,000 gold coins to the organization.

The members of the organization were immediately called to a general meeting, and directors where elected. A membership fee was instituted, which resulted in an income of 150-160 gold coins monthly. From that time on, “Gemilus Chasadim” in Dembitz was affiliated with the overseeing organization of the charitable foundation of the American Joint, which provided matching funds to the organization. Loans were distributed in the sum of 300-500 gold coins, interest free and with very small bi-weekly payback rates.

In 1935, the capital of the organization decreased to 20,000 gold coins. In order to increase its income to be able to widen its activities, it established, with the assistance of the Joint, a linen factory which operated thirty sewing machines. The factory employed young women who required work, and was supervised by a special guide. The director of accounts was Yehoshua Shneps, and due to the extra income, the free loan organization succeeded in increasing the number of loans it was able to distribute.

The other credit organization, which was called “The Jewish Bank”, was run in a different fashion. Prior to the First World War it was headed by Reb Shaul Kerner, who was quite well to do, along with Yona Geshwind and the lawyer Fishler. Reb Shaul Kerner was a noted merchant with great drive. He built homes for rental, and he owned the building of the post office of Dembitz.

{photo bottom of page 79 – A meeting of the “Gemilus Chasadim Organization”.}

The office of the director of the “Jewish Bank” received an income of 1,200 guilders (2,400 crowns) a month. It is no wonder that for a duration of twenty years, the directors refused to call elections for a new slate of directors.

{Page 80}

Nevertheless, Reb Shaul Kerner, the great benefactor, returned the ample salary in the form of charitable donations. As long as his wife Ruchtshe was alive, and also for some time after that, he fed at his Sabbath and festival table about twenty or thirty needy Jews. He would also support poor people from outside the city via donations channeled through the nearest large city.

{photo at top of right hand column on page 80 – Reb Baruch Shneps}

Dembitz also had private Jewish “banks” which were set up as organizations or cooperatives. These were really only a veil for loans with interest. The depressed economic situation worsened as the state encouraged anti-Semitism increased, and there were numerous cases of bankruptcy and economic decline. State sponsored and economic oriented anti-Semitism increased when institutions of “The Manufacturing Triangle” were set up around Dembitz. According to the plans of the government, these organizations would not employ Jews as workers, nor use them as suppliers. Dembitz became stronger, however the Jewish population continued to decline until the outbreak of the Second World War, which brought with it the Holocaust that was worse than any of the bad dreams that were ever dreamt by the dreamers of black dreams.

Assistance for the Poor and Sick

There were very few beggars in Dembitz. Behind the market of Dembitz there was a communal alms-house which served as a shelter for the needy who were from outside the city. This was not a luxurious dormitory. It was very far from that, but nevertheless it served as a shelter for those without anything, beggars from the surrounding areas and from farther away whose numbers continued to increase. Groups of beggars would pass through the city, scatter among the houses, and gather together again. Entire families would arrive in the city on wagons with all of their belongings, sleep in the cemetery, remain in the city for a few days and then continue on their way. Not infrequently, controversies broke out between the beggars and the residents of the city, and not infrequently unpleasant encounters occurred when the beggars would demand their portions in a loud and haughty manner. In order to put an end to this rampant wave of door to door begging that came from outside the city, the idea was hatched to set up an organization that would distribute what would be called “retreat money”. Every resident would contribute weekly a fixed sum to this fund, and the needy people who came to the city from outside would be prohibited from going door to door, but would rather be directed to the overseers of this charitable fund and would receive a set sum of money. A person with a family would receive an additional sum on account of the family. The wave of door to door begging stopped, and both sides were satisfied. The charitable overseers included Reb Yerucham Kluger, Nachum Lustgarten, Baruch Shneps, Hersh-Nissan Appel, and Mendel Reich.

This organization existed for many years. “Chevra Mezonot” (The organization to provide food) operated alongside. Its founder and life force was Meir Glickles, and its secretary was Wolf Faust. The money that was collected made it possible to provide a warm meal to whomever was in need. It is important to note that these organizations operated primarily due to the efforts and dedication of a few individuals. As long as there was a person who was “crazy about the idea”, there would be no shortage of money for the particular need. In addition, at various times, there were people who entertained guests in their homes in a very generous fashion. We have already mentioned Reb Shaul Kerner and his wife Ruchtcha, in whose home any needy person could always find a warm meal and a place to sleep. Dozens of passers through who were indigent, with torn and worn out clothes, would stay over in their home, and these generous people would make efforts to strengthen them, give them a place to sleep, and even give them a modest sum of money for their journey. In the later years, Reb Itzi Kornreich could be counted among these generous people. He was a simple man who entertained guests in a wondrous fashion. At all hours of the day, pots full of warm food could be found on his stove, and anyone who entered his house would not leave hungry.

{photo middle of page 80 – Reb Shaul Kerner}

Two groups in the city busied themselves with helping the ill, one consisting of men and the other of women. “Chevra Linat Tzedek” was the mens' organization. It would happen that the chronically ill would often require care during the night, on occasion for a duration of several months, and the pressure on their families was too great to stand. In such cases, the people of the city, through the efforts of the “Linat Tzedek” organization would take turns in watching over the sick person and caring for him. When the list of adults who could take a turn ended, and the illness continued, the organization would request the assistance of the youth, who would answer the call.

The “Chevrat Lina” organization was composed of women only, and served women only. This organization never had to turn to the youth for assistance, since the list of volunteers for night duty was long enough. The women would willingly donate their time to look after a sick woman. The care would also be extended during the day, for if a woman took ill, it would be necessary to care for her as well as her children.

{Page 81}

If there were not enough people on the lists to take care of all those in need, a hired person would help out and the organization would pay the fee. Thus, the mitzva was double [83].

{photo top of right column on page 81 – Mrs. Bina Salomon}

{photo bottom of right column on page 81 – The Orphanage}

{photo on top of left column on page 81 – Recha Sandhaus}

{photo in middle of left column on page 81 – Mrs. Susi Siedlisker}

“Chevrat Lina” owned all of the sanitary equipment that was needed for the care of the ill, and also ran a small pharmacy from which medication would be paid for by the monthly membership fee. Their institution, which was founded by Lea Yoskim, at first consisted of a small number of women, but as its efforts became more well known, its membership increased to 120 women from all the strata of society. It was run by Perel Faust of blessed memory, and the secretary was Bina Salomon of blessed memory. We should point out also the dedication of Reizele Reich (the wife of Reb Yechezkel the ritual slaughterer), and, may she live and be well, Rachel Reiner, as well as others.

Even when the ghetto was set up in Dembitz, this organization did not stop its work, and the women volunteers offered assistance to anyone who needed even though there were great difficulties in obtaining the necessary provisions.

The Orphanage
and Assistance for Brides

A Jewish orphanage was founded in Dembitz in 1927-1928 due to the efforts of Recha Sandhaus, who was the wife of Yisrael Sandhaus and the daughter of Reb Nathan Gruenspan. The orphanage was supervised by a special supervisory organization. The chairman was Recha Sandhaus, and the general secretary was Baruch Shneps, assisted by Tzvi Hersh Taub. This organization was affiliated with the central organization in Krakow, which provided the bulk of the funds in the form of monthly grants. Since the number of orphans was not that large, this organization also cared for the children of the poor, who received support, textbooks, etc.

At first this institution operated out of rented premises, where the children would busy themselves after the regular school day with amusements and study, and they would also receive dinner. Around 1935 approximately, this organization purchased a field behind the Christian cemetery and build a building consisting of eight to ten rooms, which included rooms for study, a kitchen, etc. The children would only return to their own homes to sleep. During the school vacation the children would stay in the building under the supervision of governesses and counselors, who assisted them with their studies in the Polish public school, as well as in reading and writing Yiddish.

In its final years, the orphanage cared for approximately 50 children. The membership fees resulted in an income of 200 gold coins per month. In addition, there were other sources of income due to galas and performances, etc.

{Page 82}

There was no special organization in the city responsible for looking after the needs of brides. However whenever a bride or groom would be about to be married, if they did not have the means to arrange the wedding, one could find honorable women with their black shawls walking the streets of the city, going from door to door in order to raise the money to provide a silk hat or a streimel for the groom, or a dress for the bride, as well as for bedding. These righteous women included Susi and Chana Siedlisker, Salche Kriger, Sarale Sommer, Chayale Olink from the “old” city, as well as Chaya Shuss, Bina Salamon, Chinka Gruenspan, Perel Faust, and many others, all important women whose names we cannot remember anymore. At all times these women would be willing to give of themselves for anyone in need or anyone ill. There were many charitable organizations, many small in their sphere of activity, and functioning without any fanfare. It was not only the well to do who volunteered for these organizations, but anyone with a warm soul, who loved the Jewish people and loved to do a mitzva. Many tears of those that suffered from ill fate were wiped away in this manner.

{Photo at top of right column on page 82 – Mrs. Chana Siedlisker}

{photo in middle of left column on page 82 – Mrs. Perel Faust}

{photo at bottom of left column of page 82 – Reb Yaakov Taub, the head of the Chevra Kaddisha (burial society)}

{Page 82}

The Final Civic Elections

The Orthodox camp, which was always the majority, divided up in the later years into three streams, according to their relationship to Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech, as has been previously mentioned. These streams were:
  1. the supporters of the Rabbi,
  2. the supporters of the Rabbi of Jadlowa (an echo of the controversy that took place in the days of Rabbi Reuven), and
  3. the Hassidim of Rabbi Naftalche, who returned in 1934 after living for sixteen years in the United States. Rabbi Hersh Taub, who appointed Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech to the Rabbinical seat, wanted to make him the head of the Rabbinical court without the approval of Rabbi Naftalche, and thus did the controversy begin again.
The controversy increased greatly until at one point, during a stormy meeting that took place in the office of “Gemilus Chassadim” that was in the Great Synagogue, Hertzke Shuss slapped Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech on his cheek. The matter was brought before the Mizrachi Rabbinical court, whose members came from Tarnow to Dembitz in order to adjudicate the matter. Both sides brought in lawyers from Tarnow. The slapper was given a suspended sentence of six months of imprisonment, on the condition of good behavior for the duration of three years.

With the approach of the civic elections at the beginning of 1939, the factions of the Rabbi of Jadlowa and Rabbi Naftalche united with the Zionist camp, since they did not have suitable candidates of their own. This caused the defeat of the Rabbi, who became actively involved in the elections and set up his own slate. The two sides set up their own slates in the three areas of the Jewish election, however in two of the areas, the candidates of the Rabbi (Reb Naftali Eisen and Moshe Rosenberg) were forced to step down due to communal pressure, so that only Reb Avrahamche Goldman of blessed memory remained (he passed away several years ago in Israel).

Nevertheless, the election campaign was very stormy. On the day prior to the elections, the Rabbi convened a publicity rally in the town hall since he was not sure that he would be able to convene that rally in any other place.

{Page 83}

However the second side, whose headquarters were in the “Merchants' Union”, decided not to allow this rally to take place, and prevented the Rabbi from leaving his house after the Sabbath.

{photo at top of right column on page 83 – Reb Efraim Taffet}

{photo in middle of left column on page 83 – Reb Leiser Oling}

{photo bottom of page 83 – A street in the old city}

The implementation was left to the eighteen year old youths. After the departure of the Sabbath, a large group of youths entered the house of the Rabbi and informed him that the rally would not take place and that he would not be permitted to leave his house until 11:00 p. m. The spokesman of the group was Reuven Siedlisker of “Hashomer Hadati”. The Rabbi told them: “Shkotzim, get out of here”[84]. Reuven answered him spontaneously: “it is better to be a sheketz before the Jews rather than a Rabbi before the gentiles!” A guard of thirty youths was set up around the house and nobody was permitted to leave the house. The rally did not take place.

It was quite conceivable that this action of the youths would generate great opposition in the city, for the house of the Rabbi was always treated with proper respect, even though it did not merit the Hassidic style of reverence. This was not the case. In the elections on the following day, all three of the Zionist representatives were elected – Dr. Pinchas Laufbahn, Shimon Gruenspan (both from Poale Zion), and Shemaya Widerspan. The candidate of the Rabbi, Reb Avrahamche Goldman, only received thirty ballots. This was the response of the Dembitz Jewish community to the cooperation with the anti-Semitic government party (B. B. B., or Ozon).

Two Christians were candidates for the office of mayor – Drolak of the moderates, and the Gymnasia teacher Professor Staron, who was well known for his hatred of Jews. The latter was elected as mayor. He threatened the Jewish electorate that if he was not elected, he would destroy the smokestack of the Gruenspan flour mill, and he would also close down the mill completely. The Jews gave in. After he was elected, Strason behaved exactly the opposite from all the good promises that he made to the Jews electorate.

About one month prior to the outbreak of the war, Strason began to oppress the Jews at every opportunity. When an order was issued to prepare moats to protect from an air raid, the responsibility was primarily placed on the Jews, according to his command. When the Nazis entered the city, one of his first acts was to destroy the smokestack and to liquidate the mill, in opposition to his promise.

{Page 84}

{Photo page 84 – The local Zionist committee during the 1920s}

{Page 92}

Rivka Diament (Eisen)

by Henia Grin-Heistein

{Hebrew text – page 92}

Rivka Diament, the sister of Tova and Tzila Eisen, was one of the first members of the girl's Debora organization. She was raised on the knees of the Zionist movement of Dembitz. When she was still very young, she would accompany her sisters to various lectures and parties that were presented by the Zionist movement in the city. From her youth, she absorbed Zionist philosophy and became accustomed to organizational activity. Already prior to the First World War, she worked with dedication on behalf of the library and was diligent in her studies of Jewish knowledge and the Hebrew language. However she only really began to participate in communal work in full force after the renewal of Jewish life in the city after the return of the exiles from Bohemia. In 1918-1920, she stood at the helm of the girls' organization which later joined Debora. This was over and above her participation in other Zionist activities, and her directorship of the library. She was also a member of the committee of the Hebrew School, and she participated in the amateur drama club, which did not last for very long. She was able to work on her own, as well as inspire others to become involved. She was able to speak even outside her narrow group.

Rivka Diament's activities in Dembitz ceased after her marriage, when she followed her husband, Mr. Pesach Diament may he live long, to Germany. There she participated in the circle of Chaim Arlozoroff and Georg Landauer. This connection brought her, after many years, to dedicated activity in the realm of the workers' union and the workers' council of Hadera. This was after her family had made Aliya to the Land of Israel, and after many difficult years of working life in Petach Tikva. In Hadera, her husband Pesach served as the director of the cooperative shop of the worker's union.

With her untimely death, she left her good name behind her in Hadera and its surrounding area. Her son Lieutenant Colonel Yosef Yahalom, and her daughter Aliza, who is a member of Kibbutz Gesher, survive her.

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Translator's Footnotes
  1. This would be referring to other holy books, such as prayer books and bibles. These would be buried in order to prevent their desecration by theRussians. Return
  2. Reichenberg is now Liberec, and Teplitz is Teplice in the Czech Republic. These are in the Sudeten area of Bohemia, which was primarily German at that time. Return
  3. 'Segula' is a good omen, often with a mystical basis. Return
  4. The organization was involved in physically helping the ill, as well as in distributing money to hire assistants for the ill. Return
  5. Sheketz (plural Shkotzim), is a disgusting creature. Literally, it refers to an insect or a reptile, but it also has the connotation of a 'little devil'. It is sometimes used in a very derogatory fashion to describe a gentile. Return

  1. Brzesko. Return
  2. Jewish community boards. Return
  3. This is not Polish, but "Polish-sounding" gibberish. Return
  4. Pinchas Laufbahn? Return

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