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[Page 114]

Cultural Activities Between the Two World Wars

 

Dramatic Circle and Library

by Sarah Brat, Paris

Translated from the Yiddish by Asher Szmulewicz

After World War I, the youth (of Klobuck) realized that they were living as if they were on a wild (deserted) island. The limited “entertainment” consisted of marriage, (on the one end), and a funeral on the opposite end, Those, were the (only) events that everyone participated in, like in a large family.

The scarcity of general culture in school motivated the majority of the youth to (explore new ideas and) learn by themselves. Young people yearned for a book; for a theatrical play; or a movie in the cinema. With youth's impetuosity, we organized cultural activities, in an attempt to create a new way of life. It started with announcements of general meetings. Out of the frequent gatherings, it evolved into a cultural circle. The first pioneers of the cultural circle in Klobuck were: Dvorah Jarzombek, Shlomo Rypsztein, Fishel Kleinberg, Leib and Berl Szmulewicz, Pinchas Niedjela, and Malka Szimkiewicz (and others). (All of them were murdered by the Germans).

Among the cultural activities, we started to explore our dramatic and performance abilities, as actors, and created an amateur theater company. We associated with (actors from) Czestochowa, and arranged to bring two professional actors to Klobuck: Lewenstein, from the Vilna troupe, and Franck. They came several times a month, and taught us how to produce plays.

Our theatrical activities started with the play, “Money, Love and Shame”, from Lateiner. The two actors from Czestochowa were dedicated to our theatrical company, and were largely responsible for our success. Our

[Page 115]

 

klo115.jpg
The first culture activists in the shtetl:
From right standing: Libe Ajzner, Dvorah Jarzombek
Sitting: Malka Szimkewicz

 

performance was very well received, and it produced income. The net profits of the performance gave us the ability to rent premises, and to buy our first books in order to establish a library.

 

klo116a.jpg
Fishel Kleinberg with his wife, killed

 

Over time, our performances became better. Our morale and financial success would have been even greater if not for the trouble caused by the religious fanatics of the shtetl. It became a stubborn and constant conflict between the older generation, and the younger one. The Rabbi, and the well to do Jews, wanted to stop us,

 

klo116b.jpg
Berl and Chana Szmulewicz, killed

 

[Page 117]

 

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Shlomo Rypsztein killed in Auschwitz

 

klo117b.jpg
Members from the Cultural Society

 

[Page 118]

but we didn't want to discontinue our gatherings, theatre plays, reading books and living (our lives) according to our desires.

Despite (the opposition) and these conditions, we continued with our theatrical plays, and we directed the following works: “Broken Hearts” by Z. Libin; “The Young from the Village” by Leon Korbin; “The Yeshivah Student” and the “Jewish Hamlet” by Zolotorewski; “The Dibuk” by Anski ;and others.

We bought books, by paying on installments. On more than one occasion, we didn't have enough money to pay our debts for the books. (To raise more money) we then organized a lottery, and we sold the lottery tickets by ourselves. This was not an easy task. In order to sell a ticket we had to promise a golden future (a big prize). The buyers, of course, knew that the majority of the tickets were bound to lose.

Our library became more attractive and we increased the choice of books by Jewish and European writers; and it was named after Yitzhak Leibush Peretz, the famous Yiddish writer, whose picture was displayed in the place of honor. This beautiful picture of Peretz greatly irritated the religious people. “They hung a picture of some lord, with his uncovered head, and his big mustache”, complained the religious Jewish householders, and they would not calm down because of the (so called) “heretic”. One evening, a group of religious Jews broke into (the library) and violently tore the picture of Peretz (from the wall).

In our house the situation was terrible. Our parents believed that our dramatic circle was a center of debauchery, and worst of all they argued that (our activities) would result in apostasy. I was too intimidated and did not have sufficient arguments to refute my parents. I could not calm them down, and tell them that nothing was going to happen to me, and that I would not renounce my faith and would remain a Jewish daughter.

We were very poor. During the entire week we ate as if it was like the “nine days” (preceding Tisha be'Av), and ate only diary meals. However, on Shabbat eve my father became “extravagant”, and permitted the ritual slaughter of a lamb in honor of the Shabbat. When the Shochet (ritual slaughterer) came to our house, he demanded that my father give him a “handshake” (a pledge), and assure him that his daughter would stop going to the “Poretz” library (changing Peretz to Poretz, which is a derogatory term and means licentious). This was a painful experience for my observant father.

[Page 119]

 

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The parents of Sarah Brat
and their grandchildren, killed

 

Shlomo, the Shamash (caretaker of the synagogue), came to us from time to time and summoned my father: “Zalman, the Rabbi wants to see you”.

The tense tone of the Shamash (communicated his anger), and the atmosphere already smelled like “gun powder”. My father came home from the Rabbi's meetings depressed and irritated by the morality speeches. The Rabbi forbade him from giving the Kohens' benediction (the Priestly blessings) during public prayer services (my father was a Kohen). After a few such meetings with the Rabbi, my father directed his anger at me, (accusing me of causing shame) and a scandal. His wrath evoked pity on both of us.

Once my father caught me reading Maupassant's “Bel–Ami”, a book from our library. He tore it up in small pieces. I had to work a whole week to repay (the library) for the damage.

The fanatically–observant Jews of our shtetl (also) reported the library to the police, (falsely) claiming that it was a Communist nest. During an exhibition, there was a police raid and they arrested three of our members: Benzion Szwierczewski, Shlomo Rypsztein and Berl Szmulewicz. They remained in the Pietrkow jail for three months, and finally they were freed because there was no proof of their (alleged) Communist activities.

[Page 120]

The exhibitions continued. We replaced our three friends with other actors, and went on with our work. After long and laborious effort, at a time when the library already contained two thousand books, our society split, due to conflicts about direction and different party thinking.

In 1928 I went to France. I maintained a correspondence with my family and friends until the war's outbreak.

During the war I received very bad news: my home was destroyed and my mother passed away tragically. This is how I was told it happened:

At the war's outbreak, when the Germans bombed Klobuck, the inhabitants fled in panic. Everybody took what they could from their homes, and ran onto the desolated roads.

My father stayed to pack the bedding. My mother, Gitel, and my sister, Reisel, left and went out onto the street. We had a cow, and my mother could not bring herself to abandon a living creature. She knew that the cow would be bloated by the milk, and there would be nobody to milk the cow, (causing the cow's death). So she took pity on the cow, and took it with her.

The airplanes were deafening, and brought deathly fear. People had to move faster, the cow slowed down (my mother's) pace. Suddenly my sister pulled harder on the cow, and my mother was able to catch up, but at that moment a bomb was dropped and my mother, together with twenty five other Jews were killed.

Jewish Klobuck disappeared with smoke and blood, and was razed, like many other Jewish communities. No longer were there an old generation and new generation; nor the Rabbi; nor a shochet (ritual slaughterer); nor Shlomo, the shamash (Shul caretaker). The ruthless Germans brought an end to the honest, hardworking Jews of the Klobuck community.

May my memories be a remembrance for all of those killed and

[Page 121]

persecuted Jews from Klobuck. They stood up with self–denial for their ideas and thoughts, both the observant Jews, who held to their well–established ways of life, and the modern Jews, who wanted to break the chains of generations of conventional habits and traditions, in order to bring a new form of life for the Jews of Klobuck.

 

klo121.jpg
Shimon Rosental

 


[Page 122]

The Peretz Library and the Society “Bildung” (Culture)

by Moshe Wajnman, Paris

Translated from the Yiddish to English by Asher Szmulewicz

In Klobuck, like in the other shtetls in Poland, the establishment of a Jewish library developed at a later stage. Before the establishment of the library, people, of course, read books. From time to time a book seller came to Klobuck, and displayed his books on the table of the great “Beit HaMidrash” (House of study). Together with Havdalah (end of Shabbat) candles and other religious articles, the book seller displayed story books, which were usually intended for women. A few families also had books of classical Yiddish literature.

The first attempt to establish a library was made by Zale Lapidos, the son of Israel Lapidos, a popular melamed (teacher of religious study). He was held in very high esteem by his students, because of his beautiful Shanah Tovah (Jewish New Year) greeting cards, which were written so artistically. Zalman Lapidos was assisted in this venture by Shimon Rosental and the two Teper brothers (I forgot their first names).

This first attempt (to establish a library) did not succeed due to several reasons. This institution was backed by the “Bund” party, which did not have a strong presence in Klobuck, and thus, it did not attract a large number of readers. In addition, the influence of the religious Jews was still very strong, and to them these books were considered, “Terefa–Psul” (impure and unfit).

For a long time, a limited number of books could be found in Shlomo Rypsztein's house. Shlomo, the son of a coachman, helped his father, Berish, transport passengers from Klobuck to Czestochowa, so he read books during his free time, and he became an amateur critic of Yiddish literature. He demonstrated an exceptional initiative in the field of cultural activities.

A few youngsters used to borrow books from Shlomo Rypsztein for free. Shlomo did not wait for people to come to him to borrow books, but he went out of his way to find readers. It was more difficult when he tried to get his books back. On more than one occasion he discovered that a religious father (discovered his children reading), and tore the “Terefa–Psul” into small pieces.

[Page 123]

In the year of 1924 another attempt was made to establish a Yiddish library (in Klobuck). This time the initiative came from a group of young Jewish communists. Among them were: Benzion Szwierczewski, the two brothers, Berl and Leib Szmulewicz, Shlomo Rypsztein, Fishel Kleinberg, Dvorah Jarzombek and Malka Szimkowicz, (all killed).

The library was established under difficult conditions. The police were very well aware of the political activities of Benzion Szwierczewski. He already had been jailed in the Pietrikower prison, due to his communist activities[1], and his sister, Bronia, also had been imprisoned in many Polish jails over many years. Once, when she was being brought from the Pietrikower jail to the dentist, she successfully escaped, in spite of a heavy police guard. Later, she became a leader in the communist party in Berlin, and then later, she made her way to the Soviet Union. Hela and Meir Szwierczewski were active communists in Poland.

Because of the communist activities of the founders of the library, the police made it difficult to obtain the official authorization for a new cultural institution. In the end, after prolonged efforts, the library received the legal authorization to function as a library under the name of Y. L. Peretz.

After we received the legal authorization to function, we directed our efforts to the difficult task of obtaining money to buy books. The books we received as gifts, in the main, were not of great value, as literature. We bought the first books on installment terms, and the payments were made with great difficulty by the members. In addition, securing premises for the library was not easy.

Finally, we found a small room off Kaminer's way, on a back street, and with great joy we opened the library. Mordechai Glicksman, who was a member of the steering committee, and a carpenter's son, made a small bookcase, which we placed on a stool to make it look bigger. The walls of the library were decorated with pictures of Y. L. Peretz, Shalom Aleichem, S. Anski, and others.

The number of readers increased, but the Y. L. Peretz library did not continue operating for long. As a result of the communist activities of its leaders,

[Page 124]

the repression against the library increased. Police raids and arrests were common–place in Klobuck, Czestochowa and the surrounding areas. As a result of this repression, the library was (forced) to close.

The loss of this cultural institution was dearly felt. The youth yearned to read a Yiddish book. At that point, Dr. Kruk (today living in Israel), the former leader of the “Independent Socialist Party”, offered his assistance, and due to his efforts, together with Hershele Erlich, who came from neighboring Kamyk, they successfully obtained legal authorization to function as a cultural society, under the name of “Bildung”.

The solemn opening of the “Bildung” society took place in the Fire Station hall. Many people came, including many guests from the nearby cities and villages. There were delegations from Czestochowa: Dudek Szlezinger, Shmuel Franck and Moshele Levenson, and twenty people came from Krzepice. Then, for each cultural event in a shtetl within the surroundings of Czestochowa the Jewish youth came and were present. The solemn opening of the new culture society ended with a banquet that lasted the whole night.

The ideological conflict between the young and the old generation.

The elected steering committee of the society “Bildung” was composed of: Aaron Szmulewicz, Yankel Moshe Unglick, Moshe Weinman, and other active young people, who engaged in intensive activities. Every Shabbat, in the afternoon, local and non–local speakers gave lectures about literature themes. We had “box–evenings” (evenings where people put questions in a box). Literature “trials”, and a dramatic circle were established. There was an active reading room to browse newspapers and periodicals. Also, various committees were organized and met often.

The number of readers in the library increased. Well to do and even Chassidic youngsters attended the library, first secretly and later openly; thus it

[Page 125]

 

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A group of members of the society “Bildung”

 

can be said that (the library) caused a “revolution” in Jewish Klobuck. The society “Bildung” was not the only Jewish cultural institution in Klobuck. The Zionist youth movement also had a library, which had a significant number of books and a dramatic circle. The two dramatic circles often organized a joint theatre performance. Also, a sports group, that played soccer, was created.

The continual expansion (and popularity) of the cultural society activities were despised by the observant, religious, Jews, since they viewed the secular books and the theatrical productions as threats to the old Jewish way of life. And indeed “Jewish Klobuck”, during these times, became more secular. The number of young people that studied in the Beit–HaMidrash decreased, and the new modern life captured the youth. The religious Jews measured (and tried to maintain) themselves by reacting against the “Progress”.

[Page 126]

The reaction of the religious Jews took various forms. Following the example of other cities, The Jews, Chassidei Gerer of Klobuck, established their own political religious party, the “Aguda”, and a religious youth movement, “Young Believers Israel”, which erected its own library of Jewish books, namely those that would not “steer people from the right way”. The writing of Peretz, Mendele, Shalom Aleichem, etc. were declared as impure, and because those books were forbidden, several yeshiva students came to our library secretly, in order to read these impure books. Among this group were: Elie Rosental (who lives today in Poland), Benyamin Dudek, Arie Guterman and Leibel, the Rabbi's (student). They even read books about communist literature, political economics, the history of Socialism, and the like.

The orthodox also established a religious school for girls, “Beit Yaacov”, where daughters of religious families were taught.

These cultural alternatives, which were meant to overcome the “heresy”, apparently did not have the expected result (of diminishing or eliminating the non–religious influences). Thus, a few fanatics came up with a plan to denounce (the leaders). It was reported (to the authorities) that the leaders of the library were communists. As a result, the police raided (the library) again, and placed people under arrest. Yet, the library did not close. The youth embraced the society “Bildung” with its warmest sympathy (and support). Among the well to do families, the situation was bad. The rift between children and their parents widened. Parents did not permit their sons and daughters to go to the library. The books they brought home were torn and burned.

A special “Holy War” (Milchemet mitzvah) was initiated by the religious Jews against theatrical presentations. They convinced the management (of the theater hall) not to rent the premises for a theater hall. They also requested that the Starost[2] revoke the license to permit plays in the theater. Since the theatrical presentations were conducted on Saturday nights, the Rabbi on Shabbat morning before the Musaf prayers (additional prayers on Shabbat and festive days) gave a fiery address, during which he banged on the table, and quoted verses from the Torah (Pentateuch), which attested that, God forbid, in Klobuck, like in the biblical text, for Jews who let their children go to “Triater”[3] or to the library, all of the children would die in the “Gehinom” (hell).

[Page 127]

In light of such sermons, parents convinced their children, by persuasion or by threat, not to go to the theater or to the library.

I remember how difficult the conflict was with my observant mother (my father already passed away). My religious mother honestly believed that because of my participation in the theater plays and my activities in the library, our household would suffer and become poorer as a punishment from God. I suffered worst morally from her silent crying. My poor mother did not “have a chance” with her children. My elder brother was one of the founders of the library, he belonged to the communist party, he acted in the theater and he had a lot of success.

The fight in Klobuck between the fanatic religious Jews against the secular youth came to a sad end.

One evening on Hoshanah Raba in year 1928, while young people were sitting in the reading room and reading books and newspapers, suddenly the door opened, and a group of Chasidim, headed by the Rabbi, burst in violently. They removed the pictures of Y. L. Peretz, Shalom Aleichem, Anski and others from the walls and tore them into small pieces. The young people, out of respect for the grown–ups did not put up any resistance, and thus prevented a bloody fight.

However, on the next morning, on Simchat Torah, angry youngsters threw stones at the windows of the Rabbi's house and (at the homes) of the other religious Jews.

These painful incidents diminished the anger of the people who had become worked up. Such events no longer occurred. The society “Bildung” went on with its cultural activities and political work of enlightenment. In the year 1928 in the municipal elections, the society “Bildung” put up and ran its own “progressive” list, out of which two candidates were elected as council members: Moshe Szmulewicz and Leibke Unglick. Szmulewicz already had been a Klobuck council member in prior years. The candidacy of Leibke Unglick, who came from a poor family, aroused an understandable interest among the poorer Jewish population in Klobuck. The list of candidates from “Bildung” indeed received the largest number of Jewish votes.

[Page 128]

 

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Members of the society “Bildung” giving respect to their young deceased friend Levi Brat at his Matzevah (tombal stone) inauguration.

 

During year 1929 I had to leave Poland. The leadership of the library was then taken by Aaron Szmulewicz, Zelik Berkowicz and later on by Yankel (Yaacov) Szmulewicz.

The library later had to change its name because of the repression of the police, and in the end had to close completely. The books, numbering a few thousands, were saved by the last steering committee, but later were destroyed, together with the Jews of Klobuck, together with the whole of Polish Jewry, who were persecuted by the Germans.


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Between the two World Wars, being a member of the communist party in Poland was forbidden by law, and punishable by imprisonment. Return
  2. Starost is a title for an official or unofficial position of leadership that has been used in various contexts through most of Slavic history. It can be translated as “elder”. The territory administered by a starosta was called starostwo. Wikipedia Return
  3. Deforming the name on purpose is very derogatory in Yiddish. Return

 


[Page 129]

Cultural Activities in the Years
on the Eve of the Second World War

by Yaacov Szmulewicz

Translated from the Yiddish by his nephew Asher Szmulewicz

During the years before the outbreak of World War II, the library was located in the center of the town, in a house that belonged to Chaim Mass. The cultural institution was comprised of three rooms on the first floor:

– A reading room;
– A library lending room, where books were lent up to three times a week; and
– A room for the free discussion club.
Close to the library were located:
– A cultural club that organized conferences, “crossword” evenings and various social events;
– A dramatic club that gave theatrical performances and poem recitals in the evenings; and
– A teaching – tutoring group that gave evening courses dedicated to most neediest learners among workers and people who did not have the opportunity to learn during their childhood at school.
The teachers were close friends:
Aaron Szmulewicz and Zelda Berkowicz – Yiddish;
Shlomit Marder – Polish; and
Yaacov Szmulewicz – arithmetic.
The same friends were also active in the cultural club and they organized lectures on Friday's evenings about literature and political themes. After the lectures there were discussions. The lectures were lead by Dr. Yossef Kruk, and they were very successful (and popular).

That is how the cultural activities were conducted in Klobuck until the beginning of the World War II.

The Klobuck Jewish youth, most of whom were from poor families, living in poverty, found consolation from their hardship in the books and cultural activities. The young people lived with the illusion of a free and happy life that could be brought to the world by culture and enlightenment. But instead of the dreamed liberty there was bloodshed brought by the German hordes who put an end to the most beautiful illusions.

 

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