by Levi Resnick, Bogata
It was the last Sunday in the month of March, 1941. The time was 11:30 and the KovnoMoscow express pulled into the Vilna station. We had almost a halfhour, so we went out of our sleeping car to look, maybe for the last time, at Jerusalem of Lithuania (as Vilna was fondly called by Jews).
And there was much to see! Not far from the tracks waited Herman Kruck, Chaim Yaakov Bjustovski, Israel Raban, Paulina Prelutzki and others, whose names I no longer remember. They had all come to bid farewell to the group of Jewish journalists and writers who had the good fortune to leave Lithuania, the 13th Soviet Socialist Republic. The farewell was a sad one, with tears which appeared involuntarily on everyone's cheeks. Each one of us thought: Who knows if we're not seeing each other for the last time? Because, as we mentioned at the time, our group was permitted by the Soviets to leave their territory for effective dollars that were paid for us in America.
At a distance from the group, standing all alone, due to fear, it seems, of being identified with counterrevolutionaries, was Noah Prelutzki may God avenge his blood. He who loved companionship, avoided us because at the time, he was the head of the Yiddish Language Department at Vilna University. All of his life he had hoped and striven for this opportunity, which was so dear to him and for which he was willing to sacrifice his life. The Jewish Communists knew of this weakness of his and as soon as Lithuania became the 13th Republic they offered him the position which he couldn't decline. So he stood at a distance, his head buried in the collar of his coat, and his eyes filled with tears. Maybe he already regretted his decision? Who knows? He was certainly a sacrifice to the dear mother tongue Yiddish! It didn't take long! Three months later on June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany attacked Russia and all of our colleagues, who didn't have the good fortune to leave, were, together with all of Vilna's Jews, subjected to a martyr's death. We honor their memory!
Noah Prelutzki and Chaim Berman
I remember, as if it were today, during my visit to Kozienice in 1937, that I met Chaim Berman by accident. In fact, it wasn't an accident. I was invited to dine with him. I was already acquainted with his credo. Although I was a Zionist, his personality impressed me due to his enthusiasm and down to earth attitude, about which, we will write later.
When I returned from Kozienice to Warsaw, I told Noah Prelutzki of my impressions of my trip to Kozienice, and especially about his fellow party member, Chaim Berman. I remember it as if it was today, that the conversation about Chaim lasted several hours. He praised his disciple as he called Chaim, and to me he said: You're really a capable member of the PoaleZion movement and party, but since you've been in Chaim's home, You're worth something, as far as I'm concerned!
Kozienice's FolksParty Members
The Jewish FolksParty was founded in Russia in 1906 by Professors Simon Dubnow, Yefroikin and Kreinin. The party platform stated that since Jews are spread among the nations, and will remain in those countries, which are not to be considered exile, but homelands, they will increase and obtain national, cultural and community autonomy, consisting of communal unity, with their own languages and schools.
The FolksParty in Poland in 1916 had grown under the leadership of H. D. Nomberg, Noah Prilutzki, Shmuel Hirschhorn, Leo Finklestein and others. The Party proclaimed Yiddish as the national language. It established Yiddish schools, participated in the political life, was successful in some elections to the Polish parliament, and city councils, and published their own organ, Dos Folk (the People). Since 1926 the party was splintered and lost its influence among Jews. There were various reasons for this decline. Even though the FolksParty lost its former influence among Jews, Kozienice remained perhaps the only remaining stronghold of the Party. This was thanks to Chaim Berman, who tried until the last moment of his life, to keep the contact between the Party and the handworkers of Kozienice, thanks to the encouragement of his mentor, Noah Prilutzky.
Not only the FolksParty was active in Kozienice, but also other parties, with which our Jewish lives in Poland were blessed: Zionists with their leaders, Yosef Lichtenstein, Motl Goldstein and others. The Bund had a group of activists, with Jonah Weinberg and others. At the head of the PoaleZion stood Shmuel Sharber. There was also a large group of Agudas Yisroel. But the FolksParty had the largest number of members, maybe because the majority of workingmen were shoemakers, who belonged to the Party. The success of the Party was mainly due to Chaim Berman.
The Secret of Chaim's Success
We often write disparagingly of the Jewish Shtetl. We would make fun of the little town, but the truth is that Jewish life in the small communities was different from life in the big city, and not only statistically. Fewer Jews lived in these towns, but this was an advantage since in the big city people did not know each other, whereas to the shtetl everyone knew everyone else, and could even trace their ancestry way back. The quality of life was different. Parents could feel secure believing that their children were safe under the protection of the Kozienicer Maggid.
One had to have tact and community experience to deal with the mass of handworkers, who were far from the religious influence which blew from the Maggid's street. Chaim's success enabled him to stand for many years at the head of the FolksParty, and fill other and different positions. The fact that he had had to go to work at a young age enabled him to accomplish this. He had also attended the Yeshiva at Lodz for a few years where he ate each day in different homes. Also his work as a photographer there helped him a great deal in his later dealings with people of all sorts. A good photographer can set his camera for just the right moment, when the person who is being photographed, changes his appearance. This means that even though he's a bitter person, with a sour outlook all his life, he must smile and appear as a pleasant and often lovable person to others in his photograph.
If the photographer is not able to improve the character of the sour face, there is another solution, retouch the photograph. Lines of mouth and lips can be arranged to make it seem that the subject is smiling. In other words, photography means that a photographer can be God's partner so that the person photographed will truly be in the image of God.
What was Chaim's greatness, that he was able to hold on to, for 20 years, the same community posts? We all know of the insults and criticism that is heaped upon community leaders. How could he hold on to these political posts, in spite of opposition from within his own party, the Zionists, the Agudah, and the Bund, how was he able to overcome his political opponents? Let us leave the questions for a while and give some biographical details about him, which will clarify and answer to the questions.
He was born in Kozienice to Kalman and SaraMalka (his father was called Kalman Toibes). At home there were three other brothers and a sister. His father was a photographer. They were fairly welloff. He went to Heder and learned in the House of Study till his Bar Mitzvah. He then left home for the Lomzer Yeshiva, where he learned for a few years, ate days (every day somewhere else) just like other Yeshiva boys. There he got the urge to leave and go out to the wide world to see how the other half lived. He was very capable with a good head and an excellent memory. He remembered everything he read in Peretz, Mendele and Sholom Aleichem. From their heroes he learned about the poor masses of workers.
Chaim ran away from the Lomzer Yeshiva to the industrial city of Lodz, where there were many workers. There he learned his father's profession, photography. He also learned of the oppression of the Jewish worker, who wasn't admitted into the large factories, but had to go to small factory owners who exploited them, not merely for the sake of exploitation, but because the small owners themselves barely made a living.
With his keen sense of observation, Chaim saw how on Friday afternoons, there would be a rush to bring the finished woven goods to the Jewish factory owners, and to receive from them the raw materials for the next week's work. They would also be paid so that they in their turn could pay the shopkeepers, butchers and coalmongers in order to renew their credit for the following week.
Chaim saw in Lodz, which was ripe with new ideas, the need and enslavement of the handworkers. They worked from dawn to late at night. Their homes consisted of one large room which served as living room, kitchen, bedroom and workroom. He saw that even on the Sabbath they were so tired that they couldn't catch their breath. He also saw that the sackmakers and bootmakers, the most widespread Jewish occupations, in the large industrial city (Lodz) did not live any better or more comfortably. Handworkers needed workcards, which they had difficulty getting because of language difficulties and a lack of proper education.
Chaim wandered through the streets, and saw the poverty which reigned everywhere. He heard the sigh of the masses, and saw how children begged for bread, which could not be given, even though their fathers worked 20 hours a day. His heart ached especially because these workers could not get into the large factories only because they were Jews. After a few years of work in Lodz, during which he thoroughly mastered photography, he went to Warsaw, where he practiced for two years, and then returned to Kozienice.
But this wasn't the same Chaim, who had left to learn in the Lomzer Yeshiva. He was entirely different; not only his clothing, but his ideas and ideals. He was determined to improve the lot of the Jewish handworkers, and obtain for them the same rights which their neighbors, the gentiles have.
Chaim Berman and His Handworkers
When he arrived he found a broad field to work in. Yisroel Domb, Motl Goldstein and others had formed a group which they called Brotherly Love. The aim of the group was cultural. They would gather every evening, discuss a specific topic, discuss and read a Yiddish book.
They also had a Torah Scroll so they could pray together on the Sabbath. Every Sabbath our friend, Itshe Nashelsker taught Bible. This went on for a while, Chaim became interested in the group, but he was interested in political activity as well as culture. Two things happened which hastened the establishment of the FolksParty. First, Chaim was thrown out of the Study House. When he came to pray and already had his phylacteries on, he was pelted with towels as a protest against his having discarded the long coat and traditional Jewish headgear. Also the group Brotherly Love did not have any better luck. Avraham Chaim Freilich went into the group's meeting place, and together with the beadle of the synagogue, took back the Torah Scroll. That put an end to the group. Chaim Roth organized a group which included Yisroel David Domb, Yitzhak Potachnik, Melech Avenshtern, Shmuel Ziterman and others. He invited Noah Prilutzky to come to Kozienice, and the FolksParty was founded in collaboration with the Handworkers Organization. First he organized the shoe workers, who were the majority in Kozienice.
The leaders of the Handworkers were, besides Chaim Berman, Yitzhak Eliyahu Korman, Isaachar Lederman, Itshe Kestenberg, Yaakov David Kestenberg and others. Chaim devoted himself completely to the work. He ran and intervened for the benefit of different handworkers. He was all over, yelling, doing and helping. When the government closed down the local branch of the Party, they came running to Chaim and he in turn called upon Noah and together they would get the local branch reopened.
Chaim was not only the leader of the FolksParty, but he was also chosen as Elderman in the city council, and inspector in the community (for a given time he was also presiding officer). As is known, an alderman was paid for his work. Chaim donated this money for the upkeep of his institutions. He also conducted literary readings on literature and politics. He established a dramatic circle group which presented The Dybbuk, The Slaughter, The Kreutzer Sonata and other presentations.
From Where Did Chaim Get His Strength
As we see, he had the energy to hold a number of positions that were not similar, but demanded different approaches. He also had his own family that he had to support. Where did he get the resources to do all this? Where did he get the spiritual strength in one and the same evening to deal with entirely different themes? In the FolksParty, with the handworkers, to deal with economic matters relating to raw materials for making shoes; and later to run to his drama circle to direct the productions, or to stand up himself and do an entire role from memory? His knowledge came from the Kozienicer House of Study together with the Hasidic enthusiasm of Kotzk, Ger, Sochachev, Aleksander and Modzhitz, and from the dry misnagdim (opposed to Hasidism) but extremely sharp methodology of the lomzer Yeshiva. Both of these methodologies influenced Chaim's approach to his party work and to economic and cultural matters.
With Hasidic enthusiasm, but with the cold logic of a Litvak he analyzed everything that there was to see and to learn in a city like Lodz in those days. In Lodz he witnessed the founding of the two religious workers parties, the Hapoel Hamizrachi and the Poale Agudas Yisroel. Who can forget how they were ridiculed, new workers with their tephillin bags under their arms!
Today it is quite normal to see a scholar from the Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem, who is also a tank commander in the Israeli army, but in those days it created quite a stir. It caused many tragedies when the student soninlaw left his fatherinlaw to go out to make a living on his own. Bundists and Poale Zion members would sneer at the new proletarians with beards and sidelocks.
Chaim observed this odd occurrence on the Jewish street. He ran to every gathering of the old parties and also of the new ones. He heard all the speakers: Yisroel Lichtenstein of the Bund; Leizer Levine of the Poale Zion; Moshe Limon of the Zionists; Avraham Levinson of the Hitachdut and also Yitzhak Rivkind and Yitzhak Piltz of Hapoel Hamizrachi and certainly Benjamin Mintz, A. G. Fridenson and David Zilberstein of Poale Agudas Yisroel. These were divinely inspired orators, who filled auditoriums with listeners, who swallowed each word and thought. He himself learned in Lodz, not only how to be an orator but also the method of how to conduct himself on stage, modulate his voice, how to gesture and basically how to win over an audience. And he also learned the theater in Lodz.
Lodz had not only the nicest theater building in all Poland on Constantine Street, but also the greatest actors performed there. The critics who wrote at the time included Dr. Mokdoni, Isaiah Unger, Moshe Broderson, Zalman Zylbertzveig, and the poet Yitzhak Katzenelson. Choruses were conducted by Glatstein. From there stems Chaim's later triumphs in Kozienice as a speaker, political activist, and disseminater of culture. To hold on to, for so many years, to so many communal positions one needed an iron will and steel patience.
Chaim Was Never Tired
Chaim was the typical activist, who never liked to rest on his laurels. He was never tired when he had to deal with intervening on behalf of a fellow Jew. He was always ready to run, to oppose an edict, and there were plenty of edicts in Poland. The authorities always had edicts in their arsenal which gave them the right to close down a workers club. Chaim did not tire of running from one official to another in order to nullify one edict after another. In the final years when the antisemitism reached its height and got worse from day to day, it was impossible for Jewish leaders to breathe. Jewish representatives in government positions found the antisemitism endemic. In the small towns it was even worse than in the bigger cities. In the cities there was at least a Jewish senator or deputy, who was able to try to nullify an edict.
In a small town like ours only Chaim could do it. He had to be aggressive and display Chutzpah in order to accomplish anything. Even the biggest antisemites would listen to him in the council room. He did not try to please the gentiles in his speeches, but sought to present the Jewish case. He was also very modest. He would not talk down to people, but tried to lift them to their level. His Jewish knowledge was well rounded, well thought out and presented. He did not speak from the top of his head and his thoughts were well prepared. In this way Chaim led his handworkers for many years. He advised them to be not only capable workers, but also proud Jews, who are not afraid of every goy. The Kozienice shoemakers, not only knew their trade well, but they could read books, be involved with world politics and know what was going on in the Jewish world. Chaim's language was humane without frills. He spoke right to the matter at hand, calling a spade a spade. He learned this directness from his teacher, Noah Prilutzky. He wasn't afraid to grab the bull by the horns, to see the great danger that is facing the handworkers. He was successful more than once in postponing the carrying out of some order that would have harmed the handworkers.
Chaim Loved the Individual as Well as the Community
It made no difference to him if he had to run for an individual or a group. He always possessed a few new thoughts which would prove to the goy that he was wrong. And the goyim had an unusual respect for Chaim. For him they had open ears. They didn't consider him the typical Jew, but a proud Jew, who speaks their language, with a pure accent, and giving them the feeling that he is speaking to equals. This approach caused a favorable response on the part of the officials involved. One could not refuse Chaim. The goyim respected him. They knew that when he intervenes, it is not on his own interest, but for the community, and therefore they also loved him. They knew that before them stands a Jew of stature who is worthwhile listening to. They knew that they couldn't get rid of him with a simple response. They must hear him out and grant his request, and if not, he would unleash his entire arsenal of words in the city council. They also knew that it wasn't advisable to be his enemy, but much better to be his friend, and not bother the Jews whose cause he was defending.
September 1, 1939
This is how it was until September 1, 1939, a Friday morning, when the radio announced that the German armies had crossed the Polish border. There was confusion in the town. People fled from their homes into the streets and back not knowing what to do.
The shoemakers worked all week and on Friday they would finish quickly, so they could run to the bakery of Yisroel Yitzhak Frisch to buy a large tacks cake. (It was a simple butter cake but was so called because the money for the cake came from banging tacks into shoes). Whoever banged faster earned more, and could therefore buy a bigger cake. The children counted the days until Friday, awaiting father's coming home with the cake. This Friday the shoemakers forgot to buy the cake, and the children, although they knew what war means, instinctively felt that today is different and it's pointless to await father's coming with the cake.
Chaim's house was filled with people. They came to ask advice, and what to do. All had forgotten that there was no point to asking because Chaim was no longer the former Chaim Berman. He no longer had a say. His good friends, the goyim, hearing the German military march, understood that it would be better not to befriend the Jews, and even though it wasn't said openly, it would be better to put some distance between themselves and the Jews. The Poles learned Hitler's hatred of Jews very well. Till now it had been hidden, since we were after all neighbors for so many years, and weren't there advantages for them, such as borrowing money, etc. But now with the German armies marching so quickly on Polish soil, and the Polish army retreating, it wouldn't be long before they'd be in Kozienice.
Chaim made out as if he didn't see the change in his good goyish friends. He knew what was happening. He began to liquidate papers, lists of names of activists, in order to eliminate any sign of those who had cooperated with him. He knew well that there was no place to run. As a folkist he would be just as unwelcome among the Russians as among the Nazis. He decided to place his life and that of his family in the hands of fate. What will be will be!
The Nazis, may their name be obliterated, quickly began to persecute Jews. They were helped in this by the former good goyim, who were not only neighbors, but could even speak a good Yiddish. The goyim knew exactly what each Jew had, how much money, how much merchandise, and if someone had hidden something, they the dear neighbors, knew exactly where it was. Previously they had spoken nicely, but each one of them had made the reckoning of how much he would get, if this or that Jew had to flee or was driven out by the Nazis.
Chaim No Longer Intervened
He engaged in his profession. He realized that if he intervened, he would willingly or unwillingly, be drawn into the Judenrat. And the new leaders, when they came to ask his advice, he had one answer for them, I am no longer Chaim Berman. I know nothing, and don't want to know about anything. Since he knew that he was the best photographer in town, he hoped that in some way this would help him survive this evil time. I want, he would answer, to keep my good name. Whatever happens, I won't change my mind. He didn't change his mind, and turned everyone away. They begged him not to be stubborn and to help lead in the conduct of Jewish life. Also the Nazis wanted him to assume the leadership of the Judenrat, but he managed to avoid them. His being such a good photographer helped him do this. They came to him for photos which they would send home to their wives and brides in Germany.
Chaim really thought that he could survive the evil times. Other Jews thought the same. I must note that at the beginning, as long as the town was occupied by the regular German army, Jews were able to breathe. At least there was hope for survival. Even the biggest pessimist could not predict what was to come. It wasn't long before the Gestapo arrived in town. They spread out over the whole town like a pestilence, and every day there were new decrees. We Jews felt it. There was talk of sending Jews to work camps. In every home people began to pack up their belongings. Everyone looked for his best goyish neighbor in order to give him things to keep until this was over. I need not mention what eventually happened to these things. We all know! Day by day things got worse. They began to send Jews to work camps. Among them were Chaim, his wife Ghana, and their two sons, Amos and David. They were sent to Volanov. They managed to stay together until the end of 1941, when Chana and David were shot by the beasts. It's not difficult to imagine what Chaim went through. He also wanted to be shot, but the murderers didn't want to do him that favor. He remained in the camp together with his son, Amos.
Death in the Cellar
Afterwards, his brother Zelick, who had hidden himself in the cellar of a Christian, sent false papers with someone in order to smuggle Chaim and his son out of the camp. The person came back, but without Chaim. Afterwards, Zelick once again sent a Christian woman, who succeeded in smuggling out Chaim and his son. They were hidden in the same cellar.
In the early months of 1942, Chaim became ill with typhus. Conditions in the cellar weren't sanitary. There weren't any medicines to relieve Chaim, who suffered. Chaim's screams were so piercing that the goy, who's basement it was;chased Zelick and Amos up into his house. What he did to Chaim has remained a secret, which Chaim carried to his grave. When Zelick and Amos returned to the cellar, they no longer heard Chaim's screams for he was dead. His brother and son wrapped his body in a sheet, dug a grave in the basement and buried him there. Later Zelick got sick with typhus, and lay on the grave of his brother until he was smuggled out of the cellar. Amos went to Warsaw. He wanted to reach acquaintances, but he was recognized by goyim, who turned him over to Germans, who shot him.
Burial on the Kozienice Cemetary
In the latter half of 1945 the war was over. A few Kozienice Jews returned from the camps. They asked about everyone and discovered that Chaim was buried in the cellar. They exhumed the body. They included Hese Honickstock, of blessed memory, who died in Rio De Janeiro, Paula Luxemburg, Balvina Kohn, Mindele Domb, Gershon Borenstein, Yehudit and Sarah Hershenhorn, and others. The corpse was brought to the cemetery, of which no sign remained. They dug a grave and buried the one who gave so much of his life to the benefit of Kozienice.
The Prophet Amos
Having been in Chaim Berman's home, the writer of these lines heard how Chaim named his son for the prophet Amos. I wondered how come a Jew, a Folkist like Chaim, was naming his firstborn for one of the twelve minor prophets, Amos, and Chaim replied: It was not a capricious act. Since my days in Yeshiva, Amos' simple words of rebuke from a shepherd's mouth ring in my ears. He was not an aristocrat, but a simple person, like my Jews, the handworkers. I gave my oldest son his name hoping that in his life he will symbolize the personality of the prophet Amos. Let us here say, in memory of Chaim Berman, who esteemed Amos, that the prophet criticized the rich for their treatment of the poor. He prophesied the earthquake and the destruction of the kingdom of Israel. Only at the end of his book do we find his words of redemption: Behold the days are coming when the ploughman overtakes the reaper when the hills are aflow with the juice of grapes and I will bring about the restoration of my people Israel. Chaim, may God avenge his blood, more than once warned the Polish city fathers that a day would come when they would be punished for their previous crimes against Jews.
by Feige Gunik, Kiryat Chaim
At 27 Bzhuska Street stood a beautiful house, built of red brick. The house was divided into two equal parts with a few steps. The house was built before the war by two brothersinlaw: Yitzhak Eli Korman and Yisroel Shpiegel. Both had shoe making establishments. They were welloff and conducted themselves as observant and upright Jews. Both engaged in community tasks, and were members of the directorate of the Handworkers Org., and were also members of the FolksParty. Yitzhak Eli Korman was also elected to the city council as the representative of the Handworkers Org.
The two families lived together peacefully. Yisroel Shpiegel's family consisted of six people: Yisroel, Gitele, his wife, and four children. The Korman family also consisted of six people: Yitzhak, his wife, Altele and four children. The Shpiegel children studied in the Folkshul. Their son, Arele, studied medicine and married Shifra Kohn. The children of the Korman family also studied. The oldest, Z'ev (Velvel), finished Gymnasia (High School), and moved to his uncle, Yisroelke Korman, in Columbia. When the war broke out, both families became impoverished. Their finished shoes and leather were confiscated. Now the two had to work for others, but even then they still gave to others, who were poorer, as much as they were able to.
Dr. Arele Shpiegel and his wife Shifra died while working in a hospital in Russia. The other members of the family died in Treblinka. Only a daughter, Felly Shpiegel, who was married to David Goldman, remained alive. They live in Brussels, Belgium.
The Korman family also perished in Treblinka. Only Wolf Korman, who lives in Columbia, remained alive, and Yisraelik Korman in New York, and Avraham Korman, the youngest, in Paris.
by Issachar Lederman, Rio De Janeiro
In the gallery of personalities of Nachum Sokolow, we find a note about our fellow townsman, Chaim Yehiel Bornstein, the Hebrew author and chronologer, who was unique in his generation. He was born in Kozienice in 1845. His mother was from Warsaw, an enlightened woman of a fine family. She was widowed at an early age. When he was quite young his teachers said that he would grow up to be a genius and a great man.
He studied in the House of Study in town. At age 13 he was knowledgeable in Talmud and its commentaries; immersed himself in astronomy, and studied foreign languages. At age 18 he married a Hasidic girl from Mogilnitz. His fatherinlaw said that he had been deceived because he took a rabbi for a soninlaw, and ended up with an accountant.
Chaim Yehiel returned to Kozienice and worked as a bookkeeper in a sugar factory which belonged to the wealthy Bornstein in the village of Menishev. His mother who helped in his development, wanted him to go to Warsaw, but he loved the quiet place where he could study in peace. From time to time his mother came to visit. She had two other sons there, Asher and Shmelke, who were in the liquor business. They had two active families who were involved in all aspects of Jewish life. His mother was the first woman in town to wear a wig that was decorated with her own hair. It's to be understood that this was frowned upon by the other mothers. He lost his job in Menishev and went to Warsaw, where he made the acquaintance of the great scholar, Ch. Z. Slonimsky.
Nachum Sokolow relates that the young Hasid from Kozienice was more expert in ancient Alexandrian tablets from Egypt, than Slonimsky, the scholar and mathematician, who enriched our literature with the treasures of his wisdom. Chaim Yehiel was the secretary of the Tlomatzke Synagogue in Warsaw. He occupied himself, especially with the chronology of the Jewish calendar. His heart was open for all sorts of problems and his soul was tied to his people and its culture.
From his prolific works, the best known are: The Debate Between R'Saadiah Gaon and Ben Meir.
The Development of Chronology in Israel, and Dates in Israel
He also translated Shekspirs Hamlet into Hebrew. His books and translations made an impression on Hebrew literature. Nachum Sokolow wrote an article about Bornstein's life and accomplishments in the 1927 issue of the annual Hatekufah. In old age he became blind, and his wife and children died while he was still alive. He continued creating and dictated to his secretary who entered it into the record book of the synagogue and submitted it for publication in Hatekufah. We Honor His Memory!
In 1906 a group of Kozienice's young men, who learned in the Study House, founded in Yitzhak Krishpels' house a library and a Drama Circle!?
by Dr. M. Nisker, Rio De Janeiro
Who of us doesn't know Issachar Lederman! We see him everywhere where Yiddishkeit lives. We hear him everywhere where a Jewish problem arrives. Thousands of Jews heard his lectures on Jewish writers and poets, or about Jewish martyrdom. Also the Jewish community leaders in Sao Paulo, Bella Horizonta, Curitiva, Porto Alegre and other places know our Issachar. Not once did he appear on their lecture platforms spreading Jewish culture successfully. On the occasion of his 70th birthday 1 want to tell about his communal activities in the old home, Kozienice, where he was born in 1890, in a poor but proper home.
His father, a shoemaker, tried to give his son a religious upbringing, and while he was still young, sent him away to the Makover Yeshiva, where, in a period of two years he absorbed Jewish tradition and Talmudic knowledge. The young man strived for other things. He quickly became the secretary of the Handworkers Org. and in 1918 he took part in the first Polish Handworkers Convention. As a member of the Ortiker Community, he was a candidate for the city council. He took part in all the conferences of the FolksParty in Poland, as chairman of the party in his birthplace.
In Rio De Janeiro
Due to well known reasons, Issachar was among the emigrants, who, after WWI looked for new homes. He brought his cultural baggage to Brazil. In his new home in Rio, during the first few months, he became an active communal worker. He was chosen as chairman of the Y. L. Peretz Club, a position he held responsibly until 1930, when the Club disbanded. Later he was chosen for the Executive of the Farband of Polish Jews, which was founded to replace the Peretz Club. Thanks to his worker background and social and national consciousness, our friend understood how to build up organized Jewish life wherever he lived, so that new Jewish immigrants would have a place to go for communal and cultural activities.
His Activity in Leopoldine
He was one of the most active communal workers in the suburb. In that neighborhood of Rio he was cofounder of the Library, which took the name of Simon Dubnow, because Issachar was one of his most ardent admirers. He got a letter from the great historian, thanking him for the honor. The letter has been kept to this day in the archives. In 1937 and 1938, when reactionary winds blew in our land, our friend Lederman did not get frightened but stood ready to defend the synagogue which was the center of our suburb. In 1945, he joined the more progressive elements, where he found his proper place.
After long years of activity in the suburb, where he was chairman, and to this day honorary chairman, he joined the Ikuf, where he is to this day on the executive board of the Central Committee. Tens of times he has represented the Institution. Besides Ikuf, you can meet him in the Sholom Aleichem Library, where he is vicechairman of the Board. He is Secretary of the Board in the Farband of Polish Jews. He is an active coeditor of the beautiful and traditional publication The Polish Jew, where he is represented by a weekly column. His fellow townsmen chose him as Chairman of the Association of Kozienice Jews in Rio.
Lederman at 70
This communal worker, who can be found everywhere, turned 70 in November, 1960. It was mentioned in the columns of the newspaper Unzer Shtime (Our Voice), the only progressive Yiddish periodical in Brazil, where Lederman works since the early years of its founding and is represented in it by more than 170 different articles. In his articles which contain both Jewish and progressive themes, he urges a new lifestyle, which will bring contentment not only to Jews but to all nations in the world. He calls for world peace, which would also guarantee peace on Israel's borders. With pen and words this young 70 year old fights for ideals with youthful pathos to achieve his mission in life. It is difficult to list everything that he has accomplished in progressive circles. We hope that his inexhaustible spirit will continue to help us build Jewish community life in Brazil for many years to come.
by Itshe Blotman, Paris
I remember when my father died. My mother had a nice gravestone set up for him. For you mother we cannot set up a gravestone, to our great sorrow we do not know where your grave is. I remember Friday at noon, you would begin to prepare for Shabbat. How you prepared the white tablecloth, and set the brass candlesticks. Before the sun set, you would light the candles, circling them with your white hands and saying the blessing. When father came from the Study House and made Kiddush (the benediction over the wine) you listened religiously and said Amen.
I remember Shabbat morning when I would carry your special prayer book for you because on the Sabbath it was forbidden to carry on the street. I remember the afternoon, when father would lie down to rest and you would read the weekly Torah portion from the Tzena Urena, the special Yiddish version of the Five Books of Moses for women. When the sun started to set you would escort the Holy Sabbath with the special farewell prayer God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. I remember when Shabbat ended, after the Melave Malka (escorting the Sabbath bride), you immediately began to worry about your children and grandchildren. You, mother, knew that we your children were not observant, but you never punished us for that. Never was a bad word said with you, because your good mother's heart and virtuous modesty would not let you cause your children grief. I remember how a few days before my Aiiya to Eretz Yisrael, you were depressed you had other children, but each one was dear to you as if he was an only child. Your consolation was that I was going to the land of your dreams. Every Friday, before candle lighting you would throw in a few groshen into the coin box of R' Meir Baal Hanes and say that the money is for Eretz Yisrael, the land of our forefathers. I remember how you accompanied me to the train. It was a gray, rainy day, and in my heart I felt your grief and sadness. You embraced me, kissed me and cried.
Although many years have passed since then, I can still see the tears in your eyes. Your memory, mother, is holy to us. Your charitable deeds and righteousness will remain in our memories forever.
Some Biographical Highlights About Franz Kreitzberg
He is the Painter, who on the Bienal in Sao Paulo, was honored as the best Brazilian painter. Franz (Ephraim) Kreitzberg was born in Kozienice in 1921 to poor parents. His father was a shoemaker. He studied in Heder, just like all Jewish children in he small towns. His parents couldn't give him any better education, so at age 12 they sent him away to an uncle in Tschenstochov. There he finished a folkshule and learned how to paint landscapes, portraits, figures and animals.
In 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland, Franz fled to the Soviet Union, where he arrived at the Leningrad Academy and studied painting there. In 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Franz enlisted in the Red Army and marched from Stalingrad to Berlin. After the war he continued his studies in Germany with the great artist, Boimeister. In 1949 he came to Brazil. For a few months he lived in Rio. For various reasons, he couldn't establish himself and lived in great poverty and almost starved. The Farband of Polish Jews bought his first painting for 5,000 Cruzeros. It was called The Ghetto is Burning and portrayed Mordecai Anilewitz. The painting is displayed annually at the ghetto memorial. He then lectured to the writer's circle of the Ikuf on the topic; Expressionism and Abstractionism, which was well attended.
In 1951 he went to Sao Paulo. Also there he wasn't helped much by the Jewish community. He had a few exhibits in the Folk House and other locations, but the community failed to understand his painting. For a while he worked as a designer for the Klabin firm, but the work was not satisfying. He wanted to gain entrance into the Brazilian artists family. With struggle, work and after great effort he reached his goal. Four of his paintings appeared in Sao Paulo's Bienal. An international jury acknowledged him as the best painter in Brazil and he got first prize, consisting of 100,000 Cruzeros. Kreitzberg was greeted by the President of Brazil, His Excellency Zuselina Kubitchek, and other exalted personalities. His picture and reproductions of his paintings continue to appear in Brazilian newspapers and journals. He is praised by the greatest critics. His paintings have been sold for very high prices. It is an honor for the entire Jewish community in Brazil and for his fellow Kozienice townsmen.
We greet our fellow townsman, Franz (Ephraim) Kreitzberg on the great success in his career as painter which came on the occasion of his exhibit at the International Exhibition in Sao Paulo (Bienal), where he received first prize as the best painter in Brazil. We wish him even greater successes in his career.
Fires in Kozienice
In 1778 The synagogue, House of Study the Rabbi's house and other Jewish homes burned.
In 1782 All of Kozienice burned.
by Issachar Lederman, Rio De Janeiro
When we record for eternity in our Yizkor book everything and everyone that existed and lived in Kozienice, then there appear before my eyes our homely folkJews who memorialized themselves forever with their good deeds in our wretched life. I want to mention a few interesting personalities of our town, and may words serve as a memorial stone for generations to come.
R' Yeshayahu Shabason
A beautiful Jew, distinguished looking, with a white beard. He was always spotlessly dressed. He made his living from a pub on Radomer Street. He saved hundreds of children from an illness which was called the fungusdisease and appeared in the throats of newboms. In those days there wasn't any childrens doctor in town. The oldtime barbersurgeon served as doctor, but for this childhood disease he had no cure, so many children died.
Then Yeshayahu went to Warsaw to a famous pediatrician, and the doctor showed him how to eliminate the fungus. Thanks to him hundreds of children, Jewish and nonJewish in the whole Kozienice region were saved from this terrible scourge. He wouldn't take any money for his help. He considered it a privilege to save children. Doctors said that if Shabason had studied medicine, he would have become a great physician. He conducted his life in a fine, upright Jewish manner, raised children and grandchildren, and died after WWI at a ripe old age.
R' Yonah Zilberstein
He was a Kolebieler Hasid, a Torah scholar, distinguished looking with the high forehead of a scholar, tall and beautiful, with a long white beard; a lively and happy Jew. He was the gabbai (beadle) of the burial society (Chevra Kadisha). He would walk slowly, step by step, and a bit stooped. In the morning he walked to the study house with a big tallis sack under his arm, in which he had a large turkish tallis, with a silver neckpiece, two pairs of tfillin (phylacteries) a Beth Yaakov prayer book and a silver snuff box.
Everyone respected this Jew. He lived in a wealthy manner, in his own large house, with a flour and grain shop on Magitover Street. His wife, Riva, ran the shop. All day she sat in the shop and recited the Psalms, so that the grain and flour would go up in price by a groschen per pound. And what Jewish woman wouldn't buy her flour for the Sabbath challahs from Riva? If a poor Jewish woman came to buy, Riva knew it by the way she walked and how she said good morning. She knew the woman didn't have the money, so she would quickly say: Don't be embarrassed. You'll pay me after the Sabbath. Go home and bake your beautiful challas for shabbes. Yona and Riva lived out their years honorably and lived to see grandchildren.
His daughters were members of the library. This is how he lived out his years, and died after WWI. His family perished, except for his daughter Yocheved, who is in Israel since before WWII.
R' Avraham Rosenberg (Soda Water Factory Owner)
He was among the old enlightened ones in town, a clever Jew, who could tell a good joke or a tasteful story, and above all a Jew who knew everything. What his eyes could see, his hands could make; all sorts of woodcuts and bone carvings; a builder of houses; a fixer of furniture; an upholsterer, and an engraver of tombstones In short, if this man had ever finished his schooling, he would have become a great inventor. But his greatest virtue was his modesty.
He read many Yiddish and Polish books, lived a respectable family life, never became rich and never wanted to. He loved communal activities, and helped to found the first Jewish library at Yitzhak Krishpel's. Many of the books he himself bound. When WWI broke out he went with his family to Warsaw and remained there. Only from time to time did he come to Kozienice to see his old friends, and spend some time with them, especially with Yekl Shipper. He was an old man when he perished in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Itzik Klezmer (Nodelman)
Itzik Klezmer and his sons were well known in town and in the surrounding towns. . He was first fiddle, and conductor of the ensemble, most of whom were relatives or close friends. Old Shmerl and his bass, MeierSchachne with his clarinet, the tall Yisroel with his long trumpet, and Chemya with his fiddle. The drummer was tall Yisroel's son, Elale. They played at weddings and other joyous occasions for Jews and Polish nobles, in other towns, villages and rural areas. They were the only musicians in the area.
When Itzik bent his head down on the fiddle and began to play, the women cried openly and even the men shook their heads and wiped away the tears. He was truly a violin virtuoso! Here are some words of a folk song:
Itzik with the fiddle and Shmerl with the bass, Play for me a song, in the middle of the street.
About his son Shlomo, we heard from the Kozienicer refugee, Shimon Bobtshe, who during the Holocaust worked at one of the gas chambers in Treblinka. At the door of the ovens, the Nazis set up a band to play music. Shlomo played in this band. Suddenly he saw his only, nine year old son. He begged the Nazi officer to remove his son from the queue. The officer laughed and punched him in the stomach. At that moment Shlomo hit the S. S. man with his fiddle, and marched with his son into the gas chamber. We honor his memory!?
This name was well known in all of Kozienice region as a Badchan (humorous performer at weddings and other celebrations). He would even entertain Rabbis and scholars. ' Together with the musical ensemble he entertained, making bride and groom joyous with his singing and jokes, which he made up on the spot. How much he gave of himself depended upon the importance of the participants. In his youth he had been a tailor. While working with needle and thread he would sing so well that it was a joy to hear him, and he would create rhymes as he talked.
When he got older his eyesight weakened, and he became a badchan (Humorous story teller) and became famous. He used to tell folk tales, and very juicy jokes. He was a humane Jew with talent, who didn't even know how to write. His soninlaw, the crippled Lozer, a teacher, used to write down everything that his fatherinlaw sang and recited, and there came to Kozienice young men, who wanted to become badchanim so they bought the notes cheaply.
Motl's wife used to bake honey cake for Shabbat and the holidays, and sell it. All of the Jewish organizations and synagogues, large and small would order honey cakes for Simchat Torah, weddings and circumcisions. When Motl got old, he taught his grandson, Vadie Kokos to be a badchan, and sent him out to weddings. Vadie Kokos was also a bit of a jester with talent, but not quite up to his grandfather. He perished together with all the Jews in the death camps.
R' Pinchas Schvartzberg
R' Pinchas was a scribe, descended from a long line of scribes. He considered himself a privileged character because of his vocation, even though he barely made a living from it. Every few years he would write a Sefer Torah for a rich man. There were five scribes in town, but each of them had some sideline in order to support wife and children. Pinchas was a clever Jew, lively, joyful and the father of a large family. Besides the scrib's work he looked for other sources of livelihood. He pickled barrels of cucumbers to sell. On the high holy days this home became a boarding house for rich Hasidim, who came to the Rebbe. He also sold Mezuzos, Tephillin, Tzitzis, Machzorim and Siddurim, and from all of these he and his family were impoverished. His four sons did not become scribes. Two became merchants and two bootmakers, but he did have a soninlaw who was a scribe. He lived out his years honorably, had nachas from his children and grandchildren, until the Hitler gangsters fell upon Kozienice. He was shot in the street as he was coming from the House of Study. May his memory be blessed! A fraction of his grandchildren, the three sons of Shmerl Schvartzberg, saved themselves by a miracle. Two are in North America, and the youngest, Chaim Yekl is in Brazil, where he leads a very nice family life.
R' ChaimYekl Hirshenhorn
He was a well educated, clever Jew who was not a Hasid, but an interesting personality. He owned several houses and an oil press in which he would press oil from seeds the peasants would sell to him. The houses were not far from the river, where he had an orchard. His sons took care of it. Jews and Christians would buy the fruits. We also would go every evening to buy a pound of apples or pears. On the sabbaths the orchard was filled with young people who stayed there all day. The old ChaimYekl did not interfere in the running of the orchard. He made his living from the press and rents.
He had five sons. One studied in the Moscow Yeshiva. The others were merchants. Some of his grandchildren became skilled workers. After WWI the press and orchard were destroyed, and the children couldn't make a living from the houses. ChaimYekl and his wife passed away. Of the entire family, only a grandson survived, who had been named for his grandfather. He is in Brazil. After the Holocaust he married the daughter of Benjamin Krishpel. The grandson of Yitzhak Krishpel is active in our Kozienice Society, and helped with this Yizkor Book.
R' Yidl Grodniak and His Wife Chavele Tzorn
The world says: God sits up above and rides down below, but luck is essential in family life. This was true for this couple.
He and she were two different types in life. Yidl was a clever Jew, and played the role of a merchant, a wealthy Jew, and even a bit of a Hasid, a follower of Rabbi R' ZelikEliezer Shapiro of Kozienice. He had a dyeing plant on Koshtshelne Street in the center of town. He was a Jew who loved life and wanted to get the most out of it. But unfortunately his life was not a life! It wasn't a decent home; there were no children who would understand him, and above all, an evil wife. His wife, Chavele Tzorn was the exact opposite of her husband. She was not good for him or for others. She had a small, hard, sunken head. Instead of a wig, she wore a cap with fringes on all sides, which looked like sidelocks by the ears. Her face was constantly smeared with rouge and powder. Her dress was dirty and half torn, with two big mannish boots on her feet, winter and summer. Her pale lips and small mouth steadily spat out curses. As soon as she would see Yidl, she looked him in the eye and looked for crumbs in his beard, to make sure he hadn't had a snack or had eaten at Yaakov Shipper or Isaachar Shabason's pub, and fondled his girls and shikses. Woe is him if she found anything. Yidl, Yidl, may the worms eat you already! Chavele, be quiet, don't yell, so people won't hear. It's a crying shame! The whole town can hear you. But here it only began.
You should be seized and torn to shreds. Your mother should have miscarried you, before I married you. A crying shame you and your girls, eating and drinking with them at my expense. Their son Leyzer Bozer was just like his mdther. He stood at the door, scratched himself and laughed. Dirtied with the stains of the dyes he looked just like a jester. Yes, yes, father, mother already told me that my bride is coming. I'm going to get married, and mother told me exactly what to do on the first night after the wedding. In the meantime there gathered a large circle of people, and it became lively because of Leyzer's words. Another joker, a young man runs over to him and pulls his hat over his eyes. His mother continues to shout: Why have you gathered here? She grabs a broom, and Leyzer runs after her adding to the confusion. Yidl stands aside, thinking about his misfortune, the mother and the son, and shakes his head. Lord of the universe, of what use is my life? For whom am I slaving away? I thank you God for the favor, for this wife and son!
Chavele jumps from her skin at these words and yells even louder. You don't like it? Jews have an alternative! Let's go to the Rabbi and get a divorce! Don't you think I want to? answers Yidl.
Fooey Chavele a neighbor tries to interfere. This can lead to serious consequences. Forget about a divorce. You think my husband is any better. But let God grant us that we live out our years together!
Chavele begins to cry and scream, Mine, yours, all the same. Mine will drive me to an early grave! Yidl runs out. He curses the day of his birth. No wife, no children! Mother, mother shouts Leyzer, a child wants to buy 10 pounds of lime and a package of dye. You should perish with your father! Where has he run off to? To the grave, hopefully!
With troubles and suffering, not living and not dying, Yidl Grodniak and Chavele ended their years together in the gaschambers.
Jewish legends tell about reincarnation. When we mention the name of Feivele Oger, we can truly say that this Jew was reincarnated. From early morning until late at night, he was harnassed, like a horse to a wagon on four wheels. He was bent over from pulling the cart and the name Oger (stallion) suited him. Whatever he came upon, he would carry off and from this he was able to support a wife, seven children, and an old father from whom he inherited the cart.
He lived with his family on the street of the bathouse in a wooden shack. In order to enter the house, one had to bend in half. When Feivele would pull the cart, we children used to run after him and shout: Feivele, stallion! He wouldn't even turn around to the children. Let them shout, he would say. He wouldn't even harm a fly on the wall. But if a sheygetz (a nonJewish boy) would run after him and try to hold back the cart, or to make fun of him, he would hit him, hard enough so he would remember. Not one did he have to hit, and he would continue pulling his cart and murmur: He won't bother me anymore.
All year you wouldn't see this Jew (Feivele) in the House of Study, not even on the Sabbath. Only on the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, would Feivele and his old father, drag themselves, bent over as if they were pulling the cart, to the study house. They would each carry a stool to sit on. Not far from the door, in the foyer, they would sit, not speaking to anyone, wrapped in their Talesim, and open their old Machzorim (High Holiday prayer books), which they had inherited from their grandfather, who had been in charge of the baths and the Ritual Bathouse of the Maggid. They didn't know how to pray, so they didn't bother to look into the Machzorim. Jesters used to say that they saw how they held their Machzorim upside down. When the Beadle banged on the table, they would both stand up at attention like soldiers. They would be the first to come and the last to leave. In this way this Jew, in dire poverty, worked hard without complaining, to earn his piece of bread.
HershLeib Bozer, Water Carrier
Since I mentioned Feivele Oger as a reincarnation, HershLeib was the second reincarnation in town. In Kozienice, there were other water carriers who carried water into Jewish homes, and from it they made a living. As far as I can remember, this occupation was exclusively Jewish. There was Isaacel and his sons, the blind Shammai and his brother, the gravedigger, and Yankele Polkovnik and his sons. Also women were water carriers; Zlatkele, Dobrele and Yonele and his wife. At one time water cost three coins. The housewives, who lived near the pumps, would carry their own water or paid less; three coins for two pails.
To this day HershLeib is engraved in my memory, because he was the only water carrier for Rabbi YerachmeilMoishele. There, at the Rabbi's, he was a personality. All of the maids and the Rabbi's beadles dealt with him. He would bring the water, carry out the dirty water, helped lift the heavy filled cooking pots, clean the pots, sweep the courtyard and do the heaviest work in the Rabbi's study house for the hundreds of Hasidim who came to the Rabbi for the Sabbath and Holidays. On the High Holidays he would run around like crazy. He was the type of person who would not let himself be forgotten. He was the eternal slave. He just barely knew how to pray, but was religious. His water carrying made him one of the Rabbi's assistants. On the Sabbath he wore a high hat and a shiny long, belted coat. He had a small beard, and looked like a Purimplay performer. If anyone insulted him, or called him a name, he would hit him. He was quick to anger and had complaints against the whole world.
After WWI, when the Rabbi's court declined, HershLeib was water carrier for other Hasidim, but he wasn't pleased with this, and he would curse the housewives with the bitterest curses for the slightest thing. But this HershLeib had two fine children, a son and a daughter. The son studied in a Warsaw Yeshiva, and ate on different days at the homes of Kozienicer Hasidim, and married a Hasidic girl from Shedletz. His daughter was a good seamstress. A year before WWII, she married Yitzhak Weinberg's son Yoske. After the wedding, Yoske Weinberg went to Brazil, where he had a sister and brother. Unfortunately, he was unable to take his wife to Brazil. The war broke out, and she perished, together with her father, mother, brother and all of the Kozienicer community.
I consider it an obligation to mention, with a few words, a female reincarnation in our town, whose name was Rachele Tsholok, who was Abba, the coachman's daughter, from his first wife. Rachele was nine years old when she was orphaned. From that time on, she knew every household in town and all of the housewives knew her. Wherever she went she would carry cholent to the baker, scrub pots and empty dirty water basins for a piece of bread and soup. As she got older her work became harder and more bitter. She was never in the same place for a night and a day. Almost barefoot, alone with swollen hands and feet, winter and summer, she would wash other people's clothes, and carry them for rinsing to the river. In the winter she would return frozen, with her teeth chattering, crying and cursing. She would throw herself down by the oven and without even eating, would fall asleep. Her price for a weeks work was 30 coins. She would wrap the money in rags. There were even some nice housewives, who would take the coins from her.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur there were some goodhearted souls like Chavele, who took her along to the women's section of the synagogue. Let her at least pray for a good new year, poor soul! All day Rachele would sit in shul near the door and counted the windowpanes. Women looked pityingly at her, shook their heads, and let a tear drop from their eyes. It was after all, Judgement Day. On the way home the women wished her a good year, and she would answer, smiling and shaking her head, You too!
But there were days when she became sad, and didn't want any work. She would sit on the hard floor by the oven, crossed her legs, put her head down, wouldn't eat and sighed, cried, cursed and sang a song. Tbe words and melody of the song were sung to me by my daughter Feigele. She had heard Rachele sing it at her grandmother's house.
We both went
Among thick leaves
Rachel life, Rachel life,
Let us travel to uncle.
Groom yourself nicely.
Let us go on a journey.
That is how she would sing the song several times, until she fell asleep. Children and young girls would sing the song. Older women said that a Dyubbuk sang from Rachele. She died of hunger in the Ghetto.
Jews in the Kozienice Area
In 1897 the Jewish population was as follows in these towns in the Kozienice area:
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