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[Page 266]

Jehuda RIFTIN
(of blessed memory)


Jehuda Riftin, of blessed memory

 

In his time Jehuda Riftin was a teacher of Bible studies at our school. I remember that he used to ask his students about expressions and sentences that they had learnt, where they could also find them in the prayer book. And the student who got the right answer was praised. This way, he gave his children the desire to pray and it was indeed his intention. Mr. Jehuda Riftin was a religious and observant Jew and requested that his students also followed his way, but as a noble person he did not try to force them, but looked for a pleasant way to influence them.

Mosze Majzels, Tivon

 

He came to Kutno from Pulawy, near Lublin, although he was born in Bielorussia. He became the private secretary and personal assistant of the famous wealthy Jew from St. Petersburg, Kopelman. As Kopelman was determined to establish a malt house (where barley is transformed into malt for beer) in Kutno, he appointed Jehuda Riftin as his representative and business head; he then became a Kutno resident. The Kutno Jews Timkowski and Turbowicz worked in Kopelman's company as accountants – reliable people.

Jehuda became a good scholar, a fervent Zionist and an intellectual. He became proficient in the Mishna [the six books of Jewish law] and interpretation. For some time, he studied in a yeshiva [religious school] in Volchin [now in Belarus], along with Chaim Nachman Bialik.

About his integrity, there was once the following story in town: as a teacher of Jewish religion in the “Podrzeczna” school, he also managed the kitchen, which survived thanks to the products sent by the American “Joint” [US Jewish charitable organisation]. A former priest was in charge of the foodstuffs, appointed by the Polish authorities. It is said that Jehuda Riftin once took some bag of products, brought it to the kitchen, and realised that in the bag there was... sugar! Jehuda didn't think for long, carried back the goods because the priest had thought it was rice. Not only was the priest astonished, but the staff were too, since in those times sugar was worth its weight in gold! The whole world laughed at this action, seen as ineffectiveness. This prompted Jehuda to resign from managing the kitchen.

A. Mendelewicz


In Memory of Abraham Riftin

by Jakob RIFTIN, Ein Shemer

Translated from the Hebrew by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz

In memory of my brother, Avraham, who was murdered by the Nazis.

On the snow-clad wilderness, next to black thorns,
Death found you, Avraham.
You wanted your heart to call out a bit more – to beat
And it, your heart, was silent, slumbering.

Your body is all that is left in the endless fields,
A human speck on the snowy horizon.
From up above an eagle spied you.
He flew to the battle field
And defiled your body.

What is the value of your body, one poor white thing,
Compared to the masses of human bodies?
They crushed you, like an ant,
When they stormed, those divisions of iron!
Avraham, they trampled all over you.

Maybe from one burning village to the next,
You called your brother's name,
While your life blood flowed out –
“You forgot my life ! You abandoned my blood.
You threw my body away, to die unlamented!”

Maybe you cursed my name as you writhed dying.
Maybe you murmured a last goodbye.
I will never know
The path you took to the desolate pit.

Crying, I hold your loose clothes.
On the cold path I warm myself in them –
These clothes are all I have left from my brother
And I cradle them in my arms, like the holy Scroll of the Law


[Page 270]

Israel Yehoshua TRUNK

by Chaim Lajb FUKS

Translated from the Yiddish by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

Yisrael Yehoshua Trunk: pseudonym - Y.Y. Trunk. Born in Kutno on 22nd of November 1901. Literary critic, teacher and psychologist; son of the rabbi of Kutno.

He studied in the Cheder [infants' school], Bet Hamidrash [religious school] and graduated from the seminary for Jewish religion teachers in Warsaw. During the years 1925-1929 he was a teacher of Hebrew and Bible at the “Am Hasefer” high school in Kutno and also at Mrs. Iberal's* private high school for girls. During the years 1932-1939, he was a Bible and Hebrew teacher at the high school of Icchak Kacnelson in Lodz. He was a member of the Lodz literary association, paid a salary to lecture in the “Jewish Intellectuals' Club” on psychological and educational subjects.

He started writing for the Yiddish literary periodical “Globus” with the dissertation “A psychological study of Szalom Asc's book The Mother” which was included among literary criticism works in the journal “Literary Papers”, and “School Ways” which were published in Warsaw. He was editor of the scientific section of the journal “Ot” (Lodz-Warsaw) and he also wrote for the Lodz paper “Najer Volksblatt”, and in other magazines.

One of his greatest written works was on the psychological method of Sigmund Freud. A part of this was printed in the “Literary Papers” of the 29th of May, 1936, when it was published by the same printer in the book “Alfred Adler, the man and his teaching” Warsaw 1938, pp. 194.

At the beginning of the war he fled to Bialystok and in June 1940 was a teacher at the Jewish secondary school in Grodek, near Bialystok. Following the compulsory order [to take up Soviet citizenship and receive a Soviet passport[which was carried out by the occupying Soviet rule, together with thousands of refugees he was arrested in Bialystok and together with his brother sent to the Comi region of the Soviet Union., in the northeast. There he worked in the forests, suffering distress and starvation. In September 1941 at the time of the amnesty of Polish citizens, he arrived in Syktivkar the capital of the region and was sentenced to hard physical labour. By mistake, he was sent to a punishment camp where he was ill. He was sent back to Syktivkar and at the age of 42 died of hunger on the 29th of April 1943.

His wife, Sarah (nee Goldsztein) from Zgierz and their young son Raphael (7 or 8 years old) died in the accursed ghetto in Poddebice on 14th April 1942.

* Note (1) from D. Sherman - “Iberal” is the most correct spelling in English.


[Page 273]

Lipman COMBER

by Prof. Rafael MAHLER,
taken from his book “Historians and Guides”, Yisrael Buch Press 1967.

Translated from the Yiddish by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

Lipman Comber was born in Kutno and was the eldest among the members of the group [Note: see ABOVE for starred comment]. A pupil of Prof. Handelsman, he completed his studies for doctor of philosophy at the age of more than 40 years. He was a member of the “Bund party”, and was active in the “Culture League”, the organization for the cultural activities of the party. He was employed as a teacher in the school of the central Jewish school organization, used in the summer vacations as an area rest house for the Warsaw region. He was already involved in the first collection [of literary articles] of the league with an article about the burial society in Kutno at the beginning of the 19th century [NOTE: see ABOVE for starred comment], which was the start of the documentation that he found. His doctoral dissertation was about the Jews in Poland in the area under Prussian rule in the years 1795-1805, two chapters of which the culture league published in two and three volumes. In the Warsaw ghetto he set up and managed a shelter in connection with the “Centos” - the Central Organization for Orphan Care, an asylum for children from the streets. He was deported to Treblinka during the first “action” in the summer of 1942 in especially tragic circumstances: while he was there his daughter was carried away to the “Umschlagplatz” - the special train station in Warsaw used for deporting Jews to the death camps. He ran into the “Centos” to get money to bribe the Jewish police but he himself was caught by them. His daughter had already been taken away.

Ringelblum [the famous Jewish Polish historian] wrote a very warm eulogy, which appears in “Writings from the Ghetto”, volume 2, chapter 9, pages 175-176.


[Page 273]

Baynish ZYLBERSHTEIN

by Marek RAKOVSKI

Translated from the Yiddish by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

Bajnisz Zylbersztajn has been known to me for some years, from that time on, when he had sent me a few poems and I had them published. His current book, a novel entitled “A Life Sentence”, was about a new topic which had not yet been written about in our world. At that time, I was familiar with the romance novel titled “Food” but, in my opinion, this is an artistically more mature novel than his previous novels. I am convinced that Bajnisz Zylbersztajn does not stand still in one place but steadily develops and improves.

“A Life Sentence” portrays life in a hospital. The well-known content of the novel is illness, which is a difficult subject to deal with. On every page you can feel the breath of death and its dread, hanging over the heads of all those being tortured, together with the powerful drive to live, and the longing for the home town and the existence of the spiritual world, which is an analysis of physical and mental suffering. The author delves into the soul of the sick person and describes different types: Those who have given up, the angry, the patient, the amazed. A whole gallery of doctors, would-be medics and officials pass before our eyes. In one word: reading this novel gives me the true definition about people, who are damned for ever. Bajnisz Zylbersztajn has successfully captured the character of his hero and has a talent for describing him.

(from the foreword of Bajnisz Zylbersztajn's book “A Life Sentence”, published in Warsaw, 1928, by Bibliotek Mark Rakowski).


[Page 281]

From Kutno to Moscow

by Chaim GRINBAUM, Holon

Translated from the Yiddish by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

A Litwak lady with a smile said: “He is a Kutner: He will be very pleased to meet friends”.

Loaded with baskets and packages, he comes in slowly, saying: “We both live, that is, both Chaim and me, myself”.

But he was unlucky. We embrace each other and tears pour out of his eyes. He did not let me say a word. At once he wants to know everything, to tell me a thousand things. The home, father, mother, who else is coming? Why do they not come to be happy with me? See, Chaim, who am I? See in the newspaper what they wrote about me! Here I can prove what I can do! Here the world is open. The first prize was taken in Minsk at the exhibition of young White Russian painters. Someone told me that I could go to Moscow with my exhibition…

He says a thousand things in one breath.

When I was exiled with my family into the forests in the communist USSR, I was told about an unusual career. He had settled himself in Moscow and was awarded a large sum of money.

I had received from him some food parcels and a little money, on condition that my wife's parents should help his parents in the ghetto in Kutno, because my father-in-law Aharon Fuc had a restaurant and could move freely in the ghetto. His last request was met. The last letter I received from the ghetto was that the arrangement had been kept. We lost contact with each other in July 1941. May his memory be honoured!


[Page 286]

The “Litvak of Kutno”

by Rivka GWIRCMAN

Translated from the Yiddish by Carole Turkeltaub Borowitz and David Shirman

Honest and fair were the ways of Mordechai Gwircman, a believer in God, and a good person, always loyal and hopeful. His gentle, pale face said what was in his heart. His eyes looked out good and quiet.

He came to Kutno at the beginning of the First World War. The children were sent to the Cheder [infants' school]. His home was strictly religious - he was generous towards everyone. There was a bag of flour for everyone from his own pantry.

No one knew who he was or where he had come from. Altogether from a great Torah learned family from Brisk, in Lituania, in his youth he had studied with the father of Rabbi Unterman, who today is the chief rabbi of Israel. In our little town he was called “the Litwak”. All the Jews in Kutno knew him as the Litwak who did good deeds.

He requested his children to take part in the rebuilding of Israel and worked to send them all to the Holy Land. One son was away on training to emigrate to Israel. Unfortunately he never returned - that turned out because of a tragedy. The second son went to Israel in 1925 and worked there, and the whole family emigrated. And so, the dream of Mordecai Gwircman came true.

When the first Jews from Kutno appeared in Israel, he was there with his smiling face, saying: “Don't worry, we are in Israel now“, and he secretly slipped them a small sum of money. His daily life was divided into two, between the first half of the day in working because he had to make his own living, and the other half of the day he spent teaching the Torah in the Bet Midrarash [bible study hall] to the other Jews. He used to say: “Good deeds and the Torah are the best merchandise”. He always knew who needed help. Everyone who was close to him used to call him “One of the 36 righteous men, on whose worthiness the world existed”*. When he was in the hospital dying, visitors requested his “blessing”. His same fine stature with his lovely face and white beard made him look like a saint. He did not disturb any one. He went with such peacefulness.

This was one of the population of Kutno - the “Litwak”. A reader from the Torah, a prayer leader, whose prayer book was sacred.

* According to Jewish tradition, life will continue as long as there are 36 righteous men in the world.

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