Table of Contents

English Summary

{Pages 5 - 20}

To The Reader

With awe and reverence in our hearts we present to you this Memorial Book whose aim it is to perpetuate the memory of our town, the cradle of our youth, with all the beautiful and sad memories remaining in our hearts from days gone and past.

The task was not an easy one. Before you is a labor of love, the fruit of the efforts of many and distinguished sons of our town, today living in Israel and in all parts of the world, who responded to the call of the Publication Committee and took part in the job of collecting the extensive and variegated material gathered here after five years of work.

The idea of the publication of this book was conceived in 1949 at the great Memorial Gathering in Tel Aviv for the departed martyrs of our town, called by the survivors, remnants of the holocaust. A first appeal was issued to the sons of our town in all parts of the world, explaining the idea. But actual work commenced only in 1960 at the great Convention of all former residents of Apt in Israel, when a group of active members was entrusted with the planning of the project and its execution.

The difficulties were manifold, although most of our brethren in all parts of the world responded wholeheartedly with financial contributions needed for the realization of the project and the supplying of material. It was our aim that this book should be a worthy record of our town, with its glorious Jewish tradition, its beneficial activities in all fields of public endeavor, its cultural life. We wanted it to faithfully delineate the lives of the people of Apt in all the periods of the town's existence. Thus we did not want this to be the creation of a single few, of scholars and professional writers only, but the full and faithful expression of the people of Apt from all walks of life, wherein every one of us will find an echo to his emotions.

Together with you, we may be proud that the book is a faithful reflection of the town and all strata of its people, due to the fact that so many sons of our town contributed to this work.

About our town Apt, one of the oldest Jewish towns in Poland, with a tradition of many centuries, famed for its rabbis, sages and scholars, much can be written. We are aware that we have not fully exploited the many sources, the written and oral traditions, which tell of the town and its people. Perhaps the man may come forth someday who will undertake the painstaking research required to save all these valuable traditions for future generations.

Undoubtedly errors will have crept here and there into the work - no human endeavor is free of them. We shall gladly accept any corrections and suggestions in this respect. .ill those who may feel that the material in this book does not do full justice to their friends and relatives may be assured that no slights were intended. We note with satisfaction that all the contributions received could be published.

We faced a serious problem regarding the language in which the book would appear. There were those who held that the book must appear in the language spoken by our holy martyrs, in Yiddish, the language spoken by all tire people of the town, and still spoken by most of the sons of Apt who are with us today. Many others felt that a book dedicated to perpetuating the traditions of the town for the coming generations should be written in the eternal Tongue which is also the language of modern-day Israel.

But this problem, too, found its solution. Every article is printed in the language in which it was written, and we saw to it that the essential contents appear in both languages, in Hebrew as well as in Yiddish. The book thus appears in the two languages of the Jewish people, Hebrew and Yiddish, with a synopsis for the English-speaking reader.

We express hereby our thanks to all our friends, both in Israel and elsewhere, who helped us financially to publish this book, especially our townspeople in Toronto (Canada) for their valuable aid in all stages of our activity. We should also mention our organizations in New York and Montreal which contributed a lot to our success.

The Committee acknowledges with gratitude the devoted efforts and untiring work of the members of the Israel Committee, who gave of their time and strength unsparingly until the project was completed, - our friends Moshe Magen-Grinstein, Joseph Rosenberg, Joseph Silberman and Nahman Lustgarten. It is in large part due to them that the idea took on form and became reality in this book.

Let this book serve in our homes as Memorial Lamp for the souls of our beloved who perished during the holocaust and as a monument to our unforgettable community which was destroyed.

Publication Committee


Preface

The tragic fate of European Jewry during the Second World War did not spare our homes nor our home-town Apt. It also had to drain the poisoned cup to the last drop. The disaster that befell it, meant utter destruction and left in its wake ruin and death. Its streets and its houses where we were born and bred, were razed to the ground. Its inhabitants, our dear parents, brothers and sisters, our beloved ones -they all were put to death amid cruel tortures; they all perished in different ways and in different places. Many of them did not even have a Jewish burial.

Much remains to be told of Poland's murdered Jewry ; its history, its struggle and its destruction. In this heroic and inspired saga our Jewish town of Apt is certain to find the place it deserves among the looted towns of Poland.

Each and every Jewish townlet with its specific values represents a world in itself.

This is why we, the few that remained, have decided, with the remembrance of our childhood and the years of our youth still vivid in our hearts, haunted as we are by the memories of things past, to create a living monument in the form of a book destined to enhance for us and for our children after us the splendour of a past that is no more.

May this modest memorial preserve for the coming generations the memory of our unforgettable town, the spirit that prevailed there, its origin and its long and magnificent history, its Zadikim and Gaonim, its institutions and organizations, its leaders and men, of reputation, the memory of those that watched over the fire, handing the torch from one generation to the next, who during their lifetime stood up for the town and its Jews, for Zion, so near and so far away; who educated us towards its light. It is but for them that we at long last arrived, whereas they fell by the way-side...


The Town And Its Environs

Moshe Grinstein

It will be difficult to discern much planning in the physical structure of the old Jewish towns in Poland, and even less very great architecture. Nevertheless it cannot be said that the establishment and growth of Apt came about by mere accident. Just as the town's sociological development reveals a certain continuity, so can one trace back to the factors influencing its physical growth, its structure and architectural motifs of the distant past, which left their imprint on the town till its final years.

As far as we know from ancient sources, the Jewish settlement in Apt dates back to the fifteenth century. This in effect represents the actual birth of the town - the transition from a rural district of small villages and hamlets, owned by Prince Krzysztof Szydloviecki of Cracow. It was he, apparently, who founded the town that was to become Opatow (Apt), though it is possible that a number of Jewish families settled in the region many years earlier (see the history of the Community of Sokolow).

This prince was the first to realize the need for an urban center where the agricultural produce could be marketed, and which in turn could supply to the peasants of the region the various products, clothing, tools and foodstuffs which they needed. Who could better carry out this task than the Jews who had just arrived in Poland and settled in the vicinity of Lublin and Cracow, thanks to the magnanimity of the Polish King Sigismund August ? (Trunk: History of the Jews in Lublin and Environs).

In all probability, the Jews settled first at the crossroads intersecting the highways which led to the larger villages of that time, and which we knew as small towns in the vicinity of Apt, such as Ostrowiec, Cmielow, Ozarow, Klimontow, Ivansk, Lagev. The importance of Apt as the commercial center of the region is evidenced by the tradition, which was carried on till recent years, of weekly Market Days in the surrounding townlets. A specific day in every week was set aside for each of these larger townlets, and on that day the merchants and artisans of Apt would bring their wares to the town. In earlier times, all commerce and market transactions were concentrated in Apt; but later on, to meet the competition from other urban centers eager to trade with the peasants, the Apt merchants had to come to the villagers instead of vice versa.

The oldest part of the town on the crossroads was the “Yiddishe Gass”, which for many years constituted the town in its entirety. As in all other small Jewish towns of that period, the Jewish Street in Apt was built as a walled-in ghetto, due to the fear of raids and predatory incursions by bands of robbers and Jew-batters. Threatened by the enmity of the rabble, it was the Jews themselves who adopted the system of building their homes in walled-in, closed-off quarters. With nightfall, the gates of the quarters were closed and Jewish watchmen stood guard fill dawn. The Community Ledger of Apt, one of the oldest sources shedding light on the life of the Jews in Medieval Poland, devotes a great many of its earlier pages to the organization of the Jewish guard-service and to matters of the security of the Jewish quarter.

Until its last years one could find in Apt remnants of the so-called Jewish style of building, evolved in Medieval times. Though in the course of the centuries buildings were frequently destroyed by fires or in the wake of epidemics, their rebuilding and restoration adhered to the traditional style. Thus the general appearance of the Jewish quarter was little changed - until the holocaust. The difference between the historic Jewish quarter and the newer parts of town was rather striking.

The Jewish Street, lined by two rows of small houses, began at the Musicians' Lane (Kley Semarim Gaessel) which was built later on, and continued up to the Jewish Cemetery.

In the center of the quarter the Jews built as a matter of course the Synagogue and Beth Hamedrash. These were the spiritual center of the Community and the social gathering place for the townspeople. The Public Bath and the Mikva (Ritual Bath) were located in the lower part of town, on the Ivansk Road near the Well from which they drew their water supply. The Public Bath was probably destroyed in one of the various conflagrations; as children we used to play in the great open pit which was all that remained of it...

The origins of the town's spiritual center, the Synagogue of Apt, date back to the sixteenth century or to an even earlier time. It is fairly certain that the Beth Hamedrash was even older than the Synagogue, though numerous restorations were undoubtedly undertaken in the course of the centuries, to repair the damage of fires. The ceiling with its massive beams rested on ancient stone walls which had settled deep in the ground.

We can be certain that the Synagogue was not built immediately upon the settlement of Jews in Apt, but only after the community was consolidated and could erect such a monumental structure. Till then Jewish townspeople gathered, prayed and studied in the Beth Hamedrash.

The Synagogue was indeed a beautiful and unique example of synagogue architecture in Poland, so that historians and archaeologists, Jews as well as Gentiles, from near and far came to visit the building and to photograph it.

The interior of the building was more impressive than its exterior, probably due to the wish of the builders not to arouse envious resentment.

The Synagogue's architectural style was in the Gothic tradition. The great edifice was supported by four massive corner buttresses; its solid walls extended windowless till close to the ceiling, where they terminated in round, Gothic windows with stained glass which on a sunny day flooded the entire Synagogue and the congregation in a wealth of color.

The vaulted buttresses joined with the dome of the “Belemer”, the Almemar in the center of the Synagogue, which rested on four pillars linked by a railing at a height of several meters above the stone floor of the Synagogue, and to which stairs ascended from both sides. Here the Torah was read.

The walls and ceilings were adorned by ancient paintings and murals. Especially famous was the rendering of the twelve signs of the zodiac which decorated the ceiling. The Holy Ark was ascended by stone steps. Here the Kohanim chanted the priestly blessing, and on the eve of Yom Kippur devout Jews let themselves be publicly castigated in penance.

The Jews of Apt were justly proud of their Synagogue which was famed as one of the oldest and most remarkable structures of its kind in all of Poland.

The Christian Population Of Apt

As Apt grew and developed into an urban commercial center, it began to attract Christian artisans and craftsmen from the vicinity. The Christian landowner of the district had to look after their physical and spiritual well-being.

According to various historical sources, the settlement of Christians in the Apt area began only in the 18th century. Thus in the year 1856 the entire Apt district, according to an official census, had a population of 1328 Christians and 2517 Jews.

At some distance from the Jewish part of town, the Prince built a large and handsome church. Situated on hilly ground, the church was surrounded by a large, walled-in garden. The garden wall then continued up to the Town Gate on the main road, and thus the Christian population lived actually outside the town walls.

The empty open space between the Jewish Quarter and the Church compound served as market place for the peasants who carne to town for the Fairs. This “inter-zone” helped to prevent too close contact and friction between the Jewish and the Christian population - an important factor in those days when all too often Jews were the victims of riots and drunken excesses.

The Growth Of Apt

Meanwhile the Jewish population, as well, grew and increased. The “Jewish Street” could no longer contain the many newcomers who settled in Apt as economic conditions improved. Soon the Jewish Street was surrounded on all sides by other streets, lanes and alleys, which were narrower than the main thoroughfare. This is commemorated in the street names: the “Jewish Street” was named “Breite Gass”, and parallel to it ran the newer “Shmole Gass”. The new lanes were linked to the main Jewish Street which continued to serve as the center of the town's Jewish quarter. The Ivansk highway served as the road into town for the peasants from the villages in the vicinity of Apt. Another street, built later on, was the “Garden Street” which led to the park, planted much later on the site of the Market.

With the population growth there was very little room left in the “Jewish Town”. The Jewish grain merchants and storekeepers who subsequently settled in Apt, set up their houses along the highway leading into town, a favorable position for trade with the villagers coming into Apt. The Jewish artisans, however, whose livelihood depended mainly on Jewish clients, settled in the lanes and alleys adjoining the Jewish part of town, and their quarters extended up to the Church.

The “Market”

The “Market” is not mentioned in the Community Ledger or in any other early sources since it was built only much later. In those early days trading took place on the market grounds at open air stands, temporarily set up for the Fair days. Only later on, buildings rose around the market place, and as the economic position of the merchants improved, they built their apartments adjoining their stores or above them. The commerce of Apt at the time of the building of the Market houses was still exclusively in Jewish hands.

Relations With The Christian Population

The Christian inhabitants settled in Apt in later years and set up their homes in the side streets. These were farmers, gardeners, vegetable growers who depended on the Jewish population for the buying of their produce and their livelihood. The few Gentile-owned stores and houses in the center of town which we remember, were established only in the second half of the 19th century in the wake of the establishment of Government offices and institutions, through which numerous Gentile officials and clerks (of the District authorities, the Municipality, the Police, etc) came to live in the town, as well as members of the academic professions doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and teachers.

These newcomers built houses in the new side streets, however, such as the Ostrowiec Road, Sandomierz Road and Ozarov Road, since the center part of town was already occupied.

In every Jewish town there were poor Gentile laborers and handymen who earned their livelihood from their work for the Jewish townspeople, and Apt was no exception in this respect. These laborers and artisans were in such close contact with the Jewish population that in the course of time they learned to speak Yiddish. They lived, however, far from the center of town, in part even in the outlying villages.

The powers that were did not favor the idea of Jewish autonomy; Apt, with its , overwhelmingly Jewish majority was arbitrarily assigned to a district of Gentile villages at election time, thus preventing the creation of a Jewish majority or the election of Jewish officials. This explains why throughout its history Apt never had a Jewish Mayor, but at best only a Deputy Mayor - Dr. Rabinovitz.

Apt's Surroundings

Jewish Apt was situated in the heart of a beautiful countryside and farming region that provided not only sources of livelihood for the townspeople, but also rest and relaxation. Not merely the dreamers, the poets and philosophers - and there were many of them in Apt - drew inspiration from the contact with nature; one could meet Hassidim with their children on summer afternoons as they hurried to the pond, there to stroll and relax along its banks or to cool off in the water, while the better swimmers even jumped from the bridge into the waves.

The River

Apt was known for its river, the Opatowka, which ringed it from all sides. The town may originally have been built along the bend of the river; and it is difficult to establish today whether Opatow was named after the river (the more probable event) or the river after the town.

The river began as a small stream, fed by several springs, far behind the Christian cemetery, and meandered in slow flow past the house of Burkovski (for many years Mayor of Apt), past the Polish School into the garden of Yankel Bader, crossed the Lagev highway beneath the bridge, and wound its way between the buildings of the Mandelbaum factory for soap, candles and chemicals till the Ostrowiec highway, where the great iron bridge led to the Gate with its high historic wall, the entrance into town from the Ostrowiec railway station.

On every Sabbath the Jews of Apt, especially the young people, would walk out to the fields irrigated by the river, where wild plants of great beauty grew. Here they would picnic, stretch out in the grass, and enjoy the Sabbath rest under the serene sky. This continued until a Gentile tenant took over the land as pasture for his cows, and put an end to these weekend excursions.

Near the iron bridge, the river joined with the creek to form the great artificial pond where the people would fish during the summer. In winter, the pond was frozen over and we children used to go skating on the ice. More than once, one of us would come home drenched through and through as the ice broke, being fished out with great difficulty. At winter's end, when the ice crust began to crumble, the townspeople took blocks of ice from the pond and stored these in their cellars until summer, the season of ice cream and cold drinks.

From the pond the river gushed forth in mighty flow till the Mill of Goldman. For hours we children used to stand on the bridge and watch the great mill wheel go round, being driven by the river waters, enchanted by the deafening clatter and by the waterfall that rushed foamingly into the abyss.

From here the river wound past the Hospital, flowing through gardens and beneath the Ozarov Road bridge, discharging its waters into the sluice gates which formed a wide pool. In summer we children,. the pupils of the modern Mizrachi school, would march to the pool on hot days, under the supervision of our teacher Simh'a, every one of us with soap and towel in hand; for a refreshing bath and swim.

From the pool the river wended its way towards Sandomierz, and behind the bridge discharged into the “canyon” which too served as swimming pool for the Jewish and Gentile population of the area.

The countryside near the bridge leading to Sandomierz served as romantic meeting places for the town's young people, who went for long walks until the late hours of night.


Apt - The Town And Its Jews

Joseph Rosenberg

Apt was a typical Jewish town in Poland. It had its synagogue, houses of study, trustees, sextons, religious functionaries, organizations and all kinds of societies - and yet, it was different from other towns. In the world of “enlightenment” it was known for its former great “maskilim” (secular intelligentsia) as G. I. Lichtenfeld, the father-in-law of Y. L. Peretz, Nathan Note Shapiro and others.

In the world of Chassidism, Apt was well known for her great “Tzadikim” (righteous men) such as Rabbi Avraham Yehoshuah Heshel; Rabbi Mayerl; Rabbi Yakov; the father of the Kozschnitzer “Maggid” Rabbi Shabsile Einbinder, may their memories be blessed. In recent times, the Rabbi of Apt was none other than the brother of the Belzer Rabbi, and himself a noble and holy man, who perished most tragically in the last world conflagration.

Even the cantors of Apt were known. There was Cantor Akiva and later the blind cantor who was regarded among the great cantors of Poland. We ourselves did not know how well known our town was. Apt, with its 2000 families, approximately 8000 souls, had a full community life and there were all kinds of political parties - from the extreme left to the extreme right. I should like to begin by describing the religious life of the town.

We had an old beautiful synagogue, four Batei Midrash (houses of study and prayer) and the Chassidic “shtiblach” (small houses of prayer) of Ger, Ostrowitz, Modzitza, Alexander, Belz, , as well as various groups and societies who conducted services only on Sabbath. There was no lack of places of worship in Apt.

The Old Synagogue

The Old Synagogue was beautiful and solidly built of bricks. An ancient holiness permeated the synagogue with its artistic paintings and carvings. In the center stood the “bema” (platform for reading the Torah) supported by four large posts, and overhead hung big massive lamps. In my days, Chayimel Itsche Mayers was the gabbai (irusiee). His tall corpulent physique befitted the large synagogue and when he called out: “let there be quiet”, fear seized us. I cannot picture the synagogue without Chayimel Itshe Mayers.

Throughout the year, the synagogue did not have many worshippers, but on Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur the synagogue was filled to capacity. The synagogue was also the place for important public gatherings, as the presentation of a Scroll of the Torah, prayers for the Polish government or the commemoration of the death of Dr. Theodor Herzl].

The Town Beth Midrash

The so-called 'Town Beth Hamidrash' was located in the courtyard of the Synagogue. It was always full of people, morning, noon and night. All during the day there were people studying. In the long summer days at dusk - before the evening prayers, there were always groups of people studying, or discussing current and local affairs. When a visiting rabbi came to town, he delivered his sermon only at this Beth Hamidrash and the listeners sat in rapt silence, swallowing each word. It was open all the time, winter and summer. It belonged to the city, to every Jew, to every poor traveller and here, during the cold winter days, they would gather around the large square stove to warns themselves, making this their second home.

The Upper Beth Hamidrash

The Upper Beth Hamidrash was located at the upper end of the street and was so named because it was also situated on the second storey of the building. It was sometimes called the Bezimezer Beth Hamidrash. For several years a yeshiva was located there, conducted by Mattis Noachs, a Talmudic scholar.

I especially remember Reb Moshe Yitzchak, a religious eccentric. His wife conducted a lime business to support the family. It was his daily habit to visit every Beth Midrash, searching for pages of religious books that might be lying on the floor. When he found such a page, he would kiss it and put it in its proper place. Once, when the trustees of the Upper Beth Hamidrash painter the walls and decorated the east wall, with something; other than the usual white-wash, Moshe Yitzchak smeared all the walls with lime. He argued that a Jew should concentrate on his prayers and not be diverted by a beautiful wall.

The New Beth Hamidrash

The older generation called this the New Beth Hamidrash and also the Beth Hamid rash of Rabbi Yakov, because it was always clean, airy, light and beautiful. Reb Chayim Hirsh Einbinder was a devoted trustee and it was due to his efforts that the place was always well kept and was the first to install a beautiful electric chandelier.

The most dignified and important people of Apt were affiliated with this Beth Hamidrash. They were wealthy and also Talmudic scholars - among whom were Reb Yekutiel Note Aibshitz and his son, Reb Yonathan Aibshitz and his sons-in-law Shimon Zanberg and Y akov Friedman. There were also the wealthy Jews, Reb Yonah Ivansker, Aharon Bornstein, their sons and sons-in-law, as well as the ritual slaughterers of Apt.

This Beth Hamidrash was also respected for its famous cantors, Pinele Itze Kachives, Leibish Yakl and Avremale Chavim Hirshens. People came froth all over the town to hear Pinele recite the first “slichot” (penitential prayers a week before Rosh Hashannah) and his heartfelt “musaf” during the High Holy Days.

Among the learned scholars who were always studying Torah were : Reb Alter Moshe Hashis, Reb Yossel Margoliot, Reb Maths Noach's, all of blessed memory, also Reb Mendel Naaman, Bch Yossel, the ritual slaughterer and others. Reb Yossel's teaching of the Midrash (homiletical interpretations of the Bible) was most interesting and he had a large following of “students” among the average, hard-working Jews of the town.

Reb Berish Tarler was a man steeped in the study of Torah, who spent more time at the Chassidic Rebbe's than at his own home. His wife and children supported the family by conducting a grain business. There were also a few “batlanim” such as Leibel Shames, Yecheskel Tarler and others. I can not imagine how they managed to sustain themselves. They were very poor, yet had deep faith. They sincerely believed in the “tomorrow” and that conditions would change when Messiah would come.

The Belzer Beth Hamidrash

When the Belzer Rabbi's brother, Reb Shalom Rokeach, of blessed memory, was elected as a Rabbi in Apt, my uncle, Yonathan Zucker, who was a Belzer “Chassid” built a house of study for the Rabbi. My uncle and his wife Estherel had no children, and built this Beth Hamidrash as an everlasting memory in their names. They also built an apartment for themselves nearby, and regarded it as a “mitzva” (a good deed) to personally sweep and keep the place clean. They also presented a Scroll of the Law, written especially for the Beth Hamidrash, and celebrated the occasion with a great parade, as was the custom in Apt.

My uncle was just as concerned about the Beth Harnidrash as he was about his personal business, and without any outside aid, covered all its expenses.

Organizations

All the organizations which were part of Jewish life in Poland were also found in Apt: The Zionist Organization with its youth groups, Hashomer Hatzair, Hechalutz, Hashomer Haleumi; the Mizrachi with its youth groups, Zeire Mizrachi and the women's group, Beruriah; the Agudat Yisrael with its youth, Zeirei, Pirchei and Bnos; the Revisionists and their youth Betar; the left-wing Poale Zion, the Bund and the Communists.

The Zionist Organization

The most important role in the city was played by the Zionist Organization. Its leaders were represented in all city institutions, in the organized Jewish community and in the City Council. The Organization also conducted its own bank and founded a Tarbuth (culture) School, where the language of instruction was Hebrew. They were also the first to organize a Hebrew kindergarten.

The Organization had able men, such as the welfare worker, Michael Rothstein. As a youth, he studied in the Beth Hamidrash, was a member of the Zeire Mizrachi and then joined the Zionist Organization. He was secretary of the Merchants' Association and became an Alderman in the City Council. He was a dynamic force in the movement, devoted himself to the Zionist youth and conducted all cultural activities.

It is worthwhile to mention a number of other active members: Mordechai Weisblum was the President and represented the organization in the City Council. He was one of the most respected personalities in Apt. Saltze Rosenberg was an able woman active in all aspects of social welfare. There was Nathan Bromberg, wise and handsome, a tall man with a beautiful beard, who was a representative in the City Council. Other members were Israel Fishman, Saul Erman, Ben Zion Malitzky, Yisrolke Rosenberg, Mayer Weissblum, Moshe Kleinman, and special mention should be made of Yashe Ilochmitz, who died in the prime of his life.

Of course there were other members, whose names I do not remember any longer. They all yearned for Zion; worked with dedication and saw to it that others went to Eretz Yisrael; but they themselves, to our great sorrow, remained in Apt and were destroyed in the cruel holocaust.

The Mizrachi

The Mizrachi members were religious Jews with Zionist endeavors and were a group of fine Jewish personalities. Mention should be made of Reb Simcha Zilberberg, or as he was called, Simcha Fishels; Moshe Weissblum, the organization's first President; Walwish Kapitzer, Shmuel David Berenzweig, Yankele Berman, Simcha Millstein, Gumpel Weinberg, Leibke Zuckerman, Moshe Mandel, Hertzke Rosenzweig, Yechielke Katz, Moshe Leszt and distinguishing the living from the departed, Mendel Zuckerman, Eliezer Langer and others whose names I no longer remember.

The members of the Mizrachi played an active role in the communal life of Apt and were represented in the Jewish community council as well as in the local City Council. They undertook a daring step and introduced an innovation in the city, - a modern, daily school, called “Tora V'Daat, Yavneh”, where the pupils were taught religious and secular subjects, the language of instruction being Hebrew. Until the opening of this school, the children of Apt studied only with private teachers (melamdim), as each of us remembers. The curriculum of the new school was meaningful, for, in addition to Torah, they also studied Bible, Hebrew, Polish and even were taught singing by R'olfowitz. Other teachers on the staff included Yekele Berman, Simcha Millstein, Yirmeye Meliizky and Abraham Nissenbaum. Later, Noach'1 Gelis and Jacob Leib Lipsky joined the staff.

It is self-evident that a section of Apt Jewry looked with disfavor upon this new educational undertaking, but the fact remains that the Mizrachi did accomplish a great deal and gave impetus to the change and improvement of the educational standards of the children. Other organizations followed this example and organized Yiddish and Hebrew schools.

The roster of membership included buyer Fligelman, who was a president of the organization for a short time and was representative in the Jewish community organization; Yechielke Katz, for some time representative of Mizrachi in the City Council; Avner Gurfinkel; Jacob Dawid Stupinsky; Moshe Shmuklerz, active for the Kereu Kayemet; Aaron Algazy and others. Aaron Algazy deserves special mention for his selfless dedication to the Mizrachi organization in Apt. He was a Chassidic young man, sonin-law of the well-known Orenstein Family. He had a dynamic personality and was a born leader. His activities included: Secretary of the Mizrachi, secretary of the Yavneh school, president of the Zeirei Mizrachi; founder of the women's Mizrachi group Beruriah and patron of the Hashomer Ha dati. Despite the fact that he was a 'very poor man, he took an active part in all meetings of the organization, its activities and other communal work. He yearned to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael and helped others to go; but he, himself, together with many other devoted workers, did not live to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

A few Mizrachi members did reach Eretz Yisrael, such as Simcha Silberberg, Gimpel Weinberg, Moshe Leszt and Samuel Mekler, who was called Shmuel Machinist, all of blessed memory. Reb Mendel Zuckerman, may he live long, first sent his son as a pioneer to Eretz Yisrael, and subsequently realized his life's dream, and came to Palestine with some of his family. There are also members of the Zeirei Mizrachi and Hashomer Hadati who reached Israel, among them the writer of these lines. With deep sorrow we record that the majority remained in Apt and lost their lives there.

Agudat Yisrael

The membership of this organization was comprised mostly of Gerer Chassidim and other fine religious Jews. The Aguda also had its representation in all communal activities and in the City Council. They, too, organized a modern school named “Yesodei Hatorah” for boys and a school for girls only, called “Beth Yaakov”.

Some of the leading members of the Aguda were: Yosele Margolis, a walking encyclopedia, a student of Torah who was for a time the president of the organized Jewish community; Bch Henoch Langer, a tall Jew with a grey beard who was a rich grain merchant and a very successful business man. Reb Henoch devoted himself to communal work and for a long time was president of the organized Jewish community. Having access to government institutions he often was in a. position to help many a coreligionist.

The members of the Aguda youth groups were fine religious young people but were not Zionists and in certain instances fought against Zionist activities. Nevertheless, several young members immigrated to Eretz Yisrael, among these Yakov Weingurt, Hertz Schmelzman and Moshe Blitenthal, who today is an active worker in the Aguda organization in Israel.

The Merchants' And Artisans' Association

Business people and artisans comprised the membership of these two associations, and their leaders were represented in the city institutions. They constituted a large section of Apt Jewry, and were therefore reckoned with in all communal activities.

There were other organizations in Apt, but the dominating role in the life of the town was played by the above-mentioned groups.

The Daily Life

All the organizations conducted their affairs calmly, and without too much interorganizational animosity. Most of the membership did not have the time nor the patience for party activities, because they had a difficult time earning a living and meeting the heavy burden of government taxes. However, on Saturdays and holidays, the synagogue and the Batei Midrashim were crowded. There the Jews found rest and peace of mind, and participated in the various programs and study groups.

It was only during election time that the people became excited. Whether it was for the Polish Parliament, the City Council or the organized Jewish community, election time brought forth arguments, quarrels and discussions. One mould think that the Jews of Apt had nothing else in mind except to worry about the Polish government. Apt did not have really wealthy Jews, except for Eliezer Mandelbaum who had a factory for soap, candles and oil. Benyamin Levenstein and Hanoch Langer were also regarded as rich Jews. But the great majority were small storekeepers and artisans, many of them poor, who had to struggle to sustain themselves and their families.

Recalling all this, I ask: What has become of all the organizations, their leaders, members, the old synagogue, the Batei Midrashim and the whole Jewish community? Who could ever believe that Apt would remain without Jews?

The Decline

Thus the town existed hundreds of years. There were some Jews who never left the city - they were born there, they died there. Thus generation followed generation. But during the past 50 years, the young people saw no future for themselves and they began to emigrate. Many went to America, to Brazil and Argentina, to Eretz Yisrael and to other countries. Still, Apt remained predominantly Jewish until the fierce and evil storm of Nazism came and destroyed the old and famous community with everything it contained.


W h y?

Nahman Lustgarten

More than once I have been asked by friends from my hometown Apt, both in Israel and abroad: Why do we need this book? Can we bring back to life the dead through the publication of this book and the setting of a literary Memorial?

And my answer was:

It is not we who publish this book, but THEY, the saintly and pure in heart, whose blood cries out to us; it is they who urge on us; it is they who ask: Why did the murderers slay us? How have we sinned? What evil have we committed? We were honest and modest, shunned falsehood and wrongdoing, and in the sweat of our brow we earned our poor bread.

It is THEY who want us to speak for them. I look back into the past, into the time before the War, and it is as if I see all the people of the town passing before me, alive. I see them before me, the Jews of the sown: the tailors bent over their sewing machines, from early morning till late in the evening, as they hum their tunes such as “A Schneider nait and nait di ganze Woch”. And for whom did they toil? For the rich Poles and for the others. They sewed their working-day clothes and their festive garb, and their reward -the bread of poverty and a home in a but or a cellar. And I see before me the shoemakers as they sing the folktune “Hammerl, Hammed, klapp”. And I see the carpenters, carrying on their shoulders the windows, doors and tables, and there are the girls and young women binding brooms, sitting at their working tables and singing songs of tragic love...

And I see the small merchants, selling metal and feathers, and all the others who toiled and worked for those who on the day of need forsook them, who did not help them, who laughed at their suffering :wd who collaborated with the murderers.

All these, their wives and .their children ask incessantly: Why were we murdered? For we were pure in heart and deed, and our blood was spilled for no wrongdoing. We demand an answer.

This book which describes how they lived and worked in those days, was in the deepest meaning of the term not written by us but by the saintly and pure in heart who ask the unceasing question: Why? Why?

How it happened

It is very difficult to be objective about what happened 25 years ago. We ourselves witnessed and suffered all the atrocities so that we evaluate them subjectively, and our own experiences color the events. Very often a person is unable to describe his terrible past. Nevertheless we shall attempt to rise above our own emotions and record, in this “Yizkor” Book, events and experiences that no one else has mentioned. We shall tell here of acts of heroism and of cowardice, of noble and of despicable deeds, recording the events in their chronological order, irrespective of whether they relate to Germans or to Jews.

The German murderers who took part in the annihilation of Apt are most surely living a normal life with their families, as though nothing had happened. But we, the survivors, continue to live with the nightmare of our memories.

The Beginning Of The War

The town of Apt was very tense a few days before the outbreak of the war. All kinds of rumors spread, especially when they began to draft the young men for the army and other men to build shelters. Then the Jews of Apt gathered around the kiosks of Yitzhak Reiter and Mirl, who was mute and the daughter of Esther Rivke, to hear the broadcasts on the Polish radio. On September 1, 1939 we heard that the Germans had declared war, and decrees were issued both for the military and civilian population. Our parents, having lived through the first World War, underestimated the seriousness of the situation and spoke of how the Germans in the First World War had treated the Jews well.

A day or two later, refugees as well as Polish soldiers began to pass through our town. Their appearance and reports told of the great destruction. They said that the Polish army was retreating. Some of the soldiers remained in the towns which they reached. More and more refugees arrived and the town became, crowded. Sirens were heard, and German bombs dropped on Apt. Panic seized everyone. It was impossible to buy gasoline - and many refugees left their automobiles and traveled by horse-drawn wagon.

The Germans Reach Apt

On September 6, 1939, traffic slowed down and on the next day there was none at all. People hid in cellars. Silence and fear ruled the town. In the afternoon a German patrol appeared in the market place near the store of Yoseph Margalit. In the evening they set fire to part of the market and also the City Hall. Before the Germans took over the administration there were many robberies. When the military rule was established, the Germans announced that both Jews and Poles would receive the same treatment and everyone should continue his regular work.

After a few months the Germans began to prepare the Jewish population for the evil decrees; thereby they weakened them and prevented the Jews from organizing resistance. Thus life continued until the systematic enforcement of the racial laws began in 1940. These began with large money fines; Jews were deprived of their businesses and factories and were forced to hand over to the Germans gold, silver and copper; even the synagogue and the Batei Midrashim were despoiled of all their ornaments; Jews could not leave town without a permit; at sunset there was a curfew and no Jews were permitted on the streets; all street meetings were prohibited.

In 1940 Jews were forced to wear the yellow “Magen David” badge. All schools were closed and the teachers were carried off to concentration camps. Jewish organizations officially ceased to exist. But in spite of the danger, the Jewish youth would not accept their bitter fate, and sought possibilities to assemble and carry on cultural activities. They managed to hold one concert. But this did not bring us any comfort, for the Germans began to beat and shoot Jews and cut off the beards of old men. We had to choke back our wrath.

At that time it became known to us that Yitzhak Zuckerman (Antek) had come to town and met with a few of us (Hechalutz Hazair). His plan was to establish a kibbutz outside the town - presumably for farming, but actually to prepare Jewish youth for resistance. But nothing came of it, because some of the Jewish leaders were against it. He did succeed, in 1943-44, to get in touch with members of Hechalutz Hazair in the neighboring camps, bringing some supplies and papers to cross over to the Aryan side. Kalman Chernikovskv did the same in the Starachowitz camp and a few other places.

By the end of 1941, the Germans intensified their war against the Jews. Robbing Jewish possessions and the shooting of Jews became a daily occurrence.

A Courageous Jewish Youth From The Village Of Planta

When the Germans brought Jews from surrounding villages to the ghetto in Apt, one family escaped to the forest. A son of this family, a youth of 20, was caught by some goyim and brought in chains, barefoot, to the German police. The Jewish council could not succeed in freeing him. A few days later, he was led with hands tied, from prison to the Jewish cemetery where they were going to shoot him. When the youth realized where be was being taken, he turned, struck the policeman and ran. The policeman's shot missed torn and he managed to escape. We never found out whether he remained alive or not.

In 1942 we heard that Jews who were being transported to “work” were being put to death. We did not want to believe this, but a Jew who escaped from a railroad station on the way to Treblinka confirmed the report. This story made us more tense; the oppressions were becoming worse.

The Expulsion

Early in the morning of October 22, 1942, the Germans drove all Jews from their homes, assembled them on a big empty field, placed them in rows and led them to the railroad. By 8 a. m. there was not a Jew left in town, except for a group of about 70 who were left behind to work for the Germans. We lived in the houses of Shameh Steiman, Yecheskiel Lazars, Kandel, Shnruel Lilenblum. On the way back from the field we stumbled over dead bodies - Jews who were shot because they were late in appearing for the “transport”. Doors and windows were left open, clothing was scattered on the streets, for the people had had no time to pack their belongings.

The first job of the “clean-up crew” was to bury the dead. Then they were divided into smaller groups that searched the houses for valuables which were sent on to Germany: Other possessions were sold by the Germans to the Poles. During these searches, which lasted several weeks, old Jews and: children were found, who were immediately shot by the Germans. A Jewish child was found in the house of Yitzchak Mandelzis and was shot. Another tragic case was that of Chantze Shafran of blessed memory, wife of Abraham Bricks, of blessed memory, who died in childbirth together with her child. Her husband buried them at night. He himself remained alive but died of a heart attack in 1962. The 15-year old son of Pinele Lilienblum, who had been wounded that day trying to escape, reached a house near the synagogue and hid there. During the search, he was found and was murdered by a German policeman. Every day the searchers found more victims as they carried out the orders of the Germans with numb pain and sorrow.

Treblinka

On the very day that the transport of Jews from Apt reached Treblinka, they were destroyed. We did not hear of the dreadful details until some Apt merchants who managed to escape, told us the news. The following returned to Apt: the 18-year old Kulik, son of Pinchas (the butcher); Yakov Yitzchak, the son of the shoemaker who lived opposite Fligelman; the third was the 22-year old Frushan (Ephraim) Singer, who lived near the synagogue; the last one to return was the brother-in-law of Shlomo Weverman, who escaped from Treblinlca at the end of December 1942, after spending six weeks there. They told us how our parents, sisters, brothers and friends were put to death. Only 90 young people were saved, who were taken out of the transport and put to hard labor. One of them told us, that the moment they were put into the railroad cars they knew they were being led to slaughter. Yirmeyahu Nissenbaum recited the “V'iddui” prayer with them.

When there was no more hard work for the young people taken out of the transport, the Germans and Ukrainians killed 60 of them most cruelly. After this occurred, those who were left were determined to escape. When they were working on the construction of another concentration camp, a group of them hid and set out for Apt, when it became dark. But not one of them remained alive at the end of the war. Only the son of Professor Willenberg, who had come to Apt to paint the synagogue, and was in the transport to Treblinka, escaped from there after 11 months and lives in Israel today.

At the end of November unexpected news reached us. The Germans permitted Jews, who were hiding, to move about freelyrn the four “Jewish cities” that they had established in the province of Kielce. About 20 to 30 Jews registered in Apt.

The Zoismer Ghetto

On December 1, 1942, the Germans sent the remaining Apt Jews to the Zoismer ghetto. Since we were allowed to go freely, we thought that relief had come. But on arriving at Zoismer, we found about 6000 Jews from the surrounding towns, living under a more strict regime than formerly. The ghetto was fenced in by a wall and' consisted of two streets. Ten or more people lived in one room.

The conditions were unbearable. It 'was impossible to get food, and the lack of sanitation was frightful. Many died of typhus, others committed suicide. It was hard to get medical aid. The Jews feared the hospital, for the Germans would kill those who were critically ill. In the afternoon, when it was permitted to leave the house and walk about, the streets were crowded. But there was no work and each day we felt the end would come. Some Jews in neighboring camps, hearing about the Zoismer ghetto, thought that conditions there were better ahd came to Zoismer, only to discover that they had been ensnared.

False Rumors

At that time rumors spread that the Germans would exchange Germans living in Eretz Yisrael for Jews of Poland. The German director of the camp, Officer Lescher, announced that the Jews waiting to go to Eretz Yisrael should register in the Jewish community. He waited until late at night, pressing for the list. This was a false rumor. When he left, the Germans and their Ukrainian collaborators besieged the ghetto so that no one could escape. At night the drunken Ukrainians stole into the ghetto and robbed the Jews of their possessions. Unfortunately our Apt Jews, who lived in the house near the fence, were the first to be robbed.

Early in the morning of January 10, 1943, the Germans shattered a wall of the ghetto and drove all the Jews to the market place. As they left the ghetto, hundreds of Jews were shot dead and were left lying in the passage way. 6000 Jews were made to stand on the square; 300 of them were sent to the camp at Skarzysko; the remainder were led on foot to the railroad station of Zoismer. Many of them were shot on the road, the others were packed into freight cars and transported to Treblinka. Those who went with the transport had to leave their bundles of clothing behind. Thus there was a great heap of objects lying in the square and a mound of dead Jews. These were gathered and buried in a common grave, and after a week, dismembered frozen limbs were buried. Here, too, several score were left to clean up. In the summer of 1943 they liquidated the ghetto completely, except for those who managed to hide.

During the final liquidation, those who were fit to work were sent to Radom, Pianek and Lizeum (near Zoismer) where there already were some Jews from Apt. The others, the Germans shot dead. This action was carried out by the SS Officer Reininger.

In the Lizeum Camp

The Lizeum camp had about 300 Jews. When we came, we were divided into work groups; on the highway; on the estate of SS men in Mokoshin and in the camp for the Germans. Jews in the surrounding areas who lived among non-Jews and wanted to be with their own people, infiltrated into the camp. From time to time, the Germans seized these illegals” and shot them. One morning the Germans surrounded a house outside the camp, where some young Jews had been hiding, and brought them to the Zoismer Zoismer prison. Among them were Chayim Fishman (son of Yisroel Fishman), Zigmunt Sosnowitz (grandchild of Yekl Sosnowitz), Fishel Wilner, Leibish Orenstein, Malke Marmorek and others. A few days later they were taken to the cemetery and were shot. When they were passing the camp, Zigmunt Sosnowitz threw us a kerchief, in which there was a letter telling us that they knew the fate awaiting them, and we should not forget, and take revenge.

In 1943 the Germans transferred many people from Lizeum to other camps, and at the end of the year the camp was liquidated. At the end of 1941 there were still some Apt Jews in various camps, where they worked like slaves manufacturing weapons. These camps were: Skarzysko, Starachowitz, Radom, Pianek, Kielce, Blizshin, Czestochov and Ostrowiec. The conditions in these camps were terrible. They were surrounded by barbed wire fences and the provisions were very poor. From time to time the Ukrainian guards shot those unfit to work. When the Russians reached the Vistula River in the summer of 1944, the Germans took all the people out of the Lizeum camp and sent them to Auschwitz or to camps in Germany.

In 1944 there were still 1500 Apt Jews alive. But to our great sorrow only 300 Jews survived the war. These are scattered today in all parts of the world.

We, the survivors, were forced to begin life anew and strike roots in strange fields. In Apt itself, not a sign of Jews or of the Jewish community that existed for hundreds of years was left. The German murderers uprooted every trace of Jewish life in Apt.

PINCHAS HOCHMITZ
ELIYAHU SILBERBERG
RIVKE KATZ
MEIR LUSTMAN
SHLOMO FEI DMAN

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