Our Book: A Record of Our Heritage
The remnants of Eastern European Jewry have been compiling and publishing books as memorials to their destroyed communities. Several books appear each year and thus we have an immense new branch of post-war literature, one dealing with The Destruction. No other people in the world can claim such literary distinction.
These books are not written by professional writers or famous authors, but by ordinary, everyday people, descendants of a people that produced the first Book in the world. The books are authored by the survivors of the Nazi holocaust, by the children of a martyred people. They tell the story of their communities, their origin, the story of a flourishing culture rooted by many generations, and the story of the tragic end.
In the minds of the people these books have become synonymous with monuments. Every group believes that by publishing a memorial book they are erecting a tombstone to their hometown and beloved kin whose graves are nowhere to be found.
A book is far more important than any tombstone, for the latter merely indicates the burial place and date of death, and it tells nothing of the rich life and accomplishments of the deceased.
Our disaster literature is far more than a row of marble monuments with engraved names and dates. The books give a detailed account of a colorful creative life over many centuries, coupled with years of struggle because of Jewish identification.
To us the disaster literature is primarily the history of the golden age of Polish Jewry and its unique status as a resourceful base for Judaism and Jews the world over.
Poland was the spring-board and feeding ground for all Jewish movements: Hasidism, Enlightenment, Zionism, and Socialism.
Poland was a great center of modern Jewish literature and press, theatre and arts, a center of Torah and tradition. It had the greatest accumulation of houses of worship and Jewish learning, scholars and rabbinical authorities. Nowhere else cold one find such an extended network of Yiddish and Hebrew schools. Poland was recognized as the greatest center and home of Jewish and Hebrew books, with an abundance of writers as well as of readers. Polish Jewry gave the world outstanding personalities in every field of endeavor: scholars and leaders, writers and orators, actors and artists, pioneers and revolutionaries who fought on barricades and battlefields and sacrificed their lives for a better future and a just world.
And Radom was indeed a jewel in the crown of Polish Jewry
Those who have never seen our great city will now get acquainted with it. They will find in these pages the story of our hometown dating back for centuries with its legends and upheavals, its growth and achievements. Our children will learn from this book their parents' background, the cultural and economic structure which the Nazis had laid waste. The chapters in this book describe not only the process of destruction but also what was destroyed. The history of the most monstrous persecution in human history does not end with the physical annihilation of over thirty thousand men, women, and children of Radom. It means the devastation of the priceless material and spiritual wealth, of a highly developed culture and social organization.
Radom lies in the very heart of Poland, about sixty miles south of the capital city of Warsaw, at a strategic junction of railways and highways leading to all Polish major cities. It is surrounded by primeval forests, fragrant orchards and fertile fields fed by the Radomka and Mleczna rivers.
If you arrived by railroad, the hansom cab would bring you from the station to the city by the beautiful Trougutt-Allee, lined with chestnut trees. The air is fresh, with the aroma of blossoms
from the two large parks, the new and the old one. In those parks we promenaded during our adolescent, romantic years, with a song in our hearts, yet with rebellious spirits.
A truly romantic place, where the legend still persists of a beautiful Jewish girl who became the uncrowned queen of Poland. King Kazimierz built a palace for his sweetheart Esther and name it 'Rad-dom', the happy house, whence the town supposedly derived its name. The Esterka House is still there, at Rynek 5, bearing witness to a great love in the distant past.
The fortress-city prides itself with its Twelfth Century castle and remnants of ancient fortifications the Wall. It was also the seat of the Polish Sejm (parliament) in the late middle ages.
Wars, fires and floods changed the face of the city many tiems. Rebuilt time and again, it grew beyond its peripheries into a large modern industrial city with a population of over 100,000.
Old Polish legends indicate that the settlement of Jews in Poland began in ancient times, long before its recorded history began. The largest immigration of Jews to Poland took place during the Crusades in the middle ages; they fled slaughter and persecution of the Crusaders in Germany. The Polish rulers welcomed a trading class in a country predominantly agricultural and gave them protection.
The first reference to Jews in Radom dates back to the year 1568. There follow century-long periods of persecution and banishments, economic deprivations and discrimination, mostly instigated by the church and local fanatics. There were also periods of short duration during which the Jewish people enjoyed a peaceful life.
A thousand threads bound the Jews of Poland to Polish soil which became saturated with sights and tears. All this time they remained a distinct people, true to their faith and to their adopted home.
Records indicate that there were only 413 Jews in Radom in 1815. Yet their numbers grew steadily and in the last years before World War II the Jewish population of Radom reached 30,000. They played a prominent part in many vital fields of the city's economic development; they pioneered and built many new enterprises and turned Radom into one of the major industrial centers of Poland. The economic contribution of Polish Jewry to the life of the country was especially notable throughout the 21 years of the existence of the Polish Republic, from 1918 to 1939. The vitality and resilience displayed by the largest Jewish community in Europe during those two decades have few parallels anywhere.
Radom was a center of leather industry with close to one hundred tanneries and shoe factories, of which 70% belonged to Jews. The Jews pioneered and developed foundries and iron-works, lumber mills and furniture factories, ceramics and china factories, chemical plants, candle and soap factories, brick factories. The products of Radom's industries were of high quality and were exported to many European countries.
The Jews of Radom carried on diversified trade and commerce activities, established banks, loan associations and credit cooperatives. They were organized into merchants' associations and business clubs.
The largest number of Jews worked as artisans, primarily in the garment trade. There were also thousands of industrial workers. Most of them belongs to labor unions and craftsmen clubs.
There was a substantial number of Jews in the liberal professions: doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, accountants, clerks, brokers, musicians.
The Jewish congregation of Radom was well organized and maintained a number of institutions: a hospital, orphanage, home for the aged, houses of worship, cemetery, religious schools.
The economic growth of the city brought with it social progress and a Renaissance movement among the Jews of Radom.
Secular Enlightenment as opposed to Hasidism come to Radom in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century. It was introduced by Leon Lieberman, but is greatest exponents and leaders were Rabbi Samuel Mohilever and Israel Frankel pioneered in Radom modern teaching methods, the
study of Jewish history and Jewish cultural values according to modern science; he was also the first Zionist missionary. After Frankel's death, his son Yechiel and Shalom Diament carried on and became the leaders of the Zionist movement.
Enlightenment ideas instilled in the young people a desire for learning, especially in secular subjects. The youth of Radom flocked to the Polish state schools, attended evening courses and vocational schools. Several Jewish private schools were then founded in Radom, including a co-educational high school name Przyjaciol Wiedzy (Friends of Knowledge), with Polish as the instructional language and a curriculum of modern Hebrew. The high school was founded by Jozef Temerson and had a seven-year grammar school affiliated with it. There were also the Shul-Cult elementary school for religious girls, a Zionist religious school Yavne. The School of Music trained many talented performers. A sizeable number of Jewish sturdents from Radom attended universities in Poland and abroad.
The Jewish press in Poland wielded a powerful influence in the political and cultural life of Polish Jewry. The spirit of the Jewish press was thoroughly democratic, and the influence it exerted reached far beyond Poland. In 1939 there were 27 Jewish dailies and over 100 weeklies in Poland, besides several dozens of other periodicals, possibly reaching more than half a million readers. Radom did not completely depend on the outside press and published its own papers three in Yiddish and one in the Polish language for Polish speaking Jews.
Radom saw a wealth of Jewish theatrical performances not only by famous touring troupes, but also by its own drama circles. Dozens of Jewish libraries were in existence and tens of thousands of volumes circulated among old and young alike. Young people loved sports and were fans of our sport clubs: Hakoah, Bar-Kochba, Maccabi, Hashmonai, Hashahar, Stern, Morgenstern and others.
Radom was proud of her sons who achieved world-fame in the field of Jewish literature. To mention some of the names there were Joshua Perle, Leib Malach, M.D. Gisser, Leo Finkelstein, I.L. Wollman, Prof. Elchanan Schuetzer, Rabbi Yeshaya Zlotnick, Dr. Isaac Weinberg, Judge Jozef Beckerman.
Along with a flourishing cultural life came a development in the Zionist and Socialist movements in Radom: General Zionists, WIZO women Zionists, revisionists, Mizrachi, Agudah, Hecholutz. Furthermore, youth organization: Hashomer-Hatzair, Hashomer Hadati, akiba and Massadah. Jewish worker groups participated in early revolutionary movements and organized strikes and demonstrations and fought actively against Tsarist oppression. In the period between two world wars the 'Bund', Poalei-Zion' and Communist parties conducted great political and economic campaigns against reaction. Young idealists and labor leaders were incarcerated or exiled to Siberia and, in latter years, gave their lives on the battlefields for freedom in the Spanish Civil War. Others sought their way illegally to the shores of Palestine as pioneers of the Jewish State.
Radom had its share of wealthy Jewish men and women who were great benefactors and philanthropists. It also had its honest leaders who unselfishly devoted a lifetime to the welfare of the community. It had a long list of elected officials and representatives to the municipal government who were true servants of the Jewish community.
Yes, Radom was a great, dynamic city with a pulsating, rich, creative Jewish life. Now the Jewish community of Radom lies in ruins as a result of the greatest crime ever committed against humanity.
In the chapters of this book we will attempt to re-create some of Radom's past and to tell the story of its destruction and the martyrdom of it's people. To them, with love, we dedicate this book.
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