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{205}

Zgierz Brings Honor
to the Jewish Entrepreneurial Spirit

by A. Litwin

From Brzeziny to Zgierz is very close: only a few stops. But what a difference, what a gulf lies between those two cities!

A heavy black pall falls over the soul when one enters into the dirty Jewish shantytown in the midst of the clean town with a full fledged European appearance and rich industry.

Zgierz and Tomaszow are two important points in Polish textile manufacturing. Higher class people of Zgierz stand taller than those of Lodz. Zgierz is not second to Lodz regarding a customer [1]. It does not push out merchandise to anybody; it does not build its existence upon “packages”, that is upon yellow promissory notes.

Zgierz was at the peak of its power. The merchant who wishes to have a good piece of merchandise must come to it. He must come himself, and he must do so with hard cash. Only people with a steady company, with an impeccable reputation of many years duration would be permitted to come to Zgierz without ready cash.

Brzeziny's gloom lies on the heart, its pride is vacant for the Jewish “productivity”, which is an ugly caricature of true productivity – it feels as its national self feelings are strongly raised up in Zgierz.

Zgierz is not Brzeziny. Zgierz has nothing to be ashamed of. She works precisely on such fine material, like a gentile from Bialystok.

Zgierz is, like Bialystok, a Jewish manufacturing town. In Zgierz, the heart rejoices about the Jewish capital, about the Jewish entrepreneurial spirit.

And a few more words about its pride. It was only about 5-6 years earlier when the Jewish capital played a very peripheral role in Zgierz manufacturing. Only 10% of Zgierz factories belonged to Jews. The other manufacturers were all – Germans.

Now, Jews take the most prominent role in Zgierz industry. The German manufacturers slowly immigrated to Germany. Jewish manufacturers are now 70%.

And you have what to be happy about with respect to Jewish capital. Zgierz is not Brzeziny. Zgierz does honor to the Jewish entrepreneurial spirit. Zgierz is one of the most important points in Polish textile productions. And Zgierz is – a Jewish city…

However… Where are the Jews?

You go through the streets of Zgierz. It is appropriate to go through the streets of Zgierz. Here, the smokestacks are not in the middle of the city, as they are in Lodz. Here, one does not sense with the eyes the contrast between rich and dark ruins, as one usually sees in Lodz and in Warsaw.

Zgierz was above all a working city. Aside from a few large brick houses in the center where the electric tramway from Lodz stopped; most everywhere else there were small, clean workers houses. These houses were of a different type: one story with a room for two or three families. They had massive doors of the old German style, and a wide porch in the front with benches upon which to spend time after work. The streets were peaceful, quiet, and clean.

One goes further, and the few shadows disappear. Throughout there are either large factories or small brick houses; on the street, one encounters at every step German and Polish workers.

Off by the side, a little farther on, is a half collapsed, lowly shtibel [2]. In the window, you can notice a shadow from which comes to your ears the familiar “tic a toc” ... “tic a toc”… You go closer and make out the known portrait of the Lodzer Balut, from Zdunska Wola … This is the last Mohawk.

Around an old, half destroyed armchair, and old, half wasted Jewish weaver is occupied … the list of the Mohawk…

There, behind the synagogue, I tell you, the rabbi lives. The rabbi looks out from the window into the desolate street. It seems to be that aside from the Jewish woman with the old, tattered dress, with the wrinkled hands and face, sitting by her broken, empty closet and basket, and aside from the bent, sexagenarian weaver with the possibly hundred year old armchair, it is empty and desolate all around.

The rabbi is sitting there, deep in his thoughts, melancholy thoughts. He was the rabbi here for fourteen years. This is not a lot – fourteen years. He himself is not a particularly old man. And what has taken place around him during these fourteen years, above all during the last five or six years.

He will have to give a reckoning in the subversive world around him, in the jumble of questions that bring his thoughts and drive away his sleep; he searches for an answer to those questions in his bookcase. He ruminates in the Gemaras, and the early and latter commentators, as he searches for a way out of the tangle of new, difficult questions. He searches but does not find.

A remarkable thing takes place! Such a thing that never took place with any rabbi in any town or village. The rabbi of Zgierz began to occupy himself with completely different books. He reads and writes… reads and writes…

He does not write questions and responsa about the laws of divorces or marriages; he does not write novel ideas and commentaries about some sage or another. He writes page after page about… the national and economic desolation of the Jewish people.

He does not write theories or research ideas in books. He writes only what his eyes see, what he himself has experienced in the last five or six years. He writes with the agony of a prophet, with the blood of his heart… I am the man who witnessed agony [3].

He writes page after page, and comes to a sad, terrible conclusion:

The Jewish people are marching with hasty steps toward national and economic bankruptcy…

This presents iron clad facts about life. And the books, the new books demonstrate and declare that this is what has to be, this is what must be.

Nine or ten years previously, Jews lived here and nothing was bad. A hundred Jewish coachmen earned fine livelihoods. Then came the electric tramway from Lodz, and the next morning, the existence of all hundred coachmen was terminated.

Zgierz is a workers' town. The workers do not earn a bad living. The local German and Polish workers are not crude people. They eat, drink, and carry on respectably. Hundreds of Jewish families earn their livelihood from them. Then came the revolution with its new ideas. The workers learnt how to organize “spulkes” cooperatives. They learnt all of the commercial wisdom from the Jews, and were intelligent themselves – they had no more need of the Jews.

And the Mariowites [4], for example, completely killed off the Jewish existence. They had the opportunity to look well into their activity. Where else could they have as much power, as much influence, as much success as here. There was no anti-Semitism here in their section. Since they were here, the Polish workers were somewhat ideal; they conducted an empty life, the look with open eyes upon you and upon the world.

They learnt how do without the Jews completely. The Mariowites, if they wanted to embrace the Polish masses, which was indeed the main point of their doctrine – continued on and formed “spulkes”. Everything in the life of the Polish workers was through their cooperatives. They did not have any bad thoughts against Jews; they snatched away their livelihood, and completely destroyed the foundation of their means of support.

Worse that everything, one cannot fault the strangers. What comes out of it: the present situation was worse than death. The situation grew worse from day to day.

A ruin was made of the Jews of Zgierz before their eyes. The situation grew sparser and sparser each day. Young and old had to pick up their walking sticks in order not to die from hunger.

Artisans were ruined in all of the stores. Only a few small stores and stalls remained, as a remembrance to the destruction [5]. However, that was for today – tomorrow they would be deceived.

Only one Jew remained here, who was not pushed out and removed or robbed of his human and civil rights by the electric tramway, the “spulke” or the Mariowites.

This is the weaver. He, who had a part in the building up, in the creation of Zgierz capital, of Zgierz riches, might and power, would not leave here under any circumstances.

The Jewish manufacturer came here and drove out the last Jew, who had full rights in Zgierz, his own brother…

And here, the questions for the rabbi of Zgierz were so muddled. As rabbi, he had to search for a merit for the Jewish people. As a Jew, he had to rejoice that Zgierz would once again be a Jewish city; where Jewish manufacturers had such a strong part in Zgierz industry.

However, how can there be a Jewish city without Jews? How can one rejoice over the good fortune of those who were the misfortune of their Jewish brothers? From then, who were cruel to their poor brethren, like the Mariowites, the “spulke”, the priests?

And all of the muddled questions were merged together into one strong, terrible question in the rabbi's mind:

Will there still be a Jewish people?

From the new books in which the rabbi browses from time to time in order to find an answer to the new questions as the spiritual leader of the people, he felt obligated to answer. He knew that in every people, there were classes whose interests contradict each other. However, there are also interests that unite them, the opposing classes and parties.

He indeed sees, for example, how the lot of the Polish people is almost entirely different than that of the Jewish people. The struggles between them: Naradowcy (Nationalist Party members), Postepowcy (Progress Party members), Ksieza (Clergy Party members), Socialists. In the competition with each other, each side wants to attract to it the people, the masses. That means that every side appreciates the people for their powers, shows them respect, has need of them, due to politics, or perhaps for the purpose of acting straight with the people and doing something for them. They educate them, they endeavor to organize them into some domain, and they show them new forms of living.

The people live somewhat, they begin the show culture, their economic situation strengthens, bridges are built between different portions of the people, and they unite.

The rabbi attempts to look for traces of such unity within the Jewish people. But there are none! It is exactly the opposite! Everyone for himself. Everyone is tearing farther from the other. Everyone is running from the other. If anything unites them, it is the general indifference to the lot of the Jewish masses. And there is no greater example of this than Zgierz.

The rabbi's glance turns to the invitation card that he had just received. He reads the card over again, and a deep pain twitches through his gut.

They are inviting him. He must deliver a sermon on the topic of “strengthening the faith”. They have chosen him to conduct the “dedication of the group”. A group “of upholders of the faith” was founded by the Orthodox Jewish manufacturers of Zgierz. They have founded a Yeshiva in Zgierz. They are supporting a few dozen Yeshiva youth. They are concerned about the faith… that the religion should not, G-d forbid, go down.

He went to the dedication of their group, and he delivered a sermon to them. However it was not about strengthening the religion! No! He read a document of accusation. He demonstrated to them a greater destruction than the destruction of the religion. He showed them about the destruction of the nation. Dark, terrible colors did he portray to them. He wished to awaken sparks of love and pity for their people in their hearts…

When he concluded, a cold, angry murmur spread through the hall.

His ears distinctly heard: “The rabbi is becoming involved in matters that are not his business”; “A rabbi must speak about 'upholding the faith'”; “why is he getting involved into strange matters?”.

From them on, the rabbi no longer spoke. Rather, on lonely nights, he would often sit down with new books and write. He wrote, the Jeremiah of Zgierz, a new “Eicha”, a new “I am the man” [6] – regarding the destruction of the Jewish nation.

(From the book, “Jewish Souls”, volume 4, “Poland”.)


{211}

The Zgierz Synagogue and Beis Midrash

by Rabbi Shimon Huberband [7]

When the Jewish community of Zgierz was still very small and consisted of only a meager quantity of Jews, Zgierz was affiliated with the community of Leczyca. Later, it belonged to the old community of Parzenczow, between Zgierz and Ozorkow. The Zgierz Jews buried their dead in Parzenczow before a cemetery was founded in their own city.

The Jewish cemetery in Zgierz was founded in the year 5586 (1826). The ledgers of the Chevra Kadisha were kept from that year. The first monuments of the Zgierz cemetery are also from that year.

Formerly, the Jewish settlement in Zgierz was concentrated around the “Piaskes”. There, there was a small, wooden synagogue. Later, the gentile guardian of the cemetery lived there.

Approximately one hundred years ago, thanks to the efforts of the local priests, the Jews had to leave the “Piaskes” and settle on the Jewish street (called Lodzer Street). At that time, the small wooden synagogue building became the residence of the gentile cemetery guard.

{Photo page 212: The Zgierz synagogue.}

A wooden synagogue was constructed as well on the Jewish Street. It was not very large in size.

On one occasion on Yom Kippur at Kol Nidre, a Jew who was standing at the edge of the synagogue overheard a racket from the eastern wall of the synagogue. On account of the excitement and nervousness that the moment of Kol Nidre awakened in Orthodox Jews, he did not pay attention to what was taking place at the eastern wall. Shouts broke out: “It's burning! It's burning!” A forceful panic broke out in the women's section. Women started trampling one over the other, and a few women were thereby killed. Legend relates that one month later, the synagogue suddenly collapsed, and Zgierz was left without a synagogue.

At that time, the rabbi, Rabbi Shalom Tzvi HaKohen was offered the rabbinate of Kalusz. The rabbi of Zgierz decided to accept the rabbinate of Kalusz. At the same time, 85 years ago, that is in the year 5617 (1856), a guest rabbi, Rabbi Yechiel Meir, came to Zgierz for a Sabbath. The people of the community approached the guest with a complaint as to why their rabbi wishes to leave. The guest rabbi visited the rabbi, and asked him why he wants to leave the city.

The rabbi answered him: “How can I be in a city in which there is no synagogue?” The rabbi admitted that the local rabbi had a point, and promised him that if he does not leave Zgierz, he would see to it that they immediately commence building a fine synagogue.

The guest rabbi called a meeting of the local householders and told them of the rabbi's desire. It was immediately decided to begin building a synagogue. At that same meeting, 3,000 rubles were collected. The next day, a plot was purchased in the center of the city, and they immediately began to build a superb synagogue.

The work of building the synagogue lasted for several years. The synagogue building was a wonderful combination of architecture; from the outside, the synagogue was symmetrical; on the inside, it had a stately dome that appeared like the sun, moon, and stars. There were four very tall, thick wooden columns in the four corners of the synagogue, patterned after the balcony of the Holy temple. There were seventy Torah scrolls and many silver holy vessels in the synagogue. There was a stately reading desk in the middle of the synagogue – which according to its inscription was donated by the woman Chana, the wife of Reb David Hendlisz. There were many expensive ark covers and curtains. One silk curtain from the year 5626 (1866) was woven with some gold and silver threads. There was a tablecloth on the reader's lectern that is almost 200 years old, from the year 5532 (1772). That tablecloth is made of silk and velvet, adorned with an ample amount of pure gold and silver stripes. That tablecloth had its origins in a curtain that a community sent as a gift to the Zgierz synagogue at its founding.

A few years ago, the Zgierz community, as one of the richest in Poland, succeeded in installing 50 eight-branched electric chandeliers in the synagogue.

{Photo page 214: The cemetery in Zgierz. Photo by Zeev Fisher.]

{Photo page 215: Jewish young men on a Sabbath stroll: M. Bomes, A. Boaz, Y. Elberg, A. Poznerson.}

During the time of the First World War, the Russians and later the Germans took very good care of the synagogue. The German officers, who used to often search the synagogue, did not have sufficient words to describe its beauty.

The Beis Midrash was also very beautiful and large. The Beis Midrash could hold over 2,000 people. Reb David the son of the rabbi of Brzeziny (the uncle of the writer David Frischman) donated 2,000 rubles for the construction of the synagogue. There was a special inscription in Polish regarding this in the Beis Midrash. There were 30 Torah scrolls there, and an unknown number of books, including many items of significance. The mikva was in the same courtyard as the synagogue and Beis Midrash.

The cemetery was founded in the year 5686 (1826) as has been stated. N the Zgierz cemetery, one could find the resting place of the mother of the Czechanower Rebbe Reb Avrahamele; the first rabbi Reb Shalom Tzvi; the second rabbi Reb Hirsch, and also the rabbis of Brzeziny and Zyrardow.


{216}

The Weaver

{Drawing page 216:A fragment from “Kaluszer Statute”, the work of the famous artist Arthur Szyk.}
… From the loaded weaver's machine
He pulls it now together, and everything
He glances through the combs;
He steps industriously on the shaft
Trip-Trap! Trip-Trap! On the shaft
The bars shoot together
According to what one sees with the eyes
The ship is running; an arrow from the boy
The weaving ship runs:
Nimbly here and nimbly there,
Chik-Chak! Chik-Chak! Nimbly here
And one does not see how much. – – –
(From David Frischman's “Before the Messiah”)

The Jewish hand weaver – the pioneer and builder of the Jewish textile industry in Poland, made his first appearance; he who with his hard effort and diligence, from morning to night – often hungry – at the loom, contributed the most to the immense growth of the general Polish textile industry.

The remnants of those who remained were murdered by the German murderers; their creative existence was completely obliterated from the history of the “new” Poland. May our modest words memorialize him, the Jewish hand weaver, with an eternal remembrance!


{217}

The Textile Industry in Zgierz in the year 1936

by David Baum

From the monthly journal “The Jewish Economic”, June-July 1937. Published by the economic statistical section of Yivo, under the editorship of Yaakov Leczinski.

1

Prior to the First World War, Zgierz employed a smaller number of Jewish manufacturers than today, perhaps around 30 people. Their means were, however, greater than today. Many of them were requested to found their manufacturing enterprises with greater capital; others were veteran professionals of many years duration. Travelers traveled throughout Russia to procure material for their work from the residue market. A few Jewish textile enterprises became million-firms [8] with time. Socially, the pre-war Jewish manufacturers stemmed either from a half assimilated and Maskil environment, or from a Hasidic-aristocratic environment. It is remarkable that the large pre-war firms had for the most part existed for two generations. They could not uphold themselves for longer. Thereby, they made place for up and coming firms. There were several dozen German manufacturers before the war. There were very rich German manufacturers, with their own weavers, spinners, operators [9], and mid-sized factories with several looms. The rest worked for others. Today, two well-known, large German enterprises exist, who work with Jewish employees. In comparison to the role that they played in former years, they today lead a paltry existence.

Today, we find 61 Jewish manufacturers in Zgierz. We must add to the number 20 manufacturers from Lodz who give out work to the home manufacturers of Zgierz. From among that number of Zgierz manufacturers, there were 14 partnership enterprises, composing 36 families. In total, more than 80 Jewish families earn their living from manufacturing in Zgierz. The 61 manufacturers can be placed into three categories. Large textile firms, which own a large number of their own looms, spinning machines power cutting machines, etc., can be placed into the first category. These number approximately 16. To the next category belong manufacturers who run large scale enterprises, possess open stockrooms for merchandise, and employ hired shearers, stuffers, etc. However, they do not own their own factories, and give out the work to hired weavers and home manufacturers. In this category are also included those who used to own their own looms, but rented them out or sold them due to the high cost. This group numbers about 25 people. The last group consists of manufacturers who conduct their manufacturing on a small scale and do not own open warehouses, but rather hold their merchandise in their private dwelling. A portion of these manufacturers do not even employ shearers, but rather do the work themselves like the shearers of former times. A few of these small manufacturers own one or two looms, in which they give off their own woof [10]. These manufacturers employ their own children or family members to work those looms. This category includes about 20 people.

{Photo page 218: A group of Jewish textile experts in Zgierz during their Sabbath rest.
Sitting: L. Gelbard, Sh. Glowinski, B. Srkowowski, B. Sribnik, Y. Kaminsky. Standing – L. Tenenbaum, Y. Fisher, L. Sribnik.}

There are only very few textile firms that existed before the war. Presently, we only find in Zgierz six such Jewish firms. Of them, four enterprises were given as an inheritance to the present owners from their parents, and two were founded by their current owners. The current manufacturers are different in many ways from the pre-war ones. Most of them recruit from known master craftsmen, employees, brokers, weavers, tailors, garbage collectors, and regular merchants. The Hassidic manufacturers form a group among themselves. In general, they primarily engage employees, weavers, and other workers from amongst their own, from the shtibel. They give out work to home manufacturers from among the same group. Their first row consists of people from among their own. One Hassidic manufacturer rented out his workstations for very small rates. During the course of a few years, those formerly idle Gerrer Hassidic young men became owners of their own workshops, in which they themselves worked as weavers.

2

In Zgierz, there is one Jewish kamgarn spinning shop, whose owner can be counted among the richest Jews in the city. There are also large thread spinning shops in Lodz and in other cities. There Jewish firms in Lodz purchase from the thread spinning shops, who procure thread for their factories. Five Jews of Zgierz are employed in this commodity. They serve as middlemen, presenting the thread to the manufacturers of the large Lodzer firms.

The suppliers of yarn to the industry in Zgierz are local Jewish spinners, who purchase used cloth [11] and sorted it out. Chalutzim (Zionist pioneers) from the local kibbutzim [12] are employed at that work Those spinners do not own their own spinning wheels, but rather give out the material to spin on rented spinning wheels that were found in Zgierz. Twelve Zgierz Jewish families (aside from Lodzers) earn their living from that branch of industry directly as spinners. As well, five families earn their living indirectly as deliverers of raw material and rags. There are seven yarn spinning enterprises in Zgierz: one Jewish, one Polish, and five German. The only Jewish spinning enterprise in Zgierz belongs to a Jew from Lodz, and employed about 100 gentile workers. The hired people [13] include two Jews one gentile. The firm own five spinning machines.

All of the Zgierz yarn spinning enterprises employ 650 gentile workers and 29 hired workers, including 2 Jews. One does not need any special qualifications to work in a yarn spinning factories. Experienced workers can earn up to twenty something guilder a week.

In Zgierz, there are two yarn dying workshops, Jewish enterprises, which provide for the Zgierz industry. One firm was in existence from before the war, and was given over as an inheritance. This enterprise grew greatly after the war and became one of the richest industrial enterprises in the city. Today, the firm employs 32 workers, including 13 Jews and 4 Jewish hired people. The second dying workshop is considerably smaller, and does not possess all of the modern machines. They work there in a more primitive fashion. That enterprise is a partnership of three people: one is the master dyer and the other two occupy themselves with the business side. There are 16 workers employed in the enterprise, including 11 Jews. Most of the Jewish employees are Hassidim, former shopkeepers who liquidated their business and became involved in physical labor.

The silk for effects is obtained from out of the country via Jewish firms in Lodz. Two Zgierz Jews occupy themselves with taking orders and delivering the various silks to the Zgierz factories.

There are seven hired tzvernereien [14] in Zgierz. Five of them are Jewish. The five Jewish enterprises employ 42 people, of whom 4 are Jewish (3 women workers and 1 porter), and 4 Jewish hired people. We find very few Jewish women workers employed in the Jewish tzverneriens, because until recently there were almost no Jewish tzvernerins. Today, a few Jewish girls study tzvernerei.

In Zgierz the woof are mostly sheared by hand. A shearer can shear one woof a day. Since there were eighty shearers today in Zgierz, it is obvious that the majority of them do not have a constant supply of work.

Aside from the hand shearers, there are also a small number of power shearers who work in factories that possess mechanical shearing machines. There are eight of these people. Six shearers run contract shearing workshops, and occupy themselves with spooling and shearing at other factories. Two contract shearers own power shearing machines. The shearing profession is exclusively in Jewish hands. Special rigging experts were needed to rig the woof. Two Jewish families occupy themselves with this, and employ a large number of gentiles. Six Jews and a large number of gentiles occupy themselves as special purchasers and winders.

The weaving trade is the most widespread and popular within the textile industry. Jewish weavers were hired at non-Jewish factories, and formed large percentage with respect to gentile weavers. During the last seven years, the situation radically changed for the benefit of the Jewish weavers. In the last few years, a new element of Jewish workers came, who set themselves up in factories as shearers, weavers, woof spoolers and stuffers. These are poor relatives of the manufacturer.

The wages of a weaver are paid according to the number of thousands of threads that one has put through the woof. A weaver can put 30,000 threads through a good woof in an eight hour working day. According to the agreement that has been in force since the last strike, the manufacturer must pay his weavers 25 Groszy for a thousand warps. In the majority of weaving enterprises, the Jewish workers do not work on the Sabbath, so they are missing one working day. In a few factories, however they do work on the Sabbath. In 1929, the manufacturers employed approximately 350 workers as shearers, weavers, and woof and warp spoolers. This number included 150 Jews. If you subtract 40 shearers from this number, you are left with 110 Jewish weavers and spoolers. In 1932, there were 400-410 workers, including about 200 Jews; the latter number includes approximately 50 shearers. In 1935, more Jews than non-Jews were employed in the factories. The total number of employed workers in 1936, excluding the shearers 212 351, consisting of 179 Jews and 172 non-Jews. Above this, there were 80 Jewish shearers.

The number of employed industrial workers include spoolers of the woof and warp. In the last years, a larger number of Jewish women began to work in this trade. Jewish girls entered this trade from other trades. We can often encounter Jewish women who are former tailors, vesterins [14], rope makers, and stuffers working at the power spooling machines, spooling yarn in the woof or warp. They transferred over to this trade where they were able to work, and find regular employment. The salary for a woof and warp spooler is 3.50 – 5 guilder (Zloty) [15] a week.

3

Master weavers, who were employed in a steady fashion in textile enterprises in Zgierz, number over twenty. From that number we can subtract 8-9 masters who were children of or close family members of the manufacturers. All of the employed weaving masters in Zgierz at this point are Jews. The master weaver is the virtual director of the factory. All of them – the shearer, spooler, weaver, loom master, home manufacturer, stuffer, etc. come to him for instructions. The master weaver must undergo a long training period. Master weavers in small enterprises can earn 25-50 guilder (Zloty) a week. In larger enterprises, they can earn 45-70 guilder a week. There are about 22 loom masters employed in the factories, including 12-15 non-Jews and about 7 Jews. Often, the hiring of workers in the factory is dependent on the goodwill of the loom master. In those factories where there is a Jewish loom master, there work mainly Jewish weavers and spoolers. The training of Jews for the loom master qualification brought great profit.

Approximately 52 hired workers are employed in Jewish factories in Zgierz. Of them, 48 are Jews and 4 are non-Jews. From the number of 48, 15 are hired in enterprises that have workshops in Lodz.

4

The manufacturers give out a great amount of their work to home manufacturers and contract weavers. In Zgierz, there are approximately 130 Jewish home manufacturers and contract weavers. Factoring in the Jewish manufacturers who work alone, the number of Jews who work in this branch of industry is estimated to be greater than 270. Non-Jewish weavers hire approximately 300 Jewish home manufacturers and contract weavers. In 1929, the Zgierz manufacturers gave out work to 250 home manufacturers and contract weavers. Of these 90 were Jewish, comprising 36 percent. In 1936, work was given out to 355 home manufacturers, of whom 159 were Jewish, making 45 percent of the total.

These numbers that have been brought down here cannot be regarded as the absolute truth. Home manufacturers who work for more than one factory were doubly recorded. Aside from this, the gentile home manufacturer earned a greater salary than the Jewish ones. The manufacturers distribute the gentiles the working quantity of five looms, and to the Jewish home manufacturers, 1-2.

5

Approximately three Jewish families are occupied with the delivery of accessories to the looms. Approximately 10 Jewish families are occupied with junk purchasing. Stuffers – this trade is mainly occupied by Jewish women, and this is one of the most widespread in the city. The stuffers belong mainly to three groups: the first group includes the masters who obtain the merchandise for the factory. They hire girls as intakers [16] in the homes, who are paid for short stints of work. Most of the masters work on their own – we reckon that this is approximately 60 people. The girl intakers who work away from home at the place of the woman masters belong to the second group. There are approximately 160 such people. The third group consists of approximately 30 intakes who are employed by the factories themselves, who often send out an operator to cover the merchandise properly.

From the intaker, the merchandise goes to an operator, where it makes its final stop before completion. There, the merchandise is washed, trimmed and pressed. The smooth, white merchandise is also dyed there. There are currently five operator enterprises in Zgierz: two Jewish and three German. 106 workers are employed in one Jewish operator. Of them one is a foreman and the other is a night watchman. At that place, there are also three gentile dyers and master operators. There are six hired workers in that enterprise, including three Jews. 130 workers, all gentiles, are employed at the second Jewish operator. There are also three dyers and master operators, also gentile, and seven hired workers, of whom two are Jews. In the last few weeks, three Jewish women were hired as stuffers and intakers.

Two kibbutzim [17] have existed in Zgierz for several years. The largest one, Kibbutz Borochov, consists of 50 people, and the smaller one, Kibbutz Bilu, of 30. These chalutzim (Zionist pioneers) occupy themselves with various work, even with household work, with which the females are employed. They also involve themselves with industry. They take on the hardest and dirtiest jobs. Approximately fifty percent of all of the members of these kibbutzim are occupied in one way or another by the textile industry.

We have not included here the travelers and commissioners, the porters and wagon drivers, the expediters and the merchants of the textile line of business. We come to the conclusion that approximately 1,000 Jewish families in Zgierz earn their livelihood from the textile line of business – eighty percent of all of the Jews.


{224}

From the Cloth Makers' Union (Textile Makers)
Until the Handworkers' Club

by Y. L. Weinstein

In the second half of the 19th century, when Zgierz had already taken on the prominent characteristic of a growing textile city, many Jews began to study the weaving trade with diligence – and became textile makers. In general, each one strove to become independent, that is to set up their own handlooms in order to take on work for hire from the larger manufacturers from Zgierz and Lodz.

Just as at one time, the weaver at the loom required an assistant to throw back to him the protector [18] (as one called them: brashirer), the Jewish young people who worked as brashirer for the German weavers quickly learnt this trade, and later succeeded in becoming independent owners of one, two, or even three hand looms.

Setting up a hand loom was not easy. Only with the assistance of the family and an assistance organization could one set up a loom in a room. Quickly, the well-known, monotonous knocking began. Of course, the entire family was employed around the loom: the husband worked at the loom, the wife did the spooling, and the children served as the “brashirers”.

Wage earning weavers with initiative, or those who had the means and possibility, set themselves up to “make a little bit of merchandise” with their own hands. Years later, they went out from their family to the factories. The influence of Yossel Rubensztejn, along with others, was evident here. He was the educator of a generation of weaving professionals and master weavers. A recognizable number of Zgierz cloth makers came out of his factory, such as: Emanuel and Henech Ber, Nachman Yechiel Zaonc, Meir and Avraham Temerzon, Shalom Weinstein, shalom Ber Michawicz, Meir Fogel and others. They were also the conspicuous activists of the “Cloth Makers' Union”, which was founded in the 1890s.

This organization had various tasks. First and foremost, they had to protect the interest of the wage earning weavers from the large factories; to help their members with the professional council, to make loans when there was need, and other problems. The organization also concerned themselves with the “Jewish soul” of the weavers, for their spiritual sustenance. They used to gather together each Sabbath and festival to worship in their own minyan on the Jewish Street, where during the week an incessant sound lf looms could be heard. There they would talk from the heart if there was some sort of pain. There, they would decide who they need to help.

At the end of the 1890s, the group wrote its own Torah scroll, which expressed its spiritual independence in a significant manner. On Fridays, Slotkowicz would drive around with his wagon, pick up the finished “pieces” from the hand weavers and took them to the factories. Thus went the business until the power looms began to appear more and more, which slowly but surely pushed aside the handlooms.

The mechanical looms initiated a new era in the development of the textile industry. The Jewish weavers and hired weavers had to enter into the new time. After a few years, they even became the leaders.

With the outbreak of the First World War (1914), the organization was liquidated. Its place in the Jewish weavers' family was taken in 1913 by the newly created modern and constructive handworkers union. That union, known by the name Handworkers' Club, drew into its ranks craftsmen from the different professions, but mainly – weavers and masters from the textile profession.

The presidium of the union consisted of: dentist Dr. Michael Zalcwaser, Master Avraham Morgensztern, and weaver Leib Miler. These people set the statutes for the society at the request of the Russian authorities. We still remember the following from among those most active in the Handworkers' Club: Moshe Lirach, Avraham Skosowski, Baruch Gibralter, Yisrael Praszker, Baruch Gelbard, and others. According to paragraph number 1 from its statutes, the union was created to help its members in their legal, material, cultural and physical development. The “Lodz Folksblatt” (August 16, 1915) mentions that the Handworkers' Club gave courses for weavers – “and in this way, a group of the young people will study the weaving profession”.

During the time of the First World War, the Handworkers' Club conducted widespread activities to mitigate the need of the impoverished Jewish population. After the war, they injected organizational and professional consciousness into the ranks of the Jewish artisans. They helped them to stand on their own feet with council and deeds.

In 1925, a bank for the small businessmen and handworkers was founded under the directorship of M. Kwikzylber. The secretary was Yitzchak Tendowski. It is worthwhile to make note of the activity and dedication of the secretary of the union, Sczupak, who greatly assisted the handworkers in becoming an important factor in the Jewish economic life in the city.


{227}

Dyers in Zgierz

by Chaya Sperling-Halprin

Reb Avraham Konski (1823-1905) was among the first manufacturers in Zgierz. He established a wool dying workshop in the first half of the 19th century, and thereby laid the foundations of a new branch of textile manufacturing in the city. His descendents, the Konski and Harun families, worked in this field until the outbreak of the Second World War. The dye house was located in the yard of his house on Piontkowska Street. There was a well of pure water, without minerals, on the premises.

The founder of the dynasty, Reb Avraham Konski was a learned man, apparently gifted with unusual technical abilities. Many legends circulate in the family regarding his inventions and powers of improvisation. He designed and built himself the equipment of the dye house, developed the dying processes, and made use of plant dies. He employed only Polish workers.

His son Yosef Konski expanded the enterprise, and began to make use of indigo dyes that had been invented in that era. He set up a steam boiler. During his time, Jewish workers began to work along with the Poles. After his death in 1920, the dye house transferred to his heirs. The members of the family that continued to be employed in this area included: Yehoshua Konski, Yitzchak Meir Zylberberg, Mordechai Nisan Kuperstoch, and Leibel Goldberg. Most of them continued to work until the outbreak of the Second World War.

{Photo page 227: Reb Leibel Harun of blessed memory.}

In 1908, Leibel Harun, the son-in-law of Avraham Konski, founded a new dye house in partnership with his son Yosef Meir Harun.

Reb Leibel Harun was a wise Jew, knowledgeable in Torah. He acquired general knowledge with his own powers. He studied the dyeing profession at the dye house of Itzel Orbach, and worked for many years an expert (master) in the Kleczobski-Orbach dye house. He constantly excelled at his work and became a great expert in the profession. At first, his dye house was on Pilsudski Street in the yard of Gibralter's house, on the other side of the Bzura River. There, they dyed wool, kamgarn, and cotton.

During the First World War, the Germans confiscated the equipment of the dye house, and thereby destroyed it. The activity of the dye house was renewed after the First World War, and with time, it moved to a new, large building on Dombrowski Street in the yard of Reichert called “Plastinka”. Then, they further expanded and established the enterprise, which employed modern dyeing processes, and was the largest in the city and area. The enterprise was run by the son, Yosef Meir Harun until the day of the expulsion. Jewish and Polish employees worked in the dye house.

The era between the two world wars was an era of growth in the textile industry of Zgierz. The dye houses, in particular that of Leibel and Yosef Meir Harun, played no small role in promoting the fame of the wool that was processed in the factories of the Jews of Zgierz.


{228}

Our Commissioners

by Fabian Grynberg

It is appropriate to make note of the role that as played by the Jewish commissioners in the development of the textile industry in our city. These were intelligent, capable people who developed relationships with textile merchants in the entire broad regions of Russia and the Far East. The Zgierz manufacturers did not know these merchants, and did not want to extend any credit to them. The commissioner offered guarantees, thereby helped distributed Zgierz merchandise, and broadened the market of our textile industry. They were indeed able to grow the factories through the German bourse [19] and the largest Jewish firms such as Sirkes and Eiger, Brothers Sirkes, Shimon Ring, Boaz, brothers Naftali, and others.

In the time before the First World War, the activity of the commissioners was entirely different than that of the dozens of small middlemen and even smaller brokers who stood near the tramway, waited for a merchant to come from Lodz, pulled him by his garment and told him that they will take him to a door, where he could buy a piece of kamgarn cheaply.

Every member of this category of commissioners was an institution, a much needed middleman between the large scale textile merchants in Poland, Lithuania, Russia, and even in the orient. They were financially responsible for the debts of the purchasers from the manufacturers. This enabled the Zgierz manufacturer to spread his wings, distribute more merchandise, employ more workers, and thereby improve the material situation in our city. He, the manufacturer, did not know the financial status of each merchant. That was the responsibility of the commissioner. Often the commissioner (who had given his guarantees) suffered great losses. Even when the merchant went into bankruptcy, the commissioner had to issue a promissory note, which he guaranteed.

The manufacturer had to place great trust in such people who guaranteed the duties of the merchant. The commissioner had to be honorable, honest and exact. Bankruptcy was a common occurrence.

I remember the following people from among the first commissioners: Yosef Rzurkowski, Avraham Nekricz, Beinish Kohen, Tovia Lipszicz, Y. A. Rusinow, Ozer Kohen, Hershel Kohen, Leib Pariser, Yehoshua Kaufman, Kiczinski, Leibish Rozenerg (White Leibish), and Avraham Berliner, Moshe Reznik, Hershel Merinski, Baruch Bizberg and others.


{229}

The Struggle for Jewish Labor in Jewish Factories

by Y. Szarancki

Zgierz, aside from its Jewish residents, suffered a great deal of pain and agony from the Germans in those years, according to A. G. “Zgierz Contract”. They fought against them in the year 1821.

Among the many paragraphs (approximately 50) that this “Zgierz Contract” contained, the Germans enacted that an additional two (political) “hanachot” (enactments) must be placed before the “Good of the entire matter”, which based itself upon expressing the lowest racism against Jews – literally a sort of “Nuremberg Laws”, albeit earlier by more than one hundred years.

No Jew would be permitted to live in a resident in the “New Quarter”, and neither could they acquire any immovable goods there.

Jewish were prohibited from occupying themselves with textile work. (Avraham Tenenbaum-Arzi in the book “Lodz in those Days”, published in Buenos Aires, 1956).

First in 1862, when the regime enacted the reform statutes, and the life of the Jews in Congress Poland improved a little bit, new winds began to blow in Zgierz as well, just as they blew in Lodz, Tomaszow and other cities in Congress Poland. The Jews of Zgierz as well began to create hand weaving enterprises.

My present task is only to tell about the struggle for the right to work for Jewish workers in Jewish factories in Zgierz at that time, when Jews were already permitted to become involved in textile work, alongside the Germans and Poles.


With the development of the textile industry in Zgierz, thanks to Jewish energy and diligence, the Jewish hand weavers had employment, and improved their livelihoods. With the passage of time, the textile industry in Zgierz, as in other Polish cities, changed over from hand weaving to mechanical looms. Hand weaving enterprises ceased to be a source of livelihood for dozens of Zgierz hand weavers.

Despite the fact that many mechanical textile factories were owned by Jewish manufacturers, Jewish weavers were did not find employment there – for three reasons.

From one side, Jewish manufacturers in Zgierz, as opposed to Jewish manufacturers in Tomaszow and Bialystok, did not believe that Jews were capable of working with mechanical weaving machines. The second reason (and this is the main one), the Christian workers did not permit Jewish workers to gain a foothold in the Jewish mechanical weaving factories.

The time when Jewish workers still found livelihood from hand weaving enterprises had disappeared. The problem of finding employment and sustenance for those who had been ejected was very difficult, almost insolvable.

The rabbi of Zgierz, Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Leib HaKohen literally screamed out to the Jewish manufacturers, and demanded that they use all means available to employ Jewish workers in their factories.

The energetic rabbi did not satisfy himself with his first call. He called the Jewish manufacturers together to a conference in 1911. He called the first meeting of all the Jewish manufacturers in Zgierz, and issued an appeal: Jewish manufacturers must employ Jewish weavers.

A committee was formed at the first meeting consisting of the rabbi, Reb Moshe Eiger, and Reb Aharon Yosef Berger. After a few meetings of the committee, the aforementioned Moshel Eiger and Aharon Yosef Berger took it upon themselves to employ two hand weavers from Zgierz. They would send them to Tomaszow on their accounts in order to qualify to work at mechanical looms.

Messrs. Eiger and Berger did not only take the support of the two weavers upon themselves, but also agreed to support the wives and children of the two weavers until they would return from Tomaszow with their new profession.

They choose two of the best Jewish hand weavers: Shalom Kaza and Uma Wicocki, who were sent to study with the Jewish manufacturer David Bernsztejn in Tomaszow.

When the two Jewish weavers returned from Tomaszow, they had to educate other Jews in Zgierz to qualify for that profession.

When these two weavers returned from Tomaszow as professionals, the struggle with the Christian weavers began. They did not permit them to be employed in the factories that were owned by Jewish manufacturers.

After many conferences between the Jewish manufacturers and their Christian workers, they came to the following agreement:

“No more than 2-3% of workers in the Jewish factories may be Jews”.

Even though the agreement was confirmed by the Christians, it fell apart when the Jewish weavers were beaten by their Christian friends.

Uma Wicocki, an active weaver, related the following to me:

On the first day that I began to work as a power weaver in the Sirkes and Eiger firm, I descended the steps of the factory in the evening after work together with the Christian workers. Suddenly, the Christian workers began to beat me, and then they threw me off the steps – I barely made it out alive. I was laid up in bed for a long time from the injuries.

The story with Uma Wicocki was the first such step by the Christian workers. Afterwards, other Jewish workers in Jewish factories suffered many blows upon their emaciated bodies from Poles.

The first person who reacted against the terror perpetrated by the Christian weavers against Jewish workers as the manufacturer Moshe Hendeles, who must be especially mentioned with honor. He dismissed all of the workers in his factory, and replaced them with Jewish textile workers only, beginning with the loom masters Chaim Itche Segal and Gershon Bennet, to the Jewish women spoolers. It seems to me that this was the first Jewish factory in Zgierz before the First World War that closed on the Sabbath. That bold step, taken without concern of financial loss and other consequences, raised the esteem of the Jewish workers in the city, and simultaneously encouraged them in their battle for full rights as fully valued textile workers in the mechanized Jewish factories.

Due to his authority in Jewish national business, Hendler became an example for other Jewish manufacturers, such as: Eliezer Shumiel, Nathan Ader, Aharon Yosef Berger, and others.

The boldness of those few Jewish manufacturers in employing solely Jewish workers was a cold knock on the heated heads of the Christian workers in the city. They desisted from their terror against the Jewish workers with whom they worked.

Incidentally, it is appropriate to mention on this occasion that one of the masters, Avraham Frenkel, who worked in the Hendeles firm, was hanged along with his friend Melech Zandberg (both from Zgierz) by the Russians in the city of Lewicz in 1914. This was as a result of a false accusation that they were German spies.


{233}

About Jewish Employment in Zgierz

by P.

Aside from the large majority of the Jewish population who were employed in the textile industry and its various branches and related professions – a major portion of the Jews of Zgierz earned their living from craftsmanship and business. Most of them were organized into the small-scale businessmen's union or in the handworkers' union, which defended their interests before the authorities, and helped with interest-free loans and judicial advice.

There were also Jews who created or directed specific branches of work or enterprises that had not existed in Zgierz until then. Of those, we know of the following:

Yehuda (Yudel) Szapszowicz and his sons Nathan David and Shlomo. Their chicory factories had a name in Poland, and their products often excelled at exhibitions.

Shimon Fiszer had an enterprise (until the outbreak of the First World War) that paved the streets of the city and the inter-city roads and highways. That work, after the appropriate designs, changed the appearance and character of the city. He also had held the concession for illuminating the city with kerosene lanterns, until the introduction of electric light in Zgierz (approximately 1909-1910).

Engineer Teitelbaum – His paper factory, organized in modern fashion, provided work for many people.

The printing presses of David Gothejner and Tzirel Gutsztat contributed greatly to the development and the reverberation of the cultural and social activity in our city.

Mendel Gibralter was the first Jewish construction undertaker in Zgierz

“Expeditia” was the collective for shipping merchandise (with it own automobiles) along the Zgierz-Warsaw route. The partners were Sh. Wicocki, Sh. Buzin and Waldman. Gross, Wrona and others were also expediters.

There were also the soda water factories of Yaakov Glicksman and A. Rubin-Brzezinski.

Without doubt, the plywood factory and mill of Braun and Ginsberg was worthy of note. Jews were also employed there.

The electric cereal mill of Abe Baum (Abele Kashemacher) was of significantly small scope, but the noise of the mill traveled far over the Jewish street… A portion of this enterprise provided stable employment for a large number of Christian workers. [20]


{234}

My Ten Years in Zgierz

by Menachem (Manis) Angel of Pardes Chana

I moved to Zgierz in the year 5670 (1910), when I married the daughter of the Hassid Reb Avraham Kuperman of blessed memory. I also was supported at his table. I worshiped, of course, in the shtibel of the Hassidim of Gur, in the house of Reb David Bandkowski. Reb Yitzchak Mendel HaKohen, the brother of the rabbi of the city, also worshipped there. He separated from his wife and lived like a “hermit” in poverty, as is the way of the Torah [21]. He sustained himself from the class in Ein Yaakov [22] that he gave to laymen in the Beis Midrash. He drew me near and enlightened my eyes with Torah and wisdom. In his house I found the “Kuzari”, Moreh Nevuchim, Sefer Haikarim [23], and other books of depth and research, which broadened my horizons in my world of thought, and enriched my spirit. Reb Yitzchak Mendel himself was a Gaon, sharp and expert in Talmud and halachic decisors. He researched and studied opinions.

I became friendly with Reb Leibel Harun (nicknamed Leibel Farber [24]), an upright, levelheaded and liberal man who set aside times to study Torah. I also got to know Reb Tovia Kopel Bumes, the son-in-law of Reb Aharon Parizer, and Binem David Pszytik, a man full of energy and life, who was my friend in the community of Hassidim.

Of course, the Hassidic young men did not look favorably upon my distancing myself from them, and coming close to those of whom they did not approve. To my good fortune, my brother-in-law Reb Yosef Mandelman (Yosele Baluter [25]) protected me. Even though he was a staunch Hassid, a good musician with a voice that drew near the hearts (he led Musaf in the shtibel), he had other good traits: he was always in a good mood, and he always had a joke on his tongue.

The First World War (1914-1918) introduced a great change in the lives of the residents of the city, including the Hassidim. The sprouting of Zionism and the Balfour Declaration stirred up many echoes within the midst of the Jews of the city, who saw this as the dawn of the redemption. I myself did not ignore the situation, and I went with the times. At that time, a son was born to me. I called him Yechiel Meir, named after Dr. Czolnow of blessed memory, who died at that time.

I joined the Mizrachi movement, which was established in our city. I was one of the activists, along with Rabbi Yechiel Yitzchak Rappaport, the son-in-law of Reb Michael Mendel, the son of Reb Leibish Rozenberg (nicknamed the White Leibish). He was later appointed as the rabbi of Zychlin, and from there he moved to serve in the rabbinate of Janiszow. He was a first class preacher. He visited all of the towns in the region, and performed many great deeds wherever he went.

The following were numbered among the activists of Mizrachi: the aforementioned Binem David Pszytik, Reb Yisrael Frugel, Reb Michel Kuperman from among the Hassidim of Aleksandrow, and Reb Itche Meir Halperin of the Hassidim of Sochaczew.

In addition to Reb Daniel Sirkes who was chosen as the chairman of the organization until he made aliya to the Land, Reb Yehoshua Kaufman, the uncle of Reb Daniel Sirkes, joined Mizrachi. He was a Jew who was involved in Torah all of his life. His home was a gathering place for the nationalistic youth of the city, and many other city notables.

In the year 5680 (1920) I merited to make aliya to the Holy Land, and to strike down roots there with the help of G-d.


TRANSLATOR'S FOOTNOTES

1. This sentence is very convoluted. I did not translate it literally. Literally, it would read something like, “Zgierz does not glance at Lodz in the eye after a customer”. Back

2. The word shtibel may here mean small house or hovel rather than its usual connotation of a prayer room. Back

3. Part of the first verse of the third chapter of Lamentations (Eicha). Back

4. I am not sure of the connotation of this term. It is evidently a professional or political faction in Zgierz. Back

5. When constructing a new house, it is customary to leave a small area unpainted as a “remembrance of the destruction of the Temple” (“Zecher Lechurban”). The same term is used here. Back

6. Eicha is the Book of Lamentations, traditionally ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah. The third chapter of Eicha commences “I am the man…”, in which the author described his own personal experiences of the destruction. Back

7. There is a footnote in the text at this point, as follows: “The archives of the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw, number 108/ 1 (from the plundered Ringelblum Archive). The destruction of the synagogues, Beis Midrashes and cemeteries, volume 2, transcribed from a manuscript by V. P. with the permission of Yad Vashem.” Back

8. I assume that this term refers to firms of very high (million) value. Back

9. The Yiddish word here is 'operator' or 'opretor'. I am not sure of the exact meaning. I translated as 'operator' due to the closeness to English. It is evidently some form of professional associated with the weaving process. There are several terms for weaving professionals used in this article – not all of them could be readily identified. Back

10. The Yiddish word here is 'woof', which is part of a loom. This word, and several other technical weaving terms used here, are not in my Yiddish-English dictionary, and were unknown to the Yiddish native speaker whom I consult on these matters. I use the word 'woof' for 'ket', and 'warp' for 'shus'. Back

11. Literally: 'rags'. Back

12. Here the word 'kibbutzim' refers to Zionist pioneering preparation camps. Back

13. I am not sure of the difference between these two terms in Yiddish (basheftn, and anshteln). Evidently two different forms of engaging workers are meant – the former probably means employees, and the second may be something akin to hired contractors. Back

14. I am not sure of the identity of this profession. Back

15. The term in the text is guilder, which translates into Polish as Zloty. In most other places of the text, Zloty is written directly as such. Back

16. The Yiddish word is eintzirn, which would mean 'people who pull in'. I am not sure of the exact meaning here. Back

17. The term here refers to a workshop or farm where people prepare for aliya. Back

18. Seemingly a device on a loom to protect the user from danger. I am not sure of the translation of the Yiddish term given right after – it is seemingly a colloquial term for the same thing. Back

19. The Yiddish word is 'barst' – I am not sure of the exact translation. Back

20. There seems to be a contradiction in this paragraph. Back

21. A quote from a phrase of Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), that the way of Torah is to eat bread with salt, sleep on the floor, and to toil in Torah (i.e. to minimize physical comforts). Back

22. An anthology of the Aggadaic (stories as opposed to legal discussions) of the Talmud. Back

23. Various books of Jewish philosophy. The Kuzari was written by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, and outlines a discussion between the king of the Khazars with a Jew, a Moslem and a Christian as he tries to ascertain the truth of religion. Moreh Nevuchim is the Guide of the Perplexed of Maimonides. Back

24. Farber means 'dyer'. Back

25. From Balut. Back

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