According to unofficial sources, the first Jewish families settled in Zyrardow in 1850 Zyrardow was mainly a workers' town. Thousands labored in the big linen factory, but Jewish workers had to find their own ways of making a living. So they settled into trades that were already in Jewish hands: tailoring, for example, and tin smithing, quilting, watch making. Or they were self-employed: in coal and woodyards, as porters, and so on.
Jewish workers' wages were low in the provincial towns. A Jewish worker had to toil hard, until late at night, to earn enough to support a family. Workers' desires to give their children an education in intermediate school were fulfilled only with extreme effort. Young people were even more affected by the labor problem. Many young men and women worked in Warsaw because they could not get jobs in their own city. Some lived in Warsaw all week and came home on shabbes. The town would revive on Saturdays. The promenade to the park started then, and the bloom of Jewish youth flooded the streets. They fantasized, argued, and took wing on youthful zeal and hopes.
Zyrardow was an effervescent town. The Jewish population was intensely active in national, cultural and social affairs. The Jewish community made a great effort to put down roots and build a Jewish cultural life. Community work was done with love and devotion. The town was open to every visitor and to anyone who wanted to settle there.
The lively, beautiful Jewish life attracted many Jewish families from surrounding areas who came to live in Zyrardow.
Parties in Zyrardow
One of the main political parties in Zyrardow was the right-wing Labor Zionists and their youth group Frayhayt (Freedom) under the direction of Yosef Nisnberg.  Nisnberg was devoted to the party with body and soul. He founded it at great sacrifice, strengthened it, promoted it and opened it to the wider community and especially to politically conscious youth. Into the party he breathed a piece of his soul of love for the Jews and for the land of Israel. Within a short time of its inception, the Frayhayt had became an important communal force in the town.
The party had a chorus under the direction of Yosef Levitas. The chorus truly inspired other cultural activities. Literary-musical evenings were common; they mostly turned into successful events for work on behalf of Israel.
The right-wing Labor Zionists also had an athletic club with a good soccer team. Many matches took place with local Christian clubs. At first the Christians showered the Jews with abuse, but as soon as the Jewish team was trained and it was not longer easy to beat them, the Polish athletes began to seriously respect the Jewish soccer teams, and often challenged them. Yosef Nisnberg headed the party until he made Aliyah to Israel in 1934.
Hekhalutz (Pioneer) Organizations
Through my initiative, a small founding group held a conference in 1928 and decided to start a Hekhalutz organization in Zyrardow. The first act was to approach Jewish youth who wanted to travel to Israel. In time, general educational work developed at the Labor Zionist offices among all strata of youth. Bigger meetings took place on shabbes and during religious holidays. The unfortunate events in Israel in 1929 really awakened the Hekhalutz Youth in Zyrardow, and they began practical pioneer activities. Many youths began preparing for agricultural immigration to Israel at various training sites in the country. A short time later (after I left Poland) a training site was created in Zyrardow, which brought together youth from various cities and towns in Poland. Most of the Hekhalutz members managed to resettle in Israel.
May Day Demonstrations
Zyrardow had a reputation for its First of May demonstrations. The hospitals on that day often overflowed with injured people. The Labor Zionists even tried to make their members take part in the May Day demonstrations, but many were the children of rich Hassidic parents; they were ashamed to go out in the streets where they would be recognized. Strict measures were thus adopted, including expelling all members who would not take part in the demonstration. With their flags and slogans, the Labor Zionists were a separate group in the general workers march.
Figures from Zyrardow
Reb Avrom Ziskind, of blessed memory
Zyrardow was also known for its summer life. During the summer months, many Jewish families from the big cities would come to relax and enjoy the fresh forest air around Zyrardow. One of the most prominent community leaders, Reb Avrom Ziskind, began building a dacha in Miedzyborow. Miedzyborow developed slowly, and during the high season was inhabited by city dwellers.
Reb Avrom Ziskind was a leading citizen. He participated in various charitable institutions and made a habit of giving generously to the Jewish community and to individuals. But misfortune befell him. While crossing the train tracks by Miedzyborow, he was run over by an express train and killed instantly. His death provoked tremendous sadness among the city's entire Jewish population.
My Father, Reb Yudl Vaynberg, of Blessed Memory
Nor can I fail to devote at least some brief memories to my former home, the house of Reb Yudl Vaynberg, of blessed memory, or as we called him, Yudl Moyshe Sanes. Although my father worked for the Christian, anti-Semitic Schmidt company, he was still very dedicated to Judaism. More than once at a management meeting, Old Man Schmidt said to my father, Reb Yudl, it's time to pray! My father's boss knew that Yudl Vaynberg would never give up his Judaism. Even during business trips, he made great efforts to find a minyan and to pray in a group.
My father, may his memory be blessed, was a Skierniewice Hassid. During the High Holy days he traveled to the home of Rabbi Shimon, of blessed memory, and took me and my older brother Motl. He always stayed in the inn of Reb Yosef the synagogue beadle, and splurged generously. As a result, he was always treated with honor: he was called up to read a Torah portion, a Haftarah
My brother and I were hardly religious, but we held my father in great esteem and did not want to cause him any grief. That is why Motl and I went every shabbes to pray in the Aleksander, synagogue, which was in Rivele Blaushtayn's house.
Our house was managed by my mother, Khaye-Soyre, of blessed memory. She ran everything in a strictly religious spirit, according to the comfortable lifestyle of traditional, well-to-do Hassidic families. The doors of our house were open to everyone without exception. My father distributed charity generously and was also a smart man with his own way of doing things. For a while, my father was a member of the kehila council, back when H. Gomolinsky was head of the public schools. Both at home and in the kehila, my father by nature was ready to help everyone who asked for assistance. Many times he decided that it was better to give from his own pocket than to bother the kehila.
Hassidim gathered very often in our house. It soon become an established custom that every shabbes and holiday morning the Hassidim would come for a hot drink. Beginning at dawn, the door was never closed. A whole set-up was arranged in a special little room, with big cups of coffee that warmed up automatically beginning on shabbes eve. My father loved to serve the Hassidim himself and did so with great exaltation. People enjoyed a glass of tea as they chatted about current events. My father enjoyed entertaining his guests and used every opportunity to make a toast for his Hassidim, or as we called them the coffee drinkers. He was one of those great Jews who burn with the eternal light of love for Jews and for mankind. What a glowing heart and sensitive soul he had!
Like Jews of his generation, my father really did not think during that time about traveling or settling in Israel. But two weeks before the outbreak of the war I got a letter from him, and it was obvious he had changed his mind about Israel. He said that if it was possible, he was ready to come. I started to gather information and arrange his trip, but in meanwhile the sad date of September 1, 1939 crept up. World War II broke out, and contact with my father's house was broken off forever.
Among the personalities and characters who passed through our house I remember Mikhl the Melamed. He could sleep for a hours at the table and when he woke up, he never regretted that he was late for something. Nosn Kohen (Finkelte's father-in-law) was a man known for his frequent visits to the rabbi. Whenever he could afford it, he would go to the rabbis for a regular shabbes, and he never wanted to leave. Before my eyes I still see Moyshe Varker, or as we called him, Tall Moyshe. He was a robust man who was always ready to tell you all the world's secrets all except how old he was. God forbid you should ever ask him his age. Tall Moyshe showed not the least sign of weakness. He easily climbed up to the third floor, and his strong boots pounded as though he was a young soldier. It turns out he was 90 years old.
To the stable of guests in our house also belonged the cantor and kosher butcher Reb Avrom Mendl Khanakhovitch, Yekhiel Estraykher, Berish Prusak, Yekhiel Goldberg, our in-law Reb Dovid (Nayman) the kosher butcher, and others.
The Surrounding Towns
In the Zyrardow area were many little surrounding Jewish towns. But the closest ones connected with our city were two: Amshinov and Viskit.
The small, old town of Amshinov lay seven kilometers from Zyrardow, with a population of 7,000 people, among them about 500 Jewish families with 2,500 individuals . Amshinov was a stronghold of Hassidism. The renowned Amshinov rebbe, Reb Yosef Kalish, of blessed memory, lived there; he had a thousand Hassidic followers in Poland. Whenever there was a holiday, and especially during the High Holidays, hundreds of Hassidim would come to the Amshinov rebbe's. Many Jewish families fixed up large inns and waited for the holidays to take in Hassidim in order to make a living. The town came alive with Jewish traditions, and the rebbe's house put its stamp on Jewish life there.
Amshinov also turned out famous Jewish personalities such as H. D. Nomberg. And the renowned writer Oyser Warshawski lived for many years in Amshinov, where he wrote his novel Smugglers, a portrayal of Jewish life from 1914 to 1918. The famous painter Moyshe-Mendl Apelboym also comes from Amshinov. It should also be remembered that this same artist went to a good deal of trouble to decorate the Zyrardow synagogue.
Jews were not allowed to work in the factories in Amshinov either. In the big Amshinov match factory, where 1,000 Christians worked, there was only one Jew among them: Berele the Carpenter. Of 24 councilmen on the city council, 12 were Jewish; and there were two Jewish aldermen.
Amshinov was no less up to date than other towns in Poland, and had developed a communal Jewish cultural life. Various political parties had been created, along with their institutions. The Poeli-Zion occupied a very important place in the town. The party leaders were Notl Rishman and Yehoshua Zeydman. The town also had a well-organized Peretz Library, located in the home of H. D. Nomberg's grandfather, Reb Bines Ayzenberg.
The second town not far from Zyrardow was Viskit. The entire town consisted of only a few streets. The market with its two rows of stores the center of the town was inhabited by Jews. In the side streets lived the Gentiles. The total population was roughly 7,000, with Jewish families numbering about 300 . Viskit was known for the big markets that came there. Zyrardow and the surrounding towns really got excited about these markets. Jewish storekeepers packed up covered wagons for them and waited to make a nice profit. Many Jews made a living from the markets and even saved money.
Zyrardow, Amshinov and Viskit do not exist anymore for Jews. The German killers murdered all the Jews. Survivors throughout the world will carry these memories in their minds and hearts, and we know that by not forgetting, we pay holy homage to our dear, sacred martyrs from Zyrardow! Amshinov! Viskit!
May their memories be honored!
|The Party committee of the Right-wing Labor Zionists, with Reb Yosef Nisnberg, the longtime chairman until his departure for Israel in 1934. From right to left standing:Yitsike Grinboym, Shmul Satshinkski, Yosef Haldzband, Leyzer Yakubovitsh. Seated: Shmuel Mazelstayn, Yosef Nisnberg, Yakov Bresler.|
The factory dominated all of life. Everything was ruled by its whistle. Its tower with the big clock measured not just time; it also regulated every activity of the whole population. The factory thus shaped the life of the Jewish people. The entire Jewish community newly arrived from its wanderings, so to speak lived in accordance with the factory, even though there were no Jews in it, not among the workers and not among the salaried employees. The Zyrardow linen factory had changed ownership a few times. Germans, French, Poles yet none had ever let a Jew so much as step across the threshold. Even so, the factory and its thousands of workers were the Jewish population's economic base. The tradespeople clothed and shod the workers; the shopkeepers sold them food and goods. Thus had developed many small Jewish factories, or little workshops.
Just as it did economically, the factory also exerted a strong influence over all of life in the city, and therefore on Jewish life as well. There was a great divide between the Jewish community and the surrounding population. The Jewish community was isolated and out of touch. But the foreign unfamiliar life played out behind the factory's walls infiltrated Jewish homes as though through invisible channels, creating a mood in them that was different than in most other Jewish towns. I remember from my childhood on how Jewish homes were not dominated by the terror, fright and insecurity that I later found in other places. Back then I could not figure out why this was so; but today I understand that the lack of fear in Jewish houses was also a result of the factory. Just as the Jewish homes huddled together in the shadow of the mighty factory buildings, so did the Jewish population feel protected by the tens of thousands of workers who comprised the vast majority not just of Zyrardow, but of the surrounding villages as well. In Zyrardow there was never any display of anti-Semitism. In the darkest times, even when waves of anti-Semitism and excesses against Jews raged throughout the rest of Poland, our city was spared.
Factory life, the frequent struggles that played out there, the strikes, the workers' demonstrations, the illegal activity of the revolutionary parties - these exerted a political influence on the Jewish population and attracted the Jewish youth. During the years before the first revolution of 1905 there were already whisperings in Jewish homes about Jewish youth who had taken part in those events. Three of the first Jewish socialists, who were shot on the streets of Zyrardow in 1906, were part of the history of our town. Yekhiel Mikhovski, Elye Lubtshanski, Mendl Mayman: their names were a symbol of Jewish participation in the revolutionary events which swept up the young Jewish men and women of Zyrardow. By the end of World War I and during the first years of Polish independence these young people had begun organizing into various, more-or-less revolutionary clubs and groups.
A great change in Jewish life occurred at the end of 1916 and the beginning of 1917, though it occurred without fighting or scandal. A major public conflict erupted in the Jewish community. This was the founding of the Y. L. Peretz public Jewish library, which was named after the famous writer.
Until then the Jewish community had been grouped on the one hand around the Hassidic prayer houses (Gerer, Aleksander, Kozhenitser or later Piasetshner, and Grodzisker) and on the other hand around the various charitable societies: mainly the charity hostel for the sick and poor, the society for the teaching of psalms to the poor, the burial society, the society that maintained the school for indigent children, and so on. Now, a new force arrived: a third center where the most boldly radical students started to group.
The conservative elements did not accept the creation of the library without a struggle . They did not want to admit that international events would catch up with them, too. Along with the news of the February Revolution in Russia, the founding of the library was also on the table for Jewish Zyrardow. Hassidic parents forbade their children from going there. Speeches were made in the synagogues and Hassidic prayer houses against the heretics, along with scarcely concealed threats of excommunication. But of course, none of this helped. Nineteen seventeen marched over the world. In Zyrardow, the first public clubs and political parties began. The world was starting to turn upside down, and along with it, our town was, too. In 1918 the revolution reached Germany, and the Zyrardow workers, all of whom were committed leftist revolutionaries, prepared to take over the state.
All these events had different effects on young Jewish men and women. Often they had to put up with strong opposition from their parents that did no good at all. As though pulled with iron tongs, the young people were drawn to the library, which became the center for all the radical youth. Among the founders, activists and members one soon found not just the young and old from the trades people's circles, such as: Yisrul Yakubovitsh (the hatmaker), Moyshl Shvartshtayn, Feyvl Rotshtayn, Moyshe Reytovski, the younger Rukhl-Nekhe Nisnberg, Borukh Kzhonzhenitser, Gele Nisnberg, Lozer Yakubovitsh (aka Lozer the Comedian). There were also children from observant Hassidic homes, and a tumult broke out among the religious Jews when they learned that Yankl, the son of old Binem the kosher butcher; Menakhem, son of Shmuel the ritual meat deveiner; Borukh Kzhonzhenitser; Yekhiel Holtshtayn; the daughters of Aron Blushtayn; Aron-Khaym Zhialozhinski; Yakov-Dovid Ziskind that they all were meeting at the library.
Unable to root out the nest of heretics, the Hassidim would not tolerate any other institutions. They absolutely would not allow the construction of a secular Jewish school. When Zalman Klepfisz, himself a Hassid, appeared and established a kind of modern heder, where one sat at school desks and learned a little Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish, a quiet ban was proclaimed against him a boycott by the extremely religious Hassidic business people.
But none of this could stop the course of events, and the factory continued to set the pace. In 1920 and 1921 the first strike of the Zyrardow linen factory in independent Poland broke out. The workers took to the streets. A huge demonstration marched through the city. Like thunder, the news spread through Jewish homes that Jewish youth Yekhiel Holtshtayn, Meyer Tiger, Henekh Orenshtayn, Moyshe Keytman, etc. were marching at the head of the demonstration together with the Polish workers. Now, it was not merely about whether to have a school or not. The Jewish workers would not be left behind, and a few weeks later, a tailors' strike began the first strike in the Jewish workshops since 1905. To the great surprise of many people who had judged Jewish life by its foreign habits and had not conceived of any deeper, interior processes, most of the Jewish population manifested active and warm solidarity with the strikers. The Jewish storeowners knew that improving the condition of workers would also improve things for them. And the tailors won their strike, with the eight-hour workday and better pay. Indeed, the successful strike ended much of the fatalism in the Jewish community. From now on workers were looked at differently. Community life assumed broader importance. Zionist and Bundist organizations came into existence, as well as the first Jewish Communist groups, which began to conduct widening underground activity.
The brewing events of the revolutionary years affected the Jewish community so much that the kehila later erected a monument in the cemetery to the three revolutionaries who had heroically fallen in the struggles of 1906. This monument was miraculously preserved in World War II, when the Germans destroyed not only the living Jewish people, but also their cemeteries. The Jewish communist groups also were concentrated around the Jewish library, which at the time was directed by Moyshe Levental, Moyshe Vaynshtok, Aron-Khaym Koyfman, and Noah Nayman. Little by little they stepped into the management of the institution, where all the groups worked together.
In 1923, city council elections were held in Poland, and like lightning, news traveled through the country that for the first time in Poland, a communist city council had been elected in Zyrardow. The factory had kept its word: The workers' movement had voted for the left. Immediately after the results were announced in the House of the People, a public meeting was called and a giant crowd responded. Thousands of people were unable to fit into the Great Hall that was used for the public meetings we held in the city. At the meeting the city council announced its decision to rename three streets. The main street, which cut through the entire town and which was called Wiskicka, would be renamed First of May Street. Wonska, where the Jewish house of study was located, would be named after the famous Jewish hero Borukh Shulman. The street leading to the train station would be named after Stefan Okrzei, the Zyrardow hero who had destroyed the police station opposite the Blue Cross with a bomb in 1906. No subsequent city council has ever dared do away with these names, which remain to this day.
The first mayor was elected by an overwhelming majority. He was the Communist Staszek Strzelecki: a tailor and worker, an intelligent man, a good public speaker and great friend of the Jews. But the first Red city council in Poland existed for only 48 hours. The Polish authorities could not tolerate this sort of Communist victory. The city council was forcibly dissolved, and the mayor and Communist aldermen were arrested. Even so, for 48 hours the Red flag had waved over the council building, across the square from the famous Catholic Church and opposite the main factory gate.
After this arbitrary act, a giant protest meeting against the Polish government took place in the city, in the market square. A large number of Jews took part in the meeting, during a time when a divide generally existed between the Jewish and non-Jewish population. The revolutionary movement also spread within the Jewish workers' circles, first and foremost in the tailor shops. The center for Jewish trade unions was in Leybush Blank's house, which soon became a second center of community life near the Peretz Library. The first garment workers union was led by Meyer Tiger, Moyshe Kaysman, Yankl and Shloyme Leyfer, Vove Ventsel and so on. The second strike of the Jewish garment workers broke out in 1923. It lasted a few weeks. The owners of the garment manufacturing shops at the time were Yosef Koyfman, Shmuel-Aron (aka Garlitski), Avrom Borenshtayn (aka Black Avrom), Indyk (from the backwoods), Leybish Vargotsh (aka Leybish Doyde), Mendl Flint, Yosl Gritser, the brothers Aron-Dovid and Moyshe Shvartshtayn, Nute Tiger, Avrom Blendover, etc.
But the revolutionary movement was hindered by difficult obstacles. As in other cities and towns, the Jewish youth of Zyrardow could not find jobs as they got older. The factory generally would not take them. The small workshops did not have much work. A general economic depression reigned in Poland and exerted hard pressure on the Jewish youth. Young men and women left for Warsaw and Lodz to look for work, and others immigrated to America or Western Europe. Some went into the Pioneer organizations and left, or prepared to leave, for Eretz-Yisroel. This led to continual turnover in all the parties and circles. But it did not stop their work, because new people were always coming up through the ranks.
News about the fatal shooting of Naftali Botwin came in the first months of 1926. and exploded like a bomb among both the Jewish youth and the Polish workers of our city. A giant meeting was held in the House of the People; it was attended by many Polish workers and practically all the town's Jewish youth. Speakers came from Warsaw and also from Zyrardow. Despite the threat of strong police repression, the workers went into the street after the meeting and gathered in a giant demonstration that took them from the House of the People, in the market square, to the train station. The meeting and demonstration made a deep impression. One had the feeling that a party which could create heroes like Naftali Botwin must have harbored in itself a great, noble truth.
The response by the authorities was not long in coming. In one fell swoop on a beautiful evening, 67 people were arrested, among them one Jew, Yankl.
Soon sirens were heard in the town, each more dreadful than the other. The story was that a big printing operation in the woods had been taken down: the one that printed the famous weekly newspaper Zyrardowyak. The older people said that not since 1905 had there been such a mass arrest in workers' circles of Zyrardow.
Among the arrestees were the legendary hero from the Zyrardow workers' movement whom everyone knew as Jyadek; the famous woman and worker activist Wanda; Karol Kaszimski; Shilmovski; Stashek Strzelecki; the brothers Karol; and so on. It was said that all of them were betrayed by a provocateur. A few weeks later the provocateur got what was coming to him: he was killed near the river behind the town, by Krutshekn from Warsaw.
The arrests made a big impression on the city, but just the opposite of what the police wanted. The Jewish population showed great solidarity for the arrestees and their families. The Jewish communist circles strengthened their activity. The garment workers went on a new strike at the end of 1927, and it was deemed a big success. A new committee was chosen from the union of the needle trades. It was led by Leybl, Vove, Leybl Tsverman, Hershl Traksfartreger, Sabti Poznanski, Velvl Grinberg, etc.
During this same period, Jewish communists became the majority of the managers of the Peretz Library. The other groups tried to pressure the chairman Moyshe Levental and the secretary, Moyshe Vaynshtok neither of whom were Communists to resign from their posts. But as honest, committed cultural activists, they remained at their jobs. Of the other managers I remember that Mendl Yakubson, Nekhoma Feytsher, Mendl Zimler, Shmuel and Shifra Holshtayn, Velvl Grinberg, Moyshe Krakov, Ventsl, and this writer were among the activists. The library broadened its activity. Every Friday night it arranged question-and-answer evenings, which were very popular then; or lectures on different topics, usually featuring the most respected speakers from Warsaw. Among them were Zolotov, Segalovitsh, Gordin, Berel Mark, Zrubl, Dovid Kutner, etc.
In the summer of 1927, a big meeting in memory of Sacco and Vanzetti was held in the school courtyard and made a strong impression on the town. The meeting was surprisingly violent. No one had counted on such a large and imposing event, and the police tried to take out their anger by arresting some Jewish youths including this writer who had spoken at the meeting. Because of the lack of prior planning and thanks to the steadfastness of the arrestees, all of us had to be freed later.
Until my departure from Zyrardow in January 1930, there was a strong Communist organization with several Jews in it. The group was vibrant and active, continually distributing brochures and proclamations in the city. On every workers' holiday, the Red flag would fly on the factory buildings. Contact between the Polish and Jewish Communists was lively and intimate. Throughout various strikes, the Jewish and Polish workers supported each other side by side. And just as the Polish workers in Zyrardow protected the Jewish population from excesses and pogroms, so too did the Jewish population display great solidarity with strikers and their families during every strike at the factory.
I did not lose touch with my hometown after I immigrated to Paris. I kept up an intensive correspondence with many of my comrades and received regular news from them about life there. From hints that were intelligible only to us, they told about the workers' movement in Zyrardow. I found out from them about the big strike in 1934, and about the heroism of the working women who erected barricades so as not to allow police into the factory, which was occupied by striking workers. I learned about the solidarity of the Jewish population with the strikers, and about how revolutionary work did not cease in Zyrardow.
|Meyer Tiger. Son of Noteh the Tailor. Until WWI he was in Russia where he participated in the Civil War and the October Revolution. He returned to Zyrardow in 1919 and was one of the first progressive activists. He was politically pursued and went to France in 1922. He was deported with his wife and two children. return|
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