Translation by Jonathan Boyarin
Copyeditor: Mary Smith
Editor: Solomon Gross
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of Chrzanower Young Men's Association.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 89-83411
Published by Solomon Gross, Roslyn Harbor, New York under the auspices of the Chrzanower Young Men's Association
Printed and bound in the United States of America by Cushing-Malloy, Inc.
The author of The Original Book of Chrzanow, Mr. Mordechei Bochner, was such a man. He undertook the difficult task of commemorating our town, Chrzanow - its people, its lifestyle, its joys and sorrows, its pleasures and pain, its devotion to religion and to God, its respect for fellow men, its exuberance and its sadness. In dire circumstances at the war's end, with the pain fresh and the ashes still smoldering, he wrote this book, thus erecting a lasting monument to be handed down through generations to come. For half a century we, the survivors, read and reread the book until its pages crumbled, worn by use and time.
A new generation of Chrzanower descendants has grown up, and we, the survivors, were burdened with the obligation to pass on our legacy. And again among us we found a man, Solomon (Shlamek) Gross, willing to undertake the enormous project of republishing the book. But Shlamek also decided to improve and perpetuate the legacy we are leaving behind. He had the book translated from the original Jewish into English, to make it accessible to a wider readership. He also added previously unavailable pictures, wrote appropriate captions, revived long forgotten names.
Only a man of Shlamek's ability and perseverance could cope with such a tremendous undertaking. He sent out mailings to Chrzanower all over the world, wherever they could be found, to assemble original pictures. He kept strict, systematic files of the pictures, properly indexed to assure their return to the owners. He worked diligently with translators, copyeditors, photographers, designers, and printers. He spent hours, days and months arranging pictures and words, seeking the best way to convey expressions almost impossible to translate into English. He conferred with professionals and friends repeatedly reading and correcting proofs, all at his own expense.
He marveled at and was swept up in that labor of love for which he had volunteered, and we are all deeply indebted to him. The most important reward that Shlamek will receive will be the knowledge that he was instrumental in and singlehandedly responsible for making the republication of The Book of Chrzanow possible, and leaving this fine legacy to our future generations.
Helen Sendyk Stapler
For the Chrzanower Young Men's Association
Irving Wiener, President
Simon Feinsilber, Vice President
Helen and Abe Sendyk, Financial Secretaries
Nelly and Ely Blumner, Corresponding Secretaries
Salo Tauber, Treasurer
|Aichner||Shloyme, Zalman, Brandl-born Siegel|
|Bachner||Moyshe, Chana, Nachman, David, Nachale, Surcia, Esther, Shayndl, Rifcia|
|Barber||Aharon, Genendl, Abraham, Bayla, Leah, Eliezer|
|Barber||Benyomin, Gitl, Miriam, Bayla|
|Barber||Fayvish, Kalman, Mordechai|
|Bester||Josef, Esther, Malka|
|Bochner||Hilel, Rifka, Hela|
|Bochner||David, Henia-born Shuldenfrei|
|Bochner||Josef-David, Gitl, Chaim-Zvi, Moyshe, Malka, Meir|
|Bochner||Yecheskel, Chaim Josef|
|Bornstein||Akiva, Rachel-born Schenberg, David, Tamar|
|Bromberger||Josef-Laib, Rachel, Zvi|
|Bromberger||Pinchas, Esther, Shaul, Chaim, Gucia|
|Bromberger||Itzchak, Symche, Mordechai, Fanny, Chaim|
|Buchbinder||Abraham-Zvi, Gele, Dvora-born Naiger, Hendl-married Berger|
|Cyzner||Josef, Malka, Moyshe, Shloyme|
|Edelman||Shmuel, Pesl-born Rata|
|Engelbschrag||Aharon-David, Mindl, Yacob-Itzchak|
|Enoch||Akiva, Raizl-born Schenberg|
|Erenst||Sarah, Israel-Shymon, Mordechai-Josef, Mindl, Fradl-Lea, Esther|
|Feldsher||Doba, Yehuda, Mordechai, Rachel|
|Feldman||Mordechai-Shmuel, Golda-born Zshulti|
|Finkelstein||Yehoshua, Faigl-born Orenstein|
|Fishler||Menashe, Faigush, Shmuel, Itzchak|
|Fleisher||Berish, Necha-born Siegel, Josef, Etl|
|Freifeld||Faigl, Gutka, ZanvI|
|Frisher||Josef, Fraigl, Laib, Chaim|
|Fuksbrumer||Abraham-Shmuel, Mindl-born Tauber|
|Ganger||Israel-Laib, Rachel, Shmuel-Elimelech, Zeev-Yehoshua, Shloyme|
|Geldvert||Shmuel, Lipa, FaigI|
|Glazer||David, Rachel-born Siegel|
|Glass||Moyshe, Chai David|
|Grajover||Shloyme-Alter, Symche, Elimelech, Aharon, Yoel|
|Grajover||Baruch, Miriam-born Cyzner, David, Yoel, Shmuel|
|Grajover||Zelig, Ruzia, Aharon, Ruzia-born Mandelbaum, Yoel, Rachel Mindl - born Goldstein, Abraham, Chana-Faigl-born Gross, Tushka|
|Grubner||Itzchak, Frumet-born Mandelbaum|
|Helfer||Malka, David, Chana|
|Helfer||David, Yehuda, Zvi, Benjamin|
|Hennenberg||Meir, Itzchak, Chashe-Cerke, Shalom-Schachne, Shmuel, Bayle-born Siles, Chaim, Braindl-born Friedlich, Dvora-born Holander, Yehoshua-Heshel, Faigele-married Richter, Liebe-Toube-married Rosenfeld|
|Heuberger||Aaron, Frieda, Abraham Joseph, Rachel, Esther|
|Hirschberg||Israel-Laib, Sarah-born Posner, Zeev-Wolf|
|Hirschtal||Yechezkiel, Esther-born Barber|
|Hochberger||Aharon, Fradl, Abraham-Josef, Rachel, Esther|
|Holander||Itzchak-Hakohen, Nisl, Asher, Pinchas, Rachel-born Penichl, Chana.|
|Holander||Moyshe-Laib, Sheva-born Herbst, Baruch, Bayle, Abraham, Sarah, Pearl|
|Holander||Elisha, Mirl, Blima, Faigl, Mordechai, David, Faiga-Rifka-born Kuperman|
|Ibersfeld||Abraham, Perele, Baruch, Shayndl, Hese|
|Ingber||Moyshe, Jocob, Roche, Miriam, Laibish, Sarah-married Urbach|
|Kirschner||Chaim, Bayla, Yehuda, Moyshe, Shymon, Abraham|
|Klagsbrun||Beirish, Sarah-Rifka, Dina-born Hennenberg|
|Klagsbrun||Taybl, Shymon-Laib, Gele|
|Kleinberger||Gershon, Dvora-born Urbach|
|Kling||Faigl, Yehuda, Josef|
|Kohane||David, Rachel, Itzchak, Baruch, Israel|
|Kurtz||Beirish, Yentl, Josef, Golda, Gitl|
|Kurtz||Frania, Israel, Josef, Laib|
|Langer||Chaim-Shmuel, Dvora, Shymon, Chana|
|Lauber||Itzchak, Pearl, Moyshe|
|Lauber||Pinchas, Reuven, Baruch, Dvora, Mindl|
|Lauber||Chaim-Zev, Gele-born. Berkovitz|
|Laufer||Josef Chai, Sarah, Shloyme, Mina-born Hayman, Shmuel, Rachel-born Einhom, David, Dvora, Mindl, Balke|
|Lednitzer||Josef, Bracha, Zvi-Hirsh, Eliezer|
|Levi||Zeev-Wolf, Chana, Brandl, Esther, Itzchak|
|Levi||Yechezkel, Sarah, Chaim, Chana, David, Josef|
|Lieblich||Cutl, Shprinca, Faigl, Shayndl, Berl, Chana|
|Lieblich||Shmuel, Esther, Itzchak, Chaim|
|Lipshitz||Moyshe, Gele, Chaim, Rifka-born Shenberg, Shaul, Raizie, Saly, Jacob-Shalom|
|Mandelbaum||Jacob, Abraham, Chana-born Wechsler, Moyshe-Laib, Ruzia-born Weingarten|
|Mandelbaum||Chaim, Mirl, Jacob|
|Mandelbaum||Jacob, Rachel-born Singer|
|Mandelbaum||Rachcia, Berish, Laib|
|Mandelbaum||Jacob, Liba-born Kurtz|
|Mandelbaum||Moyshe-David, Raizl-born Schwartz, Josef|
|Melcer||Manes, Rachel-born Urbach|
|Morgenstern||David, RaizI, Fradl|
|Mushel||Aharon, Czama, RaizI, Rachel|
|Nagoshiner||Moyshe, Aharon, Shprinca|
|Oling||Laibish, Rachel, Sarah|
|Orenstein||Yehuda, Moyshe, Josef, Chaim|
|PerIschtein||Abish, Malka-born Schneider, Leach|
|Peterzeil||Moyshe, Golde Chai, RaizI, Mates|
|Posner||Yechezkel, Yachet, Jacob-Asher|
|Preis||Chai, Vita-born Lauber|
|Rat||Chana, Gitl, Naftali|
|Rat||David, Gitl, Naftali, Zisman|
|Rauchwerger||Jacob, Blimcia, Isaac|
|Rauchwerger||David, Guscia, Isaac|
|Rauchwerger||Eli, Rachel, Shimon|
|Reich||Chananya, Chana-Rachel, Cila, Zvi|
|Reifer||Itzchak, Rachel-born Kurtz|
|Reifer||Abraham, Rifka-born Yeret, Moyshe|
|Reinhald||Sarah, Perl, Lieber, Itzchak, Zalman|
|Rigler||Aharon Chai, Sarah|
|Rosenbaum||Abish, Matel-born Barber|
|Rosenbaum||Eli, Esther, Shloyme, Sarah, Jacob, Sarah-born Feldsher|
|Rosenfeld||Chaim-Shloyme, Esther, Abraham, Isachar, Faigl Leah-born Ganz, RaizI, Josef, Kalman|
|Ruff||Jacob, Chana, Hinda, Moyshe|
|Schifer||Chaim, Moyshe, Pearl, David|
|Schneider||Laibish, Baila, David, Hinda-married Zelenfreund|
|Schnitzer||Mendl, Malka-Rifka, Golda, Shymon, Israel|
|Schnitzer||Moyshe-Shmuel, Hinda, Israel-Laib, Shloyme, Josef, Chana, Zvia-married Nichtberger|
|Schoenberg||Jacob Tamari-born Grajover, Moyshe, Eliezer|
|Schoenberg||Hirsh-Melech, Golda, Shloyme|
|Schoenberg||Moyshe, Miriam, Abraham-Shloyme, Rachel-born Helman, Josef, Malka-born Kaufman|
|Schoenberg||Israel, Sarah-born Mushel|
|Schorenstein||Baruch, Leah, Eliezer, Yechezkel, Hinda, Chaim|
|Schternfeld||Josef, Sarah-born Mandelbaum|
|Schtrasberg||Shloyme, Yocheved-born Ernest, Laibish|
|Schwartz||Laibish, David, Chana|
|Schwartz||Aharon Chai, Gitl, Chava, Eliezer, Ruzia|
|Siegel||Laib, Cirl, Esther-Malka|
|Silfen||Israel, Sarah-born Grajover, Tamar, Shmuel|
|Singer||Beirish, Kaile, Zalman, Itzchak, Rifka-born Zagorski, Faigl-married Wachsberg|
|Sonenschein||Symche-Bunim, Sarah, Moyshe-Laib|
|Staner||Chaim, Baile, Shalom|
|Stapler||Symche, Surcia, Blimcia-married Rauchwerger, Shloyme, Hirsh, Nacha, Golda, Abraham, Shaul|
|Timberg||Aharon, Zisl, David|
|Urbach||Abraham, Shloyme, Chai|
|Urbach||Itzchak, Gitl, Perez|
|Wachsman||Israel-David, Chana, Jacob-Asher, Shloyme|
|Widawski||RaizI, Malka, Liba|
|Zagorski||Moyshe, Golda, Jacob, Etl-born Urbach|
|Zaiftnan||ChaimRachel, Nuta, the last one hung in camp.|
|Zeltenreich||Rachel-Leah, Moyshe, Clava-married Shiff, RaizI|
|Zigman||Dov-Berish, Genendl-born Zaifman|
|Zimmer||Josef, Chana, Isaac, Abraham, David|
|Zimmer||Mendl, Rifka, Jacob-Asher, Baila|
|Zimnowodski||Aharon-Laib, Sarah-Rifka, Abraham, Itzchak, Faigl, Shmuel, RaizI, Chava, Miriam, Jacob-Israel, Moyshe-David, Ruzia|
|Zshulti||Josef, Sarah-Gitl, Jacob-Asher, Shymshon|
THIS BOOK is a gravestone, a monument to the murdered Jews of the Polish city of Chrzanow. It is dedicated to women, men, and children. I don't know how many died-certainly about 15,000. They died because they were Jews. They died because they patiently prayed together for mercy, relying on Divine providence. They were one large family, just like Jews in almost every Polish town, and that is why we can say that they all died as martyrs. This is the monument for them, for my brothers and sisters-one monument for everyone.
I close my eyes and in the darkness I see all of Europe, from the Ukraine to France, from Norway to Italy. Thousands and thousands of cities, towns, and villages occupied by Jews. Blood, blood, blood. Pale faces, dying children, and then-ashes, ashes, ashes. Six million murdered Jewish hearts, and in the middle of Europe-Poland! All around a huge wreath of Jewish ruins, rivers of Jewish tears, voices uttering Jewish prayers, and in the middle, the great Jewish plain of ashesPoland, the mass grave of millions of Jews.
Among the hundreds and hundreds of Polish cities and towns-with the proud Jewish Warsaw in their midst, like the heart of a vibrant body-among these hundreds of Jewish towns, my eyes wander, seeking the town where my cradle stood, where my mother sang lullabyes, where my grandmother happily gazed at me as I took my first uncertain steps on the road of Jewish life.
In the southwest comer of Poland, where the rails cut through the crust of the earth on a broad path from east to west, lived and dreamed a large town among the small towns of Poland. Its name was Chrzanow. It still has the same name, but today no Jews remain there. After the war the boundaries changed, but before World War II Chrzanow was near the border of Germany, the majority of whose people became the beasts of humanity.
In the first day of the war Chrzanow fell into German hands. I remember one pitch-dark night. I was returning by automobile from the last meeting of the Polish Parliament in Warsaw, trying to get to Cracow to my wife. We were not far from Mielec, not far from Tarnow. Suddenly the headlights of a car blazed. Hundreds of dark figures were running in the direction of Rozwadow. I asked what they were running from. They were Jews from Chrzanow and Jaworzno. Already drawn into the net of the Polish tragedy, they were running toward their own destruction.
Now, after the flood has already passed, I ask myself what my town, our town, of Chrzanow really was. I close my eyes again and go back through the decades. I try to recall the true image of Chrzanow. Its streets were like those in Chagall's paintings: poor, crooked streets ... caricatures. But many of them are still vivid in my memory. I can't forget the street that was named after a famous Polish historian of the distant past, Kadlubek. In a side street off this main street stood a crooked house; here I played with other children in the courtyard of my grandmother's apartment. Going down that street after a rainstorm was like crossing the Red Sea. The long Krzyska Street (from the Polish word krzyz, which means "cross") left me with an almost mystical feeling of terror. The street was extremely long; funeral processions would make their way down to the cemetery outside of town. In addition, Christians-- tsabanesas they were called-lived on that street. For us children, that fact alone was a source of terror.
Krakowska Street had a place of honor. It, too, was long, like an artery running direct from the heart of our famous rynek (marketplace). The people who lived there were a bit wealthier, and their houses were made of brick. The street extended to a spot that we dreamed of every Sabbath, when we stole away for a stroll toward the river and the fields. That spot was called Piaski (Sand).
But the most prominent place in my memory is reserved for the most beautiful street, the "aristocratic" street, which was called Alea Henryka (Henry's Blvd.). On both sides of the street, trees flourished and fine houses stood, along with the courthouse, the municipal building, and the various offices that represented power and authority in our city. This street, which was named after a converted Jew, continued quite a distance to a suburb called Huta, where the Austrian military maintained its headquarters for years. This was the city's castle, and Huta is where I was born, because that is where my parents lived at first.
I remember the major "battle" that was fought in our town about whether to move the train station from the city proper to the suburb. The suburb won and, as a result, every Friday afternoon hundreds of Jewish men and women ran from the train up the Alea Henryka in order not to be late for the Sabbath. It was an image that etched itself deep into my memory. But for the older generation, Alea Henryka was not to be used on the Sabbath. It led to the forests, to hidden places near the stone quarry, and especially to a small forest in the midst of which was a large, excavated sand pit. The younger generation amused itself there on the Sabbath and holy days. Mothers and fathers were distressed when their sons and daughters escaped into God's beautiful natural world. But the girls and boys paid more attention to the call of their blood than to the call of their parents.
Another road led from the marketplace toward Jaworzno and Siersza, with their large coal mines, and to the village of Luszovitze. Like rays of the sun, six roads led from the marketplace in various directions; and the world toward which they led was it seemed to us, a very large one.
To one side was the famous place called Trzebinia. On the way there was a hill only a few meters high, but in our childhood fantasies this hill was quite large. It seemed especially large and tall when we were told that the Messiah had once stood on it, preparing to redeem the world. Looking down from the peak of the hill, however, he suddenly saw Jews desecrating the Sabbath, and he went away. Perhaps on account of those sins we later had so much trouble and toil in our city.
A few dozen kilometers past Trzebinia. was Cracow. In our imagination, Cracow was the center of the world. Children used to beg their parents to take them just once to see Cracow. Once when I was very young, how happy I was when I rode all day with my parents toward Cracow, passing the spa Alvernia. (famous for its clean air), and continuing farther past Koshov, which was also famous for Polish ruffians. To this day, I haven't forgotten that journey. My mother's eyes, looking at me in the photographer's studio, still glow in my memory.
But Cracow wasn't the sum total of the wide world. In the other direction, the railroad led to another city like Chrzanow- Oswiecim, or Auschwitz, roughly eighteen kilometers from Chrzanow. As a young boy, I ran the whole way with some friends, just to see who could get there first. This is the same Auschwitz where the German Nazis tortured millions of people, most of them Jews. Hitler entertained the new arrivals at this hell for Jews with orchestras playing German music while mad dogs were driven to tear the flesh of little children. Today a museum is there.
But in old Chrzanow, not one of us ever dreamed that our fellow city would become an eternal symbol of our martyrdom. Oshpitsiner- as the Jews of Oswiecim (Auschwitz) were called- didn't care for people from Chrzanow too much. Many of the reasons for this rivalry applied equally to both sides. There was a contest in piety. Oshpitsiner thought of Chrzanower as slightly less pious Jews, and Chrzanower thought the same way of the Oshpitsiner.
This was the city through which Chrzanow had access to the wide world on its west. In that direction lay Vienna, where the emperor reigned, the great city where Jews from Galicia often sought justice, for the highest court in all Austria stood there. Health was sought there as well, because the greatest physicians were in Vienna. A "lightning express" train ran from Cracow to Vienna, which took only six hours, compared to the usual ten hours, or the passenger local, which took fourteen hours.
I remember the fight of the Chrzanow Jews in Vienna to get the "Lux Torpedo" to stop at their small station. I recall that for a short time they were victorious. They were in a hurry, the rich Jews from Chrzanow- the regular express was too slow for them. But the main reason was jealousy of Trzebinia, because the lightning express stopped there. How unforgettable were the long disputes, the heated discussions at the marketplace and in the foyer of the synagogue, regarding the world-shattering question of whether the lightning express would stop in Chrzanow or not, and the depth and seriousness of the town luminaries' ambition for Chrzanow to enjoy equal rights as a center of European communications. How sincere and comradely were these heroic struggles.
And indeed Chrzanow wasn't just any town. Life bubbled over there. Anyone who
hasn't experienced the lively tempo of a Thursday fair at the marketplace has
no idea what economic prosperity means. But that wasn't all. Chrzanow
maintained solid connections with surrounding cities and towns as far away as
Germany, Katowice, Myslowice and even Breslau. But you will learn a great deal
more about that inlater chapters. In short, Chrzanow was a well-known commercial city.
The best merchandise in Chrzanow, however, was the Torah. The city was a fortress of devotion and true piety. Religious devotion was so great in the town that even those who weren't pious had to reckon with these sentiments. A good deal of struggle arose from this fact! Piety, deep belief, a deep intimacy with faith, formed the essential tone and illuminated the life of the city.
This piety was the real reason behind the struggles for and against Zionism, against modern ideas. It wasn't simply the backward reaction of benighted clerics. There was a real fear that the contacts of young people with the great ideas of the Gentiles, with "the goyish, " as their culture was called, would slowly choke and destroy the tree of Judaism. A real love of Judaism motivated those who followed paths that were not ours, the young Zionist generation who strived to reach new horizons, to achieve true freedom, to revive our people.
The older generation, unmistakably, understood us well. But because they understood us-with all the sharp intelligence of the Jewish brain-they struggled with an especially dedicated stubbornness on behalf of the fortress of the past. I would more accurately say that we young people did not understand the older generation. We casually dismissed them as backward, believing that they didn't understand us and wanted to confine us in a prison of intolerance. And the real motivation was the older generation's great love for the Jewish people, their belief in God, in the Messiah and the Redemption. Our paths separated, but the same pillar of love for the people led both generations. And today nothing remains of these hundreds of cities and towns, nor of my town of Chrzanow. It was like a pearl among a string of pearls. The string has disappeared, and so have the pearls.
The life of our Polish towns, including Chrzanow, was wrapped in a unique poetry. This poetry cannot be described in words. Perhaps another Y.L. Peretz could do so, but not my own poor pen. Who possesses the poetry to describe the well in the middle of the marketplace, around which Jewish women and children stood washing new-dishes, preparing for Passover? Who can describe the glowing, almost mystical atmosphere of celebration that accompanied this task, as if people were preparing for some kind of indescribable joy?
I will never forget the winter nights when, still a child, I went to cheder to my first teacher, the unforgettable Royte Lume. He was such a good, holy Jew! And years later I walked one dark night with careful tread through the slippery marketplace and through a certain long, large courtyard, to a teacher of more advanced students, Volvele Schor. He was such a scholar, such a pedant, and an ill-tempered man may he forgive me! I can still feel the pain of the pinches he dealt me. But I remember both of them here with profound respect. The poetry of that walk to cheder still lies in my heart, and as I write these lines, I once again hold the little lamp, bearing a bit of oil and a wick, that fitfully illuminated my way and drove away the darkness, so that I would arrive safely at the cheder. I see you before my eyes now, my dear town of Chrzanow.
I dreamed of you often during the terrible days of the last war. In the most dangerous days of the Blitzkrieg in London I thought of you, of the youth I spent in your buildings. And when moments arrived that threatened to be my last, I suddenly saw in the far distance the cemetery outside of town, next to the little stream Hechlo. To us children, that little stream seemed a great river, and its depths aroused deep respect in us. I saw that cemetery before me more than once: the graves of our rabbis, and the hundred slips of paper with prayers inscribed on them lying on top of the graves. And in the midst of this forest of graves I suddenly saw the two black marble gravestones of my parents: my good, intelligent mother and my generous, impulsive father who had a character pure as crystal ... I see you again now...
And now that poetry has ended! Nothing more is left. During the war I sent several letters from London to my home town by way of special messengers parachutists. But I never received a single answer. And when the war ended, my first thoughts and my first letter were directed toward my home town of Chrzanow, and the city in which I later lived, Cracow. That time I received an answer from Mandelbaum, in Trzebinia, along with a photograph of my parents' grave. Around the grave stand two Jews, one of them pronouncing the El Mole Rahamim, and two candles burn on the grave. Thank you, dear brother, for this gift!
And now I a m writing these words, thousands of miles away from you, my town of Chrzanow! I am now in the largest Jewish city in the world, a city populated by two-thirds the number of Jews who lived in all of Poland before the war. In this city live one-fifth of our entire people; in this city, a glorious, rich, busy Jewish life is lived. This city- New York- is a new source of continuity, and from it streams the eternity of our people. Far away, in Europe, millions of us died, slaughtered by a murderous people and their helpers, by beasts who preached to the entire world that they represent a "higher morality." And here, a new Jewish life has grown up. And thus it has been for thousands of years: destruction followed by development, and once again destruction. But what remains is eternity.
My town of Chrzanow, you have left us, you will never return to be part of Jewish life. But we will not forget you! You shine in our hearts like the light of love.
And this gravestone will remain as a monument to you. Your sacrifice was not in vain. You are a part of the indescribable mass sacrifice of pain and tragedy, brought by our people to the altar of humanity in the struggle against the forces of darkness, in order to make possible the sunrise of new joy in our glorious, millennia-long history: the rebirth of the State of Israel.
Here, in the great Jewish city of New York, I stretch out my hand to you, to
the extinguished light of my home town.
May its memory be blessed.
And you, the remnants of my fellow townspeople, scattered throughout the entire world-here in New York, in almost all the lands of the Americas and the five continents, and in our State of Israel, where I saw you just a few weeks before this writing-all of you will honor this monument with your love.
After a period of gruesome tragedy, we are marching further toward a sunny future.
Indescribably terrible was the sacrifice our people made, but we are on the way to better days. And this is the only comfort, when I think about the death of my home town and the destruction of hundreds and thousands of sister cities and towns, which died together with you, my unforgettable home town.
Jewish children, pick up the books that grew out of the creative history of our people, which stretches back more than three thousand years! Drink at the sources, nourish yourselves with love for our people, with the strength to suffer, with enduring faith. May these qualities make you, the generation which comes to embrace the entire Jewish people with love, happy in the State of Israel! Then our catastrophe will have served its purpose as a major episode in the eternal path of our people.
I have confined myself to a general description of an exclusively Jewish city that once existed in prewar Poland, emphasizing particular historical moments and the unique characteristics that made Chrzanow stand out among our Jewish towns.
I recognize clearly that this book may not be of the highest literary quality. I am sure that a great deal here is worthy of criticism. May my dear townspeople forgive my audacity. I have taken upon myself this difficult task, following the opinion of our rabbis, who said:
"Where there are no men, strive to be a man."
Whether I have successfully met this challenge will have to be determined by our surviving older and younger Jews from Chrzanow themselves.
My intentions were the best, and I worked at this task as best I could. May the pages of this book, written with love and piety, serve as an eternal Kadish for the ruined city, and the more than ten thousand Jewish fives cut off before their time.
In 1947-1948, the late Mordechai Bochner, father of my dear lost school friend, Malek Bochner, undertook the enormous task of traveling through Europe to gather photographs, information and stories to write a book about our Chrzanow. He deserves our thanks, admiration and we bless his memory for what he accomplished under the most difficult circumstances.
Time has taken its toll. The pages of his book are disintegrating and the binding is falling apart. Saddest of all, very few people are able to read it in Yiddish. The time has come to correct this situation. I hope that with the cooperation of the membership and friends of the Chrzanower Association, I will be able to have it properly translated and rebound into a new Yiddish-English edition.
At the same time, I would like to get as many additional photographs as possible, properly dated and identified, to include in the new printing. This, my friends, is a request to all of you who have or know about any photographs available to send me copies or originals. I personally assure you that they will be handled carefully and returned if so desired.
I hope that you will respond soon and favorably.
With many thanks from our President, Irving Wiener and myself, I remain
Your response helped to make it a reality.
In its first years Chrzanow fell under the administration of the county seat of Olkusz, in Congress Poland, about 25 kilometers from Chrzanow. A Jewish book dating from that period contains a reference to the city of "Chrzanow, near Koscielec. " This suggests that the nearby village, which was the seat of the Polish aristocratic family Vodzhitsky, played a larger role at that time than the county seat, which became significant later on. Chrzanow first achieved prominence as a Jewish city with the appointment of its first rabbi, Reb Shloymele of blessed memory.
Chrzanow is located in the southwest corner of Poland, not far from the left bank of the small river Hechlo, which flows into the Vistula.
Before World War 1, the economic structure of the Jewish community of Chrzanow was strongly influenced by its proximity to the so-called "Three Emperors' Corner, " the border dividing Russia, Germany, and Austria. The city lay on the main highway connecting Eastern and Western Europe. The railroad line from Czernowitz through Lemberg to Vienna passed through the town, connecting Galicia to Germany and St. Petersburg to Rome. Naturally, the influences of eastern and western cultures were felt among the Jews of Chrzanow, both intellectually and economically.
Thanks to its favorable geographical location, Chrzanow could have undergone much more, extensive economic development, were it not for the lackadaisical approach of the city fathers in previous generations. According to the original plan, the railroad connection to the nearby Czech territory was to be built right in the center of Chrzanow. But those who ran the city in those days protested that the whistles of the locomotives at night would disturb their sleep. Similarly, they rejected a plan to maintain a regular Austrian military garrison, complaining quite practically that it would be difficult to hold on to female Gentile servants if there were soldiers around.
In the 1870s a fire broke out in Chrzanow at a time when the Austrian crown prince Rudolph was staying in Cracow. Many Jewish families, motivated by patriotism, had gone to Cracow to see the son of the emperor with their own eyes. They had locked their houses and taken the keys along. Thus the fire caused a dreadful amount of damage. This great fire came to serve as the central date for an informal local way of reckoning time. People would say that so-and-so had gotten married a year before the fire, or two years after the fire, and so forth.
Until 1918 Chrzanow, along with the rest of Galicia, belonged to the Austrian Empire. The Jews there enjoyed complete civil equality, together with all of the peoples of the former monarchy.
Throughout all the years before World War I the Jews of Chrzanow lived in peace and comfort, and had a steady livelihood. Industry, capability, an entrepreneurial spirit, and commercial skills guaranteed them solid and secure economic positions in the city. Over the years, the relations between Jews and Poles were bearable. No extraordinary anti-Semitic incidents could be found in a chronicle of life in Chrzanow. Not until 1910 did Polish anti-Semitism first appear in the city, with the arrival of the educated priest and anti-Semite Dr. Kaminsky, who was the first to preach openly for economic combat against Jews.
A significant portion of the land in Chrzanow belonged to Jewish converts to Christianity, the family Lowenfeld. This family deserves description, because they had a share in the development of the city, and most recently had made a significant contribution to raising the cultural level of the Jewish youth.
Little is known about the original patriarch of the Lowenfelds, except that being a Jew, he maintained the commandment to buy an esrog on Sukkoth, and pronounce a blessing over it. The Lowenfeld family lived in a castle surrounded by a garden, in the very center of the city. They had kept their distance from other Jews even before their conversion. That is why Chrzanow Jews knew so little about life in their mansion, or about the reasons for their conversion.
After the Lowenfelds converted to the Christian faith, they behaved as loyal and pious Catholics, and they were more than once observed exhibiting the particular anti-Semitism of converts. (The oldest son, Dr. Wilhelm Lowenfeld, did not convert; he was already an adult when the conversion took place. He lived in Berlin and entered Hitler's crematoria as a Jew.) More remarkably, the mother, who had initiated the conversion of the entire family, became, as a Catholic, a vicious anti-Semite.
The important family members for our Jewish history were the two brothers, Adolf and Henryk. Adolf, who was well-known in town, was highly educated and was employed as a high school teacher of German language and literature. He translated the book of job into Polish, and in general was interested in Jewish issues-from an academic standpoint. One may safely assume that it was he who inspired his brother Henryk toward generous support of Jewish cultural institutions.
Henryk, or Heinz as he was generally called by Jews, inherited the greater part of his parents' fortune. He lived the Bohemian lifestyle among the theatrical circles in Paris, and his ambition was to make Chrzanow as fine and beautiful as possible. Toward that end he donated to the city the landscaped grounds that were named after him, the Alea Henryka, and which served the city as a beautiful spot for strolling and recreation.
Heinz also tried to promote a project aimed at establishing a community center in Chrzanow for all of the Jewish parties, from right to left. Unfortunately it is impossible to determine who was responsible for the failure to realize this excellent idea. At the time it was understood that the Jewish parties were unwilling or unable to unite behind this project because of narrow partisan ambitions and differences of opinion.
However, a short time later, Heinz did succeed in creating a non-party-affiliated popular library, with a rich catalog of Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, and German books. The popular library was established when Heinz placed at the disposal of the national Jewish parties the huge sum of 5, 000 kroner (an enormous contribution at that time). Over the course of four decades this institution (Biblioteka Ludowa) served as a source of culture and knowledge for the Jewish youth of Chrzanow.
World War I although child's play when compared to World War II, nevertheless left its mark on the Jews of Chrzanow. Some fell at the front, and some were crippled for the rest of their lives. Many lost their entire fortune as a result of the war, while others became rich. There was also a certain spiritual transformation; the blind piety that had formerly been such a distinctive mark of Chrzanow loosened. Conservative attitudes toward people and the world gave way to more liberal and open views. The reason for this was that at the end of 1914, when the Russians came near the city, a large portion of the Jewish population left Chrzanow and settled in the larger cities of the empire, such as Vienna, Prague, Berlin and others.
This contact, short as it was, with the centers of civilization at that time, influenced the people in several ways. When they returned, they felt more connected to the world. For many young people, short modem clothes replaced traditional garments such as the shtreimel, kolpak, the long silk coats-something previously unimaginable in Chasidic homes. A certain change took place in the education of the youth as well. People turned to training in practical and useful trades, instead of keeping stores and traveling to fairs, which had become insecure occupations during the war years.
With the collapse of Austria and the establishment of the Polish state, the tragic story began in Chrzanow. Not only was there a pogrom, but Chrzanow had the "honor" of being the site of the first pogrom anywhere in liberated Poland.
At the end of October 1918, Jews in Chrzanow found out through covert channels that an action was being prepared. Since the Jewish national youth in Cracow had formed a self-defense organization, they were alerted to send a detachment to Chrzanow to defend Jewish lives and property. In fact, Cracow sent a band of ten men with arms-the youth of Chrzanow, unfortunately, were unarmed-but immediately upon their arrival, they were disarmed by the Polish authorities on trumped-up charges.
This pogrom, or rabunek as the Poles called it, had been prepared by the Polish authorities as though they were old hands at the trade. Virtually every class within the Polish population participated in the pogrom, from the highest-ranking judge (Court President Wierszbycki) down to the lowest-ranking policeman, from the Polish intelligentsia to the underworld. The saddest moment came on November 5, 1918, when the Polish workers of the Polish Socialist Party (P.P.S.) officially participated in this crude bacchanalia, and its leaders, including the future parliament deputy Zhulawski, who was an anti-Semite first and a Socialist second, played a destructive and traitorous role in the affair.
The pogrom continued from Wednesday, November 5 until Thursday, November 6. Crowds came in from the surrounding villages with wagons; those who didn't have wagons carried empty sacks. All of the stores were broken into, and their stock placed in the street. The police saw to it that Jews were neither allowed out in the street, nor even permitted to look out of their windows. The sum result was tragic: two dead (Hershl Wiener and a young boy named Grubner) and several wounded, who remained crippled all their lives (such as Mrs. Rosenwasser and Reb Chaim Shlomo Rosenfeld). All of the stores were completely looted. Overnight, 70% of the Jews of Chrzanow became paupers. The economic catastrophe caused less anguish, however, than the moral pain of those who had been free citizens before, and who now had lost their rights.
For the sake of completeness it should be mentioned that some of the Jews of Chrzanow, especially the youth, acquitted themselves honorably against the looters. Two were dead and several badly wounded on the other side as well.
For some time after the pogrom, the Jews of Chrzanow were severely depressed. They simply no longer believed in the promise of a better tomorrow. They were right; their instincts did not deceive them. Some time later a new trouble began.' in the guise of the " Hallerchiks, " the Polish " liberation army, " which the anti-Semitic General Haller had assembled from the dregs of humanity overseas. Their first and most successful combat on arrival in the country was their battle against Jewish beards. They cut and tore beard and skin together from the faces of defenseless Jews. On the other hand, when they met a Jew without a beard, they would beat him mercilessly for "failure to have a beard." These were the predecessors of the Nazis.
The finale of the ongoing "cold pogrom" carried out by the
Hallerchiks was without question the attack on the study house. They burst into
the large bethamidrash in Chrzanow, beating old men and young boys who sat studying volumes of the
Talmud. Afterward they forced everyone out of the study house, and with laughter and mockery drove horses into the holy place. This desecration continued for several weeks, while the old study house served as a horse barn in free and "glorious"Poland.
Fifteen years later, in 1934, Polish Fascist hooligans began a pogrom once again after the death of Pilsudski, but this time it was directed at the dead. In honor of the First of May they vandalized the cemetery in Chrzanow, uprooting a number of gravestones. At that time this was still a rare occurrence.
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