Translated by Sharon Cooper (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)
Notes: Several foreign language words in this text are found in italics with an English translation following in brackets. These foreign terms were left intact so as to keep to the original flavour of the story. Explanatory comments found in the author's original text are in round brackets. Any phrases enclosed in quotes were found in the author's original text. Explanatory comments found in square brackets were provided by the translator.I have never been to Dzialoshitz, and yet I can see it, the town before my eyes. In the first place, somewhere in a document of mine it is recorded that I am a Dzialoshitzer, although I was actually born in the village of Piotrkowice, in Miechow county. Anyhow, whatever could have happened in those days, I'm certain there was a purpose in it.
My home had a very strong kinship with this genuinely Jewish town. My father, Yisroel Wolf z"l [of blessed memory], was an authentic Dzialoshitzer, and my zaydeh, Moshe Ber z"l, never left the town of Dzialoshitz. Also my mother, Chana Rochel h"d [may the Lord avenge her blood], had a close connection to Dzialoshitz, on account of my aunt Yentel h"d. She was my mother's oldest sister and the wife of Avraham Wdowinski z"l, the owner of the mill and the electric works. These close kinsmen bound us tightly to the town. And the Dzialoshitzers were also frequent guests at our house in the village.
Of these, the ones that I remember best, and that are engraved in my memory, were the village-runners [itinerant peddlers]. Almost every week they came to us, with sacks tied over their shoulders. They migrated through the villages, buying up whatever they could: little rabbit and hare skins, feathers, wax. Sometimes G-d used to send them a real find - a fox, and then for a change - a silver fox, or a marten (a kind of predatory animal), or a skunk. In wintertime, these rare animals were very valuable, because their pelts were hardened by the freezing weather and the snow; they didn't shed, and they had a beautiful sheen. They also bought and dragged along with them heavy cowhide. Worn out from their backbreaking labours, with their gnarled sticks they drove away the barking dogs that used to welcome them as soon as they showed up in the village.
At our house, the home of the only Jewish family in the village, they rested, ate a warm meal, and spent the night on spread-out bundles of straw, which were covered with sheets, and then bedding and furs. They rested their bones for the next day's drudgery. In the evening, as soon as they crossed the threshold, they went to stand with their faces to the east - toward Jerusalem, and davened [prayed] with feeling.
Very special memories still nestle in my mind, of wintry evenings during Chanukah: a crackling frost, the stove ablaze, after Ma'ariv [evening prayer], the fervent "v'hu rachum" [he is merciful] was still ringing through the house. The people would cut potatoes in half, make holes in them, stick in little candles, and kindle the Chanukah lights. A solemnity spread through the house, the faces reflecting the light. They made a "shehechaynu" over the ancient miracles, and for the miraculous years they lived through "bayamim hahem" [in those days].
They washed and sat down to a tasty evening meal: potato soup thickened with flour and greeven [goose-skin cracklings] - from the freshly rendered goose fat, which was made for the coming Pesach - eaten with lungs-and-liver, that father used to bring from Slomniki in honour of Chanukah and in honour of the guests. Avremela, the youngest of the group, a quiet fellow, helped to peel the potatoes, while a contented smile spread across his face. A savory aroma from the Pesach schmaltz [goose fat] pervaded the house, from the latkes that were brought to the table. The folks sipped hot tea with hard sugar, and started up a game of "kvitl" [cards].
Those are the figures I used to watch so intently, and I can still see them standing before me, as if they were alive today. And today I still ponder their fates, the way they dragged those heavy sacks over their shoulders - day after day, year after year; many of them were already old. In a special little bag made of thick white linen, they used to keep a little homemade loaf of Dzialoshitz bread, a few onions.
And there they loom in my memory. One of them, Moshe Shmuel, a solidly built Jew with a blond beard framing his face, was a joker. He used to call potato soup "a bisl shiters" [a bit of the thin stuff]. Having gone hungry all day, he would eat slice after slice of bread with his steaming soup. My mother was always generous, bringing dish after dish of hot, delicious food. After eating and reciting the Birkat HaMazon [grace after the meal], he would roll a cheap cigarette, and cheerfully blow the smoke out through his nose.
It used to happen that my father would talk with him about his deceased brother, a story which had brought my father a lot of heartache. And this was a true story. In my zaydeh Moshe Ber's house, one of his children died, a little boy. Apparently they forgot to report the death. And when conscription time came, "Fonye" [nickname for a Russian] demanded that he produce the body. He was suspicious that the boy had gone overseas, and demanded a fine of three hundred rubles. Whereas there was nothing of value to seize from my zaydeh's house, he proceeded to our store. My father was now considered the first-born son in the family, that's what it amounted to according to the czarist laws. Very often they used to come to make a "zajecie" [seizure] for the fine.
As soon as the executors appeared in the village, we had to put away the better, more expensive merchandise, until my father's relative, Shimon Kolatach z"l, stepped in. Since he had connections in the government, for a bribe, he got them to revoke the "evil decree".
Moshe Shmuel's son, Gershon, had an easy job. He had a horse and wagon and bought up old iron. He too was a frequent visitor to our house.
Yankel Shvienty had ruddy cheeks, as if they were frostbitten. A round, gray beard and on one eyebrow - a birthmark that looked like a little latke. He looked like a saint, always with a cheerful countenance. His face used to change according to his mood. When he used to speak with feeling, a tear would appear in one of his eyes. Gentiles held him in high esteem, also on account of his excellent Polish.
Yisroel Leyb Ostry, my father's cousin, was a very devout, G-d-fearing man, and a learned Jew. Rarely did one see a smile on his face. The image of an ascetic, such a thin person, all skin and bone. A tiny beard on the tip of his chin. We suspected that maybe he actually stuck it, Heaven forbid, onto his chin with soap. His slightly curly peyes [side-locks] covered the nakedness of his cheeks.
He took little part in the joking and conversation. For all that, he was a marvelous storyteller: stories about "Good Jews" [Hassidic rabbis], "Bale-Mofsim" [miracle workers], about the Ba'al Shem Tov and the Rebbe Reb Baer, about the miracles that happened in the days of Chanukah, about Reb Nachman of Bratslav and his longing for Eretz Israel. He accompanied every story with a sigh, and ended it like a prayer with "b'yerushalayim ircha b'rachamim tashuv" [and to Jerusalem, Your city, may You return in compassion]. And his eyes used to fill up with tears, and tears would also appear in my mother's eyes and the eyes of us children.
My mother served some more hot tea, and one could almost imagine that the Ba'al Shem Tov himself, may his merit defend us, was speaking through him.
He used to get up from his bed earlier than all the others, and with religious ecstasy, recited the psalms of the day, perused a holy book, and softly murmured a niggun [hassidic melody]. The meager light from the oil lamp threw a pale rosy glow onto his face. He rocked back and forth, casting a shadow on the wall that I used to study.
It must have been hard for him to carry that heavy sack over his shoulders, and perhaps heavier still than the sack, was the sorrow of Jewish exile. Until this day, I don't understand how he communicated with the peddlers, how he did business and supported his family. Perhaps what sustained him was the tremendous faith that he carried in his heart A very special place in our home was occupied by Dovid Broiges. He was a joyful person, and cleaned more than he talked. He lived in Lodz then, but considered himself a Dzialoshitzer. He was a constant guest in our house, our father's friend from cheder [traditional Jewish elementary school]. In his youth he'd been a wedding jester, and in his older years he used to drift about with a little cup of cows' bile, and he used that to remove stains from clothing. Such a bitter occupation he had. He used to arrive in the village around Shavuos, and stayed til after Sukkos. On Simchas Torah he entertained our country minyan; words literally tumbled from his lips like pearls and all of his cares fell away. He became quite a different person on the night of Hoshana Rabbah . He recited "Tikkun" in the Sukkah almost the whole night, drawing out a sad niggun by the last glimmer of the Yom Kippur lights.
These are just a few of the figures that I remember. They also used to tell different stories at our house about the Dzialoshitzers. About the "gevir-adir" [very wealthy man] Pshevorsky, they recounted that at his house, they used to eat the livers of fattened geese, even on weekdays.
Our home became quite merry whenever my zaydeh Moshe Ber z"l came to visit us. He used to come in wintertime, when it was so cold outside, birds literally were falling from the sky in mid-flight. He crossed the threshold with a cheerful "got helf" [hello], and took off the bundle of sticks he carried over his shoulder. He spoke hastily, wanting the bagels to arrive warm. His beard and mustache were covered with ice and strewn with fluffy snow, and the bagels were indeed still warm, genuine Dzialoshitz bagels, twisted ones, sprinkled with poppy seed, browned to a golden luster, and they crunched gaily between your teeth.
Zaydeh used to tell us all kinds of stories, and we used to beg for more. At dawn he would rise and read from the Book of Psalms for a very long time. He used to stay for several days at our house, and he left behind such a longing in us when he went away.
Zaydeh passed away at a ripe old age. It happened on a Friday night. During the day he had gone to the graveyard, and had visited the plot that he'd provided for himself while he was living, beside the grave of a brother who had perished for Kiddush Hashem [as a martyr for his faith].
My bubbeh Rivka on my mother's side, lived with us for many years. When we left the village, she went to Dzialoshitz to stay with my aunt Yentel. We moved to the city. Life in the village was hard for a Jew and when we left, the only Jewish candle went out in our country cottage.
The first time that I ever saw my aunt Yentel, I was a boy of ten. One time I was coming home for lunch from cheder on a summer's day, when I encountered a dear and distinguished guest, my aunt Yentel. She was a tall, finely dressed woman, who gave the impression of a noblewoman. She had rich clothing, a hat with an ostrich feather, and her wig was interwoven with gray hairs. Ever since her son Hertzke had fallen under the ice and drowned at the Bedlin Mill, near Wolbrom, a look of deep sorrow had never left her face. He had held a lease on the mill. Aunt Yentel used to send my mother descriptions of Japan in yellow notebooks, when we were still in the village.
Incidentally, we had a bit of a connection to Japan. My uncle Yossel z"l had served in the Russian army near the Japanese border, and when the Russo-Japanese war broke out, he crossed the border into Austria.
I was not destined to see my aunt Yentel's home, but I imagined it as a wealthy, patriarchal home, a home that was rooted in the generations - somewhat like our forefathers in the Chumash - with primeval Jewishness. I looked intently at aunt Yentel, when she was with us. My mother remarked that I should go back to cheder, and that I should say goodbye to my aunt. Aunt Yentel then took me by the hand, and as she stroked my head she said, "Let him take a good look at me, perhaps he will never see me again." She was right. I never saw her again...
Amid the downfall, in the Nazi deluge, the home of uncle Avraham and aunt Yentel was also destroyed. The home that they built with so much industry. That firmly planted house, filled up with a warm "yiddishkayt" [Jewishness] was annihilated.
My aunt Yentel was taken away by the Nazis, when she was over ninety years old and still full of intelligence and charm, that radiated from her. In her hand she held a newspaper, she couldn't bear to be without something to read. Together with the other old men and women, they took her away to Wolbrom.
Yes, even now, tales of Dzialoshtiz loom up suddenly before my eyes. There was a time when that city even had a Jewish letter-carrier.
Here I have recorded only a few of the figures that have lived on in my mind, from my childhood in the village - to Jerusalem. Figures that were cut down in the middle of their longing for deliverance, with their faces to the east, their gaze directed toward Jerusalem.
Translated by Zeva Shapiro Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang Over 100 years ago, a decree was issued, signed by the czar that stated that all Jews involved in farming would be exempt from military service. During those times, it was a major problem if one got drafted and became a soldier in the Russian army. The service lasted dozens of years, and there was a grave danger of assimilation and conversion. The Jews heeded this decree and started to settle their children to work the fields. Around Działoszyce there were thick forests (hence the name of the town); they started preparing the earth for agriculture. At first, they named the place Zalesice, which means on the edge of the forest.
After they cleared away the trees, the agriculturally prepared land was offered for sale to the highest bidder. Several Jews acquired parts of this land. The area was called Łabędź (a swan), and on it was established a Jewish agricultural community. With the establishment of this settlement, there was a sizeable number of Jews who worked the land and cultivated their fields with loving care. Among them were my father, Szulim Szwimer, his brother, Dawid and Judka Przeworski from the Lorja family, a few sons from the Przeworski family, and others. Things were running well for dozens of years. Afterward, the wealthy sold their estates, since from the outset their motivation was to avoid the draft. As a result, the settlement became impoverished. In spite of all this, a few families still remained, the offspring of the original settlers, and continued living there until the outbreak of World War II.
I remember well one Jew with an interesting personality whose name was Herszel Chalatis [Kolatacz?]. On each and every Thursday, he used to go from house to house and collect funds for the poor in his town, and in each house, they would give him a generous donation.
The entire area was uncultivated and inhabited by a large variety of wild animalswolves, foxes, and others. This was after they bought their properties. My grandfather, zl [of blessed memory], related to me an incident that once, at night, while he was grazing his horse in the meadow, he very suddenly saw a wolf from afar. He barely managed to mount his horse and escape with his life. During this entire night, the horse was shaking and shivering from fright. Another time, a wolf preyed upon his dog, which was tied to a chain in the yard of the house. In the morning, the only memento left was the steel chain.
One time a woman was returning from Działoszyce to Łabędź carrying a basket of produce that she had bought. A wolf she encountered was following her, and every so often, she would throw him something from her basket. When she arrived at her home in Łabędź, she realized that by then her basket was empty. But the most important thing was that she had returned safely.
Such were the memories of the Jews living in Łabędź, which they used to relate as they gathered at the home of my grandfather.
The wealthy Jews who had sold their properties in Łabędź still remained committed to agriculture. However, almost all of them had switched to acquiring a very vast area of fields, where each was spread out along thousands of morgens.
In any event, in Łabędź, there was a concentration of Jewish landowners in the area.
After this original edict regarding military service was eliminated, in 1864, the Polish landowners had to pay higher wages to farm laborers. This forced many of them to sell a portion of their land, if only to be able to continue their lavish lifestyle that required large sums of money.
Initially, they borrowed money from their Jewish lenders, but when it became apparent that they wouldn't be able to repay their loans, they would agree to turn over a portion of their property as compensation. As a result, many Jews became landowners of large properties.
Some of these [Jewish] landowners decided to divide these huge estates into smaller portions and sell them to the peasants, who were hungry to acquire land. They gave them terms of installment payments lasting long periods of years. These promissory notes were then kept in the banks, and as a result of this, they received large amounts of money. With this income, the [Jewish] landowners went out and bought huge properties from Polish landowners.
A great many of these real estate dealers became landowners themselves and got tied to a rural way of life in which their main occupation consisted of farming. They then transferred over their holdings to their sons and sons' sons until the outbreak of World War IIwhich caused the destruction of everything.
The original landowners, who did not possess the necessary expertise to work the land, employed the help of a manager to oversee the operations of their fields and properties. Their children, afterward, came to learn the trade and were thus able to continue being involved themselves with the cultivation and enrichment of the land. So came into being, in the areas surrounding Działoszyce, a type of Jewish landowner who was no different in his makeup from the Polish landowners, one who was able to run his estate on his own.
The numbers of Jewish landowners in the vicinity of Działoszyce, as well as those Jews who themselves were involved in farming, was quite large, so much so that I couldn't even begin to list them by name. I do know, however, that among the initial Jewish landowners was someone by the name of Moszkowski, a very wealthy Jew who left two sons and two daughters. One of these daughters was the wife of Dr. Edelman. The two brothers, Bernard and Zysza Moszkowski, within a short period of time after their father's demise, lost all of their possessions and properties and were forced to live on handouts from their wealthy relatives. They say that Bernard Moszkowski owned one of the big flour mills. Once a salesman came to him and offered him sacks, along with needles for sewing them. The mill owner bought from him needles worth a few hundred rubles, while he could have bought enough needles for the entire year with one ruble. He was impressed by the wholesale price the salesman offered him for the goods and his promise that the bigger the order, the cheaper the price. So he bought a large stock of needles that was enough to last him for several hundred years. And with this type of logic, more or less, they ran the entire business.
The brother of Bernard Moszkowski, by the name of Zysza Moszkowski, was the owner of a large manufacturing plant that was built near Łabędź in the larger town of Czarnocin. In his later years, he lived in Warsaw. There he owned several big houses. His two sons ran Łabędź and the town of Czarnocin. Józio [Józef] and Marcel Moszkowski were both assimilated Jews. Józio's only daughter married a goy [gentile] and, as a result, both her father and mother converted and became Christian.
The same fate met up with Marcel. He married a Christian woman and converted as well. He lived in Czarnocin. In the eyes of Hitler, however, he still remained a Jew. He had to escape from his comfortable home and wandered around with a group of Jews hiding from the Nazis. His wife left him and lived with a German Nazi and didn't want to know him anymore. The Jews with whom he was hiding from the Germans reminded him very often of his having been a traitor to his people, and while exchanging words, told him that from his family name of Moszkowski, all that remained in the end was Moszk [Moszek].
In Dziekanowice were the properties of very prominent Jewish families, the families of Aszkiel and Spiro. These families represented the aristocracy among the Jewish real estate property owners in the area. For many, many years, they inhabited the areas surrounding our town.
The Szental family were the owners of great and vast land. The father of the family, Arish [Aron] Szental, initiated the acquiring of land. He left behind three sons and two daughters who were the proprietors of the entire family estate until the outbreak of World War II. From this entire family, only one daughter survived, by the name of Dania, a scientist in London, and a grandson who lives in Netanya [Israel].
One branch of the Szental family lives in Israel in a place called Karkur. The head of this family is one of the original settlers in the place, from the fourth immigration to the land.
The village of Parszywka belonged in a partnership to Tuwia Meryn and Icze Owsiany. After some time, they sold their joint assets, and the sons of Icze Owsiany bought a parcel that was part of Jastrzębniki, and afterward, land in the village of Dębczyna. They held on to these properties until the outbreak of the war.
From the Owsiany family, only the son of Chaim Owsianyby the name of Szmulis still alive, and he lives in Canada.
The village of Jastrzębniki belonged to the Łaznowski brothers. They held on to their property until the outbreak of World War II. The daughter of one of the brothers, Aron, is still alive. She is in the United States. As for the three daughters of the second son, Szlama, all three of them are living in Tel Aviv.
Szyja Herszel Brener owned vast areas of land along with a large flour mill. From this family, two sons are still alive. One of them, Moszek, lives in Tel Aviv, and the other, Binem, lives in America.
The brothers Szwimer owned property in Kosciejów. They also dealt in real estate.
They subdivided their many holdings into smaller agricultural ones. From them, three girls and a son remain, all of them residing in Israel.
A special type of property owner, and one who worked his land with dedication, was Aron Lewkowicz. He owned 50 acres of land that he cultivated agriculturally. In addition to this, he was a grain merchant. He maintained a very close relationship with all the Polish farmers in the area and was considered one of them. They nicknamed him Bajka, which means a fable. This nickname sprang from the nature of the Polish farmer, who was full of unrealistic fantasies, and he, Lewkowicz, would listen to all the imaginary tales that his Polish farming peers would relay to him, and he would react with the exclamation, Fables! During the last years prior to the war, there used to exist a minyan [quorum of ten men needed for prayer] in his house. All the Jews from the surrounding areas would gather together in his home for a regular minyan on Shabes, Shabes Mevarchim [the Sabbath on which one blesses the new month], and on the holidays. Prayers would take place there.
After the invasion of Poland by the Nazis, he continued living on his land until 1942. At that point, the head of the farmers' council invited him to come over and explained to him that the Poles in the village could not stand his wearing a beard, and if he didn't want them to tear it off, he would do well to shave it off with his own hands. Without a choice, he shaved off the beard that had lit up his face and was a part of his life as a symbol of Jewish pride during a period of 50 innocent years.
From his family, four sons survived, and two grandsons, named Dawid and Jankiel, the sons of Dawid. The latter lives in Bat Yam [Israel]. His three other sons, Michal, Szmul, and Herszel, reside abroad.
Zelig Potok, or Zelig Gluzen, was the owner of 50 acres of land in the village of Gluzy. His daughter survived and lives in Israel.
To the Majtek family belonged lands in one village. Two of his daughters survived and reside permanently in Tel Aviv.
Until the outbreak of World War I, the Jewish property owners were steeped in debt. Only during the war did their revenues increase greatly from their working of the land, and they became very wealthy.
After Poland gained its independence, after the end of World War I, the government began to tax them heavily, with the intention of oppressing them. Because of this, the agricultural workers united and demanded higher wages. One could surmise that the landlords could have survived this double onslaught, the taxes and high wages, if only the work had been industrialized. But in Poland, everything was done manually instead of with machinery and tractors. They could not, in any way, compete with the United States and Canada, where machines did everything. These countries flooded the markets of Europe with their agricultural products and supplied wheat and oats very cheaply, nearly for nothing.
The Jewish farmer bore the brunt of this competitiveness. They sank into deep debt and could not get out from under this situation. This brought the entire agricultural community to the brink of bankruptcy in Poland. When the government realized that the situation was so grave, it hurriedly declared a moratorium to eliminate all their debts. The outstanding payments of the farmers were extended over a longer period of time and given better terms. The Jewish property owner dealt mainly with the selling of parcels of land to small farmers, who then owed him large amounts of moneys. Thus the owners remained without any liquid flow of money and without any cash. All this, while on paper, they possessed such great wealth one couldn't even put a value on it.
In 1942, after the Nazis got organized in their occupied country, they liquidated all Jewish-owned properties and appointed managers instead. The property owners were chased out from their villages to the towns, poor and poverty stricken, without any possessions, persecuted, hunted, and oppressed until the final expulsion. All of them perished together with their brothers, the Jews of Działoszyce.
Translated by Zeva Shapiro Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang As you know, there were no extremely rich people in Działoszyce. The few landowners in the area could be counted on one hand. I intend to describe only the small businesses and will not deal with the large textile shops or the wholesale grocers, such as Icze Majer Waga, Abraham Dula, Jekutiel Platkiewicz, Mendel Wdowiński, Pleszowski, Szwajcer, and the like. Or Richter's fabric store, which, earlier on, was located on one of the major corners. The wholesale grocery trade was dominated by Reb Eliasz Rolnicki, zl, while Pinkus Formalski had the dry goods store. I still remember Szmul Jutrzenka's store as well as Izrael Wajnstok's, along with those owned by gentilessuch as Pawel Kabziński and his son and Zwoliński, who was also the mayor and had a monopoly on cigarettes and tobacco.
Even before World War I, the merchants of Działoszyce were surprised to learn that a Jew, one Pejsach Szternberg, had succeeded in getting a permit from the authorities in Warsaw to sell drugs and various pharmaceuticals.
There were various other stores in the market area: Epsztajn's liquor store, the Cukierman brothers' dry goods store, Tauman's tobacco, the stores of Szmul Szental, Lejbuś Brandys, and Smolarczyk, which sold hardware products. Mejlech Blat, Majer Szulimowicz, Josek Judka Mandelbaum, and Drobiarz all dealt in processed leather goods. The housewares and glass products store belonged to Joska Tajtelbaum. Mendel Frydman (little Mendele) and Aron Baum sold plate glass and paint. There were other stores on the market square that sold a variety of commodities, brought in mainly by farmers from the surrounding area.
There were several merchants in Działoszyce whose main business was to acquire produce from neighboring villages and market it in town. This trade took place as follows. Peddlers made their rounds throughout the countryside, buying feathers, rabbit skins, whatever came their way. They returned to town after five days, on Friday, in time to deal with the wholesalers to whom they were connected. Sometimes, the wholesaler underwrote a peddler's travels for a week or two, advancing him some money until the next Friday, when they would settle their accounts. The peddler was often pressed to settle for a minimal profit, hardly enough to support a family. But, as he was offered, on the spot, an advance on the sales of the coming week, he spent Shabes resting and, on Sunday evening, set out on his rounds once again. The financial condition of the wholesalers, in contrast to the peddlers, or, as they were called in Działoszyce, the dorfs-loifer [village-trekkers] was pretty stable. There were even some fairly wealthy individuals among them. In this connection, it is worth mentioning Moszek Nifkier, whose feather exports extended as far as Germany. He eventually opened a feather-cleaning factory in Upper Silesia. Moszek Waga also dealt in feathers, though on a much smaller scale. (Earlier on, Abraham Profesorski was in this same business.)
Since the surrounding area was totally agricultural, the farmers used to bring their produce to town on market days. A significant number of Działoszyce's Jews traded in farm produce, mainly field crops: wheat, rye, barley, oats, and products such as eggs, poultry, butter, vegetableswhatever could be stored and sent to the big cities and industrial centers. Most of the farmers had connections with a particular merchant whom they could count on to buy their goods. Despite this fact, hordes of peddlers and traders would overwhelm the neighboring villages, swooping over every farmer's cart, vying over the goods, and competing for them. The farmers would bargain over the price of the eggs and wheat they were carrying. Trade with these farmers was the major occupation of our small-scale merchants.
There were also several horse traders in Działoszyce. True, the main horse markets were located in Skalbmierz, Miechów, and Proszowice, and traders from Działoszyce participated in those markets as well. These traders would set out to the market with a cart pulled by two handsome horses. Those animals that were being offered for sale were tethered to the back of the cart. When they reached the market place, all of the horses were soldat a significant profit, of courseand replaced by others. When business was good, the new horses were sold as well, so that the dealer sometimes had to hitch a ride home.
At the end of the summer, when the harvest was over, the farmers tried to dispose of their aging horses rather than having to feed them all winter long, knowing they would not be able to do much work in the spring. The horse traders bought these aging horses, too. More than once it happened that they bought back a horse that they had sold the farmer a few months earlier, its teeth having been sharpened, and its coat groomed to make the animal appear younger. These horses, everyone agreed, were not suitable for work and would be killed off before long. The unfortunate animals, frail and limp, were led to a valley near Działoszyce, where they were killed and then skinned. As it turns out, the dealers made a handsome profit on their carcasses.
The balegoles [wagon drivers] were a special economic class with an important function and a distinct character. These drivers, in all weatherwinter, spring, summer, even the rainy and often-frigid Polish autumnspent their nights hauling goods over the winding, unpaved roads that led to the big cities. The main road led to Kraków and to the Zagłębie [coal mining] area. The Smolarczyk family lived near the main road and were the principal wagon drivers. Their lives were very hard. The wagons and horses they drove belonged to someone else; they were hired as day workers. The trip to Kraków usually took an entire night. In the morning, the horses rested. The wagons were re-loaded in Kraków, and, at nightfall, the drivers set out on their return trip. Their lot was difficult, their livelihood hard-earned, but their honesty and decency were exemplary. The merchants preferred to entrust their goods to them for transport, although there was also a train in the region that carried freight from town to town. On gloomy autumn nights, in relentless rain, when the darkness of Egypt seemed to overtake the world, these drivers, perched on the platforms of their slow-moving wagons, and tightly wrapped in their warm coats, would loosen the reins to allow their horses to proceed at their own pace.
All the usual occupations were represented in Działoszyce. I do not mean to list and detail all the different trades that were represented. Someone will probably appear to properly describe their lives. Still, it is hard to move on without mentioning the porters, who were tightly linked to the activities of the merchants of Działoszyce, depending on them for their meager livelihood. When a wagon heaped with goods approached, some of these porters would climb to the top, with alacrity, and pass the sacks or the bundled hides to those waiting below, who, in turn, piled the load on their backs and delivered it to the merchant's warehouse. In this overview, we recall their weary faces, shabby beards, heavy clothing, the coarse rope tied to their bodies, and their oversize boots. My heart aches to this day when I recall their toil. This was among the most difficult and back breaking labors, offering meager wages with which one could barely support a typically large family.
There were also bars and restaurants in the town square. The local farmers who came to the town, after concluding their business, were in the habit of "drowning the worm" in drink. They would buy a bottle of whiskey and some herring, while their wives, anxious to get back home, stood by, cursing and urging them to hurry. There were several bars belonging to gentiles (Kulczyński, Ślęzak, Bielecki) and others for our own people (Goldkorn, Fajwel Palasznicki, and Chaim Chaba). The villagers were in a state of high excitement, and their money flowed into the hands of the bar owners.
The excitement that we witnessed in our childhood is engraved in my memory and especially connected to market daysTuesdays and Fridays. The major merchants waited eagerly for these days, which provided a significant portion of their livelihood and were especially important to the peddlers and hucksters. At dawn, they set up their stands, row upon row, each one in its regular spot. Those offering manufactured goods, fabrics, and luxury items were posted near the statue of Kościuszko. A variety of colorful scarves and skirts were also sold in this spot, along with men's shirts, suits, and pants. These sales were real "works of art." In the words of a local proverb, "If the garment doesn't fit the living, it will fit the dead." There were plenty of shoemakers as well. They sold shoes, boots, and rain gear for men and women. There were vendors whose colorful and stylish hats attracted many customers.
The sweets were particularly appealingfresh cakes topped with sugar and colorful cookies whose taste didn't live up to their looks. There was an array of seasonal fruits and greens cherries and blackberries in the spring, apples and pears in the summer. All of this activity was accompanied by shouts and exclamations, touting the quality of the merchandise. There was wild competition among the sellers. Market days were marked by the neighing of horses, lowing of cattle, bleating of sheep, and billowing dust that covered the town with a thick gray-white mist.
The peddlers of Działoszyce participated in their local market and traveled to adjacent towns. In the summer, this was no problem. Two or three peddlers would set out together. But, in the winter, with snow-covered roads and freezing temperatures, it was still essential to leave home in order to bring in some money. One would see peddlers and vendors, wrapped in blankets and furs, stomping their feet to keep warm. The women could be seen sitting or standing over pots filled with glowing coals in an effort to warm their frozen bodies. These street peddlers were simple, hardy womenbut also devoted mothers who left their young children at home to help their husbands eke out a living.
Translated by Roger Kaplan Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang The Mizrachi synagogue was connected to the Yavneh school. At first, when lessons took place in the women's section of the bes hamedresh [house of study], the prayer service was held in two rooms down below, which were right next to the bes hamedresh. Upon moving the school to the Targownik house, the synagogue also moved there. In fact, this was its regular and well-known location.
In an old Jewish town with its own traditions even in the realm of synagogues, this was a kind of miniature revolution, to establish a kind of politically affiliated house of prayer. On the one hand, there already was the great synagogue, the only one in which prayers were said in the Ashkenazi tradition, with its regular worshipers, and the large bes hamedresh and the small bes hamedresh named for Reb Abele. On the other hand, there were the many shtibls [small Hasidic synagogues] that represented all the different kinds of Hasidic courts. Naturally, however, the worshipers in the Mizrachi synagogue were for the most part parents of the children who studied in the [Mizrachi] school and those with a Zionist leaning. The youth, too, who did not find their place in the houses of prayer where their parents prayed, were attracted to this special house of prayer. It is worth noting that friendships and groups from among the worshippers crystallized very quickly there.
This synagogue was known for its special atmosphere. Its members, most of whom were lively and active, accompanied the shaliakh tzibur [prayer leader] in conducting services. The melodies and songs flowed beautifully, with everyone participating. More than a few of the congregants had pleasant voices, and they regularly sang in the choir, which was conducted by Cantor Zyskind Jakubowicz, zl. The former conductor of the cantorial choir was Reb Szyja Śpiewak [singer], zl. Usually the choir sang on holidays, mostly during the Days of Awe [High Holy Days]. Most of the tunes and melodies were by Cantor Reb Szyja Śpiewak, zl.
Most of the prayer leaders were liked by the congregants, and they frequently went up to the prayer leader's podium on Shabes and the holidays. Among those who went up to the podium, those who stand out, are Bendit Majerczyk, zl; Aron Jurysta, zl, who never once relinquished one chair or fire in the piyyut [liturgical poem] of the kedusha [sanctification] on Yom Kippur; Icek Chęciński, zl, who was the bal hatokea [shofar blower]; Jakub Szyja Spokojny, zl; Mejlech Bursztyn, zl, Torah reader; Jakub Sklarczyk, zl; Gabryjel Adelist, zl, leader of Psalms; Aron Balicki, zl, Torah reader; Wolf Topioł, zl; and others.
There is no doubt that the central personality in the synagogue was Reb Pejsach Szternberg, zl, chairman of the local Mizrachi branch and head of the Jewish community council for many years. His personality overshadowed everyone. Every holiday, in fact, on every important occasion, his folk-like sermon on current events pleased the congregants, even the youth. Reb Pejsach Szternberg, a renowned scholar, an expert in world literature, who even excelled in his knowledge of chemistry and did business in consumer goods, served as deputy mayor of the town, chair of the Biker Khoylim [Visiting the Sick] Association, and more. All the people appreciated his honesty and simplicity. There are only a few, unfortunately, among the congregants who are still alive after the Great Holocaust who can remember to this day the image of Reb Pejsach, standing before the congregation, draped in a talis [prayer shawl] and wearing a black kitl [robe], before reciting the Kol Nidre [prayer on eve of Yom Kippur]. It was his tradition each year to deliver his sermons about current events dressed liked this. In this ritual, he relied on a certain medresh [creative interpretation of the scriptures] about the binding of Isaac, and all of the congregants listened, trembling and shuddering. It is amazing to us how he succeeded each year to find new things in this medresh and to relate them to the events of the time. Even his waving of the lulav [frond of a date palm tree used in Sukes service] deserves special recognition.
Each and every Shabes, there were those who came early in the morning to study the Medresh ein Ya'akov, the weekly portion, or a chapter of Talmud. In the evening, the synagogue served as a meeting place for many people. There were those who came to study, and those who came to delve into a book in the rich religious library there, and those who came just to chat with friends. After evening prayers, the third meal was served, which lasted until the end of Shabes. The tradition was that the reader of the maftir [final Torah portion] of that Shabes took care of the salty fish and challah. Songs, with everyone participating, were pleasant to everyone there.
Each holiday, celebrations with a reception were held for all the congregants. A few receptions became special occasions of their own. For example, a formal meal, Melave Malka [escorting the bridal queen], was held after the first slikhes [prayers of forgiveness before High Holy Days]; a celebration on Hoshana Raba [last day of Sukes], and others. Known well was the Simkhe Bes Hashoeva [celebration of water-drawing at the well] that the congregants would put on in one of the large suke [booths] of the members. At the height of the celebration, friends came for the hakafot [dancing with the Torah] on the evening of Simkhes Toyre [celebration of end of the cycle of reading the Torah]. These dances continued until very late in the night and attracted a great number of participants in addition to the regular worshipers.
Every once in a while the congregants would meet to hear a report by Pejsach Szternberg, zl, following each of his visits to the central office in Warsaw, of what was happening in the Mizrachi movement. The congregants contributed greatly to the national fundsKeren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] and Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal]. It is a bit curious that a lively and vibrant community like this, with an educational institution like the Yavneh school, was not successful in educating the next generation. The Mizrachi movement in town barely even had a youth scout movement [Hashomer Hadati]. Very few members went for hakhshara [pioneer training] by the movement specifically for emigration to Israel.
At the beginning of the 30s, with the closing of the Yavneh school due to lack of funds, the number of congregants in the synagogue began to dwindle. The main reason for this was the emigration of the town's residents to larger places like Kraków, Silesia, and Zagłębie. This emigration continued, actually, without any break, until the beginning of World War II. From year to year, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the synagogue's many rooms for a small and dwindling community. In the end, the members were forced to give up the idea of an independent synagogue, and they merged with the synagogue of the members of Biker Khoylim, which was in the Jewish community building in the center courtyard. At the time of the famous flood in 1937, some congregants were trapped inside the synagogue and were rescued only by a miracle. One sefer Torah [Torah scroll] was damaged. The chapel served the same purpose during World War II. With the increase in the flow of refugees from different places to the town, the house of prayer was used to house a few refugee families. A handful of members and regular worshipers continued meeting and holding services there in a private room until the deportation.
Translated by Roger Kaplan Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang Działoszyce was not an academic town; there wasn't a single high school in the whole town. Pupils who wanted to prepare for the bagrut exam were forced to take the long hike to Miechów or even Kraków. And because the young and intelligent aspired to expand their minds, it was particularly necessary to learn independently. Because of this, it is no wonder that the active Zionist movement in town organized evening seminars, lectures, and discussions, etc.
In the area of religious study, the town residents found an abundance of treasures in the yeshivas [schools of advanced religious instruction], in the besmedresh [house of study], and the shtibls [small Hasidic houses of prayer], whose libraries had shelves overflowing with religious books, for the most part. At every hour of the day or night, you could see young men and yeshiva students bent over different books, whispering, studying Talmud [collection of Jewish laws and traditions] and arguing. The spiritual food for general enlightenment was found in the Hattechija [Revival] [a Zionist youth group] library. It would not be an exaggeration if I said that this library was a makeshift university, although there weren't any professors or classroom furniture. The library wasn't just an institution in which one could find a book to read, but it also served as a center for the secular cultural life of the town. In this way, those who were self-taught could find many books of interest. Here, it was possible to express thoughts and ideas during those evening seminars and lectures. Those who were active in the library also organized cultural and educational activities in town.
Even though, beginning in 1919, public education was mandatory, not all of the young people attended public school. Many acquired their basic general education from private teachers. But for those who finished school and those who never went to schoolbut had the ambition to learnthere was the library, the sole source where they could find what they wanted. True, learning in this manner was very difficult, because students had to independently manage to learn things without the help of a teacher or lecturer. But, because so many aspired to learn, out of necessity, the importance of the institution grew.
With the increase in regular reading habits and the growing interest in fiction, the importance of the library changed. The institutions of culture and entertainment in the town were few; the movies hadn't yet come to town, and the amateur theater only occasionally presented a play. The fact that the young people could find popular literature that they otherwise could not have put their hands on was the main factor for the development of regular reading and familiarity with world literature. It would be no exageration to say that for most of them, this was their only spiritual entertainment during the long fall and winter nights. Of course, the youth began reading regularly thanks to the library; and once they got a taste of the library and understood its nature, other entertainment forms and the passing of time by playing cards or dominos disappeared.
I don't know the exact date when the library was established, but it seems that it was toward the end of World War I. The first books were collected from a handful of donors. Again, I don't know where the library was located in its early stages, but I still rememberand I was a little girl thenthat the one and only bookcase was transferred from Mr. Herszel Karmioł's room to the front room of the talmed-toyre [ Jewish elementary school] building. Then began the [library's] period of great development, thanks to the first people who dedicated themselves to this blessed act. I must recall, in this context, the names of Herszel Karmioł, zl, Icek Kołatacz, zl, Dawid Targownik, zl, Josek Tauman, zl, Dawid Skóra, zl, Herszel Baum, zl; and, those who have been blessed with a long life, Abraham Gałązka, Izrael Dov Skóra, and Herszel Horowicz. Of course, there were other involved, but I don't remember their names.
In its new location, the library grew by leaps and bounds; now there was more than just one bookcase that came from a single donor. The number of frequent readers grew on a regular basis, and in order to meet the demand of those thirsty for knowledge, hundreds of recently published books were purchased very quickly. Sources of funding came, first and foremost, from the Histradut [Zionist Labor Federation] budget, which organized a number of events for this cause. On a number of occasions, it was declared that on flower days [when flowers were sold to raise money], the proceeds would go to the library. For a limited period, the municipality also supported the library. I must also point out here that there were those from among the Polish-Christian population who used the library.
Such was the situation in the early 20s; just as the Zionist Histadrut expanded and stabilized and the Zionist youth movements from all the traditions were founded, so did the library grow and expand in terms of the number of books purchased and in terms of the number of readers who used it. With the splitting of the Histadrut, in the late 20's, into two different factionsAl HaMishmar [On Guard] and Et Livnot [Time to Build]the library began standing on its own and became an independent institution.
The work and care for the library was done completely by volunteers from the Zionist youth movement. It was considered an honor and a duty to help young people and adults alike to acquire knowledge in this way. And, it is in this activity that we see the best of the town. Indeed, I cannot help remembering the many founders who were members of the committee elected in 1930, and they are Ze'ev Skóra, zl, the secretaryand it is he who was the true spirit behind the group and the main leader; Szlama Gertler, who died recently in Israel, the chair; the author of this chapter, in the role of treasurer; and among the rest of the members of the active committee were Róza Chęcińska, zl, Witel Cukierman, zl, Icek Szaniecki, zl, and, may they enjoy a long life, Mania Moszenberg, Róza Zonenfeld-Rolnicka, and Ze'ev Szternfinkel, who was one of the most active.
Among the young people who helped on a daily basis with this work, I must recall, the son of the scholar, Kopel Brandys, and Moszek Bejskiwho was just a youngster in those days.
I already pointed out above that the main growth of the library began with its move to its new location. Just as the number of readers increased, so did the number of books increase; on the one hand, with the arrival of more books, the demand for them grew, as did the number of readers. Because the members had such a wide variety of interests in different kinds of literature, the library struggled to fill its shelves with books from all different fields. And, so the reader could find most of the classics in Hebrew and Yiddish, books from the Enlightenment period were placed next to books of the world's great authors whose works were translated into Yiddish, Polish, or Hebrew. This is to say that the library's collection included books in these three languages. But with time, the Hebrew collection grew. The library served, among other things, as a motivating force for the promotion of Hebrew, not only among the school students, but also among adults. There is no point in trying to list the names of the books and their authors; it is enough to say that those in charge made sure that the reader would find every book in whatever field interested him. It is clear, however, that while the Jewish collection received special attention, the other general literature fields were not ignored.
I would not be completing my obligation if I did not fondly recall my friend, Mr. Eliasz Chaba, who, through his great devotion in the area of bookbinding, ensured that the books were in usable condition. And among the many hands that handled them, there were those hands that regularly worked on them.
If I must speak about the readers, then the truth is that they came from every strata of the population. Here, a school pupil would find whatever book he needed for his studies; the scholar himself could expand his knowledge in a field if he wished, and the lay reader could find here many books for his enjoyment. The special importance of this is that the people acquired regular reading habits, even just ordinary people. For the people pushing their carts, the tailors, and the rest of the craftsmen, a new field of interest opened upand they, in order to expand their knowledge, came straight to the Zionist youth movement. Even the yeshiva boys, who immersed themselves in their Talmud, couldn't stay away from the library's doorstep. It was sometimes possible to observe a yeshiva student coming to borrow a book and hiding it under his cloak, so he wouldn't be caught red-handed.
Even though the institution was Jewish in its roots and in its essence, its gates were not closed to the Polish-Christian population, and more than a few of them used it. Because it was the only one in town, the Polish language section was not that small.
With time, the main room of the library became a venue for social and cultural activities. Indeed, it was the most appropriate place for evening discussions on literature, and the exchange of ideas on what was happening in those fields. Moreover, the room also served the Zionist Histadrut, the Hanoar Hatzioni [Zionist youth]; and later on, the Hechalutz Klal-Tzioni [General Zionist Pioneers]. The library was open to the public for borrowing books three days a week, but readers often remained in the library beyond the regular hours of operation for discussions, debates, and cultural activities, which were organized by the active members and the committee.
Another activity, also connected to the library, was conducting Hebrew language classes there. In this context, we remember Mr. Herszel Karmioł and his brother Mordechai Karmioł and Mordechai Unger, who did much in the way of teaching Hebrew to the town's residents. Thanks to them, many people didn't suffer any difficulties, with respect to language, and were able to make a smooth transition when they immigrated to Israel.
However, it appears there may be no special need to glorify and praise a library in a remote town when there were others, some more significant, found in towns all over Poland. And of course, this one was small and had no special importance in contrast to the great libraries found at some of the most famous educational and cultural institutions. Yet, its existence in such a small corner [of the world] gave it great importance and meaning for the population of this remote Jewish town, which, during those years, sought to find new pathways to new horizons, ideas, and culture, and in assisting this process, this small institution did play a very significant role.
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