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[Page 238]

The Jewish Artisan in Kozienice

by Issokhor Lederman, Rio de Janeiro

This article is not a history. I don't know how much it will interest the general reader, but the desire not to let anything connected with our town be forgotten obliges us Kozienicers to make mention of the Jewish artisan, who lived, struggled, and experienced all the joys and sorrows of Jewish life, and who exists no more. I therefore consider it my duty to revive, in so far as memory permits, certain memories of the life of the Jewish artisan in Kozienice.

I do not claim to describe everything which took place and was created in the years during which I lived among and was active in their ranks. It is a long time ago. As the son of a Jewish artisan and shoemaker, I experienced all their hardships, sorrows, and joys. I will only report what I remember of that time before the First World War.

Before World War I Jewish artisans and craftsmen constituted a neglected group. Their poverty was great. A very small portion of them was considered upper class. They had no organization for political and economic protection.

 

The Artisan was a Tool

In the smaller towns, the bes–medresh was their organization. Between minkha and maariv, one would tell another in friendly fashion of his poverty, sorrows, and joys.

They took no part in community or kehilla life. The Jewish artisan was always a tool in the hands of the sheyne yidn – the influential people and clergy – who looked down upon him and were ashamed of him. This was the case until the First World War.

And now, to the matter at hand. As has already been indicated, our town had a reputation for shoemaking. Avrum Reisen's song was sung from every house: “Hammer, hammer, clap!”

Since Kozienice lived from this trade, it is important to report which Jews developed it even before World War I.

Let us mention their names respectfully: Ya'akov Birnbaum, Yankel Breitman, and David Huberman. They were ordinary people, not from the upper classes, but they had a feel for business.

Kozienicer shoes could be found in the farthest–flung towns across the length and breadth of Russia. Hundreds of Jews and Christians made a living from this trade.

[Page 239]

Ya'akov Birnbaum Was the Biggest Tradesman

Ya'akov Birnbaum was the biggest tradesman. He raised shoe–manufacturing to so high a level that shoes bearing his imprint were found throughout the length and breadth of Russia.

He himself could not even write. As an ex–Russian soldier, he spoke Russian well. He was a powerful person and had the bearing of a Russian gentleman, which helped him greatly in business.

Twice a year, he would travel to the farthest corners of Russia. Ya'akov Birnbaum even traveled to places where a Jew had never set foot, and took orders for his shoes. The police at every station already knew the Jew and his gifts of money. When he returned from his trip, he came with two suitcases, one full of golden five–ruble pieces, the other of commercial notes.

The greatest merchants and leather manufacturers in Radom were interested in dealing with Birnbaum, because the notes which he brought back were a hundred percent, and there was no doubt that they would get the unpaid ones back.

I am his son–in–law, but all Kozienicers who knew Ya'akov Birnbaum will admit that he was open–handed in support of scholars and poor people, and that he ran his house with liberality: “Let everyone who is hungry come in and eat”, Jews and Christians alike respected him.

In 1932 he and his entire family went to Brazil, and there he lived out his years with respect.

 

Smaller Concerns

There were other, smaller manufacturers of shoes and boots who worked with a few apprentices, such as Meltzer, Fleischer, Huberman, Korman, and Lederman. They took their merchandise to the annual fairs in Lentshe, Lublin, and other places.

There were also small home–manufacturers who worked with their children and sold their merchandise at fairs and in small towns.

The shoe trade continued thus until the First World War.

 

In the Turmoil of Polish Life

The World War, revolution, and civil war cut deeply into the Jewish organism, cut up and divided countries and states, and brought about a change in Jewish life in the new Poland.

Parties began to crystallize, Jewish youth went out to the surface of life and founded party–organizations, unions, libraries, and sportsclubs of every hue. Jewish daily life awoke to a new political and cultural life.

[Page 240]

The Jewish craftsman, the simple, believing Jew, who formed the greater part of the Jewish community had wandered in chaos far from the life of society due to poverty and political oppression. Thanks to the youth, he was pulled into the turmoil and momentum of events.

The healthy senses of the simple Jew picked up the spurt in his environment, and he began to demand a place in the political and social struggle. The rise of independent Poland opened up new perspectives.

 

The Folkspartei Organized the Artisans

The economy was almost completely disorganized due to the war. What was needed was a strong and resolute organization to place the Jewish artisan in a new position in life and revive the shoe industry. Thus the artisans' union was formed under the influence of the Jewish Folkspartei.

The task of the new party was to ensure the Jewish artisan's existence in every field of life. Its leaders were Yitzkhok–Eli Korman, Yisroel Spiegel, Itche Kestenberg, Moishe Wasserman, Leizer–Itche Silberberg, Bezalel Kreizberg, and others.

The artisan progressed socially and culturally, he took part in all the artisans' conventions which took place in Warsaw at that time.

 

Against Old Leaders

The Jewish artisan began to conduct an organized struggle against the old community leaders who had spoken in his name for years. With his own power, and with the help of the headquarters in Warsaw, he secured his cultural and economic position. He put all Warsaw's resolutions into effect.

He also elected his representatives to the city council, the kehilla, and other economic, social, and cultural institutions. We must admit that at the time of my departure from Poland in 1927 the artisans' union and Folkspartei in fact ran all the social and cultural work in town.

 

Kozienice Produces Canvas Shoes

The artisan sought a remedy for his problems, and developed the production of canvas and leather shoes, which was a new source of livelihood for the town. It even attracted bes–medresh boys, and gave Kozienice a country–wide reputation for shoe–manufacturing.

Kozienice was the only place besides Warsaw (where there were also Kozienicer manufacturers) producing canvas shoes.

Hundreds of workers, Jews and Christians, were employed in this trade. Naturally, it brought new life to the town.

The labour unions and artisans began to conduct a lively activity. Each tried to bring in the best speaker.

[Page 241]

Yontef In Town

It was yontef when a speaker – a party leader, writer or poet came to town. The youth from the neighbouring towns came out to hear the speakers.

 

And which of the leaders of every party did not come to Kozienice?

Every shabbes and yontef our town was filled with youthful laughter, joy, song, dance, and life. The older generation was carried away with the new life. The halls were full when a speaker came to town. Heated arguments and discussions took place after every speech.

Together with the Grabski persecutions which raged on the street and made Jewish life in Poland more difficult every day, the stream of middle class Jewish emigrants was growing.


[Page 242]

These With Fiddle and These With Trumpet

by Khave Shapira, Kfar Hasidim

Our town's orchestra consisted of several members: Nekhemye, Itzik, Meir–Shakhna, Yisroel, and others. Each one played a different instrument: fiddle, bass, trumpet, flute. As far as I remember, this orchestra was the best in Poland and stood on a high level. The Christians of Kozienice and its environs also invited it to their weddings and balls.

Among the musicians Reb Yisroel, the trumpeter, stood out most, perhaps because from his shoulders upward he was the tallest, perhaps because the trumpet is the loudest instrument.

He was as careful about minor sins as about major. In order not to be corrupted by unkosher food, he refused to taste any of the delicacies served where he played.

The Book of Psalms was a lamp unto his feet. He stood straight in prayer, to the fullness of his height, the book or siddur resting on the palm of his left hand, opposite his face, praying ardently and with a sweet melody.

The Orchestra was the Focus of the Wedding

Just as the orchestra was always the focus of the wedding, so too, were the words of the khazan and badkhan Reb Eliezer, who succeeded in inflaming the hearts of his listeners. His words were as the drops of Jew which give life to the thirsting plants of the forest – they comforted and rejoiced the hearts of the mekhitonim.

Particularly exalted were the moments when the shamosim of the synagogue, Reb Khaim and Reb Matis, whose holy work was performed in faithfulness (even though their living was meagre), announced the procession of bride and groom in their hoarse voices. The orchestra polished its instruments, and broke out in the well–known march of the Maggid. The crowd made way for the groom and his attendants, the bride and hers behind them. They all turned to the courtyard of the great synagogue where all the weddings took place.

The ceremony at the khupe completed, the righteous women Rivkele, Sarale, Grine, and Hendel danced before the couple, a giant khalla in their hands. They danced with great ardour and stood out in the crowd, for they were tall. The flowers in their hairnets swayed in the air, their faces shone from the greatness of their joy. They felt and believed with a perfect faith that they were fulfilling the mitzva of making the bride and groom happy.

[Page 243]

Itzik the Fiddler

Itzik, the orchestra's violinist and music teacher to the rebbe's children, remains in my memory. He was distinguished for his expertise, and was strict that the notes be proper and pure. He was especially strict when he went over Beethoven's sonatas or Brahms' symphonies with his students. He would sit very tense, paying great attention with his left ear lest, God forbid, something wrong should sound from the violin's strings.

Should the student make an error, or his tone be impure, Itzik would gnash his teeth, stamp his feet, and emit a strange groan from his heart, “Nu, this. Deeper! Cleaner!”

At whatever time of rage or gladness, we were always waiting for his “Nu” and “Deeper”.

May they all be remembered for the good in our town's memorial book.


[Page 244]

The Embroiderers of Kozienice

by Sarah–Mindel Kestenberg, Haifa

I became acquainted with the embroidering trade in our town at the age of fourteen. Other girls began to work even earlier.

Embroidering was an important branch of work for us. About 150 girls were employed in the trade, not counting several men, the contractors, known as shpiliters.

 

The Contractors Brought the Work

The contractors brought the work from Warsaw. The work consisted of stitching monograms, embroidery, and other trimmings onto blouses, blanket covers, pillow cases, and curtains. The materials were fine white linen, marquisette, and tulle – but the wages were even finer: five to ten zlotys a week for a ten to twelve hour day.

The girls of Kozienice gladly went into stitching because it was considered a refined trade and one was paid immediately. The work was merry – large groups of four, five, up to twelve girls in one room. The room was not only a workshop, it was also the dining hall, kitchen, and bedroom. In some places, they even ran a kheder in the same room.

 

Black Ettel

It was thus by Aharon–Leib. He taught the children in one half of the room, while his daughter, Black Ettel, ran her undertaking in the other. Black Ettel was a stern taskmaster. She did not yield to us, as her father did to the boys, and she watched over us to make sure that we were always working.

There were times when we wanted to laugh at the pranks the boys played on the rebbe, for which he paid them back with slaps and screams. Black Ettel was added to the chorus of screams, screaming at us, H“One, two, three, sew faster. Don't laugh!”

 

Our Lunch was Brought

We worked a whole day without any breaks and did not go home for lunch. Our lunch would be brought to work. We would share the tastier morsels.

We used to go home with the kheder boys. The boys had paper lanterns with candles inside them. These lighted the way so that we would not fall into any of the deep puddles which were not lacking in our town.

The greatest number of stitchers was employed by Miriam Flamm, Black Ettel, Khamele Samokhod, and Beila Auerbach.

[Page 245]

Our Own Section in the Union

We joined the trade union and had our own section, which was managed by the leftists. The chief organizer who brought us into the union was Yerakmiel Sirota. Most of the stitchers were the children of workers.

We received low wages for our work, so we decided to demand a pay hike. However we could not get one without striking.

The strikes were stormy affairs, with strikebreakers. We used to douse the work of the strikebreakers with kerosene. This happened to Khamele Samokhod when she refused to strike with us.

This is a small segment from the life of the young proletariat in Kozienice in the early twenties.

I was one of them.


[Page 246]

Bikkur–Khoylim and Linas Ha–Tzedek – Help For the Sick in Kozienice

by Yissokhor Lederman, Rio de Janeiro

It is worthwhile for us to mention an important institution which existed in our town after World War I. It was called Bikkur–Khoylim and Linas Ha–Tzedek.

 

Great Hardship

It was a very important institution at that time. Each one of us remembers the great poverty. Medical help was on a very low level. There was no hospital in town, and of course there were no doctors. In the last years there was a hospital of sorts run by nuns.

The town had one Christian doctor, Zadszinski, who served the entire region of Kozienice with all its towns and villages.

There were also three barber–surgeons, one Christian and two Jews, Khaim and Yiddele.

If a rich man became ill, a doctor was brought down from Radom, or else he was taken to doctors in Warsaw.

If, God forbid, a poor man became ill, he had to sell or pawn his candlesticks so that he would have money for a doctor or be able to buy medicine. There were cases of people dying for want of medical help.

 

Helping the Sick

The society was formed by craftsmen and plain Jews in order to provide help for poor people who needed it: visiting the sick person, staying over at his house during the nights of his illness, helping with doctors and medicine. Their task also involved getting a Jewish doctor and a Jewish dentist.

The basis of the society was its monthly dues. Rich people at whose houses people had stayed over had to pay five rubles in order to cover the expenditures for the poor.

The kehilla paid the society a ruble a month.

Every year on the last day of Khanuka, the society held a big banquet in the women's section of the bes–medresh. Everyone who had paid in half a ruble had the right to take part. The poor did not have to pay.

The society lasted until the First World War. I have forgotten the reasons for its dissolution, but if I'm not wrong, they were quarrels and ambitions.

[Page 247]

The Leaders of the Society

I consider it my duty to mention the leaders and founders of the society. Their register was kept by my father, so I can remember almost all of them by name: Arish Zaterman, Pesakh Mandel, Leizer Lederman, Zalman Hurwitz, Reuven Fleischer, Ya'akov Ziterman, the judges Reb Aharon Rechtand, Ben–Tzion Freilakh, Yehuda–Leib Feierberg, and the two barber–surgeons Khaim and Yidl.

The society was still in existence in the last years before World War I, but it had lost the lustre of the first years of its foundation.

Its last leaders were Moishe–Leib Dua, Leibish Reisman, Itche Ickowitz, Itche Haberman, Shloime Weinberg, and others whose names escape me.

This has been a brief history of the society, which did a great deal for the poorer population of our town.

Despite conflicts of party and religious issues, there were still dear people among us who sacrificed themselves one for the other. If someone needed help, no one asked or looked at who he was – they helped him.


[Page 248]

The Linas Ha–Tzedek Society in Kozienice

by Moishe Rochman, Pardes–Khana

On Khol hamoyed Sukkos, 1931, our neighbour, Shmerel Pinkhas Soyfers, informed me that at the general meeting of Linas Ha–Tzedek which had taken place in the great hall where Rebbe Aharon Hopstein used to receive his hasidim, it had been decided to accept me as secretary and bookkeeper of the society.

As is known, Linas Ha–Tzedek provided morale and medical help for the Jewish population of the town.

It turns out that Linas Ha–Tzedek had already existed in Kozienice for a couple of years, but with a small scope.

The only person who actively occupied himself with Linas Ha–Tzedek from the beginning was Reb Avrum–Khaim Freilikh. Every week, the collector used to bring him the money he had collected, and Avrum–Khaim would use it to pay the pharmacist for the prescriptions he used to sign for the poor Jewish sick who used to turn to him.

 

The Work Gains Scope

From 1931, the work of Linas Ha–Tzedek began to gain scope. First of all, the society had officially to be legalized with the authorities to whom an exact annual report of the year's activities had to be submitted.

An extensive managing committee and auditing committee were elected. The chairman was the baker Yisroel Ziterman; the treasurer, Meir Unger, Rebbe Yankele's son–in–law. Elected members were Avrum–Khaim Freilikh, Shmerel Schwarzberg, Shmuel Erlichman, Leibel Fleischer, Borukh Borenstein, and, as acting secretary, Yoysef Lichtenstein.

Despite the fact that I was very busy at that time with my studies in the Hi School and with other communal work, I did not turn down the position, and, together with the new management, organized a fine activity for Linas Ha–Tzedek in Kozienice.

Our income came wholly from the weekly membership dues. Moishe Zucker worked as collector. I organized a secretariat with propter bookkeeping. We bought a great member of medical instruments which we used to lend to the poor population.

We made a special agreement with the old pharmacist, Janeczek, that prescriptions signed by Linas Ha–Tzedek would enjoy a fifteen to twenty percent discount. Every case requiring medical aid was considered by two members of the administration: there were cases in which the indigent sick received help of from forty to eighty percent, and cases in which they received a hundred percent of the cost.

[Page 249]

The poor would pay the pharmacist the sum recorded on the prescription by Linas Ha–Tzedek, and at the end of the month the pharmacist would submit a bill to Linas Ha–Tzedek, which then paid the remainder, with a discount of fifteen to twenty percent from the normal price.

These were cases in which Linas Ha–Tzedek paid doctors for their visits to the indigent sick. In each case, the requirements and material abilities of the patient were specially considered. Special cases requiring immediate help received it. There were also cases in which duty nurses were sent to stay with the patient at night.

Meetings of the management took place almost every week in the home of Rebbe Yankele in which his son–in–law, Moishe Unger, lived. Linas Ha–Tzedek became one of the most important philanthropic institutions in Kozienice.

A general meeting was held every year on Khol hamoyed Sukkos. Everybody worked for free except the collector, who received a small fee.

The managing members Avrum–Khaim Freilakh, Yisroel Ziterman, and, until World War II, Meir Unger and Shmerel Schwarzberg, worked with especial devotion.

More than once I wondered how I came to the society and how the management could tolerate my collaboration, knowing that I was not terribly religious, that I studied in the Polish Hi School, and that I did not occupy myself with any religious party work. Yet, I always felt respect and sympathy in the rebbe's house, in which I was a daily guest for years. It appears that the institution's aims, for which the entire membership worked so devotedly, had an effect upon the mutual relations of all the members. v To our great sorrow and pain, our Linas Ha–Tzedek and its devoted members was destroyed along with the entire Jewish population of Kozienice on the second day of Khol–hamoyed Sukkos, 1942.

May their memory be blessed by us and our future generations.


[Page 250]

The Free Loan Society in Kozienice

by Khaim–Meir Salzberg, Toronto

It is quite possible that many Kozienicers do not know of the existence of such an institution in our town. It had no halls, signs, or advertisements, but it was popular among the poor merchants of Radom and Lublin Streets, and also among the artisans of Koscielna and Magitowa Streets.

When a note matured there was somewhere to turn for a loan.

The founder and first president of the free loan society was Menashe Shapiro, known as Menashkele because of his short stature. He had a mercantile mind, a good heart, and a feel for community work.

He was born and raised in Demblin, twenty–seven kilometres from Kozienice, and married Khaye, the youngest daughter of Khaim–Meir the baker. After the marriage, they opened a food store at 63 Radom Street, which they ran until the German invasion. They had two children, Yehudis and Yankel. The Germans killed all of them.

In the summer of 1936, Menashe called several distinguished householders to his house: Itche–Meir Silverstein, Hersch–Mordekhai (whose surname I have forgotten) and Yoysef Salzberg. He presented his plan to found a free loan society in town. He also informed them how such a society is run without interest, and that the loans would be distributed in small installments. “I am precisely informed as to how to run such a society,” he said later, “because my brother was active in such an institution in Demblin.”

The assembled persons listened to him with great interest and expressed their readiness to work with him.

 

The General Meeting

A couple of weeks later, the founding meeting took place at Menashe's house. Both rooms were packed, with people standing because there was no place to sit.

The first word was Menashe's – he explained how such an institution worked. Yossel Salzberg indicated the usefulness of such an institution. Itche–Meir Silverstein also spoke. Almost all those present signed declarations and paid in five zlotys.

This was the beginning of a very important community activity in Jewish Kozienice. The motivating group was elected as the management: Menashe Shapiro, president; Yoysef Salzberg, secretary; Hersch–Mordekhai, treasurer; and Itche–Meir Silverstein.

The good news was borne about quickly. The number of members grew from day to day, thus also increasing the base capital.

[Page 251]

The management decided to put a one hundred zloty ceiling on the loans. The sums grew with time as the capital increased. Shortly before the war the loans had reached the sum of 500 zlotys.

The society developed and progressed so quickly that the office became too small. The secretary was heavily burdened with work. At the suggestion of Itche–Meir Silverstein, the society moved to his house, where there was more space.

Moishe Fuchs, who worked with great diligence, was engaged as secretary.

At the annual general meeting, after the secretary's and treasurer's report, elections for the managing committee were held. As a token of appreciation, the same members were elected with only a small change: Menashe Shapiro, honourary president; Yoysef Silberberg, president; Itche–Meir Silverstein, secretary; Hersch–Mordekhai, treasurer.

 

A Benefit Show

The founding group sought means to increase the institution's capital. It was suggested at one of the meetings that a Yiddish play be put on and the receipts be dedicated to the society.

The presidium went to a group of amateurs, who agreed to their proposal. M. Fershtand agreed to direct the play, Dos Pintele Yid. He accepted the suggestion of the play, and began to prepare a group of amateurs which consisted of Zalka Madanes, Elye Huberman, Ber Silberberg, Zalka Karpik, M. Wasserman, Yekhiel Kohn, and Reizel Branspiegel.

After two months of intensive rehearsal, the group was ready to stage the play. The society had rented the largest hall in town, the Shope, or the Kino (cinema) as it was called, the only hall in town which was owned by Zelig Bermam

The night of the show finally arrived. An expression of satisfaction could be seen on the faces of the management when the hall filled up within a short time: its financial success was guaranteed. The presentation began on time, a rare event in itself. The crowd sat and enjoyed it. In a word, the undertaking was a success.

Intensive work continued. The society grew, more members joined, and the amount of the loans was increased.

This activity continued until the outbreak of the Second World War. The German murderers destroyed Kozienice Jewry, which was an honoured link in the golden chain called Polish Jewry.


[Page 252]

The Khevra–Kaddisha in Kozienice

by Yissokhor Lederman, Rio de Janeiro

As I have already indicated, there were many Khevras (societies) in Kozienice, among them a khevra for Mishna study, one for the Psalms, for bridal dowries, a Khevra shoymrei shabbas, and the khevra–kaddisha.

The khevra–kaddisha was the most powerful, best organized and most eminent. It had power and had its say in all community matters: choosing officials, distributing Pesakh flour, accepting a judge or shoykheE it was complete master over people in life and after death.

The khevra consisted of two classes, plain and educated Jews. The plain Jews were the stretcher–bearers, diggers, and buriers. The educated Jews performed the purification and delivered eulogies.

The leader of the educated Jews was Faivel Margolies (Tshwok), a man who had neither worked nor engaged in trade in his life. He lived from interest and a little rent. Moreover, he was a little scholar and a big drinker. He was the terror of all his surroundings. He decided how much to charge and where to bury. He took care that there was plenty of whisky at every purification.

On the fifteenth of Av, the khevra had a big banquet, with fat geese, white rolls, kegs of beer, and plenty of whisky, in the gabbai Yoine Silverstein's house. None of the general public was allowed in, except for dayanim (judges) and shammasim. They sang, danced, and whooped it up for a night and a day.

The biggest celebration was on Simkhas–Toyre, which was the merriest time for the khevra–kaddisha. Feivele Tschwok was the chief of the drinkers. He danced on the table, and spoke jests and idle words.

Afterwards, the gabbai was taken into the shul for the hakofes with song and dance. They drank a le–khaim after every hakofe, and there was joy and merriment in the town.

Thus did the Jews of Kozienice live and conduct themselves, despite bad times and bitter troubles.

They had the sky over their heads and the ground under their feet, and therefore they lived with faith in better times in both worlds, and especially in the next.

 

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