By Sarah Fikes
Aside from my family members living in Lanowitz, Israel Berenstein and Dina Kawkiss (Rabin), I have fond memories of Shalom Weisman, a person with a kind soul.
Shalom Weisman was learned and well-read person who spent all of his free time reading books and as bookkeeper at his place of work. He did not bother to deal with kehilah (community) matters, or to seek local honors.
Genesia, his neighbor visited him regularly to update him on the goings on in their town. She reported the good and the bad, including lots of gossip. When I once asked him what he thought of Genesia's stories, he replied: I did not hear what she said. I am sure he told the truth
Weisman worked for Israel Berenstein who at the time had a Polish partner named Nartowsky. Israel told me that when large sums of money were involved he used Weisman as the paymaster to settle accounts with wheat traders.
As my uncle's part time bookkeeper, I sometimes made a mistake and entered a lower than correct figure in our books. Once I became very agitated about the mistake I made. Each error had to be corrected using a red-line through the book entry. I begged Shalom Weisman: Do me a favor, take what you need from the till and enter the amount in our books. From then on I had no more problems with our account books.
Weisman worked for many years as an employee of Countess Kosatovsky. She was a devout Catholic attending local prayer sessions twice a day. Money she accepted only using a handkerchief so as not to touch other person's hands. Shalom told me the following story: The Countess once asked him, Do you want to manage my entire state? Shalom thanked her for the trust she placed in him but opined that one should not take away another man's livelihood. She employed a Polish man as director, who thereafter continued in his post.
Anti-Semitism was an ever present problem. One day, the director asked his Countess why she employed a Jew. It is well known that Jews are exploiters and swindlers. Six weeks later, Shalom received a letter from the Countess asking him to accept the post of estate director (Manager). Two days after he received the letter the Polish estate director came to Shalom demanding to know why he, Shalom, is taking his livelihood away.
I read the Countess' letter. Its content surprised me. I decided to do what I could to see to it that the Polish director kept his post. I sought and was given a 30 minute audience with the Countess. During the audience a side door opened and the director appeared. She asked the director to enter the room. Hearing of my appeal he turned pale. After a few minutes, she turned to him and said: You are a Pole, yet you do not follow Jesus' teaching: Forgive men their sins, Love thy neighbor as thyself. Remember what you said about Jews? Here a Jewess is begging me to keep you in your present job because you have 4 children who are in the middle of their studies, etc. I feel sorry for you but you have lost my trust.
Shalom Weisman became the director of her entire estate. However, he told me, this episode caused him a great deal of aggravation.
I had a chance to read several of the Countess' letters to Weisman. They included beautiful epithets such as: I have the honor of addressing you, a wise and respectable man, who understands our rich culture, etc.
Hannah Weisman, Shalom's wife deserves mention. She was known for her good deeds and good manners. I distinctly remember an episode that occurred on a winter day. Hannah was sitting on a stool next to the oven. Shalom came into the room, took off his sheepskin coat and warmed his hands over the oven. He noticed that his wife was crying. She proceeded to tell her husband that someone (I don't remember who it was) told her that for 3 days his house has been without heat because he has no firewood and no money to purchase any. His children were freezing and the family was suffering. Shalom asked his wife if she gave them some of their firewood. She replied that she did not want to do so without his concurrence. Shalom agreed to help them immediately. Hannah wrapped herself in a big shawl and brought money to the needy family.
I spent many days and nights in the Weisman house in the company of their daughter, Sarah. She had a lovely alto voice. Her singing was beautiful. She also had a beautiful face, similar to that of her mother. This was a quiet, cultured and modest family. It is hard to imagine that despite the difficult economic conditions in these small towns, such quiet and good-natured families existed.
By Shalom Koitel (Avital)
My mother Sarah Shiyah Natanes, as she was called in our Shtetl, gave birth to 4 children, me, her only son and my 3 sisters: Brendel, Bayla and Dora. When I immigrated to Israel, Brendel married. Bayla and Dora, my two younger sisters remained at home. They strove to join me in Israel to fulfill their dream to participate in the building of our homeland. They were indoctrinated in the Zionist spirit. Their letters to me reflected their love and striving to fulfill their aim to join me. They waited for an opportunity to emigrate and wanted to know from me what life in Israel is like. They yearned to live on a Kibbutz because they saw in such a life an ideal arrangement. The deluge of WWII killed their hopes and dreams. My three sisters perished in the Holocaust together with our brethrens from our Shtetl.
A short time ago one of the survivors visited us and told us the following story: When our people stood in front of the open mass-grave in the last minute of their lives my sister Bayla held a short speech: 'We go on our last way with pride. We are the victims of a tragedy that befell our people while the World remained silent. (Jews:) Take revenge for this crime. We are the martyrs. Our hope is that the land of Israel will rise in the next generation. Let the people of Israel live!'
The Jews of our Shtetl were murdered. Their blood trickled out of the grave for days until their souls found their eternal rest.
The above mentioned words of my sister Bayla shall be remembered forever. Her words spoke for all of us.
I found out that a book is being written about the righteous people of Lanowitz. I think the image of our Shtetl will not be complete without the spiritual contribution of Zuni.
I grew up in his house and got to know him better than his close friends. I saw in him a great personality, a young man who looked forward to a great future. He was a promising leader and adviser. He was also an effective organizer, and developer of ideas.
From an early age Zuni was brought up to think independently. He understood people's thoughts and social ideas. Together with Shalom Maharshek he led the Ha'noar Hatzioni youth group. He himself was left-leaning in his thoughts but he realized that the youth he was dealing with was not ready for these thoughts. He understood that one had to first lead the Lanowitz youth out of their narrow ideas, to free themselves and think as individual members of a free people.
Zuni used to read and study for hours. In the evenings he gave significant lectures. Each lecture addressed an answer to a question people did not immediately think about. He clarified life's problems to our confused youth.
Every evening Zuni gathered his friends, his dear Lanowitz children . He induced them to think, to dream and to dare. His historical view, scientific comments and original thinking were very popular. He thought clearly and did not deviate from his ideas.
Zuni did not have an easy life. His respectable and formerly rich parents, Uziel and Dina Rabin, became poor. He had to work hard to help his parents in their difficult circumstances. He was sensitive and worried about the catastrophes that awaited the world, his people and the individuals of his generation.
His soul felt the world's pain yet his beautiful face always lit up. He had a curly head of hair. Nobody knew where he got such great strength to overcome all obstacles.
He once left for Lemberg [Lvov] for a while to become a certified teacher. He worked and studied hard to obtain his certification.
He had unusual talent and was an unusually hard worker, yet he was on an equal level with all his friends. .
He left Lanowitz with the Russians to the Soviet interior. He left with a heavy-heart but survived his ordeals. At the end of the war he returned with the Polish Army. In Poland, when the war was still on-going, I found him in Kaminietsk Mozowiec. I went to see him. Zuni sounded confident and with his characteristic humor said Itzik, we are alive and we shall take our revenge. In a few days the war will be over and I will see my ideas fulfilled. You understand what I mean? He meant living in Israel. Unfortunately this was not to be.
On the day of victory he fell in a battle with the enemy. He lived an active life and was an example for our Lanowitz youth. We cannot forget Zuni.
Lanowitz was an odd Shtetl. Its butchers were unassuming people but also talmudic students. Its cobblers were honest and reliable men. Its tailors were quiet artisans who were proud of their skills. They also found time to serve their Shul, to arrange matches for their children, and to serve their community.
Lazar Meil was an artisan who found an esthetic satisfaction in creating beautiful clothings in his workshop. He also had a deep respect for the worth of manual labor.
We youngsters were drawn to him. We were eager to hear his opinion about our figure, our appearance and what clothing would look good on us.
Lazar was a graceful and stylish person, a devoted father, a hard worker and a pleasant and sociable person.
When I was young I did not understand why he treated me and perhaps other youngsters among my friends with such respect. I wondered why he sought to talk to me periodically. Our discussion was never idle. It dealt with the nature of beauty, what lines make a person look good and the contribution of good appearance to social relations. Over the years I came to understand his dilemma and appreciate his personality. He simply was a man who did not fit his times. There were many such misfits among us. He solved his problem by creating a life style where he found satisfaction in his professional work as a basis for cultural satisfaction.
He was simply a Jew who saw many shortcomings in the Diaspora concept of Yiddishkeit. These included erroneous concepts of morality and what is important in a person. He did not want to share that outlook.
He was simply a proletarian Jew who did not realize that his work was his lot and that it also shaped his character. He was a good Jew, but one who was unwilling to share some of the generally accepted conceptions of the Jewish character.
He was also a person who could not express his criticism of his community, nor express in words his life's credo. Instead he expressed his credo in his attitude in his home, on the street, to his family and within the community. He expressed goodness as he visualized it.
I had a warm feeling in my heart for him when I went on a date with a girl, dressed in his well-tailored suit under his finely tailored winter jacket on a starlit night. On these occasions I remembered the unique and charming tailor who like all others perished in our dear Shtetl Lanowitz.
We must remember him.
By Z. Katz (Rabin)
My grandfather Akivah Weirach stood out among Lanowitzer Jews not because he was rich or a Torah scholar. Instead he was remembered and revered for his good deeds. He was known as Akivah Zbarasher. His high brow, snow-white beard and pleasant face reflected his goodness. His clothes were always clean. I remember his Sabbath clothes, his neatly pressed pants, clean shirt and shiney black shoes.
He was good to all: to his wife, to the children, the grandchildren and to all others. I remember as a child that we children wanted to play on a Shabbath afternoon while the rest of the family took a nap. On these occasions our grandfather would come and asked us if we wanted anything. We were busy playing so we did not think of food. Not waiting for our answers he would bring out the best that was available in the house. Not only I but all my friends loved my grandfather Akivah.
The Lanowitz Jews remembered my grandfather's good deeds while he and his wife lived in Zbarash. He originated from Galizia and had difficulties getting used to life in Lanowitz. After some time, they moved back to Zbarash where my grandfather felt at home.
Before and during World War I there was a border between Lanowitz and Zbarash. Despite the war, trade continued across this border. Some Lanowitz Jews traded regularly with traders in Zbarash. Trade conditions were difficult in those days. The Akivah Weirach family was always there to offer support. Whether business was good or bad, or if the trader had difficulty with a government official or at the border, he invariably went to Akivah for help. The latter never refused him. Akivah did what he could to solve their problems. He was also a great host as was his wife who came from Lanowitz. Their house was like a private hotel for Lanowitz Jews.
Akivah Weirach helped both Jews and Gentiles with formalities connected with emigration to America. These emigrants stayed at his house until their scheduled departure. All, including Gentiles, were grateful for his help and hospitality. If after a few years some returned to Lanowitz because the wife could not adjust to the Big country they were again received with joy by the Weirachs on their return. These Lanowitzers remembered their good deeds.
My grandfather was a nice and good person
Let his memory be blessed.
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