Professor Ephraim Katzir
This book is unique among the Yizkor books that commemorate the Jewish communities that were destroyed in the
Shoah. It was in Auschwitz that the Devil's work reached its peak, and the very
name more than any other concept symbolizes to us the intensity of
the disaster committed by the Nazi murderers against our people. The wildest
imagination could not have conceived that human beings are capable of
perpetrating against their own species what the Nazis carried out in this
extermination camp, and the imagination became a horrifying reality.
President of the State of Israel
Now that these atrocities did actually take place, they have become an
indelible part of human history and the most frightful chapter in the annals of
the Jewish people. We, the generation which lived through that terrible
period, are duty-bound to see to it that the memory of the Shoah should not
fade, not from the minds of the perpetrators who want to suppress it and not
from the hearts of the children and grandchildren of its victims. We shall do
this by memorializing the six million through study, writings, communing with
them, by planting and building, and even more in the ultimate effort of
strengthening and reinforcing the State of Israel, towards which they yearned
in their vision as they walked to their deaths.
The State of Israel, where the few escapees from the sword who survived the
Shoah have come and where we hope our people in the four corners of
the earth will yet come, is for us a small comfort for the great catastrophe,
and insofar as we prosper, in spirit and materially, in strengthening and
fortifying the land of the Jews, in the spirit of the values of Judaism, so we
will fulfill the desire of those whose faith in the eternity of Israel did not
diminish even when they went, not to return.
On the day that the Holy Temple was destroyed, the Messiah was
born, said our sages. This faith in a better future, despite all the
dangers and disasters, sustained our people since time immemorial and it shall
be, for us too, a source of strength and vision by whose light we shall
proceed, as the memory of the Shoah shall ever remain with us.
[There is a facsimile signature of Ephraim Katzir]
Oshpitzin that is what Jews called it. One of the earliest Jewish
communities in Poland, it was situated on the crossroads in West
Galicia formerly on the border of the Three Empires and in
later times, close to Germany. It was crowned with a noble ancestry, a long
lineage of generations: some say five hundred years, and others claim six
One of the book's chapters tells us that many of those stemming from Oshpitzin
who had left to live in larger cities would return to it in old age. They said
that while it is good to live in a metropolis, a Jew must die in Oshpitzin.
They were certain that in the merit of thetzadikimburied in the old cemetery, its soil had become holy.
And it turned into a repository of the ashes of three and one half million
Oshpitzin known as Oswiecim in the Polish language became Auschwitz.
A valley of death.
Before us, now, is the Memorial Book, in its dreadful uniqueness.
Out of the mountains of ashes, from the millions of non-existent graves, from
the depths of the hush of nothingness, it arises and stands before you in
the splendor of its surrounding panorama, its streets and alleyways, its
workshops and factories, its synagogues and batei midrash, its
tzadikim and rabbis, its Hasidim and Maskilim, its organizations and
institutions full of life.
Six thousand Jews lived there.
A spacious world, it spread its wings afar, its sparkling wealth of spirit
vibrant in its overflowing vitality.
You read the chapters of the book and the deep roots and wellsprings from which
it drew its sustenance are placed before you: the Torah giants and renowned
tzadikim who lived there, in Oshpitzin, who fixed its cornerstones and stitched its
embroidery, forging and building life patterns and spiritual energy they,
their disciples, and disciples of disciples, to the last generation. Reaching
you are the sounds of Torah that never ceased and the melody of the Hasidim
that filled it the Bobower and Sondzer Hasidim, the Hasidim of Belz,
Radomsko, and Sassow, the strains which extended from generation to generation
in a long chain, link after link and you see the pillar of fire going
before them, lighting their darkest days.
The Jews of Oshpitzin in their many generations experienced great misfortunes.
They struggled daily in the stranglehold of decrees and assaults that rained
down constantly on all Jews and on them too, never ceasing but they were
never vanquished, they were never demoralized, they never despaired. They
never succumbed, nor did they sink into the narrow confines of their toil and
See for yourself not only the Hasidic courts, the synagogues, and the
batei midrash but also the institutions that flourished there: the wholehearted charitable
organizations, the cultural institutions, and the movements that were founded
there the first Zionist organization was established there in 1901and the
Hechalutz movement in 1919.
Examine the full expanse: The Zionist Socialist Alliance, Hashomer Hatzair,
Mizrachi, Agudat Yisrael, the Revisionist movement, Po'alei Tzion Yemin, and
WIZO. Stormy debates, struggles, dreams, and much activity filled its spaces.
There were many Maskilim there, some of them renowned celebrities.
A wide world of broad horizons and blue skies.
There were six thousand Jews there.
Worlds upon worlds, interwoven that was the Jewish world you knew. It
bore upon its shoulders the eternity of Israel, the long trek of Diaspora
affliction and the great faith, the hope of the redemption that was about to
Kk Kehilla Kedosha, The Holy Community Oshpitzin that was.
Before it became Auschwitz.
Whose surviving embers from the flames have written with their lifeblood, in
trembling script; whose every letter comes fromthere from the letters hovering in the air over the valley of death, gathered
together to be its witness, one of thousands of kehillot
whose ashes lie in its embers.
With holy trepidation and feelings of awesome responsibility we took upon
ourselves the mission of editing and assembling the Yizkor book for our city, Oshpitzin. We set ourselves two important goals when we
began our efforts: to memorialize the holy memory of our dear and precious
martyrs, parents, brothers, sisters, and relatives who were tragically and
savagely exterminated by the Nazi murderers in the gas chambers and
extermination camps; and to restore the likeness of the once beautiful and pure
Jewish life of our town, which flowed like a living fountain in the wilderness
of the Polish exile, and which pulsed with youthful impetus and joy of life.
Jewish Oshpitzin exists no longer. Aside from the few lucky ones who survived
by a miracle and are scattered over five continents, the entire population
underwent the identical martyrdom and perished, as did all the Jewish towns of
Poland. The tragic lot was even worse for our town, Oshpitzin. The Nazi
murderers transformed our quiet and peaceful town into a valley of hell and a
cemetery for all of European Jewry, and the dignified and honored name
Oshpitzin was perverted and changed to the dreadful name Auschwitz. Why
did the Nazis choose our city for their gruesome, bestial ends? There is no
logical answer to that question, just as there is no logic in the sudden
transformation of a highly cultured people into wild, bloodthirsty
beasts whose like has not existed since the world began.
In accordance with the proposed goals, we have attempted through this Yizkor
book to disclose the multifaceted life of former Jewish Oshpitzin, the history
of the city in the context of Jewish life throughout Galicia, the community,
social, economic, and religious life of the town in recent times, and the
activities of the parties, youth organizations, community institutions,
batei midrash, cheders and yeshivot, rabbis and academics, and leaders and public servants. We have, thereby,erected a worthy monument and lit a memorial candle on the unknown graves of
the Oshpitzin martyrs whose ashes and bones are strewn and scattered over the
plains, mountains, and valley of the Polish earth.
We have presented in this book a full description of the horrible pain and
suffering which our townsmen experienced equally with all Polish Jews in the
bloody years of the war, but at the same time we could not conceal the
catastrophic role of extermination which Oshpitzin-Oswiecim played for the
arch-murderers in their plans to liquidate Polish Jewry. We have, therefore,
included a bibliography of over 500 books and articles written about Auschwitz
with blood from the hearts of various authors. Additionally,
leading Jewish personalities and Shoah researchers have participated with
articles on the meaning, aftermath, and effect of the Auschwitz tragedy on the
condition of the Jewish people in the future and its influence on Jewish
history. Notable is the article by the last kehilla leader, R Eliezer Schenker, who pictures with great talent the history of his
many-branched, noted family and describes his own experiences as a public
servant of the tormented people during the war years. These memorials have a
literary and historic value. Of historic importance, too, is the article by
Mrs. Gruenapfel, who details the help she and her friends gave to the uprising
in Auschwitz. Most illuminating are the name and personality of the leader of
the uprising, Zalman Gradowski, whose unique literary manuscript was found on
the grounds of the crematorium by Chaver Wolnerman; a portion of his journal is
published for the first time in our book.
We express our deep appreciation to the president of the State of Israel,
Professor Ephraim Katzir, to Prime Minister Menachem Begin, to Chief Rabbi
Shlomo Goren, to the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Y. Y. Frenkel, to Minister
Dr. Yosef Burg, rabbis, Knesset members, authors, Shoah researchers, and all
the Oshpitziner townsmen who took part with articles, memoirs, and homages. We
also want to thank all our friends who provided material assistance that made
the publication possible.
With full consciousness that we have honestly and conscientiously discharged
our responsibility, we cannot claim that the work is complete without errors.
The modest editorial board was barely able to foresee the colossal preparatory
efforts required. There were no historical materials, archives, or documents
at our disposal. A particular encumbrance was the indifference of many
townsmen who did not properly appreciate the importance of the Yizkor
book and, despite our requests, did not respond positively. This is evident,
primarily, in the section on Personalities and Figures, where dozens of
important personalities, leaders, party heads, and other significant people
were omitted, not through malice but because there was simply no one who was
able to record their biographical details and spheres of activity. Though we
do not feel guilty, we do apologize and beg pardon.
May this book be a memorial for one of the most important and admirable Jewish
kehillot in Poland, our town Oshpitzin, where once a rich, Jewish, original life of
wisdom and Torah flourished, a life of culture and creativity, spirit and
soul until the hideous enemy came and razed everything to the ground. Let
this book serve as a memorial light and Kaddish for our parents and relatives
who perished for kiddush HaShem, blamelessly, only because they were born Jews:
Yisgadal ve'Yiskadash Shmei Rabbo!
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