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[Page 134]

“Fun Der Alter Heim”

A Stroll Through Our Piotrkow

Elazar Prashker – Jerusalem

Do you remember the town?

Do you remember the town of our sweet, pristine young years? The town of our adolescent dreams and struggles? The town where our hearts awoke to the ideals of the Jewish Renaissance and Social Justice? The town where we experienced the ecstasy of first love and also the bitter disappointments of our more mature years? The town of our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, family and friends, fellows and acquaintances? The town of “everyday” people, of “Shabbath” and “Yom Tov?” The town with the merchants and craftsmen, the scholars and the intellectuals, “Chassidim” and “Baalei Batim,” the privileged and the poor'' The town of thousands of pulsating and throbbing “Yiddish” hearts?

Do you remember our Jewish home town, Piotrkow?

So, please come. Let's stroll once again, in a dream-like reverie, through the streets with every house so homely and every face so close to you, where you know everyone and everyone knows you. Every other person you know by his nickname. Every third person has a little tale, or just a joke, attached to him.

Just look around; it's so strange that (luring all these years nothing here has changed –nothing at all, The same houses, the same courtyards, the same streets and squares. The same stores and merchants. That's the way they were when you were young and that's the way they remain until the great destruction.

The 'Maccabi' brass band - early thirties
The “Maccabi” brass band — early thirties

The 'Hapoel' soccer team - mid-thirties
The “Hapoel” soccer team – mid-thirties


The Czarniecki Square (Plac Czarnieckiego)

We come to the square where, in the middle, a few dusty bushes barely cling to life, along with some scattered, anemic bunches of grass. Please, refresh my memory-were there benches on the square? If so, we, the young, didn't use them. We passed our free time in the Poniatowski Park, in the Bernardynski Garden, in the shady cemetery avenue full of trees, or yet the other green spot, the “Budki.” The older folks didn't use the benches either. Firstly, they were too busy; secondly, how would it look to just sit around? Ridiculous!

Now, look at this house, just here, near the ominous jail gate. Once it was painted green. Today, you hardly recognize the color, which is rather gray and dirty. As you see, everything here has remained static; nothing has changed. Like all these unrestored house facades.

If this particular house could speak, many nights would be needed to listen to its tales. Once, the wealthy Reb Nusen Horowicz lived here. He was the son of Rob Meshulam Piotrkower. You'll probably ask who Reb Meshulam was. Don't you know? It's fair to say that his virtues were “Torah Gdolah, Yiches, Chassiduth” and all “Maaloth Tovoth Bemakom Echad.” Hardly a trifle – the bells of the entire community tolled for Reb Meshulam.

At the start of World War I, his son, Reb Nusen, took all his family (he had “Bli Ayin Harah” ten daughters) and escaped to Russia. There, he passed away. His two sons-in-law – Reb Henzl Frenkel, the banker, and esteemed Reb Moshe Aharon Zussman – returned after the war to Piotrkow. Reb Frenkel, honoring Reb Nusen's legacy, erected the “Talmud Torah” house. He later moved in here, into Reb Nusen's old house, and now lives with his son Mordechai, next door to the “Yiddishe Kasse.”

I will tell you some other time about Mordechai Frenkel, one of the most interesting Piotrkower personalities. There are poignant stories about the “Yiddishe Kasse.” For now, however, let's sneak into the printing shop of Horowicz, located on the ground floor of the building.


The Print Shop

Before you enter, you may smell the printing ink and hear the humming of the heavy printing press, which takes up considerable space in the large room. On the right, you see a few “zecers” (typesetters) standing over the spacious boxes that contain the lead typesetters. They arrange the letters into lines to be put into print. The tall, spacious windows give an excellent view of what's going on inside.

Ay, ay … the Yiddish print shops of Piotrkow! They are known throughout the world. In the Diaspora or in Israel, when a book, a “Siddur” or a “Machzor” is opened, the logo on the title page is clear and distinct “Printed in Piotrkow.” Then, the names of the printers appear in order – Shraga Faivel Belchatowski, the brothers Eli and Shmuel Panski, Nathan Kronenberg, Rosengarten and Horowicz, Yakov Ber Mordechai, Cederbaum, Henoch Bar Yishai, Zeev Folman, Abraham Rozenwald, Benjamin Libeskind – these names are known to every “yodea sefer.” A large volume could be written on the subject of the Piotrkow printers.

The Horowicz print shop did not set books. Its trade consisted of printing various forms, cards, announcements, posters, etc. Here, at the beginning, the Zionist weekly “Unzer Zeitung” was put together. In later years, the weekly was printed at the Rozenstein print shop on Rynek Trybunalski.

The Horowicz print shop was founded by Abraham Horowicz and is now being run by his son Menachem, who, in an ink-stained smock, runs hectically around the place all day. He is as mobile as mercury. He attends to the customers, puts the texts together, lends the printing press, and collects fees; in short, he does practically everything.

Menachem was a short, round-faced man, smoothly shaven. His mouth was slightly bent. He spoke so rapidly, it was hard to understand him. This, however, didn't prevent him from being the second keynote speaker (after Yakov Maltz) at the first of the May rallies organized by the Right Poalei Zion Party. Are you surprised? Just remember Demosthenes.

In the evenings, on Saturdays or holidays, Menachem underwent a complete metamorphosis. Clean, wearing a black suit and tie, he attended meetings, conferences, rallies, gatherings. He was a member of the Tzeirei Zion, Poalei Zion C.S., Hechalutz, Hapoel, Maccabi, various organizations, committees, literary and musical circles, sport clubs, leagues and alliances. He attended drama workshops, women's and youth movements and all the unfolding and growing cultural activities that were flourishing. “Bli Ayin Harah,” like mushrooms after a rain.

Doesn't your head spin when you hear all those names of the various circles and coteries? Just wait! Firstly, I am not sure that I didn't forget anybody. Secondly, these are only the circles associated with the Party, which, after many transformations, acquired the official name, “The Jewish Socialist Labor Party, Poalei Zion United with C.S.”

'Kwutzat Shomrim of Kibbutz Aliya Aleph' in 1927
“Kwutzat Shomrim of Kibbutz Aliya Aleph” in 1927

Lower row, from the left: Hela Rosenbaum, a “teacher's teacher and a fine educator,”
Mordechai Fajner, Shayek Fajner. Tila Warzager, Zeev Lipski (Liwne).
Upper row, from the left: Hertzel Fajnkind (Jafet), Riwka Jakubowicz, Lea Wajntreter
and young Elazar Prashker, the author of the essay

 

'Kwutzat Shomrim of Kibbutz Aliya Aleph' in 1927
The committee of Poalei Zion C.S. in May 1930.

Sitting, from left: I. Kogan, M. Fisz, B. Lewkowicz, M. Szydlowski, Szapiro and I. Fisz.
Standing, from left: M. Wajnberg, Rozental, J. Wolrajch, C. Kogan, J. Male, M. Horowicz and S. Horn

Our people, however, dislike lengthy names. So, the Party was called “The Right Petzekes,” or “Peitzadikes.” Understandably, when there is a right, there must also be a left. And though united, there were also some left ununited. These parties also had their youth organizations, women's groups, libraries, choirs, temples, sport sections, etc.

Now, where is the “Bund,” with its domain of “Kol minei” circles, rings, associations, societies, and institutions? Yes, and all other parties and their offspring? Mizrachi, Tzerei Mizrachi, Poalei Mizrachi, Hechalutz Mizrachi; the Agudah, Poalei Agudah; the Radical Zionists of Grynbaum and the “Algemeine” Zionists; Revisionists of Jabotinsky and Revisionists of Grossman. There were also Communists – those of Stalin and Trotsky and who knows whose else?

I even knew some Independent Socialists and followers of Dr. Joseph Kruk, who was famous here for his lectures on Ghandi and Roman Roland. Noah Prilutski and his Folks Party, however, wasn't so popular in our town. Assimilators? They almost completely disappeared. Maybe some remain among the so-called “High Intelligentsia,” but they are not to he heard. It's interesting how our lifestyle has changed lately. About 15 to 20 years ago, the assimilators played the dominant role in Jewish Piotrkow, but today, no more. And that's the way the world turns. You probably think that the Piotrkow “Yidn” were quite interested in all their parties' programs, principles, ideological platforms and would found a new party every Monday and Thursday, then divide or reunite as the politicians in the Warsaw headquarters did. You are in for a surprise. Our people had all these things in the “Linke Piente.” Only a small group of enthusiasts were involved body and soul in these party antics. Except for this group, you wouldn't find a handful of people that knew the difference between Hitachdut and Poalei Zion or between Gordonia and Freiheit.

Ninety percent of the population had other worries. How to obtain a “Gemilath Hessed” to redeem an outstanding obligatory note? Where to get a few “Zlotys” to make “Shabbos?”

Oh Lord! How could one obtain a sack of potatoes and a cart of wood to store in the cellars for the winter? The poverty was enormous. There were years when over a thousand families didn't have the means to prepare for the Pesach Holiday and were foreed to apply for “Kimcha L'Pascha''1 — and all in all, there were only a few thousand Jewish families living in Piotrkow.

_______________

  1. Kimcha L'Pascha -- the traditonal relief activity dispersing Kosher-for-Passover victuals to the poor. Return

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