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[Page 267]

Recalled to Life

[Page 268]

The symbolic monument of our Martyrs
The symbolic monument of our Martyrs at the Vale of Tears – Treblinka
[Translation of Hebrew: “Piotrkow – City and Nation in Israel”]

 

[Page 269]

Piotrkow – Ir Waeim B'Israel

M.I. Bar-On, Tel Aviv

We, the sons and descendants of the magnificent Jewish community of Piotrkow, are in mourning. We mourn the crown of our heads, the mother city of Israel, our Piotrkow, just as children mourn their mother. Our wonderful community was destroyed by the hand of the oppressors, our community was drowned in her own blood amid the vast cemeteries of Poland.

How could our Jewish community in Piotrkow, the Jewel of our Crown, have been so devastated? Oh Piotrkow! What has become of you? Our city, full of Jewish life, streaming with the vigorous currents of our heritage. Lo and behold! – Suddenly, the soil covered all your being.

We shall keep our memories and images of the serene and pulsating life within your limbs, of the sweaty, hard days of labor and the days of rest and leisure. We shall remember the Sabbath and the Holy Days, the complete cessation of daily worries in the stores, shops and markets; the shining, festive atmosphere emanating from every window and every floor, the homes exulting light and inspiration even toward the gentile population of our town.

We remember, as if it were today, the large, excited crowds marching in parades beneath fluttering banners on national holidays. We remember the happy rallies and somber times. We remember the days of the Balfour Declaration or the San Remo festivities; the volunteers collecting groshins for noble causes; the sad days of the Tel Chai disaster or the other calamities that befell the Yishuv. Like a seismograph, our sensitive Piotrkow community reacted to the positive or negative events affecting the birth of our awakening nation and the redemption and building of our homeland.

Piotrkow! You were not any ordinary Polish city for us here in Israel, not just another geographical spot on the map of the Jewish Diaspora. You were a strong, historical supporting pillar essential to the Israeli saga. During your last generations, you were to Israel what Cordoba was in the Spanish Diaspora of the past. You were to the Jewish communities of the world what Prague was in the Bohemian Diaspora, or what Krakow and Lublin were in the Polish Diaspora. Rabbinical chairs of international renown were situated within your boundaries, where “Gaonim” and “Tzadikim” solved questions about “Halacha” and “Dinim.”

You were the home of noble families like the Horowiczes, Eibeshitses and others, blessed with outstanding offspring – uncrowned princes in their spiritual conduct.

Within your walls, the bastion of the “Shulchan Aruch” was kept by volunteers so it would not be subjected to stormy disturbances. You saw the early “Hassidim” movements, full of miracles and mystique. The voices of “Lamdei Torah” rang out day and night from “Batei Midrash.” Your “Hamonei Amcha” were staunch devotees to and admirers of the Torah.

Piotrkow, you were always the first to give your strength and your resources to every noble movement, to all kinds of actions and deeds for the people. You were the first to fight for education and enlightenment. You were the first – in the words of your “Gaon Hatzadik,” R'Chaim Elezar Waks, Z”L, the author of “Nefesh Haya” – to wake the hearts toward the Yishuv in Eretz Israel.” You were the first at the time to respond to the call of Zion for monetary and moral support. You were also the first to send your sons and daughters to the battle lines to fight for our nation's existence and honor. And, especially, you were the first to send the flower of your youth to “Hachshara Halutzit and Aliah” to mold the spirit in our homeland and the rising of Zion.

Most of all, you were known in the world of Israel for your richness of soul and for the treasures of the written word that you so generously dispensed among the cities and towns of the Diaspora. Your books, “Siddurim, Machzorim, Chumashim, Gemaroth,” folk literature and so many other publications reached readers overseas, in Eretz Israel and everywhere from Brooklyn to Shanghai. Jewish mothers, praying and pouring their hearts out to Almighty G-d, would tearfully recite verses that were printed “Here – Kechilath Kodesh Piotrkow – by R'Faivel Belchatowski and sons.”

In Jerusalem and Lublin, the young “Talmud Torah” students read from pages that came from the printing presses of R'Abraham Rozenwald. From Johannesburg to San Francisco, Jews prayed and pounded their hearts when they recited “Al Heit” from the “Machzorim” for Yom Kippur assembled and printed by R'Mordchai Cederbaum. Hundreds of thousands of observant Jews worshipped and studied on Shabath and on Holy Days in synagogues using “Midrashim” from books set and published in the Printshop of Henoch, Ben Ishai Zeev Folman.

With your enterprise of publishing Holy Books you earned an esteemed name among the scattered Jewish communities of the world. This point about Piotrkow was brought up by the great scholar and writer of our generation, Shmuel Joseph Agnon. With his artistic perception, he profoundly mourned the enormous tragedy of our Holy Community, “taken prisoner and subjected to torture among gentiles.”

In his story, “Siddur Tefilati,” there was a monumental tribute to our beloved Piotrkow. In sadness and sorrow, we too say, together with Agnon, “I opened my Siddur at a different place and stared; and there is no Piotrkow anymore – only holy and awesome prayers are whistling from the pages. . . “

Itgadal Witkadesh Shmei Raba!

Izkor Book


[Page 271]

Piotrkow After the War

Chaim Henig – Ramat Gan

The Shtibel at 33 Pilsudskiego Street

Now is the time, and certainly it is suitable, to remember the Piotrkow Jews, the “Sharit HaPleyta” (the remnants of survivors), in the early years following the liberation and the only shtibel where Jews gathered to pray during the holidays.

There were no Jews who, for various personal and other reasons, could not yet leave Piotrkow and remained there until 1952-1957.

As long as my memory serves me, I want to recall at least a few of the Jews who were active at 33 Pilsudski Street, across the way from the prison. There, we met in two neglected rooms in the basement (called the “religyeze congregatsye”) and there, too, kosher lunches were cooked. The overseers and cooks were Lutka Weinberg (previously the wife of Yakob Milshteyn Z”L; she died in Sweden), Mrs. M. Zigreich, Z”L (who was known then as Milshteyn, and who died two years ago in Israel), and Mrs. Litmanowicz.

The preparation of lunches at that time was a great help especially for the Jews who were staying there only temporarily and who were preparing to leave anti-Semitic Poland.

Amongst the active members of the religious circles were Moyshe Kurnendz, Z”L, Israel Zigreich, the brothers Sh. and P. Hipsher, Nuske Fishpan, the butcher Kirschenbaum, the older Weinberg and his son Manyek, Brauner (of Suleyow), Patsanovski (who died recently in Haifa), Shmuel Cohen (in Belgium), the elder Bialovons and others.

Moshe Tarko
Moshe Tarko at the “Umschalgplatz” of Piotrkow.
From here our Martyrs were sent to Treblinka

 

Dr. Zygmunt Tennenbaum
Dr. Zygmunt Tennenbaum brings flowers to the
Auschwitz crematorium

 

Of course, there must always be a difference of opinion among Jews. This one came as a result of there being three candidates who wanted to manage the religious “shtibl.” It reached a point where the “magistrate” almost had to intercede. A miracle, however, occurred when one of the claimants left Poland, another moved to Lodz, and the crisis was over.

Szmul Kon, Cesia Henig and Heniek (Chaim) Henig
Szmul Kon, Cesia Henig and Heniek (Chaim) Henig

 

In time, the shtibel grew emptier and emptier. There was no longer a “minyan.” There were “Sifrey Torah, and taleysim” and “sfarim,” and even a “Bal T'fila,” but where did one find Jews?

When the High Holy Days arrived, the hearts of the Jews who remained awakened; each Jew wanted to be seen in the “shtibl.” In addition to the few loyal “daveners,” there were those who had long forsaken their “Yiddishkeit” – among them Katchka, the fiddler, Markowitz, who lived with Gentiles, Fuehrer, a Jew from Chelm who lived with an Ukrainian woman and later converted, Birenzweig, a barber who lived with a Gentile woman, Joshua Eisenshteyn, who had a Gentile wife, Dluzhnowski, now in Israel – even Hershel Goldberg of “U-B”[1] also came to take a look.”.

The congregation kitchen
The congregation kitchen

 

Exhumation
Exhumation of the “Rakow Kedoshim” just after the war.
From the Rakow Forest to “Kewer Achim” at the cemetery

 

Despite my responsible job in the “Kranke Kasse,” I always left my workplace during the holidays and came together with all the Jews to cry our hearts out remembering those who were no longer with us and also the former shuts and “batei t'filot” which used to be filled with Jews.

The greatest experience was when our wives and small children came to see how we “davened.” For some of the children, this was the first time they had observed such a “spectacle.” They stood with their eyes opened wide and with flaming cheeks and understood nothing of what was happening.

My little son, who was 3½ years old, began to ask questions and wonder. He had been accustomed to going to church with our maid every Sunday; there, the priest would caress his head lovingly. And here questions began to pour forth. That's when my wife Cesia started to explain everything to him: that we were Jews and that everyone in the shtibel was praying to our God; that we had a large family living in Eretz Israel, the country where all Jews lived and to which we, too, would emigrate.

After that my son lived with the happy hope of going to another world, as if a new soul had entered into him. He could hardly wait for the day when he would see his grandmother, aunts and uncles in the much dreamed-of Land of Israel.

After my wife began to tell him the whole truth about the painful journey we had endured during the war years, he stopped going to church with the maid and understood very well why they didn't include him in the “protsesye.”

To this day my son still wants to know every detail of what happened to us during the woeful Hitler years and tries to convey it to his children, so that the “Shoa” will not be forgotten by future generations.


  1. U-B is the Polish equivalent of the KGB Return



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