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[Page 27 (H), 79 (Y)]

My Grandfather's Home
(Avraham Sztrykmacher and his family)

by Shlomo Meir Przytyky (today Samuel Davis)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

1.

My memories of Przytyk relate to a time more than fifty years ago – to the years of childhood , from which sweet memories always remain…

I was born in Przytyk in 1899. My parents left Przytyk and moved to Radom at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. In 1930, when I returned from a visit to the Land of Israel, I once again lived in Przytyk for almost a year. Nevertheless, throughout all the years that I lived outside of Przytyk, I felt connected to my town with thousands of strands. This was because of my connections to the large Przytyky family on the side of my father and the Cuker (Haliamchim) family on my mother's side, as well as on account of my constant longing and love for the place where I took my first steps in life. After the infamous events in Przytyk in the year 1936, I organized in Radom, where I lived at the time, an assistance committee for the victims of the Pogrom and for the Jews of Przytyk who were imprisoned in the Radom prison. Among the members of the committee were various personalities, including representatives of the intelligentsia, among them several lawyers whose legal assistance we required.

Even now, after I have spent more than ten years in the United States, I regard it as my moral duty to participate in the Przytyk community of New York and to take great interest in the Holocaust survivors from my hometown. Indeed, I myself am one of the survivors of Hitler's flood.

Therefore I responded affirmatively to the invitation of the Przytyk committee in Israel – when I was in Israel in April 1964 – to relate my memories of the town from the beginning of the 20th century and to focus in particular on the household of my grandfather Avraham Sztrykmacher of blessed memory and his family.

2.

A single story house built of red bricks stood opposite the well in the market square. This was the house of my grandfather Avraham Sztrykmacher. There was a business in the front of this house, and two rooms behind it. The residents of this house were my great-grandmother Malka, who was certainly 95 years old then, Grandfather Avraham, Grandmother Chaya Leah, and their children Moshe Shimon (my father of blessed memory), Sima, Sara, and Mordechai.

After Moshe Shimon married my mother, they moved to a house next to the market square. On the other hand, Aunt Sara, her husband and nine children continued to live in my grandfather's house. When the family members scattered and the oldest children got married, Uncle Mordechai, his wife and four children lived with Grandfather.

[Page 28]

{Photo page 28 right: Shlomo-Yosef and Chana-Beila Mieierfeld of blessed memory.}

{Photo page 28 left: Chaya-Leah Przytyky of blessed memory, the wife of Avraham Sztrykmacher, who died in Skaryszew in 1940.}

My grandfather had a workshop for pots, shoemaking tools and ropes. Since my grandfather worked with ropes with his hands, he was better known by the name Avraham Sztrykmacher (rope maker) rather than by his family name Przytyky. I often heard it discussed in the home that the surname Przytyky is certainly connected to the name Przytyk for many generations, and our ancestors apparently settled in Przytyk hundreds of years ago.

The greatest earning day in my grandfather's home was on Mondays, the day of the weekly fair. The children of my uncles and aunts helped serve the farmers, even though my grandfather himself worked quickly and diligently. He was a person who knew no weariness in work. His hands always searched for something to do, and he found all sorts of ways to occupy himself so that he would not be idle. On the other weekdays, when the income was not so great, my grandfather would drag the pots to the porch and back to the workshop in order to fill his free time… He did not know how to write, and he used his lads for the calculations.

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Avraham Sztrykmacher was among the most important householders of the town. When an Admor (Hassidic Rebbe) came to Przytyk, he knew from the outset that he would be hosted by the rope maker. My grandfather did not lack livelihood, even though he was not numbered among the wealthy. He married off his daughters in honor, as was the way in those times.

Aunt Sara married a Jew from Zwoleñ, Yitzchak Yaakov Borsztal. They had nine children and conducted a hide business in their home. Aunt Simcha married Velvel Sztark from a village near Przytyk. They conducted a haberdashery business. Since this business did not earn them sufficient livelihood, they would purchase all sorts of products from the farmers on the fair days and sell them later to the middlemen, as did many Jews of Przytyk. The income from this “business” helped them through difficult times. These merchants and purchasers of goods from my family always required some charitable assistance, and the relatives willingly assisted them.

3.

My parents conducted business with hides until 1914. We were seven children – three girls and four boys. I was the eldest. My teacher was Leibish Wolf. He would hit us with a whip for the smallest infraction. Later I studied in the cheder of Mota the teacher, a stout, tall, thick-bearded man. He would take special enjoyment in beating the students. Later my Rebbe was Shlomo David, the father of Meir Meizels. We already studied Talmud and Tosafot with him.

I stopped studying immediately after my Bar Mitzvah and became a merchant and a tradesman. I helped my father sell hides in the business, and from time to time I would jump into the workshop, to the machines for sewing shoe vamps. My father would employ sewers as did most of the hide merchants in Przytyk at that time. Two workers worked in the workshop. I was very much attracted to the machines, and I learned the trade of shoemaking along with the hide business.

At around 1911, my grandfather commissioned the writing of a Torah scroll, which was donated to the synagogue. I will never forget that summer evening when all of the Jews of Przytyk, along with many Poles, gathered in the market square in order to participate in the celebration of the conclusion of the writing of the scroll. Four strong boys rode on decorated horses with torches in their hands. The band, which was invited specially from Radom, played Jewish tunes and marching songs. The dancing and the joyous shouts enthralled all those who were gathered.

The feast began at night. Tables of delicacies were set up in my grandfather's house. The crowd celebrated and rejoiced until the morning.

4.

At the beginning of the First World War, all of the Jews of Przytyk were deported to Radom. My family remained there, but we were always connected to our old native town. In 1932 I had a traveling bus that used to travel the Radom-Przytyk-Radom route, and later the Radom-Lodz-Radom route.

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I also had transport trucks that carried merchandise along those routes. Thanks to this, I visited Przytyk almost every Monday.

When the pogrom took place in Przytyk in 1936, I was in Radom. I immediately went to the town when the news reached me. I saw a great devastation before my eyes. I then helped create in Radom an assistance organization for the victims of the pogrom. We made contact with Warsaw, and Jewish Sejm members, other people, and journalists arrived from there. We made food packages for the Jews of Przytyk who sat in the jail in Radom, having been accused of participating in the disturbances that took place in Przytyk. Even in America people responded with assistance for the victims of the pogrom in Przytyk.

5.

During the terrible days of the Second World War, only four of us remained of our six member family, which had consisted of my wife, myself and four children. In 1965, one of my daughters died of a heart ailment that she had contracted in the camp. I now live in the United States, and I maintain contact with Przytyk natives in Israel and in other countries.

{Photo page 30: Przytyk, in the winter of 1937. From the right: M. Stark, M. Sh. Przytyky, Sh. M. Przytyky.}


[Page 31 (H), 83 (Y)]

My Town – An Island

by Dina Grobstein (Schwitzka)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Przytyk was like an island. It was surrounded by water, fields, forests and gardens. The city itself consisted of three parts: the market square, Zachonta, and Podgajak.

When the pleasant summer came, we bathed in the water. We ran through the fields to cut flowers. How pleasant it was to wake up early in the morning, to go out to the forest to collect mushrooms, and then to search for the way back and not find it very easily…

On the other hand, in the winter we would skate on the ice. It was so nice to fall, to get a bruise, and then to go back home, even crying. There, mother would comfort us.

*

Przytyk was a typical Jewish city, with all factions and organizations. The Zionist organization had a wonderful library. There was also Beitar and a professional organization. At Beitar, to which I belonged, they sang and danced. When the central commissioner of Beitar, A. Propas, came to Przytyk, we greeted him wearing fatigues, and marched through the market square in military formation – it was literally a military parade.

There was also an illegal Communist party. Who does not remember Mota Bernsztajn, who died in the Woronka Prison? Fiery debates took place on the streets, at home, and in the Beis Midrash.

The city also had its Hassidim, known by the names of the Admorim to whom they were faithful. There were Hassidim of Aleksander, Worka, and Gur. I recall once that when the Worka Rebbe came to Przytyk, the Hassidim came out to greet him some distance from the city, and danced outside. The important guest was put up with our in-law, Yosef Chaim Shochet.

Przytyk did not have its own yeshiva, but it had no shortage of yeshiva students. They studied in the various shtibels and in the synagogue.

We also had a “Bnos” girls' organization and a Bnos Yaakov School. Jewish students were given a traditional, Hassidic education.

There was also Poale Agudas Yisroel. My brother Yisrael-Avraham Schwitzka was their chairman. He went to Hachsharah in Czanow along with other youths.

The sporting organization was primarily occupied with basketball. The best players included Rusak and Blicher. The competitions always attracted a large crowd. There were unavoidable clashes when they played against Polish groups, but our youths always won…

I remember my Hassidic home. My father was a Hassid of Aleksander. My brother studied in various yeshivas. My mother (of the Zelcer family) was an upright, good-hearted woman.

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On Friday it was my responsibility to bring some fish to a poor Jew, and some soup to another one. Chava, the daughter of Moshe Yechezkel worked with us. She had a lung disease. Therefore, my mother made sure that she would have milk, butter and eggs every day. Such was my mother. There were many women like that in Przytyk, who lived not only for themselves, but also were concerned about their fellows.

My father was an honorable, handsome Jew, tall and wise. He occupied himself in communal affairs: he was a trustee of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society), and the chairman of “Bikur Cholim” which assisted the poor. He had many tribulations from the community. My mother always complained, “Why do you do all this?” However my father answered that it is never possible to satisfy everyone, but it is necessary that someone should take care of such matters.

My father was also a member of the town council, which consisted of four Jews and four gentiles. The Jews were Moshe Kirszencweig, Lewental, Zucholc and my father.

When the town council decided to expand the bounds of the city and to dry out a section of the water, my father invested a great deal of energy into this plan. However, nothing came from the work, for the water burst forth from below and covered the ground. The endeavor cost the city 4,000 zloty. Hershel Zalcszirer, a pleasant, vibrant youth, took advantage of the failure of the city elders and composed a special poem for the occasion:

In the small town of Przytyk
Which lies there in a valley --
There were four communal workers
Who looked as lovely as a painting...

The first is named Reb Levi
A Jew with an unkempt beard.
He sits like Noah in the ark
To whom the money of the community is a great waste...

The innuendo in this poem was indeed directed to my pleasant, dear father.

Life was more or less quiet until Hitler ascended to power. Then, the Poles began to follow the ways of Hitler. Anti-Semitism increased in Poland. An Endek Party[1] was formed in Przytyk, headed by someone named Korczak They conducted propaganda against the Jews, confiscated Jewish merchandise, and incited during the fairs. A Jewish self-defense was organized through the efforts of Yitzchak Frajdman.

The year 1936 arrived. Worrying information about attacks on Jews came from the nearby villages of Klwów, Odrzywól, and others. I remember that on one Friday, Jews came in perplexity from Klwów, some by vehicle and some by foot. Many of them were injured. All of the Jews of Przytyk accepted a family into their homes for the Sabbath. The sick and the wounded received medical attention.

I will never forget that Sabbath night (perhaps this was a provocation)? It was said that gentiles from the nearby villages were marching toward Przytyk. We lived in Podgajak. My uncle Moshe David and two of his sons came to take us, and we walked with them to the town. My brother held an ax, and my father, a wooden stake. We left the house empty. It was already dark outside. We heard the question, “Jew or Christian?” My brother lit a match and we saw Yitzchak Kestenberg. He held a small knife in his hands. He was a Hassidic Jew who was slightly paralyzed, yet he did not shut himself into his house.

This is how the Jews of Przytyk acted at a time of trouble. Everyone decided to protect Jewish honor.

Nothing happened, however. We just lived in fear. The incitement of the Endeks had its effect. Two days later, on Monday, the event which we are afraid of indeed took place. Those who lived in the town did not experience the terrible events as we, who lived in Zachonta and Podgajak, did.

[Page 33]

When I went to my aunt Sheindel Szwyczak, I realized that the traveling formation of the gentiles was different than usual. They traveled four or five wagons across. I did not reach my aunt, and I ran home. There was nobody in the house aside from Mother. At that time, she had just recovered from an illness. I took her on my shoulders, and brought her to Reb Yitzchak Meir in the mill, carrying her on my shoulders through the fruit garden. I told them what was transpiring. Everyone entered the mill, and we closed the doors. The gentiles began to throw stones and tried to break the doors. Ovadia Langer took a dumbbell in his hand and stood by the door. I looked through the window and saw the gentiles breaking Berish Przytyky's windows and throwing stones. They indeed wanted to break in. They suddenly started to flee. A miracle occurred. Yitzchak Meir Langer came with the police. We all burst out crying. Reb Yitzchak Meir Langer, a good-hearted, very charitable Jew, told about what was taking place in the city. My mother fainted, and we revived her with difficulty. I was the only one of the children in the house, and we did not know what happened to the others. Father was in Lodz. My sister was hiding with Menashe Weber.

Later, we found out what had happened. When the gentiles began to beat the Jews in the city, the Jews mounted a resistance. They chased the gentiles out of the town. The Poles went to Zachonta and Podgajak. Then, the great tragedy with the Minkowskis took place. Many Jews were injured badly in Zachonta, including my cousin Chava Bas.

My brother arrived from the town and told how the Jews in the market square mounted a resistance and soundly beat the Christians. Reb Leizer Blachaj, his children and Moshe Furszt especially excelled. (Hillel Cytlyn devoted a special article to Reb Leizer in the “Heint” daily.)

We returned home. Everything was destroyed in the house, including the furniture and the looms. Father returned immediately from Lodz. He heard on the radio what had happened in Przytyk. Delegates of the Jewish communal council of Warsaw arrived the next day. Jews sent assistance from there, including window panes. Eight Jews were arrested, including Moshe Lasker, Leizer Kirszencweig, and my brother-in-law Chaim Schwitzka, who was freed after the trial.

After the pogrom, a number of the members of the Jewish self-defense received certificates and made aliya to the Land of Israel. My family moved to Lodz.

*

After the outbreak of the war, I set out to Russia with my husband. Life was very difficult. We moved to far-off Ural, where the cold reached 40 degrees below zero. We worked hard. Later we moved to Vitebsk. I graduated from a course as a nurse. We received letters from our family in Poland. Their situation was very bad. We sent them packages and everything that we could.

When the Russo-German war broke out, Vitebsk was bombed. We set out again to Ural. I was drafted into the army in 1942. I worked in a hospital on the front.

In 1954, when Praga was liberated, we returned to Poland. After the Red Army conquered

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Lodz, I went there. I saw the ghetto with the barbed wire. I did not go to Przytyk. I was told that Przytyk no longer exists, and was destroyed completely. Gangs of A. K.[2] were roving through Poland, and it was dangerous to travel to the small settlements.

I met Minkus when I was still in the army. I met the husband of Chava Bonda in Bytom. I found nobody from my family – they all perished.

I arrived in Israel in 1950


Religious Values in the Life of the Jews of Przytyk

by Chancha Friedman-Honig

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My small town, Przytyk! I will never forget you – with all of the tortured and murdered Jews, including my dear parents, sisters and brother, who always stand before my eyes as if alive. I was born and educated in this small town, until I managed to leave it when the Germans entered…

We lived near the Beis Midrash and the synagogue. There, my older brothers studied Gemara along with other religious youths. There is a great deal to tell about this synagogue. The entire life of the adult Jews centered around the synagogue. Bar Mitzvah celebrations, weddings, yahrzeit meals (on the anniversary of the death of family members), as well as funerals and eulogies – all of these took place around or inside the synagogue. A preacher (maggid) would often come, preaching about this world or the World to Come, lecturing about morality, explaining how to fulfill the commandments, or telling a fine story or a parable.

My father was a pious, good and upright man. He would invite such preachers to eat and sleep at our house. Other guests or poor people would come to our home for various meals. My father would get up early and go to the Beis Midrash to worship. Then he would go to work. He had a tailoring workshop. He worked hard in order to earn a bit of livelihood. He employed several workers who looked to him with great honor, for he treated them with justice and uprightness. Even the villagers who would purchase from him related to Father with great trust. They would buy from us for many years. They would even come to buy from us when the Germans were in control. Once a village farmer whom we knew brought us various provisions, a matter which was fraught with mortal danger during the time of the occupation.

[Page 35]

Most of the Jews of the community were very Orthodox. On Friday, the approach of the holy Sabbath could already be felt. The spirit was sublime. Preparations were made for every holiday, and everything was done so that their holiday would be joyous and would be prepared as was required by tradition. Everything was done with a full heart and great devotion. Each holiday had its own character. A spirit of sadness pervaded on Yom Kippur. Everyone, young and old , went to the synagogue. The prayers of the cantor were heard from afar. Jews would weep bitterly and pray to G-d that He forgive their sins and seal them for a good verdict.

I loved the festival of Passover more than anything, especially the night of the Seder. The Seder ceremony was conducted with great festivity.

Thus was life conducted with a strong connection to religion.

We would not study in school on Saturdays or Sundays. Saturday was our day of rest and Sunday was the day of rest of the Christians. We felt ourselves as strangers. Their relationship with us was poor. Anti-Semitism was quite strong. The Polish children tormented us and made us feel that we were Zhyds. Once, when the students of the Polish school mocked the Jews during a performance, my brother protested this (he was then in the seventh grade). They expelled him from school, and he did not continue to study.

On the other hand, we had a “Beis Yaakov” School, where we felt ourselves free, literally at home. We would go to the Polish government school in the morning and to the Beis Yaakov in the afternoon. Many girls studied there. The main courses were Chumash, Jewish history, writing, and laws. I studied there for several years.

Mrs. Sarah Schenirer, the founder of Beis Yaakov, came to visit us once. I looked at her with great reverence. When she stood up in the evening to recite the Arvit service, she conducted herself literally as a man.

The school was on a high level. There, we studied many good things from the Torah. At the same time, we enjoyed ourselves well. We would arrange excursions; we had a drama club; we observed various historical dates and jubilees.

We had various teachers, but we particularly liked the teacher Baum (today Weizer, living in Israel). She was a teacher and simultaneously a friend. When she made aliya to the Land of Israel prior to the war, the school disbanded. In brief – life in Przytyk was multi-faceted.


[Page 36]

The Education of Jewish Children in our Town

by Shlomo Eitan, Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In memory of my parents, brothers and sisters of blessed memory who perished in the Holocaust, and in memory of my eldest daughter Orna of blessed memory who became ill during her service in the Israel Defense Forces and died at the age of 20.

There were two types of education in our town: a) traditional Jewish religious education, and b) public government education. Religious education began from the age of four or five, and took place in institutions that were called cheders, located in the private residence of the teacher, who was known as the rebbe. There was a long table in the middle of the room. The rebbe sat at the head, and the students sat on two long benches on both sides. At times there were up to thirty students. The first level cheder, for young children, such as that of “Der Gonczus” where the students learned the letters of the aleph beit, the beginnings of reading, prayers, and the meaning of the words of the first Torah portions of the chumash. The teaching style was very primitive and simplistic. The rebbe would read and the students would respond in chorus.

{Photo page 36: Beis Yaakov, the religious school for girls in Przytyk.}

At the higher levels of cheder, the students studied the entire weekly Torah portion from the Chumash, along with

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Rashi's commentary, as well as Gemara. In the even higher level cheders, such as that of Reb Yisrael Gindel, where students of Bar Mitzvah age studied, they began to delve into the “Sea of Talmud”. Even there, as in the younger levels, they utilized the style of reading the source, explaining the words, and discussing the content in Yiddish. Bible and Mishnah were not studied in the cheders.

The objective was religious education toward the fulfillment of the commandments, without paying any attention to the historical value of the study material. On the other hand, however, the atmosphere that surrounded the studies had great value from a national-religious perspective.

The students were required to attend the cheder every day, and the studies continued until a late hour in the evening, and at times even into the night. Even on Sabbaths, it was necessary to go the cheder to recite Barchi Nafshi in the winter and Pirke Avot in the summer. The only vacation from the studies was on the festivals.

For the most part, the teachers in the cheder were people who were not successful in small-scale business, the source of livelihood of most of the Jewish residents. Without any other option, they turned to the “pedagogical” profession. Teachers of this type were not fit for their task. At times of anger, they cast gall at their students with the assistance of the “keinchik”. However, there were also special people, such as Reb Yisrael Gindel's and others like him, who knew how to make the studies pleasant for the students, and understood their spirit. I recall Reb Mair from Radom who was liked very much by the students. He would arrange recesses from the studies (something which was not customary at that time in the cheders). In the winter, he would encourage the students to go to the frozen river to skate on the ice.

The responsibility for the maintenance of these cheders fell mainly on the parents, who paid for a place in the cheder with the teacher for a half a year at a time, for the summer semester or the winter semester. The poorest parents withheld their meager bread to pay the teacher, so that their children would not be without Torah. During the 1920s and 1930s, as the number of Torah Yeshivas in Poland grew, emissaries of the Yeshivas came and influenced the parents to send their children to these institutions from the age of 14 and above. The students of the Yeshivas took their meals at private homes on a rotation basis – every day with a different family; or they benefited from the Yeshiva kitchen as was the custom in the high level Yeshiva for Talmud and teaching “Mesivta” in Warsaw, where I studied for five years.

The role of the cheder and Yeshiva for preserving the integrity of the nation in the lands of the Diaspora was immeasurably great. They preserved the flame of Judaism to ensure that it would not be extinguished. The teacher filled his role with faithfulness and dedication, frequently under difficult circumstances. He was an important factor in the religious-nationalist education of the youth and in forging a permanent connection between the youth and the ancestral homeland. The prayers that were recited three times a day awakened longing for the rebuilt Zion and Jerusalem. The latter development of the Zionist movement found a vast landscape among the cheder and Yeshiva educated youth.

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{Female Jewish students from grade seven in the Polish public school in Przytyk (June, 1936).}

Government Schools (Pubszachna)

After the First World War and the establishment of the Polish Republic, the number of Jewish girls who attended the public government school in the town increased. Many boys also studied in this school during the 1930s. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the majority of the Jewish children of Przytyk attended it. Approximately 800 students studied in the regional public school. Half were Jews and the other half were Christians from Przytyk and the neighboring villages. The composition of the students in the Pubszachna was approximately 80% local residents, a decisive majority. If you take into account the percentage of local residents, approximately 80%, and reduce the percentage of Jews by including the many villages of the region, the Jews became a minority in the school. Our children formed only 50% of the school population.

Our boys attended the cheder in the afternoons, and our girls studied in “Beis Yaakov”, where they received a religious-nationalist education. The education in the public school was purely Polish nationalist, without any consideration of the hundreds of Jewish students. The studies took place six days a week, with the exception of Sundays. The Jewish students did not attend the school on Sabbaths, but they were required to make up the material that was taught on that day. At the conclusion of the Sabbath, they would receive their lessons from their

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Polish friends, and prepare the lessons for Monday morning. Despite the fact that our students missed approximately 20% of the school days (on Sabbaths and Jewish holidays), they nevertheless outdid their Polish friends in their knowledge and grasp.

The teachers of this institution were all Poles, and no small number of them were open anti-Semites. In addition to the approximately 20 general teachers, the town priest taught the Catholic students their religion. Analogously, during the 1930s a Jewish teacher was brought into the school to teach the Jewish religion to the Jewish students. This was the only Jewish teacher. He taught Jewish history in the Polish language. Our children waited anxiously for these two weekly classes, when they could be together in a Jewish atmosphere, with a Jewish teacher, and with no strange eye supervising them. The teacher of the Jewish religion was a sort of representative of the Jewish students during teachers' meetings. On other occasions, he would protect them from anti-Semitic attacks from the teachers or the students.

It is worthwhile to point out that despite the inimical environment in which our children found themselves, they preserved their Jewish pride, did not bend with the anti-Semitic attacks of the teachers and students, and always responded in an appropriate manner. The writer of these lines served as the teacher of Jewish religion in the Przytyk school for two years, and was a witness to these humiliating anti-Semitic occurrences.

I want to describe a clear anti-Semitic event that took place to my student Shalom Honig (today in the United States). Before the Christmas vacation, a performance took place in the firefighters' hall, where all of the students of the school, including the Jews, were present. The content of the performance, which was prepared by the Catholic students in one of the classes, was of the Christian faith with an anti-Semitic tone. Children dressed up as Jews with beards and peyos appeared on the stage. They had apparently killed the savior Jesus of Nazareth. The Jews were accused of this murder, and were to be mocked in the eyes of the students. The next day, the student Shalom Honig got up in class and protested the disparagement of the Jews and their religion that had taken place the day before on stage. Shalom was then a student of the seventh grade (the final grade), and was to have concluded his course of studies in the school about a half a year later. The matter was escalated to the pedagogic council, which decided unanimously to expel Shalom from the school and to not permit him to conclude his studies. My claim that they must take into account the personal status of the student during the play and also his future, and therefore they should suffice themselves with a less severe punishment and allow him to complete his studies, was not taken into consideration. The decision was transferred to the regional superintendent in Radom for certification. It was certified without any debate.

The path of the Jewish students in our town to obtain general knowledge was not simple. They felt the hatred of their environment toward them even while they were sitting at their desks in school, but they were not crushed and made supreme efforts to attain this goal. During the afternoon hours they would go to the cheders and the Beis Yaakov to study Jewish subjects.

It is fitting to mention here the wave of refugees from Lithuania that came to our town after the First World War, settled in Przytyk, and spread the Hebrew Language to the local students. The Yona family, a Hebrew teacher who organized performances in Hebrew and instilled the Zionist idea into the hearts of the local Jewish children, should be remembered fondly.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A right-wing, anti-Semitic, Polish political party. Return
  2. The Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa). Return


[Page 40]

With the Boats of the Maapilim

by Nachum Gil (Glibter)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In the home of my late father, who was one of the activists of the Zionist Organization, I absorbed the spirit of Zionism already during my childhood. When the Revisionist movement arose, I was one of the founders of Beitar in our town.

At that time, the life of the Jews of Poland was becoming more difficult by the day. The hatred of the Jews increased and the anti-Semites declared a boycott on doing business with Jews. Polish hooligans rampaged, incited the farmers, and forcibly removed them from the stores of the Jews. After the well-known Pogrom that the ruffians conducted in Przytyk, I finally decided to make aliya to the Land, even though the illegal route was dangerous. I registered, along with my two friends Chaim Kringel and Chaim Goldman, for aliya on a Haapala ship that was organized by Beitar.

This was a secret operation. We made all of our arrangements, and one bright day we received an order to prepare for the journey. I took leave of my home with a broken heart, for I left my mother and two younger brothers behind. However, I hoped that I would be able to set myself up in the Land and after some time they would join me.

We set out by train from Warsaw and reached the port of Constanta, Romania. There we boarded a ship called “Gipel” that bore the Panamanian flag. We were approximately 700 olim, the majority being members of Beitar. The spirits were high. We hoped to arrive at the coast of the Land in ten days and to disembark secretly, as did the Maapilim on the previous ship. However fate had it otherwise. On the night of March 9, 1932, the ship ran aground on a gigantic rock not far from the Island of Crete. The efforts to disengage the boat from the rock ripped a hole in the ship, and water began to seep into the belly of the ship.

We all went up to the deck and received lifejackets. We were ordered to sit quietly and wait in line to be taken off the ship to the lifeboats, with which we would be able to reach the nearby island. The staff determined that the ship would hold out for several more hours, which would be sufficient to transfer all of the passengers. The children, wives and their husband were taken off first, and we younger people were the last ones. On the island of Crete we watched

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our ship slowly sink. We immediately issued a call for help through the wireless and with colored torches.

Another Haapala ship, the Katina, approached us toward morning. There were approximately 500 passengers on board, the majority of them ill and weakened from the tribulations of the journey through the midst of the sea that had lasted for a long time. Pressed and crowded, we were approximately 1,200 travelers on a ship meant for only 500 people. The Katina set out again to the midst of the sea in order to go to the promised shore. In the meantime, the food was used up, and there was a shortage of drinking water. People began to revolt when the ship stopped someplace for a long time in order to conduct repairs. When the ship set out once again, the captain refused to direct it to the coast of the Land, claiming that the British recognize it and are chasing after it. Then it was decided to change its colors and to paint a new name on it, “Encycla”.

{Photo page 41: Friends taking leave of Chaim Frajdman on the occasion of his making aliya to the Land of Israel. (1930).}

We arrived at the coast of Netanya under the cover of the night. There, people were waiting for us with small fishing boats.

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By morning, they had succeeded in taking down 600 people. The next day, the ship approached the coast once again, but the coastguard suddenly opened fire upon us. We quickly fled and decided to wander around in the midst of the sea once again, with our meager bread and water. During Passover, we once again received an order to approach the coast of the Land. The intention was for the ship to wait afar, while we would descend in small fishing boats. This time, we only succeeded in letting down approximately 300 people. At night we wandered close to the coast. From afar, we saw the lights of the settlement, where we could not go, for we had not received the agreed upon signal from the coast of Netanya. The British police guarded the entire area without intermission. We finally descended on the coast of Kfar Vitkin. The residents of the town received us with open arms. First of all, they prepared warm water for us, and we enjoyed hot showers, which we did not have for all the days that we were on the ship. We also were given a hearty, warm meal. We spent our first night in the Land in the packing houses in the orchards. We woke up early in the morning to the aroma of citrus trees. Egged[1] buses then arrived and took us in groups , along with residents of the Land, to all areas of the Land, some to relatives, and others to Kibbutzim and Moshavot. Thus did we spread out to all areas of the Land, and acclimatized ourselves to the day to day life in the community.

This was on the last day of Passover, 33 years ago.


Responses and Memories

by Vitel Honig

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Our religious fanatics opposed the Zionist idea and the building of the Land based on the verse: “If G-d does not build a house, its workers toil in vain.” Nevertheless, my sister Chana would frequently tell me, “For how long will we sit by this machine and make noise, fly already to Palestine, and we will be able to follow you!” In the interim, the war broke out. My sister fled to Russia and was not able to withstand the difficult living conditions, the cold and the hunger. She did not succeed in joining us in the Land.

*

This was in the year 1935. One Saturday night, our Polish neighbor Janek entered our house, looked at the shutters and said, “Your shutters are not strong enough.” “What should we do?”, we asked. “I do not know”, he answered, “But it would be best to strengthen them, for something is drawing nigh.” I went outside, and saw an unusual light drawing near. It was said that the farmers from Odrzywól had rebelled and were coming to our town. Our youth quickly organized themselves and set out toward them to stop them and to not permit them to

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enter the town. This time, however, it did not result in a clash. The police got involved and prevented our youth from encountering the gentiles.

On one occasion, I had traveled to Odrzywól to sell merchandise. Our customers were mainly farmers, to whom we sold merchandise on credit. We began to collect the debts when the relations between the Jews and the gentiles got more severe. When I found out about the disturbances that broke out in the town, I was in the home of one of our customers. I was told that the farmers destroyed the stalls of the Jews in the market, and added that it was best that I leave the house quickly. I took a thick stick on my way back in order to protect myself in the event of necessity. I traveled to Radom the next day to obtain my passport for travel outside the country. The officials asked me to where I was traveling. I told them, “To Palestine”. The official said, “They are killing Jews in Palestine!” I answered, “I am from Przytyk…”: “That is something else”, added the official, “Go with success.”

*

I once passed the school and saw a Jewish child going out with his mouth dripping blood. His Polish friend had thrown a stone at his face and had wounded him. The principal of the school came and wanted to cover the matter up. I then took hold of the child and walked with him to the doctor to take care of him. I then went to Radom and reported the matter to the journalists.

*

When the Poles imposed a boycott on the Jews, we organized a counter-boycott. We set up work groups of male and female youths to do various jobs that had been done by the Poles up to that time. There was a group of girls to wash the sheets of the Jews, and a group of boys to chop wood. This resulted in the Polish workers themselves rising up against the boycott.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Egged is the name of the Israeli bus company. (See http://www.egged.co.il/Eng/). Return


Factions and Jewish Manners in Przytyk

by Dr. Engineer Shalom Honig, United States

Translated by Jerrold Landau

From Right to Left

There was an abundance of parties in Przytyk – from the extreme right to the extreme left: Aguda, the Communists, and all hues of Zionists. Only one faction was missing – the Bund.

The parties helped greatly with the education of the youth. They gave the youth a weltanschauung and a political orientation. Every party had its own location at which they conducted meetings, lectures, or general social activities. People also gathered in the meeting halls in order to spend time and to debate. Only in the meeting halls was it possible

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to forget the day to day realities, for there it was joyous and life was vibrant. The boys would meet the girls (in those days, this was a violation).

The leaders of the various parties were on a higher level. They would often engage in vibrant debates with each other even outside the walls of the meeting place. This was similar to the Hassidim, where one would not go to the “shtibel” of the other. A Mizrachi member would only rarely go to the meeting hall of Poale Zion to spend the evening; and were a Beitar member to visit the meeting place of Hechalutz – Heaven forbid! However, outside the meeting places, people debated with whom they wished. Everyone believed that they were the sole possessors of the truth, and the proof was that it was written in his newspaper… and his opponent believed the opposite – and he too was right according to his newspaper…

The debaters remained good friends even though the debates were conducted with great fervor. However only someone who belonged to the same party and the same organization was a true friend[1]. Nevertheless, incidents occurred on occasion. The Beitar members brought a speaker who lectured in the synagogue. An acquaintance of mine who was a member of Beitar noticed that too many members of the opposition came. He asked me a few minutes before the speech, “Shalom, are you going to disturb us?” I did not answer. Half of the speech passed peacefully. However, when the speaker was asked a question and his answer did not satisfy us, we began to sing Hatikva. Of course, everyone was forced to sing the national hymn. However, incidents such as this were rare.

Another incident took place on a summer evening. We gathered in groups in the market square and debated. Yudel Warszawsky, a Communist, said (referring to Michael Pacanowsky), “The adults are already lost, but it is most unfortunate that many of the youths are getting lost in Mapai”. Pacanowsky, a Poale Zion member, was embarrassed and left the group of debaters.

One question during the time of the speech remains in my memory. The questioner was Rafael Honig (later one of the accused in the trial of Przytyk). He asked, “Are we required to build the Land of Israel with capital? How do you wish to build a Socialist state with capital?” He meant, “One does not have to build…”

Every party conducted educational-cultural work. The chairman or the leader would present lectures, conduct discussions, and explain the stance of the party with respect to various problems, both Jewish and general. The most enlightened members would lecture in the meeting hall about Hebrew and Jewish history. Every organization also had its own library.

The parties often participated in joint efforts – to compose a common list for the elections to the town council, to the Zionist Congress, and the like. Chaim Blachaj of Mizrachi did not always feel right when he had to deal with a member of Poale Zion. Can it be, a Jewish merchant, and he is a simple worker?

During the Przytyk Pogrom, all of the parties cooperated very well together, from the extreme right to the extreme left, in organizing the self defense.

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{Photo page 45: A group of members of Poale Zion – 1935.}

The Hassidic Shtibels

Even though the town was small, there were many Hassidic Shtibels, aside from the Beis Midrash and the synagogue. They were not only used for worship. They were open all day, and anyone who had free time would come in to study a page of Gemara, or just to look into a book.

For the Hassidim, the importance of the individual was very great. The Hassidic shtibel with its “professional” affiliation, contributed greatly to the forging of a group in which an individual would not feel himself as forgotten, but rather as someone with equal rights. In his shtibel, with its homey group, everyone knew each other and related to each other in a friendly manner. Everyone was close to the next person like a family member. In the Ger Shtibel or another such holy place, they would not recite the Shacharit service on the Sabbath if Yaakov was missing. If Yaakov had not arrived and the time for the services had arrived, they would send a child to him to inform him that the congregation is waiting for him.

The largest Shtibels were of the Hassidim of Ger and Worka. Very Orthodox people, Torah scholars, worshipped there. The Worka Hassidim were quite poor, whereas the Hassidim of Ger were surer of themselves in the merit of their Admor.

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The Admor of Worka came to Przytyk once. It was obviously a great honor for the town in general, and for the Worka Hassidim in particular. Great honor was extended to the Admor. The Sabbath was conducted appropriately with all of its details and a traditional Melave Malka (Post Sabbath meal) was conducted afterward. Then, the mundane matters began: asking the Rebbe and taking council with him on matters of livelihood, health, marriage matches, and the like.

The shochet came to the Admor with a note of petition in his hand. His son David was not following the straight path. The situation came to the point where Davidl would ride a bicycle – not on the Sabbath, Heaven forbid, but rather on a weekday – instead of sitting next to a page of Gemara… The father brought his Davidl to the Rebbe. Davidl was apparently not as humble as his father, so he permitted himself to ask the Admor, “Why are you talking about me so much? Is it a sin that I ride a bicycle?” The Rebbe answered him calmly, “No, it is not a sin to ride on a bicycle, but a bicycle will lead one to sin…”

People would sit and study Torah in the Hassidic shtibels – on weekdays after Mincha and Maariv, and on the Sabbath, after Seuda Shlishit (Third Sabbath meal).

On the festivals, if it was possible, people would travel to the Rebbe to absorb Yiddishkeit and Torah for the entire year.

Many of the Hassidim of Przytyk were merchants. However, there were also tradesmen – simple, pious Jews who would for the most part travel to the Rebbes of Opoczno and Bia³obrzegi.

The rabbi of Przytyk, of blessed memory, was himself the son of Hassidic Rebbe. He had his own shtibel. He was very particular, especially with the reading of the Shema and the Shmone Esrei, to pronounce every letter clearly, and not to mix up a zayin with a samech or a beit with a dagesh with a feh without a dagesh. A simple Jew, Natan the shoemaker, was apparently influenced by the rabbi, and would spend a long time at prayer. The rabbi would worship in the synagogue along with the masses only on the High Holy Days.

The holiday of Simchat Torah was a great day for the children. On the evening of the holiday, they would follow after the people carrying the Torah scrolls, carrying flags with candles stuck on top. For the Hakafot (Torah processions), they would go from the rabbi's shtibel, via Radom Street, to the Beis Midrash. During the time of the reading of the Torah on Simchat Torah day, the younger people would make a great deal of noise. They would honor the person being called up to the Torah with pinches. The rabbi himself would stand behind the Torah reader in order to save the victim from the pranks of the youngsters. That was the only way to prevent the children from carrying out their tricks.

There was once a great center of Polish Hassidism in the town of Przysucha, not far from Przytyk. The “Yid Hakadosh” (Holy Jew) lived there. The Rebbe of Opoczno, a relative of the Yid Hakadosh, had many children in our town. My father, Yoel Honig of blessed memory, an observant Jew, would generally travel to the Rebbe in Opoczno for the High Holy Days. Of course, an Orthodox Jew did his best to educate his children in Judaism. He would indeed take me to the Rebbe when I was a child. To my surprise, instead of finding an atmosphere of dogmatism and adoration as I had imagined, I found an atmosphere of camaraderie. Along with the Rebbe, there was the impression of a large royal family. It was especially

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possible to sense this on the night following Yom Kippur, as we took leave of the Rebbe, and took counsel from him on matters of livelihood, health and other very intimate matters, just as one would do with a very close friend.

Another Admor, a relative of the Rebbe of Opoczno, went to the Land of Israel. He told over the explanation of the Rebbe of the verse “And a Redeemer shall come unto Zion” – a redeemer will come to Zion, therefore the Jews must travel to Zion to await the redeemer there.

The relatives of the rabbi of Przytyk and the Hassidim would speak with reverence about the Rebbe in the Land of Israel.

Peace and contentment pervaded in the house of the Admor. Every Hassid was received as a member of the family. When my father left the house of the Rebbe, he took along with him a portion of the wonderful world and the atmosphere that pervaded in his house. The Hassidim of other Admorim, of Ger and Worka, certainly felt the same way. After they made a pilgrimage to their Rebbe, they would bring back with them to Przytyk an enhanced faith, more Judaism and more humanity.

The Mikva (Ritual bath) of Przytyk

On all the days of the week, not too many people were involved with the mikva, but the situation was entirely different on Fridays. On a regular day, when someone asked where is the mikva, they would be told that the mikva was next to the Beis Midrash or the synagogue, or next to the river. On the other hand, there was no need to ask any questions on Friday afternoons – it was possible to follow after any Jew or group of Jews and go straight to the mikva.

The Sabbath began in Przytyk when a Jew would take a clean cloak and undergarments (the more progressive people would also take a piece of soap and a towel), and go the mikva. Sometimes one had to wait a bit in the hallway, for the mikva was full of Jews.

The Jews would remove the worries of the week from themselves in the mikva. Warmth and pleasure would spread over the entire body. The hot vapors would cover the body like a dense cloud, and transform the weary body from the weekday worries to a higher world, to the sublime worlds of purity and holiness. The experience of the mikva, the atmosphere and the spirit, were something special. Wooden jugs with hot water; the exceptional heat inside, when it was extremely cold outside, the dense cloud – all of this created the atmosphere of a unique place and a one-of-a-kind event.

And what about the private whippings with the broom of pine twigs! The groans and the moans, the experience of sublime pleasure. The red body straightened out and relaxed after a week of subjugation. Even a dead person would come to life in the mikva. Thus did a perplexed and downtrodden Jew merit a brief amount of enjoyment in his life…

As long as there was still time left before the Kabbalat Shabbat service, it was possible to still find a place to put down the old weekday clothes and the clean linens. The water of the mikva was clear and translucent. About a half an hour before candle lighting, when latecomers came in significant numbers – there was already no

[Page 48]

more room for clothes, so acquaintances and relatives put the clothes one atop the other. There was already a shortage of jugs, and the water in the mikva became progressively darker. However, the water was always hot. The bath attendant did not skimp on wood.

The Jews got dressed quickly. The mikva emptied itself out of the washed-up, wet-haired Jews, with red faces and calm nerves. The town made its final preparations for the Sabbath. People polished their shoes, put on the Sabbath clothing, and went to worship in the Beis Midrash, the synagogue or the shtibels together with their sons.

Under the conditions in which the Jews lived in the small towns, in small dwellings, without bathrooms, the mikva afforded them the opportunity to wash up properly. The mikva, despite all of its deficiencies, was not only a place for immersion and washing, but also created a unique atmosphere which helped turn the weekday atmosphere into the festive Sabbath atmosphere.

When our parents, dressed in clean clothes, went with us children to the synagogue or the shtibels, the spirit was sublime. The recitation of Lechu Neranena and Lecha Dodi[2] were indeed an example of “with all of my limbs I shall speak”[3] – for all of the limbs, all of the bones, the entire body was transferred to a supernal world by stripping itself of physicality, entering into the restful Sabbath, the Sabbath queen.

Free Time in a Small Town

There was no movie theater in town and only a few people had radios. However, the Jews of Przytyk spent their free time very well. Perhaps it was because there was no movie theater in town and radios were hard to find that the Jews were particularly close to each other, and came into contact with each other with greater frequency. They gathered together to hear news and then interpret it. It was sufficient to go out to the street and participate in some sort of circle – why would one have to make an effort to listen to the radio in Polish? The most important thing was the constant question in interpretation of the news, “Is it good for the Jews?” This was impossible to determine from the Polish radio. On the other hand, in a group, in a circle in the middle of the market square, it was possible to listen to the words of the expert who had read “Heint” or “Moment” that day, or had read something else, or had snatched a glance of “Folkszeitung”. Those who only read the Aguda newspaper “Tagblatt” discussed politics in the shtibel or in their circles. Thus, anyone who merely went outside could immediately know what was going on in the wide world, what was the situation with the Jews in this land or another land, and would hear other words of commentary from the teller.

Such a circle was a form of public domain, for anyone was free to enter. It was sufficient to approach, to listen to the speaker, and even to not pay attention until the end, for one to be able to interject a few words (his two cents – as we called it). Democracy pervaded 100%.

More serious discussions about politics or personal matters were conducted between close friends

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who walked to and fro in the market square for hours on end. There, a person would pour out his heart to his friend, or they would simply converse and thereby catch some fresh air.

The youths did not suffice themselves with the air of the town. They required a larger space, so they went out of the town. The usual strolling places were the routes that led to the pine grove. There one could sing various songs uninterruptedly and conduct group discussions. The largest processions outside the bounds of the town took place on Sabbath afternoons and in the evenings. The youth were not particularly concerned with the fact that they were going outside the Sabbath boundary[4]. The older people restricted themselves to conversation in the market square or in a short stroll outside the town.

Other places where the young people spent fine afternoons on the Sabbath were the river and also the meadow behind the synagogue and the Beis Midrash in the direction of Itche Meir's mill. There were all types of devices near the mill – bolts, water conduits, dams – and all this was located in the wide, green meadows. This was a special attraction for the youths. The Jews did not feel themselves completely secure in this area. There were already farmers' homes with dogs in the area – it was a strange territory… The Jews only went to the villages for the purposes of livelihood – to buy and sell. The river which virtually embraced the town of Przytyk in its arms was a unique attraction, especially the place in the meadow behind the Beis Midrash and the synagogue, next to Itche Meir's mill. During the hot summer days, people would go there to cool down a bit and also to catch some sun rays, which could not always be found in the narrow alleyways and the small, crowded houses.

Men and women bathed separately at a distance of 100 meters from each other. The women wore long bathing suits and the men wore swim trunks. The Hassidim, both adults and youths, would bathe in their birthday suits. I recall that Yisrael Yitzchak, an Orthodox young adult, explained to the Hassidic youths that a Jew must not be embarrassed of the sex organ, for the holy Zohar says, “The sign of the holy covenant”. During those good days it was possible to jump into the water as a free person, without rags on the body.

The youths would also play basketball. However, these were for the most part the more “liberated” people. The children of the Orthodox Jews did not permit themselves to have fun, and did not waste their time chasing after a ball. A religious Jew made a Talmudic calculation: in any case, if they hate the ball, why do they chase after it? And if they like it – why do they kick it far away?

There were also organized basketball games. These were under the auspices of organizations or parties. The parties also organized dance evenings. The professional union participated in modern dance and the Zionist parties participated in pioneering dances. The Hassidic circles had their own methods of enjoyment. They would open a bottle of beer, fold up the kapotes, make a large circle, and dance enthusiastically to Hassidic tunes.

There were not many Jews who knew how to draw or to play the violin, but everyone sang, each according to

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his party or his political affiliation. Each one had their own melodies and songs. The leftists sung revolutionary songs; the citizens groups sang nationalist songs; the Zionists sang Hebrew songs; The Hassidim and the religious youth sang the melodies of Modzitz and Ger. They seriously studied the cantorial tunes from the prayer service, such as “Kevakarat Roeh Edro” before the High Holy Days and “Shoshanat Yaakov” before Purim.

Singing in public, an activity in which everybody could participate, had great educational value. It gave a feeling of group affiliation and raised the esteem of each individual.

Everything came to an end with the arrival of the German troops in Przytyk in September, 1939.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A different Hebrew word is used for 'friend' in each of these two sentences. These words, 'yedid' and 'chaver' can be considered synonymous in Hebrew, however the usage in the second sentence implies a closer friendship, hence 'true friend'. Return
  2. Sections of the Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming the Sabbath) service. Return
  3. Psalms 35:10. (See http://www.egged.co.il/Eng/). Return
  4. On the Sabbath, it is forbidden to go more than 2000 cubits outside of the bounds of a residential area. This limit is known as the 'Sabbath boundary'. (See http://www.egged.co.il/Eng/). Return

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