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[Page 157]

B. Events in Przytyk – March 1936

 

The Town is Burning
Thirty Years since the Disturbances and Self-Defense in Przytyk

by David Shtokfish, Ramat Gan

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The nation turned the song “S'Brent” (It is Burning)[1] -- a call of alarm about a Jewish town that is burning -- by the poet and songwriter M. Gebirtig, who was murdered by the Nazis in Krakow, into a hymn of the Holocaust days. However the truth is that this song is connected to the “fire” in Przytyk and served as a sort of prophecy of a fire seventyfold in size, the great destruction that overtook one third of our nation.

Already during the 1930s, the ground was burning beneath the feet of the Jews of Poland. The fire that the anti-Semitic “Endeks” and the rioters from the “Nara” ignited, was fanned by the “contrarian” politics of the interior minister Sklodkowski (“Not Pogroms, but a reaction against the Jews -- on the contrary, on the contrary”), as well as the pretext of “human extortion” -- a new “warming” toward Poland's large western neighbor, Nazi Germany. They wanted to seat the Jewish students of the upper schools on special “Jewish” benches, and to expel the Jewish tradesman and poor peddlers from the fairs and markets.

On this fertile land, the Przytyk pogrom broke out 30 years ago. However, there was another side to that coin -- organized Jewish opposition and self-defense, with consciousness, resoluteness and consistency. That revolt against the hoodlums was so strong and effective that the Germans turned mountains in order to research the reasons for the Jewish opposition in Przytyk and the forces that stood behind it during the Wannasee Conference in which the “Final Solution” was decided.

There were 400 families in that town, in the Radom region, district of Kielce, 90% of whom were Jewish. It was specifically such a settlement that the anti-Semites chose to “purify from Jews”. During 1934-1935, wild anti-Semitic incitement took place in that region. This started with declarations and newspaper articles that called upon the population to purchase only from Poles, and continued with the placing of guards near Jewish stores and stalls, continued wild attacks in the nearby villages of Odsziwul and Kojf, until the turn came for the large pogrom in Przytyk itself.

They Did not Rely on Government “Assistance”

It took place on March 9, 1936, on Shushan Purim (the day after Purim). At first, the incited farmers and drunk riffraff rampaged in the suburbs of Podgajek and Piaski. Armed with sticks, poles, threshing sledges, stones, and some with guns, they broke into Jewish homes, cracked skulls, broke furniture and windows, dished out blows, and sowed ruin and destruction. They had no mercy on the elderly or children. The murderousness

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continued to the point where they threatened the shoemaker Yosef Minkowski and his wife Chaya. Later, they rolled the deathly frightened children from under the bed and beat them with murderous blows.

It seems that with the death of Minkowski, some of the beastly passion of the ruffians was quenched. The murderous deeds ceased. However, in the center of town, in the marketplace itself, the Jews displayed strong resistance. The Orthodox youth Shalom Lasko, approximately 20 years old, even shot a revolver. One of the farmers slunk down dead. The youths of Przytyk were prepared spiritually and practically for opposition, and the masses of farmers fled for their lives in the face of the strong Jews. Our Jewish brethren in Przytyk did not rely on the police and certainly not on the district governor, who responded with enmity and coldness to every Jewish delegation that turned to him before the pogrom: “At this time, there are no more victims”...

{Photo page 158: The funeral of Chaya Minkowski in Radom, 1936.}

Yitzchak Freidman, one of the most important of the self-defense organizers in Przytyk (today in Israel), would state that the representatives of the Polish Socialist Party (P. P. S.), the

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Farmers' Party, as well as the Communists and liberal Poles joined together with the Jews and were prepared to assist in the battle against the hooligans.

The spirit of opposition was so rooted in Jewish Przytyk, that even the 68-year-old accused Leizer Feldberg pointed out strongly to his judge, “Even were you, Your Honor, to have harmed me, I would have defended myself.”

The episode in Przytyk caused a great echo in Poland and throughout the world. The Jews of Poland even organized a one day protest strike. The Joint[2] arranged assistance for the victims. The Jewish Agency granted certificates to the Minkowski orphans, enabling them to make aliya to the Land of Israel.

Equating the Ruffians with the Victims

Three investigations were conducted regarding the disturbances in Przytyk: in the district court of Radom, in the appeals court of Lublin, and in the supreme court in Warsaw. In the first investigation, 44 Poles and 14 Jews sat in the accused dock. 320 Poles and 80 Jews were called to testify. Severe verdicts were issued that did not differentiate between the attackers and the victims. This can be seen from the words of the well-known economist and sociologist Yaakov Lescinski about the content of the writ of accusation:

The Jews were the first to be accused. It begins as follows: “The Jews Yaakov-Avraham Choberberg, Leizer Feldberg, Yankel Zajda... are accused that, simultaneous to the confrontation between the police and the farmers, they attacked the farmers who had begun to return to their homes. They beat them with sticks and other implements, and threw stones at them in such a manner that they wounded (a list of the names of farmers is given here). As a result of this, they had bruises and sores on their bodies...”

In the court, the lawyers “the Jewish gluttons” -- including also the grandson of the well-known apostate Kroizhauer -- pitted themselves against the Jewish defense attorneys Berenson, Ittinger, Margolis, Kreiger, headed by the noble Polish Professor Petrosowicz and Szymanski.

Even before the judges issued a verdict of many years of imprisonment, the anti-Semitic newspapers gleefully published the verdict upon the Jewish community of Poland and on Jewish Przytyk. On March 25, 1936, the following was written in Dziennik Nardowy: “It is possible to live without Jews”. Another anti-Semitic newspaper exclaimed, “We can assume that a pure Polish Przytyk will arise in place of Jewish Przytyk.”

Bitterness and Fear of the Journey

To our tragedy, the Satanic prophesies of the Polish anti-Semites were fulfilled. However, they themselves did not carry out “the purification of Poland from Jews”, but rather the enemy of their homeland -- Hitlerist Germany. Its troops trampled, enslaved, drowned it in rivers of blood, and turned it into the center for their annihilation of the Jews. Five years after the pogrom, Przytyk was indeed “Judenrein”. However, along with the expulsion of the entire Jewish population, the Poles were also expelled. This was perpetrated with the same cruelty

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against both peoples by the Nazi conquerors, for they wanted to turn Przytyk into a giant training field for the German Air Force, which was to have a special role in the preparation for the invasion of the Soviet Union.

One year later, the German government is again mentioned in Przytyk, this time with respect to a specific Jew, even though there were already no Jews there.

In the “Bulletin of the Jewish Historical Society” (Warsaw, 1955, July-December edition) A. Rotkowski tells that when the Germans deliberated about the “final solution” to the Jewish question, they wanted to research the factors surrounding the Jewish opposition in Przytyk in 1936. Questions reached the Judenrat in Radom from Krakow, the seat of the Generalegouvernement, about how the Jews of Przytyk carried out their self-defense. “The well-known events in Przytyk came to light again in the world during the Nazi occupation in 1942, and took on a unique connotation -- the deathly fear of the Germans about the possibility of Jewish resistance”, writes A. Rotkowski.

In his song, Gebirtig requests that the Jewish brethren not stand by with folded hands, but rather extinguish the fire that took hold in the town. He did this with the knowledge that our Jewish brethren in Przytyk did not stand at the side, but rather did attempt to put out the fire. There is no doubt that the resoluteness of heart of the members of the self-defense in that town imparted encouragement to the ghetto fighters and members of the Jewish resistance during the time of the Nazi occupation.

Indeed, Przytyk was not only a bitter point in our history -- but was also a guide.

(“Al Hamishmar”, Tel Aviv, March 14, 1966)


[Page 160]

Our Self-Defense

by Yitzchak Friedman, Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Przytyk had 500 familles, 90% of whom were Jewish. Several German landowners also lived in that town. The Jews occupied themselves with business, labor and trades, and also earned their livelihood by going to the villages for commerce. Some also engaged in agriculture.

When Poland gained its independence after the First World War, the youth of Przytyk established a “union” without any political or factional leaning. Only later did the Zionist movement and the workers' movement begin to crystallize.

At first Hashomer was the strongest Zionist faction. Its main activity was in the promotion of the value of aliya to the Land of Israel. On the other hand, the workers movement began to develop

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Newspaper article with photos:

From the Yiddish daily newspaper during the time of the court case in Przytyk - photos and names of the Jewish accused, along with their verdicts: Yechiel Shalom Lasko (top right) -8 years of prison; Eliezer Kerszenzweig (top center) -- 6 years of prison; Eliezer Feldberg (top left) -- 10 months; Yitzchak Friedman (middle right, not mentioned in caption) -- 5 years; Yisrael Kerszenzweig (middle center) -- 5 years; Yaakov Borensztejn (middle left) -- freed; Yitzchak Banda (bottom, not mentioned in caption) -- 8 months.

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Avraham Yaakov Haberberg (top) -- 8 months. Moshe Fuerszt (middle right) -- 6 months; Leib Lenga (middle left) -- 8 months; Shaul Krengel (bottom right) -- 6 months; Rafael Honig (bottom left) -- 6 months.

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with the influence of the Bund. The workers' factions conducted their activities primarily in the realm of culture and professions. Numerically the two movements were equal, but the influence of the Zionists was felt more strongly in the town. Thanks to this, several Przytyk youths succeeded in making aliya to the Land of Israel.

The Zionist organization continued to expand to the point where it included an entire row of parties, such as: Mizrachi, Beitar, General Zionists, and Poalei Zion. Even the Poale Agudat Yisrael party in our town was considered to be close to Zionism. Each group conducted its separate cultural and sporting activities.

The radicalization trend of the Jewish youth did not pass over Przytyk. A communist party arose. Even the middle class of the town organized themselves into merchants' unions and trade unions, the activity of which was primarily social and societal.

Anti-Semitic incitement increased throughout the entire region during the 1930s. Endek picketers would stand with sticks near the Jewish businesses and shops in the town, especially on market days, and perpetrate incidents and clashes. Police intervention was not very helpful. The hooligans completely ignored the six Przytyk policemen and were not even afraid of the Radom police who at times acted with resoluteness since the entire region was controlled by the Endeks, which was not to the liking of the Sanacja police.

Witnessing the growth of the Endek bands and the inability or unwillingness of the police to intervene, the Jewish youth of the town reached the unanimous conclusion that they must create a self-defense group in order to not leave Jewish lives and property to abandon. The anti-Semites in the town itself were not so organized and strong, but were assisted by the anti-Semites of the surrounding towns of Kojf , Odsziwul, Dziewice, Opoczne, Nowe Miasto, and Kosuw.

On one occasion, we received news that on a Friday in September 1935, the Endeks were planning a “March on Przytyk” in order to drive out the Jews. On the designated day, the anti-Semites, in accordance with military fashion, barricaded the highway from Radom in several places in order to prevent police assistance from the regional city. However, the Jews also did not stand idly by and did not intend to rely on the police. The already organized self-defense, whose spirited kernel consisted of over 20 energetic youths, armed with brass knuckles, revolvers and sticks, and who had the ability to mobilize several hundred battle-ready and able Jews in case of need. (The writer of these lines was a leader of the self-defense.) The members received detailed instructions about where to be and how to react to any possible provocation and conflict. It seems that those who were to march in Przytyk had accurate information about our decision to launch resistance. At the last minute, they backed down from their plan…

We must note that many members of the P.P.S. and ordinary liberal Poles helped a great deal with propaganda and explanations in fighting against the anti-Semitic pestilence in Przytyk and the region.


[Page 164]

In the Dwelling of the Minkowski

by Sh. Berlinski

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I was led through the now famous Warsaw Lane in Przytyk, where the historic Monday played itself out. The houses on the lane were low and faded. They looked so poignant, with their new, small windows. Before the eyes, one could see the newly installed shutters and doors in the kitchens. From the renovations, one could figure out where the hooligans had perpetrated their acts. If you see new windows and shutters, it is a sign that they “extended their work” in that area. If you also see new doors, it is a sign that a more serious event took place there.

The house in which the Minkowskis had lived was indeed completely renovated.

A daughter of the Minkowskis brought the key and opened for me the door of the home in which they had lived. I do not know why my eye rested upon the crushed straw that lay scattered around the beds. A bed sheet with streaks of blood was hanging on the wall near the beds. There was also a jacket of the Minkowskis that was splattered with blood, and on the floor – blood, blood, blood… I could not take my eyes off the footsteps in the straw, apparently human steps made by boots, which had their effect. Things were so poignant here that the smallest scratch, even a crease, tells one about everything… I have read that hunters in the wild jungles also learn from footsteps -- the footsteps of beasts of prey: what type of struggle took place here, who tore up whom? Where did they flee with the spoils? The footsteps in the jungle were indeed an open book. I also feel the same atmosphere here in Minkowski's room.

The room, I would say, was divided into two parts. One part contained a broken table, broken beds, and broken doors and windows. The second side, as it seems to me, was the peaceful side. There was the home life of the Minkowski family. I want to state the truth, that the second side had no less of an effect on me. I imagine: a noodle board was hanging on the wall, a poor, Jewish noodle board, with dark kneaded dough, certainly from coarse meal, for a pair of little cakes for the Sabbath. There was a lantern on the stove with broken panes. The Minkowski's daughter told me that the lantern belonged to her younger brother, which he used to come home from cheder. Now it stood with all four panes open…

And now the “ornaments” in the house: a towel container on the wall. A gypsum figure of a girl lay in the straw. The figure lay on it side and was smiling foolishly…

A piece of pipe was hanging on a wire in the room and crying out with such a black mouth, telling how it became broken in the middle.

There was the meager shoe workshop… A menacing fear raced forth from there. An awl

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A flyer summoning Polish Jewry to a protest and solidarity strike after the disturbances of Przytyk and the murder of the Minkowski couple.

The text is as follows:

Yosef and Chaya
Minkowski of blessed memory
Murdered in Przytyk
On March 9, 1936

Today -- a protest
And solidarity strike
For the entire Polish
Jewry! In memory
Of the fallen martyrs and
As an expression of solidarity
With the surviving victims of Przytyk
In protest against the waves of
Anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic terror.
To fight against all
Decrees of extermination.
For full equal rights for the Jewish
People. For the right to life, existence
And work for the Jewish masses in Poland.

lay there with its prong facing upward ... waiting. For what? For boots? For leather? Who knows what the pointed tools are waiting for today?

A shoemaker's bench was upside down with the three foot forms atop. Thus did it lie helpless, like a bound calf… It was saying: turn me right side up, and I will lie…

*

I entered a wooden house immersed in hominess. It was the anguished house.

A short, wrinkled, old woman was standing near the stove. The wrinkles covered her entire face, as if scratched by a thread – one next to the other… These are not a deep slices of life. The years took their toll on her face as if on a tree.

The wife of a small-town Jewish tradesman knows all of the sorrows and joys of such a life. The 70-year-old Keila had a husband until not too long ago.

Since that day when her son was murdered, her face was hardened with weeping. Her face had hardened like a shell, having already endured all the tribulations of life, but now it was weeping, as if afflicted constantly. Her mouth with the bare gums was half open. Her wrinkles on her face formed themselves. Her motherly eyes were blinking, and one could not tell when she was weeping and when she was not.

What did I not want to ask her? How old was she, from what does she live on, how many children she has, how does she feel? She looked at me with her weeping face.

Is this a wonder? An ax had been placed before the old woman's eyes, an ax that will never go away. “Since”, she said, “they told in the 'Sond' (the court) that her Yossele was murdered with an ax, the ax stands before my eyes. I wake up at night, and the ax falls upon me… I go into a corner – I see the ax. I go into the storage room to get a piece of wood. I run back: I saw the ax…”

The little house where the murder took place stands nearby. The old woman laments: “I cannot go at all to see Yossele's room. I set out for it ten times and my feet were unwilling to take me there, so I return…”

This old woman -- with her face before me, each and every wrinkle weeping separately -- will not merit to have a son weep for the mother...

(From the YIVO archives, New York).


[Page 167]

It is Burning

by M. Gebirtig

(Written in 1936, after the disturbances in Przytyk.)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

It is burning, oh brothers, it is burning!
Our poor town is unfortunately burning!
Angry winds are raging
Tearing, breaking, and blowing around --
Everything around is already burning.

And you stand and watch
As our town is burning
And you stand and watch
As our town is burning.

It is burning, oh brothers, it is burning!
Our poor town is unfortunately burning!
The flames of fire have already
Engulfed the entire town
Everything around is already burning.

It is burning, oh brothers, it is burning!
The help can only come from you.
If the town is precious to you --
Take the tools and put out the fire
Put out the fire with your own blood.

Do not stand by, brothers, put out the fire.
For our town is burning.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A Yiddish folk song. For a YouTube version and translation, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chB7w8VRegM. See also http://www.hebrewsongs.com/song-esbrent.htm. This famous folk song was written as a response to the Przytyk pogrom of 1936. The song is included on page 167 of the book, with words slightly different than those in the web page above. Return
  2. Joint Distribution committee. Return
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