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[Pages 1 - 4]

Introduction

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

We, the last survivors of the Shtetl of Ropshitz, have written these pages in order to leave some remembrance of this Shtetl, lest it be forgotten completely.

YIZKOR: Let the People of Israel remember its pure, holy and righteous sons and daughters, who were martyred in the Holocaust in Europe – in face of the apathy of the “enlightened” world.

YIZKOR: Let the People of Israel remember the evil nation of the “superior race” that arose against our people to totally exterminate men, women, and children, for the explicitly declared purpose of completely destroying the Jewish People.

YIZKOR: Let the People of Israel remember those dregs of humanity among the occupied nations, who were accomplices of the Nazi monsters, and who willingly and enthusiastically cooperated in hastening the destruction of our people.

YIZKOR: Let the People of Israel remember, and never forget, from now until the end of all generations, the German Nazis and their satellites, as well as all those who could have protested but did not.

YIZKOR: Let the People of Israel remember the pure, sacred, innocent souls sent to be exterminated by means of frightful, horrible deaths.

May the Lord avenge their death.


[Pages 5 - 6]

From the Publisher

Ita Rosenfeld

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

On the 8th of September, 1984, one day after the 45th anniversary of the capture of Ropshitz, in Galicia, by the Germans, I was approached by my friends, Sarah Avraham and Yehoshua Gold, and asked to publish the collection of pages of remembrance written by people from this Shtetl. A coincidence? Maybe.

For reasons I need not elaborate, these pages had remained untouched for a long time, the pictures turning yellow from the years. There was no one to bring these pages to fruition, to provide the yeast which would cause the dough to rise and turn into bread.

This finished “bread” is now before you. Its aroma is the aroma of days long gone of a small Shtetl. Its darkness reflects the heavy clouds of the Galut (Exile) which hid, for the most part, the rays of the sun. The reader will decide on its taste.

It was with great awe and trembling that I began the task of reading and editing these pages.

In order to provide as clear a picture as possible, I arranged these papers by subject, as follows:

  1. A general picture of the Shtetl, its people and their livelihoods.
  2. The relations between the Jews and their Christian neighbors.
  3. The spiritual characteristics of the community and its educational institutions.
  4. Ropshitz during the Japanese-Russian War and the First World War.
  5. The emergence of Zionism and the beginnings of it fulfillment, i.e. Aliyah to the Land of Israel.
  6. A return to the distant past and to the great Rabbi Naphtali of Ropshitz.
  7. Popular figures in the Shtetl, wise sayings and Hasidic stories.
  8. The Second World War –
        The Jews who participated as soldiers in the War.
        The people of the Shtetl during the occupation.
        Resistance to the Germans.
        The story of a survivor and the terrible discovery.
        The lone testimony of a Christian who helped the Jews.
        Details that are known about the fate of the Jews.
        “El Malay Rachamim” – the biblical “binding of Isaac”.
  9. A visit to Poland in 1967.
  10. Prominent public figures.
  11. Words in memory of families, written by survivors.
  12. List of names of those exterminated.

I must also note that if there are any apparent contradictions in what is written, they are the result of the age differences among the writers. Each one expressed the events as he saw them. The events that occurred are, for the most part, recorded by the writers in keeping with their interpretations and their attempts to avoid hurting anyone's feelings. Many of the writers are, unfortunately, no longer alive.

Every person among the People of Israel is a world unto himself.

Every community in the Galut (Diaspora) is a microcosm of the entire Galut.

A great honor has been bestowed upon me. I wish to thank the many people who have entrusted me with this sacred task.


[Page 7]

From the Carta Encyclopedia
of the Nations of the World

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

Jews from Germany, Bohemia and Russia settled in Poland in the 9th century. The first document attesting to the presence of Jews in Poland is dated 1185. Hebrew script on coins from the 12th century is evidence of the fact that Jews were responsible for the minting of coins in Poland.

In 1264 King Boleslaw granted privileges to the Jews, and in 1334 privileges were also obtained from King Kazimierz III (“The Great”). The Jews were persecuted during the early years of the Jagiellonowie dynasty, and in 1420 the Church published anti-Semitic edicts. Periods of freedom and prosperity alternated with periods of persecution and expulsion. On the eve of the first partition of Poland (1772), about two thirds of world Jewry lived in Poland – about 588,000 (including Lithuania).

By the end of the 19th century the number of Jews in Poland reached 1,300,000, and by the eve of the First World War about two million. On the eve of the Second World War, Poland had the second largest Jewish population in the world, about three and a quarter million, second only to the United States.
Starting from the 16th century Jewish culture blossomed in Poland. Many great Rabbis and scholars appeared, and the Hasidic movement developed. The period between the two World Wars was a period of flourishing spiritual life, including Zionist activity of all types.
During the Second World War the Jews of Poland fought the Nazis with bravery, including the revolt of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. Many of the Jews of Poland fled to the West or to the Soviet Union and were thus saved. About three million, 90% of Poland's Jews, however, were exterminated. Thus came to an end one of the most important Jewish communities in the history of the People of Israel. After the war there were several waves of Jewish emigration, the last of which was in 1968 following an increase in anti-Semitism. Today about 8,000 Jews live in Poland.


[Pages 8 - 10]

Ropshitz

by Sarah Gold Avraham

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

The town of Ropshitz is in the south-western part of Poland, on the main road from Krakow to Lwow, at the foot of the tall mountains of Poland, the Carpathians.

When one comes by train, from either direction, one doesn't notice the town at all; it is hidden among the hills. Only after a journey of about a quarter of an hour from the train station (in the wagon of Fishel Berger, of course!) one can discern the steeple and cross of the church. After about another quarter of an hour one sees the first houses which are inhabited by Christians. On the left side of the street is the boys' school, and on the right side the bridge over the artificial tributary of the Wielopolka made by the father of the miller Shnaps for his flour mill. The dam on the river is a kilometer to the west; it is called “Hoyz”. After crossing the bridge one sees the beautiful church and the beginning of the Jewish part of the city, with its narrow streets and small stores, mainly of small wares, and one comes upon the large central square. Around the square are single-storey Jewish homes and stores, with one or two two-storey houses which were built after the First World War. The square is crossed by the main street of the city, which leads to the town of Sendishov (Sedzisow) to the east, and to Wielopole to the west. The entire town is enveloped in greenery. On one side is the forest, with its romantic meeting places for young people, and on the other side is the building of the Zionist Organization. The Organization acquired the building as a donation from a Jew (whose name was Sinai) who emigrated to the United States.

The Wielopolka River surrounds the city like a ribbon. When one reaches the second bridge, this time over the natural river, one sees the Jewish street. At the end of the street is the Rabbi's house, the synagogue and the study hall. The street, which in the winter is entirely mud, is very densely populated with wooden houses. On one side are the town's poor, and on part of the other side are the distinguished rabbis. There are also “Heders” and a “Talmud Torah”. In the synagogue, which is where the artisans pray, prayer services take place only on the Sabbath and Holidays. The walls of the synagogue are covered with beautiful paintings of animals and birds, painted by artists. The partition of the women's section is made of wood, made like a screen with engraved flowers and leaves. On the Rosh Hashanah holiday, for the shofar blowing, and on the Sukkot holiday, for the Hakafot (the joyful dancing around the synagogue with the Torah scrolls), the courtyards of both houses of worship were filled with women and young girls – an opportunity for starting a romance.

The town was founded about 600 years ago. There apparently were Jews among the founders, since the capital of Poland in those days was Krakow, and it is about 250 years since King Kazimierz the Great allowed the Jews, who were persecuted and victims of pogroms, to enter his kingdom (of course in exchange for payment for each one [“kopfstier”]). History tells us that this king, who had a Jewish concubine named Esther, inherited a poor kingdom of wooden shacks, and built it up with splendid edifices by means of the money he took from the Jews.

Most of the population of the center of the town were Jews; only a small number of the shops were owned by non-Jews. They earned a meager living by trade. There also were artisans, such as tailors, hatters, and the owner of a brush factory. There also were lawyers, a physician, a dentist, a pharmacist, and even a judge in the local court. Most of the people were literate, among them great scholars. There also were University and Seminary graduates. The city was known for its cultured youth who learned in Yeshivot and also in Polish schools. The town also had a Hebrew School where boys and girls learned Hebrew, Bible, Jewish history and literature. The building also had a library.

How great is the sorrow that only a very few of these wonderful youths survived the Holocaust. The survivors were the few who fled to Russia at the beginning of the war, and those who had already come to Palestine as “halutzim” (pioneers).


[Pages 11 - 12]

My Shtetl

by Miriam Kurtz (Bar Haim)—Kfar Maas

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

At the foot of the Carpathian mountains, on the road from Krakow to Lwow, between Tarnow and Rzeszow, lies a small city called Ropshitz (Ropczyce) -- in the province of Krakow, Galicia at the time of the Austrian rule.

Its name is derived from “ropsha”, meaning crude oil, although oil was not to be found there. The Jews were allowed to live only in a restricted area, and continued to live there to our time. Since the city was located on the main road it was exposed to all kinds of violence and suffered from all the wars, including those with the Turks, the Tartars and the Swedes. During the First World War the Russians set fire to the city, completely destroying it. Our house was among the houses that were burned down. The Germans completed the destruction in the Second World War.

Aside from the tragic consequences of the wars, there was destruction of property due to fires, large and small. The previous generation designated periods of time according to large fires and small fires.

Ropshitz was notable for its fairs which took place every week, every month and every year. There was one particular fair which lasted several days and which attracted people from all over Poland and which featured a wide variety of wares. These fairs contributed to the livelihood of the merchants and small shop owners.

In truth, the city was lacking in many aspects. The train station was 4 kilometers from the city. When the railroad was built the Christians would not permit their land to be split up, and they also were afraid of that “strange contraption”. The city had no electricity or plumbing. There were no small or large industries. Agriculture was carried out by primitive means. There were no places of entertainment.

The Jews established their own community services and institutions. There was a synagogue, as well as smaller study halls, a bath house and a slaughter house, and its community services included the Rabbinate and welfare services, including visiting the sick. The people were poor but G-d fearing, modest and honest, and were learned in the Torah. The youth were taught by teachers (“melamdim”) in a “Heder”, as well as studying in the synagogue. It wasn't until the 19th century that they started to learn in government schools. They studied Hebrew with private teachers until a school for teaching Hebrew was opened.

The Jews were small merchants. The meager livelihood they earned was later compromised even further by the opening of large stores and agricultural cooperatives. There began to be signs of outright anti-Semitism and the Christians refrained from buying from the Jews. During one of the fairs there was a riot in which Jewish shops were vandalized. Jews were attacked on the trains and their beards cut off. It was mostly the soldiers who were responsible for these acts.

These conditions prompted the youth to try to leave and move to larger cities or to emigrate. Many went to America, to Germany and to Austria, and after the Balfour Declaration there was Aliyah (immigration to the Land of Israel).

The youth thirsted for knowledge and culture. They read a lot and learned on their own as well as with the help of the youth organizations. These were good, modest and progressive young people.

Thus was, and is no longer, the shtetl we grew up in and in which we spent the years of our youth. After the Holocaust nothing was left of this life. Even the gravestones in the cemetery were uprooted and used for paving the sidewalks. Our hearts cry for this community which was totally destroyed.


[Pages 13 - 14]

Relationship With The Christian Population

From the memoirs of Avraham Fessel, Jerusalem

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

I remember that in the beginning of the 20th century all the shops were owned by Jews, except for one which was built by Burstein. The Jews of Ropshitz also built a hotel (Sachar and Levine), a flour mill (Schnaps), and metal workshops. It was the Jews who brought in tools and machines for agriculture, carpentry and other trades (Fessel, Scheinberg). This established more modern methods of work for all the population.

The Jews also settled in the surrounding villages and engaged also in agriculture. The techniques used by the Jews in their work led to the introduction of these modern techniques among their neighbors as well. There were also Jews who leased land from Polish aristocrats and cultivated it with the help of farmers. The relations between these Jews and their workers were better than the treatment they received from the Polish aristocrats. This helped form good relations with the Christians, but this did not reach the level of social relations between them.

In the elementary school we did not feel discrimination, but Jews would not visit the Christians or visa versa. The religious teacher also did not develop any social ties with his Christian counterparts. The two Jews of the city who had higher education, the lawyer Affa and the doctor Brand, also did not have any such social ties, even after they converted to Christianity. The lawyer, whose son learned with me in the “Heder” of Avraham Yehuda, changed his name to “Elvin”, and the doctor, who married a Christian (the daughter of Burstein), did not want to have social relations with the Jews, and so they remained isolated.

The Jews actively participated in the politics of the city and of the country. There were several Jews on the City Council, and one of them, Aharon Zeiden, served as assistant mayor of the city for many years. Jews also served as other government officials such as the head of the postal service, the head of the tax bureau and the chief of the railroad station, but they remained isolated because the Jews did not want to be friendly with them because of their tendency toward assimilation, and the Christians did not befriend them either.


[Pages 14 -15]

From the memoirs of Shimon Hirsch

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

When there was a fair in the town, it started early in the morning and lasted until sunset. The farmers from the surrounding villages brought their agricultural produce for sale. With the money they received they would buy supplies that were not available in their villages from the Jewish merchants.

After the First World War, the relations between the Christian population and the Jewish minority were tolerant and liberal. Ropshitz, which was like a small island in the midst of a sea of surrounding Polish villages, lived its traditional life without interference. I remember, for example, that when the first High School opened in the town, a delegation of Jewish parents came to the mayor of the town, who was the founder of the school, and requested that the Jewish pupils be exempted from attending on Shabbat, since the majority of the Jewish population was religious. The mayor granted their request, and we, the Jewish pupils, profited from this arrangement and enjoyed two days off from school, Shabbat and Sunday.

In the last few years before my Aliyah to the Land of Israel in 1934, there began to appear worrisome signs of organized anti-Semitism. An anti-Semitic movement arose and spread throughout all of Poland, including our town. The Polish youth who returned to our town after they had completed their education began to actively incite the Poles against the Jews. The Polish population began to boycott the Jewish merchants, some of them out of fear and some of them willingly, since ant-Semitism was in their blood for generations. In addition, the rise of Hitler and the persecution of the Jews in Germany added further to the poison of Jewish hatred in Poland. The local authorities in Ropshitz, who had acted until then out of sympathy and understanding towards the Jews, ignored all the appeals and requests from the Jewish representatives to intervene. Finally, when war broke out between Poland and Germany, the Poles, who were themselves in critical condition, nevertheless cooperated in exterminating the Jews by turning all of them over to the Germans.

Thus was totally destroyed in the Holocaust a small but wonderful community, one of the hundreds of Jewish communities in Poland. The only Jews who remained alive were those who succeeded in fleeing eastward at the beginning of the war, those who had emigrated to the United States before the war, and the handful of Halutzim (pioneers) who had come to the Land of Israel. We mourn those of our families who were not privileged to join us here, and the majority of the Jews of the Shtetl who were murdered by the Germans with the active help of the Poles.

The memory of the martyrs of Ropshitz will be with us always.

Y'HI ZICHRAM BARUCH (Blessed Be Their Memory).


[Pages 17 -19]

Jewish Life in the Shtetl

by Yaakov Reiss, z'l

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

Torah and secular learning:

The Jews of Ropshitz devoted considerable time to the study of the Torah. There were very learned laymen, among them great scholars who dedicated themselves, without payment, to teaching the youth, many of whom excelled in their studies. At 5 o'clock in the morning, one could find more than ten pairs of students with their teachers learning Torah in the “kloiz”. Learning also took place in the Bet Midrash (Study Hall). In this, Ropshiz stood out above the other towns in the area.

Later, when the newer ideas and philosophies of the “Enlightenment” and Zionism reached our town, our youth excelled in devoting themselves to these movements, in acquiring books and Hebrew newspapers, and in spreading the message of Zionism.

Hasidism:

Ropshitz was a town of Hasidim. A large part of the town, and maybe most of them, were devotees of “Rebbes”, and used to travel to be with them for Shabbat or Holidays, particularly for the High Holidays. Those “Rebbes” who lived not far from our town would come to us once a year, or once in several years, to spend Shabbat with us. When it was announced that a particular “Rebbe” would come to Ropshitz for Shabbat, his Hasidim from many other towns would also come to spend Shabbat with him and honor him with their presence.

I remember when the revered Rabbi Yehoshua from Zikov came to spend Shabbat in our town, around the turn of the century, shortly before his death. I was then a young boy. I went to the home of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Meriles to get a blessing from Rabbi Yehoshua. He made a very strong impression on me, with his handsome, peaceful appearance which radiated wisdom and nobility.

The Rabbi from Plantch also used to visit our town every year or two. He would pray and hold his traditional reception around a festive table in the “kloiz”. His visit was always a pleasant experience for the congregants who enjoyed his enthusiastic praying and his sweet melodies. The impressions of this visit stayed with us for many days.

There were also many Belz Hasidim, as well as Hasidim of the Rozin dynasty. Because of the small numbers of the Hasidim of each Rebbe, they joined together to form one group. The Belz Hasidim would hire a wagon from one of the farmers and have him take them to Belz before Rosh Hashanah. After the Holiday they returned home in the wagon, and the farmer would receive a handsome payment. Afterwards they would tell a story about how they bargained with him and tried to bring the price down, by saying “by taking us to Belz, you yourself will be in Belz, so why should you get such a large payment?....”

The Rozin Hasidim, whose Rebbes were further away, would travel by train. Among them was Ahrele Blut who went to the Rebbe of Bayan. He, however, would always return to Ropshitz several weeks later than the others, because he would say that he collected money on the way from rich Hasidim who were his acquaintances. Once, when he returned from his visit to the Rebbe, several people came to him and asked him, in fun: “Reb Ahrele, where have you been until now? All your friends have returned a long time ago!” He answered them: “Look, when we send cattle to sell in Austria we put them on the train and send them directly there. But people are not cattle. When we reach Lwow how can we not get off in Lwow? When we reach Przemysl, how can we not get off in Przemysl? – and so on…”

Every Shabbat, in the evening and during the day, there were Hasidic festivities.

There were very few Zionists in our town in those days. Nevertheless, when the news of Herzl's death reached Ropshitz, in Tamuz, 5664 (1904), it immediately spread to all the Jews, young and old, causing sorrow among all. I was 10 years old at the time. When I came to the “kloiz” that day I was witness to a wondrous sight. Reuven Brand, a faithful Zionist and a proud Jew, was sitting in his permanent place near the eastern wall, with the Gemarah open in front of him and with about twenty Jews who happened to be in the “kloiz” at that time. He was eulogizing with great emotion this great man who had died, and all those present listened reverently. This was not a eulogy prepared in advance. It was an outpouring of words of sorrow and great pain which came from the heart. He unfolded before those present the story of Herzl's great love and devotion to his People and to Zion, and how he gave all he had in this world to the Zionist movement, and in the end also gave his life and died in the prime of life. His lofty words made a deep impression.


[Pages 20 - 24]

Educational Institutions in Ropshitz

by Yehoshua Gold

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

At the end of the First World War there remained only a few Jews in Ropshitz. During the war the Austrian authorities had transferred the Jews to Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) because they feared attacks of the Russians. My family, who did not live in Ropshitz at the time, remained in Borowa where my grandfather, Shmuel Zeinvel Birnbaum was a shochet and religious judge. My parents were merchants, and my father, may G-d avenge his murder, used to give lessons in the Bet Midrash (study hall). There is still a student of his here is Israel who remembers him. When we moved to Ropshitz in the 1920's we lived in the house of my paternal grandfather, Yonah Gold, who had emigrated with his family to the United States. Active Jewish life had already returned to the town. There were two “Heders”, a Talmud Torah and intensive study in the Bet Midrash and in the “kloiz”.

There had been compulsory education in this area of Poland since the days of Austrian rule, so there was no one in the town who couldn't read. There were two elementary schools, one for boys and one for girls. Later, a gymnasium and a teacher's seminary were added. The “Joint” organized a kindergarten, the main purpose of which was to provide a hot meal and clothing for the needy children. One of the “heders” was on the Jewish street, for the children in that area. The teacher was Rabbi Zalman ben Yitchak Melamed (Golfarb). The second was in the center of town and the teacher was Rabbi Avraham Yehudah Shtrum. Many of the pupils of Rabbi Zalman continued their studies in the Talmud Torah, and afterwards in Yeshivot. Among the pupils of Rabbi Yehudah were some who left their Jewish studies and continued in secular institutions of higher learning, such as Polish high schools and universities. It should be noted that at that time the pupils from poor families paid no tuition in the Talmud Torah, and those from families who could afford it paid a higher tuition in order to make up for those who paid nothing.

Education put a heavy burden on the Jewish students. In the morning they learned secular studies in the Polish school, and from noon until dark they learned in the “Heder”. In the winter, when the days were short, the children were given kerosene lamps to light up their way home in the dark.

From about the age of nine, we began to study in the Talmud Torah which was under the supervision of respected scholars who every Shabbat would test us in Gemarah and “Poskim” (the rulings of the Rabbis). The teacher was Rabbi Noah, a scholar and a very intelligent Jew.

Our town was the central town of the province, and was well known for the above-average level of education, including the Polish population. Notable were Avraham Fessel and his wife Zeiden, the daughter of the head of the community, who were lecturers in Vilna. A Polish professor saved him during the war by hiding him in a small village. Here in Israel he taught mathematics in the Hebrew University and also served as a consultant to publishers of books on mathematics.

In the middle of the 1920's a Hebrew School for girls was established by the local Zionist Jewry. In this school the Hebrew language, Jewish history and Bible were taught.


[Pages 23 - 24]

More about Jewish life in the Shtetl

by Avraham Fessel

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

The Jews of Ropshitz were religious and their children started to learn in “Heder” at the age of four. The parents paid for their studies, but when parents could not afford it, the children attended free of charge.

The teachers tried to educate the children in proper conduct, not only in theory but also in practice. They explained that every law in the Torah had a social basis. They emphasized the following rules: Love your neighbor as yourself; Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d, but not for sins between man and his fellow man; if you acted wrongly towards anyone, you must first make amends for this wrongdoing, and only after that pray to G-d for forgiveness.

This education had its influence on daily life, even after the studies were completed, and even on subsequent family life. It also expressed itself in the practice of hospitality, especially on Shabbat. On Purim, the “mishloach manot” (sending presents of food) were sent to poor people and not to people from whom one expected a return favor. Haim Lasher is worthy of mention. He was a Jew who sat all day long in the Bet Midrash studying Torah. On Mondays and Thursdays he fasted and prayed all day.

Boys learned in the “Heder” until the age of Bar Mitzvah, after which they continued their studies in the Bet Midrash. The older boys taught the younger ones and guided them in learning the scriptures and the Talmud by themselves. They took no payment for this.

There were three houses of prayer in Ropshitz: the Bet Midrash in which the Rabbi and the most devout prayed; the Kloiz in which the Hasidim prayed; and the Shul in which the other Jews prayed.

The Jewish pupils went only as far as the sixth grade in their general studies in the elementary school. That was all that was compulsory. There was no high school in Ropshitz before the First World War. Those parents who wanted their children to have a high school education were forced to send them to a larger city, but this actually was not feasible because they could not afford the cost of maintaining the children in another city in addition to the cost of tuition. In addition, the very devout were against higher secular education because they felt that it would lead the children to abandon their religious faith.


[Pages 25 - 26]

The Community Institutions

by Yehoshua Gold

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

The committee of the Jewish community, which was chosen by free elections, ran all the institutions. At the head of the committee stood Dr. Aharon Zeiden, who was accepted by all, including the non-Jews. The committee ran the kosher slaughter house, the mikveh (ritual bath), the Hevrah Kadishah (burial society), the synagogues and the Batei Midrash (study halls).

There were also voluntary services:

Hospitality Services (“Hahnasat Orhim”): In most towns the “hekdesh” (home for the old and poor) was used to host poor guests who were passing through the town. In Ropshitz, two of the children's teachers volunteered to provide this service. The “Heder”, which during the day served as a place for teaching the children, at night served to host these guests. Mattresses and blankets were brought in for this purpose.

The Jews of Ropshitz regularly gave money for charity, and this attracted “professional beggars” to the town. Whole families came in wagons pulled by a poor unfortunate horse. They came from outside of Galicia.

There is a curious story about the son of the teacher Yehudah, who made a suit for himself for his wedding. One of the overnight guests put on this suit and disappeared. But a Jew like Yehudah did not let this deter him and he continued to host overnight guests without payment.

Charity and Loan Fund (“G'milut Hasadim”): The Ropshitz Jewish community earned its living as retail merchants and a few of them were artisans. A few of the Jews were rich, but the majority were poor. They adjusted to their meager livelihood, but nevertheless needed, from time to time, loans in order to buy merchandise or for other needs to keep their businesses running. The charity fund was organized by the most respected, or “enlightened”, of the community. Contributions were also received from those who had left and emigrated to the U.S. The main organizer of the fund was Dr. Eichenholtz, who also served as its head. The Jews also regularly gave anonymous charity (“matan b'seter”), and before Passover gave contributions to be used by the poor to buy Matzot and other food supplies for the Holiday (“Maot Hittin”).

Visiting the sick (“Bikur Holim”): All the residents, whether poor or rich, had to take their turn, for the most part at night, in visiting and helping the sick, in order to lighten the burden on the families. Shimon Hirsch adds: There was a lovely custom of mutual help in our town. When a person was sick and bed-ridden for a prolonged period, there were two people who took turns in voluntarily sitting by the sick person at night in order to share the burden with the family. I remember once doing this with Yissahar Heznekopf. To keep from getting bored we spent the time playing chess.


[Page 27]

Ropshitz in the days of the
Russian-Japanese War, 1903-1905

by Yaakov Reiss

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

Fugitives from Russia, and particularly from the Russian part of Poland, reached our town almost every day. They were those who did not want to be drafted into the Russian army to fight in the war with Japan. Their goal was to reach the U.S. A committee was formed to help these refugees, to provide them with food and lodging, and a little money so they could continue on their way.

As is known, the Czar's army was defeated. When the news reached us about the Russian defeat, and in particular about the sinking of the Russian ships and the fall of the fortified city Port Arthur, there was great rejoicing in the town. The Jews looked upon this as a punishment from heaven for the wicked decrees of the Czar against the Jews. At the weddings which took place in those days, the entertainers Yeshayah Sanzer and Alter Mehlitzer sang a special song which was composed to celebrate the defeat of the Czar. Of particular note was the very festive wedding of Reb Itzikal in Ropshitz, where the guests were overjoyed when this song was sung.


[Pages 28 - 31]

Ropshitz at the outbreak of the First World War

by Minah Reich Shachar from N've Aytan

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

My Shtetl! Although I was only 5 years old at the outbreak of the First World War, and in spite of the fact that I have since grown old, I clearly remember those long gone and happy days. Various incidents that occurred more than half a century ago pass before my eyes like a dream.

I remember the flourishing life of the Jewish community. Life centered around the market place in the square, around which were one-storey, attached houses and a few two-storey houses. One could buy anything and everything in the market. There were also artisans: carpenters, tailors, and shoemakers. Even luxury items could be seen in the few shop windows. There were only two shops which belonged to non-Jews, the mayor of the town and his assistant. During the week, the market was crowded with farmers who came to the town to sell their produce and to buy supplies in the Jewish stores. On Shabbat, however, the entire town appeared to be asleep. If any non-Jew was seen it was only to take care of some business he had with a government office. The non-Jews were located far from the market, and yet, in spite of this, there was no lack of intrigue on their part.

There was an elected committee of the Jewish community which was virtually autonomous and which made full fledged Jewish life possible. There was no lack of Jewish weddings and other happy occasions in which all the Jews joyously participated. Those were good days for the Jews who were able to earn a living, and were satisfied with what they had.

And then came the flood! The First World War broke out! The happy days came to an end. In the first wave of Russian invasion, on the Rosh Hashanah Holiday, the synagogues were attacked when they were full to capacity. Men were murdered and women were raped, and their screams rose to the heaven. The Russians retreated, and when the second wave of invasion occurred the Jews fled to the western countries, far from the front.

We were a very religious family. Since the last refugee train left on Shabbat we remained behind, and subsequently only got as far as the nearby provincial city. After several months, during which we did not even have the means to minimally maintain ourselves, we returned. What we found was total destruction. Whatever was on the main street was burned down, and what remained fell into the greedy hands of the non-Jews. The houses which were not burned down were used as stables, and the smell of horses filled the streets.

Then came the day of retreat. During the whole night we could hear the shouting and the neighing of horses from behind our shuttered windows. The day dawned, a clear, quiet spring day with no sign of the army, only total destruction. The Jews who had remained were living in obscure places and had been afraid to show their faces. They now came out of hiding and we were able to see who had remained in the town. After a short while, to our joy, two friendly riders on horse back appeared. One of them was from our town.

When the fighting ceased in our area, the refugees started to return and they saw what they had returned to. A few of them, after they saw the destruction, decided to remain where they had fled and to start a new life there. Others preferred to stay in the town where they were born and to rehabilitate themselves as best they could. Those who had been used to a life of plenty had to be satisfied with a more modest existence. Those who could not live even modestly, were supported by the community or by relatives from overseas. Emigration began, some to the U.S., some to Germany. Those who could afford the travel expense got up and left. Those who could not, sold the remnants of their property in order to finance the trip. Who were the buyers? The non-Jews. Gradually the town became full of shops belonging to Christians. Cooperative stores were formed which were highly competitive, and the Jews began to lose their livelihood. The town began to be empty of Jews except for a few who were able to withstand the competition and rehabilitate themselves.

And then something happened! The Balfour Declaration! The autumn became spring for the Jews! I, myself, was not close to such matters because I came from a family who were not Zionists, but the rejoicing of everyone, young and old, knew no boundaries.

A Hebrew School was founded, made possible by a contribution from an American Jew, a former resident of our town, who came back to get his parents. People started speaking and singing in Hebrew. A kindergarten was also formed, but it soon closed because of the demands of the religious who were opposed to boys and girls learning together. One of the towns had facilities designed to prepare for Aliyah to the Land of Israel, and the best of our youths went there to get ready for Aliyah. Many of them did, indeed, become part of the “Third Aliyah”, and were among the famed “road builders”.

Zionist youth movements were formed with the aim of Aliyah. I was one of those who prepared for, and subsequently came on Aliyah. I settled in a Kibbutz, and remain there to this day.


[Pages 32 - 33]

The Lethargy of the Jews of Galicia

by Aharon Hirsch

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

(This article was published in the weekly newspaper “Hamitzpe” in Krakow, 3 Elul, the weekly Torah portion of “Shoftim”, 5679 (1919).)
The reports coming from all over the world gladden the heart of every Jew who is faithful to his people and to his land. The spark of hope is turned into a flame when he witnesses the dynamic change in the life of the People of Israel. Their spirit has been rejuvenated by the growing love of homeland and of their people. All look forward to the great day to come, some by returning to and settling in the land of our forefathers, and some by financially supporting and strengthening those who make Aliyah to the Land. What a wonderful sight! An ancient people awakens to a new life after thousands of years of wandering, and aspires to its original glory. Every day the newspapers bring tidings from all over the world of new organizations established for the purpose of building up the Land.

In Russia “She'erit Yisrael”, “Zevulun”, “Haboneh” and many other groups are formed, and large sums of tens and hundreds of million Rubles are collected for building up the Land of Israel. American Jews, who always had labored only to earn money for themselves, are now energetically and enthusiastically organizing for the purpose of raising millions of dollars. Jews from all over Europe, and as far as India, are devoting themselves to the sacred goal of facilitating the return of the People of Israel to its land. Their hearts yearn to see its fulfillment. An awakening such as this has not occurred since the Jews were exiled from their land. Even in the days of Zerubavel, when the Jews were granted permission by King Koresh to return to Judea and rebuild it, we did not see this to such an extent. This rejoicing will be even greater when we see all the mighty nations promising to return our land to us. Everyone whose eyes are open, and who calmly and reasonably observes these events, must admit that all this is the workings of the hand of G-d and is taking place under guidance from Heaven above. How can our hearts not rejoice, and our souls be filled with happiness.

Nevertheless, we are astonished and feel pain in our hearts when we see the silence and placidity with which the Jews of Galicia are reacting to these events in world Jewry. It is, indeed, difficult to believe. Those who would profit from the war have defiled themselves by their selfish materialism. They seek only personal gain. The foul depth to which these Jews have descended is a desecration of the Divine Name. They incite further hatred of the Jews on the part of our enemies, although many of the latter are guilty themselves of the same despicable deeds. When our enemies, however, are guilty of these deeds, it is only they themselves who suffer from their sins, but when Jews do the same thing all their fellow Jews suffer. “All of Israel are responsible for each other.” They have forgotten their People who are steeped in sorrow and are in need of salvation. They seek their own gain and nothing else matters to them. Even within the Zionist camp there is silence. The Zionist Council which met in the month of Iyar this year in Lvov decided even in Galicia to raise a million “Keter”, and the Palestinian Commission took this job upon itself. To this day nothing has been done.

Wake up, my brothers, from your slumber! This is not a time to be silent! It is a time to act! Let us take an example from our brothers in Russia and other countries who are incessantly working for our People and our Land. Why should we be left behind? Let us, also, participate in rebuilding our Land. We must act now, for the time is ripe! “Atah takum t'rahem Zion, ki et l'hen'nah ki va moed” (“Thou shalt arise and have mercy on Zion; for it is time to favor her, yea the set time has come”) (Psalms 102, 14).


The Rise of Zionism Among the Youth in Ropshitz

In the following pages we can read about the rise of Zionism among the youth in Ropshitz, as remembered by those who came from the Shtetl.

[Pages 34 - 36]

Mina Shahar

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

The Balfour Declaration caused a wave of hope and awakening in our Shtetl, as in all the Shetls in Europe.

Much has been said about the Zionist Movement. Meetings were held in private homes, and literature about national revival was prepared for distribution. The Balfour Declaration aroused most of the youth and the young adults to become active. A kindergarten was established, but for some reason it didn't last long, perhaps for budgetary reasons, or perhaps because the parents feared that the young children might abandon the traditional Jewish way of life.

One of the contributing factors to the increase in Zionist activity, was the appearance in our shtetl of one of our former residents who had emigrated to the U.S. After he sent his parents to the “golden land” (U.S.), he contributed all their property, house and garden, to be used as facilities for Jewish national education and for learning the Hebrew language and promulgating its use. A Hebrew school was established which included both religious and secular branches. I clearly recall, from this period, the first teacher, a man of tall stature, who, by virtue of his impressive appearance, attracted many students to the school. He spread the use of the Hebrew language, both within the walls of the school, using the book “Sfat Amenu” (the language of our people), and also with private lessons which he gave to those who, for one reason or another, could not openly be seen attending the school. The Hebrew language and Hebrew songs began to be heard in the shtetl. After him there were many other teachers, whose names I cannot remember, but I must thank this first teacher for my knowledge of Hebrew.

New winds were blowing in those days throughout the Diaspora, as well as in our shtetl. Many of our youths joined the “hachshara halutzit” (preparation for pioneering) which arose then in one of the cities in western Poland, and on finishing their preparation they became part of the third wave of Aliyah to our Land.

One of the strongest and most flourishing movements at that time was the youth movement “Hashomer Hatzair”. Among the founders of the movement were the best of our youth. Young and old streamed to the “ken” (the gathering place) which was in one of the rooms in the school. The movement didn't last for many years in our shtetl. One of the reasons for this was the Aliyah of its leaders. In addition, the movement reached a crisis all over Poland when its members went either to the extreme left or to the right. As a result, general Zionist movements were formed. One of these was the Hebrew youth movement “Akiva”. The youth enthusiastically joined this movement as it had the previous one, and it became quite strong all over Poland. Eventually the initial enthusiasm began to wane, and the movement did not produce many “halutzim” (pioneers). Nevertheless it remained active for a long time, perhaps because it served also for social meetings and interesting talks.

As other movements waned, a religious youth movement also became popular, perhaps because parents did not oppose it. The parents looked favorably on combining Zionist and religious education. Most important was the challenge of Aliyah, as living in Poland in those days became more and more difficult.


[Pages 37 - 38]

Itta Shahar

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

Ropshitz was a traditional shtetl. Most of the Jews were observant. Even those who were considered progressive attended the synagogue. There was, however, a young generation which strove for newer values. Some of them moved to larger cities where they found what they were searching for -- Zionism. It was they who brought the spirit of revival to the shtetl. With their initiative a Zionist committee was formed which encouraged the study of the Hebrew language. Teachers were brought in and there were many who studied Hebrew.

My parent's home was considered progressive in those days. My grandfather, Avraham Epstein, was a Zionist in his heart and soul, and he saw the Land of Israel as a sacred ideal. He insisted that my father should permit me to learn Hebrew, Bible and grammar, at a time when many were still opposed the widespread use of the language.

In 1927 the first “Shomri” group was formed in our shetl, with the help of Shlomo Issler, a beloved and devoted leader. He had considerable influence on the youth. He organized groups for the study of Zionism, for learning about our homeland, our history, and the history of the labor movement. We looked on these activities with our youthful enthusiasm. We obtained newspapers from Palestine: “Davar” and “Ha'aretz”. Thanks to this leader we became knowledgeable about the essence of “Halutziut” (pioneering) to prepare ourselves for the task which lay before us. He eventually made Aliyah and joined the Kibbutz “Ein Hamifratz”. Two years later he fell sick with malaria, from which he never recovered. He passed away as a young man.

We were interested in being workers, although this wasn't easy because of the objections of those who were opposed to Zionism. My father also fought with me. He wouldn't allow me to participate in the activities of the group because they involved desecration of the Sabbath and trips together with boys (G-d forbid). He was concerned about his reputation as one who leads the prayers in the synagogue. What would people say if his daughter belongs to a group which preaches a change in the traditional, quiet life which had always been practiced. Subsequently, other youth movements were established in our shtetl: “Akiva”, “Hanoar Hatzioni” and “Mizrachi”.

In spite of all, many of us overcame the opposition and made Aliyah. There were also those who emigrated to America, because the condition of the Jews in Poland became worse from day to day.

I made Aliyah in 1933, after two years of “hachshara” (preparatory training) with the “Hashomer Hatzair” movement. I settled in Tel Amal, now known as Nir David.


[Page 38]

Avraham Fessel

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

A large part of the youth tended favorably towards Zionism. They collected contributions to the Jewish National Fund, and they learned Hebrew with the Hebrew teacher Aharon Hirsch. A Zionist group was formed which met in the evenings and there were talks and debates on general and specific topics. Lectures were arranged, as well as a lending library. These activities led to Aliyah.

The first who made Aliyah were Shlomo Issler, who died in Palestine, Ethel Fishel, who is now in London, and Pinhas Lender.


[Pages 38 - 39]

Shimon Hirsch

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

As best as I remember my childhood, my home was traditional and Zionist. My father, of blessed memory, was devoted to the ideals of Zionism and he was actively involved in Zionist activities as well as facilitating the learning of the Hebrew language by the youth. The Zionist committee in which he participated also included Y. L. Kurz, N. Lender, S. Issler, L. Heftman, and others. They ran the Hebrew School where studies took place in the afternoon.

A large percentage of the youth was attracted to Zionism. Several Zionist youth movements were established in our shtetl: “Hashomer Hatzair”, whose founder was Shlomo Issler (he was the first in the youth movements to go on Aliyah), “Hashomer Hadati”, “Hehalutz” and “Akiva”. There are many with us here now in the Land of Israel who were members of these movements.

These youth movements used the building which had previously belonged to the school and was later given to the youth. It was a large, roomy building with a large garden. Every evening, and especially Saturday night, we would gather there for talks, readings, dancing and singing Hebrew songs.

There were also very religious youths in Ropshitz who devoted themselves only to religious studies. You could meet them only in the study hall, bent over the Gemara. Most of the youth, however, were helping their parents in their businesses and they prepared themselves to be merchants when the time came. It wasn't so acceptable to perform physical labor and the professions were not very varied, so most of the youth went into business.


[Pages 39 - 40]

Mina Levy (Shechter)

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

We, the youth, had ideals. We aspired to advance ourselves with the help of the Zionists. They brought Hebrew teachers and opened a Hebrew school. I, like all my friends, was delighted. It is hard to describe with what fervor and satisfaction we absorbed every word, every sentence.

Somewhat later the “Hashomer Hatzair” movement was formed and was accepted by us with great enthusiasm. Of course we were very strict about whom we accepted into the movement. Most of our time was spent there. The evenings we spent reading together or listening to interesting lectures. We danced and we sang. On Shabbat we went on trips outside the shtetl. We met with members of the movement from other, larger branches, such as Zheshuv (Rzeszow), where the leader was Meir Yaari.

Sometime later, another two movements were formed: “Hehalutz”, which was under our auspices, and “Akiva” of the general Zionists.

We had a Hebrew library. We exchanged books and read a lot. That was obligatory, including also serious and scientific books. I can remember reading until late at night, by candle light so as not to disturb anyone.

Eventually they went to “Hachshara” (preparatory training) and achieved their ideals by going on Aliyah.


[Pages 40 - 44]

Malkah Birnbaum Weitz
(wife of Shlomo Birnbaum)

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

The youth who studied in the Talmud Torah, the Yeshiva students, and the students in the secular school, were all nourished by the stories, the prayers and the lamentations about the destruction of the Temple and the yearning for Jerusalem. It was this that molded their lives. The Zionist youth, be they general Zionist, Mizrachi, Poalei Zion or others, formed groups with knowledge of Hebrew, and became a bridge between themselves and the rebirth of Zion. They produced a Jewish and Zionist atmosphere, with awareness of the problems and struggles of the national rebirth of the Jewish people. Their work for the Jewish National Fund was done with great awe and with a feeling of unity with those who were settling in and rebuilding the Land and turning the dream of many generations into a reality. These youths were very aware of what was happening in the Jewish Diaspora of Poland, were pained by the troubles of the time and attempted to find solutions. The Hebrew Zionist Youth group, which was named “Akiva” in the 1930's, and which had its headquarters in Eastern Galicia, was particularly prominent. The leadership was located in Krakow. It encouraged the development of strong bonds with traditional Jewish values. The sanctity of the Sabbath and the Holidays, and a strong feeling of Jewish identification, were emphasized. This resulted in a close relationship with, and a feeling of solidarity with very religious elements, although the latter were disturbed by certain activities, such as activities which involved boys and girls together, and training in preparation for Aliyah to form a Kibbutz.

The activities, the talks and the discussions which took place in “Akiva” became well known. The youth occupied themselves with Jewish studies and philosophy. They were well versed in the writings of “Achad Ha'am” (Asher Zvi Ginsberg). Every meeting began with a Hasidic melody and ended with one of the Psalms. Meetings on the eve of the Sabbath and Holidays were infused with the atmosphere of joy and sanctity befitting the day, with traditional songs taken from the Prayer Book, such as “Ata Echad”, “Hineni Muchan Umezuman”, “Ya Ribbon”, “Yom Ze Mechubad”, etc., and ended with words of encouragement and hope, dear to the hearts of all. Outings took place on Lag B'omer, and other occasions.

After many of the youth trained in preparation for Aliyah, the time arrived when the Jews of Ropshitz were privileged to see the first of its sons and daughters fulfilling their mission. The young and old gathered to see them off as they boarded the train to Krakow, wishing them a safe trip and safe arrival. As the train pulled out, they burst out in singing “Ani Ma'amin” and “Am Yisrael Chai”, with a silent prayer in their hearts for success in their mission. The lips of the parents, relatives and teachers expressed the hope that others would follow in their footsteps. These few, who are now living in Israel, as well as those who emigrated to America, became, to our sorrow, the only remnants of our Shtetl.

Those who came on Aliyah initially joined the first kibbutz in Petah Tikvah. After a few years they settled in Usha, near Haifa. The members of Akiva live together as members of the Workers Movement and the Liberal Workers. Those who came from Krakow formed a non-political kibbutz in Bet She'an, Neve Eitan. The kibbutz Bet Yehoshua, near Even Yehudah, eventually became a Moshav Ovdim, affiliated with the Moshav organization. It should be noted that in this Moshav there is a synagogue and a large, lovely Cultural Center, named after the spiritual leader Yoel Dreiblatt, of blessed memory. Moshe Singer (Marzel), of blessed memory, continued in his footsteps and was the driving force in maintaining this sanctuary for many years. May the memory of both these men be blessed! The leaders of the movement, Yehudah Ornstein, Yosef Rondstein and Nichthauser, may they be blessed with long life, are continuing to act on their own, as agents of the Jewish Agency.

As a result of the Holocaust and the cessation of Aliyah, as well as lack of any arrangement for increasing manpower, the Akiva movement, to our great sorrow, ceased to exist. On the other hand, the wonderful kibbutz Tel Yitzchak, exists. It is named after Yitzchak Steiger, of blessed memory, their leader from Eastern Galicia. The branch of “Hanoar Hazioni Haoved” (the Zionist workers youth movement) is affiliated with the Independent Liberal Workers Movement and the Histadrut.


[Pages 46 - 47]

A Letter from the Golah (Diaspora)

By Yissahar Hesnekopf

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

(The following is a portion of a letter written to his sister, Itta Shachar. He is described by her as a lover of culture who became deeply enamored with Zionism. He learned Hebrew on his own and his goal was to go on Aliyah and participate in rebuilding the Land. He never fulfilled this goal because he would not leave his parents behind.)
Whenever I think about and picture your way of life, I am aware of the great difference between us…..

I then feel very strongly my suffering, and my aching soul is filled with pain.

We are fighting here for our very existence, with no chance to advance ourselves by even one step.

We are as if locked in jail; the light in our lives is flickering, while our hearts aspire for a life of freedom and self-accomplishment.

My heart yearns to be with you and to have the pleasure of a life of meaning and accomplishment such as yours.

I wish you security in the future in your land. May Zion be your home forever.

Your brother, Yissahar Hesnekopf


[Pages 47 - 48]

Sarah Ganor (Bronheim)

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

When an awakening to Zionism began in our Shtetl, the adults with families began to organize meetings to discuss Zionism, Herzl, the Land of Israel, and everything concerning them. The meetings took place on the roof of the pharmacy. The organizers were Leibush Kurz, Naphtali Lander, Femstein Mendzh, Zeiden, Aharon Hirsch. The meeting place was named “Tziki Zambek” (I don't know the source of this name). The first Hebrew teacher was Aharon Hirsch.

All of this took place before the First World War. After the war, a former resident of Ropshitz, Meir Sinai, came from America to visit his parents, and decided to take them with him to America. Leibush Kurz persuaded him to donate their house to the community for the purpose of forming a Hebrew school. The school encouraged the youth to learn Hebrew and participate in Zionist activites.

A Zionist committee was chosen. The names I remember from this committee are Miriam Freedman and Shindel Rosenbaum. After they were married and left, a new committee was chosen consisting of Mendel Lender, Moshe Rosenbaum, Binyamin Balzam, and myself. Mendel Lender and Moshe Rosenbaum were the librarians, I was the secretary, and Gitzia Zeiden was the chairman.

We bought books in Hebrew, Yiddish, German and Polish. Lectures were given by some residents of the Shtetl, and also by outside lecturers, including Rosen, the teacher from the city of Dembitze, Walkovsky from Krakow, who slept and ate free of charge at the home of Feinsteim family, and others.

In spite of the fact that it was very much not accepted, our meetings were held with boys and girls together. This was a beautiful time in our lives.

The Akiva movement was formed at that time. My sister Bilah was the head of the group. A Hashomer Hatzair group was also formed under the leadership of Shlomo Issler, who later died in Palestine. Shlomo came on Aliyah with his friend Haya Lender. After his death, Haya remained in their Kibbutz, Ein Hamifratz. She married a boy from the Gerbershrift family from Ropshitz, and they raised a wonderful family.

Among the first to come on Aliyah were Shmuel Frantzblau and Asher Ganor (Winiger). Asher became my husband when I too came on Aliyah several years later.

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