|Reb Zecharia David Lieberman,
the head of the community of Rozniatow
I was born and raised in Rozniatow. There, I spent my childhood and my youth, until I left the town. However that which I will relate here stems not only from what I experienced, but also from what I heard from my father Reb Leibish Friedler of blessed memory and from other Jews.
The Old Town was the earliest root of the city of Rozniatow. The town was surrounded by water, green mountains and forests. With the first Jewish settlement in the town, Rozniatow became a community, and was built up in accordance with a plan. One could see the large central square, with the surrounding business enterprises in nearby streets.
The first Jews in the Old Town were two brothers-in-law. One of them was called Gerner. (I met a great-grandson of Gerner here in Israel, already an old man. He confirmed this.) They, the two brothers-in-law leased the entire Skorbek farm with the still that produced alcohol from potatoes. They built the first three houses in the Old Town for themselves and their Jewish employees. They also built the Kloiz, so that there would be a minyan.
After that, the contract between the Possessors (as they called the two brothers-in-law) in Skorbek ended. The Possessors went back to Stanislawow, from whence they originated.
They sold the houses. The house in which I was born was purchased by my grandfather Reb Sender Friedler from the Possessors.
The houses of Reb Leib Berman and Reb Shalom Horowitz also used to belong to the Possessors. Further on, there were other Jewish houses, until the large bridge.
Before my eyes, until this day, I see the Torah Scroll that the Possessors left behind in the Kloiz as a gift to the householders in the Old Town. It was called the old scroll.
I still remember when Reb Leib Berman donated the second scroll to the Kloiz. Reb Shmuel Wirt came from the city at the head of a large crowd with scrolls being carried under a canopy, with music, singing and dancing. We celebrated until the early hours, and ate and drank as if at a wedding. I still see to this day the honorable householders in the Kloiz, sitting at the eastern wall. The young people and other worshippers sat along two long tables.
Several Jewish families lived in rented dwellings.
On Sabbath afternoons, my grandfather Reb Yitzchak Geller, along with Reb Shlomo Yungerman, Reb Shalom Horowitz and others, would study Or Hachayim and Yoreh Deah. My grandfather's vision was quite poor. However, he was a great scholar, and he knew everything by heart. He could intelligently explain a difficult matter.
After the studying, they worshipped Mincha and Maariv, and then continued learning.
Thus did the Jews in the Old Town conduct themselves until the First World War. My grandfather died in 1915. Rabbi Hemerling of blessed memory and Reb Chanina Weissman of blessed memory eulogized him in the great synagogue.
The Kloiz with the green yard, trees and water was the center of the world for us children. There we played. There Reb Shaul Miriam-Bunam, our teacher, taught us the aleph beit. The girls studied with him until they were able to recite their prayers well.
To study Chumash, Gemara, Bible and other such subjects, we children had to walk a kilometer into the city in order to study with various teachers. As we returned home at night, we waited for each other for each of us alone were afraid to go the far way on the road, where shkotzim1 such as Michan Jagelowicz and others lay in wait for us. That selfsame Michan Jagelowicz showed himself to be one of the righteous gentiles during the Second World War. He risked his life and hid sixteen Jews, who survived.
The High Holy Days are still etched in my mind until this day. It was already 3:00 a.m. when we went to Slichot. It was already quite cold outside, even frosty. Reb Shlomo Yungerman dressed up in a white Kittel, as he said with great enthusiasm: The soul is yours and the body is your handiwork, and literally wept.
The Kloiz was filled with worshippers on Rosh Hashanah. Everyone listened to the prayer leader. A large proportion of the householders had certain customary portions of the service that came to them as an inheritance. Reb Shmuel Erber would sing the hymn Kel Dar Bamarom. I recall his tune to this day. His son Leib had a strong tenor voice.
My pen will now try to bring to you the mood and feeling of fear that pervaded on the eve of Yom Kippur. At dawn, the kapparos ceremony began. Then there was the hataras nedarim (release of vows), the giving of lashes, and the giving of charity each in accordance to his means2. I can see before my eyes the faces of the worshippers filled with fear of the Day of Judgement.
The joy of Simchas Torah was wonderful. All of the chandeliers were fully lit,. and all of the families came for the hakafot (processions around the synagogue with the Torah scrolls). Each child had a torch in his hand. Reb Yaakov Strassman called each person up for the hakafot (he had the custom of doing this). Each child would receive a hakafah, and then would get a candy. He called people up with the statement, I honor you with a Torah honor. We children then waited until the singing and dancing began.
At that time there were two camps with regard to selecting a new gabbai (trustee). My father Reb Leibish Friedler was selected as gabbai, and a new gabbai must give a kiddush. Mother was already prepared, and we had drinks, cabbage rolls, egg kichels, chickpeas, etc. in the Kloiz. Afterward, we had a little dance.
With joyous, radiant faces, everyone went home and wished each other a good holiday.
My father of blessed memory was always concerned that the Kloiz should be clean and warm, even when he was not the gabbai. We lived in two houses away from the Kloiz, and the key to the Kloiz was always with us.
On winter Friday nights after services – it was warm – and all of the worshippers sat down as one family and talked about Rebbes and rabbis, experiences and various stories I was always interested in hearing these discussions, and I sat down together with the older men until the lights went out.
Everyone wished each other a good Sabbath, and went home.
This is the way things went until the First World War in 1914.
After the world war, in 1918, everything changed. Some of the people were no longer alive, and others were away from the city. I myself moved to Germany in 1921.
The Jews of the Old Town had a livelihood. Every house had a store, and every store had its customers. Chaya Adler had the official tavern. I still remember her husband Michael Adler. She remained a young widow with ten children. My father offered the widow assistance, since Michael Adler was a cattle merchant and a partner of my father. The tavern in the Old Town was run by us. My father gave it over to Chaya Adler, and with the intermediation of Chanina Weissman, it was signed over to Adler's name. She was required to enlarge it by one room.
Chaya Adler had an open hand, and they had an open door for the receiving of guests. A poor person would go out satiated, and with a coin in his pocket. She also provided for the needs of poor brides.
I visited my hometown in 1932. During the 12 years of my absence, our town changed greatly for the better, especially in the area of cultural activity. Organizations, unions, well-stocked libraries in Hebrew and other languages had all sprung up. An honorable young intelligentsia had arisen. I did not know any of them, and I had to ask them who they were. The same can be asserted for the Old Town. Now, none of them are alive any more.
For them, the martyrs, I bow my head in honor.
I have a duty to write a few words about our neighbor, the pious Sara Esther Horowitz, who had a good heart and a source of trust, always with a smiling face.
With all of her deeds and her large business, she always found time to help someone in need. When there was someone in need, she would close her business in the middle of the day, and go out to do what was needed for an ill person or someone suffering from a tribulation.
Her husband Reb Shalom of blessed memory, a scholar, was our Torah Reader and prayer leader for Mussaf on the High Holy Days. He died on the eve of Tisha BeAv of 1914, the day of mobilization for the First World War.
Sara Ester had a business in the Ringplatz. She conducted the business in a fine house industriously and conscientiously. This took a great deal of time and energy. However, when it came to offer assistance, or to do another mitzvah, she always went immediately.
She new about and concerned herself with every poor person.
She was the only woman in the Old Town who came to worship every Sabbath. No type of weather or frost could keep her from hearing Kedusha or Barchu3.
She died at an old age.
Two daughters, Feiga Shnitzer and Zlata Sheiner, live in Israel.
Coming from the Old Town, I first met up with the river. Aside from the fact that it provided fine scenery, it also served the heavy industry of Rozniatow, for it drove the mill. In the winter, ice was chopped from it, which brought great profits to the economy.
The river was also our sporting place, in the summer for bathing and in the winter for skating.
From the river, one could also catch fish in honor of the Sabbath.
On the other side there was a mountain, through which there was a path to the meadows and the forests, where one could pick berries, raspberries and other fruits.
The square in the middle of the city was the business center of Rozniatow. A fair took place there every week. A little father was the Torgowicza, where the cattle fair took place.
The building style was not uniform. There were roofs made of tin, shingles and straw. Without paying attention to this, a warm, Jewish life was conducted there, with every economic strata having its representatives. The communication by Alter the deaf; the lighting by Motshe Tisch; water from Juzi Chozek and later from Yossele the water carrier, who used to deliver a fiery speech on May 1; health – Motshe Beri who would perform cuppings, leechings4 and tooth extractions; justice – Eli Mordechai Bratfeld; literature – Yisrael Leizer who would go with a sack on his shoulders, and with a certain pride on his face, always made sure that the Jews of the town had siddurs, machzors, tzitzit, tefillin, and storybooks.
Hersch Mordechai Fintshes maintained the statistics, and from him, one could obtain information about every resident. Avrahamele Hoffman was the address for documentation and passports. For the civic lottery one went to Chaim Yoel Taneh.
It is no wonder that the youth saw no future for themselves there, and they traveled to all corners of the world.
Thanks to that dispersion, there are remnants here and there of our dear town, that was so cruelly cut down. There once was a shtetl, and it is no longer.
Two peaceful flowing rivers,
Like two silver serpents.
Singer birds in the morning,
Only my heart is captive.
Every minute I remember,
That there was a small shtetl there,
Dear Jews, women and children,
Who were murdered with torture and pain,
On occasion I weep in the quiet,
My hot tears in the eyes,
Each house, the synagogue, the Kloiz.
Each child who grew up there.
There is no corner there that I can forget.
I always have them in my mind.
Despite how far I am from them,
I often remember them.
Rivers still flow there,
However, it pains me deeply,
Empty is the soul,
The heart weeps and cannot be comforted…
Geographically, Rozniatow was located somewhere in the corner of the world. The telegraph poles ended in Perehinsko, and the highway ended. One could only see mountains, sky and water.
Rozniatow had two rivers, the Lomnica in the east and the Czeczwa in the west. If one wants, one can count a third river, the Rika. The water from the rivers falls down to the mill, and from there makes a turn behind Reb Itzikel's house, until the homes of the gentiles. Then first at Wisotzky's house behind the bath, it turns once again into a Jewish river. Women wash clothes and dishes in it. The Rika flows into the Lomnica at Zarinik.
Rozniatow had no railway station, and one had to go seven and a half kilometers to Krechowice. Despite this, one could enter the city from two directions, from Stryj and from Stanislawow.
On the Sabbath, people went to walk in the forest, on the meadows atop the mountain. There we children used to follow the girls. When they came down the other side, we went together. We were embarrassed to meet, and we also did not want people to talk about us in the town.
The surrounding villages were poor. Swaryczow was always anti-Semitic. The best relations were with Strutyn Nizhny, whose residents brought onions and garlic into the city. Wood was imported to the city from other villages.
Once, a Jew from Perehinsko had to appear in court and needed to engage a wagon driver, but someone forgot. The Jew was worried, and began to run on foot from the village to Rozniatow. Along the way, he encountered a peasant carrying wood to the city, and asked him how much he wants for the wood. He answered that the cost was 50 Greitzer. The Jew said that he would pay the price, on the condition that he put down the wood and immediately transport him to the court. The peasant began to cross himself, being certain that the Jew had gone crazy, and did not want to leave his toil for naught.
Many Jews went to the villages. They got up at dawn and set out the villages on foot, taking with them a jar of petroleum, sacks of kindling, salt, thread, buttons and other such things. Back from the village they brought a few dozen eggs, a hen, a duck, and a… secret. The secret was that the cow of some farmer in the village was about to have a calf, and one could purchase the calf from him. One could pay the farmer and leave the calf with him until it was weaned. If the Jew wanted to earn two Reinish, he would have to wait an entire month.
Those who were in the egg business, and who were storekeepers, factory workers, and various wholesalers earned a better livelihood. There were also brokers who would make the rounds in town. If one wanted to purchase a wagonload of wood, a hen, a quantity of mushrooms, one would go to the broker, tell him what to bring to the house, and pay him 10 or 15 Greitzer for his service.
Marriage brokering was also an honorable profession. I recall that a mother once came with her son from a village to arrange a marriage for him. She went to Chaya Adler, who suggested a nice girl who would be able to pay 1,000 Reinish as a dowry. However, the mother negotiated, as she wanted more.
Observant Jews in Rozniatow woke up very early. It was still dark outside when Koppel Feiger, the shamash (sexton) of the Kloiz, went around to knock on the doors with his wooden hammer. He would knock seven times on each door and say, Jews, holy nation, arise to the service of the Creator.
Every Thursday, Koppel was paid for his effort. Dr. Wasserman the lawyer, from whom he requested 10 Greitzer, once asked him how much it would cost for him not to knock.
The Sabbath had a unique charm in Rozniatow. The house was bedecked with good things. On Friday, people prepared a pipek (chicken gizzard), a chicken neck, a liver, stuffed knishes, onion crackers, poppy seed cookies, rogelach with raisins and cinnamon, and other tasty things.
The craftsmen had their own minyan. They conducted the first service in the Beis Midrash. By 8:00 a.m. they had already completed their services and made kiddush. However, they still had to wait for the cholent, which was taken out of the oven at 11:00 a.m., when everyone left the Beis Midrash or synagogue. My grandmother Freda's kugels were famous. She made a different kugel every week, a noodle (lockshin) kugel with salt and pepper, a sweet rice kugel with chopped liver, a carrot kugel with kishka, and various others. After the meat, there were large, black beans.
After such a meal, the parents went to take a nap, while the youth got dressed up and went outside to stroll.
At 3:00 p.m., the craftsmen once again gathered in the synagogue to recite Psalms. The sounds broke through the heavens. Yisrael Yukum Beila Gitze's, the tailor of the gentiles, conducted this service. Afterward, Michael the women's tailor led the Mincha service.
Michael would make new, white wedding dresses, costumes and coats. People went hungry at his home, for he would remain in the Kloiz until 11:00 p.m., come home tired, and not have energy to work. He would make a weekday bekishe (Hassidic cloak) for my grandfather every year. He would come to our house during Chanukah and say, Melech, we are going to get merchandise. They went to Shaya Frisch's workplace and, each year, Michael asked him to give more linen. When Grandfather asked him, Michael, am I still growing?, he answered him, You not, but my son is growing, may their be no evil eye… He would save over a shirt for his son.
On Saturday night after Havdalah, Adela Geller would come to us to make the accounts for the flour. Shortly after, various guests would come over for a chat. The main topic was the Messiah. They talked about world politics. They talked with Grandfather about verses of the Zohar, and various numerological exegeses (gematria) that demonstrated that we were approaching the Messianic era. They also told stories about the Baal Shem Tov, about the Rizhiner and Zidichever5.
In the year 5651 (1911) my grandfather published a brochure called Kol Mevaser. It was published by the A. H. Zupnik publishing house. The brochure appeared in two editions. The first one had 4,000 copies, and the second one had 40,000 copies. All were sold. The main idea of the brochure was that the miracle of the coming of the Messiah would happen in a natural fashion, that is through travelling to Israel and settling there. Dr. Herzl later received an edition, and wrote a letter to Grandfather. Among other things, he wrote:, When in later times, one will write the history of Zionism, your name will also be mentioned.
Dr. Herzl's prophecy was fulfilled. In the Encyclopedia of Religious Zionism, there is an entry on my grandfather, Reb Bendet Elimelech Halevi Gross, a native of Rozniatow.
Grandfather's best friend was Reb Mordechai Krigel, who was called Mordechai-Meir Ber's. His house was between those of Yoel Reiner and Binyamin Katarina. Reb Mordechai was the greatest scholar in the city after Chanina. He excelled with his multi-faceted mastery of Gemara, Bible, Kabbala, books on morality, and Jewish history. He also knew how to read and write German. Throughout his life, Reb Mordechai always had more books than livelihood.
Reb Chaim Yoel Taneh is a person about whom something should be written in our book. He conducted the lottery. He owned the group of houses from Shmuel Wirt's until Chaim Asher Yankel's. He slowly sold them and lost the money. However, even in the most difficult of times, he would give the best donations. He was a maskil, and in later years he even studied chemistry.
It was told in our home that when I was one year old and sick with diphtheria, Reb Chaim Yoel found my father weeping, and asked him to visit the rabbi so that he would give him permission to travel on Sabbath to a gentile physician. Shortly thereafter, he gave my father money, so that my father would have money for the expenses. That event was later followed by further experiences, when the conductor took me for dead and did not want to put me on the wagon. My mother claimed to him that I was still alive, and the conductor should let us board. There was a professor with six assistants in the children's hospital, and I, the year old child, was immediately given artificial respiration. I was brought back to Rozniatow six weeks years later, having recovered and regained my health.
Reb Chaim Yoel came to look at me and said:
The child will yet throw stones.
Thus it was, during the first elections to the Austrian parliament, I went as a young child to collect money for the election fund. Reb Chaim Yoel asked: What do you want to buy with the money? Candies?
I was insulted and answered him that for such words, I would break the glass and take away the lottery. Reb Chaim Yoel told me with a smile:
That is what I knew already when you were one year old.
Jews often traveled from Rozniatow to Germany. They were concentrated in specific cities such as Magdeburg, Dasburg, Bockum, Cologne, etc. In Magdeburg, there was a minyan of Rozniatow Jews at the home of Buni Reizler. That minyan even had its own rabbi. At Passover, the Rozniatow youngsters in Germany would travel to their old home, where everyone had a mother, a grandmother, and where one would seek a marriage partner.
There were also those who were never heard from after they left. They were missing. It would sometimes happen that such a person would suddenly be seen in the town after ten or fifteen years. He would make an impression. Everyone would talk about him, and then he would once again disappear.
There was a Jew by the name of Aharon Hirsch in town, who lived in the intersection across from Yossel Kastner. He was in the honey business. He was a partner Ben-Zion Yankel from the metal shop. Both would set out on a journey in late summer with a wagon filled with empty barrels. A few weeks later, they would return from the journey with the honey that they purchased. A portion of that honey was manufactured into mead in the Stanislawow brewery. This was the mead upon which the Jews of Rozniatow became tipsy on Simchas Torah.
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