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{348}

Personalities and Ways of Life (cont.)

The Rabbi's Son in Vienna

by Simcha Gross of Hadera

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Not everyone knows that our town often had great rabbis during specific periods, despite the fact that the Jewish community never excelled with great wealth. Permit me to relate an episode that took place when I was once doing business in Vienna with a dress manufacturer. As I was sitting with him, he told me that he was the son of a rabbi, and that his father had authored an important book. He remarked that I seemed a bit skeptical. He took out a book from the bookshelf, and to my great surprise, under the name of the author was written the words “Head of the Rabbinical Court of Rozniatow”. This was a great experience for me but unfortunately, I have forgotten the name of the book and its author.

Rabbi Avraham Blank

The rabbi Rabbi Avraham Blank was greatly beloved. He was a people's rabbi. All matters regarding the community went by him. His greatest accomplishment was that the building of the synagogue, and effort that had lasted for 30 years, concluded during his tenure. The city erected a canopy over his grave in the cemetery after he died. When faced with difficulties, people would go to his grave to request that he be a righteous intercessor.

My Teachers

At that time, there were three children's teachers in Rozniatow. Two of them had large playgrounds, and the children were able to spend a long time in the fresh air. When they were called in to learn, they were happy and cheerful. One of the teachers was Reb David. He began to study aleph beit with the children, and then taught them Hebrew and Chumash. The second teacher was Reb Yosef Avraham. He taught approximately 100 children in his cheder, which was a difficult job for him. It was particularly difficult for him when his wife Frady died, and he was left alone. He had nobody to cook or provide food for him. He was in despair for quite a while, until the misfortune of the fire came, which to him turned into good fortune. At the beginning, he indeed did not have a place upon which to lay his head. However, when he sold the place in which he had his dwelling, he purchased a smaller place, built a house with a shop, and had money left over.

He was able to start a new life. He went around well-dressed, with a fine walking stick. Very soon, someone suggested a match for him with the lessee of the bathhouse, whose daughter was a beautiful and intelligent girl. They got married, and within a year, she bore him a son. This son was the recently deceased, able merchant in Hadera, who also served as the fire chief. It seems as if he as well was involved with fire, thanks to which his father had been helped.

The third teacher, Reb Abba, was more modern. When one would begin to study Chumash with him, he would hang six broken watches on the child, and conduct a Torah celebration on the Sabbath, along with all of the child's friends. One of the children, with a functioning watch, was designated as “the asker”. My asker was Davidel Frisch, who today lives in Mexico. After the good wishes on the Sabbath, the following dialog began: “What Torah portion is conducted today?”, “My rebbe does not conduct Torah portion”. “What does that mean? Does your rebbe not conduct a Torah portion?” “No my rebbe teaches me a Torah portion”. “What Torah portion do you study with your rebbe?” “Vayikra”. “What does Vayikra mean?” “He called.” “Who called?” The shamash in the synagogue?” “No, G-d called to Moses…”.

Later, I transferred over to a Gemara teacher, in the cheder of Reb Chaim Shimon Lutwak. With him, broad horizons were opened for the children. He also taught Yiddish writing. He took his calling very seriously. He was also a maskil, the only one in the city who subscribed to a Hebrew newspaper.

Every Sunday, the mailman brought the “Hamitzpe” to the cheder. This paper was published in Krakow. This was a solemn moment for Reb Chaim Shimon, and the class was automatically recessed for a half an hour. The Rebbe glanced through the newspaper, and we behaved with great respect. We did not disturb the peace. After he finished reading, the Rebbe related to us some news from the newspaper, which we repeated over at our homes.

Once, while he was looking through the newspaper the Rebbe told about a great philosopher who lived in Dolina and published many books. His name was Dr. Shlomo Rubin. He died at the age of 80 years. Hamitzpeh published an article written by a friend of Dr. Rubin's in Dolina on the occasion of his 25th yahrzeit.

An Encounter with the Centenarian Jew from Rozniatow

35 years ago, I had a business in Vienna. An old woman was among my regular customers. One day I saw her, and then I saw her a year later. She introduced me to her father, a very old, shriveled Jew. At the beginning of our conversation, it became clear that he was from Dolina. As soon as he mentioned his name to me, my memory went back 35 years to the cheder of Reb Chaim Shimon, and I recalled the story with Dr. Shlomo Rubin. I quickly made the association. I reacted and asked him, “Did you not write an article in Hamitzpeh about Dr. Shlomo Rubin about 35 years ago?1” Rather than answering, he began to cite the article by heart. He indicated that he was the author, and that he used to come to Rozniatow, but this was 50 years earlier.

I asked him if he knew Elimelech Gross. He stood still, deep in thought. With a gaze into the distance, and with a thoughtful voice, he said, “Yes, I taught him how to write”. When I told him that I was a grandson of Elimelech Gross, he looked at me silently, continued to stare at me, and then recited the Shehechayanu blessing, invoking G-d's name2.

That day, I traveled to father, who was already and old man, and I told him whom I had met. Then I found out that he had been married to my great-grandfather's sister. Once, he was caught smoking a cigarette in the bathroom on the Sabbath, and he had to get a divorce. On the day that I met him, he was over 100 years old.

A Rozniatow Jewish Girl – the Wife of the Anglican Archbishop

One day, as I was leaving the public school, the children ran after an old man. He was tall with a long, white beard, dressed in tattered clothes, and he carried a cane in his hand. He was mumbling, “Where are my daughters?” Later I found out that he had suffered a terrible tragedy. He used to have a wheat business in Rozniatow. He had a large house, and when a Rebbe would come, he would stay at his house. He had married off a son, and he still had two fine daughters. However, when somebody opened up a shop in the neighborhood with the same merchandise, a bitter competition ensued. A terrible tragedy overtook him, and after his wife's death, he left town. His two daughters went to look for him. They went to Lemberg, and never came back. Nobody knew what happened to them. Twenty years passed, and the Jew was once again seen in the town, and began to search for his children. He went through the streets without his full wits, and asked every passerby, “Where are my daughters?”

Another 35 years passed, and the Second World War broke out. A young American appeared in Rozniatow, who inquired about his family. He was the son of one of the two lost daughters. He said that his father was an Anglican Archbishop in Boston, who had published several theological works. When news of the danger that was threatening the Jews in Europe became known, his old mother asked him to travel immediately to Rozniatow and save her brother and his family.

He told us further that his mother had another sister whose husband was a well-known lawyer, and she was seeking a match for her daughter with a Jewish young man from Rozniatow. We never heard anything more about them after the Second World War. Nobody survived of the family in Rozniatow.

A Lost Talent

My father had three brothers: Mordechai, Shlomo and Itche. Itche was a wild youth, physically strong. He did not go to the synagogue or the cheder, and did not submit himself to any authority. He spent the entire day in the forest, raising pigeons and catching fish. I was his closest friend. When he was twelve years old, something overtook him. He sat down at the table and began to write something in a notebook. He used to write until late at night.

After a time, a Yiddish translation of an English book came to his hands. This made a great impression upon him. He began to read it. He became a member of the Lemberg library. After a few years, without taking lessons, he read through books of world literature, and began to write novels and stories, which were published in a Lemberg daily.

When the First World War broke out, he left Rozniatow and reached Vienna, where he was mobilized and sent to the front. He was wounded. While in the hospital, he began to help in the hospital kitchen. However, after a brief period, he became ill with dysentery and died. It is clear that Jewish literature lost a great talent with his death.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The article states '15' years ago. I suspect that this is a typo, and 35 was intended. Back

  2. The Shehecheyanu blessing is made on joyous occasions (Jewish holidays, as well as personal occasions of joy such as moving into a new house, wearing new clothes for the first time, etc.). If there is a doubt whether a blessing needs to be recited, it is recited without using G-d's name. The inclusion of G-d's name indicates that there was no doubt about the requirement of reciting the blessing. Back


{353}

Prayer Houses

by Ben Zion Horowitz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Uncaptioned. Ben Zion Horowitz

 

The largest synagogue was near a small synagogue. Moshe Keves was the long serving shamash. He was followed by Yehuda Barnik. The so-called “fine Jews” and the intelligentsia worshipped in the synagogue. The craftsmen worshipped in the small synagogue.

A large Beis Midrash was opposite the synagogue. It was built in the years 1902-1905 under the supervision of Shmuel Szwindler. The local householders worshipped in the Beis Midrash. The gabbai was Avraham Groll and the shamash was Pinchas Schwalb.

The large brick Kloiz was in the same neighborhood. The local Hassidim worshipped there.

There was a small Kloiz on Herzl Street that Hersch Rechtschaffen set up when he became angry with the Beis Midrash.

There was a Beis Midrash in the Old town where the Jews from that neighborhood worshipped. Leibish Friedler was the gabbai.

Below the city, in the home of Taube Lerer, there was a small synagogue where the Jews of that neighborhood worshipped.

Not far from the synagogues was the steam bath, the mikva (ritual bath), and a poorhouse where the poor people who came to Rozniatow from other places could spend the night.

In 1936, the community set up electric lights to light up the large synagogue, the Beis Midrash and the Kloiz. They purchased a diesel motor that ran during the times of services. At that time, lighting was also set up in the bathhouse.

Until the time of the Second World War, there were no electric lights in Rozniatow. The Russian liberators provided us with electric lights. The electrical station was set up in the city mill, where there was a turbine whose blades were driven by the water from the river. Thus, the mill was converted in to an electrical station that operated only in the summer. When the river began to freeze over, there was no light.

Until the outbreak of the Second World War, the rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Menachem Maczner, led services in the large synagogue. People hastened to hear the rabbi worship and sing over all other prayer leaders.

Yaakov Hochman, Hersch Rechtschaffen, Reuven Getzel Heizler, Shmuel Nussbaum (in Rechtschaffen's small Kloiz), Gedalya Weber, Shlomo Yungerman, Reb David Glass, Shmuel Szwindler and Avrahamcha Zauerberg1.

The ritual slaughterers were Reb David Glass, Reb Moshe Weizer, his son Reb Zeida, Reb Yaakov Hochman and Reb David Roth.

We Remember

A group of Rozniatow natives at the dedication
of a monument in the forest of the martyrs

Photographed by Mordechai Stern

 

{355}

Mordechai Strassman

The head of the family, Mordechai Strassman, was called Motialon. He was an athletically built man, not tall, and in his forties. He went around to the villages, and also conducted business. He earned his livelihood. The gentiles of Rozniatow and the surrounding villages were afraid of Motialon's strength. When drunken gentiles would become wild in a Jewish tavern and they could not be calmed, people would run to Motialon for help. Motialon would calm the wild gentiles with his fists. Similarly, during the fires that often broke out in Rozniatow, Motialon would be one of the first to come to the rescue, when it was possible. Motialon would gladly help anyone in need.

His wife Rivka, a peaceful homemaker, was occupied with raising their four children. There were three girls, Neshi, Esther Rachel, and one son Avraham. They lived on Herzl Street, opposite Rechtschaffen's small Kloiz. For a certain time after a fire, we rented a dwelling from the Strassman's. Their children were calm and well raised.

In 1941, when Hitler's hordes entered our town, Jews began to flee in a great panic. We wanted the Strassmans to go with us. They categorically refused, but they allowed their only son, Avraham, to travel with us. Thus did we travel, and Avrahamche always came with us.

We often had to flee, whenever possible, on account of the frequent bombardments by the German airplanes. Avrahamche Strassman once disappeared from us. We searched for him for a long time but could not find him. Thus we arrived in Russia without Avrahamche.

Mordechai, Rivka, Neshi, Esther and Rachel were all killed.

I again took interest in Avrahamche when I returned to Rozniatow from the Russian army in 1945. The Russian military commandant (Voyenkom) named Samolov told me the following:

“Avraham Markovitch Strassman was mobilized in Russia in 1942. He joined a Cossack unit. He was greatly loved in his unit. He was promoted to sergeant and took part in all the battles of his unit.

In May 1945, he fell in battle near Koenigsberg, a few days before Hitler's downfall2. Taking revenge for the murder of his father, mothers and sisters, he gave up his young life. Honor to his memory.”

He was decorated with a high medal. Since he had been killed, the medal was sent to the military commandant in Rozniatow, with the hope that someone from his family would be alive to receive the documents and the accompanying documents.

A person came to the city commandant, presenting himself as a relative of the Strassman family. He received the medal and accompanying documents. I was unable to ascertain where these ended up.

Thus was a family wiped out, without leaving any memory.

{356}

Reb Shmuel Wirt (Ingtom)

It was told that he was a cattle merchant in his younger days, making the rounds to the fairs, buying and selling. He was very successful, thanks to his honesty and intelligence. People proposed the best matches to him.

After his marriage, he had a business with meal, bran, and seeds. G-d blessed him with seven daughters, a son, and great wealth. For his daughters, he searched only for scholars as matches. G-d indeed helped him, and sent him one by one sons-in-law who were scholars. He used to always say:

“With sons, one must always have Divine help, for they might either be good or bad. However, with daughters one only needs a large pocket of money, and then you can purchase for them whomever you want.”

Indeed, he did not spare any money. He paid for and purchased the best sons-in-laws for his daughter. From his daughters and son-in-law he had a very large family with children and grandchildren. All of the seats in the marketplace and half the Rynek (town square) were for his sons-in-law and grandchildren.

Reb Shmuel Wirt merited to have contentment from his grandchildren as well. They also married scholars.

His funeral, already during the Hitler times, took place with the participation of the entire town. It is fitting for his honor to mention his sons-in-law by their names:

Reb Shmuel Wirt

 

Reb Yosef Shimon Stern, Reb Binyamin Spiegel, Reb Kalman Halperin, Reb Avrahamche Zauerberg, Reb Yisrael Karnobli, Reb Dov-Berish Weiss, Reb Ben-Zion Strassfield, and his only son.

It would be appropriate to fully describe each of these young men. Each was a world unto himself, a scholar, a merchant, a communal activist, intermingling Torah with business. However we cannot describe each one separately in such a restricted place.

Why was he called by the nickname “Ingtom”? I asked that question to many Rozniatowers, and almost nobody could answer, until I came a cross and old time native who now lives in Hadera, Mrs. Gross, the grandson of Melech Gross. He told me the following story:

Reb Shmuel Wirt was a wealthy man, content with his lot, and a great prankster. Among all else, he was known in the town for his deeds on Simchat Torah, when he moved worlds to ensure that everyone was happy, both young and old. He used to gather together children from all of the Kloizes and synagogues, give them candies, act silly with them, and present himself as an officer. Why this? It was very simple. He took his silk kapote, and stuck its corners into his belt. He took hold of his gray beard and divided it into two parts, took a hoe and spade and arranged them with his arms on his shoulder, and issues a command to the children: “Hop, follow me!” He walked with the hoe and spade through the streets, and the children followed him with shouts and laughter. Then he began to issue orders like a veritable officer: “Right, left, right”. Adding “Uhm” in the Austrian language. An old man, without teeth, the, “Links-uhm” sounded like “Ing-tom”, and thus did he get the nickname “Ingtom”. Nobody knew him as Shmuel Wirt, but rather Shmuel Ingtom.

Binyamin Keller

He was another Jew with a known nickname, “Katarina”. Why was he called thus? Reb Simcha Gross from Hadera continued on with the following story:

Binyamin, the son of Baruchl, had the habit of shouting out with great ecstasy “Viktirna Ktores” during the recital of “Pitum Haktoret” at the Mincha service. “Viktirna Ktores” – and he continued on silently “Tamid Lifney Hashem Ledoroteichem”3. Thus came the nickname “Katarina”.

The Spiegel Family

In the region of Rozniatow, there were larger and smaller villages in which Jewish families had lived for many years. They lived well-organized lives with their own businesses. There were also poor families who barely eked out their living from various sources. The children studied in the surrounding towns. Most of the Jews spent the festivals in the nearby towns.

The communal life of Jews in Ukraine was for the most part peaceful. Every gentile had his own Jew. When the gentile was in need of help, he turned to his Jew, and always found good neighborly assistance.

After the first World War, unfriendly winds began to blow toward the Jews in the villages. Ukrainian agitators began to stream into the villages and conduct incendiary agitation against the village Jews. Ukrainian national cooperatives, Ukrainian shops and stores, and cooperative purchasing agencies were set up in the villages so that they could purchase all of their agricultural needs from the peasants. The gentiles were compelled to sell all of their agricultural products at cheap prices. The Jews had formally paid them higher prices. Thus were the Jews in the villages squeezed out of their livelihoods. The anti-Semitism strengthened materially and physically.

Thus was the Jewish-Ukrainian ideal destroyed.

Without any option, the Jews began to leave their well-established homes in the villages, and began to reorganize their lives in the towns.

The Spiegel family was one of the Jewish families who left the villages and settled in Rozniatow. They were a large family. The head of the family was Eli Spiegel, a middle aged man, industrious, with a good character, and beloved by all of his neighbors. His wife Chaya was a good, industrious homemaker, who helped people in need.

They lived in their own house, worked their own field, and had cows. During those times, Jews would say, “It is nice when a person has a sufficient supply of his own potatoes, and a cow in the barn that gives milk. He is protected from hunger.” The Spiegel family were such people. They married off their children and helped them to establish themselves. Grandchildren were born. They were content.

However, the “Nazi plague” broke out, to the misfortune of mankind, which put an end to the hopes, fine dreams, and plans.

Disturbances, terror and despair pervaded in the Spiegel family. The parents did not know what had happened with their children in Germany. When the “Ost-Juden” were driven out by the Nazis from Germany back to Poland, and were left helpless at the border at Zbaszyn, Moshe Spiegel, his wife and three children were among those unfortunate, helpless Jews. The first victim there was Moshe Spiegel's daughter, who was unfortunately shot before the eyes of her parents. We know nothing about the fate of the remaining children of our neighbors who were in Germany.

Eli and Chaya Spiegel and their children who lived in Rozniatow were driven to the ghetto in Dolina.

Two children were left of that large family. Yitzchak Spiegel left Germany in 1933, made aliya to the Land of Israel, got married and lived in Haifa. He died recently. Chana Spiegel made aliya to the Land of Israel from Rozniatow in 1937. She got married to Philip Hirsch, and they established themselves well. They have a married daughter and three picture beautiful grandchildren. May they be well.

The Zimmerman family

The head of the family was Meir Zimmerman, and was known by the nickname Meir Kozeh. He was a shoemaker by trade. He was a widower, for his wife Mirchi the daughter of Sashi Feiga died in 1933. Meir Zimmerman was a quiet, sincere person. He was a father of five children. It was not easy to raise five children under those circumstances, with only the help of the hammer and the shoemaker's thread, and without any outside help. The children were raised well.

Dvorah's husband was Nachum Leib Zimmerman, the son of Moshe and Keila Zimmerman, a tailor by profession. Their son was Mottel. They lived with her father. There was also Avraham Yechezkel, a hair stylist. Leib worked for Shmuel Friedler in his manufacturing enterprise. There were also Chaya Rivka and Yankel.

When the children grew up and began to work and earn income, they helped their sick father. Thereby, they lightened the difficult life of the family. This continued until the catastrophe that came in June 1941, which put an end to everything.

When the murderous hordes began to enter the town, and the danger was very great, the Jews began to gather on the roads, seeking out hiding places. Two groups formed. A smaller group decided to leave immediately, and set out on their way. The larger group decided to remain in their homes at Hitler's mercy. Horses and buggies were provided for Communist functionaries. The only available route was to Stanislawow, 49 kilometers away.

With great fear of being shot, we set out to Stanislawow. Meir Zimmerman's four children, Avraham-Yechezkel, Chaya-Rivka, Leib and Yankel also went with us.

It was not easy to continue on with the train from Stanislawow. The city was already evacuated. Therefore, we had to gather in the train and travel further. The train was often bombarded.

Thus did we travel on to Husiatyn, where our train was once again bombarded strongly. There were many dead and wounded, and there was no assistance of any kind. A great panic ensued. People ran around shouted, and did not understand each other. People began to run home on foot.

We used all means to calm our people and convince them that for us, there was no other way but to travel on, despite the many different dangers. There, there would be many chances to save ourselves. No means of argument helped. A significant number of our people left us with the aim of returning home, without paying attention to the fact that the way itself was a great danger.

Among those who returned from Husiatyn were also the four children of Meir Zimmerman: Avraham-Yechezkel, Leib, Yankel and Chaya Rivka. Back home, they suffered the same fate as millions of martyrs.

This was the tragic end of the family of Meir Zimmerman, which was erased from the earth.

The same fate suffered by the family of Meir Zimmerman was also suffered by Moshe Zimmerman, his wife Keila, two sons and two daughters.

May G-d avenge their souls.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This list of names has no description, but I believe from the context of the previous paragraph that it is referring to prayer leaders. Back
  2. Hitler actually committed suicide on April 30, 1945, but the war lasted for another several days. Back
  3. These are quotations from the daily recital of the incense ceremony of the Holy Temple. This is recited at the daily morning services, and also in some customs at the daily afternoon (Mincha) service. Back

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