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{p. 696}

Men of the People

by Y. F.

Translated by Jerrold Landau


Years went by, but in the eyes of my mind the personalities and characters of our city are still clear. They implanted light into our lives during the course of their pure lifetimes, and conducted faithful and diligent work daily for the benefit of the public.

These are the modest communal activities, men of stature, who did everything for the sake of the mitzvah, without any pride and arrogance, and hurting anyone. They added their own imprint into our beautiful communal life.



A.

Freiman Hirsch (Shalom Tzvi) Frydman

The name Freiman Hirsch, as he was known in Sochaczew, had a strange ring to it. It was a very uncommon name. Even he himself was somewhat of an enigma, not fully understood. Externally, he was extremely straightforward. He was of average height, with a shriveled face, an ardent Hassid, however very sharp and drawn out. He was not an outstanding scholar, and as every Hassid, he went daily to the prayer service, returned home, ate breakfast, and went to his store and business – he purchased butter and cheese from the farmers, and sold baked goods and food. Nevertheless, he was well known and prominent in all areas of life in Sochaczew, and even his dingy store was not as simple as it apparently appeared.

In his general store he also sold various medications, 'segulot'[1] and herbs for various ailments. The gentiles in the villages would gather them for him, and he would dry them himself. Not infrequently would a weeping Jewess hurry to the store of Freiman Hirsch, with clasped hands, to request a remedy for a sick person. He would search through the full boxes and mix up a potion, as an alchemist who had found the secret to eternal life…

What did he not do? He was a prayer leader, a mohel (ritual circumciser), a trustee (Gabbai) of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society), and the blower of the shofar on Rosh Hashana. It seemed as if he was born to serve in all of these roles.

He served as the mohel of the town for forty-five years. Almost every newborn Jewish boy in Sochaczew was circumcised by him, rich and poor alike. Neither frost nor a snowstorm would stop him – for he was the mohel of the city.

He was not an extraordinary cantor, but nevertheless he served as a prayer leader for dozens of years. On the high holydays, he was in demand at both the Beis Midrash and the synagogue. To satisfy both, he would divide up his prayers. He would conduct the morning service and shofar blowing in the synagogue, and then conduct the mussaf service at the Beis Midrash. This was on the first day – and on the second day, he would do the reverse.

The high point of his communal service took place in the event of a death. After Aharon Shulklapper announced a death with two bangs of his wooden hammer, Freiman Hirsch would hurry over to the cemetery, choose an appropriate plot, and begin to occupy himself with the ritual preparations of the body (taharah), the dressing of the body in shrouds. He would lead the funeral procession and place the coffin into the grave. If a Jew from the village arrived with his 'dead', or if there was a 'meit mitzvah'[2], he would be the first among those who would busy themselves with the preparations.

He once related the following incident:

In one dark night he heard in a dream that they were knocking at his window to inform him that a 'meit mitzvah' was to be found on the route to Boristow. He arose from his bed, got dressed, lit his torch and went to search for the corpse. Suddenly, he recognized a Jew who was coming to greet him, also with a torch in his hand. Freiman Hirsch asked him where he was going, and he related that he also had a similar dream. Both of them carried the corpse on their shoulders and brought him to the taharah room[3] in the cemetery.

Freiman Hirsch was 'one of a kind' among the members of the Chevra Kadisha, for he was not inclined to take a 'drink'. He was a 'dry Gabbai'. [4] Even on the 7th of Adar, the festival of the Chevra Kadisha, he did not drink any strong drinks. [5] His greatest joy would be on Simchas Torah when, in his capacity of the Gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha, he would distribute candles and red apples to all of the children of the city so that they can place them on their flags. The children would come to him, and he would ensure that they were well taken care of, and rejoice with them.

This noble communal activist, who never entered into a controversy with anybody, was ultimately caught up in a controversy with the Sochaczew Hassidic courtyard. This is what transpired:

The Zionist "minyan" (prayer group) in the home of Shmuel Nelson commissioned a Torah scroll to be written, and he was invited to the celebration marking the conclusion of the writing of the Torah scroll, and was honored with the inscribing of one of the final letters [6]. He and his son Mendel responded to the invitation, purchased a letter, and attended the festivities along with all of the Zionists of the city. When he returned, he had a 'shekel' (membership to the Zionist organization) in his pocket.

The issue of the 'shekel' reached the Hassidic courtyard – and they would not forgive him for this 'transgression'. When he came, as he did every year in his capacity of Gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha, to the table of the Rebbe to bring him a cake, red apples, and a large 'havdalah' candle, the members of the court would not permit him to enter.

The controversy between the Hassidic court and the Chevra Kadisha lasted for several years, and they were not appeased until one of the members of the Hassidic court died, and required the services of the Chevra Kadisha.

To the simple masses of Sochaczew, Freiman Hirsch was the paramount communal activist for all his days, the Gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha, a prayer leader, a mohel – he was beloved and accepted by everyone.

He left a will which requested, among everything else, that the sack which is placed at the head of the grave should be filled not with earth, but rather with the charitable receipts that he acquired throughout the years from his donations to various Yeshivot and charities, along with his circumcision knife. On the other side, he requested that his small shofar be placed in the grave with him…

B.

Moshe Aharon "Shulklapper"

Each day, each morning, even during snowstorms and deep cold, the town would hear the twice a day his knocks that summoned people to the synagogue: morning and evening.

In the winter, before daybreak, in the dark and with the roads covered with snow, he would trek a path through the roads in order to fulfill his holy duty. He was also the first to inform people of bad news with the knocks of his wooden hammer. If someone died, and two knocks were heard at the door, the people in the house would tremble. They would open the door and ask:

"Moshe Aharon, who passed away?"

As the knocks of his hammer were heard, and the echo was heard in all houses, Jews would begin to appear on the streets, with their prayer shawls under their shoulders, hurrying to their prayers…

He was small in stature, and had a small beard. He walked with difficulty, but he nevertheless was able to make his rounds to all of the houses of the town.

Year after year, for dozens of years, he faithfully knocked on the doors of the Jews.


C.

Meir Binyamin

Whenever Meir Binyamin would go forth on the streets dressed in his black kapote[7] and girded with his belt (gartel); it was a sign that a Jew had passed away.

In such an event he would drink a cup of 90% strength liquor, in order to fortify himself so he could maintain his vigilance until after the burial. Then he hurried to the Chevra Kadisha and informed Moshe Aharon Shulklapper, so that they could determine the location of the grave. He did not rest for one minute. He prepared wood for the coffin of a 'meit mitzvah'. Close to the time of the funeral, he would pass through the main streets, stand at set places, put his right hand to his beard and chin, and shout in a loud voice: "meit mitzvah!" This was in order to urge people to come to the funeral. Then he would continue on his way. This was a sign that everything was already prepared, and it was time to come to pay final respects to the deceased. On a day such as that he proved his value, diligence and dedication. At the time of the funeral he took hold of the round charity chest, which was locked with a small locked and inscribed with a note saying "Charity saves from death" – this box was one of the main sources of income for the Chevra Kadisha.

After the funeral the members of the Chevra Kadisha would gather together to drink "lechayim" according to the custom. Meir Binyamin would then exaggerate a bit, his lips would redden, and he would tell stories on the topic of funerals and burials, as if he was taking pride in "everything was done by Meir Binyamin"… and therefore he was given the nickname "Hakol Meir Binyamin" [8].

In our eyes, to us children, we regarded the members of the Chevra Kadisha as adults who were not afraid of corpses, and he, Meir Binyamin, excelled above them all: for is it no small matter that he would go alone into the cemetery at night without being afraid…

Once I obtained a few five and ten kopeck Russian coins which were from Meir Binyamin, who was saved from a shelling attack during the First World War.

Many families remained in the city even though the front was coming dangerously close, and the destruction was increasing in the city. Stores did not open. People would remain locked up in their homes. It was also impossible to bury the dead, since the cemetery was in the area of the front. Therefore, it was decided to bury them behind the Beis Midrash, which protected against bullet bombardments. One day there were a few dead, including two gentiles. Just as the graves were being sealed, a rain of bullets began. We ran for cover. Shells fell before us, and one brushed against the clothing of Meir Binyamin, burning a hole and causing the coins in his pocket to fall out, however he himself was not harmed.

Indeed, he was a fine Jew – "Everything by Meir Binyamin".

{Photo on page 699} Pesach Wolert and his family at his father's grave (name on grave is Yisrael the son of Chaim, died 27 Iyar 5671 – 1911).





TRANSLATOR'S FOOTNOTES

1. Segulot here refer to various remedies with Talmudic, Kabalistic or mystical sources. Return

2. Literally a 'dead person for which there is a mitzvah – commandment'. This refers to a dead person who has nobody to look after his/her funeral preparations. This would often be the case for an indigent or a transient. In its most extreme connotation, it refers to an abandoned corpse. In such a case, it is considered a paramount mitzvah (commandment) for any person who can to drop all other activities and occupy him/herself with the preparation of the body for burial. Return

3. The 'taharah', is the ritual preparation of a body prior to burial. It involves a set ceremony of washing the corpse, dressing it with the shrouds, and placing it in a coffin in the prescribed manner. The entire procedure takes approximately an hour, and requires several members of the Chevra Kadisha to perform it properly. The taharah room is a room in a Jewish funeral home or cemetery where these taharah preparations take place. Return

4. Often, after performing a taharah, the participants would take a shot of liquor and toast each other 'lechayim', wishing each other a long life. Return

5. Chevra Kadisha members generally observe the 7th of Adar (one week prior to Purim), as a fast day, in order to atone for any disrespect for the dead that may have occurred during the performance of their duties. On the night following the fast, the annual Chevra Kadisha banquet takes place. This is generally a very sumptuous meal, accompanied by speeches and words of encouragement for the members to continue in their holy work. While most Chevra Kadishas observe this fast on the 7th of Adar (which is the anniversary of the death of Moses), others observe this fast on the 15th of Kislev. Return

6. At the conclusion of the writing of a Torah scroll, several letters are left blank, and at the festivities that take place at the dedication, various people are honored with the filling in of these letters. Thus, these people participate in the mitzvah of writing a Torah scroll (one of the 613 commandments of the Torah). Often, the honor of writing these final letters is sold, and thereby funds are raised for the payment for the Torah scroll. Return

7. An overcoat often worn by Hassidic Jews. The belt here refers to the 'gartel' generally worn by Hassidic Jews during prayer. Return

8. Everything by Meir Binyamin. Return







{700}

My Parents' Home

by Shlomo Frydman


When I come to write about my parents' home and notes about the personality, deeds, and communal activities of my revered father of blessed memory, I must preface my remarks with a reference to my grandfather Reb Shlomo Frydman of blessed memory, or as he was known Reb Shlomo Grodzisker, due to his being a Hassid of Grodzisk. His wife, Grandmother Taube was from a long line of Sochaczew natives. My father related that in his youth, grandfather used to travel to the Admor Rabbi Elimelech of Grodzisk of holy blessed memory along with the Admor Rabbi Meir Yechiel of Ostrowiec of holy blessed memory. Once my father was together with the Admor of Ostrowiec and introduced himself as the son of Reb Shlomo Grodzisker. The Rabbi honored my father greatly and spoke highly of my grandfather, his friend of his youth.

My grandfather ate "kest"[14] with his father-in-law for many years, more years than was customary in those days. He had the opportunity to occupy himself in Torah day and night and to busy himself greatly with the commandments and good deeds. He was known as an expert scholar, and I heard from grandmother that he used to give one tenth of his earnings to the poor. He was active in all of the charitable organizations that existed in the city, and he was also one of the chief activists and trustees of the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society), along with Reb Freiman Hirsch Frydman of blessed memory and Reb Menashe Zimerinski of blessed memory. We should take not that the Chevra Kadisha of Sochaczew, as was the case in other cities in those days, was composed of the most honorable householders of the city. Hassidim as well as Misnagdim (non-Hassidim) participated together in this true form of kindness. Membership in the Chevra Kadisha was passed down as a legacy from father to son, and it was registered in the annals of the Chevra that when my grandfather and Reb Freiman Hirsch passed on, their places were taken by my father and Reb Mendel Frydman of blessed memory, the eldest son of Reb Freiman Hirsch, and they became the chief activists. This position did not only include the final act of kindness (i.e. funeral arrangements), but also included helping and visiting the sick. Sometimes they would spend entire nights at the bedside of a sick person, taking care of him. This would ease the burden on the household of the sick, since every sick person was able to rest in his own home.

In the atmosphere of Torah and Hassidism, fear of Heaven and the doing of good deeds which pervaded the home of my grandfather, two sons were brought up and educated: my father Yechiel, the eldest, who was born in 5640 (1880), and my uncle Tzvi (Hershel) may G-d avenge his blood.

In order to complete the description of my parents' home, I also must mention the household of my mother Sara Lea of blessed memory, who was the daughter of Reb Menachem Zeev Levin of blessed memory, or, as he used to be called: Reb Velvel the scribe of the forests. He was a precious Jew, a scholar, and a Hassid – apparently at the end of his days he traveled to the Admor Reb Avrahamele of Sochaczew of holy blessed memory – however he was also more progressive, in particular due to his contacts with the Polish estate owners, with whom he had business dealings due to his work in the forests. At the time that he married my mother, he worked in the forests of Mludzyn near Sochaczew. My mother was educated with a progressive education in Wola Solecka. She knew German in addition to Polish, and dressed in modern fashion. At first they used to whisper about her in the women's area of the synagogue, and say that Taube – meaning my grandmother – had gotten a German daughter-in-law, since at that time before the First World War, it was not customary for a woman to appear in the synagogue with a hat and gloves. However, they soon realized that she was modest and particular about both the easy and difficult laws, and they began to treat her with respect.

Photo at top of page 701: Reb Yechiel Frydman and his wife Sara Lea

My grandfather died before his time. He was the victim of an accident. This occurred on the last day of Passover when he returned from a gathering of friends in the Grodziski Shtibel, he stumbled and tripped on the stairs, wounded himself in the head, and passed away that very day. Grandmother moved in to live with us. My father was a man of means. He was in the liquor trade and was quite prosperous. After the death of my grandfather, father continued after him to be active in all of the organizations that my grandfather was a member of.

When the war broke out in 1914 and all of the Jews of Sochaczew moved to Warsaw, there was much activity in the area of mutual assistance among the refugees of Sochaczew. As a man of means, father gave himself over greatly to his communal endeavors, in particular after he arrived in Warsaw. There were at that time two children at home, my sister Gishe of blessed memory who was born in 5668 (1908), and myself, who was born in 5672 (1912).

After the Germans captured Warsaw in 1915, we returned to Sochaczew. Our house as well as the store in the home of Reb Shlomo Lewkowicz of blessed memory was destroyed. Grandmother's house on Warsawska Street, which she received as an inheritance from her father, was also destroyed. We moved to live in the home of Reb Yosef Welkowicz and Reb Shabtai Rotstein of blessed memory, one of the few homes that remained standing. We reopened our liquor store, as well as a hotel. The headquarters of the military governor of the city also was in that house. As a result of who our neighbor was, my father was called upon to intercede before the governing authorities for communal as well as private matters. Even though such intercessions incurred significant costs for my father in the form of bribes and other such costs, he did not want to receive anything in return, and always said that the good deed would be even greater in that way.

Everything that was mentioned above was from hearsay, things that I heard told in our house on various occasions. From hereon in, I will relate matters as I myself witnessed.

After Poland attained independence in 1918, the Jewish community organized on a legal basis according to the military command. At first, the regional government appointed representatives, and granted the community specific autonomous rights, and charged it with organizing communal life in the city. My father was the first deputy on the list of representatives. After the frightful incident which took place with Reb Meir Eizman of blessed memory (15 Elul 5679, September 1919), my father took his place on the communal council.

Thus was the tragedy: during the time of the sitting of the communal council in the home of the rabbi of the city Rabbi Tzvi Prekal of blessed memory, a drunken Polish soldier burst into the home, and Reb Meir Eizman, as usual, was the first to take a stand against him, due to his desire to push the soldier away in order to protect those gathered. He was stabbed to death. Reb Meir Eizman, may G-d avenge his blood, was a strong fighter for Jewish interests, a man of imposing height and great wisdom, a noble and sweet soul – he fell in the line of duty.

My father accepted his position with great pain, due to the tragic situation, in particular because my father and Reb Meir Eizman were always the closest of friends. My father was chosen as the treasurer of the council. The meetings took place at our home, for the council did not have its own office yet, and we had a large and ample home. At that time we lived in the home of Reb Motel Pinczewski of blessed memory. My father spent much time and energy as a member of the communal council, at times to the detriment of his own private activities. He did this all without expectation of reward. Actually, this was the way of most of the communal activists in Poland, who conducted their work with idealism and communal responsibility.

In the first elections for the communal council, which took place at a time of battles between the different factions, my father was not elected to the communal council, and nearly all of the former members were not elected. My father belonged to "Mizrachi", and they did not have much power in the city. The leadership of the council was divided between the Aguda, the Zionists, and the national democrats (Folkists) – with the greatest representation going to the Aguda.

My father was active on many philanthropic organizations, and in particular he spent much time on behalf of the Talmud Torah, with the aim of supporting impoverished students so that they would be able to continue with their studies. He held scholars in high regard, and he never missed the class given by Rabbi Prekal in Gemara each evening in the Beis Medrash. Along with this, he was one of those who came early each morning for the daily prayers in the Bais Medrash, which included, of course, the recitation of several chapters of Psalms, Maamadot[15], and the learning of Mishna.

Several customs of our home are particularly etched upon my mind. These include the preparation of a large vat of boiling water each eve of the Sabbath for tea. Father would set up the oven, and fill it with coals of varying sizes so that it would retain its heat for the entire Sabbath. On Sabbath mornings on their way to the synagogue, dozens of locals would come into our house for a hot drink, and father would serve tea to the guests himself. There were always poor people at our table. On Sabbaths and festivals in particular, father would bring guests home from the synagogue. The Sabbath and festival atmosphere was special, we would welcome the Sabbath queen with feelings of holiness; On Passover the house was converted into a miniature kingdom, and we all had the feeling of being actually freemen. We drew strength from this atmosphere of holiness, which sustained us throughout the mundane week.

Our large home was an eating hall – literally a hall. At times, the wedding of friends would take place at our home, or even the weddings of any Jew whose home was not big enough, and who were not well to do enough to rent a hall. My mother would spread out her nicest tablecloth, and set up a table with the nicest dishes, in order to enhance the joyous occasion.

My mother was a faithful partner to my father in all of his communal activities, and she certainly was not begrudging of guests. Friends of my sister used to come into our house to prepare their lessons, and mother would help them. Not infrequently, the girls would dance. Mother was a wonderful personality, upright, and always prepared to help her fellow. She maintained good and friendly relations with all of her neighbors. Her refined and noble personality always stands before my eyes. Several of her conversations on specific occasions are etched in my memory, how she explained to me the duty of people to be good and upright. To our distress, she was taken from us before her time, on the 11th of Sivan 5686 (1926). She called out: "Shlomo my son!", closed her eyes and returned her pure soul.

After mother's passing, father's health deteriorated, and he began to suffer from heart troubles. His economic situation also deteriorated. The government confiscated the permit of operating a liquor store. This was in the wake of unofficial restrictions against the Jews. Father did not give up easily, and engaged in litigation with the authorities for several years, as we supported ourselves on his savings.

My father remarried after about a year. He married a woman of good lineage from Grodzisk, by the name of Nicha, may G-d avenge her soul. She had been divorced from her first husband, since she did not bear children from him. My father had a daughter with her, Yehudit, may G-d avenge her blood. She was a beautiful girl, with both intellectual and physical strength. When my father did not receive the permit in return after years of litigation, he opened a large general store. In the first years, the business prospered, however as father's health weakened further over the years, the business weakened as well. Due to his poor health, he had to give up his activities on many philanthropic organizations, however he did not give up his work for the Talmud Torah, as he remained its treasurer until the outbreak of the war. He also remained active in the charitable organization of Reb Yechiel Meir Tilman of blessed memory.

In one area, father did not give in at all to his weakness and illness: when they would call him to a sickbed, even in the middle of the night, he would get up and get dressed in haste, and it was hard to believe that this man was dangerously ill. On occasion, he would spend the entire night at the sickbed, and any urging from his family or warnings from the doctors that this behavior was dangerous were ignored. He would always answer that he is sure that this would not harm him.

He was an active member of the Mizrachi movement, and was given over to the idea of the Land of Israel. However, with regard to education, he gave full support to the education of Agudas Yisrael. Therefore, he sent me to the school of Agudas Yisrael. When his friends would ask him: "why is it so, for in this city there are Zionist and Mizrachi schools?", he would answer that with regard to the education of children, there is no compromise, and if my son were to study in the Aguda schools, I still believe that I can be a good Mizrachist. Even when I later joined the Agudas Yisrael youth organizations and in time became one of their activists in the city, he did not bother me. On the contrary, I knew that my father was satisfied with this. Even when my sister joined the Agudas Yisrael girls group, he was very happy. On the other hand, he did not bother my sister when she joined the Z.T.G.S. club, founded by the teacher Kampelmacher, after finishing school.

He never interfered with my reading of books, even if the books were progressive He always did try to influence our activities and behavior, but in a very educational manner.

My father had a very pleasant blend of consistency and caution on the one hand – but on the other hand he had a great understanding of the spirit of the young generation. He was one of the close Hassidim of the Admor Rabbi Yisrael Shapira of holy blessed memory of Grodzisk, and he was one of the faithful friends and close associates of the local Rabbi Prekal of holy blessed memory, even though he did not agree with his outlook. Rabbi Prekal was known as an extreme Agudist, but my father admired him because of his greatness in Torah, his fear of Heaven, and his zealousness. My father implanted a great love of the Land of Israel in his son. My sister immigrated to Israel as a "Chalutza" (Pioneer) together with 34 girls who were leaders of Bnos Agudas Yisrael in 1935. (She died on the 8th of Cheshvan 5718 – 1958 in Jerusalem.) He desired to immigrate to Israel himself, and after I was about to go at the end of September, 1939, he was certain that his dream was about to become reality.

With the outbreak of the Second World War in September, 1939, we left the city together with all of the other Jews, and fled to Warsaw. There we suffered all of the tribulations of the bombardment for the duration of four weeks. After Warsaw surrendered, we did not return to Sochaczew since our house and store were destroyed. We went to live in Grodzisk at the home of my stepmother.

At the end of 1940 a cruel decree was issued that all of the Jews who lived in a radius of 80 kilometers of Warsaw were to be deported to the Warsaw ghetto. This was the final tribulation that he suffered in its entirety.

As soon as we arrived in Warsaw he took to his bed, and his heart troubles became worse. In the final months, he also suffered from severe asthma. Nevertheless he took great interest, and always inquired about the well being of his friends, and I was forced hide from him many things and not to tell the truth. Thus did I hide from him the news of the death of our friend Reb Yehoshua Goldstein of blessed memory, the son-in-law of Reb Freiman Hirsch, and of Rabbi Prekal of blessed memory. This was a difficult time from all aspects, the hunger increased – although I tried with all my might to make up for my father's lack of food. His situation was very severe in his final weeks, and I was forced to occupy myself in the day with all sorts of labor in order to earn the livelihood for the day, and at night I would stay beside his sickbed. I should also point out the great dedication of my stepmother. She sold all of her valuable jewelry in order to fill his needs, and she served my father with dedication until his final moments. The natives of Sochaczew also repaid him for all of his good deeds, and visited him constantly. I should mention in particular Reb Alexander Zishe Frydman, may G-d avenge his soul. Despite all his difficulties, as he was one of the chief activists of the Warsaw ghetto, he always found time to visit my father. My father accepted his fate with complete acceptance of the Divine will, however his heart ached for his family and for the lot of the Jewish people. He always expressed his happiness that he had passed his sixtieth year, and therefore had no taint of the death of 'karet'[16].

He had only one request on his lips, that they take care of him after his death just as during his life he took care of the Jews of Sochaczew who passed away. He requested that Zishe Frydman acquire a grave for him according to the law. They all promised him this, and fulfilled their promise, and were perhaps even jealous of him since he had the merit to go to his death in a normal fashion, lying on his bed surrounded by family members and friends, who accompanied him on his final journey.

On the 16th of Sivan 5702 (June 1942) he gave up his pure soul. This was a terrible and cruel time in the Warsaw ghetto, with dozens of people dying daily on the streets of hunger. Hundreds died of epidemics, due to the unsanitary living conditions. According to the statistics, 500 people died daily. Due to this, they would bury ten people in one grave.

All of the Sochaczew natives who found out about the death of my father came to the funeral. The members of the Chevra Kadisha of Sochaczew, accompanied by the head activist Reb Aharon Eliezer Zimerinski may G-d avenge his soul, occupied themselves with his funeral preparations. Thanks to the efforts of Reb Zishe Frydman, he received a grave for himself, and Reb Zishe delivered a eulogy upon his death. His words are still etched upon my memory as he expressed all of the agony, grief and pain that came forth from his heart – perhaps he was not only eulogizing my father, but also all of the Jews of Sochaczew who were murdered and killed in sanctification of the Divine name, and of all those whose hearts were torn due to this great and frightful tragedy. Perhaps he was also eulogizing at that time his own family and his own lot.

Even though these words are written with agony upon my heart, they serve as a monument to the memory of my parents' home, as well as a monument to all of the families of Sochaczew, who were similar to my own parents' family. Thus were the memories of my parents' home.

From these memories, I drew the strength to bear all of the pains, sufferings and oppression that overtook me in the work camps and the death camps. From this home I received my traditional foundation, not to worship idols during any of the vicissitudes of the times[17], and in this is hidden the ultimate victory of the people of Israel despite all of its martyrdom.

May their souls be bound in the bounds of life, and may their memories be blessed forever.






{706}

My Father of Blessed Memory (Avraham Rechtman)

by Yaakov Tzidkoni [18]

Translated by Jerrold Landau


As I bring forth various notes about the personality of my father of blessed memory, I do so for two reasons: to erect for him a monument for generations to come in lieu of his tombstone which was destroyed by the impure ones, as well as to describe the personality of a resident of Sochaczew – a lay Jew, a merchant and an important person among his people, who represents a complete example of Jews of his type and status.

He was born in Zichorzyn, a village on the Wisla River in Congress Poland. His mother Malka bore five sons and two daughters and raised them all to the marriage canopy and good deeds. His father Reb David was a scholarly and G-d fearing Jew. He was a merchant of forest products and a contractor – he provided wood to the Russian army.

Father spent his youth in the forests of Poland that surrounded villages, fruit orchards and wild fields. From there he gained his love of nature and understanding of the life, language, customs, and business practices of villagers. This familiarity with the ways of the villagers stood father in good stead during the long period when he did business with them.

When he reached the age of majority, and the time for induction into the army drew near, he did not pay attention to the urging and advice of friends and relatives to get out of the obligation of the draft by means of bribery or inflicting an injury upon his body.

Father brought back three things from the army: his musical instruments, his army hat, and his love of black bread … he would eat certain amounts of it on certain days, enjoying it as he brought back many memories into the heart and fewer memories in words about his period of army service. After he married my mother, he settled in Sochaczew, and father opened up a store that sold metal implements. Father was diligent at his work. Due to his diligence and expertise, he was able to serve several customers simultaneously. Only on rare occasions, particularly during the annual fairs, did he request mother's help. In the morning when he opened the store, even before the first customers would arrive, he would invite neighboring shopkeepers and passers by from among his acquaintances that would be returning from the early morning prayers for a cup of tea. As they drunk their tea they would discuss politics, business, and their discussions would even border on gossip.

Approximately once a month father would travel to Warsaw to purchase merchandise from the wholesalers, as well as clothing and shoes for the family. He knew the measurements and numbers off by heart, and there was never an occasion where the item he purchased did not fit the person for whom it was intended.

He was a modest and discreet person. He was well mannered and very polite, he fulfilled his obligations to the community, and supported the charitable organizations of the city, but he did not participate in communal leadership. Nevertheless, he fulfilled two public roles during the many years that he lived in the city: he served as the trustee (Gabbai) of the "minyan"[19] that took place in the home of his brother Moshe, and he established a parents organization in the "Techiya" school where his two sons learned. He filled these roles diligently, with exactness and love. The special room in which the minyan took place was always clean, well furnished, and the ark cover (parochet) and Torah covers were always beautiful and well decorated. Candles for light and wine for Kiddush and Havdala were always available[20]. He insured that there was extra light on Simchat Torah, decorations of vegetation on Shavuot, mats so that one could sit on the floor on Tisha Beov, and other such necessities. A semblance of pride was recognizable on his face as he stood by the Torah on Sabbaths and festivals, on his one side the reader of the Torah and on his other side the Cantor, as he called up people to the Torah. Once a year – according to my recollection on Simchat Torah – the members of the minyan would chose the Gabbai for the following year. Since father was the only candidate, he was always elected. This election cost him a "Kiddush", which took place in our house. The attendant banged on the table and announced that the Gabbai invites everyone to a Kiddush that would take place in our house. The tables were already set in our house – for the results of the election were assured – and the menu consisted of smoked fish, egg cakes , whiskey, wine and cookies. Everyone raised their glasses and wished "lechaim"[21], and that we should all merit to return next year and choose the host of the Kiddush as Gabbai again.

Father was very devoted to his family, and therefore he was very beloved by the family. His brothers and brothers-in-law would take counsel from him about business matters, marriage prospects, and other such matters. When one of his brothers was sick in the hospital, he stood by the sickbed day and night. When a niece of his fled out of the country to go to her beloved against the wishes of her parents, father followed after her. He succeeded in determining their hiding place, and in convincing them to return to her parents' home and to celebrate their marriage, and he succeeded in convincing his brother that he should agree to this marriage. This difficult lightning operation won father admiration. This event took place close to the outbreak of the First World War, and as a result of the war, the Sochaczew branch was cut off from the Rechtman family[22].

Photo on top of page 707: Reb Avraham Rechtman of blessed memory





{708}

The Courtyard of Moshe Rechtman

by Yaakov Tzidkoni

Translated by Jerrold Landau


I have heard and read about the court of kings, I have passed through the threshold of a Polish poretz (squire), I have peered into the court of a Tzadik, and I knew a very different type of courtyard, for I grew up there.

The courtyard of Uncle Moshe was a courtyard in the simple meaning of the word, as well as a description of a way of life, of an approach to life. The front yard of the house was 25 meters long. A heavy iron gate was at the opening, and it was always open. On both sides of the entrance there were long benches, upon which people were seated at all hours of the day, and in particular during the evenings. The entrance to the courtyard had a wooden floor, and there were entrances into the two dwellings that shared the courtyard: that of Moshe Rechtman and Leibish Graubard. These entrances were only used at times when honorable guests were received, or when there was a family celebration. Uncle Moshe's house was very spacious, and included a Sukkah. For the festival of Sukkot they would retract the roof by pulling a rope, and they would place 'schach'[23] upon it. The house also contained an office and a prayer hall.

The technologically advanced devices that I noticed in particular were electric bells that were run by batteries and a press for copying handwritten letters. I was awed by the large shiny black grand piano and the heavy iron trunk that was two stories high.

From among the residents of the dwelling I remember in particular a captain of the Russian army and "the little Leibishel", the wagon driver who owned the carriage that took people to and from the train station. He was short, "the shortest" in the town, in contrast to "tall Noach", who was extremely tall. When the two of them would appear in the street, people would say: "it is a short Friday and a long Sabbath"[24]. He was a pleasant and good-hearted Jew. We children were more interested in the back part of the building. There was the farm, with the cow-stall, the dove cages, various sheds, the laundry, and the ice cellar. From there was also the entrance to the cultivated fruit orchard that occupied a large area.

Uncle Moshe was the rich man of the town, the "gentleman". The gentiles called him "Pania Dzedziczo" – "Our master the poretz", and kissed his hand. He conducted business dealings with the Russian governing authorities. His business was in the cultivation of government forests. The work in one forest would last for a few years. A mechanical sawmill operated next to his house. My uncle hired many non-Jewish workers, including woodchoppers, wagon drivers, sawmill operators, and shippers who shipped the wood along the Wisla to Danzig. The only Jewish employee was a family member who was in charge of accounting, who was honest and astute, and was known as "der Schreiber".

Whey my uncle was asked on occasion why he does not hire a professional accountant, he would answer with a smile that if he did so, one would come to the conclusion that the business was operating at a deficit … Uncle would drive in his magnificent two wheeled carriage to the neighboring village for business purposes, or outside of the city for a vacation. He took with him a double-barreled hunters' revolver on every trip. He was very proud of his gun, for he was the only Jew in town with a permit to own a gun. It generally rested in the bedroom, above his bed.

In one wing of the house there were rooms specifically for guests. Just as Uncle knew how to entertain high-ranking government officials or captains, he also knew how to host a scholar or Rabbi who was passing through as a guest. He always supported the household of the rabbi Reb Avrahamele (Borenstein) and the Yeshiva. Due to this activity, he was given a decorative ornament, and was appointed as "a merchant of first rank". If a youth was conscripted to the army, he would be freed, and the completed permit of exemption ("white card") would be brought to his home. On the following Sabbath there would be a Kiddush in the minyan, a party in the home, and wishes of "Mazel Tov" would be bestowed upon the family on the occasion of the "freeing" of their son.

Once a year Uncle would travel with his wife for a vacation at a spa in Czechoslovakia or Germany.

When my uncle married off his son Baruch, he invited to the wedding various different bands and jesters from amongst the best in the land. There were hundreds of guests. All of them were put up in a large hotel for the entire seven days of festivities. An individual servant was put at the disposal of each guest. Each of the "Sheva Brachot"[25] was like a wedding feast, replete with bands, wine, dancing, music, jesters, etc. For a long time thereafter, the family would talk about this celebration, and they never tired of telling about it over and over again, until another event came in contrast to it …

Afterwards, a period of difficulties and tragedies affected the household, such as Uncle's illness; the fleeing of his daughter Rivka to her beloved out of the country; and her death one year later in her parents' home during childbirth; the refusal of the young son Pinchas Eliahu to marry his stepsister Chana; and other such things. Added to this were, of course, the tribulations of the war.





TRANSLATOR'S FOOTNOTES

14. "Kest" is room and board, and refers to the custom of young Torah scholars being supported by their in-laws after their marriage for a certain period to enable him to continue his Torah studies. Return

15. Maamadot are sections of Bible and Talmud that are recited on a daily rotating basis in lieu of the sacrifices that were mandated to be offered when the Temple stood. The custom of reciting Maamadot is not widely followed today. Return

16. 'Karet' (literally being cut off), is a death sentence outlined in the Torah for various sins, which is not given over to the execution by a court of law. Thus, it is death by divine visitation (often referred to ad excision). There is much debate in the Talmud as to what exactly this means, since, of course it is impossible to discern if a person has lived out his divinely allotted life span or not. According to most, if not all opinions, if one has passed his sixtieth year, one is out of the category of those punished by 'karet'. This does not mean that if one dies before one's sixtieth year one has been punished by 'karet', as human beings cannot make that determination. It only means that if one passes ones sixtieth year, one can know definitively that one has not been afflicted by 'karet', at least for sins that one has committed prior to that time (i.e. it offers no guarantee about the future). Return

17. Here, 'not to worship idols', means not to abandon one's Jewish faith. Return

18. Tzidkoni is a Hebraicized version of the Yiddish Rechtman. Both mean 'righteous person'. Return

19. Minyan is literally a 'prayer quorum', and here means a small informal prayer group. Return

20. Kiddush is the prayer over wine that welcomes the Sabbath or festival. It is recited both at the evening near the commencement of the holy day and in shorter form in the morning. Havdala is the prayer over wine that signifies the end of the Sabbath or festival. Kiddush can also have the meaning of a Sabbath of festival morning snack after the prayers. This is due to the fact that the Kiddush prayer is recited prior to such a snack. This word has this meaning when it appears a few sentences further on. Return

21. Literally "to life", a toast upon drinking wine or whiskey. Return

22. It is not clear what the subject of the second part of the sentence is, i.e. was it this event that caused the branch of the family to be cut off, or was it the war? Although the former is more likely from the syntax of the sentence, the latter is more likely in actual meaning. My suspicion is that the intent is that after the war, the family did not return to Sochaczew, and thus were 'cut off' from the city from that point. Return

23. 'Schach' is the flimsy foliage covering that is used to cover the Sukka (tabernacle) that is mandated by the Torah to be used for the duration of the Sukkot holiday. Return

24. A reference to winter Sabbaths, when Friday is 'short' because the Sabbath starts early. Return

25. Literally 'seven blessings', the celebrations that follow for a week after a wedding. Return


{710}

Bernard Kampelmacher – the Teacher of our City

by Yisrael Rozen

Translated by Jerrold Landau


This name arouses countless memories and sentiments in the hearts of those who grew up and came of age in Sochaczew during the period between the two world wars.

When I bring his image, full of grace and charm, into my mind, it is as if I see before my eyes Pestalozzi – the originator of educational reform in the world, or the illustrious educator Janusz Korczac – for in our city he filled, without any doubt, the role and mission that Pestalozzi or Korczac filled with their own students. There is no exaggeration in this comparison; on the contrary: – Pestalozzi left as a legacy guidebooks for teachers and educators in the field of pedagogy and child psychology; Korczac also left books in the field of education, as well as students who were educated within the walls of his institution "The Republicat of the Students" near Warsaw. Kampelmacher did not leave any books after him, but only students. These students were not only educated and guided by him within the walls of the school. Kampelmacher educated all of the youth in our city, including those to whom he had no legal or moral obligation, and certainly not at the request of their parents.

His activities were great. He understood and realized well that in Sochaczew of 1924-1925 he would not succeed in gathering around him the youth from the traditional and Orthodox households, and to bring boys and girls under one roof, to occupy them with sport, games, group activities, parties, dancing, singing, music and excursions. Therefore, he planted the ideas into the hearts of the fathers and mothers, he worked hard and waited with patience, energy, effort and understanding – until he won over the hearts not only of the youth, but also of the parents.

He simply convinced the parents, and it is possible to say that he educated them, with his personal charm and grace and the pleasantness of his manner. He knew how to find an approach to all of the Jews in the city, to the youth, the elderly, those with the thick beards, to the Hassidim, and even to the Rabbi of the city. He knew and held in esteem the Rabbi of the city, and I know that this esteem was mutual, that is to say that the Rabbi also held this "assimilationist" in esteem.

Even though Kampelmacher was a free thinker, and worked on the Sabbath as a teacher in the public school, to his credit it can be said that he – the assimilationist so to speak – never attempted to remove Jews or Jewish youth away from their religion, or to distance them from their foundations. All that he wished was to bring light, joy of life, progress, culture and good manners to the city. He never mocked the way of life of the city in those years, he did not mock the kapote or the sheitel[1], even though he himself was very far from these things, and he was wise enough to find a common language with the Orthodox and those that occupied the seats of the study hall, to win them over, to sympathize with them and hold them in esteem. Therefore he was able to act among the youth without opposition from the parents and the Orthodox groups, and he even had their agreement. He was concerned that the summer camp of the city, to which dozens of children and councilors went during the summer, would have Kosher food for the children. Furthermore, he even concerned himself that the children should have the opportunity to say their morning prayers! I happened to be at the camp on one occasion, when I came there with a group of councilors, and I saw Kampelmacher ask one child from an Orthodox home if he had already recited his prayers. When the child answered negatively, Kampelmacher ordered another youth to lend him his phylacteries…[2]




{309 - Yiddish} {712 - Hebrew}
The Woman Chaikel the Wagon Driver

by Leib Fursztenberg


She was a unique "wagon driver" in Poland. She was not tall, not powerful, but she did have a strong personality. Her face was tanned, she had the blue eyes of a warm-hearted Jew, of a merciful mother.

She was honored in the city… Jews as strong as oaks, who were wagon drivers for generations, who were expert horsemen, all gave her honor.

Chaikel did not only know how to drive horses along the entire journey to Warsaw, but she also knew how to handle any problem which would arise, such as when a wheel of a laden wagon would break, when a horse would take ill. Everyone knew to consult her on such occasions. She would roll up the sleeves of her man's coat that she wore all the time and take care of the horse properly. Even the veterinarians would not have as much expertise as she did. If anyone had to purchase or trade a horse, they would ask for her advice. She did not accept any brokerage fees. On the contrary, she was always willing to help a poor and hard pressed wagon driver, using the money that she collected from others.

It was a great wonder that this woman, who spent most of her days with horses and stables, also knew how to care for a sick person with no less expertise than the local medic. If anyone took ill in a house where they were too poor to pay for a doctor, they would summon Chaikel. She knew how to look after cases of dislocated legs, to set up cupping glasses, and to prescribe pills for various illnesses. On many occasions a woman would come to her with a baby suffering from some complaint, and she would care for the baby with her strong and bony hands with gentleness and delicacy

Her husband Moshko was a blacksmith. He was shorter than her, powerful, and had strong hands. He was not the chief influence in the household, and he did not interfere too much in the affairs of wagon driving. He was immersed in his blacksmith profession. In the same manner that she was able to be master over the strongest of horses, the head of her household was subservient and pitiful as well.

Even the gentiles loved him. He knew the trade of horse shoeing. He also knew how to fix the wheel of a wagon. They referred to him as Pania Moshko. In the small synagogue (shtibel) in which he worshiped together with butchers and blacksmiths, they called him to the Torah by his name: Reb Moshe the son of Shmuel the Cohen. There, at the shtibel, he set his eyes on the Torah reader, a young single man by the name of Feivel, and chose him as his son-in-law, a husband for his eldest daughter. If he himself was not an expert in the strange letters, at least his son-in-law should be learned. When he explained this to his wife Chaikel, she had no trouble understanding – especially with regard to such a learned young man. They sold their saddle and their wagon, took out loans, put together a dowry, rented and furnished a dwelling, and arranged a wedding according to tradition. The entire town was invited to the wedding. Nobody would have thought of declining an invitation to participate in these festivities in their small house which was adjacent to the blacksmith shop and the horse stables. And if there was not enough room – they would partake of the feast in a limited fashion. However, she rented out the largest hall in the city for the marriage of her daughter, the fire hall, and invited not only their colleagues, the blacksmiths and wagon drivers, but all of the honorable Jews of the city, in addition to the honorable gentiles, including the mayor.

They feasted, danced and rejoiced until daybreak.

What did she not do for her children? When a Gymnasia (high school) was established in Sochaczew, their youngest daughter was one of the first students to enroll.

She had different plans for the youngest and only son, Chaim Nissan.

Furthermore… She – not her husband – was perhaps the only woman in Poland to be a follower of a Hassidic Rabbi. She chose a very modest Rabbi, in the suburbs of Warsaw – the Rabbi of Grochow. She extended honor and love to him. On all of her trips to Warsaw she never neglected to bring him a gift. Every summer, the Rabbi of Grochow would come to stay at her house, which was between the blacksmith shop and the horse stables. During that time, she glowed with joy and contentment, in particular on Sabbath eves when her husband would sit next to the Rabbi dressed in a silken kapote. All of the artisans, and Jews in general, would stop by. The Rabbi would say words of Torah, and they would sing Hassidic melodies until a late hour in the evening. She would be dressed in her Sabbath finery, all washed up from her weekday work, and would stand at the side brimming with joy – for was she not acquiring mitzvot and doing good deeds…

She was full of vim and vigor. In addition to the stables and the blacksmith shop, she also operated a coal and wood warehouse. In the years prior to the war of annihilation, she set up a building and a wall – after much effort and difficulty – on her own lot. She presented her case before the lawyers and judges with her broken Polish, and her various documents and permits were all hidden in the folds of her dress, and she became master of her establishment. However… September 1939 came.

Sochaczew was judenrein[3]by the third day of the war. The demilitarized city was bombarded for an entire day, with the first bombs damaging the synagogue. The Jews fled in confusion to Warsaw. They left everything behind. Even the elderly and the young went on foot, and only very few were able to travel in wagons, which were very expensive. By evening, the city was empty of Jews.

The last wagon was that of Chaikel. She stood alone by her large wagon and loaded packages, bags full of belongings, pillows, vessels – the last "property" of the Jews of Sochaczew. The wagon moved and ploughed along like a giant. She worked with her callused hands. She wore heavy boots on her feet, and arranged all of the packages so there would always be room for one more package. She did not request any payment. She took the reins with great skill and directed the laden wagon along the road to Warsaw. The road was overflowing with thousands of refugees. There was confusion and screams from all corners. Near a stone, at the edge of the road, behind a tree – was sitting one of the most honorable women of Sochaczew. Paralyzed, she was screaming and cursing as to why she had been left behind. A leading Jew acquired a small wagon, and harnessed himself in, leaving his son and his wife (a teacher at "Yavneh") stranded. And here were walking three elderly people. They had only traveled one kilometer, and they did not have any more energy to continue. They were praying for an easy end…

Chaikel passed by them, and recognized them. She quickly jumped down, and placed the three distressed people in her wagon. She continued herself on foot. However, she never made it to Warsaw.

By morning, the large crowd had reached Bielany. The route to Warsaw was closed, guarded by the army, for the route was reserved for the retreating army. The crowd turned to cross the Wiskit, confused and perplexed. With sunrise, the Germans resumed their murderous attacks. They flew over the heads of the people and mowed them down. The people abandoned the remainder of their property and fled for their lives. However, nobody was killed.

Only Chaikel did not escape.

She did not abandon the belongings of the persecuted and pursued Jews of Sochaczew which had been given over to her safekeeping. She tried to salvage whatever she could. She was not afraid of the soldiers who sealed off the main route to Warsaw. She knew all the roads and routes very well – and she managed to reach the town of Pruszkow.

There she was afflicted with a terrible tragedy. Her horses fell, and without them she was like a body without a soul. Even then she did not abandon the belongings. With extraordinary strength, and with the help of the Jews of Pruszkow, she gathered all of the packages, bags, and containers and put them in the local mikva (ritual bath).

With her last energy, she reached Warsaw on Friday, with the whip in her hands – that was all that was left.

At the end of the war the survivors of Sochaczew went with haste to Pruszkow, and were able to retrieve the remnants of their belongings which were miraculously preserved in the mikva.

We do not know where, in which furnaces, did the family of Chaikel perish. They perished in the great bloodbath of the Warsaw Ghetto.

The blacksmith shop, the stables, and their poor house – all were wiped off the face of the earth of Sochaczew. Not one remnant remained of the lives which pined, walked, suffered, and which was full of both pain and joy. A marketplace now exists in this location. A clean marketplace – as if there never was anything there…

One memory lives. The two story house on Warsawska street, which Chaikel had built in its time, and Christians are now living there. A sign is hung upon it – a small metal plate with the following Polish inscription, in Latin letters:

"Chaikel Karo, her husband and children – may G-d avenge their deaths, and may they be remembered for good."

They were cut off from the foundation stone of our people, the good and heartwarming, from which all of the Jews of Sochaczew were hewn.


TRANSLATOR'S FOOTNOTES

1. A non-Hassid (literally an opponent of Hassidism) Return

2. Phylacteries (Hebrew tefilin), are black leather boxes with straps which contain pieces of parchment with biblical quotations about the fundamentals of Jewish faith. They are worn by Jewish males on their arm and head during weekday morning prayers, in keeping with a biblical commandment. Return

3. German for 'Jew free', a Nazi expression for a location that had been emptied of its Jews. Return


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