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[Page 3]

Vishogrod History,
Description and Values

Jewish Vishogrod (Historical sources)

By H. Rabin

Introduction

In our present research we are interested in the Jewish settlement in Vishogrod, its beginnings, its roots, its social image up from the beginning, its transformations until assuming Hassidism as its main aspect, and also in the period of revival before the destruction.

Like in any similar research, connected with a memorial book, the aim is to erect a fitting “tombstone” to the destroyed community, bound to describe in minute detail, as far as possible, its rise and fall, stating the particulars of “born” and “died”; but not “buried”, for the memorial book will make Vishogrod exist in eternity as a spiritual entity, and nobody dare show the place of its burial.

With this end in view we had to avail ourselves of the sources of research which are based on documents, as far as they are in existence; or to have recourse to books of history and historians who had access to documents and datas that are outside our reach.

So we have had recourse to the Profs. Dubnov, Shipper and Mr. Levinson, even when knowing that their sources are not richer than ours, as above-mentioned. We also mentioned Prof. Mahler though he is an eclectic, only because he concentrated upon Poland.

And it must be pointed out in advance that concerning Vishogrod something must and shall remain incomplete.

That is so, for Vishogrod, as a free town, independent from kings, provided with privileges by two independent deeds (the “Magdeburgian” and the “Jewish”, later also the Kalishian statutes) did not leave over any “Deeds of Kings” or “court records” which are the principal sources of all histographs and encyclopedists. Exactly as the case is with Warsaw! Because “…Mazowia was during all of the Middle Ages an entirely independent principality” (Shipper, par. 118).

Everything stated about Vishogrod are indirect inductions and analogies, but they give us two secure points of support:

  1. Its antiquity, i.e. its ancient mentionings in documents;
  2. Its special importance as a town with a fortress and advantageous communication, a town of well-based economic life and free social regime.
He who knows about the foundings of Jewish communities, will understand the importance of the second point for our research.

About the last years of Vishogrod we shall have to learn and describe them from the memorial book, which is the last record book of the community.

The board of editors has felt earnestly obliged to state in the book essentials only for the description of the town: facts, reminiscences, portraits, experiences, and the like, which have the value of social testimony, so that this book can be used as a basis of research of the epochs it deals with. This we should be able to say we have made use of anything possible to complete the memorial stone of our Vishogrod from “Born…” to “Died…”

The Origin of the Jews in Vishogrod

The town appears for the first time in the “Deeds of Kings” in 1231 (S. Geogr. Dict.), but in the “Universal Encyclopedia” the year 1095 is mentioned, the well-known year the first crusade and Jewish emigration from Germany. There it already appears as a town from which “Boleslaw the Courageous received certain monies” for the Benedictine monks (id.) – and that always means, “From its Jews”; for already at that time the town was rich in taxes and excises and labor-turnover, which goes together with industry and trade only – which spells presence of Jews.

We know that in times of peace Jewish merchants from Frankfort-on-the-Oder and Berlin used to ship their merchandise via the Baltic Sea up the Vistula river to Cracow and Lublin, and to carry on the way home field and forest products from Poland. We may assume that they did not keep off Vishogrod with its natural landing pier of the Vistula. It is sure that the same Jews who were the factor in the development of Cracow, Warsaw and Plock, were also the factor in the development and wealth of Vishogrod, which had an attractive power to Jews and “did not endure prohibition of residence of Jews for ages” (S. “Jewish Encyc. [in Russian]”).

In 1905, when the first crusaders committed the horrible massacre of the Jews in the Rheinland, (S. R. Eliezer's from Mainz “Kuntras HTN'U”), Dubnov writes (IV, par. 55) “the emigration changed into a mass flight”; Dinaburg admits (“Israel in exile”) “We have no specific information about the flight and its dimensions, but on the ground of rabbinic and other contemporary notes we learn that “Jewish merchants from Germany and France visited Poland and Russia and took in time root in the towns they visited”. Which means, they built there houses for themselves and in times of stress they made their temporary residences into permanent homes.

This certainly happened in Vishogrod, too. Prof. Mahler asserts explicitly: “…although Jews as permanent citizens in Poland settled in the 12th century, there is much evidence that Jews settled in Poland already two centuries before it, or earlier even”.

As to Great Poland which afterwards included Mazowia, Mahler admits “…Kadlubek Vincenty (the Polish Historian H.R.) tells that Mieszko III the ruler of Great Poland in the years 1173-1202 inflicted the “Seventy lash” penalty upon a Jew murderer (the same punishment that was imposed for defamation of the name of the king).

“…in Great Poland there are listed in the twelfth Century three villages of the name “Zhydowo” (Mahler, ib).
Dubnov (IV par. 31), writes explicitly:
        “…From that time on (966 H.R.) German Jews began to settle in Poland…even earlier than in the tenth cent. Jews used to come from time to time to the Slavic towns between the Vistula and the Warta”.
And about the twelfth cent. Says Dubnov:
        “Jews settled at that time (1173-1209) in Great Poland and in Little Poland, in Mazowia and in Kuyavia”.
Jews came to Mazowia also from Kuzaria, when this sate disintegrated in 969, and the Jewish settlement spread into “Poland, Mazowia and further” (Shipper, History of Jewish economics I, par. 50) We may accept therefore, with certainty, the year 1095/6, the year of the great flight of the Jews from Germany and Bohemia, as the first year of Jewish settlement in Vishogrod and in other Mazowian towns, and perhaps even the year 966.

In annihilating the Vishogrod Jewish community, the Hitler vandals destroyed one of the oldest Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, which had existed, if not for a millennium (Mahler), then for 900 years, at least (Mahler, Dubnov and oth.).

Economic Life and Professions

Nowadays there is no doubt the main occupation was commerce, industry and trades. Dubnov writes of 966 “Jewish merchants using the great trade-route (the Baltic and the Vistula, H.R.) did not pass over Poland”.

Of the 12th century Dubnov asserts:

        “…Mieczyslaw who needed revenues, made use of the Jewish industry in all professions”.
In the 15th century, writes Shipper (History of Jewish commerce 517), the way of commerce reopened for the Jews. They brought ash, tar, grain (from Russia H.R.) and shipped them to Danzig via Volinia and Mazowia”.

We may suppose, therefore, Jews came to Poland-Mazowia for economic reasons brought about by persecutions of a background of religious and economic jealousy, but also for considerations of sale combinations. When the need arose to get rid of merchandise apt to get spoiled along the long route, or in order to safeguard the prices, or when obstacles happened en route, merchants might sell in temporary or occasional markets, put up booths or shops on their passage, and workshops even, for carrying out various processings and treatments of the products.

Thus there arose a connection between German Jews and Polish towns (Mazowia in particular H.R.), and “…in the 11th and 12th century already Jews occupied an important position in the economic life of Poland, being the factor of financial economics in this country”.

And “…many Jews in Poland were engaged in a small-income livelihood, as farming and gardening” (Shipper, ib).

Casimir the Great published in 1364 a decree, saying” “The King has granted the request of the Jews living in all the Polish towns… in order do enlarge his royal revenue by their incomes” they are granted: “…freedom of trading, the right to import and to expert merchandise, and also to lend money on interest, pawn or mortgage.”

As aforementioned, we infer that Vishogrod is included whenever Mazowia is the matter, firstly because Vishogrod was the wealthiest town in the whole district, as Levinson says” “…in the lending business the Jews of Vishogrod were outstanding” (1347 H.R.). “…In order to carry out large credit operations, small Jewish bankers (of Warsaw H.R.) associated with the rich men of Vishogrod in co-operatives”. (“The history of Jews in Warsaw”). Secondly, because Vishogrod was privileged with a status of independence, and all those who verify their researches with “Deeds of Kings” will not find there Vishogrod.

Besides commerce, finances and agriculture Vishogrod was known for its craftsmen. In the 16th cent. already, “Sigmund III confirmed their corporations in the town”, and that Jews are meant there, we learn from the anonymous pamphlet published in 1539”…and there he states that in Poland there are scarcely any Christian craftsmen, and the Jewish craftsmen are the triple number of the Christians” (A. Levinson, ib). When Shipper is speaking of “Jewish gardeners and farmers,” it is to be taken for granted that Vishogrod Jews are to be included. As shown in the writings of those participating in the memorial book, gardening had been kept up until their times, without interruptions as it seems. “…in the 17th cent. Vishogrod was renowned for its superb orchards and vineyards' (Univ. Encycl.)

Thus it can be said:

According to all writings and witnesses, direct and indirect, the Jewish community of Vishogrod was well developed and diversified in its economic life, right from the earliest centuries, especially from the 10th century, when Poland received the Christian faith and became closely connected to Germany.

Appendices to Hostoriography of Vishogrod

Appendix I

Universal Encyclopedia (Polish) 1867

Vishogrod, a township in the district of Plock, 39 versts from Plock, on the Vistula.

It was a town of the Crown in a part of the Mazowian principality, and the exclusive property of the dynasty of the Ziemowit dukes.

…In 1095, when Boleslaw the Courageous founded the Benedictine order, he assigned them certain revenues from the Vishogrod budget.

…From times immemorial there is a fortress in which Conrad I granted refuge to the Duke Danilo who had fled from the Tartars who had invaded Rus.

Casimir the Great when he wanted to increase the dependency of the princes from the Crown, took away from them all the fortified places and also the ancient fortress, which he himself restored and fortified.

In the reign of his successor, Ludwig, the grand duke Wladislaw caused Vishogrod to assume the status of the principal town of the district by annexing to it 4 large villages. He also presented it with the right of the German constitution, the Magdeburger one, and other privileges in the year 1382.

…In 1780 the town grew much. Thanks to its autonomy (Magdeburg) and several exemptions, Vishogrod became very populous and owing to its geographic and good commercial position it developed and came to have a big textile industry.

In 1564 there were listed in Vishogrod over 300 tradesmen, and there were also many wealthy merchants, and there grew up a brewery.

In 1597 Sigmund III confirmed the rights of tradesmen, among them: locksmiths, blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, glaziers, saddlers and goldsmiths.

…In the 17th cent. Vishogrod became renowned for its magnificent orchards and vineyards. All of this disappeared in the Tartar raids.

…The fires and wars destroyed all of Vishogrod. Nothing at all remained of the textile factories.

…The fortress is there still, commanding the Vistula river, and beside it the synagogue and the market.

…Now (1896) the town numbers 3977 inhabitants, out of them 2997 Jews. There are 107 brick buildings and 131 wooden huts.

Thanks to its vicinity to the Vistula the Jews there deal in grain.

The town is very picturesque; it is divided into two by a deep valley. A bridge connects the two parts of town.

Appendix II

Geographical Dictionary (Polish), Gebetner publishing house, 1895,
Edited by: P. Solimski, B. Chlebowski, W. Woliewski

Vishogrod, a township on the right shore of the Vistula river.

Known from the documents of the year of 1232 under the name of Vissegrod or Visegrod. IT is situated on a plateau, divided into two by a deep valley, descending towards the Vistula.

In the town there exists a synagogue, a poorhouse, three primary schools of one class (for boys, girls and coeducational), and a landing pier for steamships.

36 brick buildings, 54 German buildings, 103 wooden huts, 4009 inhabitants, out of them 3034 Jews.

There is a watermill, two oil presses, a brick factory and a vinegar factory.

In 1827 there were 279 apartments, 3305 inhabitants.

In 1864 – 238 apartments, 3977 inhabitants, among them 2997 Jews.

This is an ancient settlement that had been founded close to a fortress, that had been there for many generations.

…Casimir the Great occupied the fortress and fortified it. In 1938 Janush, duke of Mazowia and Prussia, expanded the limits of the municipality. The nearest villages belonged to it from then on (Law of Mazowia 126, 127).

…Thanks to its convenient geographical location the town develops in the 15th and 16th century and becomes the center of all of the commerce and industry of the hinterland near the Vistula. Then a textile industry develops up to 5000 bales, breweries also and a big artisanry.

Sigmund Augustus confirmed the corporations of the tailors and furriers.

In the letters patent of Sigmund III there are listed: goldsmiths, locksmiths, blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, saddlers, glaziers.

…In the 17th century, wars and economic events wrought ruin upon the town. All that remained of the textile industry, was a street of this name.

…1747 a fire broke out and the entire town burned down.

…Under Prussian rule the stream of Jews towards Vishogrod increased. The Jews built a large synagogue. The old fortress was beside the synagogue and the market and existed, as it had been restored by Casimir the Great until the middle of the 17th century.

        Swiecicki, in his book “Description of Mazowia”, calls the fortress “well-known for its beauty”.

Appendix III

Jewish Encyclopedia (Russian),
Editors: Dr. A. Harkavy and Dr. L. Kazenelson, 1908-1913

Vishogrod:

Small town belonging to the province of Plock. No limitations were there to the right of Jews to settle and live there, as there were in the harsh edict on the “reservation”.

In 1856 there were 990 Christians, 2956 Jews.

In 1887-4160 inhabitants, 2735 of them – Jews.


[Page 7]

Vishogrod, Town of “Schools”
(From “Napolean in the Ghetto”)

By Nahum Sokolov

The ancient town of Vishogrod (the name means: high city), on the right shore of the Vistula river, on a plateau somewhat above the river level. The river is on the verge of sand dunes, bordering its shores. The town is on crossroads, 65 versts from Warsaw, 29 from Plock, 8 from Dwinsk, facing the latter. The village of Kamien is on the left shore, its inhabitants numbered already in 1827 4 thousands, 3000 of them Jews. After the fashion of those days – an important town and a considerable congregation.

And, in fact, in ancient times this municipality was a kind of metropole in Poland, quite a permanent town, not erected in haste and patched together overnight, a mechanic produce, but a city born and growing up continually; fading too, and coming round again; a city with its history, and something else, more indestructible than any building and monument: legends. It is not exactly known when the town was founded; but it is clear that in the 12th century, about a thousand years ago, the town was already built up or, to be more exact, a castle was already built on a hill, which is now much lower owing to the influence of the winds and the river floods. Until today, it is called the Castle hill. In 1065 the duke Boleslaw the Brave, Polish king, granted to the Benedictine monks of Mohilna the tithes of the grain. That means it was a town of many inhabitants, they already were sowing and reaping, and already it was worth the while of the monks of Mohilna, which is quite a distance from Vishogrod, to visit the barns there. It was, no doubt, a blooming spot on the earth.

In 1240, when the Mongols flooded the Rus districts of Poland, and when the town of Halicz (the town of the Caraites), near Lwow, was besieged and in dire stress, the duke Danilo escaped from it and found refuse in the Vishogrod castle, erected, citadel-like, on top a mountain, where he was received by Conrad I, duke of Mazowia.

In those times the castle was built of timber, but the fact it served as asylum to the duke Danilo, proves that is was like a fortress. Thus, a fortress was the cradle of this town.

Then Casimir the Great came, king of Poland, in whose time the country flourished, and the Jews enjoyed a degree of freedom relatively high in comparison with their condition in other countries – and he built a high stone wall to this castle, which was seen still by the Polish poet Kolonowicz, of the 17th century, who wrote about it:

“The place where on the right a lofty citadel reaches heaven.”
It was the castle of the dukes of Mazowia, and there grew in the neighborhood (the climate being more clement then, and there were doubtless hothouses, too) vineyards yielding much wine. But under the reign of the Prussians on Poland, at the beginning of the past century, the castle was already in ruins; and in 1798 the Prussians sold the remains of the ruins. Legend has it that the Jews bought some of the stone of this place and used part of it to erect the beautiful synagogue existing till now in the town – a metamorphosis of the stones of Casimir the Great the Jew-lover into a Jewish synagogue. It is the selfsame synagogue with the balconies for the children, which was so dearly beloved by Izic the saddler, which is opposite the school, where R' Michael Bizhonski is learning daily. The same synagogue of which the legend tells, as of some others synagogues, how the architect who had built it, fell down dead the very moment the work was finished, less he reveal the secret of his building art. The synagogue has a dome, and on its top, in the middle, is a weather vane. It faces the castle-hill, and who is standing there, overlooks the Vistula with its sand bars, and the Conspirators' sandbank among them. There were hiding the Confederates of the Mazowia districts during the battles and conflicts in the town of Bar. And the onlooker sees the small Bzura river (so often mentioned in the last war's news), whose translucent blue waters flow into the Vistula and stay different in coloring, not mixing; this attracts the eye of every visitor and rouses mysterious wonder in the soul of the child whose father shows him this marvel. The mouth of it is at the village of Kamien, where there was formerly a saltery of Wieliczka, and many Jews of rich and wealthy family were named after this village, and spread it all over the diaspora.

In rain and snow time this “castlehill” kept busy the imagination of those sitting up late into night in the “school” opposite it. There is no mention made in the chronicles of wars in the times of the dukes of Mazowia or of Casimir the Great. But the bes-hamidrashian fancy liked to see in the castlehill an ancient battle-ground. In fact, you could find there under the ground, between the layers of sand and loam, arrowheads and coins, pots, dishes, knives and axes, iron plates for leather shields, staves with handles of copper; harnessing gear and riding gear, hunting and fishing tackle; strips of fur, kettles, tent tarpaulins, embossed tin plates, broken stone pillars, and the like. All kinds of spirits and ghosts, so it was told, were roaming and playing there round at tonight in the deep dark, and they were so delicate and airy, they were invisible even at daytime, but whoever happened to come very near them, heard them humming.

(On the flight of the birds around the synagogue says N.S.:)

"It seemed to Leibke like the chant of wonderful small choir-boys; after a short while he saw a large flight of birds soaring like white souls into the blue skies, and on rising, they got stirred up and, made dancing movements like a congregation of Hassidim of the Rabbi R'Bunim of Pshisha, who had began by that time to found their groups in Vishogrod and in other towns around.”
Leibke cast a searching glance on the school. If the synagogue was like an honored father, revered, and sometimes forbidding and cold, the school was like an ever-loving and kind mother. If about the synagogue you could find a pretext (and a pretext only) for the disparagement assimilationists insisted upon, a generation later, that “Jews are citizens of the country of Mosaic confession,” and no more, such a negation was an obvious lie, when it came to the bes-hamidrash. For the latter was not only a place of worship, but also a place of study and talk, meeting plae, and guest house, parliament and club of a nation living and struggling for its existence; open day and night, open to everybody, a popular institution that had not its like and that counterbalanced all other institutions by its power and influence to keep the nation. The assimilationists who came later, could remain, and hardly so, praying Jews, but not studying Jews, people talking with each other, taking a guest home.

The school was not able to exist any longer, and the synagogue became still more stern, ceremonial and official than before.

The characteristic trait of the school was its classifying the degree of scholarship of each one. They were pointing at a person; This one is a great scholar of the Bible, that one is an expert in Ibn-Ezra; another one a specialist in Talmud. These great ones were like spots of Paradise in a vast desert of illiteracy (this serves us as a figurative criterion, for illiterates were, in fact, very rare there).

The School was full of a fine way of life, of the sweetness and harmony of family life. There were objects lessons for children (and still we are looking for something to take their place, and have not found it). The roots of the Jewish community were there, not of a group of men-in-the-market, assembled haphazardly, or forming a common body for materialistic and economic reasons, being interdependent for their livelihood, but a living stream full of feelings and elation and a deep knowledge, guided by wise theocratic rule, whose lights and shades were contained in books and from there issued forth by different ways and means and were applied in practical life. This was the nursery that was the background of various types of men. But the base was strong and sound, a striving for refined life, nobleness of mind and generosity of spirit. This was the gist of R'Michael's toil – to elate the popular crowd to a high level not by learning the Law only, but by the light of the Torah. Therefore, whenever Leibke passed the School, he deemed passing his own home, for inside R'Michael was going over his lessons with the workmen, on Shabbat and holidays. Here was the root of the tailor's soul.

The main trade in town was the grain trade. In times when this commerce was well-established and strong, the world was at peace and well off. The commands in the stores and in workshops increased, for the Jews wanted to enjoy life – to eat and to drink and to dress very very fine. On the other hand, when this commerce fell off, the income of all town inhabitants decreased, even of those in other sorts of business. The red from the cheeks of the shopkeeper changed over into his account books, and the bes-hamidrash student on his bench, and the Rabbi and Judge in his rabbinic seat, nay, the chants of the local cantor became sad and sadder until they touched bottom. There was an invisible, deep and absolute interdependence between Jews and Gentiles, between poor and the rich, workers and idlers, villagers and town dwellers.

In those times the town was named “Little Danzig” on the analogy of the Vistula being for Poland something of a sea, and the Vistula waterfront was something like the seashore. In Vishogrod they loaded the ships and boats and the houseboats with grain. These convoys floated at fixed intervals and in a fixed order towards Danzig, the mouth of the Vistula to the sea. German skippers, suntanned and stout, used to go ashore up to town, have a look at the grainstores and turn back to their houseboats moored at the shore, on the flat rooftops of which the “Frau” always was washing and wringing linen. The Jewish rich men were self-importantly the rounds of their grainstores, and all kinds of workers and assistants and stevedores hurried around. On the days of loading the Jewish energy and intelligence, frozen in times of idleness, erupted, like lava, which afterwards broke into pieces spreading and flying in all directions.

This was the economical mechanism of this town and all neighboring towns. In order to understand the different types and their strivings and controversies and compromises, its parts and particles, one must know this machine, all its wheels and joints by way of which the Jews organized and combined.


[Page 9]

The Vishogrod Synagogue

By David Dawidowicz

(From: "Synagogues in Poland and their Destruction", Mosad Harav Kook and Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 1960)
The synagogue in Vishogrod was built in the middle of the 18th century, by the architect, builder, sculptor, painter David Fridlender, and it is a first-rate example of a Polish synagogue built of stone and decorated by a Jewish artist.

Vishogrod-born Nahum Sokolov dedicates to this synagogue a few words in his book “Napoleon in the Ghetto”: “According to the legend the Jews brought a quantity of the local stones (i.e. the remains of the ruined castle of the Mazowian dukes, which the Prussians sold to the Vishogrod Jews in 1798 D.D.), and erected wit h part of them the beautiful synagogue of their town, a transformation of the stones of Casimir the Great the Jew-lover into the Jewish synagogue – the selfsame synagogue with the balcony for the children…(meaning the part of the building ornamented the interior of the house alongside its Western wall D.D.), the synagogue about which the legend relates – like about several others – that is builder, having completed his work, fell down dead, lest he be able to reveal the secret of his art of building. The synagogue has an arched dome, and on its top, in the middle, there is a weathervane.”

Although chronologically belonging to the quadrangular type of synagogues, with four central pillars, of the last ones in Poland, it is, with respect to its interior structure, a near-classic example of the synagogues distinguished by division of the hall area into nine squares, the central square being occupied by the platform in between the four pillars; it is not to be doubted that its Jewish builder did not give up easily the “Jewish element” of the pillars, that is to say, continuing the tradition of emphasizing the platform as the center of the house of prayer, even in this “late” synagogue; but, on the other hand, he was not able to construct it without the pillars, in consideration of the area of the spacious room (about 18 x 18 m.), that is to say, the open space of the relatively large building.

As a matter of fact, in the synagogue of Vishogrod the importance of these supporting pillars is particularly stressed, also from the static, security viewpoint. These “four heavy supporting columns, at equal distance in between themselves and from the walls, joined to each other by semicircular arches that divide the vault into nine spaces. Nearly all the open space in between is taken up by the large platform, and the pillars themselves occupy a rather large room”. The central field of the vault, that is to say, above the platform, is spreading out; the other fields are intersecting.”

The entrance to the synagogue is in the West. Close to it, but from the inside, there are wooden steps leading to the “children's choir gallery” built on the entrance wall. This interesting structure, made of wood, known in several synagogues in Poland (Zamosc, Krasnobrod, Pinczow, Gombin, mainly in Congress Poland, and also in the synagogue Without-the-walls in Lwow). We suppose it was intended for the helpers of the cantor.

The chief ornament of the synagogue in Vishogrod was doubtlessly the Fridlender Holy Ark which extended over nearly all of the eastern wall. The “Ark” was divided by means of a horizontal open-worked frieze into two stories, each of them being divided, in its turn, by white columns (in pairs or single) into niches. At the ends of the upper story there were diminutive beautiful sculptured figures on biblical or legendary topics, as: the beasts entering Noah's Ark, the Tree of knowledge – sign of the Paradise, the “Bull and the Leviathan”. Above this story, in the center close to the ceiling, there were two lions holding the crown of priesthood, each of them fixed separately between two columns of this story. In the lower story, in the semicircular niches (five of them), there were, against a background of fantastic growth, the figures of the four beast symbolizing the characteristic qualities of the Jew: a lion, a deer, an eagle and a leopard, and above them the musical instruments of the Levites mentioned in the Book of Psalms, with the pertinent quotations (Psalms, 103), and articles of worship from among those mentioned in the Temple. There was also in the upper part of the Ark a picture of Moses beside the burning bush with the inscription: “Put off thy shoes off from thy feet etc.” Incidentally, this is one of the rare instances of figurative ornament on Holy Arks in Poland, and a series of inscriptions, like: “So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet”. On the Torah crown there was written: “The statuettes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart”. And beside the crown of priesthood: “thus shall you bless the house of Israel” and “It is appropriate to guard silence at the time of prayer”. In the large central niche of the lower story there is the door of the “Ark”, and above it an ornamental lintel made into a handsome heraldic composition of birds (hoopoes); above this plate with the inscription: “And thou shall make cherubim of gold, of beaten work”. The whole structure of the large Ark, in the rococo style, was one of the most ornamented in Poland, and “gave the impression of an antique clock with marble columns”.

When speaking about the artistic importance of the masonry and woodwork synagogues in Poland, and especially of the Vishogrod synagogue, in Polish art history, Shyshko-Bohut points out: “…our synagogues built in stone during the baroque period, are an invaluable treasure, and this ought to be stressed, as beside the many monuments of ecclesiastical architecture the secular architecture has not many remarkable monuments to boast of”.

“These synagogues, semi-secular buildings, fill this void in a great measure.

The Vishogrod synagogue was destroyed and pulled down in 1939 by the Germans, and there is nothing left of it.

P. 63:

“…The synagogue in Vishogrod (as described above) was built according to the plan resembling the type of synagogue – fortress. The building was quadrangular (18 x 18m.), and though its exterior was not distinguished by those architectural ornaments that are characteristic of the synagogue –fortress, the interior, with the vaulted cupola supported by pillars equally distanced from the walls and in between themselves, created the impression of a monumental structure. Here, too, the “Ark” was Fridlender's handiwork, this time in rococo style. In this holy ark, among the most richly ornamented in Polish synagogues, the artist introduced not only magnificent sculptures, depicting whole scenes or biblical musical instruments, but also human figures, Moses and Aaron, which is a revolutionary step in the tradition of religious Jewish ornamentation in Poland”.


[Page 12]

I Remember

By Bella Zawierucha-Gutman

I see you in all the glory and richness of my earliest youth.Here you are, stretching alongside the Vistula river, on which we look down from our town-on-the-hill. The long way up from the Vistula leads to the rectangular market-place. From there extend all the side-streets, large and small. For me all of it is unique, more beautiful, more friendly, more joyful than anything else; the houses and cottages, the shops of different size and cellars, and the shopkeepers, men and women. I see each baker and his family, each tradesman, each storekeeper and villagebuyer, each orchardist and watercarrier, all the members of the community and the notables.

All, all of them were upright, decent people, high-minded, possessed of the Jwish "over-soul". Broad is the flow of our Vistula, where it converges with the Bzura. It rushes noisily, carrying with it, every now and then, fragments of the bank belonging to the town or to the castlehill that rises aloof, by itself, and about which we have so many tales and dreams...

The castlehill is very high, and we look up to it, and see in it more and more the enchanted castle of the King Casimir the Great, with his - our - Esther'ke. It's a long time, nothing has remained of the castle, but it's so good to spin out the legends; everybody likes the legendary and the fanciful.

In the wintertime, the Vistula is locked in by the frost and waits silently for the spring, when we will wonder at its surging up, when the ice floes begin to stir more and more, noisier, quicker, and the flow carries away trees, bridges and huts.

Uphill from the Vistula, you can reach the shoamekers' street, so near to my aunt Hendel's, my uncle Shiye's and my cousins Moshe and Israel.

The small street continues to the Rembova street, ending in a row of wooden, red-daubed huts, bordering on the big deep "paroves" (ravines) that follow the whole width of the town, far away, to the Vistula, in one direction, and in the other one, farther still, up to the "stegenes" (uphill paths), this magnificent walk alongside the Vistula. Because of those big deep ravines that cut the town in two, two streets are connected by a bridge. It seems to us so natural, such a stone bridge in the heart of the small town. We think, sure all small towns are built like that.

Once can also ascend from the Vistula to the town center by stairs, leading to the synagogue, lose to the house where we are living, and to the house of Sara-Toibele, Ya'acov Moshe Goldman's wife. This is the home of several families; each one in its inherited quarters, together with the married children. There was the drygoods store of Goldman-Selman, and the hardware store of Lipman, and the button factory of Maisdorf-Popowski. About this house alone you could write a history book of human energy, wisdom, piousness, kindness, and progress.

Our window facing the synagogue was occupied on all Shabbat days and holidays by my friends: Mania and Sala Weingart, Henele Rotbart, Hadaske Baum, Salra Malka Kirshenbaum, Eta Lichtenstein, Sima Gmach, Haya Libe Gutfarb, Eidel Krongrad. Also kept company with us Tove Ides and Blime Lea Goldman. We liked them very much and welcomed them gladly.

We look out at the synagogue. The stout thick walls, the large green double door and tall windows, looked all week long like an enchanted castle, fast asleep. On Shabbat and holiday the synagogue came alive. It was full with people, and round it colorful children with their parents in Shabbat finery; everybody moved towards the synagogue.

From outside the synagogue did not look very tall, because it was square, big, with a roof with cupolas; but whoever entered it was wonderstruck with its height. (People said that it had been built deep under ground level, because it was forbidden for a synagogue to be higher than a church). Therefore you had to go down from the entrance by stairs. And then you saw a magnificent great work of art, an object of wonder and interest to everybody: The Easter wall, large, marvelously carved, the great pictures on the side walls; on the entrance wall, the lions, one of them being so lifelike, that it seemed to look at you from any direction.

The center of the ceiling looked like open heaven, with Shor-Habor and the Leviathan round it. From both sides stairs led up to carved balconies, where we used to stand to hear the shophar blowing. In the large entrance halls, on three sides, there were spiral stairs up to the women's part of the synagogue. Near them, there were small rooms for those coming to pray early. In the middle entrance hall there was still the pillory chain, of the "kuna".

Each time I was standing on the balcony to hear the shophar blowing, I used to wish to see that lion that used in former days to hand out the tora scrolls from the Holy Ark and let hear such a lifelike deep roar, it scared pregnant women. It proved necessary to take out the contraption which constituted its life. In my time, it was, unfortunately, dead.

Between the synagogue and the Beth-Midrash there was alarge square, where we, our crowd, used to play on workdays and set free our energy and skill.

Two gates were leading from the square into the yards of Weingart's and Rotbart's. There was the bakery, and Henele let us perform plays on the oven platform. Our first rehearsals were held there, and later on Shabbat afternoon we played in the Rotbart's drawingroom, before the whole family and guests, with great success.

We used to be much scared In the evenings when we were obliged to cross the dark house and the dark yard, where Gedalia Moshe, son of Yohere of the dairy, a handsome, tall, sturdy man, with magnificent black eyes, was standing quiet, deep in his thoughts, and from time to time let out with his loud, beautiful voice: -- I am Bar Kochba, where is Shulamit?

Every day at the same hour, the three roads to the Vistula come alive: the ship is coming, the only means of communication in summertime of the Plock-Warsaw route. On the landing pier, it grows lively with the arrival of the ship. Moshe Zlotnik gets busy. Porters get ready to earn a little money. Guests arrive and leave. Merchants bring goods from Warsaw. People see of guests.

On one of those beautiful summer days, when the ship was at the pier and some passengers on deck were poking fun at Jews, their joking wound up in betting, who of them would have the closest aim, with an apple, at a porter on the shore. And before long there was a tumult, loud shouting: the thrown apple has hit the broadboned porter Yitzhak Okovietz Rudlak. His broad, gray beard is covered with blood from his plucked out eye. Even before the German Nazis there were Polish hooligans.

In town itself, Jews and non-Jews live in peace side by side. Koblinski the Gentile says in Yiddish: " God save me from Gentile hands and Jewish heads". He also was rather inclined to go to law before a Jewish religious court than before a civil court.
The town draws its livelihood from the surrounding villages. At dawn, the village buyers, men and women, go out to the villages, in pursuit of their living. They buy up fowls, fodder, eggs, calves, cows. At nightfall they are seen coming back, tired, exhausted, one with a bundle, another driving a calf, another disappointed, emptyhanded...

There are some who do not go afoot; they have horse and wagon, and drive around like gentlemen-farmers. Such one, for instance, was Izie Lisser, son-in-law to aunt Malka - his whole appearance, too, was like a country-gentleman's. Izie and Hana had three beautiful sons, and like all parents, they very much wanted them not to follow their parents' profession, and wanted to push them further, out of the limited parochial p.

On market days, Tuesday and Friday, the farmers used to come to town and bring with them products for sale: fowls, fodder, eggs, fruits, calves, cows, horses, grain, hogs. There was a noisy commotion, of human voices, sounds of beasts; they areband selling, bargaining, running about. After the sale, each farmer made his own purchases, in turn: working and cookinutensils, foodstuffs, cloth, clothes. These are the important days providing the living for the whole week.

The Rembova street goes from the market place, continues out of town up to the highway, the Warsaw route turn, where Leibbish Gmach is living. Here one goes for a walk on Shabbat evenings. Here lives my aunt Malka and my uncle Itzhak. The whole large family gathers there for Shabbat tea: Zeinvel the son and wife, Hershl the son with wife Beile of the Kirshenshtein family and two children, daughter Feige with her husband Baruch-David Wisenberg, daughter Hana with her husband Ize Lisser and three sons, another son and daughter, aunt Hendel, uncle Shiye, Moshe and Israel, uncle Yukl with wife Malka.

My parents, Avraham and Yocheved Zawierucha, and the little children, none of them are left alive, all of them found their death as martyrs of Hitler's horrid mechanism.

Hershl Futerman was the victim of the earliest bombardment of the town; together with Menashe Grosdorf (Diabel's son), they sought shelter in a building, a burning bomb fell there, and they were both burned alive.

Some of the youth of the Lisser-Futerman family were martyrized in Nowy Dwor, the rest in the gas chambers.

We recall them, after they are dead.


[Page 15]

A Purim-Day in Vishogrod

By Haim Aaron Grosdorf

With the arrival of the month of Adar, the young men of the Hassidic small prayer congregations and of the Bes-hamidrash used to make big posters bearing the words “When Adar begins, merrymaking increases”.

About the year 1905, after the reciting of the Megillah in the Bess-hamidrash, with the termination of Esther's fast, people went home to break the fast and the “boys” gathered in the Bess-hamidrash and decided: whereas it is a “mitzvah” to get drunk at Purim, they would put all long tables and benches entwined crosswise on the almemor, so that when the worthies of the town would come in the morning, they would not be able to read the Megillah, until they would give the wherewithal for drinks.

And so the boys did and they got what they asked for, in order to fulfill the saying “A man ought to drink at Purim, until he loses his power of discerning”.

How the Bess-hamidrash of Vishogrod Got a Talmud Set

There lived two brothers in Vishogrod, Mordecai and Baruch Shmukler (“Shmuler” was not their family name, only they were hosiers). Mordecai and Baruch were many times mistaken for each other, for though not being twins, they were very much alike.

When Mordecai died in 1907 or 1908, the boys hid the board of last ablutions and the other implements n the loft of the Bess-hamidrash among the discarded books.

When the Hevra Kadisha came for the implements and did not find them behind the stove, which was their usual place, they inquired of the Bess-hamidrash residents: Who has put the implements away? And the boys answered in a Gemara sing-song:

Whereas the deceased has no children, we will not hand over the implements for the last ablutions, until we receive the Talmud set that was his, for the benefit of the Bess-hamidrash.

And they did get the Shass.


An Episode (related by David Lipman)

By Haim Aaron Grosdorf

A Hassidic Rabbi came with his Beadle and Manager to Vishogrod. This was about 1904-1905. The town went wild. Everybody was hugging the thought that soon he would welcome the Zaddik, or even submit a written request and beg the Rabbi for deliverance. There was a great interest.

There were no big drawing rooms in the small town, where the festive reception could be held. A question, a very weighty question arose: Where to put the Rabbi's table, so that the greatest possible number of people could be present and participate in the enjoyment.

The Rabbi asked for his table to be put in the Bess-hamidrash.

The women joined forces, bought the best fish, the choicest meat, and baked big, sweet glossy white bread and prepared other dishes. They laid the tables with white shiny tablecloths and even brought silver candlesticks from their homes.

On Friday night the Bess-hamidrash was packed full. There was a crowd that tens of people were obliged to remain standing outside the Bess-hamidrash. Everybody longed to hear a saying of the Rabbi, to snatch up a word of learning from his mouth, and to hear some nice Hassidic songs.

I think of this evening, this week, and I muse: -- Vishogrod always welcomed gatherings of Jewish heartiness. Greatest efforts were made to enjoy a bit of Jewishness and heartiness and togetherness.

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