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[English pages 15-19]

Reminiscences of Zdunska-Wola – City of My Birth

by Phillip Rosenberg

This chapter of reminiscences from my home town, Zdunska-Wola, Poland, is written just 47 years after I left my beloved city for America in 1919.

Being unable to set down any memories of the unprecedented catastrophe which befell the three and a half million Jews of Poland, including the 12,000 from our home-town, I will content myself by describing certain highlights and episodes of my life in Zdunska-Wola, during the first 25 years of my life, and how they influenced my childhood up until the time I went my self-directed way as a grown-up person.

Let me begin with my childhood. I was born in 1894, the youngest of 7 children, to a family which suffered great poverty. My father, Zisl Hersh was a fur-cutter, who never earned a decent wage. He would travel around, among the peasants in the villages, with his needle, his scissors and his iron, repairing old fur coats, sheepskins, or other clothes, and at times, sewing new ones, in return for which he would bring home some vegetables and a small amount of money. In order to increase his income, he would also sell fish for the Sabbath, and my mother, Leah Drizl would help him sell it.

It was a hard and tedious life. My father was not the only one who worried all week about how he would feed his large family, but his biggest worry was preparing food for the Sabbath. This was the one day when Jews would put their cares and worries of a livelihood aside, transferring themselves, in their fantasy, to another, spiritual world.

At the age of 10 I could no longer continue my studies in the “cheder”. Conditions at home were such, that I had to begin to “earn” some money in order to help increase the family income. Because there was no other alternative, my father took me out of the “cheder” and apprenticed me to a tailor to learn the trade. I was not the only one in town who had to do this. This was also the fate of many of the young people in our home town, who grew up in impoverished homes, and were forced by circumstances, to cut their normal years of learning, and take upon themselves, the responsibility of earning a living at a still tender age.

 

Zdunska-Wola – An Industrial and Proletarian Center

In the early years of the twentieth century, immediately after the “rehearsal” of Czarist “democracy”, when the absolutist, reactionary Czarist Government was forced, by the pressure of strengthening communal, labor and progressive powers, to grant an open, free, democratic, parliamentary tribune, the so-called “Duma”, where the demands and desires of the broad masses of the population, found expression.

These achievements raised and encouraged the hopes of the Jews that an immediate solution to many problems was in the offering. Their dream was to be freed of three of the worst evils which were a source of torment to the Jews under the Imperial Czarist Regime: poverty, lack of civil rights and anti-Semitism. The Jewish community of Zdunska-Wola also suffered from these evils.

About this time larger and smaller textile factories began to spring up around us. In the midst of horrible exploitation, the workers were forced to work under the prevailing labor conditions of long working hours for a very low wage, under intolerable sanitary and hygienic conditions, without any social security.

The textile factories were closely tied up with “Polish Manchester” – the textile center of Lodz, where over a thousand Jewish and non-Jewish workers were employed. The raw materials were sent to Zdunska-Wola from there and, after completion of the work, were sent back to Lodz as ready-made manufactured goods.

Under these conditions Zdunska-Wola became transformed not only into a big industrial center, but also a big proletarian one with political, communal and trade union activities.

 

The impact of the Revolutionary Movement

This dynamic activity of the local Jewish working class residents began to develop even in the factories themselves in order to fulfill the urgent needs of the oppressed workers, needs which stemmed from the anti-social employment system. Later, this activity began to spread out far beyond the confines of the factory walls encircling all the other interests of the Jewish working-class.

This activity rose to a higher pitch with the rise of the revolutionary movement which swept through Russia during the years 1904-1905, and also spread through Poland. In this respect, our Zdunska-Wola was no exception. The Jewish workers also found expression representing every shade of political opinion.

Among the Jewish workers, together will all workers generally, there also blossomed forth a new revolutionary upsurge. The Czar dispelled the “Duma”. Which he regarded as too dangerous an instrument in the hands of the more advanced of the population.

This very upsurge, brought new life and a growing spirit of struggle into the ranks of the disillusioned workers. A very special role was played by the “Bund” and this was due to the Regional Committee in Lodz.

 

Various Different Views

Simultaneously there arose various other Jewish mass-movements, in all spheres of the political spectrum, including the various Zionist groups in the Jewish community.

It was, therefore, quite natural that in the background of this multi-colored rainbow of political differentiation, in movements which eluded one the another, in this cultural and spiritual climate, where variant ideologies of world political systems fought against each other in no small manner, amongst these deeply serious and dedicated people, each one had with full conviction received from his parents and grandparents a heritage. He believed with all his heart and soul in these truths and only in these truths. In this heated atmosphere it was quite natural that there be fiery discussions, which would begin around the family table at home, and spread to the streets, to meetings, and wherever people gathered together. Discussions took place in which every single faction made a maximum effort to influence others with all possible, logical and moving arguments, in order to convey his ideas to his listener.

 

 
Members of the Baker's Union

 

A Discordant Dissonance

It is truly regrettable, that side by side with the absolutely positive and active youth, which threw itself heart and soul into an all out effort to build a new world, a world of enlightened people with national and social ideals, there also appeared groups of irresponsible elements, who, by their brutal conduct, brought a discordant “dissonance” into that idealistic atmosphere.

These groups of “toughs” were always ready to start fights, be stool pigeons and not infrequently resort to murder. They helped the police worm their way into inner party hide-outs, to terrorize the leaders of the revolutionary organization, participated in efforts to crush the movement of the workers and bring about the arrest of its most important leaders.

There comes to mind a tragic and explosive episode in Zdunska-Wola, when these very nefarious people murdered Abraham Shloime Kurtzel on his way home from work.

Abraham Shloime Kurtzel was an innocent victim. He was a very quiet worker, who was passive to the labor movement. The hireling murderers (cutthroats) lay in wait for an important leader of the revolutional “Achdos” movement, whom they wished to remove permanently from the scene. But just then Abraham Shloime Kurtzel came along, and believing that he was the “Achdos” leader they were lying in wait for, they murdered him.

 

 
Zelig Wolf Rosenberg

 

This murder took place on Sunday night. On the following day, when the news of this brutal and nefarious deed spread through the city, a mightly demonstration of protest took place condemning this terrible terrorist act. The worker stayed away from the factories that day. The entire population of Zdunska-Wola was roused to a pitch of anger.

A big funeral was arranged, in which thousands of workers took part. The little “Bund” and its membership played a big part. Soldiers and police broke up the funeral, but the workers continued to march, carrying the casket. The police once again attacked the procession and arrested many workers.

The perpetrators of this murder never dared show themselves again in the city. Shortly after it became known that they had fled to America. In a terrible rage, the workers, not being able to put their hands on the murderers, vented their anger on the homes of these renegades, as well as the homes of their families.

The police constantly persecuted and arrested workers generally, and especially the revolutionary leaders to the workers. These terrorist attacks always increased just before the first of May.

Among the arrested Jewish leaders of the workers were: Zelig Wolf Rosenberg (who played an especially important role in the revolutionary movement in our city, and was nicknamed the “Achdos” group); Moishele Hitelmacher, Abraham Krasne, the glazeer, Moishe Karo, Rab Motl Karo's son,

 

 
Committee members of the “Zukunft” – Yugent-Bund
(Young Bund Movement)

 

who at that time had a bar in the market place; and others.

 

1914 – The Germans Destroy Kalish

The First World War erupted. The Germans crossed the Polish border and when they stormed into the city of Kalish they began to destroy it and rob the civilian population. As usual, in such cases, the chief victims were the Jews, whose possessions were mostly of a movable character. Filled with justifiable fears (bordering on panic) the Jewish population began to flee to wherever their feet carried them.

In this situation, the Jewish community of Zdunska-Wola came forward with immediate assistance, hitching up their horses and wagons or whatever they could mobilize, and rushed to Kalish in order to help carry off the fleeing refugees, providing them with food and lodging and supplying other elementary needs.

 

The Initiative of the “Bund”

In 1916, a Tailors' Guild was organized with the aid of the “Bund” and it immediately set to work to organize various cultural and communal institutions such as clubs, libraries, a dramatic society, a sports society, etc. The initiators of these were: Yankelevitch, the pharmacist; Lubashetz, the dentist: Falke Krakowsky, the first secretary; Philip Rosenber, Smiechow and others.

Many Jews, the common people, the workers, the craftsmen, the wagon-drivers, the butchers, the carriers, the laborers, stood watch and guarded Jewish lives and defended Jewish honor.

At the same time they founded trade unions for various crafts, which brought in a new stream of life to the ranks of the Jewish workers and artisans.

About that time, right after the first World War, I left Zdunska-Wola, but I was bound to my hometown by a million ties…Until there descended upon it the greatest mass murderer of all time – Hitler may he be forever cursed – and tore up by its very roots my dear, beloved, unforgettable city, together with all Polish Jewry, of which Zdunska-Wola was an organic part.

Zdunska-Wola, I will never forget you….

 

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