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[Page 93]

Memories of bygone days and years

by Yosef Nisnberg

Donated by William Kaufman

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

Remember the days of the world; understand the years from generation to generation. Ask your father and he will tell you, the elders, and they will say to you.
(Parshe Ha'azinu , Deuteronomy)

Impelled by deep pain and sorrow for our nearest and dearest, and for all whose lives were so brutally cut short, and by hopeless longing for everything dear that once was, but is no more, I will here evoke and relate a few memories that have touched my heart and mind, which are rooted in the deepest depths of the past life of our hometown – under the title “Once there was a Jewish hometown, Zyrardow.”

I will try here to look back over a cross-section of different times and eras, of events and episodes, to describe different types of people and personalities, individuals and groups that influenced and impressed me, recall what happened and what was done over the course of the years, the individual and the communal life of the town until the great catastrophe and Holocaust.

To produce such a work is not an easy task, because I unfortunately have no personal archives or documentary materials at my disposal. I will have to make do with what I know and remember, and I will have to comfort myself with the words of our sages of blessed memory (in Pirke Avot –Sayings of the Fathers): “You are not obliged to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” And so I hope that there will be others who will complete what I have omitted.

***

Compared to neighboring towns, Zyrardow had a relatively short past. For that reason, perhaps, the way it developed and its unusual layout gave it a unique appearance, quite different from the typical old Polish shtetls, which almost all had a round or square market place in the very center of the town.

Zyrardow was a more modern town, with a markedly dynamic, energetic life, heavily influenced by nearby Warsaw. At the outbreak of the war in 1939, it had a total population of 40,000, of which about 3,500 were Jewish. According to existing sources, the Jewish settlement dates from about 1840 to 1850, when the place was still officially named Ruda-Guzavska and was still a rural commune. Only later, when its overall economic and cultural life had expanded far beyond the narrow limits of a commune, was it accorded the status of a town, with a city hall, and given the name Zyrardow. It is worth noting that its official designation as a town eliminated the threat of expulsion faced by Jews from certain parts of the area, under the terms of an old decree which forbad Jews to live on village lands.

The factory that was established in 1831 continued to grow and develop over the years, and expanded to cover a very large area, extending along the length of the western side of town, parallel to the former Viskitska Street (later called May First Street,) which ran from Amshinov to Viskit.

Jews were never allowed to be workers in the factory itself. True, in the early years, while the factory was still constantly under construction and expansion, individual Jewish artisans, like tinsmiths, carpenters, glaziers and the like, did work at their trades there. There was also a small group of Jews who found favor with the factory administration and were granted the right to buy up the residue of the manufacturing process. As we know, among them was Reb[1] Berl Grushke, a Hasid, who worked his way up, and established a factory with many workers who cleaned and processed the residue; also Reb Leybush Nayman and his children, who had a kind of permanent right to the leftovers. Both of the above considered themselves to be among the very first Jewish residents of Zyrardow. They and a few others were called the “Adams,” after the first man.

Jews would buy the raw flax from the peasants of the vicinity, and deliver it to the factory. One of the first Jews to obtain special permission to act as sales agent for the factory was Aron Albek in Bialystok, a son of the Zyrardover Rabbi (Reb Menakhem Mendl.) In later years there were many Jewish business representatives in the larger towns of the former Russian Empire, to which Congress Poland then belonged.

There was something different, something special about the Jewish way of life in Zyrardow, that was manifested in many ways, that imparted a characteristic flavor to all aspects of life, public and private, and that attracted and served as an example for the surrounding Jewish towns and communities.

In general, its close connection to Warsaw by a train line was a very positive factor in the rapid economic and cultural development of the town. The establishment of the factory was the basis of the Jewish settlement. Even in the early years, the place attracted Jewish families, mostly from nearby places like Viskit, Amshinov, Skierniewiec, and Grodziska. All kinds of shops and artisans' workshops were opened, to serve the local Christian population. As the general population grew, so did the numbers of Jewish families who settled there.

The main sources of livelihood for the Jews were the factory workers, as well as the peasants from the surrounding villages, who would come to town every Wednesday, the regular market day, to sell their farm products and do their shopping. Also, some Jewish merchants and artisans would travel to markets and fairs in nearby towns. And, as everywhere, the Jews relied on their generations-old traits of adaptability and perseverance in the face of all kinds of difficulties and challenges. In short, Jews put down roots in a new place that was in a constant process of formation and development

Over the years, a Jewish communal life developed, with all the basic traditional buildings and institutions, beginning with a shul in which to daven[2], a mikve[3], a Talmud Torah[4], and ending with a cemetery. Before the cemetery was established, the dead had to be brought to Viskit for burial. It should be noted that the land for the shul and for the cemetery was donated by Khrabye Sobanski, a Christian friendly to the Jews, who also owned most of the land in the surrounding villages.

The first shul was built of wood. It wasn't until 1909 that they built a brick shul and bes medresh[5], with a women's section upstairs and a beautifully painted gallery. On the ceiling was a painting of a large eagle with outspread wings, symbolizing the description of the Almighty in Parsha ha'azinu : “Like an eagle watches over its nestlings.”[6]

The shul was repainted in 1924 (for the last time) by the renowned Jewish artist Moyshe-Mendl Aplboym. His painting was extremely colorful and imaginative. Around the gallery were depicted all 12 astrological symbols for the months, and many stars covered the deeply vaulted ceiling, an allusion to God's promise to Abraham: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.”

I remember, as a young boy, being in shul with my father, Reb Itsik Leyzer Nisnberg in his customary seat on the eastern wall, and seeing all the fine and respectable men of substance wrapped in their large prayer shawls ornamented with silver. I want to mention some of them:

Reb Yosl Dembinski, a pious Hasid, tall, with a black beard, a little gloomy, a Kohen, who when he dukhened[7] would outshout all the other Kohanim, like a high priest in the Temple. He had a serious competitor in the wealthy Reb Yosef Koyfman, a powerful man who was his equal in the art of shouting….Reb Itshe Kshantshenitser …Reb Yosl Gritser (Mefen)… Reb Yosl Sobol… Reb Gershon Miller and Yankev Gips –both wealthy proprietors who were also dozors in the kehile…Reb Mordkhe Goldberg…Reb Aba Vaytsner…Reb Dovid Marshalik-Tupman…Reb Yankev-Fayvl Grinboym, a merchant who was very intelligent, also a dozor[8]…Reb Itsik Faygenboym (Der Bialer)…Reb Avrom Pshititski and Note Tiger…Reb Naftali Kaysman, a Hasid and merchant of stately bearing….Reb Yeheskel Fayertog…Reb Yosl Elving…Reb Aron Hershkovits…Reb Shloyme Loyvitsher…Reb Shloyme Itshe Tiger…Reb Binyomen-Volf Kashot..Reb Mayerl Krist…Reb Aba Yakubovitsh-Zeygermayster…Mendl (Lere) Levitas…Reb Moyshe Balimover…Reb Moysh Magid-Tiger…Reb Yekl Tiger…the sons of Berl Grushke…Reb Shloyme Varshaver (Skavronek) and his sons…and many, many more. All of the aforementioned were more or less wealthy proprietors, merchants, and self-employed artisans, who regularly prayed in the bes-medresh. A few belonged to a different minyen[9], or to a Hasidic shtibl[10]. Those who belonged to the Hasidic shtiblekh also included such wealthy merchant families as those of Reb Mates and Leyb Gutglas, and Reb Avrom and Itsik Ziskind, who were all timber merchants and owners of lumber yards, as well as Reb Aron Bloshtayn.

I see before me the figure of Herr A. Shifman, a nationalistic Jew, a Maskil[11] and son of a Maskil, owner of a book and stationary business. I remember him with a slightly reddish complexion, with sharply etched angular lines in his face, and large, prominent eyes. He was always buried in a religious book, its pages gilded on the edges, in German or Polish translation. I always was strangely eager to catch a glimpse of those non-Jewish languages, so foreign to me. Even more interesting and intriguing was the large magnifying glass in a thick brass frame, which he never let out of his hands, and which I deeply envied him.

Next I have to mention the rich manufacturers of textiles and soda drinks, Herr Moyshe Oksner and his sons, Karel and Herman, who at various times acted as representatives of the Jewish population on all kinds of municipal commissions, and in the town council. Although they spoke mostly Polish, they were nevertheless in constant contact with the Jewish population and the kehile, and would often boast that an uncle of theirs had married into the family of Reb Nokhem Sokolov. The Oksner family also put up the new fence around the cemetery, before the First World War.

Finally, there was a group of thoroughly Polishized, pro-assimilationist intellectuals, who distanced themselves from the Jewish community and life. The “half-doctors” and full feldshers[12], Herr Lipinski and Herr Fayner (who came, in fact, from a Hasidic family and even knew the religious texts); Herr Haberman, also a feldsher, a very assimilated intellectual, who with his grey muttonchops strongly resembled the Emperor Franz Joseph; Herr Sh. Pshedetsk, a photographer; and Herr Herman Gomolinski, a longtime dozor in the kehile, also teacher and director of a school for Jewish children. Although an assimilationist, who, like the others mentioned above, looked down upon Jewish life, he nevertheless couldn't bring himself to give up his position in the old-fashioned, religious kehile.

According to the small-town typology, the aforementioned were designated as “Germans” because of how they dressed. They wore long, shaped jackets with Homburgs or top hats on their heads, and in shul most of them wore short little prayer shawls that smelled of mothballs. These Polishized “Pani”[13] of the shtetl granted the Almighty the favor of their presence in shul, along with the Jewish Jews, two or three times a year. They enjoyed the “privilege” of showing up in shul in the middle of Musef prayer, and running off before the Oleynu (last prayer). As if to spite him, they all had their permanent seats near the rabbi, who, poor man, had to hold his tongue, although he would groan deeply and bury his head even deeper under his prayer shawl.

I can see before me the big shulhoyf[14], which resounded with the voices of children and adults reading from the prayer books. Grown girls, all decked out, would come to see their mothers in shul, “to hear the blowing of the shofar,” half-bashfully making their way through the crowds of boys and young men in the yard. I remember how we, still-young boys, would compete among ourselves for their attention all the while holding tied-up napkins full of treats which our mothers gave us when they sent us off, in our holiday finery, to join our fathers in shul.

In the shulhoyf was a separate building which housed the Talmud Torah for poor children. Reb Noakh Lifshits was its longtime, dedicated gabe[15]. He was a very pious man, a Piasetshner Hasid. For many years he bore the heavy burden of providing a religious education for the poor children, and later on he became known as “Noakh Gabe.” After him, Reb Avrom Moyshe Bushezshinski held the position for a long time.

Downstairs, in the same building, was a kind of homeless shelter for poor people from out of town who came and stayed for a few days to collect alms. Later, it was relocated to the private home of Reb Itshe Beker (Vintland) and then to Yekl Klein's house, where a shabes minyen was also held.

Hershl Shames lived in the Talmud Torah building. He was the head shames for the rabbi, and also was in charge of maintaining the birth records for Jewish children. Not infrequently, he would collect a registration fee, and then “forget” to register the birth. He was very pious and a great scholar, and in his home he conducted a minyen of the group “Chai Oylem”, hardworking, simple Jews with whom he studied religious texts every Saturday morning. He was a thin, short man with an oddly dark olive complexion and a sparse beard who wore a satin hat with a broad brim. He was always dressed in a sort of brown nightshirt tied with a sash, that made him look like an old-time Jew of the Orient, an emissary from a yeshiva in Jerusalem or Sfad.

Also in the shulhoyf was the building housing the mikve, the windows of which were always steamed-up. Every Passover my mother would send me there to kosher the new dishes by immersing them in the water. Not without trepidation, I would descend into the musty, mysterious darkness until I reached the last step, at the edge of the cloudy, greenish water, where I would immerse the dishes while soberly making the blessing, like a real grown-up.

I remember something else, which to this day I do not understand. Outside, leaning against the wall of the mikve, under the steps which led to the home of Hershke Shames, and later of Aron Shames, was the long board on which the burial society used to lay out the corpses in preparation for burial. This frightened everyone, especially the women and children, who tried to avoid looking in that direction. We children felt really sorry for the shames and his children, who lived above the mikvah.

The custodian and “Shabes goy” who worked for the kehile patrolled the shulhoyf to make sure the children didn't destroy everything. He stood ready to respond to a report of a danger of fire in shul due to a sputtering or overturned candle.

As mentioned, all of the institutions and offices necessary to religious life and education were established early on. Among these were heders for very young and older chidren. The teachers weren't required to undergo teacher training, and relied on the whip as their main instructional tool.

Several different minyens appeared, as well as Hasidic shtibls of the Kotsker, Aleksander, Kazhenitser, Piasetshner, Gradzisker and Amshinover Hasidim. Sons and sons-in-law supported by fathers and fathers-in-law sat in the shtiblekh and studied. The sound of the Torah was heard in the Polish town.

A residence for the poor was established. Many men and women helped to raise funds to enable poor brides to marry, giving anonymously and worked devotedly in the old-fashioned Jewish manner. Among the dedicated people working to shelter the poor I remember Little Avromele, a simple man, one of the common folk, who toiled to earn a living. He was a short, broadly built man with a large, long and disheveled beard.

We must of course mention all the highly learned, the Talmud scholars and the “brains” of the shtetl, beginning with Rabbi Menakhem Mendl Albek and Rabbi Yosel Kupyets and the following list of great Hasidic scholars: Reb Aron-Khaim Dzhalashinski, a man of great learning and piety who was well known and well loved as a speaker and preacher in other kehiles as well; Reb Berke Zakhariash and Reb Mendl Miller (who was also a dozor in the kehile) – both widely recognized as great scholars and renowned arbitrators in the most difficult cases brought before the religious court; and Reb Binem Shoykhet, a Gerer Hasid, a scholar and pious man. He was beloved by all for his longtime service as leader of the morning prayers during the Days of Awe, and was an unusually accomplished shofar-blower in the town shul. His Hasidic melodies were extremely popular and humble artisans used to sing his liturgical songs as they worked in their workshops. I remember so well how when Reb Binem began to chant the prayer before blowing the shofar, the entire congregation began to sway like the waves of a stormy sea.

We must also mention Reb Dovid Shoykhet (Nayman), Reb Yekl Tiger, Reb Oser Frost, and Reb Yudl Shulevitsh. And while we speak of learned and highly intelligent men, we should also mention a famous son of Zyrardow, a grandchild of Reb Ziskind Naydorf (a butcher) – the world-renowned Grand Master in Chess, Menakhem-Mendl (Miguel) Naydorf, Grand Master in Argentina, where he still lives today.

***

In 1905 to 1907, in the territory of the Russian Empire, the revolutionary movement to overthrow Tsarist absolutism grew stronger, especially after the defeat of the Russian army in the war with Japan. This mounting revolutionary wave found fertile soil among Zyrardow's population, especially the poor, heavily exploited factory workers, who had already long been fighting for better wages and more humane working conditions. The factory administration were confident of the support of certain Cossack divisions that were permanently stationed on the factory grounds and absolutely refused to consider granting the just demands of the suffering and embittered workers. Influenced by the revolutionary agitation of the PPS, SD and other workers' parties, which inscribed on their flags the motto: “National and Social Liberation,” the workers' movement was carried along into an intensified open struggle against the existing reactionary regime.

In 1906 bombs were thrown at the police watch-booth at the entrance to the factory in Zyrardow, just as the workers were leaving to go home. A huge stampede broke out, merchants quickly closed their shops, everyone sought out a place to hide. Right after the explosion, the alarmed Cossacks went wild and they and their agents fell upon the crowds of workers who were trying to get home, recklessly shooting the wholly innocent, who happened to be in the street, brutally beating whoever hadn't managed to find a place to hide. There were also horrible cases of people being tied to horses, and dragged along the cobblestoned roadways by the galloping horses. Then came a wave of house searches and arrests. Many workers were sent to Siberia for long terms. Many never returned home.

The revenge was especially severe against Jewish workers, who were suspected of being caught up in revolutionary movement and who no doubt did take part in revolutionary agitation as organized members of the PPS, SD and in the separate Jewish workers' parties, the Bund and Poale Zion. Many house searches were conducted and many arrests were made among the Jewish population. In those days, three young Jewish boy revolutionaries were killed, dragged from their homes and shot in cold blood on the street outside, without any kind of trial. Their names were Mendl Maymon, Elye Lubtshanski and Melekh Mikhovski[16].

One of the Jewish boys who was sent to Siberia, Fishl Lakhman, was still very young. The son of a pious Hasidic home, he was literally torn away from his studies by the revolutionary movement like many other Jewish youth and began working as a hat maker. He was dubbed “The Hasid” by the Tsarist police because of his pious Jewish appearance. He later managed to escape to America with the help of townspeople who were already there. Another Siberian exile was Avromtshe Blumenshtayn, Akive Beker's son, who with great hardship and petitioning managed to win his release from prison. He came home a broken man, sick with tuberculosis.

Many other young people ran away to America to avoid arrest and persecution. Avrom Vevyorke, the sone of Binem Mendl Vevyorke, and later a well known writer, also played a role in these events. An ardent revolutionary agitator and an excellent speaker, he would appear before Jews and Christians, speaking both Yiddish and Polish, calling upon them to unite in struggle “for our and your freedom.” After the revolutionary movement was crushed by bloody repression all over Russia, Vevyorke, like so many others, disappeared from the town. We next heard from him much later when he was already a well known, established writer. Interestingly, in one of his story collections, “Extinguished Candles,” he portrays several Zyrardower types, without naming them.

In my mind, I can see, as if they were alive, the three tragically murdered Jewish workers, or “strikers” as we called them:

Mendl-Geles, a son of Avromele Maymon, was a boy of medium build with a delicate Jewish face, intelligent eyes, and a nose that was a bit curved, like an eagle's beak. You would see him wrapped in a sort of hooded cape, with a soft, artist's hat atop his well-combed locks, wearing a stiff collar and a bowtie. White cuffs peeked out beneath his sleeves; black shoes, buttoned on the side, gleamed under his pressed, wide, bell-bottomed trousers. Walking along, almost always with a political book under his arm, he cut quite a unique figure against the backdrop of his small town, bourgeois surroundings. When he spoke, he often used odd, unfamiliar words and expressions which were both frightening and appealing – words of elevated political and moral meaning, about the struggle against “absolutism” and “Tsarist despotism,” about a “new order,” about justice, freedom, and “suffering humanity” – all concepts and ideas not so easily digested by ordinary people.

This idealistic young man from a Hasidic, petit-bourgeois merchant family worked as a skilled, self-employed house painter. He would paint colorful, imaginative patterns on walls, and decorate rooms and halls, standing on a ladder while singing revolutionary freedom songs and love songs by Dovid Edelshtat, Morris Rosenfeld, Avrom Reisen and others. He worked, he struggled, and he dreamed, until the Tsarist soldiers so soon and so brutally cut short the song of his life.

I remember the second victim, the redhead Elye Lubtshanski, also known as Elye the Litvak, after his father, Reb Yosele, the melamed for young children, who was in fact a Litvak. Elye was a tall, strong fellow with a reddish face covered with freckles. Growing up in a poor home, he went to work at a young age as a tailor's apprentice and was soon caught up in revolutionary work. A small detail of symbolic resonance also played an inspirational role in the tragic course of his life. In the heder where his father led the children in learning the alef beys and Hebrew in his Litvish accent, there hung from the low ceiling rafter a large framed portrait of Tsar Nikolai himself, with his imperious gaze, leaning on a sword. And so Elye always had before him, as if to spite him, this provocative symbol of the entire revolutionary regime which he so hated. But before he had the chance to express his youthful revolutionary energy in a more productive and active way, he was brutally murdered, dragged down the stairs from his family's attic apartment and shot on the spot by Tsarist agents.

Melekh Mikhovski was also felled by a Cossack bullet at that time. An innocent victim, he had not directly participated in the revolutionary movement.

Today we mention their names and honor them, because they and their cohort were the ones who plowed the hard soil in the bygone shtetl and made possible the sowing of the seeds of modern Jewish social thought. In 1933, thanks to the initiative of Poal Zion-Right , a committee of united workers' organizations was formed with the purpose of establishing a memorial at the grave of the above mentioned fallen freedom fighters. As “strikers” and “scoundrels,” they had been relegated by the religious cemetery authorities to a place near the cemetery fence. And for many years, in certain narrow minded circles, the bosses used them as a threat and a warning against the “chutzpedik” demands of workers. The funds to erect the memorial were raised through the warm response of former participants of the struggle in the Zyrardover branch of the Arbeter Ring in America. At the opening ceremony were representatives from the town hall, the kehile, and all the Jewish and Christian worker organizations, who heaped well-earned honor on those who had fallen “for our and your freedom.”

After all the bloody events and arrests in Zyrardow, there came in 1905-1906, as in all of Russia, a period of despair and bitterness over the destruction of the revolutionary movement. Although this created a favorable terrain for the growth of individualism and introspection, the seeds planted earlier were not in vain. Unnoticed, they continued to develop, like embers remaining after a fire, and stimulated social thought, not allowing the individual to shut himself off in his own narrow personal space. This was expressed in the theatrical presentations of our home grown drama circles and in the organization of literary evenings, where local literary and artistic talents, as well as those brought from Warsaw, participated. These performances and concerts were occasions that stimulated and brought a bit of life to Jewish Zyrardow. And they were a factor in awakening respect for Yiddish language and song.

Here we should mention the groups and individuals who carried the responsibility for these cultural activities on their shoulders, even if it was often in a quasi-primitive fashion, given the conditions, resources and cultural limitations of a small town at that time.

Among the most outstanding of the hometown dramatic “talents” and “amateurs” were the brothers Ben Zion, Moyshe, and later also Mates Vagner, the latter also musically gifted, and their sister Beyle; Fayvl Rotshtayn; Avrom Felerman; Tsirl Yairs (Raytovski's wife.) The above-mentioned Ben Zion Wagner was a truly talented artist, and devoted his life to the Yiddish theater. He is also mentioned in Zalmen Zilberstsvayg's Lexicon of the Yiddish Theater. He was the permanent director and leading man. I remember him in his leading roles in Yiddish historical operettas, as a prince or tragic king from the time of the destruction of Jerusalem . The enthusiastic audience thundered “Bravo, Vagner!” and “Encore!” until, visibly moved, he would come out, again theatrically throw his royal cape over his shoulder, and express his gratitude by deeply bowing.

I should also mention our native Zyrardover, Dovid Elving, who became a renowned actor and director in New York.

I remember the youth of our small town who had “gone bad,” having departed from strict religious observance. Not yet wholly liberated from the influence of their parents or of tradition, they wore short caftans, and continued to wear the characteristic, flat Jewish hat with ribbons around the short visor. They sported shiny boots, and often wore glasses as a sign of intellectualism. They would still, for the sake of appearance, for their parents, come to shul on shabes, holding little prayer books and barely moving their lips, so that people said they weren't so much davening, as snorting through their noses.

There was another type of “spoiled” youth, already beyond shame, who wore short shaped jackets like the “Germans,” with laced or buttoned shoes – the “dandies.”

In those days you could already hear the workers in the artisan workshops singing songs with moralistic lyrics about poverty and need, and about the rich and sated versus the poor and hungry, as well as nationalistic songs.

The children of the more prosperous, middle class families already went out to meet friends for a stroll, away from town, in the direction of the forest. And there were even cases where gangs of boys would discover a boy and a girl “on a stroll” and demand hush money not to report them; if they weren't paid, a notice would be posted in the bes medresh about this great sin against morality.

***

We mustn't overlook the pioneers of Zionist thought in the very beginnings of their activities in the town, who were still partly rooted in the romantic Hibat Tsion (Love of Zion) movement. The increased propaganda from both Warsaw's Zionist center and the Odessa Palestine Committee found a ready audience and a warm reception in all groups and segments of society in our town, as elsewhere. It put down deep roots which blossomed even more, if in a different form, in later years.

The movement consisted of people mostly of petit-bourgeois origin – larger and smaller merchants and shopkeepers, self-employed master craftsmen, young people, sons and sons-in-law being supported by fathers and fathers in law while they studied, from half-Hasidic, half-Maskil backgrounds, and simple folk who lacked a firm economic footing.

Based on memories of my youth, and on local sources which I consulted years later, I recall the names of Shloyme and Dovid Bukshteyn and Henekh Lifshits – hardware merchants on Viskitske Street, Hasids and scholars who had “gone bad,” by turning away from the religious path; Meyer Shmulevitsh, a bootmaker and leather merchant on Targove Street, and ardent Zionist Maskil (son in law of Leybesh Katsev Blanks; Yosef Rozentsvayg, a watchmaker (beyond the forest, at the river), a half-Litvak, with the brains of a great scholar, and an indefatigable propagandist. He conducted his home in a nationalistic, cultural spirit. Every year it served as a meeting place and a warm environment for young boys and girls thirsty for a Zionist word or brochure. His appearance – a short, pointed beard, a three-quarter length jacket and a homburg on his head – was the image of a characteristic type of born Zionist. His three sons – Yehoshua, Moyshe and Akiva – and his daughter Khava, grew up to be intelligent, cultured people and courageously active Zionists.

Next comes Aron Burnshteyn, who had a store that sold imported products, and later a bookstore and newsstand. He was a young Hasid who got caught up in the Hibat Tsion movement. He was always busy, always absorbed in politics, his pockets stuffed with newspapers. He thought of himself as the foremost culture-bearer of the shtetl because he ran the first Yiddish lending library. Also, Binyomen Mikhelson, a bootmaker (Aron Khaim's son in law); A. Shifman (Moyshe Oksner's son in law), owner of a book and stationary store, an intellectual man with the appearance of a Maskil-Zionist; Reb Shaye Fisher Yakobson, a simple man of the people, a laborer, an ardent lover of Zion; Aron Hofeld, a workingman, a tailor, who threw his soul into Zionist ideals; Velvl, who had a herring store in the Shul Street, a bearded and bespectacled young Hasid, who “went bad,” starting by reading the newspaper “Ha-Tsefirah” and fell into the net of Zionism. Moyshe and Dovid Raytovski and H. Tsverner were also active Zionists.

These people and others, whom I unfortunately no longer remember, were the standard bearers of romantic Zionist thought. A group of young boys and girls formed around them, from well-off and Hasidic homes, who thirstily threw themselves (often in secret) into the books and brochures put out by the penny-library of the Odessa Palestiner Committee, by “Dos Yidishe Folk” and “Ha-Tsifirah” from Vilna and Warsaw, who raised money for the Zionist National Fund with devotion and love for the sacred work, for the people. They mostly all had something in common, even in their outward appearance. You could see it especially on shabes and holidays, when the comrades and sympathizers gathered in a separate Zionist minyen to daven in a free, Zionist atmosphere, in the home of Moyshe Oksner.

They also set up from time to time, experimental and short-lived Zionist educational projects such as a nursery school or a modern heder with Hebrew as the language of instruction, as well as Hebrew evening courses. These were organized and run by the Hebrew teachers Kazshebrodski and Itshe “Litvak,” Reb Pinkhes Roman's son in law, who was known as a Zionist freethinker. For various reasons these projects would be discontinued, then started up again.

As noted, we are talking here about the first era of Zionist beginnings in Zyrardow, in approximately 1906-1912 and even earlier. With all their provincial weaknesses and limited horizons, they nevertheless deserve credit for being the first, the ones to break ground, who planted the first seeds for the later blossoming and broad development of a nationalistic social movement. The initial changes and freer conditions that came after World War I, and led to the Polish liberation, coincided with a new era of an expanded Jewish national-cultural and political renaissance movement, which culminated in the Balfour Declaration.

***

As noted earlier, the bloody events of 1906, when the revolutionary movement was ruthlessly suppressed by the reactionary Tsarist regime, were followed by a period of relative quiet, like the quiet that comes after a storm. This lasted several years, with some sporadic interruptions, some of which had a specifically Jewish character. This period was known among the Jews as “normal years.”

But it didn't last long. There came the famous election for the Russian Duma, where the majority of Jews supported the candidate of the Polish leftwing workers, against the wishes of the majority of the Polish right-wing parties. This sparked a large organized anti-Semitic campaign in general, and a call for revenge through boycotts, in particular.

In this regard, the reactionary Polish and Russian anti- Semites were united in one voice – the “Novoe Vremye” (New Times) newspaper in Russian, and the specially created Dva Groshe in Polish, each echoed the other. Under the ostensibly patriotic slogan “from our own to our own,” there were established “spulkes” or cooperatives, with the goal of depriving Jewish merchants and artisans of their livelihoods. This occurred in various parts of Zyrardow as well.

This obviously caused unease and a feeling of oppression among the Jews. The daily struggle for bread was made more difficult, and in fact several Jewish families who could not or did not want to endure the worsening economic conditions, gave up the struggle, closed up shop, and took the first opportunity to emigrate to America, the free and “golden” land.

Nevertheless, the boycott agitation did not have great results among the Polish working class, who were tied to the Jewish merchants by their habit of buying on credit. Also, the local Polish peasants did not respond to the call for a boycott, because their good peasant common sense told them that it was better to sell and cheaper to buy from the Jews, especially in these times of unfavorable conditions for Jews. And the Jews did not despair, and relying on their business sense and Jewish adaptability, they survived the increased competition and just kept going. As the folk saying goes, “The dog barks, and the train keeps going.”

The first Jewish savings and loan fund was established at that time, with the goal of strengthening and supporting the economically weaker segments of the Jewish population in their struggle with the boycott.

Among the founding leaders of the first fund were Herman Gomolinski, Aron Hershkovitsh, Itshe-Leyzer Nisnberg, Itshe Kshonzshenitser and many others whom I do not recall. During that same period, 1907-8, there was another savings and loan fund, in the houses of Herr Oksner, founded and run by Herrs A. Shifman, Yekl Viner, Matias Gutglas, Meyer-Hayil Altman-Grintser and Itshe-Meyer Zeyde.

Just as with Jews everywhere, there were always fights over all kinds of issues in the religious community – between Hasidim and Misnagdim, and among the Hasidim themselves, over shokhtim, cantors, gaboyim, and dozors. Sometimes they even came to blows in the shtiblekh or in shul – and all “for the glorification of God.” As the old folksong goes, “We are what we are, but what we are is Jews.”

But with all the fighting and power-struggles, they never failed to celebrate the completion of the writing of a Torah scroll, with music, with a bridal canopy, and with dancing in the street. I recall one such celebration from my very early youth, when Reb Yekl Gips was still dozor, and it was from his large courtyard that a huge crowd spilled forth, carrying a new, beautifully decorated Torah scroll, along the main street, Viskitska Street, into the town shul. Their way was illuminated by lamps and candles placed in all the shops, houses and windows. In addition to the police, who were there to keep order (in exchange for a shot of whiskey and a pack of cigarettes,) there were also Jewish riders disguised as “Cossacks” on their horses, bedecked in colored paper ribbons and bands. If my memory doesn't deceive me, Reb Avrom Vengrover was one of these Cossacks.

And I remember quite well the special, generous feasts that they would hold in those years to fulfill the mitsve of honoring guests. And the real feast that the burial society would hold to celebrate the anniversary of the death of Moses, on the 7th day of Adar. The wives of the gaboyim considered it a great mitsve to display their domestic skills in preparing the meal. This was in the days of Reb Dovid Rotenberg and Reb Mendl Shtrasburg (a goldsmith,) both long time head gaboyim in the burial society.
And I still remember so clearly the image of the shames, Reb Hertske, a small, powerful man with short, fleshy potato-nose, and a long, snarled beard. He would hold a thick stick in one hand, and under his other arm a small box (which had previously contained yeast), and would go door to door, to shops and houses, collecting candles for the 7th of Adar. And who would refuse to donate a candle? So in the shul a sea of lit candles was placed around the lectern, and on all the long tables, which flamed and flickered and cast shadows upon the walls, and were reflected in the window panes. Children stood around the lectern, their dreamy gazes fixed on the forest of candles.

And the youth? The youth was increasingly carried away by the spirit of the times, and set off on a new progressive path, inspired by nearby Warsaw. They carried on romances, increasingly openly and boldly, went about sunk in “veltshmerts,” dreamed, and pressed further into the wider world. Their desire for education and knowledge grew even greater.

The first pioneers who served as an inspiring example for them were the young, adult circles of academic youth and intellectuals – Dr. Zigmund Oksner, Dr. L. Shifman, Engineer Avrom Levitas and others – who later became very popular and active leaders in the Jewish community in Poland, beyond Zyrardow. Thus, Dr. Shifman was councilman on the Lodz municipal council, and exceptionally active in the areas of health and social assistance in the world federation “Toz”. Today he lives in Israel. So, too, Eng. Levitas, who while still a student ran a highly regarded private school for Jewish children in Zyrardow. He was also the official superintendent of the educational inspectorate covering the heders. In later years, he was active for a long time in Kobrin and Rovno, as director of a Tarbus school. An outstanding speaker, he worked on behalf of Erets Yisroel, and of Zionism in general. He made Aliyah in 1935, and in Israel, he ran Histradrut's Central Department for trade schools for many years.

I should take the opportunity to mention that at this times there was also a private elementary school, run by “Pesele the Teacher”, and her husband, Aba Yakubovitsh, which also taught grown girls, mostly housemaids, how to write a letter inYiddish.

It must be emphasized that the new spirit of the times affected also the Hasidic youth, and even the young scholars who “studied Torah” all day in the shtibls. Not infrequently, they would be caught reading a Zionist newspaper or a Yiddish book. And not infrequently, they ended up getting soundly smacked, and being expelled from the shtibl.
One of these young men who got caught up by the new era, was Aron, the son of the Zyrardover rabbi, Reb Menakhem Mendl Albek. For a time he worked as secretary to I.L. Peretz, and later became the well-known publicist and editor of the Bialystoker “Nay Lebn.” Another Yiddish writer emerged from that pious Hasidic circle – Motl (Marcus) Yakubovitsh, or as he was called in our town, Motele Khane-Shifre's, the grandson of Reb Moyshele Melamed (Brester), who today lives in Brazil and is recognized as a fine novelist and short-story writer.

In general, there took root in those years, new concepts, ideals, and aspirations, which aimed at reconstructing Jewish life upon a new basis of secular culture. The shtetl had begun to remake itself in a new form, had taken on a new face, like a newly grown up boy who grows more mature from day to day.

Then came 1914, and the First World War broke out, bringing with it persecution, troubles, and want. The front line was close to Zyrardow, between the Bzuro River and Ravka. The shooting at the front rattled the window panes. The town was full of Russian soldiers, who frequently tried to rob, and sometimes rough up the Jewish population.

Jews were given the responsibility for maintaining the telegraph poles and wires in and around the town. Jews were suspected of spying for the Germans. Some people were the victims of bombs dropped on the town by German airplanes. Naturally, this added to the consternation and bitterness felt by the Jews.

And despite all the efforts the Jews made to demonstrate their loyalty and patriotism, some of them were nevertheless arrested for no good reason, on the pretext of suspicion of espionage, and deported to the deepest Russia, or to Siberia. These were Yosef Kaufman, Volf Ekman, and other ordinary people. These were people caught up in trying to make a living, working at their trades, worlds removed from politics in general. They suffered greatly in those far off places, and later came home broken and sick.

Finally, the entire Jewish population was expelled, and sent to Warsaw, upon the order of the Russian high commander, Nikolai Nikolayevitsh, and within 24 hours, not a single Jewish foot trod the soil of our hometown. Like the Jews of other towns near the front, they took with them only the barest necessities, from the wrecked fruits of years of toil, and set off on their way.

***

The critical turning point in Jewish society in Poland in general, and the beginning of a new era, came in the years 1915-16, under the German occupation during the war, and under the influence of revolutionary events of the time.

When the Germans took Warsaw, the Jews of Zyrardow returned to the homes they had abandoned, and despite all of the difficulties and obstacles of wartime and occupation they managed, with effort and stubborn will, relatively quickly to settle into their former home. The life of the kehile was gradually reestablished and they even set up an aid effort for the impoverished and unemployed, distributing coal, wood, and food supplies.

Then, with increasing strength, spiritual needs, and cultural and political aspirations and demands began to awake. Hidden forces were revealed, and new ones also arose. With liberation from the Tsarist laws and restrictions, which had oppressed the Jews in particular, the possibility was created for expanded cultural and political activity. How thirstily did the liberated forces in the Jewish world throw themselves into social activism in general, and in cultural work in particular. Like mushrooms after a rain, there sprang up libraries, cultural associations, evening classes, dramatic circles and choruses in hundreds of towns, that drew in all and anyone with the least bit of life in him.

It was the great spring awakening of culture, and a national renaissance among Jews in Poland, which grew even stronger with the coming of a new Poland. Poland's resurrection evoked envy, and served as an example and as a call for national and social self-emancipation, for a new and more beautiful life.

This was expressed most clearly and boldly in the growing Zionist, Bundist and Folkist movements. A hopeful mood reigned over the masses, which could not be stifled, even by the painful anti-Semitism that accompanied Poland's liberation, the pogroms and hooliganism, attacks on Jews on trains, and open anti-Semitic agitation in the press. On the contrary, this only strengthened the political forces that called for a fight for Jewish rights as a national minority.

Zyrardow, so close to the great Jewish center of Warsaw, was naturally among the earliest to join the tide of social change. Like everywhere else, we had the requisite “crazies” and “idle talkers” who had long been dreaming of Messiahs of various colors (the white and blue of Zionism, and the red of socialism) and who possessed the sacred courage to ignite the flaming torch of national and social ideals and the struggle for liberation.

Social action crystallized more and more along political ideological lines, and was also differentiated along class lines, insofar as that was possible given the fluid and undifferentiated economic structure of Jewish communities in small towns like Zyrardow. At that time, the Jewish community consisted of about 2,500 people – mostly shopkeepers, small scale artisans, and home-based manufacturers, with a handful of more prosperous merchants and the rich (according to the standards of the time.) It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that most of the leaders in social activism were recruited from the ranks of the children of the more prosperous families, who were more likely to have departed from traditional religious ways in search of the golden ideals of national and social movements. Under the pressure and influence of those turbulent times, they broke away from the stagnant, anti-social aristocratic misconceptions and aloofness, the false psychological attitudes of generations. They “came down” to be with the simple, ordinary people, the rising generation of the working poor, working to bring them into the various social institutions, organizations, and movements.

We should be aware that in those years such a departure from narrowly circumscribed roles determined by social status was in itself a kind of local “revolution” and it wasn't so easy for many of the parents to come to terms with their children's new ways.

In the period from 1918 to 1930 and later, the appearance of Zyrardow changed even more. The town expanded and developed even more in the cultural sphere, and this naturally affected Jewish life overall. In 1916, through the initiative of a group of nationalistic people who were devoted to social activism, there was established the “First General Jewish Community Library,” which became a critical factor in the further development of communal life. The following deserve appreciation and grateful mention for this accomplishment: Yosef Rozentsvayg, Fayvl Rotshtayn, Yisroel Yakubovitsh, Hershl Yakubson, Moyshe Raytovski, Mendl Faygenboym, Esther Dzhaloshinski, and Rokhl-Nekhe Nisnberg.

The library quickly became a center for progressive social life and thought. It was later renamed after I.L. Peretz. It organized readings, “box” evenings[17] and open debates on cultural and political themes, and literary-artistic evenings. Later, a drama club was established at the library, which mounted quite good productions from the Jewish and European repertoire, and which was led and inspired for a time by the well known actor from the “Vilna Troup” in Warsaw, Herr Yakov Vayslits. All of this activity gave a marked stimulus to the town's social life, especially among the young.

It didn't take long before there arose unavoidable divisions among the maturing opposing political ideologies of Zionism, Bundism, Folkism, et. al., which could no longer remain together under one roof, and each group started functioning independently and apart. Although the library was officially non-partisan, and free and open to everyone, the former domestic peace was in fact shattered[18]. I remember Friday nights in the library's first years, when the various political newspapers and weeklies would arrive – the Zionist “Jewish People” and the Bundist “Lebnsfragns” – how the eternal debates flared with such truly Hasidic fervor and truculence. The ideas were still so new, the beliefs still so strong.

Unfortunately, Jewish economic life did not keep pace with growing needs and ideas. The means for earning a living had not expanded. In fact, they had perhaps diminished, due to a series of changes among the Christian population. There had developed a social stratum of Christian merchants and craftsmen, areas in which the Jews had long enjoyed a monopoly. This naturally had a harmful effect on Jewish business and the trades. In addition, there was anti-Jewish agitation by the “Endekes”, members of the right wing National Democatic party, with the help of the priests and the Church. We must add that in Zyrardow the boycott movement was never particularly successful and never had the lawless character that it had in other places. Most of Zyrardow's Christian population consisted of worker who were under the political influence of the socialist and workers' parties. Nevertheless, the above-mentioned factors had to have a negative effect on Jewish earning power.

In response, parents of larger families broke away from age-old prejudices about manual work, and in considering an occupation for their grown children, had them become artisans. They recalled the old Jewish saying, “A skilled trade is worth a kingdom.” Some of the young people also found work in Warsaw.

The Zionist Pioneer ideals and propaganda also had a significant influence on changing attitudes to labor. In Zyrardow, as in all of Poland, young people were involved in and influenced by the movement. The song of work and struggle was increasingly heard in youth organizations, and in workshops. On Saturday outings and excursions into the woods outside the town, the young people freely expressed in words and song their awakened longing for a newly liberated world, and for a liberated Jewish people as well.

Beginning in 1926, after the so-called Pilsudski coup d'etat, came years of arduous struggle for existence as a consequence of an intensified conflict among economic and political forces for influence and power in Poland. “Endekes” and “Sanatsye” (both right-wing nationalistic parties) fought between themselves, and both camps fought against the workers and other democratic groups.

The Jewish population was exposed to the wild whims and outburst of the hostile, turbulent environment, which didn't augur well. But despite this difficult situation, and odd as it may seem, the Jews “kept up appearances.”

In truth, the political conflicts and upheavals did not deter various groups from their efforts to establish communal and other forms of economic independence. In the 1920's there was established a cooperative people's bank, initiated by Fayvl Rotshtayn, Yakov-Fayvl Grinboym, Yakov Baron, Istik Grinboym and Dovid Shmeltsinger. Also, the Aguda established its own “merchants bank,”,which was run by: Reb Zalmen Gulglas, Reb Moyshe-Mendl Levkovitsh and Reb Shloyme-Dovid Bronshtayn. In addition, there was an active Gemile Khesed (free loan society) that was initially founded by the Mizrakhi organization. Among its main activists were: Ruven Rakhman, Yisrolke Funtovitsh, Yisroel Yakubovitsh, Boaz Plotsker and Yerumaye Shvitski.

Without a doubt, these credit sources for the small merchant and artisan ameliorated their situation, and often helped the independent artisan to buy the materials necessary to finish merchandise in a timely manner.

We should also mention the so-called “winter relief” which would gather funds from time to time, receiving contributions from non-partisan organizations and, to a greater extent, from landslayt organizations in America, who did not forget their former home, and responded warmly to the appeal.        

So the years passed, and in human life, as in nature, things change, as with the seasons. There were shorter and longer periods that permitted people to “catch their breaths,” economically speaking, and in the life of the community in general.

The Jews, individually and as a community, found a way to get by. They engaged in business and trades, planned and calculated, and with in-born Jewish faith, looked to the future, for themselves and their children. They celebrated shabes, holidays, and family events. As our dear grandmothers and mothers used to say, “Whoever lives, has hope in God.” And hopeful songs were sung in the shtibelekh during prayer, and in homes, around the shabes table, resounding into the often unfriendly outside. On shabes and holidays, the Jewish spirit reigned over the heavily Jewish center of the town. The merry young people filled the lovely parks and boulevards about town.

It goes without saying that the shtetl had its share of poor and unemployed families. And, perhaps to keep up with other communities, Zyrardow Jews had their own difficult and stubborn war in the years 1932-34, over the nomination of a new rabbi and a moyre haroye[19] (after the prior ones died.) The war was carried on by the Hasidic groups (Aguda) and Mizrakhi, Zionists and simply nationalistically-inclined householders, over the candidacy of the Amshinover rabbi's son, Reb Yakov Dovid Kalish, and the Lipner Moyre-Haroye Yehiel Meyer Kremski . It ended with a reciprocal agreement, in which the former was appointed town Rabbi, and the latter the moyre haroye. And peace reigned[20].


The Town Rabbi

Among my recollections I ought to include that classic figure, the Zyrardover rabbi, Reb Menakhem Mendl Albek, the spiritual leader of the community. He was a man of medium height, slightly plump, with a dignified bearing. He had a clear gaze, and his eyes had that certain luster of self-respect and confidence typical of a great scholar, a learned man – which he in fact was. He had a bit of the imperious quality you might find in a town rabbi. He had a graying black beard, neatly combed, its pointed end a little bit off-center. He wore a satin caftan, a long jacket with collar and sleeve edges trimmed in velvet. His white shirt collar stood open at his neck. The hard Polish rabbinical hat that he wore (on shabes, a shtrayml) was sometimes pushed back on his head. He wore white socks pulled up over the bottoms of his pants. You'd see him dressed like this, walking in the street, debating an important matter, or on shabes morning on his way to daven.

He was one of those rabbis of the past who devoted their time to studying, shutting themselves up in their rooms, immersed in Torah and prayer, upon whom the outside world made no impression. But, at certain, critical moments, as when the Jews were threatened by some governmental decree, they would come to the people, and offer spiritual guidance.

Our rabbi deserved praise for the fact that he regarded it as his duty, and a great mitsve, to head up the group of more prosperous householders, who went among the rich to collect alms to help poor families meet their Passover needs. And, of course, he “kept an eye” on the Talmud Torah, especially in regard to providing winter clothing for the poor children.

Our rabbi was not very eloquent. When he gave sermons, he was overly fond of quoting from the words of the Dubner Preacher, especially a certain story about a prince. He was highly respected in the town, and was a great expert at settling questions of religious law. The governmental authorities respected him as well, especially when they would come to shul in a carriage, give a military salute, then listen to the cantor and chorus sing the mi-shebeyrekh prayer, or the Russian “God Protect us Against Sorrow.” They would shake hands with the rabbi, saluting again as they left.

It should be noted that, as a Gerer Hasid, the rabbi had great advantages and support in the kehile, since the Gerer were the largest of the Hasidic groups in town. Reb Menakhem Mendl Albek was chief rabbi for about 40 years, and died in 1932.

***

I will permit myself to relate a personal story about a “collision” with the rabbi. It happened on a summer day, soon after the issuance of the Balfour Declaration. The Zionist movement was rapidly rising, dominating growing numbers of the masses in Jewish Poland. I was at the time still a young boy, but I was already active as a flaming Zionist agitator. We were in the midst of a drive to raise money through the sale of “shekels,” and it was my youthful ambition to bring in new participants, new comrades in the Zionist movement, in the sthtetl organization, “Aguda Hatsionim.”

I happened to be in the organization with my comrade and childhood friend, Moyshe Nayman, now deceased. We had found a bench near Hillago Boulevard, near the train station, where we could sit and have a talk about Zionism. The rabbi lived nearby (in a house owned by Aba Dorembus), and was out on a stroll to take the air, with his parasol in his hand, accompanied by the shames. When he suddenly appeared before us, we felt at a bit of a loss, but tried to put on a brave appearance.

– What are you doing here? the rabbi asked.
– Just having a little sit, we answered.
– Who are you? he asked Moyshe Nayman.
– I'm the son of Dovid Shoykhet.
– So! And who are you? he asked me, while bending down, and covering his eyes as if to shield them from the sun.
– Me, I'm Itshe-Leyzer's son, I said.
– So, so –Itshe-Leyzer's boy – aha! You're the one who wants to bring the Jews to Erets-Yisroel?
– Yes, but I'm not the only one.
– Hmm…Moyshe! – He sternly addressed the shoykhet's son – Go home this minute!

In truth, in later years, I more than once came up against the rabbi's anti-Zionist position, in the course of Zionist propagandizing on the grounds of the shul and bes medresh. But, as they say, all's well that ends well. Perhaps it wasn't in my honor, but when I got married, my father invited the rabbi. He came accompanied by Reb Aron Shames, and he actually conducted the ceremony and wished me mazel tov! I remember it fondly.


Schools and Educational Institutions in the Shtetl

In the first years of “New Poland”, more and more parents began to understand how important it was to make the necessary efforts to enable their children to continue their education into high school, either in the town or in Warsaw. And in fact an increasing and substantial number of boys and girls attended gymnasia.

Some of the religious youth, especially boys, who had completed elementary school, traveled daily to Warsaw to study in the trade schools run by the Jewish community, and also in business schools.

Under the former state laws governing education, there was a special elementary school for Jewish children, built by the city government, under the directorship of Herr Herman Gomolinski, the former longtime dozor of the kehile. But the course of study did not satisfy the more nationalistically inclined parents, since the above-mentioned director was alienated from Jewish nationalistic thought overall. So very little attention was given to Jewish subjects –mostly just a bit on religious topics – “for the sake of appearances.”

There was also a National-Religious Hebrew elementary school, created by the Mizrachi organization, with teachers Melekh Tenenboym, Ruven Rokman for Jewish subjects and Yurek Gomolinski for secular subjects. There was also a private Hebrew Zionist School, run by the outstanding teacher and pedagogue, Herr Volman.

In addition, there was a “reformed” heder, under the leadership of the Hasidic Maskil and pedagogically gifted teacher Reb Zalmen Kelpfisz, Hilel Fridman's son in law[21]. To make this account complete and objective, I must also mention the BasYakov school, created by Aguda in 1927.

As a result of the above-mentioned striving for education, there grew up and matured a new stratum of youthful cultural activists and a young intelligentsia. With great satisfaction people pointed to the new young medical doctors Avrom Nayman and Dovid Flint, Engineer Aron Yakubovitsh and others, who were mostly the children of ordinary working people.

In the last 7 to 8 years before the holocaust, the town's social and political life expanded greatly, becoming more dynamic, and involving the greater part of the Jewish population, especially the young. Our youth was very active, politically and culturally conscious, read a lot, loved theater, literary-musical productions and readings. These events always played to a packed house. And the various cultural events also served as a model for the youth and social activists of nearby towns as well.

Even in the sleepy kehile, new winds had started to blow and new forces were knocking at the long-locked gates. After a long struggle, which had begun years earlier, against individuals who had usurped their power, and unwanted do-gooders, the kehile leadership passed into the hands of nationalistic and workers' elements, who better understood the spirit of the times, and the need and demands of the people. In the last kehile administration voted onto the governing council were: Fayvl Rotshtayn (General Zionist); Binem Ziskind and Yekl Baron (Mizrakhi); Reb Itshe Leyzer Nisnberg (non-partisan people's slate;) Benesh Tignberg (artisan); and Shmuel Mozelshtayn and Itsik Korn (Poali Tsion-right.) The chairman was Binem Ziskind.


Photos in order of appearance in the original text:

Page 123: Reb Aron-Khayim Dzhalashinski, the preacher.
Page 124: Khanetshke the Baker, Reb Aron-Khayim's wife.
Page 125: The memorial stone in the Zyrardover cemetery, on the grave of the fallen victims of Tsarist terror.
Page 127: Reb Yosef Rozentsvayg and his family. Among the very first Zionist officials right in the sthtetl.
Seated, from right to left: Reb Yosef Rozentsvayg, his wife Tobe, their eldest son Yehoshue.
Standing, in the same order, their youngest son, Akive; their daughter Khave; and their middle son, Moyshe. None of them survived .
Page 127: A group of young men from the Gerer Hasidic shtibl, who were caught up in left the Enlightenment and Zionist movements during the German occupation in the First World War.
Seated, from right to left: Khaim Itsik Altman (now in Israel), Moyshe Nayman, Bienem Ziskind.
Standing: Moyshe Kaysman.
Page 129: Engineer Avrom Levitas.
Page 130: Rokhl Levitas.
Page 134, right: The moyre-haroye Rabbi Yehiel Mayer Kremski. Killed in the Warsaw Ghetto
Page 134, left : Moyshe Nayman, son of Reb Dovid Shoykhet, in his young, Hasidic years. Killed during the war for Israeli statehood.
Page 135: In the Rabbi's rabbinical court.
Page 136: Herman Gomolinski's Jewish-Polish elementary school. He is seated in the middle of the teachers in the first row; on the right is Ose Fizshun, and to the left, the teacher Betty. Among the students are Getsl Haldzband, Khaye Vayntraub, Bayer, Flantzer, Khane Lipshitz, Khaye Kimelfeld, Blank, Vargatsh, Kshianzhiniski, Sheva Strasburg, Gitl Dzhalovski, Kaysman, Lerner, Vaynberg, Dovid Dzshalovski, Goldberg, Tupman, Zand, Yelen. Some of them were later very active in the community, in different areas. Most of them shared the fate of all of our near ones.
Page 137: A Flower-Day, organized by the youth group “Freedom”, of the right-wing Poali-Tsion.


Footnotes

  1. Reb – Mister; traditional title used before a man's name in Yiddish. return
  2. daven – to pray return
  3. mikve – ritual bath return
  4. Talmed Torah – Traditionally, a tuition-free elementary school maintained by the community for the poorest children. return
  5. bes-medresh – house of study, distinct from a synagogue, although many shuls were used as bes medreshim, and vice-versa. return
  6. Deuteronomy 32:11 return
  7. dukhenen – ritual of blessing the congregation performed by the Kohanim, or priestly caste. return
  8. leader in the kehile, the organized Jewish community return
  9. here, congregation return
  10. shtibl (pl.shtiblekh) – a small, informal room used for prayer by the Hasidim return
  11. Maskil – follower of the Haskala, or Enlightenment movement return
  12. feldsher – a medical provider, not certified as a doctor, analogous to a para-professional return
  13. Pan (pl Pani) – Formal Polish term of address, like “sir”. return
  14. shulhoyf – courtyard or square around which were situated the town's religious institutions return
  15. gabe (pl.gaboyim) – administrator in a religious institution return
  16. Footnote in original: Several different versions of these events appear in memoirs in other chapters. return
  17. Box evenings: events where audience member submitted questions or topics, which were then drawn from a box and addressed by the evening's organizers. return
  18. Footnote in original: Several articles about the various epochs in the library appear in this book. return
  19. moyre-haroye – a learned Jew, who adjudicates, judges and decides religious matters; usually, but not always, a rabbi. return
  20. Footnote in original: For a description of this conflict, see the article which appeared in a provincial newspaper of that time, and which is reprinted in this book. return
  21. Footnote in original: In another chapter in this book, Dr. Heszel Klepfisz, Reb Zalmen's son, writes about his father. return

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