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Past Generations

brz021.jpg -Aaron Fogel

by Aaron Fogel (Tel-Adoshim)

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

A Short Foreword

In memory of our beloved shtetl Brzezin, I will try to put down on paper recollections and material that I have gathered over the years.

During the 60s and 70s of the 19th century there was a Jewish tailor (a Cantonist[Ed1] ) in our shtetl by the name of Kozele Sznajder. This simple Jew understood that it was hard to live from the work of one's own ten fingers, and he began to urge two of his Jewish acquaintances who were like him to make a business from their children. Teach them a trade so that they would be able to support the family.

They gave him their children, who worked just for meals for several years, and he made tailors out of them. It never occurred to the Jew that the young men would later grow up to be big industrialists who would create a worldwide name for their town and produce millions of rubles in volume. The beginnings were not so easy.

Sunday, very early, scarcely having time to finish davening [praying], our young men, the tailors, girded themselves, assembling everything they would need. They took a small sack and, first of all, put in a talis [prayer shawl], tfilen [phylacteries], a sidurl [small daily prayer book], and then the more profane items--a needle, a thimble, and a piece of wax--and got underway. All the way they prayed to God that He would protect them from bad dogs and He would give them a good beginning. With great dread and faith they came into the village. Until they found the house the tailor had assigned to them, they almost died. They entered the house half dead but took courage and proceeded to do what they had to do. And that is the way they worked from Sunday to Friday. Friday they raced home to wife and children for the Sabbath.

They might have worked like that forever had it not been that, first of all, the families began getting bigger, and secondly, Kozele began sending out new tailors. The village began to be too crowded to be able to support such a large number of tailors. They had to look for a solution. They called together all the tailors, who had in spite of the circumstances actually saved a few rubles, held a meeting, and made a resolution.

This resolution takes us to the second stage of the development of our industry.

Back from the village to the town

At the meeting, it was resolved, that they would travel by themselves to the then nearest weaving town, Zgierz, buy some material and, on their own, sew it and then take it to Warsaw to sell.

At that time, something began happening in Greater Russia. The Russian peasant began demanding the most primitive thing--a pair of pants on his body. Jewish merchants from Ukraine and Greater Russia used to come to Warsaw to buy the tailors' private work. In Warsaw there was a shortage of hand workers. They really received our Brzeziner tailor-merchants with open arms, as esteemed guests.

So began the second stage of the creation of our manufacturing, through the connection of our small Brzezin with big Warsaw, as middlemen to the Russian market. And even though now making a living was still not very easy--since the long trip was not by car, not even by railroad, but simply by horse and wagon, and the trip to Warsaw took two full days--they were nevertheless satisfied.

The way it was relayed to me by the pioneers of that time, Reb Szlama Jozef Ikka, z”l [zal--may his memory be blessed], Reb Herszl Rozen Korekh, z”l, Raszewski, z”l, Frankensztajn, Magnes, z”l, and many others, that was the happiest time of their lives. They carried on with might and main and, because of it, saw a new world unfold before their eyes, and secondly, who can imagine how we enjoyed ourselves on the journey--so the old foxes told me.

[He told me this] when he was already a Jew in his eightieth year, a fine esteemed man of stature in town. But our people were growing older, and the difficult trips began to bother them.

In the meanwhile another situation was occurring in Russia. As they looked around they saw that the textile industry was almost entirely undeveloped. Everything had to be brought in from foreign countries. Within the country itself there were no professionals, so the government turned to the nearest neighbors--the German weavers. The government promised the German master weavers various benefits. They were given free land and loans to build homes; they were given long-term credit in order to settle their affairs. In this way they were assured that they would not be cut off from their previous homes, that is, if they were not happy, they could easily return to them. To this end, the small shtetl Lodz [pronounced Woodch in Polish] was selected, located on the Lodka [Woodka], as the little stream that flowed through the town was called. And they, the Germans, actually began building the future great textile industry in the Russian Poland of that time.

 

brz022.jpg - Izrael Mojsze Warszawski, the oldest tailor in Brzezin
Izrael Mojsze Warszawski, the oldest tailor in Brzezin
was ninety-six years old when this picture was
taken, and he worked without eyeglasses

 

Lodz is located just twenty kilometers from our Brzezin. The closeness greatly aided the development of our tailoring industry. When the Lodz weavers began to sell their goods, they had to send them to the Russian markets. The Lithuanian, Ukrainian, and Russian Jews took note of this. They were good merchants, and they seized this opportunity for business. They became the middlemen between the new Polish industry and the Russian markets. These Jews had heard of the Brzezin tailors who were selling their goods in Warsaw.

A Jewish agent on commission from Russia named Berman settled in Brzezin and began to bring customers from afar, directly from Russia to Brzezin. Soon, more agents began arriving from Bessarabia and the Ukraine, and each one brought with him a few customers, so that in a short time, they began to experience a shortage of workers. The demand for finished garments became stronger and stronger day by day.

Work Givers and Work Takers

Eventually three categories of tailors were created in our town: 1) work givers, 2) work takers--that is, those who received some cut material to work on at home, and 3) journeymen and apprentices who worked in the small workshops.

In the beginning the work givers and the work takers lived together like brothers. They were like one mishpokhe [family].

At that time a Hasidic family named Jakubowicz came to our town. The head of the family, Reb Herszl from Waly [Vawy], z''l, was a large landowner. The village Waly lies not far from Brzezin. This wealthy Jew had liquidated his village holdings and come to live in town among other Jews. The son of Reb Herszl of Waly, Reb Peretz Jakubowicz, z”l, became a magazyner [magazineowner].[Ed2] This is the new name that originated in our town with the entry of a stranger, not a tailor, in that level of business. Reb Peretz, not a tailor himself, brought into his magazine a couple of tailors who did the professional work for him. This was also the first contact between the Hasidic Jews and the tailors. Imitating Peretz Jakubowicz, other magazine owners came into being who eventually brought bookkeepers and assistant bookkeepers from Russia.

I remember one of them--Wasilkowski. He had brought with him a beautiful Hebrew library. A second Jew, Baruk, belonged to the Russian Social Democratic Party. Our merchants immediately sensed that the new element brought change. First, they did not want to work long hours; they began to talk about a ten-hour workday. Our people did not easily agree to such an upheaval. They began to search for means of avoiding being completely gobbled up by the “Litvaks” [as Russian Jews were called]. And the house of Jakubowicz came to their aid again. Reb Peretz had three sons--Reb Szymon, Reb Abraham, and Reb Pinkus. All three were besmedresh bokhoyrim [prayer house young men, i.e., religious scholars]. They went into the business, which actually eventually became the "House of Peretz Jakubowicz and Sons." Other magazine owners imitated him and brought their children into the business.

This resulted in a serious crisis; the Grodzisk Hasid, Reb Jozef Machels, became connected by marriage with the pioneer of our industry, Reb Szlama Fuksl. This was almost like a revolution, that a simple tailor should marry the daughter of a Talmudic scholar.

The barrier was broken, and Hasidic young men entered the tailoring business. Such a gentle young man--a great Talmudic scholar and Hasid--as Reb Hersz Mendel Pinczewski, z”l, was the first to bring tailoring accessories for the magazine owners from Lodz to Brzezin. He was very successful, and his home became the center where the magazine owners used to gather to receive the material from Lodz. It is worth noting that the children of Reb Hersz Mendel were ultimately among the biggest manufacturers in the Polish Manchester, that is, in Lodz.

New winds began to blow in Russia in general, and they also brought new ideas to our shtetl. We ourselves still did not know what we wanted and to what we aspired. But everyone understood that things could not remain as they were. Generally this came from the working intelligentsia. They brought various booklets--booklets that urged one toward a more humane life. In these booklets it was written that the worker is exactly equal to the work giver. They started to complain that the air was stifling, and, remarkably, everyone eagerly embraced the “new winds”--from apprentices, journeymen, and masters up to the besmedresh bokher.

 

brz023.jpg - The old gate of the Brzezin cemetery
The old gate of the Brzezin cemetery

 

In our town there was a Jew, a wealthy man. All his life he was a leader in the town. He paid for the writing of a Torah scroll and gave it to the kehile[Jewish community] as a gift. He also gave land for the cemetery as a gift. This Jew was called Reb Szlama Silski, z”l. He brought [to Brzeziny] a son-in-law for his only daughter, a fine person, a great scholar and man of distinguished lineage, Reb Arje Dawid Perlmuter, z”l, a son of the Radom Rabbi. The oldest son of Reb Arje Dawid, Reb Mojsze Eliezer, z”l, was also brought up in the spirit of his elders--in the Hasidic movement and education. It was this very young man who took upon himself to break away from the narrow confines. Obviously, the chance circumstance that he lost his mother in his youth helped, as when his father brought a second wife into the house, his grandfather gave him a room in his home. That is how he got the opportunity to browse through religious books undisturbed, which for young men of his station was forbidden.

The young man became a maskil [follower of Haskalah, the Enlightenment] and created a circle of modern Hebrew students in his home. He assembled a small group of students for whom the [Hebrew] language was not strange. Most of the students were besmedresh bokhoyrim. In that way they also began studying and reading modern literature. As chance would have it, a Jewish part-time pharmacist named Wolman had an apartment in the same house. This was a novelty. Generally, at that time, Jews thought of pharmacists as intelligentsia. He also had a wife, an intelligent, nationalistic Jewish woman. She knew modern Jewish literature well, and she was also a strong supporter of Dr. Herzl's Zionism.

Our young Perlmuter, having become acquainted with the woman, began, under her influence, to spread Zionism in our town. They began buying illegal goods--that is, shekels [coins from the Holy Land]--and participated in the elections to the Zionist Congress. The young Perlmuter was not afraid of the Hasidim, having Arje Dawid for his father. He also was not afraid of the police, because his grandfather was Reb Szlama Silski, the community leader. Nonetheless, it happened that “good Jews” could no longer keep silent and sent the police into his shtibl [small house of prayer] on an inspection. They actually found that not everything there was entirely kosher, and he took all the responsibility for it himself. The prestige of his family really helped, and all ended peacefully.

When Reb Mojsze Eliezer, z”l, left Brzezin, his mission was already in safe hands. His students continued his work and became in time the Zionist leaders in Brzezin.

At the head of the activities for young men were Reb Chaim Baruch Szulzinger, z”l, the shoykhet's [ritual slaughterer's] son, and Reb Aron Mendelewicz, son of an esteemed Hasidic and wealthy family. Reb Aron Mendelewicz is actually in Israel now. Reb Mojsze Fogel, z”l, also worked with him. Young tailors were also enlisted in the Zionist movement. Among the buyers of shekels was Reb Mojsze Zlotnicki, a tailor who lives in Israel today.

On the other hand, on the tailors' street, the opportunity for [Zionist] activity was much more open. The reasons? One did not have to search for them. They began with the apprentice who was badly exploited by his master. Instead of his learning the trade, first of all, he had to wait on the baleboste [homemaker/wife]--help her rock the child to sleep and run errands. Also, the journeymen had to work long hours for a small salary, and even the master, who was exploited by the magazine owner, felt badly abused and began saying something had to be changed.

A little bit of enlightenment was enough to wake them up to the accumulated bitterness and turn them toward action.

The covert enlightenment work was in the hands of outsider intelligentsia, and they carried it out thoroughly. They were, however, careful enough not to reveal themselves. They entrusted the work to others. In the meantime, they defended the child workers. At that time the Haskalah [Enlightenment] had already deeply penetrated into Brzezin. There were actually among the tailors of distinguished lineage, such as Reb Lajbl Zychlinski, z”l, children who were Hatzfireh [The Dawn] readers. The maskil [enlightened person] did not make besmedresh bokhoyrim of his children--only simple tailors. And so also Hendrykowski's children, Syna Goldkranc, z”l, a brother of Mordkele, the gabe[synagogue treasurer/warden], z”l, Reb Jakob Jozef's grandchild, and Reb Jozef Aszer's children. These very children of Hasidic and well-to-do families were tailors. And when such an element was found among the tailors, the others listened to their words. There actually arose a long line of Brzezin children of tailors who were completely organized by the movement that later took on the character of a revolutionary freedom movement.

At this point, I want to remember several names: Hersz Iser Rozenblum--the martyr from Brzezin--son of buttonhole maker Reb Mojsze Jojne, may he rest in peace. Incidentally, at that time the buttonhole-making trade grew a great deal in the town with the growth of our industry, and it was thought to be as honorable a trade as tailoring. One did not have to undergo such a difficult apprenticeship. This trade actually began to employ Hasidic Jews such as Reb Natan Leczycki [Wenchytski], z”l, Icek Majer Leczycki, Reb Dawid Bajbke's grandchild, Reb Aron Grynbaum, a son-in-law of Reb Herszl of Waly, and Mojsze Jojne, mentioned above.

Hersz Iser Rozenblum was the first Bundist [member of Jewish Socialist Party] in our town and also the first victim who was banished to Siberia. He organized a small Bundist group in our town. In the initial group he enlisted his brother Jakob Eli Rozenblum, Mendel Hana's son, and also Icek Kersz and Jakob Dawid, Reb Chaim Icek's son. Jakob Dawid, a yeshiva student, came back from Vilna in a procession of convicts led by the Russian police. He was banished from Vilna for underground activity, and he brought with him an identity card from the Bund (he is now the well-known Brzezin community leader, Jakob David Berg). Also belonging to the group were Jakob-Ber Gips--son of Reb Abraham Gips, z”l, and grandson of Reb Nachman Leczycki--Menachem Budnik, and Berysz Jarnower.

They were quietly organized by Hersz Iser Rozenblum and the Lithuanian bookkeepers in our town. They began to organize the Brzeziner poor. They began reading various pamphlets to enlighten and prepare for the “day that must come.” Their work was carried out strictly undercover, but quickly the secret permeated every home. It even got to the young kheder [Jewish elementaryschool] students. They also began talking about organizing, not understanding the significance of the word.

The pioneers held their own in a tremendously difficult endeavor. Meanwhile they themselves sat at machines until late into the night, because first of all, they had to pay the big bal-khuv [taskmaster]--the stomach. They themselves had to prepare to be able to persuade others. Then they had to find time for the work of persuading. They had to sort it all out in such a way that they were prepared for casualties. They could not forget that there were people who could cause trouble and report the secret to the police. This evoked fears of Siberia. For that reason they used the holy Sabbath. On Shabbos, from early in the morning, we would see our toil-weary workers going on foot. They no longer went through Koza Lane to the meadows but went in groups of three or four up through the main street. There, beyond the engineer's house, there were no eyes or noses that could find out what was going on there. On Saturdays the street that went out of town was teeming and full of apprentices. At that time Brzezin numbered about two thousand workers.

What was going on there on the main street? This no one knew. It certainly did not interest our magazine owners that the youngsters played there, as long as they did the work. The youngsters might have played a few hours, but soon they would make Havdalah [ceremony signifying the end of the Sabbath], and the machines would draw them back to the 108 hours of work. They joked with them, “Say, youngster, were you just at the birzhe [office]?” That is how they got the nickname the “Birzhaner.” The youngsters were silent and did not answer one word. They responded with serious faces--but secret glances--to the questions and went quietly back to their work.

Suddenly they learned of a new secret, that far away, beyond the town, there would be a meeting on Shabbos. This was certainly a bit more serious. This smelled already of committing a violation of the laws of the state.

The magazine owners joked around again. “Nu, gib a kuk [Well, take a look],” they said. “They are going to overthrow Tsar Nicholas, and they claim that Gimpele Melamed's daughter actually said she will live to see the day when Nikolas will no longer be tsar.” It did not occur to our magazine owners that there, at the meeting, they talked more about the magazine owners themselves than they spoke about Tsar Nicholas. But the magazine owners had their own worries that they had to attend to before they looked into the activities of the youngsters.

Our magazine owners had their concerns--how to gain even more sales markets in great Russia. The various traveling salesmen actually began to penetrate the furthest corners of the land. New names of cities floated by every day. In Brzezin we were almost up to Tobolsk, Irkutsk, and other cities. It is understandable that such distant areas as Siberia created new problems for our tailors of that time. Because of poor transportation connections in Russia at that time, shipments from Brzezin to Siberia took six months until the merchandise reached the merchant. The customer did not want to pay money six months before he received the goods. They had to find a way to adjust to the new conditions. In that way, a paper bridge was created in the form of nokhnames [cash on delivery], that is, the customer would pay for the goods when it came to his train station.

They began giving other merchants credit on promissory notes. Here our “merchants” entered a new line of business about which they had never before dreamed. They had to create a place where “paper” would be exchanged for real money. To that end they had to create either credit or deduct a collection fee. They developed a tie to banks, which deducted a small collection fee. In that way, they became involved in a line of business called “banking”. There was even a firm in Brzezin of former tailors that already took care of "business matters." These were the biggest magazine owners--Szotenberg and Zygmuntowicz. They were already merchants of top rank, and they had reached such a level that for them there was no Pale of Settlement in Russia as there was for other Jews. They used to travel freely even to Moscow or St. Petersburg. They were actually the first to open a banking house in Brzezin.

 

brz025.jpg - Employed in Tailoring
Employed in Tailoring.
In the picture we see Abraham Frajnd, Chairman of the
Tailors' Union, who was killed in the Nazi death camps

 

In time the apprentices from little Koza Lane proceeded to form their own bank, and they gave the bank the name Wzajemny Kredit [Credit Cooperative]. They developed ties with big banks. We had already advanced so far with our merchants that many of them became shareholders themselves in their own banks.

The name Brzezin became better and better known from one corner of Russia to the other. This was another reason why the magazine owners did not notice what the youngsters were doing and with what they were occupying themselves. They themselves were occupied with increasing their business, with spreading their merchandise, and making the name of the town well known.

But the youngsters at the central office also did not rest.

The day came one Sunday morning. Everything was ready for work. The charcoal lay near the iron and only waited for the apprentice to come and set fire to it. The machines had been cleaned and oiled; the master had already evenly counted out the work and laid out the packets for the machine workers. The clock stood at six in the morning. The workers did not appear. The master wandered about upset and was already figuring out what sort of deduction to give the journeymen for being late. And the apprentice? He would take full revenge on him! He, he would completely throw him out! Such chutzpah!

Time did not stand still; it became restless. Probably something happened. Maybe one should take a look at the neighbor's place, see what was going on over there, talk it over with him. He opened the door to go into his neighbor's place, and there stood the neighbor at the door, and they both looked at each other silently. Their expression spoke. "What? By you, too? What happened? Who knows what calamity has befallen us?" And they blurted out, the way they would in the middle of a conversation, “Didn't we know that nothing good could come from their meetings? But why didn't they come? Don't we definitely have a right to know what they want? No one has ever heard of such nerve!! And just this week I took on work from another magazine owner--I meant to kill two birds--grabbing another few hours of work to earn another few guilder. Alas, what have we from all our work?" And continuing, "Does it pay to use up your life? What do we have altogether from our drudgery? Working day and night, and how does the Brzezin proverb go? 'The tailor sews all week and earns a dreyer[a three cent piece].'”

That is how the time passed. It was already almost seven in the morning and no sign of anyone.

Then one of the neighbors called out, “Maybe it's a good idea to find out what is going on with the others? Maybe it's a good idea to see what is going on in the marketplace?” Both went into their homes, got dressed, and went out. An ordinary day, not a Saturday, not a holiday, not, God forbid, any funeral--and suddenly one had time to go into the marketplace! There in the marketplace ten master tailors were already gathered; they stood about, and on their faces was a question mark--what happened?

Standing like that one called out, “A fine thing we have, that we don't have any place to exchange a word--what dog doesn't have a dog house?”

Meanwhile it was agreed to go into Chana-Chaja's tavern to grab something to eat and contemplate some sort of plan. “In the meantime, maybe they would come; we would hear what they want.” Not thinking about it too long, they quickly went into the tavern.

What they said there no one knows, since they all talked at once--and in fact, did not talk, only yelled. One did not hear the other until Mordechai Winter stood up, or Szlama Gelb, and banged on the table exactly the way the shames[sexton] starts the Hallel [hymn of praise] in shul. It became quiet. He said, “Children, I myself don't know what we are going to do, but we have to rent a house. In the house we will be able to talk among ourselves, and no strange ears will overhear.”

Then, such a house was rented, and after a while the organization that was called “Professional Master Tailors' Union” was formed there. There one always drank a few kegs of beer in memory of the first meeting in the tavern, since without a little mashke [liquor] the meeting was worth nothing at all. Actually, later, all the issues between masters and journeymen, between magazine owners and masters, were settled in this house.

Meanwhile, on that first Sunday they went home with nothing. As the clock stood at eight, all the apprentices and journeymen came to work. They came in a little embarrassed but with a resolve that they would begin working from eight in the morning until eight at night and no longer. Such a “revolution” our tailors had not anticipated.

The First Clash Between Workers

Suddenly the entire line of reasoning fell apart. How would they manage with twelve hours of work? With sixteen hours they could not make a living. They were not bold enough to request an improvement, demand a raise in pay from the magazine owners. As a matter of fact, they were afraid of the magazine owners--in case, God forbid, they should shut down and give them no work at all.

First of all, they [the magazine owners] tried to talk to the workers, frightening them that if they did not go to work as usual, they would throw them out and bring others in their place. This method partially saved the day. There were those workers who became frightened. This method fell through mainly with the apprentices and foreign workers. Most of the foreign workers ate and slept at the master's place, so they were able to work a little longer at night. In the morning they got up a little earlier, and in that way they were able to violate the resolution concerning the new working hours. But soon the “secret hand” that directed the campaign came. In the workshops where they had forced the workers to work overtime, work was completely shut down. This was called a “strike.”

The apprentices or journeymen who resisted were thoroughly beaten, and that is how the first conflict of workers against workers happened, that is, between master tailors and journeymen.

The magazine owners joked constantly. “How are the striking youngsters?” they asked. From week to week the situation became more tense. There were many cases where the workers did not want to submit to the orders of the campaign leader, because the magazine owners were secretly resorting to all kinds of tricks. They promised them an additional guilder a week. In such a case the workers used to fight each other. In the middle of the day a few workers used to come into the workshop, and in the name of unity, they would stop the work and take the workers into the street. Judgments or trials took place against the strikebreakers and discipline breakers. At that time our group got the name Akhdes Yungen [United Youth].

However the masters could not remain indifferent to all of this, since they were unable to carry out the work of the journeymen by themselves. Since a twelve-hour day did not provide a living wage, they had to comply with the demand of the previously mentioned Mordechai Winter and rent a place where they could meet and talk over what to do.

To take such a big house where a few hundred people could gather was not kosher according to the Russian laws. The name had to be changed. The house actually got the name “Sznajder Minyen” [a place for tailors to pray]. They actually said prayers there and, at the same time, talked together about how they could adapt to the new situation. There was no other choice but to come to the magazine owner and ask if he would supplement the payments a little so they could survive.

The Social and Political Institutions

Our magazine owners did not want to supplement the payments, that is, add money from their own pocket. Incidentally, they did not want to give the workers the opportunity for fresh demands. Thus the magazine owners also began to organize and created their own union in order to weaken the workers' demands with united strength.

The government quickly legalized the magazine owners' union. That was the way social life in Brzezin was structured as the professional institutions were arising. The magazine owners union operated entirely legally, the Master Tailors' Union was hidden under the cloak of a shul, and the third, the union of the proletariat, was entirely without a home and without a name.

A wave of strikes broke out in our town. Our proletarians made new demands. Now they asked for higher wages and also humane treatment of journeymen and even of apprentices. And if they still did not accede to their demands, the workers struck. The machines didn't operate; the khasonishe nigunim [cantorial melodies] emanating from the workshops stopped. It became more lively outdoors. As they disappeared entirely from the town, the town took on the look of a cemetery. Where did they vanish? One knew and did not know. One knew, for example, that the disappearance was connected with meetings that took place somewhere, but where? And who was leading the campaign? That was a secret.

Since the youngsters struck, our masters had to get together in their shul and think about what else to do. Until they came to an agreement, they made common cause with the strikers and passed on the demands to the magazine owners. This caused another meeting of the magazine owners, and there, finally, the matter was considered from the business standpoint. If the strike broke out during the season when the merchants badly needed the work, they negotiated. They complied a little bit and saw to it that the strike was not protracted. If they encountered the strikers during the slow season, then our merchants declared a “lockout,” and then the strike failed. In the meantime it did not come to drastic measures. No policemen were used yet and certainly not any tough guys. The latter had already lost ground. On one side people were ashamed of them, and on the other side, they represented an organized force that everyone was afraid to tackle.

In this way our small shtetl progressed, and it was recognized everywhere one turned.

Life began to be a little easier. The new era was felt in town. A building campaign began in the town. The wooden houses were taken down, and in their place came two to three story brick houses. They felt it was too crowded to live eight to ten people in one apartment, so they actually changed to two apartments, two apartments with a kitchen. In addition to this, they felt more generous with money. Among our tailors, finally, a few extra rubles clinked against each other, so that they themselves became magazine owners, which was the aspiration of every tailor. In truth this was not enough, but to allow money without good reason to lie around unused is also not practical. At that time, several Hasidic, observant Jews came to the help of the town; sincere people who were concerned only with the public good.

They were Reb Arje Dawid Perlmuter, z”l, Reb Dawid Lajb Halbersztadt, z”l, the grandchild of a wealthy grandfather, Reb Mojsze Zundel Goldberg. The families Halbersztadt and Mendelewicz were wealthy Hasidic families who lived apart from the tailors. But in such projects for the public good, they put their shoulder to the plow. As good as Reb Aaron Mendelewicz was in Zionist work, so also was Halbersztadt in the new economic activity. Reb Jehezkiel Najman, who was also among the active leaders, should also be remembered.

This group began to establish in Brzezin the first savings and loan bank--the cornerstone for the later cooperative bank in town. The bank had a two-fold purpose. First, people deposited their hard-earned groszens there, which earned a few percent a year. Secondly, the money served as principal in order to make it possible to give small loans at a low percent to Jews--who ran around all year searching for a loan without interest and a tailor's promissory note at a normal percent.

This was one of the nicest institutions created in Brzezin at that time. Confidence in this institution grew from day to day. There was hardly a single Jewish house in which you did not find a savings book.

From groszens Jews compiled dowries for their daughters. They carried the money to the savings and loan bank. Meanwhile young men saved a few rubles there. In a word, the institution was such a part of life that one could not understand how it could have been different.

Then a second group of Jews with Reb Abraham Gips, z”l, Reb Herszel Kranc, z”l, Reb Jakob Szlama Fogel, z”l, and Reb Alter Zagan, z”l, created the first philanthropic institution in town by the name of Lines Hatsedek. Its purpose was noble--to bring help to all the sick without regard to their ability to pay, to bring them comfort during the night.

The kind of importance such work had in that time and how much the Lines Hatsedek helped alleviate the needs of sick and helpless Jews, only those who lived in the shtetl at that time can understand.

Education and Culture

Many of the children of the magazine owners went to other cities to study. Originally it was because of business--that is, in order to help the parents read a letter from a Russian merchant and also to overcome the confusion with numbers. But, after a time, one started to see among us locals some boys with different clothing, with polished buttons. These were the gimnazjum [secular secondary school] students. One already saw in the future our own doctors and lawyers. Also, in the field of Jewish education there was great progress. Now one actually learned Hebrew, not in Reb Eliezer Perlmuter's garret, z”l, but in a modern school that was called “Kheder Mtukn.”

After several failures by Russian Jews to introduce such a kheder, finally a Jew, a stubborn man by the name of Mirkin, came and opened such a school at Perlmuter's, in his courtyard. For awhile, it was for girls. And a remarkable thing happened--even though they had to pay for the schooling, nevertheless, there were enough girls. The school did not get any subsidy from anyone. Another chance occurrence helped Mirkin to maintain the school.

At that time an evil decree was issued that all Jewish children had to attend a non-Jewish school a few hours a week and learn Russian. The Jews did everything to stave off the decree, since how could Jews send their children to a “Bikel?”--that's what they called the Russian teacher. And since prayers and bribery did not help, it was simply a God-sent miracle that the Hebrew school existed. The teacher had a permit for the school. In it on the wall hung a picture of Tsar Nicholas. For awhile, they sent the youngsters to Mirkin for only a few hours a week, until the evil decree was rescinded.

There they were doubly successful. The children learned with their heads covered--not the way it was with the Russian teacher where one had to sit a few hours bareheaded--and also, the Jew made a living. In the meantime young men began to visit the Mirkin school, partly to learn Hebrew and, at the same time, partly to be near the girls.

The school continued to operate in Brzezin. It only changed its name; instead of Mirkin, later, a Jew named Polanski came. This Jew already had a school for boys and girls together, and he had evening classes for grown-ups.

Almost at the same time, a new cultural institution opened. One of Lajbele Zychlinski's sons, Syna Zychlinski, himself also a tailor, but a tailor who read Hatzfireh, opened up a small Jewish library. It was a small one, because, first, he did not have the financial resources for a large library, and second, there were not a great number of readers in the town.

As for the work of the community, as in a great number of other small towns, one person carried it out. All his [adult] life, Reb Szlama Silski, z”l, was the dozor [Jewish community overseer] for the town. He even had another overseer working with him, but he had the authority, not the other one. After his death, it changed a little. They elected three overseers to manage community life. Besides them, there also was a secondary board of seven people that was called Shiveh Tuveh Hoyer [Town's Seven Best]. They only had an advisory role, but the one-person rule had ended. The new dozors were not actually elected in accordance with all democratic rules, not through general elections as we remember in the last years. Then, only those who paid a large etat [Jewish community assessment based on financial standing] had voting rights. The meyukhsim [men of stature], the privileged men, were actually the ones who were elected, but certainly there was already contact between ordinary Jews and the elected officials. A small reform, but still a reform.

The year of the first Russian Revolution, in 1905, approached, and after the failure of the revolution came the pogroms against Jews in a string of cities.

As in other cities, the Jewish workers, the socialists among us in Brzezin, began to promote fighting gangs, which had to be the protection brigade for Jews, to help when needed to repulse attacks by hooligans. At that time our town heroes were truly not just accepted but considered a lot more. One saw in them persons who were ready to sacrifice themselves for the Jewish people. It was said that “they” even taught themselves how to shoot.

New faces began appearing in the streets. The ordinary workers became bolder and no longer kept their demands a secret. They spoke openly about shortening the work hours, about regulating payment for work, about better relations between masters and journeymen. In order to show their strength, demonstrators came out into the Brzezin streets in black shirts and turned-up little collars and with belts worn on the hips. A journeyman-tailor who had already worked in Brzezin several years was the head of the gang. This was the blind Chone. Poor thing, he didn't know anything about what was going on. He knew only what they wanted him to know, as much as Szlama Strykower and others wanted him to know, but he had "rank," and one had to be afraid of him. In his name, work was suspended.

 

brz029.jpg - A Tailor in Brzezin
A Tailor in Brzezin
The boss is very busy, but from the expression on his
face, one sees he does not belong to the wealthy class...

 

To resolve various conflicts, they brought in a very strong person--one who came to the town for a short time but took the entire town into his hands--and everything moved as if on wheels. Nobody knew the secret, who he was, and where he was from. Everyone tried to guess. One said he was a Valozhyn yeshiva student. Was it not so? One saw surely a gemore-kop [one with a head used to studying the subtleties of gemore --torah commentaries]. The second one guessed a graduated attorney, and maybe even a lamed-vovnik [one of the thirty-six Good Men]. Who knew? What was a fact was that they now turned to him not only in tailoring matters but also, for example, regarding a feud between the orphans of Reb Szymszon Erlich, z”l, and the orphans of Szymon Krawiecki, z”l, over a soda-water factory that both fathers had in partnership. The children of both families could in no way come to terms as to how the inheritance should be divided. Who had not already tried to straighten out this conflict? So they turned to this person. The "trial" lasted two days, and on the third day, there was peace between the two families until their last years.

Generally our magazine owners did not have such a good life under the domination of this person, but they also had to keep silent and put up with the din [Jewish religious law]. It began to reek of deadly danger. They had begun talking about hitting, stabbing, and even shooting. And at that time a magazine owner was actually beaten. However, they bit their lips and waited patiently. They were sure that their time would come, but Nicholas was not yet through being tsar.

For the time being, the power in the town was completely with the Akhdes-Yungen [United Youth]. People whispered to each other that not only did they not care about the rules of those in power, but also they started rebelling at Yiddishkeyt [Jewish customs]. They did not daven [pray] any more, r'l [may God take care of us], and smoked cigarettes even on Shabbos. This last act nobody had actually seen, but, how do we say it, "Walls have ears.”

Once I actually had the chance to attend one of their gatherings. How did I, a minor, come to such grandeur? I was then a small boy of eleven. Once, on Tish b'Av [day commemorating the destruction of the Temple], I and a lot of other children my age, together with older Jews, went to the cemetery, as was the custom, to remember the destruction of the Temple and to pray.

Suddenly as we stood and prayed, our Akhdes-Yungen showed up. A shudder went through our bones. What do they want from the dead? We understood that this smelled of something not good, so all of us, young and old, began to rush toward the exit to get home faster.

We recall the Groyse Fenster [High Society] in those days in our town Brzezin. So as not to give an ayen-hora [evil eye], they sent a hundred soldiers with guns to help Pieczany tame the wild ones. Nu [well], would one want to contend with the Russians?

As we were actually approaching the exit of the cemetery, there stood Reb Menachem Budnik with his black shirt and his belt on his hips. He curtly said, “Back! Nobody goes out now!” It was very bitter. We went back, I am sorry to say. We could no longer go wherever we wanted. They led us on to the knoll of the old cemetery, and there we really saw for the first time Comrade Bazuk [Baruk], Szotenberg's bookkeeper, and two other comrades standing and giving orations. They talked about the tsar and about the sallow Abraham Mojsze, e"h [may he rest in peace], about the Marikower master tailor and about Chaim Ber Fanya Dymant, e"h, the magazine owner. That time is fixed in my memory as one of the orators spoke the following words:

“Comrades, you see here all the matseves [gravestones]; they who lie there under the stones, they were once people like all of us. Now nothing of them remains but the stone. Be assured that in our time the same thing will happen to the Russian bureaucracy--with one difference--that from them not even a stone will remain.”

We remained standing with clenched teeth. Was it possible? Was there truly nothing left of these people? And the childish head wondered--and where are the bones that will stand up again for the resurrection of the dead?--and other such questions.

It is possible that “he” would have said more, but then they gave a sign--the police. Our comrades went over the fence and disappeared. We dashed to the door and ran home across the meadows at full speed.

At home I breathed easier and was proud of two things. First, I had been at a gathering, and second, I had become a comrade of the bookkeeper Baruk.

As our heroes had sensed that Nicholas had backed down a little and finally decreed elections to the Duma [Russian parliament], they came out into the open. Thus we were witnesses to demonstrations with red flags in the streets. In front went the blind Chone with his gang, four in a row, separating the sacred from the profane, like soldiers. Next came the working intelligentsia such as bookkeepers and sales clerks, and then the rank-and-file. All walked in a marvelous configuration and sang revolutionary songs, and Pieczany, from the police, stood at attention for the red flag. He believed--as did a lot of his kind--as did our heroes, that the time of the revolution had truly come. They unfortunately did not know that the days were numbered.

In the meanwhile our people became more self-confident. At that time in Brzezin a closer contact developed between workers and masters. The masters had learned a lot, and they themselves were well organized. The masters carefully thought over every worker demand in their bes-medroshl [small prayer house], and, if it was accepted, they turned to the magazine owners with new demands. When the magazine owners tried to take a stand against them, they turned the problem over to someone else to handle for them. Suddenly, one heard that the magazine owner Majer Horn, e"h, stabbed the tall Emanuel Zymanowicz, e"h. In that way methods of physical violence were introduced into the economic fight. The contact between masters and journeymen all the time became closer, and they began to understand, after all, that they were bound by the same interests. They, the bread-givers, clearly noted the situation privately, but in the meantime, they were silent and waited.

They did not have long to wait. The whole business lasted a few months. The tide had turned. The elected Duma in St. Petersburg was torn apart. The reaction intensified in the entire land. The military was sent to cities and towns to establish “order.”

To Lodz, which at that time already had ten thousand workers, came a general with the name of Koznakov, with a hundred Cossacks. Foot soldiers and Cossacks came to Brzezin and started up with the workers of the town.

As it happened, I was not in Brzezin at that time. I was in Ger, in the Yeshiva. But Hasidim [followers of Hasidism] who came to the Rebbe told us what was going on in the town. They said it was disheartening. The military and the police, together with certain magazine owners worked hand in hand. They began to “cleanse” the town. I remember that on the eve of Shavuos, Szymon Jakubowicz came to Ger and spoke these words, “I ran away from the town barely alive. It is darkness. Jews attack Jews. My eyes should never see again what I saw, what they did to the Akhdes-Yungen.

He said that the soldiers found the “hunchback” at the home of Reb Herszel Strzyszewski, z''l, in the Orthodox shul in the garret. They did not simply arrest him; first they mercilessly tormented him.

After yontov [holiday--Shavuos], when I came home, it was already quiet in the town. I only heard that they had taken all the overseers of the synagogue from the tailors' besmedresh, such as Mordechai Winter, e"h, Szlama Gelb, e"h, the sallow Abraham Mojsze, e"h, Natan Wald, e"h, and others, and they sent them away to Piotrkow to prison, where they remained for six months.

The events really upset the entire town. But people soon calmed down. After a time the two sides made up, and they all began to work together again--the magazine owners by spreading the name of Brzezin in all corners of great Russia and the tailors by improving the quality of the work, not lessening the tempo, in order to be able to compete with those who wanted to try to imitate Brzezin.

That is how the Brzeziner industry was created by means of one hundred percent Jewish effort and difficulties, bitter struggle, with countless obstacles that stood in the way.

This is how Brzezin developed and how our shtetl grew. This was the situation in Brzezin in 1906, with which I end my zikhroynes [recollections] of our shtetl.



Footnotes:
Ed1One who, as a youngster, had been pressed into long years of military service (during the reign of Tsar Nicholas I, 1825-55) and therefore had little chance for education. Return
Ed2The word "magazine," originally meaning a warehouse, came to signify in Brzeziny a small clothing factory. In it clothing was designed, and material was cut and parceled out to cottage workers to be sewn. The finished clothing was then brought back to the magazine where it was sorted, bundled, and stored until shipped to Russia or other markets. Return

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