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[Pages 61-68]

Two Mishpokhes [Families]

brz061.jpg - Aron Mendlewicz

by Aron Mendlewicz

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

The tate-mame [papa-mama] of the two great and many-branched Brzeziner families Halbersztadt and Mendlewicz were Reb [title of respect] Mojsze Zyndel Goldberg and his wife Perla.

Reb Mojsze Zyndel Goldberg himself was born in Amshinow [Mszczonow] near Warsaw. Perla Goldberg was a native of Brzezin. I do not remember what her maiden name was. I only know that she was part of the Brzeziner family that we called “ the Cofniks” [backward ones].

Perla Goldberg was born in Brzezin roughly in the year 1815 or 1816. She died at the end of the 19th century, about 1898 or 1899, when she was some eighty plus years old.

Reb Mojsze Zyndel Goldberg was a well-to-do, prominent man in town, a distinguished person. Government officials relied on him a great deal and often asked his opinion. It was said in the family that he was once invited to travel to Piotrkow to the governor to be consulted about whether a railroad station should be built in Brzezin – and the Warsaw-Vienna railroad line sent through it. There was a condition attached to it, that Brzezin would not be a powiat town [county seat]. In other words – either the railroad or the powiat. He concluded that Brzezin should be the powiat town and that the railroad stations should be located in Koluszki and Rogow. His thinking was that if it were a powiat town, one would be able to receive a contract from time to time to build a highway or the like. But what can you expect to get from a railroad station?

It seemed, people said, that Reb Mojsze Zyndel Goldberg was busy with various government contracts for paving highways. However, his principal business was liquor. He owned and maintained in Brzezin the “ propinacja,” that is, a large wholesale business selling alcohol. In those days such a business was tied to a government franchise. He got the franchise because he was highly esteemed as a leader by the town and by the government officials of the time. This business existed until the Russian government instituted a government monopoly over alcohol, in approximately 1897 or 1898. After the death of Reb Mojsze Zyndel, the business remained in his family, and finally in the last years, the business was owned by my father, Fajwel Majer Mendlewicz, e”h [olev hasholem – may he rest in peace], one of Reb Mojsze Zyndel's, e”h, grandsons.

Reb Mojsze Zyndel Goldberg and his wife Perla had four children – four daughters. Two daughters died young, when they were still girls. One, named Blume, died in Warsaw, apparently in a hospital. The second, named Leah, died in Brzezin and was buried there. Her mother, Perla Goldberg, loved her very much, and right after her beloved daughter's death, she bought from the Khevre Kadishe [Burial Society] a cemetery plot for herself next to her daughter's grave. And actually, forty-five or fifty years later, when Perla died, she was buried at the foot of her daughter. According to her will, one large tombstone was erected over both graves.

The remaining daughters – the older, Cyril, and the younger, Tyla – were my grandmothers. Cyril married Reb Aron Halbersztadt from Warsaw, and the younger, Tyla, Reb Herszel Mendlewicz from Pabianice, who was called in Brzezin – Reb Herszel Mojsze Zyndel's [Reb Herszel, Mojsze Zyndel's son-in-law].

Reb Mojsze Zyndel Goldberg presided over sizeable businesses. Beside the wholesale sale of liquor and highway contracts, he also dealt in lumber. He was a very rich and successful man.

Reb Mojsze Zyndel died sometime between 1860 and 1870, reaching the age of fifty or more. I do not know exactly. After the death of her husband, Reb Mojsze Zyndel, my great-grandmother, Perla Goldberg, whom I remember, lived another ten or so years as a widow. She did not marry again. She dedicated her entire life to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She gave generously to tsdoke [charity]. She sent a lot of money to Eretz Israel to various institutions – old-age homes and others. She was a great patriot for Eretz Israel and for the yishev [Jewish population in Palestine] of that time. Almost all the revenue from her big house [apartment building] in Brzezin near the corner of the market square and Pharmacy Street (the Market Square and Saint Ann's Street) she used for these purposes. She needed almost nothing for herself.

As I remember, she spent all day at the home of her son-in-law, Herszel Mojsze Zyndel's, and his wife – her daughter, Tyla. She only went home at night to sleep. She planned upon reaching the age of eighty to travel to Eretz Israel, and she wanted to take me with her. But her illness and then her death destroyed her plans. And I came to Eretz Israel alone, not as a six- or seven-year-old boy but thirty-six to thirty-seven years later, in 1933. Every night before Perla Goldberg went to sleep, she would stop off at our house and also at her grandson Melech Halbersztadt's in order to be sure that her grandchildren were already asleep and that they were not, kholile [God forbid], uncovered.

In my great-grandmothers's apartment stood, among the old style furniture, an iron strong box and a glass serwantka [glass cabinet]. It was a small cupboard with glass panes from top to bottom; only the wall was made of wood. The serwantka was full of expensive sets of dishes and various receptacles made of expensive porcelain and crystal. Over a period of many years, along with the porcelain cups and the crystal bowls and goblets, my great-grandmother had collected esrogim [citrus fruit used in celebrating Succos, the Feast of Tabernacles]. The esrogim, which had lain there over a period of twenty years, were so dried out that they looked like walnuts. Therefore, when we opened the serwantka, the whole apartment smelled from esrogim.

During the period between 1880 and 1890 the great synagogue was built in Brzezin. The main initiator for this was my grandfather, Reb Aron Halbersztadt, z”l [may his memory be blessed]. He died before I was born; I was actually named after my grandfather. He put a lot of money and effort into the project to build the synagogue.

Reb Aron Halbersztadt was a child of a lovely meyukhesdiker [of aristocratic descent] Warsaw family. The founder of this family was a rov [official town rabbi] from the Polish town Leczyca [Wenchitsa].

This was approximately two hundred fifty years ago, around 1710–20, when the king of Poland was August [II] of Saxony. The Jewish community of that time in the Saxon town of Halberstadt had taken as their rabbi the previously mentioned Lentchitzer [from Leczyca] rabbi, and he then took the family name “ Halbersztadt.” This family spread throughout Poland, Galicia, Germany, and Hungary. One branch of the family, in Galicia, called itself Halbersztam. To this family also belongs the rabbis of the Tsanzer [Sacz] Dynasty, whose founder was the Hasidic rebbe Reb Chaim Halbersztam, z”l, from the Galician town Tsanz [Nowy Sacz]. (The aforementioned Lentchitzer and later Halbersztadter rov is recalled and mentioned [as being] in Brzezin in the historical account written in Hebrew, Yad Vashem o Sukhan VeMelech [Everlasting Remembrance or The Agent of the King] by A. Cukerman.) I read this historical account forty-five or forty-six years ago.

Reb Aron Halbersztadt traded in grain (wheat, corn) and in lumber. He had a large granary near the railroad station in Rogow. Later that granary belonged to his oldest son, Reb Melech Halbersztadt, who was for a long time, a Brzeziner dozor [overseer] (at that time, that is how a member of the ruling Jewish community council was called). Reb Aron Halbersztadt was a talmed khokhem [learned man]. He had a special Shas [Talmud] in a small format in addition to a large, rare printing of Shas. As my mother, e”h, his daughter, told me, he would take on his journeys, beside his tallis [prayer shawl] and tfillin [phylacteries], also a small Gemore [section of Talmud]. En route he was also occupied with studying Torah.

He was a Hasid and davened [prayed] in the Gerer shtibl [small Hasidic house of prayer for followers of the Ger {Gora Kalwaria} rebbe]. Once during a yontov [holiday], when he came into the shtibl in a white shirt and an ironed, stiff collar, Reb Naftali Hersz, then the gabbai [trustee] of the Khevre Kadishe, took soot from a lamp and rubbed it on his white shirt collar. From then on, he [Reb Aron] left the shtibl and prayed in the besmedresh [Orthodox, not Hasidic, house of prayer].

As I mentioned previously, Reb Aron Halbersztadt died prematurely and relatively young, at the time when they were building the great synagogue in Brzezin. My mother, e”h, told me that he caught a cold at that time, became sick in his throat, and died. He was considered a very rich man for that time. His children, as did also the children of my second grandfather, Reb Herszel Mendlewicz, each received a ten-thousand-ruble dowry. In those days, that was a considerable sum. When my grandfather, Reb Aron Halbersztadt, died, the Khevre Kadishe took six thousand rubles for the grave, and then, during many weeks after that, held dinners [honoring him].

My second grandfather, Reb Herszel Mendlewicz, or as he was known in Brzezin – Reb Herszel Mojsze Zyndel's – was born in Pabianice, near Lodz. He was, so far as I know, an only son. The Pabianicer Dzialoszynskis were also among his relatives.

Reb Herszel Mojsze Zyndel's had a textile business all his life; in Brzezin this was called a dry goods business. From time to time he also dealt in lumber, that is, he would buy a tract of forest from neighboring landowners and cut it down. From the trees he cut logs and sold them to wood merchants or directly to those who built new houses. I remember when I was eight or nine years old, we, that is, our family, and also my uncle, Reb Melech Halbersztadt's family, lived during the summer in such a forest, a few kilometers beyond Koluszki, that my grandfather Reb Herszel had bought and cut down. Some ten goyim [non-Jews] or so worked there clearing the forest and sawing the trees into logs, and with them, in charge, was a forest scribe [overseer who kept track of the books], a Jew from Lodz, I believe.

My grandfather, Reb Herszel, was a very observant Jew. In his home in the parlor, stood a large book cabinet, overflowing with seyfrim [religious books], Shas [Talmud] and Poskim [post-Talmudic commentaries] and all the meforshim [commentators]. As I remember, in addition to Khumesh mit Rashi [Five Books of Moses with Rashi commentaries] and other meforshim, he studied essentially medroshim [commentaries] and Eyn Yankev [certain stories from the Talmud]. The seyfer that he loved, that always lay on the windowsill so that when he had a free minute he would always be able to take a look at it, was the Medresh Tanchem [commentaries by Tanchem].

 

brz063.jpg - Reb Melech Halbersztadt and his wife
Genendel
Reb Melech Halbersztadt and his wife Genendel

 

He also had a habit that was a great novelty at that time – praying, not the way all the others did, “ by heart,” but from a siderl [prayer book]. I remember when I was still a small child I always wondered why all [the other] grown-up people prayed by heart; only my grandfather prayed from a prayer book as I and other children did who did not yet know the prayers by heart. When I asked him why he did it, he answered me that he was afraid that he would, God forbid, leave something out when praying or make an error. He was a Grodzisker [follower of Grodzisk rebbe] Hasid and prayed at the Grodzisker shtibl. I often went there with him to pray.

My grandfather had some kind of a feud with a government inspector. I recall it as if in a dream. In our house an uneasy mood reigned. A Friday evening is engraved in my memory when my mother, e”h, took out of the cabinet under the mirror a large sum of money, and on Saturday took it with her and left. As my parents told me later, this was the story:

As I already said above, at that time, my father conducted (during the last years before the establishment in Russian Poland of a government monopoly over strong alcoholic beverages) a large wholesale and retail business in alcoholic beverages and had a rozlewnia [bottling works]. He brought the alcohol in large iron barrels directly from the gorzelnia [distillery] and poured it, mixed with water, into small and large flasks. He sold 45–50 percent alcohol and other liquors. The business was inspected by government controllers and inspectors. There were different kinds of inspectors – mild and forceful, permissive and unresponsive, humane and inhumane. They changed all the time; each time different ones came. They would always come without notice and conduct an inspection. My father, e”h, conducted the business and above all the bottling precisely according to the government statutes.

Just as he was an observant Jew and in his entire life had never digressed a hair from the Shulkhn Orekh [rules governing the life of an Orthodox Jew] and dinim [religious law], he also, in conducting his bottling works, did not digress, God forbid, from government regulations. Once a new inspector came, and, as it seemed to my mother, e”h, he began to harass her and without good reason tried to find fault with something. This took place in the presence of my grandfather, e”h, Reb Herszel Mojsze Zyndel's. My grandfather explained the way the work was done, but the inspector answered him crudely and insulted him. Then my grandfather punched him.

Don't ask what happened after that. There was litigation against my grandfather in the Piotrkow County Court. The best lawyers defended my grandfather. The litigation took a long time and cost a lot of money, but my grandfather won the case, and the inspector lost his post. My mother, e”h, used to say that it was a very expensive punch; it cost fifteen thousand rubles.

My grandfather, Reb Herszel Mojsze Zyndel's, was a devout, observant Jew. He was known as a simple, affable, but at the same time proud man who always insisted on his rights and enforced that [principle] in his life. For many years he carried out a complicated litigation with a Rogower landowner over a house in Rogow that was left as an inheritance from my great-grandfather, Mojsze Zyndel Goldberg. The house belonged to my great-grandfather and stood, it seemed, on land that belonged to the Rogow region. The Rogower owner of the land [where the house stood] did everything he could to make my grandfather's property rights to the house unpleasant. He surrounded the house on all sides with mounds of earth. Since there was practically no access to the house, no one wanted to live there, and if someone was finally found willing to rent the house, he did not pay any rent. But my grandfather was satisfied that – to spite the landowner and make him fit to burst – a Jew still lived in the house.

The landowner started a litigation against my grandfather and all the other heirs of my great-grandfather, Reb Mojsze Zyndel, and requested that they take down the house and clean up the ground. The litigation dragged on for many years; it was conducted by important lawyers and went as far as the highest level of that time, the Senate in St. Petersburg. The Senate ruled in favor of my grandfather, Reb Herszel, that he did not have to take the house down and that the Rogower landowner had to pay for the entire house. The verdict was for a large sum to be paid for a house that was almost a ruin and was truly worth nothing. When the verdict arrived from St. Petersburg (I was then a small boy, but I remember it very well), it caused great joy in the family.

My grandfather, Reb Herszel, immediately took the Piotrkow komornik (court officer) and traveled together with him to Rogow to the property. There he took possession of the whole inventory – he confiscated all the horses, cows, the machinery, and everything that he found in the barnyard. He returned home a happy man and said that the Rogower landowner would have carried out the judgment of the Senate in the same manner. He wanted to teach the Soyne Isroel [anti-Semite] a lesson, and he accomplished that with the confiscation.

As I mentioned earlier, he had a dry goods business. This was his business during his entire life, from after his wedding until he died. With him, prices were firm, that is, if he quoted a price, then he never lowered it. Also he had a custom that was an exception in that time. All [other] stores were open until late at night, almost until midnight, but my grandfather closed his store – summer or winter – at dusk, and after locking up, he went to the Grodzisker shtibl to daven minkhe-mayriv [recite afternoon and evening prayers].

In the courtyard next to his house, the gate was always bolted. In this courtyard he raised several turkeys or geese and fifteen to twenty hens. He ate only twice a day. He died of a stroke in 1902 or 1903 at less than sixty years of age.

 

brz064.jpg - Perla Goldberg, wife of Reb Mojsze-Mendel
Perla Goldberg, wife of
Reb Mojsze-Mendel [Zyndel?]

 

Now I shall again return to my great-grandmother, Perla Goldberg, e”h. As already mentioned, she gave a great deal to charity and also to the Jewish community. One of her good deeds was to donate the beautiful ornkoydesh [Holy Ark where Torah scrolls are kept] for the great synagogue in Brzezin. The Holy Ark was a masterpiece of carving. For months famous Warsaw Jewish cabinetmakers and wood carvers stayed in Brzezin until they erected the Holy Ark on the eastern wall of the synagogue. Almost two-thirds of the eastern wall was covered with carvings from ceiling to floor. My mother, e”h, said that with the money spent for the alcohol that was drunk during the construction and completion of the Holy Ark, one could have bought the nicest house in Brzezin. And who could have guessed that fifty years later no remnant of that superb Holy Ark would remain, not even a photograph. The Nazis burned down the synagogue along with the Holy Ark.


In the first years after my grandmother Cyril Halbersztadt became a widow, she ran various businesses alone. In the early 90s, (approximately 1891–92) she even bought a forest in Pania (a village near Rogow) and had it cut it down herself. She only paid the first installment for the forest – sixty thousand rubles. She had the forest cut down and the felled trees sawed into lumber. Later, around 1899–1900, she built a wall around a large house on Optek Gas [Pharmacy Street]. The house was later bought from the heirs by Jekel Froman. Later my grandmother became ill and nervous and began to go to doctors. She went to Warsaw to Dr. Platow and others and went to health spas in other countries. She died during World War I at the end of 1916 or the beginning of 1917 at the age of over seventy.

My second grandmother, Cyril Halbersztadt's younger sister, Tyla Mendlewicz, occupied herself, in addition to the management of the house, with important things connected with the dry goods store. My grandfather bought the goods, and she sold them. Besides all that she ran a gmiles khesed [interest-free loan fund] by herself and with her own capital. In many instances she took as pawned items valuable objects such as rings, earrings, and watches. She had a lot of trouble with the pawned items. When the one who pawned an object was having a celebration, she would give him back the object in order to beautify the celebration, and the objects were not always returned. On such an occasion she would often actually repeat her mother's – my great-grandmother Perla's – words, “ It is always better that they should owe me than I them, even when the debt is lost. Because whoever does not pay a debt, it is a sign that he has no money, and it is better when it is the the other person who has no money…” Grandmother Tyla Mendlewicz died at more than seventy years of age.

Aron and Cyril Halbersztadt had five children. The oldest son, Melech Halbersztadt, my oldest uncle, lived long years with his wife Genendel from Warsaw. She was a close relative of Reb Joel Wagmajster, Warsaw dozor (member of Jewish community council) for many years. Reb Melech Halbersztadt conducted various businesses. He had my grandfather Aron Halbersztadt's granary near the railroad station in Rogow, near Brzezin, and ran a large grain business. He also dealt in wool and other goods. He had a very good name.

In the years before World War I, when there was no bank in Brzezin yet, he was the contact person with the big banks in Warsaw and Lodz. The Warsaw and Lodz banks sent him to collect promissory notes that were made out and signed by Brzeziner merchants and magaziners [owners of small clothing factories]. In 1904–5 and later, he became a magaziner and managed a large business in ready-made suits and overcoats for men. He had eight children – three daughters and five sons. He was a highly esteemed man of stature in Brzezin and was a Brzeziner dozor for many years together with Reb Szlama Silski. He spent his last years living in Lodz. He died in either 1917 or 1918 in Otwock and was buried in Warsaw.

Reb Aron and Cyril Halbersztadt's only daughter – my mother – Szyfkele (Szyfra-Golda) married her cousin – my father – Fajwel-Majer Mendlewicz, the oldest son of Reb Herszel and Tyla Mendlewicz. Reb Aron and Cyril Halbersztadt's three sons were Chaim-Szlama, Dawid-Lajb, and Wolf. Chaim-Szlama's wife Malka was the daughter of the Zgierzer [from Zgierz] rov. They had a son, Aron. Chaim-Szlama died very young.

 

brz065.jpg - Reb Fajwel Mendlewicz and his wife Szyfkele
(Szyfra-Golda)
Reb Fajwel Mendlewicz and his wife Szyfkele (Szyfra-Golda)

 

Dawid-Lajb Halbersztadt married the daughter of the rich merchant and respected Aleksanderer [follower of Aleksandrow rebbe] Hasid from Mlava, Reb Josel Goldsztajn. His daughter, Blume Goldsztajn, was a cousin of Viktor Alter – later leader of the Bund [Jewish Socialist Party] in Poland – who, during World War II was killed in Soviet Russia by the dictator Stalin, together with his associate, attorney Henryk Erlich.

Dawid-Lajb Halbersztadt was a great merchant and engaged in trading wood. Later, in 1903–8, he had a large lumberyard in Warsaw next to a railroad siding, where all the Warsaw wood merchants brought and stored the wood they had purchased and brought in on the railroad. My uncle, Dawid-Lajb, financed these transports until the Warsaw merchants paid a deposit. There, at that site, near my uncle Dawid-Lajb's place, was the Warsaw wood exchange. About 1907 he became ill with a serious throat condition and was ailing for several years. For many months he lay in hospitals in Berlin and Vienna and was in many spas. He went through two throat operations and exhausted his large fortune.

During the last years before World War I, between 1910 and 1914, he lived in Brzezin and managed the Jewish Brzeziner “ Savings and Loan” Bank, which was supported by the I.K.A. Society [Israelite Colonization Association] of St. Petersburg. During World War I, 1914–18, he again moved to Warsaw. He had five children – three sons and two daughters. He died around 1927.

Wolf Halbersztadt married Gucia Herszenberg, a daughter of the well-known manufacturer from Lodz Reb Mojsze-Jehoszua Herszenberg. She was a cousin of the famous Jewish artist [Samuel] Hirszenberg. Wolf Halbersztadt was, as were his brothers, a Talmudic scholar, and also versed in worldly knowledge and languages. He learned all this, not, God forbid, in [secular] schools, but by himself. In his young years, when still a lad, he, together with Nachman Gutkind, my uncle Icie Mendlewicz, Chaim-Icek Grynfeld, and some other friends, established a group “ Khoveve Sfas Ayver” [Lovers of the Hebrew Language] in Brzezin where they spoke traditional Hebrew to each other. Chaim-Icek Grynfeld, e”h, told me this during his last years in Tel Aviv.

Wolf Halbersztadt had five children – one son and four daughters. Together with his two brothers-in-law, Cudek and Nute Herszenberg, he owned a large woolen fabric factory in Lodz that employed some hundred workers and a large merchandise warehouse at 3 Kosciuszko Street in Lodz. They also owned several large houses [apartment buildings]. Wolf Halbersztadt died in 1935 with a good name, having reached the age of sixty-three or sixty-four.

Reb Herszel and Tyla Mendlewicz had three sons – Fajwel-Majer, Aron-Lajb and Icie (Icek). Fajwel-Majer Mendlewicz – my father – had, as was already mentioned, married his cousin Szyfkele, the daughter of Aron and Cyril Halbersztadt. He was a very devout and observant Jew, a great Talmud-khokhem. So also were his two younger brothers. He studied a lot, day and night, mainly “ Gemore with Toysfes” [commentary by Toysfes] and other commentators. As I recall, he would rise after midnight, between one and two o'clock, and study until morning, between six and seven o'clock, when he left to go to the besmedresh [house of prayer] to pray with the minyen [quorum of ten males]. Also during the day and in the evening he used to use every free minute to study. Even so, he was not overly bookish. He knew excellent bookkeeping, which he learned through correspondence in Hebrew with “ Marek” in Libava, Latvia, who was then a teacher of bookkeeping well known in all of Russia.

As mentioned above, the first business my father ran after his marriage was the alcoholic beverages warehouse, en gros et détail [wholesale and retail]. Later, when a government monopoly for dealing with alcoholic beverages was introduced in all of Russia and Poland, he managed a leather business for two to three years in partnership with Herszele Ledershniter (Reb Jozef-Machel Herszenberg's son or son-in-law, I believe). After that, in partnership with Reb Abraham Gips (Nachman Gutkind's brother-in-law), he took on a contract to build a highway near Czestochowa [Chenstohova]. After that he managed a Brzeziner magazine of ready-to-wear clothing for Russia. In the beginning he was in partnership in the magazine with Jehoszua Ikka (son of Reb Szlama-Josel Ikka-Fuksel). After separating from his partner, he conducted the magazine on his own, and finally, he moved the magazine to Warsaw in partnership with his brother, my uncle Aron-Lajb Mendlewicz. They had the merchandise sewn in Brzezin and shipped the finished goods to the Warsaw warehouse.

After the death of my grandfather, Reb Herszel Mendlewicz, z”l, in approximately 1903, my parents took over the dry goods business. The dry goods business was principally conducted by my mother, e”h, with the capable assistance of my grandmother, Tyla, e”h. My father became more and more deeply involved with studying Torah. He was really a great Talmud-khokhem, proficient in all Shas and Poskim. He was an Ostrowtser [follower of Ostrowiec rebbe] Hasid and an observant, devout Jew. In approximately 1911–12 he retired from all business.

At the time of World War I and afterward, my father was a member of the town council of Brzezin and worked on various town commissions. These were the only years that he was active in public affairs, and at that time, he also bemoaned the contempt for Torah, which had an effect on him. He was a Hasid but not a fanatic. At the time the elections to the Sejm (Polish Parliament) took place, the Warsaw Rabbi Perlmuter from Agudes Isroyl [non-Zionist Orthodox party] and the lawyer Icek Grynbaum of the Zionist Organization were campaigning for office. Representatives from Agudes Isroyl came to him – as to “ one of us” religious Jews – to ask him to vote for and work for the victory of Horav [Rabbi] Perlmuter, their candidate. However, my father, with quiet humor, asked them, “ What is it today, elections for a rov or elections for a Jewish representative in the Polish parliament?” They answered him, “ Of course, today is the election for parliament.” Then he said to them, “ If so, then one has to select a lawyer, because a lawyer knows what he should complain about and how to make a speech. But a rov? Why do we need a rov in the Sejm? Does one have to decide questions of ritual purity?! I will now vote for the lawyer, and I promise you, when elections for a rov come up, I will on no account vote for a lawyer, only for a rov, because then one has to pick a Jew who knows and can decide questions of ritual purity.”


My mother, e”h, always worried about the poor and the sick. Every midday before serving us, while in the kitchen, she would put aside in a little pot a portion of the soup and meat for poor sick people. My father and mother had agreed that she would cook more for Shabbos so that there would always be enough for an oyrekh [guest, usually one visiting from another community] for the Sabbath. And every Friday night my father would come from davening with a guest for the entire Shabbos. All the other worshipers had their turn to take a guest home for Shabbos. Everyone knew when it came to his Shabbos [his turn]. This was all done when there was more than one guest for Shabbos. But if there was only one guest, then, of course, my father always brought him to his home. Everyone already knew that it was his right.

My father's brother, Aron-Lajb, was also an observant and very pious Jew, a great Talmudic student and Talmud-khokhem. He married Perla, a daughter of Michal Temkin, a very rich man, a wine merchant from Siedlce. My uncle, Aron-Lajb, lived in Warsaw. He had one son and three daughters and also several grandchildren. They all perished in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II at the hands of Nazi murderers.

Icie (Icek) Mendlewicz, my father's youngest brother, was, like his two older brothers, a great Talmud-khokhem. He obtained heter hoyroe [dispensation to charge interest on loans] from the Jezower [from Jezow] rov when he was scarcely fourteen or fifteen years old. He also obtained heter hoyroe and smikhes [ordination] to the rabbinate, while he was still a young man, from the rabbis of Siedlce and Piaseczno and also from other rabbis. My uncle, Icie Mendlewicz, was also devout but still a so-called “ hyantveltiker” [modern] Jew and person. He understood Russian and Polish. He was a member of the association “ Lovers of the Hebrew Language in Brzezin.”

He married Taubcia Wolman from Lublin. She was the daughter of a great Lubliner rich man and important grain and timber merchant, Szoel Wolman. He ran a large iron business on the main street in Lublin, Krakowskie Przedmiescie, with his father-in-law, Szoel Wolman, and his brother-in-law, Mojszel Hajnsdorf.

My uncle, Icie Mendlewicz, had three sons. The oldest, Mojsze, was a lawyer, his second son, Pinchus, an electrical engineer, and his third son, Heniek, also completed university. My Uncle Icie, with his wife and both sons, the oldest and the youngest, perished either in the Lublin Ghetto or in the concentration camp Majdanek near Lublin. Only his middle son, the engineer, Pinchus, was left alive, since he was abroad at the outbreak of World War II.

 

brz067.jpg - Heter Hoyroe
“Heter Hoyroe” from the Piaseczner rov ha Gaon [eminent scholar]
Reb Noach, z”l, and Reb Natan Nute, z”l; to the left of the picture:
“Heter Hoyroe” from ha Gaon Reb Szymon rov Anielik, z”l

 

My parents had three sons. I, Aron, was the oldest; the second son was Mojsze-Mordechai, and the youngest son was Abraham-Chaim. I married Hinda Majranc from Kutno. My wife's father, Jehunsen Majranc, e”h, ran a big business in coal, coke, tar, cement, tar-board, and other building materials. My wife comes from a rabbinical family. Approximately three hundred years ago her great-great grandfather, by the name of Reb Abraham Abi'le Gabiner [Gombiner], was the rov in Kalisz. He was a great poysek [arbitrator] and an author of many religious books. His major book was the commentary Mogen Abraham [Star of Abraham] on Shulkhn Orekh Oyrekh Chayim [first section of Shulkhn Orekh, code of law]. In the rabbinic world he continues to be known today under the name Mogen Abraham. My father-in-law was a student of the famous Kutner rov and Gaon, Reb Jehoszele Kutner [from Kutno], z”l. At that time he also wrote for Hameylits [The Defender]. He was a dozor for the Jewish kehile [community], and between 1916 and 1920, also a member of the town council.

I lived in Kutno – in Sholem Asch's town – from 1926 until 1933. There I was selected by the Zionist organization as chairman of the Jewish community council 1923–27 and also as a town council member (called “ lawnik”) [alderman] in 1920–28.


My teachers in Brzezin were – in turn – the dardeke-melamed [teacher of the youngest children] Reb Luzer Betcajg, then Gimpele Melamed, Reb Icek-Mendel from Radzyn, and the teacher Reb Jeremia (I remember that we called him the “ zvodne” [platoon commander], because he had been a soldier in Czarist Russia). Then I studied with Reb Szmuel-Lajb, son of Mojsze Pabianicer (Beserglik) and with Szmuel-Mojsze (a son-in-law of the aforementioned Radzyner melamed, Reb Icek Mendel, e”h). Finally, at the age of thirteen or fourteen, I studied with my last teacher, Reb Mojsze Pabianicer, e”h.

With Reb Mojsze Pabianicer, e”h, I studied alone. He did not want to take any tuition from my father for my instruction. At that time he was already an old man. He had a few thousand rubles. He used to say that my father was one of his first students and so also were my uncles on both sides, the children of Reb Aron Halbersztadt and of Herszel Mendlewicz. Therefore, for me, his last student, he would not take any tuition. He was a refined, observant Jew. His wife stood in the market and sold dry goods to the peasants. Every Rosh Hashana he was the bal tekeye [blower of the shofar] in the great Brzeziner synagogue.


My brother Mojsze-Mordechai, who was five years younger than I, married Taubcia Nowomiast (daughter of the Kutno textile merchant Mojsze Nowomiast). He had one son, named Herszele, after our grandfather, Reb Herszel Mojsze Zyndel's. In 1939 when World War II broke out, he was about fourteen years old. Mojsze-Mordechai lived in Brzezin together with our parents. He and his wife died of hunger in the Lodz Ghetto. Also, his son, Herszel, became ill with consumption in the Lodz Ghetto. The Germans caught him in a police raid, and they deported and killed him. My father, e”h, died in Brzezin in the first winter of World War II, two days after Purim (1940), at more than seventy years of age. My mother died two to three years later in the Lodz Ghetto – from hunger, hardship, and loneliness.

My youngest brother, Abraham-Chaim, born 1896, was six years younger than I. He was a phenomenon. Until he was fourteen or fifteen he studied in khadorim [Jewish schools] and yeshivas [institutes of higher Talmudic learning]. Until then he did not know even one word of any European language and did not have the slightest idea what science was. He only knew about one thing – studying Torah, studying “ Gemore with Toysfes,” studying Shulkhn Orekh, and other Poskim. But at fifteen or sixteen he suddenly began studying European languages, mathematics, and other sciences, also philosophy. He studied it by himself, not in any school or gymnasium [high school]. And he achieved marvelous results. He knew Polish, Russian, German, French, and English well, spoken and written. He learned Hebrew, mathematics, and philosophy thoroughly. Most of all, he mastered the German language. He read and wrote German better than any student who studied in the German gymnasium.

About 1927 or 1928 he published a book in the German language entitled The Tense State of Matter, in which he discussed the physical and philosophical problems of the structure of matter and the universe. Several years later he wrote to me in Eretz Israel that he had written a second work, with charts and calculations, a complement and commentary to his first, already-published book. By then he no longer had the opportunity to see his second book published. During the war it was destroyed together with him. The Nazis killed him.

They told me about it at the time of Purim. In 1942 when the Germans demanded that the Jews in Brzezin deliver and surrender ten Jews, men or women, so they could hang them as punishment for the hanging of Haman and his children two thousand years ago, my brother Abraham-Chaim, of his own free will, then presented himself to the Judenrat [Jewish Council]. He asked to be sent to the Germans as one of the Jewish victims to be hanged, but the Judenrat turned down his request.

You can just imagine how desperate my brother was then and how disappointed he had become in the last year of his life in “ humane and European progress” and “ German culture.” Maybe he only wanted, by his sacrifice of death on the gallows, to be useful after all and rescue another Jew.

Abraham-Chaim was in the Brzezin Ghetto in 1942. Two days before Shavuos [holiday in spring commemorating giving of Ten Commandments] he, along with all the other Brzezin Jews, was deported. But at the time when most of the Brzezin Jews arrived in the Lodz Ghetto, Abraham-Chaim was not with them, and from then on, all traces of him disappeared. He was, it seems, murdered by the Germans on the way from Brzezin to Lodz, or he was deported directly from Brzezin to some concentration camp and killed there.

When he was murdered, he was forty-six years old. He was not married.


When World War II broke out, two great-grandchildren of Reb Mojsze Zyndel and Perla Goldberg and one great-great grandchild were outside Poland. They were 1) Aron, son of Fajwel-Majer and Szyfra-Golda Mendlewicz, the writer of these lines, 2) Pinchus, son of Icek (Icie) and Taubcia Mendlewicz, who now lives in Spain, and 3) Pinchus-Elimelech, son of Mojsze and Sura Halbersztadt, grandson of Reb Melech Halbersztadt. He is a captain in the Israeli Army.

Of the other members of the Halbersztadt and Mendlewicz families – the grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of Mojsze Zyndel and Perla Goldberg, relatives that added up to a hundred nefoshes [souls], only seven souls were saved from Hitler's hands and survived the frightful destruction. Of those, four were the children – three daughters and a son – of Wolf and Gucia Halbersztadt from Lodz. Immediately, on the first day of the war, they escaped to Vilna and then through Lithuania on to Sweden. From there three of them departed through London for San Paolo, Brazil. One daughter and her husband still live to this day in Stockholm, Sweden.

Only three of the family were saved out of the ninety to a hundred members of this great family who fell into the hands of the German assassins – who captured Poland and destroyed so many innocent Jews. Three members of the family survived the German oppression in the Lodz and Warsaw Ghettos and the annihilation camp Oswiecim [Auschwitz]; they endured and lived to see liberation. They were 1) Blume Lachman, granddaughter of Dawid-Lajb and Blume Halbersztadt, 2) Rutkel, granddaughter of Melech and Genendel Halbersztadt, and 3) Tyla (Tola) Weksler, daughter of Abraham-Icie ben [son of] Melech Halbersztadt. For the last ten years she has been in Israel with her husband and little daughter.

This is the history of our great and lovely family, and such was the fate of our family – the same fate that befell the six million Jews in Europe who were annihilated in the worst destruction that befell our people in two thousand years.

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