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My Father, Ha'im Hertz Levite
by Avraham Levite
My father was a modest man, loath to accept honors and avoiding publicity. He abhorred superlatives and would certainly have been displaced to hear himself praised.
What I would like to recount here is related to just one subject, always significant the generation gap. The problem is eternal, universal, and particularly familiar in our troubled times.
It must be borne in mind that a generation ago a new element of friction had been added: sons were straying from their fathers' way of life which had been sanctified over the generations, and in many families this resulted in very real tragedies.
Let me describe how many fathers dealt with this problem in his own home.
When, as a youth, I began to break away from tradition, Father took it very hard, though he realized he could not turn the clock back. He therefore tried to restrain me in marginal ways, before I was completely lost. He did his best to prevent a complete break between us and made no extravagant demands which he knew beforehand I would not comply with. Guided by the generalization A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush he said to me: What you are not prepared to do I already know well enough, to my sorrow. Perhaps we may be permitted to learn what precepts you are ready to fulfill? Even a bankrupt who has reneged on his responsibilities is not permitted to relinquish them all, but has to compromise on a part of his debts fifty percent, forty percent something!
He tried to explain he moderation of his attitude thus: Actually, when someone has a son like mine, who refuses to walk in his footsteps, he should cut off all relations and tell him that as he is doing wrong he refuses to acknowledge him any longer. But such behavior is forbidden! Aren't we all the sons of God and He is our Father? We, too, are not perfect, and our sins are well known. If we behave radically and cut ourselves off from our sinful offspring, how could we ask God to treat us otherwise? Far better that we be lenient with our wayward sons and this would give us the right claim before God: True, we have sinned, but we are Your sons; as You see, we, too, have sons of whose behavior we do not approve, but we do not banish them, God forbid. They always remain our children and our hearts are open to them.
It once happened that one of the shtetl's well-known fanatics came running to Father, telling him excitedly that he had seen with his own eyes a group of boys and girls behind the hill, among them myself and his own son, sitting and laughing together in sin, God forbid. Father heard him out and sighed. When the man lost control, cursing and screaming that such things must not be ignored in silence, and must be persecuted to death etc, Father remarked: What you have told me is very serious, but let us not forget that we are speaking of our children, and, in addition to all our other troubles, we must also pray for them, that they should be healthy, pray God
Father was not opposed to my secular studies for he realized that times had changed and a young man could not be expected to renounce his general studies and not read newspapers or books. But what he valued was an education that included the Torah, not one that replaced it. In this context he used to quote the Talmudic saying: There is room in the head in which two tefillin may be placed.
All he claimed was that secular studies were secondary to the Torah which for him, naturally, represented a sublime value. He put it thus: A young man who had been recruited to the army came to his Rabbi for advice on how to conduct himself. Should he starve and torment himself, subsisting on bread and water throughout his service, though he was doubtful of his ability to hold out,
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or should he eat the treif food (non-kosher) of the army? The Rabbi answered: There is no real choice here, you must eat the army rations, it's a question of life and death. I ask but one thing of you: when they give you meat, promise me that you will not lick the bones! The moral, continued my Father, is that secular studies are necessary and indispensable, but there's no need to lick them! Get your pleasure from a page of Gemarra, a passage of the Pentateuch, the Morality literature and so one. He himself derived full satisfaction from studying the Torah. Every evening he had a group Gemarra lesson in the Sadigurra Clois and was in the habit of saying: People think that I study in order to ensure my place in the next world they couldn't be more wrong! These studies represent this world to me; they are my greatest delight and give my life meaning.
Noticing that I was missing shahrit and ma'ariv (morning and evening prayers), he summoned me and said: I realize that you absent yourself from prayers because you are truthful and, not feeling the need for praying, you refuse to perjure your soul, pretending that prayer means anything to you. Well then, I still ask you to come to shul and pray, even though it seems dishonest to you. I suggest that you lie a little and I take the sin upon myself
When Father saw that I had gone too far, beyond what he had foreseen, he sat down for a serious talk with me, and this is what he told me: There was an old relative of ours, one of the old Sadigurra Hassids of old times, Reb Israel Dym, blessed be his memory, who had this question put to him: You, who had started commuting to the old Sadigurra Rabbi, son of the Rozhin Rabbi, blessed be the memory of a just man, while you were just a youth, later went on frequenting his son's court and now you also come to his grandson's. Do you truly believe him to be a Zadik like his grandfather? Reb Israel replied: It's true that there is a great difference between the grandfather and his grandson, and I don't claim to have as much faith in the latter as in the former; but even though I don't consider myself his hassid (disciple) I still maintain contact and have remained his friend!
I know, concluded Father, that you don't behave as I do. I, too, don't behave as my father did. The generations are deteriorating. But one thing I beg of you: remain a friend! Don't cross over to the opposing side. If, God forbid, you become anti, there will no longer be any bond between us.
This request, at least, I have tried to fulfill.
by Avraham Levite
Hirsheleh Roth, a scholar and a God-fearing man, was a respected figure in the shtetl and a veteran of the Tchortkov Hassidim. He was a mild and well-liked man. One of the founders of the shtetl's Agudas Israel, he had always been its Chairman and was active in all its institutions. He belonged to the Hovevei Zion faction of the Agudah, headed in Gallicia by Dr. Ben Zion Fessler of Kolomey. These activists of Erez Israel founded the religious settlement of Mahneh Israel, north of Affulah, in the 30's, close to today Kibbutz Dovrat. They acquired some land in the country but were cheated by speculators. It was through them that Hirsheleh Roth bought some land in Israel and three of his children, Yehoshua and Esther, may they rest in peace, and Mina, long may she live, came here and were saved.
Highly observant of the mitzvot, both minor and cardinal, he was patient and tolerant of those who differed from him, accepting them in a spirit of liking and friendship, and bringing up his children to be the same. He was especially noted for his closeness to young people, his informal lack of distance and his understanding of their problems. He treated them as equals and, despite their deep respect, they regarded him as their friend.
Whenever I hear the expression Judaism through agreeable ways I am always reminded of Hersheleh Roth.
I remember when still a young lad, having strayed somewhat from the group of which Reb Hirsheleh was such an outstanding representative, I chanced to pray at the Tchortkov Clois, afterwards exchanging
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some words with the youth who studied there. Suddenly two fanatical members attacked me, calling me a wanton, a frequenter of the cinema and one who enjoyed the company of girls, God have mercy on us. And now here I was, come to spoil their decent youths, to show them my evil ways and distract them from the fold.
Reb Hirsheleh came to my defense in full force. What do you want from this young man? What harm has he done you by coming here to pray? he stormed at them. Will your insults stop him from going to the cinema? You will only stop him from coming to pray. Is that what you really want?
He conducted an open house to which every unfortunate, every neighbour, members of his congregation and chance wayfarers could come at all hours of the day and in the evenings for a chat and a cup of tea.
On entering his house one had the feeling that the tea-kettle was warming only for him, and the whole family was sitting and waiting for his arrival.
Anyone watching a man who had come to Reb Hirsheleh for advice and saw him listening and concentrating on the problem would have thought that he was watching two partners in consultation about something that concerned them both equally.
Seeing the family sitting together on Saturday nights was an unforgettable experience. There was the grandfather, Reb shalom Horowitz, God rest his soul, at the head of the table, Reb Hirsheleh and his wife Pessia, the sons and daughters all relaxed and engaged in enjoyable conversation. Anyone who happened to open their door was cordially invited to join the company, with the warmth of which only this family was capable.
I have mentioned his father-in-law, Reb Shalom Horowitz, a personality on his own, amiable and pleasant and deserving of special mention.
At that time children were treated with special severity and no child would dare intervene or express an opinion while his elders were talking in the Clois something which would have been regarded as unprecedented impudence. A child's duty was to stand quietly by, listen and be ready to do as he was bidden (to serve the scholars).
I will therefore never forget how Reb Shalom, on finishing prayers, would call me as if I were his friend: Come on Avremeleh! He would kiss the mezuzah and we would leave together, equals in age and status.
All that day I would be sustained by the wonderful feeling he gave me
When, at the end of 1941, after the Germans had captured eastern Poland, I returned to the shtetl, I was eager to meet Reb Hirsheleh, to speak with him and take courage from his deep faith. I never did, for he had gone underground, living all the time in hiding. When the oppressors ordered all the shtetl's Jews to cut off their beards, threatening death to all who disobeyed, he ignored the pleadings of his family and resolutely refused to cut off his beard. Hiding in cellars and inner rooms he never went into the street.
Reb Hirsheleh was certainly the only Jew in the shtetl who, till the last tragic moments of his life, wore his beard, and thus he went to his Maker, a Jew complete in his faith.
May his memory be blessed.
by Avraham Levite
The whole shtetl knew Shlomo Zissel. He had a distinctive feature an awkward artificial leg, souvenir of the First World War. A tall, broad-shouldered man, head always held high, his disability seemed no more than temporary, just a leg encased in plaster till it healed
The Polish Government used to compensate wounded war veterans a tobacconist's shop or a pub licensed to sell vodka. These two products vodka and tobacco were a government monopoly, and the right to see them was granted to the privileged only. Shlomo Zissel was the proprietor of a tobacco and cigarette store called Traffic. The lintel above the entrance was painted in diagonal stripes of red and white Poland's national colors. The shtetl boasted a number of such stores and
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you couldn't make much money where people used to buy even a single cigarette. Still, when all went well the owners managed to eke out their hayuna, a bare living.
In the last days of the community in the Shtetl, after all hopes and illusions had finally been destroyed and all confronted the horrifying reality that closed in like a death trap, leaving them quivering like fish in a net men like Zissel made a final, desperate effort to escape the hangman's noose. Some managed to obtain a few days' respite, even a few weeks, but not Zissel with his disability.
No one knows what actually took place during the last moments of those murdered and slain and this applies to Zissel too. Only in the phantasmagoria of sleepless nights or in our nightmares do the endless possibilities appear.
The Goyim of the shtetl have a tale to tell about him: After castigating the Gestapo killer who had ordered him to take off his prosthesis, he brought it up in his hand and crushed the Nazi's skull with it. They even know the name of the thug killed Otto Swartz a member of the Yaslow Gestapo gangs which had carried out the slaughter of the shtetl's Jews.
Those who visited Brzozow after the war and met the inhabitants were told about this. But, as already said, there is no valid and reliable information as to what actually happened in those ghastly hours, for none of the Polish inhabitants were present during the actual action.
It is hard to believe that a cripple without his artificial leg, learning on one foot only, would be capable of attacking an armed officer standing firm on both feet. Assuming there is some truth in the tale, he may have tried to hit him, grasping some other available object for the attack.
The book Six Hundred Years in Brzozow mentions some Jews by name and has much to say about Shlomo Zissel. The writer, Sophia Woychek who described the action (in the chapter The Years of Bereavement and Terror), mentions a Jewish soldier, wounded veteran of the First World War. She does not give his name or that of his interlocutor, but the contents of his words point clearly to Shlomo Zissel:
I spilt blood for the Germans in 1917. I lost my leg on the Italian front and am now a total cripple. I am only 43 years old but am already an old man who cannot move without his crutches. It's abominable! This horror cries to heaven for revenge against the German people, pitiless murderers of the innocent!From this it may be concluded that Zissel's protest was passive and verbal at most.
The same book gives a section of Stanislav Rogovsky's story Beasts and Human Beings, bearing the name Shlomo Adler and describing the brutal treatment and the annihilation of the victims.
From the facts actually known to Rogovsky it is hard to ascertain who gave them to him or how much of the truth is complemented by the author's imagination. The material is clearly not documentary. Rogovsky gives names: The old woman Sima Kuflik: the pharmacist Trintscher and the merchant Reich, may the Lord avenge their blood. He also mentions Trachman regarding whom the facts don't fit as he died in the Dinnov massacre, in the first days of the Nazi invasion.
His literary descriptions are based on reality and are the opposite of exaggerations. No human imagination can devise the horror that actually took place. Here is that part of the story, with some light omissions, which deal with Shlomo Adler, the crippled hero:
The cripple Shlomo Adler, who envied his mother for having died a natural birth.[Page 170 - English]
His sufferings and the long years of disability were evident in his face and gentle spirit. He radiated kindness, endless good-will. His eyes reflected generosity, self-restraint, the understanding and benevolence of a prophet. There was something patriarchal in his movements, particularly when, himself hungry, he divided the last slices of bread among his children. Shlomo was sensitive to the pain of all the members of his congregation a man who would always avoid trampling a worm crawling in his path and would not hurt a fly. A distant relative of Shlomo of the Lavkiss, he prayed to God for the whole congregation, mentioning their sins but asking for nothing. What was the use? Twenty-five years ago he had lost his leg in battle, and protested and cried: Where is my leg? Give me back my leg and let me go home! But when the doctors failed to give him back his leg, something beyond their power, and the High Command awarded him the Cross of Courage, sending him home a cripple, he somehow reconciled himself to his fate, living ac-
according to the precepts of the Torah and doing evil to nobody Now, at this dire moment, had he been able to speak to the Chief of the Gestapo, he would surely have convinced him, made him renounce his evil ways and become a human being. He would have shown him the Service Cross, price of the leg he had forfeited for the Kaiser and his Kingdom, would have let him feel the prosthesis and made him realize that the sacrifice had not just been for the Kaiser's sake but for him, the Nazi's as well a sacrifice which had left him cripple. After this, could the Nazi bring himself to kill him and his family?The action or operation as described by Rogovsky centers around Shlomo:
Packed into tarpaulin-covered trucks the people lie on the floor, the well-fed assassins sitting on top of them on the stretched tarpaulin sloping downwards to the sides. The heaviest is sprawled on top of Shlomo Adler naked, the victims are going to their death led by Shlomo Adler, the wounded veteran of the former war, winner of the Cross of Courage. Would the sight of him touch them, cause them a twinge of conscience? Naked, built like a Samson, Shlomo marches towards the pit. He is limping on his artificial leg which no one has ever seen uncovered before. He looks bravely into the maw of the gun. After all, he is a soldier who fought for the Kaiser and for the glory of Germany!For some reason Rogovsky found it necessary to end this scene by describing an exchange of looks between Shlomo and the thug Otto Swartz (a figure already mentioned in this contest, so that some sort of confrontation between the two must surely have taken place). The latter collapses, his gun drops from his hand and he falls in a faint.
This attempt to credit a member of the murder gang with a semblance of human feelings seems doubtful and unconvincing.
The book Six Hundred Years in Brzozow is the source of our selections from the writings of Stanislav Rogovsky and Sophia Woychek's descriptions of the disaster which had overtaken the shtetl's Jews in general and Shlomo Adler in particular.
First and foremost ne must point out the humanity of these authors, made doubly prominent in a book in which their co-authors either ignored the Jews altogether or at most mentioned them by the way as having some connection with the general subject. In the ocean of brutal hatred towards Israel, of collaboration with the Nazis and the sadistic enjoyment of the sufferings of others any manifestation of simple, natural humanity is welcome. The Nazis, may they be damned for all eternity, deprived their Jewish victims of all human dignity before putting them to death. The humiliated them in front of the gentiles among whom they had lived, exhibiting them in all their demoralization and impotence.
Some of the Poles, witnessing their terrible suffering, pitied them to the extent that they were even prepared to risk themselves in order to help them a little, but for them the Jews were just some poor wretches in their midst, not actual people in trouble. Sympathetic, they yet kept their distance, their pity only aroused by the depth of misery of these hapless creatures. Only a few showed empathy for the Jews, feeling their pain as if it were their own and seeing them as people like themselves, unfortunate victims of a sadistic brutality the like of which was unknown in human history. These select few realized that the sufferings of the Jews were completely unmerited and this fact increased their respect for them.
Sophia Woychek who described the action in detail, is conscious of the terrible tragedy and is touched by it. No man capable of human feelings could remain indifferent in their bitter fate.
Stanislav Rogovsky may also be counted among those chosen few. His sympathy and warmth towards the unhappy victims find expression in his writing, particularly so in his identification with his protagonist, Shlomo Adler.
He tries to describe the Jewish tragedy as seen through the prism of Shlomo Adler, symbol of the whole Jewish community. His helplessness in the face of his destiny is that of a cripple who, because of his disability, cannot escape his bitter fate. It is also the reason why the monsters put him among the bewildered children and the aged, in spite of the fact that he is in his prime, turning him, as it were, into the representative of the victims. We have omitted many passages and descriptions from the above citations for we are not interested in the literary value of the tales. For us Shlomo Zissel is not a literary figure but a living man, one of our brother, led to the slaughter in the company of our parents, brothers and sisters.
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No one can tell us exactly what happened to him before he gave up his soul to his Maker, but from all the stories told by the village Goyim, from the descriptions of Rogovsky and from the fact that, of all people, it was the cripple who had become a legend, a courageous figure standing up to the murderers all this leads us to believe that there is a foundation of truth beneath it all. It indicates a proud, courageous stance, manifested in ways we cannot determine and whose extent we will never know, but which surely merits attention and documentation.
May his memory be blessed.
by Avraham Levite
Yossel Fenster was one of the gifted youths of the shtetl. He graduated from high school in 1932 and left for Katovitz where he found a job. In his free time he was active in various leftist organizations.
Before the first of May, when leftist sympathizers used to hold illegal demonstrations, the Police would take him into preventive custody, as they did with all those suspected of communist leanings.
In 1938, when he came home for a vacation, I remember he lectured at Beit Yehudah to some tens of youths on the Chinese problem.
It was the custom in leftist circles to deal in certain subjects and affairs brought up by the politrucks upon the suggestion of their superiors, for the purpose of briefing their activists. The latter were then supposed to spread the doctrine further among the wider masses, thus buttressing their class consciousness and political awareness. All these subjects meshed well with the soviets' real-politique and their political needs within their propaganda system.
The communist weekly portion at the time was China, and Yossel lectured the Children of Israel on the subject which was of such concern to them!
It is sadly tragic to think of what occupied naïve Jewish youths at a time when the air was already filled with the sounds of marching Nazis.
With the outbreak of war Yossel returned home from Katovitz.
When the news came of the Soviet Army's invasion of Poland and its deployment reaching the River San, the inhabitants of the shtetl were torn between the choice of risking crossing the border or waiting for the Russians to come to us, as rumors said they would.
Yossel, who considered himself a veritable Master of Ceremonies in this situation, argued that they should advance immediately to welcome the bride, fearing to lose even one day's happiness. He was one of the first, of course, to cross the Russian lines.
Several weeks later we met in Lvov, in the street, and when I asked him what his plans were, Yossel explained that, as there was still some confusion in the occupied zone, and true communist order had not yet been established, he would not wait for affairs to settle but was planning to go into Russia itself, where things were in perfect order. I wished him bon voyage and restrained myself from inquiring where he would go from there if things were not according to his expectations.
It was only in the summer of 1940 that I received an answer to my unasked question. I was wandering around in Lvov at night, near the railway station after being driven from my lodging where I was supposed to sleep because I had no passport.
Loitering near the station I gazed at the crowds of people waiting for the train but, instead of sitting in the vestibule, were lying around on the wet grass, pushed around from pillar to post by the militiamen. Suddenly there was Yossel Fenster a wreck of a man both physically and morally. When I asked him what he thought of the queer goings-on all around us he told me that this was nothing. There were only a few hundred rolling around here. In Kiev there were thousands wandering around the station.
He began telling me of his experiences in Russia and what he had seen there. He began confessing his sins: to whom had he devoted all his energies, in what had he believed so blindly all those years? He accused the Polish Police of arresting him for a few days only! Why did they release him imme-
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diately? Public enemies like myself should have been put behind bars for life! he cried.
How painful his disappointment must have been when, hurtling down from his Olympian expectations, his dream world, he fell into fathomless despair and decided on a step which for him meant conscious suicide.
There is nothing for me here. I'll smuggle myself across the border and return to the German zone. I don't expect anything from the Nazis, I have no illusions there. Maybe I'll hold out till the war is over. If not, my fate will be shared with the other Jews there.
And that is what he did. He set out on his unknown destination, together with all the millions who were burnt at the stake. May God avenge him.
by Moshe Bank
A man of average heights, tending to corpulence, he was clean shaven and usually wore the suit of a Maskil (European). He was short-sighted and his horn-rimmed glasses glittered from afar. He was always adjusting the starched collar of his shirt and had a nervous tick in his face. Every week day before noon I would meet him going from the Post Office in the shtetl's market square, carrying a parcel of newspapers and a walking stick draped over his arm. This was Reb Leib Diamant, one of the popular figures in the shtetl who had relinquished his traditional Jewish clothing while still a boy, when he turned to evil ways and became a maskil (open to European culture)'
In this act of straying from the fold he was one of a very small number of his peers in the shtetl at the time, before the First World War, and it took a lot of courage.
Reb Diamant was one of the forerunners of national Zionist ideas which were then reaching the shtetl, but he was also a strict adherent to Jewish tradition and always present at the synagogue where his seat was reserved for him. Fanatical about Zionism and Eretz Yisrael, he had replaced his allegiance to the Rabbi, common in the Hassidic environment, with that of Dr. Herzl, the great Zionist leader.
He was consumed by a burning love of Eretz Yisrael, Zionism and the Hebrew language, and anyone daring to criticize these in his presence was to be pitied. A lover of controversy, he was a master of debate and knew how to defend his ideas. In the heat of argument he could annihilate his opponents, particularly of the orthodox persuasion, with his burning rhetoric, using their own weapons against them: chapter and verse from the Bible and the Talmud.
In every field of Zionist endeavor he was both active and activating, be it for the Keren Kayemeth Le'Yisrael, organizing Hebrew courses, or any activity exigent for the Zionist cause.
He was an active participant in every election campaign for the Seim, the local Jewish Committee or the Municipality, and put his heart and soul into the propaganda conducted for the Zionist lists.
He married a daughter of the Werner family which was well established in the shtetl and its environs, with many branches. He supported his wife and three children with difficulty by giving lessons in Hebrew and selling Zionist literature, particularly the Heint (Today), the major Zionist daily appearing in Warsaw. He also sold writing materials. He was well-integrated in the life of the shtetl, knowing everything that went on in it from his childhood days at the end of the 19th century. He was a walking encyclopedia of the tales told about the shtetl, its inhabitants and local folklore.
May this short biography commemorate this pure-hearted dreamer who gave all he had to the resurrection of our people and the Zionist idea.
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by Chaim Bank
According to non-official sources the Jewish population of Brzozow consisted of about three hundred families. Some belonged to a chain of several other families, in this way forming one large family. There were also singular families which had no ties with any of the others. My own family belonged to the category of individual families.
The first footstep on the Brzozower soil was placed by my grandfather of blessed memory, Reb. Berish (Abraham Dov) Greenbaum, my mother's father. My grandfather was a family man with many children. Unfortunately the majority of the children died due to various epidemics and only two of the children grew to adulthood: my mother Massah-Yehudith of blessed memory, or as they called her Mashe, and her brother Leybush (Yehudah) Greenbaum.'
My mother was born in Brzozow. She received a strict religious upbringing, but she also finished seven grades of public school. At that particular time, it was out of the question for a religious Jewish girl to continue with her higher education. As a result, my mother became a sales girl until the time of her marriage. A small business was started in a wooden booth with the help of her father Reb. Berish Greenbaum and her brother Leybush. There they sold candies, vegetables, fruits, and a few groceries.
Early in the twentieth century a large fire broke out in Brzozow which destroyed many wooden houses and among them almost all of the wooden booths. Before long some of the Jews of Brzozow began to build one-story brick houses with space for stores. My mother moved into one of the stores in a new building which belonged to a prominent Jew, Reb. Kalman Wolf Reich and there she established a new business with the same merchandise as before but on a larger scale.
The Jewish as well as the Gentile customers expressed tremendous confidence and respect for my mother due to her honesty, integrity and friendliness. The entire Polish Intelligencia gladly bought from my mother; they used to call her Miss Masia. Also they liked her for her fluency in speaking Polish.
The time came when my mother had to give up her girlhood and prepare herself to become a married woman. The Shiduch (match) with my father, whose name was Israel Itzchak Bank-Feingold, came about because my father's oldest brother Mordchay was married to Yitale, my grandmother Simale's youngest sister. In this way the following family relationship was created: my mother became the sister-in-law of her Aunt Yitale and my father became the son-in-law of his brother's brother-in-law.
My father's family came from Tarnow. He received a strict religious upbringing. In his youth he studied in the Cklojz of the Radomsko Chasidim in Krakow.
My father also studied with the Rabi Firer from Krosno. My father had the ability to reconcile the knowledge of Torah with general science; this resulted not from attending any sort of school, but from working by himself. The German and Polish languages were not strange to him. He was proficient in speaking and writing Hebrew; used an Ashkenazi pronunciation.
My parents' wedding took place in the year 1907.
My father used to tell stories about his family. His father, (my grandfather whose name I bear), Reb. Chaim Shlomoh of blessed memory, died very young and was quite a poor man. In general the entire family was not rich. My father's grandfather came from Russia. Actually he escaped while serving in the Czarist army. According to my father's story, his grandfather crossed the Austrian border with his army horse, while in a cavalry division. His family name was Lerner and I do not know how and when the name Bank-Feingold was adopted.
My father took over the guidance of the store which at that time was very well established and prospering. Besides helping my mother with the customers, he also helped with correspondence and other business activities.
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, we were forced to leave everything behind and become refugees out of fear that the Russian army would invade. By then my parents had three children: my sister, Etke Reisel; myself, Chaim Shlomoh; and my brother, Moshe David. Our flight did not take us far. For a short time we sought refuge in Hungary and then in Czechoslovakia near the capital city of Prague.
In the year 1916, we came back home and had to start all over again. In the year 1918 the war
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came to an end. With the revival of Poland's independence, a passionate exultation burst out among the Poles and the Jews were victims of this outburst. Pogroms were organized in the shtetlech and again Jewish welfare was destroyed. Obviously my parents suffered too from the vandalism called pogroms. And again we were faced with the problem of building up everything once more. As on the previous occasions my parents succeeded in rebuilding and remained devoted to our lives in the shtetl. Although my parents did not belong to the wealthy they made a decent living with Parnasah Berevach (a generous livelihood), and so the days passed in the monotonous life of Brzozow.
My mother took advantage of the Sabbath as a time to rest and to enjoy reading her beloved book Tsenah-Urenah (a Yiddish translation of the Five Books of Moses). My father relaxed and read the Sedran (section assigned for weekly reading), then went to the Beyt Hamidrash for worship and to study the Gemarah, as well as reading other books that he favored.
By this time we were a family of six: my parents and four children with the addition of my brother Meyer Leib born in 1917. The older children helped out in the store to relieve my parents' burden. My father was well-known as the Baal-Tzdakah (Charity man) and also as a supporter of the local merchants with Gemilath Chessed (a loan without interest).
My mother had her favorite Tzdakah (charity) which was the Pushke (poor box) of Reb. Meyer Baal Haness. There my father made many friends among the elder Talmideh Chachamim (scholars) as well as among the younger Talmudic generation. Since my father was a steady worshipper in the Beyt Hamidrash it was clear that we children would follow him.
My father adapted very quickly to life in the Shtetl, making many friends in all walks of life among the Jewish population. Also many Christians showed a very friendly attitude towards him, particularly those of the Christian Intelligensia for whom conducting a conversation with my father was a top priority. They ignored his traditional Hassidic clothing or his beard and paoth (earlocks).
My father was a steady worshipper in the same synagogue where my grandfather Reb. Berish had his regular seat for prayers.
In the beginning of 1920, a Hebrew school was established in Brzozow under the leadership of the gifted and capable teacher Eliezer Teicher from Sanok. My father became involved as a member of the school managing committee. He was invited at the end of the school year to the examination and evaluation of the level of progress made by the students in mastering Hebrew.
I still recall the days of Yamim-Noraim (High Holidays) when my father used to explain to us some of the chapters of Peyutim (Liturgical Poetry) from the Yotzroth (prayers) concerning the Assarah Harugeh Malchuth (the ten martyrs of the Roman rulers). How the despotic, satraps cruelly killed the Tanaim along with the prominent Jewish Rabbi and leader, Rabbi Akibah. The story afflicted my spirit. I was overcome by emotion and instantly burst into tears. My father attempted to calm me down with the following remark: This is not the only cruelty which the Jewish Nation went through. When you study the Tanach, the Talmud and the Meforshim (interpretations) you will see that despite all the Tzaroth (troubles) which we Jews are experiencing in the Diaspora, it continually transpires that Am Israel Chay (the Jewish Nation is alive). Bear this strongly in your mind from the Jewish Tzaroth you will learn a lot.
With his explanation my father was trying to implant in his children Jewish Nationalistic ideas in conjunction with religious upbringing. My father's spiritual inheritance remained not only indelibly imprinted in my memory, but penetrated my blood, sustaining and strengthening my Jewish consciousness, infusing a sense of respect for my rich religious and cultural roots and for the dept and creativity of a once flourishing era.
Misfortune fate lead to the early demise of my father at the age of forty-five. In contrast, my mother with the two youngest children was forced by the cruelty of the Germans to leave this world in tremendous anguish in the gas chambers of Belzec.
Suddenly in the month of Adar my father caught a very bad cold which developed complications and after a long illness he passed away on the second day of the month Tamuz in 1929, leaving my mother with six children, two of whom, Sarah and Joseph, were born during my father's illness. My grandfather, Reb. Berish Greenbaum also passed away in the same year before my father's death.
My mother bore her situation as a widow with six children with dignity, considering her responsibility and sorrow for the orphans and for the
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youngest in particular. One often felt compassion and pity looking at the expression on my mother's face as she tried to suppress her painful feelings. However, she was not always able to overcome her sorrow, when she thought no one was noticing she burst into tears to relieve her pain. My mother mostly sought refuge in her tears while lighting the Sabbath candles. The Pesach Seders also elicited the same emotion.
We had the impression that everything would get back to normal and that time would heal the wounds, but my mother carried the grievous pain deep down in her heart.
In the meantime, my sister Etke Reisel got married and lived in Lwow. A little later, in 1935, my brother Moshe left for Eretz Israel.
Soon the wild beasts who were already ruing Germany invaded Poland in 1939, spreading murder, slaughter, massacre and perilous destruction. The first victims of that atrocity were the Jews on whom the Germans shed hatred, humiliation, murder and degradation. When the G Germans entered the shtetl Brzozow, the Jewish population immediately became award of their brutality and other murderous activities.
At that time my mother was in a very difficult situation, not being able to find a suitable way out. The Germans confiscated the store and a short time later they took away 250 young men of Jewish origin, among them my brother Meyer, and sent them to, hard labor at the concentration camp of Plaszow near Krakow. I was then in the ghetto Przemysl, my sister, Etke Reisel with her family was in Lwow and my mother with the two young children in Brzozow.
The uneasiness, anxiety and sorrow was great, but the fear of the inevitable was even greater. My mother was one of so many Jewish mothers with the same feelings and the same worries, not knowing what tomorrow, the next hour or even the next minute would bring.
The cruel and tragic day of August 10, 1942, arrived when the entire Jewish population of Brzozow was liquidated with the utmost brutality by the German devils. The destruction took place in the following way: one group of Jewish men, women, old people, children and invalids were slaughtered in a most savage way before a prepared mass grave in the Brezover forest. Approximately one thousand Kadoshim rested in the Brother-Grave. The second part was sent to the railroad station Rymanow and loaded into cargo trains to their final destination at the death camp Belzec. My dear mother, my youngest sister Sarah, my brother Josef, my aunt Selda and her daughter Simaleh wee unfortunately among those. The death transport to Belzec passed by Przemysl and my sister Sarah threw out to me a short letter written in Polish saying:
We find ourselves in a wagon, mother, myself, Joseph, aunt Selda and Simaleh, and other Jews from Brzozow and Rymanow. If you do not receive any writing from us, don't worry, because it appears that we are riding in the direction of the East Unfortunately they did not suspect that the murderous intention of the Germans would reach such an extreme level of unthinkable evil and destruction as to efface every vestige of humanity with the horrible fires of the crematoria, which destroyed millions of Jewish lives. They kept alive the illusion that they were going to the East But as the tragic reality proved the transport of the unfortunate victims, among others, reached the highest level of destruction in the devouring flames of the crematoria in Belzec.
When we remember our dearest beloved, my dear mother, my sister Sarah, my brother Josef, my aunt Selda and her daughter Simaleh and other members of the family killed by the Germans, our hearts burst with an outcry of rage and imprecation towards the cruel demon: Accursed be the Germans and the entire nation without exception, execrated forever for the shedding of innocent Jewish blood
My sister Etka Riesel, her husband Chaim Alster and their child Israel shared the same fate as all the other Kadoshim. Perpetuating the sacred memory of these Kadoshim is imperative.
May Their Souls Be Bound Up in the Bonds Of Eternal Life. Amen.
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by Chaim Bank
Reb David Rozner
In the Jewish faith a legend exists that the continuation of the universe lies in the power of LA-MED VAV, the Thirty-Six Righteous Men. I still remember the time spent in the Cheyder where we young boys would probe into the actual meaning of La-med Vav. Our imagination would rise to some sort of exaltation as each of us invented in his own resemblance his particular La-med Vav. In a similar way we would also explore the shape of the Messiah. The imagination of a child focuses intensely on achieving his objectives, namely a concrete shape of the La-med Vav.
Now I am going to describe my own and real La-med Vav who I discovered several years later. I will make my story as short as possible:
This aforementioned person did not have a long beard or earlocks, neither did he wear the traditional Hassidic clothing, but he possessed the tenderness of heart of Jewish consciousness and a love for the Jewish people as a whole.
This La-med Vav came from a small town, Zmigrod near Jaslo which was located in Galicia, Poland, and was one of a family of eleven. This man David Rosner came to Brzozow after the First World War. At first he managed real estate, particularly the property of wealthy people such as the mansions located in the village of Humniska near Brzozow.
He and his wife had to work very hard in order to bring up their seven children (five girls and two boys). Four of the children received a higher education. When David Rosner did not succeed in the management of real estate, he engaged in the lumber business, again without success. At this particular time, the head of the Jewish community in Brzozow and also the mayoral assistant was the prominent and gifted lawyer, Dr. Samuel Selenfreund. He was able to obtain for David Rosner a position as cashier in the office of the municipality.
And here I would like to emphasize the importance of my discovery that this Jewish man was a truly righteous man. As a cashier at the municipal council, the municipal assets were at this disposal. This gave him a chance to help out the Jewish small businessmen by lending them some money. This borrowed money had to be repaid by the end of the week when the accounts were balanced. The result was that sometimes the money was not returned on time, due to the very difficult financial situation of the Jewish people in Brzozow.
Disappointed, David Rosner turned confidentially to some affluent Jewish businessmen and borrowed from them the money needed to cover the unpaid debt. This was not a single noble act, because every week the situation was repeated. It is worthwhile to emphasize that his kindness and readiness to help others endangered his position and source of income. This routine continued until the time when David Rosner, together with the other Jewish inhabitants, was murdered by the German criminals.
The gentle Jewish spirit of that noble man David Rosner was exalted by his love for his Jewish brothers. Also important to note is the fact that his family was not informed of his noble achievements. Only a few treasured friends had the privilege and honor of keeping his secret.
And now I think, we have the right to say that David Rosner belongs among the Thirty-Six Righteous Men. Let his sacred memory be an example of the love for his fellow Jews and the fulfillment of Azov Taazov. To help in any way and without limitation.
May is soul be remembered in heaven.
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Reb. David Lampin
Reb. David Lampin or Reb. David Shochet (the red shochet-due to his flaming red beard) as he was called in our shtetl, was our neighbour and lived behind the house of Reb. Ben Zion Laufer, the place called the little Jasienica. This neighborhood consisted of several small wooden houses densely populated. During all the seasons, Reb. David wore boots. Only for the High Holidays (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) would he put on slippers. He was well-known as an excellent Baal Tefilah and was a permanent cantor at the Beyt Hamidrash. He possessed a wonderful baritone voice and his prayers had an unforgettable effect on all the listeners.
The Ryshin Chasidim started their Slichoth after Chatzoth (midnight). However, in the Beyt Hamidrash they started at approximately four a.m. and the members depended on the Shames (caretaker) of the synagogue to awaken them. He performed his duties by knocking on the doors of all the Baal Habathim and exclaiming at each doorsill, Yiden steht off zu Slichoth (Jews wake up for Slichoth). By that time the Beyt Hamidrash was already full of worshippers and Reb. David Shochet started with his supplicatory voice the Slichoth-Tefiloth. His prayer Haneshamah lach wehaguf Shelach (The soul is yours and the body is yours) evoked within the worshippers a great ecstasy and a need for repentance. You could not forget his prayers Hineni Heani Memaas (Behold in deep Humility I stand and Plead before Thee, God on high), the Netaneh Tokefh (We will observe the mighty holiness of his day) and the Ya-aleh Tachanuneinu (O may our supplications rise at nightfall). At each part of the prayers Reb. David adopted the proper melody and one's soul was pervaded by a warm feeling not only from his songs but also from the unshakable purity of his verbal performance. His Peyrush-Hamilim (Interpretation of words) blended with the melody and gave rise to high exaltation among the worshippers. Even those who did not understand the words became excited to the point of tears.
As a youngster, I still remember the pleasure of listening to his repetitions which he used to chant during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. A great feeling of exaltation arose within the worshippers when they had Reb. David Shochet for their Shaliach Tzibur (cantor). When the Polish National celebrations came up, as on the 3rd of May or the 11th of November, representatives from the Polish authorities came to the Synagogue. Reb. David Shochet stood by the Aron (Ark), dressed in the Talith (Prayer Shawl) and with his strong baritone voice sang Mah Tovu Ohalechah Yaakov (How good are your tents Yaakov). Even the Gentile listeners expressed their inspiration and paid tribute to his performance.
Experts would express their opinions concerning Reb. David saying that it was a pity that a person with the treasure and talent as the voice of Reb. David did not have the opportunity of higher education. However due to Reb. David's religious convictions, such a thing was out of the question.
There is an interesting episode illustrating his simplicity. His oldest son Pesach suffered from a long illness and at the doctor's advice was sent to Switzerland for a cure. On the way to Switzerland he stopped in Vienna, the capital of Austria. His parents had not received any information from their son for a long time, and therefore they decided to write a letter to me of the previous Brezover inhabitants, Josef Teig, a watchmaker residing in Vienna. Unfortunately Reb. David did not remember the family's name and he sent the letter to the following address: Mister Josef, the Watchmaker in Vienna. How amazed the shtetl was when in two weeks a reply came from Josef Teig, the watchmaker. Apparently the entire post office in Vienna was occupied with this letter, until they found out that in a certain district there existed a Jewish community with a watchmaker whose first name was Josef. These lines are written with the intention of underscoring the importance of the behavior of the post office officials in Austria before the Nazi plague.
The second son, Chaim Berish, followed in the footsteps of his father and became a Shochet.
Both father and son and the entire family perished in the extermination of the Jews from Brzozow.
Blessed be their memory.
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Haya Gittel Roth and Her Family
Haya Gittel Roth formerly named Rubinfeld was born in 1866. She was the sister of Reb Ya'acov Rubinfeld, called Yantsche Shiales in the shtetl. Her husband was Reb Berl Roth, God rest his soul, from Birtsch.
Widowed at the age of 39 she was left with seven children. After the First World War, Haya Gittel opened a large textile store which she managed with the help of her children. The store prospered and became one of the largest in town.
Haya Gittel was renowned for her many qualities. She was generous to the poor and her charity was given in secret. She also supported the more modest merchants who were in need of loans, giving them money to put them on their feet. It often happened that the borrowers were unable to return the loan but she never pressured them, showed understanding of the situation and waited till times improved and they could pay their debts.
Her oldest daughter, Shprintze, married Reb Avraham Ya'acov Shnitzler, son of the Ostrick shochet. They were both killed in Brzozow and are buried with the other martyrs in the mass grave in the forest.
Berl, her son, was taken with a group of young men of our town from Cracow to Auschwitz, and was the group's first victim: directly upon arrival he was taken aside during the selection conducted by the notorious Dr. Mengele.
Of the Shnitzler family only three daughters survived: Lily and Regina in Canada and Minna in America.
Avraham Ya'acov's brother Naftali Ha'im Shnitzler, God rest his soul, was among the founders of the Brzozow Committee in New York.
Haya Gittel's son, Yehoshua Roth with his family, may God avenge them, also lived in Brzozow, as did her son-in-law Nahum Freund, may God avenge him, a member of the well know Freund family of Pshisidnitza village. Both families were destroyed.
The young daughter, Sarah, was saved, hiding in a bunker in the Przemysl Ghetto.
Among the macabre deaths of the Jews at that fearful time that of Haya Gittel was among the strangest. Together with her daughter Ester and her two sons she went into hiding in the village of Ziminitza, near Brzozow. Discovered by the Germans, they fled through the fields. Haya Gittel suddenly disappeared among the tall ears of wheat and all her daughter Esther's efforts to find her were of no avail.
Esther and her two sons managed to get to the Przemysl Ghetto and reached the bunker in which her sister Sarah was hiding. She died when the Przemysl Ghetto was being liquidated but her two sons were saved and are now in Israel. Esther's husband, Pinchas Brander, may God avenge him, was murdered by the German assassins in the village of Zlotczov as soon as it was taken.
Reb. Wolf Ferstendig
Reb Wolf was the beadle of the Great Beis Hamidrash and his apartment was in the same building, close to that of Rabbi Y. Weber. Besides being a beadle Reb Wolf had many other Mloches (tasks) which brought him very few Broches (joys), and having ten children, he clearly had a hard time making a living and in no way belonged to the well-to-do class of the shtetl.
Reb Wolf was a Torah scholar and his name, Ferstendig means wise, fitted him well, for he was a Jew of great understanding. In spite of his economical straits he was always good-tempered, ever ready with a witty story or a joke. On the Sabbath Torah reading he would call out the names of those rising to the Torah, bless them with a mi sheberach, and endeavored to see to it that when it came to the ba'avur shenadar he himself would not be forgotten.
There was an incident in Rabbi Wolf's life which caused great agitation in the shtetl. One of his children, a five or six year old boy, was in need of a serious operation and had to be hospitalized for a long time. Reb Wolf could not afford such an operation or the great expenses incurred by it, nor was
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there a hospital in the shtetl. The child was transferred to one of the large cities which boasted a hospital for the poor. It was managed by Catholics and the nurses were nuns.
As the child stayed a long time at the hospital, the nuns appropriated him, refusing to return him to his parents. The congregation of the shtetl exerted its efforts, approached the Catholic institutions and even took legal measures to return the child. Besides the suffering caused the unhappy parents, all the Jews of the shtetl were distressed by the affair, for they were wary of such a serious confrontation with the all-powerful Catholic Church.
Dr. Seelenfreund, Head of the Community, manipulated all his connections and influences to help the troubled family, and after some time he succeeded in extricating the child from the nuns, returning him to his parents. As a Jewish child he was killed together with them all during the total massacre of the Jews of the shtetl.
Reb. Naftali Levi
Like most of the tradesmen in Brzozow, Reb Naftali the shoemaker was a man of learning and often passed before the Ark in the Linat Tzedek Synagogue.
From time to time he would read from the Torah, especially on Shabbat Minha at the Great Beit Hamidrash. In the First World War Reb Naftali became a prisoner of the Russians and was sent to a prisoners' camp near the Persian border. After the Bolshevik revolution he went to Persia, wandered through several countries and spent some time in Eretz Israel.
As a child in the Heder I was often taken to him to order a pair of shoes or winter boots and enjoyed his tales about his imprisonment and wanderings through many lands. I was particularly fascinated by his tales of Eretz Israel and the different fruits growing there. Of all his tales the most wonderful was, to me, the one about the livestock being fed on carobs. For us this fruit was a great delicacy bought just once a year for Tu Bishvat.
Reb Naftali was a wise and pleasant Jew and he lived very humbly, as did all the tradesmen in a small place like Brzozow. Times were changing and the shoe-making trade was hard hit by the shoe shops selling factory made goods. It was a hard struggle for Reb Naftali to eke out his living; for all that he was an excellent craftsman at his trade.
Reb Naftali and his wife, may God avenge them, were killed together with the whole Jewish population of the shtetl.
His son, Me'ir, died a few years before war broke out. His only daughter, Esther, was saved and is now in Israel.
Reb. Chaim Leib Diller
Among the experienced Jewish merchants in Brzozow the personality of Reb. Chaim Leib Diller was prominent. He was not actually born in Brzozow, but came from the shtetl of Bukowsko near Sanok. The town of Bukowsko was well-known in the Hassidic Jewish world as the cradle of the Hassidic movement because the rabbinical dynasty of the Shapiro family had its nest there. The father of Reb. Chaim Leib Diller was the Gabe of the synagogue, appointed by the old Rabbi of Bukowsko, and had belonged to one of the exalted Hassidim. Reb. Chaim Leib got married at the age of seventeen and his Basherte (predestined) bride was sixteen.
In most instances the greater part of Jewish trade had its start not in open stores but in so called stands where a variety of merchandise was displayed to attract the customer and enable him to select and purchase the necessary items. Reb. Chaim Leib was not an exception in this respect because he also started with a stand which later turned into a successful and prosperous business.
The majority of the houses at that time were
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wooden structures. After a big fire which took place in Brzozow, the Wald family built a one story brick house. Reb. Chaim Leib moved into one of the stores in the new building and took the entire stock with him. There he was capable of exercising his notions store. He was successful and became a well-known merchant in Brzozow.
His wife bore him three sons: Yankel (Yaakov), Israel Hersh (Henry) and Meyer. The year 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, was severely tragic and painful for Reb. Chaim Leib. He lost his wife and his son Yankel was mobilized as a soldier in the Austrian army. Left a widower with two young children, he remarried a Brezover woman from the Estreicher family and she bore him five children.
The vagaries of the war compelled many people to flee, with the result that their stores were plundered. When the war ended Reb. Chaim Leib was forced to start all over again. Once again he succeeded and found the energy to rebuild the business.
This did not last too long because in 1918, after Poland became an independent nation, the anti-Semitic wave generated by pogroms result the devastation of Jewish existence. The situation, led to tremendous poverty among the Jewish merchants and the Jewish population in general.
Reb Chaim Leib was no exception. Meanwhile new stores appeared in the notions line, and for a while Reb Chaim Leib managed to hold out. The great economical struggle of the thirties caused by the Polish anti-Semitic government's stance against the Jewish economy had a bad effect on their source of Parnasah. Reb Chaim Leib inadvertently had to follow the downfall of Jewish trade and commerce.
Uncertainty began to creep into his life accompanied by fear and a struggle for tomorrow's subsistence. The existing circumstances created the necessity of depending on Gmilath Khasodim (loans without interest); this practice enabled him to pay his debts on time. Nevertheless, Reb Chaim Leib did not lose his humor and he would sometimes, indulge in a joke, a nice story, even at his own expense.
His three sons left the town. The oldest, Yankel married a girl from Krakow and later established a linen factory and store in Lwow with the assistance of his younger brother Meyer. The middle son, Israel Hersh (Henry) got married to a Nowy-Targ woman and established a business in the Polish resort town of Zakopane.
I remember a humorous episode with Reb Chaim Leib: In the winter of 1937, I went through my experience of military reserve service in the Second Podhale Regiment of the Polish army, located in the town of Sanok. One Thursday night we had a night exercise and my unit was assigned the task of keeping guard of the Grabownica-Sanok road. Watching from our position, I noticed at daybreak an automobile driving from the direction of Brzozow. I stopped the vehicle and observed four or five Jews sitting inside, a little bit frightened. I asked them in Polish for their destination and received the reply, also in Polish, Do rabina do Bukowska na Shabas (To the Rabbi of Bukowsko for Sabbath). Apparently they did not recognize me as I overheard one of the passengers remark in Yiddish, Dus shwartze your hot im du ungetrogen, noch dus hot unz gefelt. (The black year brought him here, that was all we needed!) At that moment I burst into laughter and Reb Chaim Leib, one of the passengers, immediately recognized me and cried out, My fellow Jews, this is certainly our Chaim, the son of Masha, and turned to me with the following blessing: A gezind dir in dayne bindalech arin. (Much health should flow into your bones). And now we can continue our journey. I wished to them that they should receive from the Rabbi the blessing of heaven Y'eshuot and Nachamoth (Salvation and consolation) for the oppressed Jewish nation and a Mapalah (downfall) for all Soney Israel (enemies of the Jewish nation) together with the Y'mach S'hmoynik in Berlin (Erased should be his name).
Of the entire Diller family, only two escaped the inevitable death from the hands of the German murderers. The son, Henry and, quite miraculously, the granddaughter of Reb Chaim Leib, daughter of Yaakov Halina Diller-Gartenberg. Both of them reside now in New York.
Reb Chaim Leib with the other members of his family shared the fate of all Jews from Brzozow. May the Almighty remember them and bring to judgment those who shed the innocent blood of His servants.
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Yehoshua Schweber was still just a boy and I a grown man when I met him in Brzozow, but it was in Przemysl, where he was staying with his mother and brother Leibish, that bitter fate brought us together.
During his stay in the ghetto Yehoshua maintained contact with his sister and two brothers in Switzerland, assisted by the mediation of a gentile friend. The contact was kept up to the moment when the situation in the ghetto had so deteriorated that all connection with the family was severed. By then the assassins bore down on the miserable ghetto dwellers with ever-increasing pressure. Yehoshua's mother and brother were sent to die in the first action and the modest, sensitive boy, unable to fend for himself, was left helpless and abandoned. He didn't have a chance.
Yehoshua regarded me as an elder brother and I did my best to help him as far as the terrible circumstances of the time permitted.
It was his job to deliver food to the Jewish prisoners in return for a quarter loaf of bread and a bowl of soup. In spite of the inhuman conditions prevailing in the ghetto at the time he would sit in his small room, reading and studying, his thirst for knowledge unabated.
The tragic termination of the Przemysl ghetto marked the end of Yehoshua's young and promising life. May these few lines serve as a modest tribute to his memory.
Reb. Ya'acob (Yankeleh Reich)
Of all our neighbours Reb Yankeleh Reich was closest to us, living in the same house. He was a neighbour in a double sense, for his shop adjoined his apartment.
Relations were friendly between our two families and for us Reb Yankeleh was what is meant in the saying Better a friendly neighbour
Reb Ya'akov Reich was the son of one of our important and highly respected house owners, Reb Kalman Wolf Reich, but was respected by the townspeople for his own virtues. He was known for his perspicacity and considered one of the shtetls foremost scholars. In Hassidut he followed his father and was an enthusiastic follower of the Sadigura Rabbi. Like his father, he earned his living in the trade of iron products.
While our house was already permeated with Zionism, Reb Ya'akov was a devoted and active member of Agudat Israel, and this led to many a friendly discussion about Zionism, the coming Jewish State and all its ensuing problems. In spite of our differences Reb Ya'akov listened to our arguments with patience and tolerance while we, for our part, treated him with deep respect.
Reb Ya'akov's wife Lehche, may God avenge her, was a model, devoted Jewish woman. Quietly and unassumingly she carried out her household duties, taking care of both home and shop, as was the custom at the time. Above all she saw to it that her children would be brought up according to the ideas of her beloved husband, Reb Ya'akov.
When the German gangs entered Brzozow, Reb Ya'akov fled to Russia with his son Itzeleh, where both perished.
Lehche and their daughter, Esther, are buried in the communal grave in the Brzozow forest. May God avenge their spilt blood.
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by Aryeh Reich
I am one of the few in our village and my own family to survive the suffering in the Camps, prepared by the Nazi assassins with all that notorious German Efficiency to the end of achieving their satanic final solution, i.e., the obliteration of all traces of Jewish being from the face of the earth. There was no lack of enthusiastic collaborators in the countries the German occupied, aiding and abetting them in their foul crimes so that when things were at their worst all outlets of escape to the free world were hermetically closed to us.
It was the fear of being the next in line to fall before the genocidal killer, the cruel oppressor in his march towards the victory of the thousand year Reich, which forced the Allies to draw on all their economical and spiritual resources. Only by exerting themselves to an enormous effort and after a long drawn-out and bloody war did they finally manage to destroy the vile beast.
For our people the victory came woefully late. Only a handful survived the inferno, among them Shmu'el my brother and myself.
When I think of all the dear ones lost I cannot but ask myself: Why was I privileged to survive?
After experiencing hell itself I lived to see the realization of the Jews age-old dream which had sustained them in their long exile, the dream of the return to Zion.
My father Yankeleh, God rest his soul, expressed his longing for Zion thus: May it be granted to me to be a shepherd in the fields of Erez Israel!
After the German invasion his Via Dolorosa led him across the San River and together with my brother, Itzhak, God rest his soul, to the Soviet side. During the crossing he was arrested by the Russian Police. At first he was imprisoned in the Brigitki jail in Lwow and later taken to the Russian camps in distant Asia.
Seeing his son Itzhak at death's door, dying of hunger and weakness, and realizing his helplessness to save him, he, too, broke down and returned his blameless soul to his Creator in the justice of whose deeds he never doubted for a single moment.
Together with his son, he was buried according to Jewish ritual in distant Bukhara on the same day.
My mother Leah and my sister Esther, may God avenge them, were murdered, together with all the Jews of the Shtetl, by the German beasts.
May their memory be blessed.
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by Moshe Schweber, New York
(In memory of my dear teacher and mentor, Professor
Fridel Korn who was murdered by the Nazis)
Each time the name of Prof. Korn is mentioned, I see before me his staunch, thin countenance and stern eyes, and I remember our long last journey together in September 1936, a short time before I left on my way to France, to register for studies at the University.
I had completed my matriculation exams a few months previously. At that stage I was still under the impression that in a relationship with a teacher, courtesy was not sufficient, and I had a hidden fear that everything I said to him would affect the quality of the grades in my report. Prof. Korn apparently guessed my reservations and said the following to me, in words that are engraved n my memory to this day, even though more than forty years have passed since then. The time has already passed when you had to get home by nine o'clock in the evening. (Students were not permitted in the streets after 9 pm.) That being so, we're equals, both adults and independent, and you don't have to fear that our conversations will influence your grades at the end of the school year. You have the right to speak about anything and anybody.
That sentence broke the ice between us. From that time onwards, I no longer saw him as the strict teacher demonstrating mathematical problems in front of me he became a friend and guide. After my journey to France we corresponded by letter until the outbreak of the war.
How can one describe Prof. Korn the man, from the viewpoint of the student the Jewish student in the gymnasium of a small town where 90% of the students, and almost 100% of the teachers were actively anti-Jewish.
At first we saw him only as a teacher of mathematics a dry, cold, serious subject. In this subject, if a student perceives the logic of an idea, that's to the good. If he doesn't, there are no sentiments. Thus we perceived Prof. Korn. In the higher classes, where we came into contact with him in the context of lessons on Jewish history and religion, there surfaced the second and true face of this man. He was a proud Jew, with a warm Jewish heart, full of Jewish feelings, knowledgeable and involved in the community life of our town. He would help impoverished
|Prof. F. Korn|
students to pay the high school fees, either in part, or in full. To our distress, he himself suffered many problems from his friends at work, and especially from the anti-semitic principal Marozovsky.
In letters that I received from him in France during the years 1937-39, he repeatedly mourned the anti-semitic agitation being carried on at the gymnasium, some of which was specifically aimed at him personally. It is intolerable I despise teaching among enemies thus he expressed himself.
They libeled him, saying that he had insulted the Catholic religion. Anyone who has lived in Poland can understand the gravity of this accusation. Many tried and worked in high places to neutralize this slander. During a certain period he even considered the possibility of emigration from Poland as he told me in one of his letters.
[Page 184 - English]
Events however developed extremely quickly. War broke out in September 1939, and to our dismay the whole plan fell through. Trouble began for all the Jews, and Prof. Korn and his family were also swept up in the confusion. They fled from Brzozow to Przemysl, next to Lwow, and there they were killed in the most tragic manner.
Honored be his memory.
by Avraham Levite
In the memorial book for the town, one should not pass lightly over one of the most wonderful people there Professor Korn. (It should be pointed out that in several of the central European countries, such as Poland, Austria and Rumania, pupils at the Gymnasia were called Students, and the Gymnasia teachers were referred to by the term Professor after the French for teacher, and even mothers who called at the Grammar School to inquire about their children's' grades, always addressed the teacher as Pan Professor.
The only Jewish teacher at the state Gymnasium was regarded as a thorn in the sides of the many anti-semites in the town. His fellow teachers often made his life bitter, and his Polish students, not particularly distinguished in their studies, in their hatred of the Jewish people were most capable and prolific, trying to trip him up and fault him at every possible opportunity. The parents of the town were greatly concerned that their children receive a patriotic education, once presented a petition to the school board, protesting that a Jew should be allowed to teach in a Polish school and poison the children's pure souls.
We will tell of Professor Korn as we knew him. A warm Jew, with a heart of gold, an observant Jew who strictly kept the commandments and a great Ohev Israel, in the traditional meaning of the word. A teacher of Mathematics who applied his teachings to his daily life; each second calculated and accounted for. Always rushing hither and thither in an effort to get everything done. Who hadn't seen him in his black suit, hurrying through the streets of the town with his eternal briefcase under his arm, winter and summer alike.
Dressed almost formally, as befitting someone in his position, but carelessly, with a kind of festive laxity, his pince-nez was perched on his nose attached to a thin chain which dangled down over his neck. He had a clipped little moustache. The wings of his coat rounded like a frock coat, and on his head was a hard black Derby hat his whole appearance reminding one slightly of Charlie Chaplin, but behind this façade hid the impressive character of a serious and honorable man.
As a civic servant he did not concern himself with world affairs. He was not active in high politics, but always concerned himself with the problems of the little man, always seeking to give relief to those in need. A Stadlan (intercessor) in the positive sense of the word. On countless occasions he would scurry from one hostile civic clerk to another in order to cancel a fine of a zloty or two that had been levied by a policeman or officer against some poor hawker.
For many years he administered the charity organizations of the community, a task he was dedicated to. He looked upon this work as sacred. He would personally bring the money to the needy ones' homes, and also went himself to collect the payments of debts. He never approached then as a claimant, but with downcast eyes would ask the debtor if he had anything to pay towards the debt, knowing that if the money was not returned to the cash box, he would not be able to help any more of the needy who would come to him for help. He would wear his legs out running to the far reaches of the town to collect a contribution from a person commemorating the anniversary of a death (Jahrzeit), and if he did not find you at home the first time he would return a second and a third time, even if the contribution was for the amount of half or one zloty!
The posters asking for contribution he would paste up himself on the walls of the prayer rooms, the meeting place of the Jews. Several days later he would return to the prayer rooms, and would take down the posters from the notice boards, carefully collecting the drawing pins for future use, so as not to waste the public's money.
If a memorial was to be set up to the Faithful Civic Worker it should be dedicated to Prof. Korn. But our town no longer exists, and this memorial can only be raised in that place of memorial in our hearts.
[Page 185 - English]
by Rischa Seelenfreund
A widow named Bibber lived in Brzozow between the two world wars. I didn't know her and have no idea how she made a living. All I know is that she needed help and that help was given her by my father, God rest his soul, who regarded himself as duty bound to assist widows.
The elder sister, Leah, completed her grade school studies but couldn't get a job, so my father decided to take her on as a secretary in his law office. This was made difficult by the fact that the young girl had no experience or knowledge of this profession. My mother, God rest her soul, offered to help the girl solve her problem. She spent many evenings with her, teaching her to type, to keep the office books, to file the documents correctly, to prepare father's papers before he went to court and so on. The girl was happy in her work. She was intelligent and did her job diligently and with devotion.
Leah worked in Father's office for many years. Before leaving the shtetl in order to join her family in France she brought her younger sister, Sarah, to replace her, and spent several months training her in all; the aspects of office and secretarial work. Sarah was my own age and I remember her much better than her sister. She worked for my father till the war broke out, when my parents left Brzozow for Eastern Poland.
She was honest, diligent and a thorough and conscientious worker. With the experience gained after many years' work she learnt to do other, important jobs and became highly proficient. Father saw to it that she got the jobs of typing various documents for the court. Due to the diligence of the sisters the Bibber family emerged from their demoralizing poverty and the girls achieved independence.
Leah, who was married in France, was probably killed there by the Nazis. Sarah remained in Brzozow. During the war she served as secretary to the Judenrat, helping people as much as she could. She died in the mass murder of the Brzozow Jews.
The sisters lived on in my memory hard-working, honest and modest, exemplifying the traditional excellence of the daughters of Israel.
May God avenge them.
(Translated by Herzlia Dobkin)
by Haim Bank
When people came to Reb Itshe Fenster on an ordinary weekday they had the opportunity of observing hard-working Jew caught in the drudgery of working day and night in order to make Parnasah of his family of six in such a small town as Brzozow. In the shtetl the Christian competition was quite visible as they used anti-Semitic practices against the Jews.
However, when such a Jewish baal-melachah (craftsman) as Reb Itshe Fenster appeared on Friday evening at the Beit Hamidrash for Kabalath Shabbat a different man was revealed. You saw a good-looking Hassidic Jew with traditional Hassidic clothing, dressed in a black silk coat Chalath, bound with a Gartel (silk belt worn during prayers) with a wide, fur-edged hat a Straimel, on his head. His dark brown beard was nicely combed and so he stood by the Aron Kodesh (Ark) saying the Sabbath prayer Lechoh Nerannenah. Seeing the dignified face of this Jewish craftsman standing in the synagogue performing his Sabbath prayers, you had the impression that this ordinary hard-working man was transformed into a mystical Hassidic Rabbi preparing to conduct the tisch (table) right after the prayers (a feast conducted by the Rabbi in his house with his followers). The food served was first tasted by the Rabbi and then the Sheraim (remaining food) was shared among his Hassidic followers. Tasting the Sheraim was of great importance as it signified a blessing of redemption as well as reflecting a good life. It seems to me that this phenomenal type of Jewish craftsman has unfortunately disappeared.
[Page 186 - English]
Reb Yossele Weber was the shtetl's last Rabbi and with him the tragic chapter of Brzozow's Jews came to an end.
His father, Reb Hai'im Weber, God rest his soul, the Beis-Medresh Rabbi, was a naïve Jew, detached from the mundane affairs of everyday life and always busy with heavenly matters, so that he had little time left for his earthly needs.
At the end of the 20's Reb Ha'im left the shtetl which had not treated him too kindly, and went to Eretz Israel where he died.
After he had gone his son, Yossele, arrived in Brzozow from the shtetl of Boyberik, to take his place. Reb Yossele was an honest, God-fearing man, a learned scholar who studied the Torah day and night, earning the respect of everybody in the shtetl. He collected a group of youth who wished to learn Torah and gave them a daily lesson in Talmud and Exegetes in the Beis-Hadedresh.
After the outbreak of war the majority of the shtetl's youth escaped from the German oppressors, crossing the San River to the Russian side. The Rabbi, Reb Shimon Gabel, long and happily may he live, amen, was among them and is now in Israel.
Reb Yossele remained the only Rabbi in town, living through all the suffering and the tortures with the whole congregation right up to the bitter end.
The Jews were so deeply sunk in misery that it is hard to know just how much need they had of a Rabbi's services in those fearsome years. Indeed it is doubtful whether the Rabbis, who were the first victims of the worst atrocities perpetrated by the accursed sadists, and had been brought as low as human beings could be, were capable of finding solutions for the endless calamites then raining down upon the Jews who were mostly in hiding in the strangest places, far from the eyes of the sun. It was each man for himself in dealing with problems of faith and the torments of doubt
The Judenrat, nominated by the Nazis in place of the representatives of the Jewish congregation, could not provide the salaries to be paid to the Rabbis and other Klei Kodesh. Theirs was the much more important task of stuffing the over-gorged murderers, refilling their bellies and pockets each day anew.
Reb Yossele and his family were starving, kept barely alive by the kindly souls who, from time to time, gave them some provisions to keep them from dying.
|Reb Yossele Weber (center), his sons and several
other Jews photographed by the murders before the execution
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