by Juda Londner and Kalman Barkai
Translated by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal
Friends of Dąbrowa Górnicza and the whole world, Shalom!
20 years have already passed since the Jews of Dąbrowa Górnicza, holy martyrs, were murdered by the Nazis, may their names be blotted out. 20 years since the hearts of our dear ones stopped beating. Their voices are silenced forever, and we, unfortunately, have not yet memorialized their struggles, aspirations, and dreams in a book.
Day in, day out, through ceaseless striving to live, they shaped their characters on the town and on its jet-black future. Their spirits encircle Dąbrowa like a light, blooming, garland of flowers.
Businessmen, artisans, workers, teachers, Rabbis, yeshivas, Talmud Torahs, political parties, youth movements every stream that was in Polish Jewry, was found in our town.
Jews of every type were joined together like links in a golden chain: dreamers; those who fought to refashion the Jewish people; simple, honest Jews, who, with their lifestyles, served as examples to others; Jews who lived with faith in eternity, who renounced this world, fasting day after day in order to atone for the sins of their generation; Jews who labored a whole week to earn a living so that they could attain the peace and rest of Shabes, in accordance with Jewish law.
The Zionist youth movements of all streams were especially distinguished for their slogans and understanding that they had to realize their goals themselves. The young Zionists often argued bitterly with their parents, who did not understand their ideals and aims, regarding them instead as destroyers of Jewish tradition.
Anti-Semitic Poland played a large role in the life of our town. The Jews were harassed and plagued in their struggle to survive economically. This is a heroic chapter in the history of a person's life, the battle for existence.
Can we forget all this? Can we erase from our memory the town in which we were born, lived, and struggled? Will we sink so far in our present existence as to forget our mothers who provided a warm home for us, thus making it possible to withstand the difficult hours of wandering on roads until we reached our goal?
What will we answer tomorrow when someone will ask, where is your town, brothers? For what did you live and struggle? What will we answer?
Consequently, friends, time's bitter rush demands that we strenuously exert ourselves to embody all these memories, goals, and dreams of the Jews of our town in a book.
The Dąbrowa Yiddish Committee, at a meeting that took place 9.12.1965 at the home of Reb Chanoch Gerszon Szpilberg, authorized the friends named below to devote themselves to organizing the materials for this book, dedicated to the Jews of Dąbrowa.
We plead with you, brothers of our town throughout the world! Help us publish this book. Send us memories, historical overviews, excerpts from newspapers, and photos that can illuminate the struggles, aspirations, and dreams of the Jews in our town.
Write clearly and in detail, in every language that is convenient for you, and help build a living monument to the town in which we were born and lived and were so tragically annihilated. Send materials to the addresses below.
Wishing a successful outcome, respectfully yours,
Reb Gerszon Szpilberg
Tsvi Simchoni Frajlich
Iser Lavy (Lamkowicz)
Kalman Barkai (Swicerczyk)
Juda Londner, Givatayim, Berditzevsky 3
Kalman Barkai, Givatayim, Ofek 22
by Kalman Barkai (Swicerczyk)
Translated by Avi (Abraham) Stavsky
It was in 1943 during the Second World War. Three people from my home town approached me: Rabbi Chanoch Gerszon Szpilberg, zl; Alter Pomocnik, long may he live, and his friend, Ben-David, with the idea of establishing an organization (i.e. a Landsmanschaft in the vernacular), which would deal with assisting those from our city in the manner of other cities in Eretz Israel and abroad.
Alter Pomocnik began with these words: according to news received here, many survivors of the Nazi holocaust are alive in Russia, among whom are people from our town. Their situation is hard and there's a need to start an organization to assist them by sending food and clothing. We have come to you, as you're one of the most senior of us in the country, and as a party and Haganah member, you have connections with people who can help us, and finally, you know everyone from our town who's living in the country. Furthermore, you doubtless also [might] know other people who could be of help.
I thought this matter over and answered them. As you know, I am a family man, a night worker, who also augments twice a week in the evenings and half a day on Shabbat. Apart from this, I am subject to any call from the Haganah. Nonetheless, I could not and would not free myself from a responsibility to assist from working on behalf of people from our town. I well remember when arriving in the country, when I lived in immigrant housing, the people from our town who offered me assistance, despite the hard economic times we were then enduring. I will [certainly] share in the responsibility of this proposal.
After a few days, I received assistance from the following, due to request by the Organization: Efraim Lenczner; Mosze Siwek; and Juda Lenczner, zl. We gathered together at the residence of comrade Pomocnik, and decided to operate as a temporary committee, [and] to prepare for others from our town who would join the Organization.
In the meanwhile, letters from other of our townsmen arrived from Russia, delivered via the Red Cross, with calls for help. Our first activity was shipments of food and clothing. The package was organized by contributions from our committee [members], each according to his means.
In connection with this first shipment, I remember we had a problem: it was forbidden [by regulations] to send packages of new clothing abroad. When this problem came up during a meeting of the committee, Rabbi Chanoch Gerszon, zl, arose there was no wisdom like that of someone experienced and there were such people in the world [and said] we should wear the clothing a few times ourselves, and thus would then be able to ship them as not being new. We did as he said, and thus solved this problem.
I recall another detail. We also sent among other articles, garlic, upon special request [of the recipients]. We later received letters of thanks, as the garlic apparently served the people as medication for dental problems.
During my preparations for the meeting, I collected the names and address of all Dąbrowa people then living in the country. We agreed that the best time for us to assemble would be during the intermediate days of Sukkot. We thus came to the subject of financing. We endeavored for maximum savings. Paper and writing materials I was able to procure without cost. For the purpose of writing invitations, I used my own secretary, my wife Riwka. She fortunately was also from Dąbrowa, and thus gave willingly to our efforts. A place for assembly was secured by our member Ben-David, in the hall of Hapoel Hamizrachi on Achad Ha'am Street 108, in Tel Aviv, without cost. Thus remained to us only the cost of postage for sending the invitations and other small expenses.
We solved another problem with originality. Each of the committee members donated half a [Palestine] pound, and received in exchange shares in the foundation of the Organization, giving him first options for further donations and dividends in the form of G-D paying his reward.
The first meeting was held as planned, during the intermediate days of Sukkot,
and was accomplished with great success. People from our town came from all
over the country, the old, the young and people with families. In the meantime,
two sisters [named] Oks arrived in the country. The feeling was tremendous, as
it was the first time, after many years, to get together with family, friends
and acquaintances, and to tell each other what happened with us, with our
families and all that happened to us in the land. It was an opportunity to
exchange information about family members and those dear to us and talk about
things of the past. Yet our joy was subdued, because we already knew about the
Shoah, even though we did not yet know the full extent of the tragedy.
|Memorial service of the Dąbrowa Górnicza émigrés|
The elected committee continued to ship food and clothing parcels to survivors from our city, and at the end of the war, sent a large food package to Dąbrowa, to which had returned some remnants from the death camps. We requested that they send lists of such survivors, and indeed, an official survivor list came to us. We immediately disseminated this to their families then living in the country.
When the survivors began arriving in the country, there existed for them an address to which to turn for aid in their affairs in the land. The committee also dealt with all kinds of problems the new immigrants had, endeavoring to find them [suitable] work and places to live.
From then on, we'd meet periodically, to keep solidarity with the holy ones of our town. A few years ago, we agreed to erect a monument in the memory of the Dąbrowa kehila. In the Basement of the Holocaust on Mt. Zion, it was erected in the presence of our townspeople living in Israel and those who came especially from abroad for this occasion.
Most of our assemblies occurred as a result of our [planned] meetings. We received donations from members of our community living abroad, each contributing according to his heart's wishes. I remember that the first foreign contribution came from the United States, from a son of our town, Knobel, who once lived in Reden, [he] of blessed memory.
The fund served a dual purpose: for the benefit of assisting those of our town who were in need; and to extend interest-free loans to any Organization member who provided for new immigrants. I should stress that all loans were repaid in full.
Apart from financial assistance, our purpose was to aid our townspeople in
their pains. We dealt with various problems, here being some examples: there
was an attempt to fire a member from his job, but after our intervention, he
was allowed to continue in his work. For another member whose job was in Tel
Aviv but who lived a considerable distance, we were able to secure an apartment
in the Shikun Ha-amami [neighborhood] in Tel Aviv. In yet another situation, a
judgment was issued to a member to vacate his apartment, but thanks to our
intervention, the order was rescinded and the member remained in his home.
Someone else's problem: an edict was issued to remove an unlicensed balcony, but the problem was rectified after we handled [the situation].
Once we heard that a member was eligible to receive a sum of money, but was embarrassed to accept aid. We approached him and convinced him to accept the sum for his own benefit.
As stated, these were but a few incidents which remained in my memory of the many that occurred through the committee's efforts to help the children of our town.
We are presently engaged in producing a Memorial Book in memory of our town, one in which will also be recognized the contributions of our organization. The idea for such a volume came up as a result during meetings of our organization. Many members dreamed of such a book for years [already]. However time had passed but this project never achieved fruition. Part of the reason was the fear that funding could not be obtained for this [expensive] undertaking. Fortunately though, among the dreamers was one most fanatical in his desire, Juda Londner, who did not despair of this effort and gave us no rest in the quest for such a book. The meeting took place at the home of Rabbi Chanoch Gerszon Szpilberg, zl, and though everyone who came expressed the need for this work, some doubted the feasibility. In the end, when the decision came down [to publish the book], everyone pledged to support and see the venture successful.
The book committee was formed and began to work vigorously, and indeed the work was considerable. It is difficult to write about all aspects of this project, but I will mention here two of the more important considerations: the first being gathering the material for publication, while the second was the weight of the three things upon which the world stood i.e. the money.
First we issued a call to the children of our town, composed by our member Juda Londner, in Hebrew and Yiddish, wherein we expressed our decision to publish this book. We asked our members to submit material and photographs from the city's history, our community and its social and political activities. The beginning was difficult, as are most beginnings, but with the passage of time, with our urging and solicitation, much material began to arrive to us: articles, remembrances, and books, and these exceeded our expectations. Apart from this, the committee visited members homes and were able to write down all that was known about our community, but who for one reason or another, were unable to send us this information personally. The material we received needed to be studied, and to be sorted and translated, from Yiddish, Polish and English, into Hebrew, to organize it and get it ready for publication. Here I want to [again] specifically mention Rabbi Chanoch Gerszon, zl, who was the single inexhaustible source of information and memories of the Dąbrowa [Jewish] community. He supported and dealt with public affairs for many years, and was thus a treasure on our behalf. To our great misfortune, he was unable to assist us for very long, as his life's service was cut down in the middle [i.e. due to his death].
In the area of finance, we enlisted members who visited all who came from our community, according to lists planned ahead. And here I should hasten to add that all were warmly received, and all approached gave generously, and there were even those that gave more than we expected they would. Also from Dąbrowa people living in the Diaspora, we received donations, each according to his heart's desire.
Among our ideas for raising money, we came up with a plan for a Purim party. The more senior people complained that we should not waste public funds on this; they were fearful of failure, i.e. that we'd lose money [in this enterprise] instead of making it. But others, on the contrary, expressed support of the idea for a party, especially the younger members and said they'd shoulder the burden of financial loss themselves, i.e. they'd cover the cost out of their own pockets. So it was decided to hold the celebration. The young people gave vigorously of their efforts, and thus the party was held at the Dalia Hall and was a great success, both to those participating and to the box office, which won a sizeable profit.
Today we are on the cusp of completion, and despite our long and difficult trail, we can see the top of the mountain ahead. We hope and pray we can finish the mitzvah which we began and see the publication of this memorial candle to our holy community.
Finally, I want to devote a few lines to the personality of our beloved friend,
the late Rabbi Chanoch Gerszon Szpilberg, about all that was written about what
he did. His ways of generosity and piety were known to all, but there's nothing
like hearing evidence of what he did. I had the privilege of working together
with him in our organization and to closely examine his many wonderful deeds
and exemplary works. He was a lover of Israel with his entire heart and soul.
He would invite all into his home with a smiling face and a good eye, and although he was an orthodox Jew, did not examine the anyone's religiosity. He was always ready to gird his loins and walk distances to collect money to help anyone, especially those from his [native] city. He did this without regard to his personal health or his time. He worked many years as the treasurer of the organization, and during many occasions, when money was needed but our finances were low, he'd assist by utilizing sums from his own private pocket. The monies of the organization were sacred [to him] and he would shun even from changing banknotes with organizational funds, stating this is not my own money. I learned many lessons [of life] from him.
Once I came to him disgruntled, saying that despite my dedicated work for our towns people, I stumbled on a case of imposed favor[itism] which was insulting. He lifted his head and said to me, dear chaver, I've worked with the public for a long time, and more than once I received evil in exchange for good, but do I learn from this that if someone transgresses, do I cease doing mitzvot? Continue with your noble work and be happy you have a clear conscience.
With the demise of our member, Rabbi Chanoch Gerszon Szpilberg, the radiance
and glory of our organization, a chassid is missing from the land.
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