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[Page 310]


Dąbrowa without Jews

by Juda (Lajbcze) Parasol

Translated by Avi (Avraham) Stavsky


In the city of my birth, Dąbrowa Górnicza, I lived more than twenty years. Afterwards I was a certain time in Warsaw and Krakow and still later I lived in nearby Będzin, where I stayed until the beginning of the destruction. Understandably I frequently visited Dąbrowa where my father and family lived.

When I had been expelled to distant Siberia, along with my wife and child, I received a letter from my father, may G-D avenge his blood, (on June 15th, 1941), in which he had written: “My dear son, don't bewail your bitter fate. We greatly wish we could be together with you. In our town of Dąbrowa, the skies are obscured by black and grim clouds, and only G-D knows how this will finish.” And he ended his letter with: “…and mazal tov to you, dear son, your sister Fajgla had a baby girl…” I never saw [any of] them again, they perished in the fires of Auschwitz.

With mixed emotions do I endeavor now, after a fifteen year absence, to return to my birth city Dąbrowa. On the buses there are no Jews except me… [and] in my thoughts, I go back to when the buses were full of Jews!


dab310.jpg [25 KB] - Sobieskiego Street – without Jews
Sobieskiego Street – without Jews


We pass the town of Będzin and I search for Jews in their fashionable garb, who filled the city with their comings and goings to their [homes and] businesses. The old city market place in Będzin, once always full of stalls and people who would come from the surrounding communities, is now a park with flowers and benches to rest on. Gone forever are the Jews of the old market place.

Thus, with my travels through the streets of Będzin, passing the scenery I well remember of the “Koszlow” store, we come to Dąbrowa Górnicza.

I alight from the bus and my feet traverse familiar places. I scan the eyes of passers-by, looking for a familiar face. I get a sense of foreignness instead of everyone knowing me! A chill sweeps over every pore [in my body, for]. No one knows me and I don't know anyone.

It is spring now, four days before the loveliest holiday, Pesach., the holiday of freedom, the most joyful holiday, the most beautiful holiday of my youth. The approach of this holiday could be felt in all corners of the town, but most especially with the tailors and shoemakers. Every Jew would endeavor that his children would have something new for Pesach. One could smell the fresh matzoth that the city's Hasidim would arise early to bake, the special “shemura” matzoth. Now there is no remembrance of any of this, and moreover the weather is as cold and rainy as in the autumn, befitting to our memories. A dejection envelopes the soul when one comes into direct contact with the city of one's birth, where one spent the days of his youth. Very slowly a little sunshine filters into the street, but in the street where the Jews lived there was never too much happiness. There was never an excess of brightness in the days of our youth. Yet despite all, our remembrance of those times was brighter and happier.

We alighted from the bus on the main street of the city, ul. Sobieskiego. It appeared little changed with time. It was [still] covered in the black coal dust that descended from the giant smokestacks of the smelting operations, a characteristic of the town always.

We went by measures to Fabryczna Street. I attempted to peek with [now] tired eyes into every corner, every house; at everyone passing on the street; and [suddenly] I find myself standing next to Josef Siwek's house. Shadows pass in front of my eyes and disappear, and there is a strange silence about the place. The house has been rented, the windows painted with fresh paint, adorned with [window] blinds. It appears that the whole house is occupied, but when I attempt to engage some of the inhabitants in conversation, no one knows, no one remembers.


[Page 311]


No one cares anything about the former residents who built the house. No one pays me much interest. No one cares that a previous city inhabitant comes to visit, one who is familiar with everyplace and returned after a long absence. The street is still the same street – but nicer and cleaner. Missing are only my brother and sisters, who blessed me at every departure and hosted me in their house. There is no one with whom to reminisce and remember the good times we shared together in that house. This [after all] was the focal point of the young Jewish intelligentsia. On Shabbat afternoons, young people met in the garden and discussed all kinds of topics. To Jicchak Siwek came friends and acquaintances: Szlomo Wajnrajch, the Hebrew teacher, Symcha Nusbaum, a student at the former Bet Hamidrash; our “Talmid Chacham in a skirt” – thus was called our former Hebrew teacher, Mendl Nusbaum; and Chaim Grajcer. And who can remember all those who came just to socialize, friends of their son, Pinchas and their daughters? There were times when the youth would learn about working the land [i.e. soil] to prepare for aliyah. The Josef Siwek family was a respected one in Dąbrowa and one of the first to acquire a telephone. Josef was a man who liked jokes, and more than once did he use his phone for telling or playing jokes [and tricks] upon people. He was never short for something funny.

Submersed in my thoughts, I trudge along the streets of Dąbrowa today, coming to a section called “Gołonóg”, and there arises the new city. Where once stood the market, today is a cultural hall named for Ząbecki, but I do not meet a single Jew and feel myself losing my balance, my head spinning.

It was thus [that] I found myself on Żeromskiego Street, (once a Frenchman), near the large and beautiful house of Kopel Chrzanowski and Mosze Szmul Kupferberg. In this house I was taught by my melamed [teacher], Rabbi Szlomo Josef Manela, may he rest in peace. A Jew with a delicate soul, to whom boys would come to learn Gemara and the way of life. We'd come to him and watch his face as he taught us. Szlomo Josef was a fervent Jew but very honest. He would never speak to a woman directly. Even to his wife, Sara Leja he would speak to in the third person. His one exception was his daughter Ruchela, to whom he spoke directly and with great affection. She was a beautiful girl, with long blond hair. In this building existed for a long time the clubhouse of the Poalei Zion-Left. I also remember there were some shops here, including the one run by Fajwel Londner, the barber shop of Eliezer Krajcer, and someone who moved to another location and opened another barber shop managed by the “taller Londner.”

On Okrzei Street there had been many Jews shops. On the right side [of the street] in the direction of the synagogue, were some craftsmen's shops. There was the shoemaker Szmul Szremp (Grinberg), but few knew his real name. This nickname arose from his split lip that resulted from the first world war. His parents had 24 children, all tall and very strong, who dispersed in the world.

Approaching where the synagogue stood, on Szopen [Chopin] Street, the houses grew smaller, narrower, and older, and some of them partly destroyed. At the corner, not far from the synagogue, Majer the lame, would instruct the children in their first singing of the alef-bet. Some of the houses kept their appearance until now, and reminded me of houses from tales of long ago. They would have crooked roofs, broken chimneys, [and sometimes] a hole in the middle of the house leading down to a basement. Whole families lived in these places.

Now I am standing in front of my father's house, and tears of murdered blood wash the windows. The doors in front of me are locked and a cold, distant wind blows from them. The heart no longer wants to believe that here once lived Jews. I drag my feet along Okrzei Street, where once stood so many Jewish homes and businesses. Today there are few stores, yet so much still resembles what there once was.

I get to the last awful surprise. In the house of Dawid Josef Grinbaum lives his aged, ill and brokenly dejected sister. A pitiful remnant of close to 6,000 Dąbrowa Jews, it is hard to understand her. What does she have here? What keeps her here?

I reach the synagogue and photograph the area. To my sorrow, inside there is nothing to show it was once a synagogue. It's the only synagogue in the whole Zagłębie region which remains still on its foundations.

I continue walking around town for a long time, looking for at least a shadow of the past, and it is here I find a Jew, born in Dąbrowa, who continues living there. It is Josef Stawski, from Okrzei Street, who lives in his father's house. He works as a smelter in the former smelting plant. From him I learn that also his older brother, Lejb Zalman, is also in Dąbrowa, living on Cmentarna Street. He also works in Huta Bankowa [the smelting plant].


[Page 312]


One of the more interesting and characteristic figures of our town was Rabbi Ruwen Lichtcyjer (Glozerman), whose kingdom unfolded in the hall of the former beer factory [i.e. brewery], not far from the mikvah [ritual bath] of Rabbi Ziwa Luksenburg and wife, who lived to a ripe old age.

Ruwen Lichtcyjer, who was thus called from his candle-making profession. This interesting Jew strolled about the town of Dąbrowa as one of the 36 Righteous People (Lamed Waw tzadikim). Despite his beard and hair, he was a daily feature on Okrzei Street where all the butcher shops were congregated, seeking to buy oils and fats for his candles.

There was not another Jew as famous [as him] in Dąbrowa. He was a philanthropist and his home was open to any who sought bread, and every passerby was [a potential] guest. He had many children. In town it was said that his current wife was the third to bear him children. She had not only to do her household chores, but to cook a large amount daily to feed those who came by for food. Legends circulated about them in the city: Once he met a Jew in the on the road [who was] walking barefoot. He took off his own boots and gave them to the Jew, walking back to town barefoot himself. Another “hobby” he had was to seek out homeless waifs, of which there was not a shortage in the city. And when he lost his assets, he [still] did not stint on his charitable works, but proceeded to amass them anew throughout Zagłębie. He became a well-known “darshan” (public speaker) and on Shabbatot would appear at every place Jews congregated to pray: in the Bet Midrash and the “shtibelach” of the Hasidim, dressed in his silk caftan, his beard grey and wide. With the smile of a rabbi, he would raise his heavy hand and slam it down on the prayer stand between the Shacharit and Musaf services and begin to speak. All his sermons were instructive and explanatory, in order to exhort his listeners about the importance of tzedaka [charity].

There was in our town an affluent Jew who sold coal. His name was Chanoch Rechnic. It was not easy to induce him to give [money] to charity, but Rabbi Ruwen Lichtcyjer did not give up. Ruwen took a loan from him, to ostensibly engage in a lucrative investment, and promised him a 50% return on his investment. The time came and the money was not returned to the man, so the rabbi told Chanoch Rechnic that the money was given as a dowry to help two girls to marry, and that the profit from this loan would be granted Chanoch in the Next World…

*

Not far from the mikvah [ritual bath] lived Reb Chaim Shochet (Minc), a stout Jew with a lustrous face whose beard went down to his midsection. Because he wore outsize clothing proportionate to his bulk, he appeared even stouter and bulkier. He acted as rabbi for a Bet Midrash, pacing the synagogue with measured steps going to and fro [and] giving the impression of a sage who could fix the problems of his congregants. He also gave classes in Gemara and commentaries to boys in the Bet Midrash.

*

In Dąbrowa also was Herszele Mosropoli Moszele, who was known in the town as a “small canister”. He was very short, but this did not stop him from always joking and having a smile on his lips.

During one year there was only one etrog [citron; one of four species of plants used during the Jewish celebration of Sukkoth] to be found, and the shamash [beadle] went from house to house to give everyone the opportunity [for the mitzvah] to bless the etrog. He [Herszle] came to the rabbi and asked, “Can the rabbi not grant me an exemption for the mitzvah [a precept or commandment of the Jewish law] of the etrog?” When the rabbi appeared not to understand, he answered, “Rabbi, what is there not to understand? All year I am hungry, screaming and derisive…” [I.e., so why bother me with a blessing for an etrog?]

In the town they used to say that when Moszele was dying, he saw in his last moments the visage of Wawa Fajner standing at the door. He then motioned with a finger for Fajner to approach the bed and seized the opportunity to tell his last joke, telling Fajner in a weak voice: “…You should have [such a] desire to live like I have the desire to die…”

*

[The zest towards] life in Dąbrowa was stronger than towards death, and [yet] there are those already forgetting they who lived here under such cruel conditions.

I will not forget.


[Page 313]


Three incidents

by Josef Lenczner

Translated by Avi (Abraham) Stavsky


The beginning of 1948. A stormy time in Israel. I lived in South Tel Aviv, on Mizrachi B' Street. That neighborhood was under British curfew from 5 pm until 6 am.

One day rain pounded ceaselessly from the early morning hours on. I was late returning from work from my employment in Givat Rambam because of road problems. When I reached the Central [Bus] Station in Tel Aviv, the time was already 5 pm and in the intense rain, I rushed in the direction of my home, until I got to Salame Street. Here the flooded street was like a flowing river, and even though the time was now past 5 pm and the curfew was already in force on the other side of the street [i.e. Tel Aviv city line], I entered water up to my knees in order to cross over. Suddenly British soldiers appeared out of the darkness. They grabbed me crudely and began to search me for hidden weapons. When they could not find anything on my person, they stood me up against a wall. Fortunately [for me] they had brought another Jew who was guilty of the same infraction. He told me there were instances in the past when the British grabbed Jews and turned them over to the Arabs, where a bitter fate awaited them. I thought it best to do what he did. The British began to push us in the direction of Givat Herzl. The Jew with me jumped into the water and ran in the opposite direction. I quickly followed suit. The soldiers chased us and began hitting us with their rifle butts, but we kept running until we reached a Jewish police station at the corner of Salame and Aliyah Streets. Only then did the British stop beating us and turned us over to the Jewish police command.

That evening I could not return to my wife, who worried about my fate [in my absence]. I went to sleep at some friends in the city. When I tried to fall asleep, I could not because of my nervousness and remembered two incidents that had occurred in the past, from which I had a miraculous escape.

I had found myself on an illegal immigrants' ship that was making its way to Eretz Israel. On the ship [we] were remnants saved from the fires of the concentration camps and the ghettos, searching for salvation in the Homeland. We were all tired, hungry and at the end of our strength, clinging to each other and sailing through stormy seas and approaching the shores of Palestine. From the distance we could see Mount Carmel. Tears of joy came from our eyes, as here approached the happiest moment of our lives, one which we had dreamed about for generations. Soon we would disembark on the shores of our Holy Land and have an end to our wandering. Suddenly a British warship chased us and did not permit us near the shore. A [uneven] battle began between this refugee ship laden with human cargo and the British war vessel. We were armed with sticks and bottles and they with modern weapons. A tear gas canister fell near me and I began to choke.

In no time they had seized control of our ship and I was taken ashore on a stretcher, along with other injured. We were to be brought to a hospital in Haifa. The Jewish Yeshuv [settlement] broke into the port in order to free us. A battle ensued against the British troops and a number of Jews fell victim during the melee. As punishment for the Jewish invasion of the port, we, the wounded, were sent along with the other refugees to Cyprus [detention camps].

My thoughts bring me back to yet an earlier time, the invasion of Poland by Germany in 1939. Every night I would emerge at midnight at life jeopardy to stand in line at the bakery in order to obtain the daily bread ration allotted each family. Once, when I was in the middle of such a mission, a great fear overtook me. I didn't see, (as I usually did), other Jews going bent on the same business, and thought about returning [home]. But then where would we get bread from? There was no turning back, and I crept along Sobieskiego Street. On the way, I met a Jewish girl and both of us continued together. When we reached the perimeter of the Great Synagogue, we heard a voice cry out in German: “Stehen bleiben!” (Stop!). We immediately bumped into two German police, each armed with a pistol in one hand and a truncheon in the other.

One of them took me to the courtyard of the synagogue (not near the main entrance), stood me up against the synagogue wall, opened my coat and told me to say the prayer Jews said upon the moment of their death. I began to plead with him for my life and he tried beating me in order to make me shut up. He stood back a few feet and aimed his pistol at me. I closed my coat again. He approached me again in a rage and beat me mercilessly with the truncheon. He opened my coat a second time and again asked me to say the confession for death.


[Page 314]


Each second seemed to me like a victory. I don't know how much time passed when he suddenly said, “Escape [from here]!”. I then ran into a nearby stairway at the side of the yard.

On the ground floor, I heard conversation in Yiddish coming from one apartment. I asked that the door be opened for me. There was sudden silence but the door did not open. I tried again in an adjacent apartment and again [was] without success. I went up to the second floor. Here an elderly Polish couple allowed me in. They said the saw everything [that had happened] through the window and decided to let me stay until morning.

The second German came with the girl who was with me. He stood her against the very wall where I had stood only a short while ago. The same persecutions that had been perpetrated on me were now being done to her. The beaten girl's screams filled the air and reached to the heavens and then all was quiet.

After awhile we heard shots and a rattling of windowpanes near the iron gate of the synagogue, then a thunderous explosion, gunfire and smoke came out of the synagogue. In trepidation I watched where the smoke was coming from and in my heart said a small prayer for the fire to be extinguished. Then came a sudden quiet around us, and I watched the smoke dissipate until finally there was none. At six the next morning I went out and was happy to find the girl [still alive].

That evening a number of Jews had been killed by German shots.


dab314.jpg [25 KB] - Elimelech and Mosze Lenczner
Elimelech and Mosze Lenczner
May the Lord revenge their blood

Below an anti-Semitic slogan that was around at that time


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