by Szlomo Shonmi
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
In the town of Dąbrowa Górnicza, where most of its residents were non-Jews, some fifty years lived a Jew there by the name of Szlomo Josef. There wasn't a person in the town who didn't know him. Szlomo Josef came to Dąbrowa in the last decade of the previous century [19th], as the groom for Sara-Lea who was the daughter of a resident of the town. He studied Torah and carried out the work of the Creator, and ate kest as was customary at the time. When the days of kest ended and when he had to provide a livelihood for his household, he stood up and traveled to the rabbi from Gur to ask his advice and hear what he should do. The rabbi said to him: The town wants you to be a schochet [ritual slaughterer! Josef replied to him: I will learn the slaughtering work and I will be a shochet, but what will happen to Szmul the shochet? My grandfather Mojsze-Szmul, my mother's father, who was present on the same occasion, relates that when the rabbi received this reply he smiled but did not add anything further.
Szlomo Josef returned from Gur to the town of Dąbrowa, and continued to sit and study and he didn't become a schochet. Through a lack of an alternative his wife, Sara-Lea, began dealing with a livelihood for the home, and opened a convenience store. However the store didn't exist for long, for several reasons: Most of the customers were non-Jews and Szlomo Josef didn't know the language of the country, and was also not interested in knowing it, and the whole issue of commerce didn't interest him. When a Jewish customer came to the store, and bought bread amongst other things, his first concern was that the buyer would not eat without washing his hands beforehand, and offered the customer to enter into a nearby room and provided him water and a towel. The store stood without a trader and very quickly without merchandise, since people stole everything that they could. Sara-Lea was occupied most of the day taking care of the babies that had arrived in the meantime, and she also had to go and fetch the merchandise. After a short while she was compelled to shut down the business.
From trade she moved on to teaching: She began as a teacher for girls, and Szlomo Josef taught boys, however he didn't want to receive a wage because he didn't want to exploit the Torah. After a number of years they obligated him to receive a wage, however matters relating to a livelihood never worked out. Through the awareness that each town and village in Poland there were various types of characters, it seems that Szlomo Josef was one of a kind, and not only in his town, and in all the surrounding area, its doubtful if there was anyone like him. He was an orthodox Jew and extremely pious. From praying alone he would use up his meager strength, his body behaving like the saying all my bones will have their say, and prayers for him were a whole ritual, day and night sitting next to the Torah and carrying out the Creator's work. He had no idea about finance, and was not interested in money. His customary daily routine was going to the Bet Midrash to pray, and when the prayers were over he returned home, he ate a little to revive the soul and sat down to study. Between one prayer and another, and between study and study, he would deal with visiting sick people and charity for the needy.
It is known that he was sickly all his life, and lacked a livelihood, however all this didn't prevent her from running about and taking care of others, if it was a sick person to be visited, or someone sitting unemployed and there was a shortage in his home, everything needed to be done in order to help him. And here he didn't differentiate between Chassidim of his own kind and tradesmen and simple people, and didn't favor one above the other, and he did all of this surreptitiously and humbly in order not to offend the person.
He had a well developed love of the Jewish people. He was willing to shed the clothes from himself to give to someone that had none. He once met a beggar along the way, brought him home and gave him a bed to lie down on, and the sheets were clean and ready for a festival. When his wife came and asked what had he done? He replied that the Jew was sick and needed to lie down in bed.
In the book about the Dąbrowa Górnicza kehila, a community which
was destroyed by the German predators and their Polish helpers, surely someone
can be found to describe a beloved Jew who walked our town, and Ruwen
Lichtcyjer is his name. The nickname was because of his work in buying milk and
This beloved Jew turned his entire home into receiving visitors. Once, on going to nearby Będzin, he met a Jew walking barefoot, he didn't deliberate for long, he removed his boots and gave them to the Jew, and he himself returned barefoot. Dąbrowa residents who met him walking barefoot, thought that Heaven Forbid he had lost his mind, they still hadn't comprehended how far his love of the Jewish people went.
Szlomo Josef was my uncle. His wife, Sara-Lea was my grandmother's sister. He had three sons and three daughters, Elkana the eldest, Dawid-Zelig and Arje Lajb, Chajka, Rachel and Miriam. Rachel was my wife. We lived in Warsaw and Miriam was in Warsaw with us. My two sisters, Neta and Tamara, lived together.
Towards the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the German murderers incinerated all the Jewish neighborhoods by heavy aerial bombing and all of Jewish Warsaw was alight on that same night. The house in which we lived at 59 Mila Street was completely burnt down. After the town fell into the hands of the Germans and the Polish surrender, my wife traveled to Dąbrowa with our five year old girl, Ester, and her two sisters to Dąbrowa. She thought that with her mother and father it would be better
I wandered to Brisk [Brest], and after that to the Siberian wilderness. After the destruction I never found a remnant or a trace of anyone. On the third day after the outbreak of war the German soldiers were already marching in the streets of Będzin, and on this very same day they incinerated the synagogue and the surrounding houses, and they shot any Jew trying to save himself.
Dawid-Zelig married a schochet's daughter two and half years before the beginning of the destruction, and lived near the synagogue, and on the same day was burned alive. This was the first stroke to Szlomo Josef. Elkana the eldest, lived with his wife and his two children, in Częstochowa, and they all died when the Jews of this town were annihilated. Miriam, the young daughter, was killed in Warsaw.
Chajka the eldest and her husband Jiszajahu, my uncle, my father's brother, and his three children, as well as my wife, my nine year old daughter Ester and Lea my mother-in-law from Dąbrowa were taken with all the Jews of the town to Auschwitz on the 7th of Av 5703 [8th August 1943] and were murdered there.
Szlomo Josef himself underwent terrible torture until he was freed by death. The German murderers and their Polish helpers tortured him with particular cruelty. His appearance served as a game and an attraction for them, they dragged him away a number of times and returned him until he remained alone and he no longer had where to go or whom to go to
I met the son of Josef Gringras in Israel, and he told me that he once managed
to take his father away from the Polish guards by a bribe, and Szlomo Josef was
also in the same place, and he wanted to take him, and Szlomo Josef told him
that he no longer had a place to go to or whom to go to because everyone had
certainly been murdered
thus a bitter and hasty end befell all the family
and not a remnant or a trace remains from it.
by Juda Londner
(A brief biography as told by his wife Frida, long may she live)
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
Icchak Janowski (Narcyz), son of Mordechai-Lajb Janowski, took his first steps in life in the twilight years of the downfall of patriarchal Chassidism in Poland. At the end of the 19th century this Chassidism was enveloped with a cloak of extreme orthodoxy, and was compelled to struggle with surroundings that was rebelling against convention, which had begun questioning, investigating and looking for answers.
A fundamental discussion was taking place between fathers and sons; in the home and in the street, in whispers and vocally. Fathers endeavored to seal the cracks that appeared in the wall, in a pleasant way and with a firm hand. However the rays of light penetrated wave after wave into the homes and took hold of the youth in their multitude. The youth listened with open ears to the call of revival and national rebirth, and Dąbrowa Górnicza was in this sense not unlike other towns.
In this same transitional period Icchak Janowski began to take his first strides in life. He was not pampered, not dressed in a striped nightgown, and not in a silk nightgown: He was the sixth son in the family and following him there was another young sister. However there was an ample share of warmth, adoration and love that he received from both his mother and father. They couldn't provide him with more they didn't have anything for themselves. The tools that his parents gave him, a love of fellow man, woman, child, plant and still life, assisted him as he strode on the path of life and it was this that upheld his spirits when he was plunged into reality, till his last day.
The conversation between him and his father ended as soon as father learnt that
the boy was endowed with inherited rabbinical qualities. From that time on his
father trusted him and let him spread his wings.
Icchak worked hard till his wings were firm. His first education was in the cheder, like all the Jewish children. Later he studied with the teacher, Sadokerski, who settled in Dąbrowa. He was a good and beneficial teacher, with a higher intensive education. After a lesson he would routinely go to the homes of the students, to make sure his students were all right at home. As said, life didn't pamper Icchak: At the age of sixteen he left home, rented a room in order to study. He would teach and maintain himself from the lessons, which took away the possibility of regular studies.
|Icchak Narcyz Janowski|
The 1905 Revolution was borne on waves of an awakening for freedom, equality and unity. The coal and steel laborers in Dąbrowa Górnicza were drawn into this wave, they went out into the streets and protested. The town sooty from the chimney smoke, was used to protests, however protests like these it had not known. The echoes of freedom were pleasing to the ears of the masses who were enticed to every protest. Everyone demonstrated, from the servants in Jewish homes, to the clerks in stores up till the laborers standing next to the steel smelters.
Icchak was a youth during these stormy years, but was endowed with quick absorption. In his home they discussed a great deal, the father and the older brothers spoke about the subject, and he listened carefully. A new world was opened to him. There was a world of social and humanitarian problems that he hadn't been familiar will up until then.
And together with the awakening of social problems, he suddenly encountered national-Jewish problems that followed the riots in Kishinev [Chişinău]. Icchak read a great deal, studied, agued, endlessly deliberated over which direction to follow: The direction of emancipation of humanity, or firstly the emancipation of his people, that were part of the general human problem.
Icchak was not a hasty decision maker: Only after he had comprehensively
clarified and formulated the issue, he would decide. And he decided on the
direction of emancipating his people, and from then on his eyes were turned to
Eretz Yisrael, the country in which he could realize his dream of national
The Hashomer movement in Dąbrowa Górnicza
Many years after the appearance of the Zionist movement on a political platform, it still didn't have an educational youth movement, with an affinity to Zionism, which could in time be the vanguard of Zionism.
The Hashomer movement was nourished from its establishment by various external influences. It was greatly influenced by the scout movement.
The Jewish youth was attracted to this movement. In both the Jewish street and the patriarchal Chassidic home there were strong desires to establish an educational Jewish youth that would provide a release for youthful energy. In family homes, in general, the spirit of the Jewish youth of the home wasn't understood. In Polish towns, and Dąbrowa amongst them, the Jewish youth grew up weak and pale faced. There was a strong impact of the brave deeds of the Hashomer in Eretz Yisrael in the Polish and Lithuanian towns, and they increased the attraction to change the situation.
Within this atmosphere the Hashomer Zionist youth movement was founded, that bore a shade of scouthood. The Shomrim called their home a ken [nest], since a youth meeting in the movement home was warm and pleasant.
The prime of the youth in Dąbrowa went to the Hashomer ken:
Jakob Szlifka, Abram Grosfeld, Menachem Wajnszel, the Rechnic boys, Kanarek,
the Storchajn girls, Gita, long may she live, and so on and so forth. Icchak
Narcyz also went to the ken.
He immediately became a central figure: he lectured, held discussions, clarified and explained problems that arose relating to adolescence.
Frida Strochajn also came to the ken. She was also brought to the ken by the same national desires that beat in the hearts of the Dąbrowan youth. However Frida Strochajn had an additional problem: She had yet to complete the discussion with her father, Reb Gecel Strochajn zl who was amongst the guardians of the walls of the town in which cracks had appeared.
Reb Gecel Strochajn was wealthy, popular and distinguished in the Dąbrowa Górnicza kehila. On occasion he would travel to visit his rabbi from Radomsk, return home rejuvenated, carrying with him handfuls of blessings and hopes.
Frida Strochajn didn't accept the severe demands of her father. She questioned, researched, and requested an answer to all of life's questions that she was confronted with: Social national and humanitarian questions and so on.
Frida found an answer to her questions in the Hashomer ken. There she did not have beliefs forced upon her that she didn't accept. There they discussed, they explained to one another and tried to convince each other. Icchak Narcyz was amongst the lecturers in the ken. He explained or clarified problems of paramount concern that were faced. He spoke gently, pleasantly, using his hands a little.
In the evening, after the activity in the ken, the shomrim would go out for a walk. The town at night was laid out before them: The chimneys of the factories constantly expelled waves of smoke, laborers with carbide torches in their hands hurried to the mines, from Jewish homes a weak light flickered. Silence fell on the street and only the barking of dogs could be heard. Icchak and his friends were so engrossed in their discussion, that they didn't notice that they had left the confines of the town and the hour was already after midnight.
And in the home of Reb Gecel Strochajn there was unrest. The mother, Chaja-Sara a graduate of the Warsaw gymnasium, with a good command of Polish and German, would frequently read foreign language books, the complete opposite of the holy books that Reb Gecel perused she maintained a traditional, religious, Jewish home. She, more than Reb Gecel, insisted that her daughter didn't stray from the level of behavior that was accepted of girls of the time. Therefore, she was very worried on seeing that the hour was already after midnight and Frida was still not home. The shadows on the walls prophesized evil: Frida was late in coming home! She was certainly walking outside of the town with a boy! Good Lord, what will the rabbi from Pińczów have to say, the rabbi of Dąbrowa, if he learns that the daughter of Reb Gecel Strochajn, the Radomsk Chassid, is walking outside of the town with a boy?
The nights and days of unrest that transpired in the home of Reb Gecel did not
cease, rather they increased. One fine day the news reached their home: Their
daughter was in love with Icchak Janowski, son of Mordechai-Lajb and Gitel from
Reden. Their endeavors did not help, pleasantly and with a firm hand, to
extract the craziness from her head. A shiduch [matchmaking] was
expected with a yeshiva student from a wealthy family that her father had
chosen for her from amongst the Radomsk Chassidim and she didn't need to marry
the son of a poor family. Indeed Icchak was well known to Reb Gizl because of
his studiousness and knowledge of the Torah, however what was the connection to
the marriage of his daughter? His eyes were turned towards a groom from amongst
the Radomsk Chassidim.
Icchak Narcyz amongst the first for Dąbrowa in the Third Aliyah
At the end of the First World War, Europe was redistributed: Poland became an independent state.
Icchak, who was a pacifist by nature, saw the war as pointless killing. The atmosphere in young Poland in its first strides, was already chauvinistic this displeased him, he dreamt of the rejuvenation of his people by work and sweat in Eretz Yisrael. Hence he didn't consider the offers to deal in teaching in the town of Solotvina in Zisko with a good wage, and one night, in 1920, he reached Bratislava accompanied by Frida and sister Nesia and from there they traveled to Vienna.
Vienna served as the last stage before aliyah. He lived in barracks that the
Austrian army evacuated, and was supported by the Zionist Organization. He
lived in poverty and lovingly receiving his tribulations and in the month of
Elul of the same year an end came to his wanderings and he arrived in Eretz
His first steps in Eretz Yisrael
He was enchanted by the beauty of the country. His poetic spirit began to surge and he expressed it in poem and in story.
The financial situation at the time in the country was not a bed of roses. In spite of everything he was always in high spirits and a cheerful and jocular spirit always surrounded him. He worked on the Tiberias-Tzemach road, the road served as a meeting place for the intelligentsia of the Third Aliyah, The road invigorated and strengthened him, and his soft hands became calloused. Everyone knew and respected him for his worldly wisdom and his understanding attitude to his fellow man, and he was appointed as labor supervisor.
More than one evening he felt the need to be alone, a depressing feeling of
loneliness enveloped him. He walked amongst the tents of the camps, listened to
the arguments and yearned to take a part in them. More than one evening he was
completely enthralled in discussion and persuasion but on evenings of
depression he wasn't able, his heart was far, far away with his childhood
There, in the Hashomer Hatzair ken in the coal town the first thin threads were woven between him and her. And with time the relationship conquered his whole being. He always saw her tall figure and recalled her concerns and worries before his aliyah via a circuitous route.
Icchak could no longer tolerate the experience. He left the Tiberias-Tzemach road and moved to Jerusalem.
He worked in carpentry there, saved money and sent it to Frida so that she make aliyah. After sending the money he felt more at ease, his eyes brightened and began counting the days till she came like a man counts the days before his release.
Reb Gecel and his wife Sara didn't think the same way: They had their own plans for the future of their daughter. When Icchak made aliyah they thought that time would take care of matters and the distance would diminish the relationship. How surprised they were to see that on one week day a letter came that had been sent from Jerusalem, and in it money for Frida for the costs of aliyah. Frida was proud of this gift, knowing that he hadn't easily saved up the money, whilst Reb Gecel received the news as a shock.
On the day of departure he did not say goodbye to her, just thrust a closed
letter into her hand requesting that she remains a religious Jewish woman. In
1922 Frida reached Jerusalem, and their joy was boundless.
Jerusalem in the year 1922: Surrounded by barren hills and the neglect in the alleyways slightly tainted the holiness and the beauty of the place. Here and there were educational institutions; greenery and trees had begun to sprout up above the bareness. Icchak and Frida, with the great excitement that their feet trod on Jerusalem soil, did not pay attention to the neglect; in their imagination Jerusalem was embellished with beauty in every place, just as they had heard in their childhood.
After their marriage they began establishing a marital nest. He continued working in carpentry. They lived in the Mashchenot [the first Jewish neighborhood established outside the Jerusalem walls]. The furniture in their apartment was meager: a large square basket with a lid on top, which she had brought from Dąbrowa, a cupboard crammed with books, and in the corner stood a bench. They weren't able to continue living in this apartment for a long time, and the moved to the Kerem neighborhood, to a room which belonged to a family of converts. Their food was scanty: vegetables, bread and jam. The food was cooked over a primus stove, the smoke and the soot were absorbed in the food. After a period they were compelled to take their belongings and move to Zichron Moshe.
Frida, who had only yesterday left a wealthy home, didn't complain about these living conditions. She lovingly and calmly received the meager wage that Icchak brought home, doing the ironing with a heavy iron heated by coals, and was often scalded. At night the home was illuminated by a kerosene lamp which threw shadows on the walls. The shadows caused a strange atmosphere in their room.
The carpentry, where he worked went bankrupt, and so he went to Talpiot to look for work. Through a lack of employment Frida was compelled to go out to work in housekeeping. Her parents sent letters to their daughter in Jerusalem and asked her how she was and about her livelihood. Frida replied to them, telling them about her great wealth, and that she wasn't suffering for any shortage and in the meantime, unemployment and a lack of livelihood were regular visitors in their home.
The laborers kitchen at the time, served as a central meeting place. There the new immigrants, who had only just arrived, met with their friends who were already living in Jerusalem. Most of them were still unmarried. Mordechai Narcyz, Icchak's brother-in-law, worked as an accountant. On his recommendation Frida was given work.
The Betzalel art school, managed by Professor Boris Szac, served as a focal point for the best students from European Jewish centers. They had a special interest in the revival of Jewish art, in ancient religious artifacts that had been forgotten, in frescos and drawings done on stone from the First and Second Temple periods.
Mordechai Narcyz, Icchak's brother-in-law, was accepted as a student in Betzalel and Icchak was accepted as a secretary. During their time the museum expanded, new departments and teachers were brought in. Icchak received a small room and a kitchen in the school, and they were extremely happy. In 1925 their first born son, Uzi, was born.
Professor Szac wanted to strengthen the future for the artists, and hence purchased a plot near the museum in order to establish a neighborhood (Neve Betzalel). He sold blocks to the workers by payments. Icchak also bought one and had to pay three lira per month from his wages. He paid off a debt to his parents and brought them to Jerusalem.
Working under the wings of Professor Boris Szac, turned him into an
enthusiastic collector of religious artifacts. Many times the professor
consulted with him about his ideas before putting them into action. He would
wake him up in the middle of the night: Icchak, Icchak, where are you? I
have a great idea and I need you give your opinion on it. Frida became
annoyed: Is it possible to wake a man from his sleep, because of some
idea that popped up in the professor's brain?! Icchak calms her. If
Professor Szac has an idea, it is not a selfish matter or for his own personal
pleasure, and certainly it has a Jewish national background and aspect, and it
should be heard even in the middle of sleep.
He purchased antiquities, mainly Jewish religious artifacts. What adoration he held for them: The menorahs, candlesticks and the perfume boxes which decorated his hope were the embodiment of Jewish history. He wrote rhyming poems, placing each of them in a special folder, well packaged, as if he had planned for a long journey. All the raw secrets of his soul were wrapped up in these files, would they ever see the light? Would someone decipher them some time?
The Betzalel school continued to develop and produce many series of artists who were organized into a group. The group opened a store for selling art objects. Icchak served as their merchant, traveled to Zionist congresses to distribute works of Jerusalem artists. At the same time he founded the publishing house called Bnei-Betzalel. They published art books during the same period. At a later stage he founded an additional publishing house called Shlomit. In the meantime the family grew: In 1928 Gadi was born and in 1936 Raya was born.
In 1932 his good friend Professor Szac passed away. The demise of the professor brought on a deep sorrow in the museum and on Icchak, and he was unable to free himself from this grief.
In 1936 the riots broke out, tourists stopped visiting in Jerusalem, and the art store was in a difficult situation. Icchak lost all his savings and remained in debt for a number of years.
In the War of Independence his sons Uzi and Gadi took part in battles in Jerusalem and its surroundings. Frida, Raya and Icchak themselves stayed in Jerusalem for the whole period of the war. He anxiously followed the progress of the battles and at the end of the war, from which all his family came out unscathed, he donated a soul deliverance payment to the national funds. Thus the old and new were intertwined for him: This is how his forefathers behaved the soul belongs to the heavens and if it was safely returned a payment was due.
After the War of Independence, business returned and improved. In 1955 the first grandchild, Rony, was born, the third generation of descendants of the Janowski Strochajn families from Dąbrowa.
With great courage Icchak suffered an incurable disease. Every morning he set out to work in the store selling Betzalel works in King George Street, which then belonged to him. It is strange how he saw in his youth what awaited him, whilst still in the town of his birth in Poland:
A dark cloud hangs over meAnd he suffered and continued on his daily way. Once again his lips whispered a poem whilst still in Poland:
And I won't know what awaits me
Once again pains, to me are thrown
Hasn't the time come that they leave me alone?
Hasn't my cup of suffering been filled?
Weren't you cruel to me through my life
Haven't I had sufficient afflictions?
Are they returning today?
My grief in the mirror fallsIn Tevet 5716 (1955), he didn't wake up. In the Jerusalem hills his grave was dug, looking over a landscape rich in splendor and hope. Icchak Narcyz, son of the Dąbrowa Górnicza kehila, loving husband to Frida, was conquered for eternity.
As the graves and shadows lower.
I carried out battles in the mire:
The body and the soul within fight,
Everyone will ask for vengeance
And peace is not imposed in battle.
Firstly the body gives way
No long able to burden the pain,
The suffering is too much,
The body is injured, it says enough.
But the soul desires life
It can live concealed in a crippled body,
My soul, my ruined body
It's no good for either of them, they are one,
The suffering and the bereavement are no good,
Languishing for loss yearning I could
Years pass. Life compels Frida to move on. The struggle with the cruel disease
that Icchak wrestled and fought in the month of Tevet 5716 1955 was
ended but for her he lived on. A testimony to this appeared whilst the State of
Israel was carrying out its struggle for survival: His son, General Uzi Narcyz,
who maintained his father's legacy, combined the two sections of Jerusalem into
one Jewish city and thus realized the dreams and aspirations of his father,
whose entire soul was within this vision.
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