My Memories of Demblin
by Dr. Kalman Paris / Petach-Tikva
My first acquaintance with Demblin came about in 1924 when I was a veterinary
doctor employed in fighting a contagion that had broken out among the cattle of
the area. At that time I lived in Ryki. A that time Demblin was a quiet little
town, there wasn't too much traffic and there wasn't that much business going
In October, 1927, I settled in Demblin, where I was employed in the local
slaughter house as a veterinary doctor and also I directed a course in first
aid for animals in the agricultural school. They gave me an apartment in the
school which was located in the former estate which the Czarist power had taken
away from the local Polish aristocrat and given to General Paskovitch for his
subduing the Polish revolt of 1863. The town was named after his wife, Irena.
Today, the official name Demblin applies to the town and it has a status of an
autonomous town. Up until that time, it, along with the neighboring
countryside, formed the little county of Irena, and it had a head county
The estate was located in a beautiful area with pine trees. The air was very
healthy. Afterwards the local inhabitants of Demblin were not allowed to take
advantage of and enjoy the place.
During the 10 year existence of the school, Meyer Opotovsky, from Opotov,
taught each and every Jewish pupil. The Demblin resident, Shmuen Virzjebitsky,
was the sponsor of a lot of fund raising activities for the school.
At a certain point the town of Demblin began to develop, thanks to the
construction of the military air base, the officer's school and other
institutions. The main source of livelihood in the town was the airfield where
infantry regiment was stationed in the barracks of what had formally been the
fortress called Ivangorod, which was built during the Czarist time. Other
sources of livelihood for the inhabitants were the 28
artillery regiment of Zjayezjya and the train station with all its workshops.
Every first of the month, after paying out the pensions, people paid their
debts off and then started to buy on credit again. The growth of business led
to the founding of a cooperative bank under the management of H. Yuzef, and
then there was the trader's bank under the leadership of Mr. Kannaryenfogel and
a business bank (later, run by the grandson of H. Abenshteins). The banks were
very useful to tradesman and craftsman. They survived the financial crisis of
Something that was very curious was that the justice of the peace was a Jew
named David Rubenshtein, because at that time Demblin still didn't have the
status as an autonomous town and therefore a lot of its affairs were run by a
single village magistrate, just like the way things were run in the
countryside. After him, in 1935, a man named Leshko became the village
magistrate and he was a former supporter of the fund for sick people.
A second curiosity was that there wasn't a church in town. The Christians
belonged to the Parish of Bobrownik near the river Wieprz. Their cemetery was
there. Only after 30 years did they build a church in town and the Parish of
Demblin was founded.
In Bobrownik, where several Jewish families resided, there was a Jewish
cemetery which was fenced off thanks to the energetic action of Dr. Kornelstein.
[See PHOTO-A5 at the end of Section A]
According to the last census before the Second World War there were 8,000
inhabitants in the town, half of them Jewish and half of them gentile. I
remember that it was emphasized at that time the difficult living conditions
that were there, in a very small area from the synagogue to the street which
led to the old suburb of Peshechodnia, where there were 500 people living.
Jewish children studied at Polish schools but there they received special
instruction in religious things, especially Jewish history from the teacher,
Miss Shteinhomer and from Mr. Yankev Ekheiser. Soon after the First Word War,
Mr. Yuzef and Mr. Kannaryenfogel founded Jewish schools and kept them going for
a certain amount of the time until they were turned over to the public school
system. Jewish children also studied at private Polish schools and high schools
and some of them had tutors.
Two or three kilometers from the town were two rivers, the Vistula and the
Wieprz. Through the town itself ran a little stream, and we used to call it
Irenka. Young and old enjoyed the two rivers during the summer. We used to swim
there and relax and play around on the banks of the rivers. Later there were a
couple of incidents when people drowned.
The waters of the Wieprz emptied into the Vistula near the fortress of Demblin.
There was a port of ships which traveled to Warsaw. The area around the two
rivers was very beautiful. There were trees with broad branches which provided
a lot of shade. The air was always good. It was a good place to go and pass
some time and just relax.
In the town, there was a Rabbi, Mr. Rabinovitch. His wife was a sister of the
Modzjitzer Rabbi, the creator of the Hasidic melodies who had lived in Otvotzk.
The name Modzjitzer I found on an old map in the Polish town hall. It was a
town on the right bank of the Vistula where the Czarist government decide to
build the fortress of Ivangorod. There were also over 20 Jewish families living
there as well as in the neighboring big town of Stenzjitze also on the right
bank of the river.
The Vistula was an important water lane upon which to transport goods to Warsaw
and to Gdansk [Danzig], especially in the time when there weren't any trains.
The boats used to carry wood, and the Mayor of Demblin at the time, Yan
Kaminsky from Bobrownik, was one of the entrepreneurs who owned theses barges
which Jewish businessmen used to rent to carry wood or wheat or grains to
Rabbi Rabinovitch died before the War. There was quite a bit of activity and
back and forth about choosing the replacement and finally they decided not to
choose anybody. But they chose somebody to be the head of the community who was
a military tailor by the name of Nachem Luxemburg.
The relations between Jews and the Polish population were, in general, not too
bad. In the second half of the 30's, the tendency grew stronger among the Poles
to broaden their business and take trade out of Jewish hands. Polish tradesmen
arrived from Pozen. Also local Poles opened shops. In the meat trade what
helped a lot to marginalize the Jewish part of the business was a law that
forbid ritual slaughter which was passed in the Polish parliament at the
suggestion of Mrs. Prystor. The debate about this particular law reinforced the
general anti-Semitic mood in the country. The condition of Jews became ever
more critical. There was great hardship. It was necessary to take up
collections for the neediest. We had different kinds of fund raising activities
in order to feed and clothe children. Very active in this kind of work was Mrs.
Yuseph, the widow of the bank's director. The population of Demblin supported
these fund raising drives very warmly.
In those stressed out conditions an event occurred in the town which might have
brought on a pogrom. The Vanapol family worked and lived in Demblin and they
were revered by both Jewish and non-Jewish people. Zalman Vanapol was a folk
doctor and well known for his ability to help people. After him, his son,
Yarmeyohu, became involved with the practice and he was a very capable folk
doctor with a very large practice. At their house there was always a group of
wagons with peasants waiting who had brought their sick from the countryside.
He also had quite a few patients from town and from the military circles. He
didn't charge poor people for a visit and provided money for medicine from his
own pocket. He founded the free clinic in town.
Once upon a time, a sick woman from Vienna, a gentile, came to him. She was
employed by the Honigsboim family, who were Jewish. Yarmeyohu Vanapol remarked
about this to Mr. Honigsboim, who fired the woman from her job. The woman's
boyfriend decided to make trouble for Yarmeyohu and he sent a letter with
threats. He gave one of his letters to the chief of police in Demblin, a man
named Soroko who he had a good relationship with. In the letter that he wrote
about Yarmeyohu he wrote, Today there's going to be a meeting at the
synagogue, and he, Yarmeyohu is going to bring bombs and weapons. Soroko
gave the letter to the next level of police force, and they talked it over with
the military espionage service and they sent out an officer to the man who had
accused Yarmeyohu, and there they found a map which he outlined and explained
how to get to Yarmeyohu Vanapol's. The officer carried out a very thorough
search of Vanapol's house and of Honigsboim's house. They arrested them as well
as a Pole who was a mechanic. Then they tool them all to Pulaw to interrogation
headquarters. They let the Pole go and took the Jews, both of them, to the
Zemeck in Lublin.
This incident caused a very powerful reaction and a very demoralizing one among
the Jewish population, even though everybody was utterly convinced that it was
just libel. The Poles talked about it quite a bit themselves and they said that
the Jews were guilty and that they were traitors. The atmosphere became
extremely tense. I myself went to discuss the subject with Joseph Ekheiser and
Kannaryenfogel and we emphasized that we needed to make an appeal to the head
bureaucrat in Lublin and ask him to complete this investigation as quickly as
he could because the Jews who had been arrested were very respected people in
their town. We got together petitions from both the Polish and the Jewish
inhabitants and we turned as well to Dr. Zohatsky and to Mayor Vadetsky and we
asked them to travel with us in a delegation to the procurer general. And as an
active member of the Jewish community I traveled along myself.
The gathering of these petitions and letters and sending a delegation made an
extremely deep impression on the population and the heat of the matter stated
to die down. Afterwards an investigating judge from Lublin came and on the
second day both of the Jews were released. They brought a charge of malicious
slander against the man who had accused them and he got a year in prison.
About the political life in Demblin I really don't have much to say. Only once
did I go to a Zionist meeting with Dr. Shiper, who was a deputy in the Polish
parliament. Somebody came in and tore the meeting apart. We heard that people
were arrested for their communist activity.
[See PHOTO-A6 at the end of Section A]
In the town council there were these people: Yarmeyohu Vanapol, Kannaryenfogel
and Alter Apelkeyer. In the last town council there were 30 men and of them 14
were Jews: Yoseph Ekheiser, David Rubenstein, Shulman Wolf, Shmuel-Nachem
Luxemburg and others.
In Demblin two Jewish doctors practiced, Dr. Kornelstein and Dr. Blumenfeld.
Before the outbreak of the war, they were both mobilized. Dr. Kornelstein was
also a person that loved social work in the community. He came back from Kovel
to Demblin after the massacre that the Germans carried out there. For a while
he was in the Demblin ghetto. His wife, a Yugoslavian, with their children,
were outside of the ghetto. The Germans arrested him for espionage and tortured
him and shot him. Dr. Blumenfeld died in an officer's camp in Russia.
Dr. Gelber worked at the clinic, and he was a Jew who had converted. He hid out
in Warsaw and was killed there.
There were three dentists practicing: My wife, Mrs. Vanapol and Mrs. Nuskeyer.
In the Demblin high school a woman who was the wife of a Polish military pilot
taught and she lived with her Jewish parents. What became of them I don't know.
Yoseph Ekheiser and Karl Kannaryenfogel ran offices where they used to do paper
work for people. They had quite a bit of activity going on there, especially in
an effort to ease the burden of taxes, which were especially harsh on the
Jewish population. And when they could they also intervened with other
bureaucratic agencies on people's behalf.
Memories of once upon a time
by Benyamin Smit / Detroit
I remember well my grandmother and grandfather, Yisrael-Ahron and Raiza. I
remember them even before the First World War. They had four children. My
grandfather made his living for the household as a tailor. Afterwards, his 2
daughters succeeded in traveling to America, while both sons remained in
Demblin. The younger of them, Beryl (who was known by everybody in town as
Beryl Yisrael-Ahrons), was my father. Motherly tenderness I don't remember
because I didn't have the honor of experiencing it. My parents divorced when I
was only 2 ½ years old. The reason for that parting, I never learned.
I remained with my sick grandmother, Baila-Raiza, and things there were very
good for me. I was shown a lot of love and warmth. But that happiness didn't
last very long. She died and a family conference decided that I would be given
into the care of the other grandparents, on my mother's side. The difference in
the way I was treated and in the conditions, were felt immediately. They were
very, very poor people, and more than once, we felt hunger.
I wanted very, very much to study in heder with the children who came from
families who had a little bit. But, what could I do? I didn't even have a pair
of shoes on my feet. I went back to my father, but he wasn't able to help me
either. I was alone with my sorrow.
Like a lot of the young people in the town, I left. I went to Warsaw, to my
Uncle Avrom. I added myself to his 6 person family. We were all in one room
together. At night, they set up another little iron bed by the door. And all
four of us slept together in one bed.
It didn't take very long for me to make very good friends. Benek, Motes,
Hershel and Monesh (and all of them together owned absolutely nothing). And
also a girlfriend, who was later to become my life companion. We got married
and I opened a hairdo salon on Mirzontzka street.
That year, fire broke out in the neighborhood and it took my shop in flames and
smoke. The whole neighborhood burned down. I went into partnership with Hertzke
Berkovitch and we rented a little store near Yosef Hochman and all my
clients came back to me.
After getting married I was mobilized in the Polish army and served for two
years. With the outbreak of the War, the first of September, 1939, I left for
the front to fight, but the experiences in the War years are a separate chapter
for me. In 1945 I settled in America with my wife and four children.
Memories and Images of my Birthplace
by David Waichman / America
Like the majority of Jewish towns in Poland, Demblin had a big market place,
around which there were stores of all different kinds of merchants. There were
bakeries and grain merchants. They sold herring and kerosene fuel, cucumbers,
chocolate, needles and thread, eternal lights. Quite by contrast, there was
also the sale of candles for church, soap and matches, lard and cologne. In
short, everything that could be of use to people in their households. There was
a tailor shop with all kinds of materials from thick peasant canvas, silken
Hasidic overcoats and good gabardine for the officers in the fortress. There
were different kinds of hats, boots, elegant shoes for women, thick work boots
for 10 rubles a pair. There was no shortage as well of all kinds of sweetmeats
to give as presents. In the market place there were also stalls for small
vendors and crafts people who made things.
The Market Place
On market day, merchants came from the surrounding towns and set up their
booths with all different kinds of goods. The whole family would be mobilized
to take advantage of the market day. They'd all come and there were happy
sounds. In the family, one bought and one sold, and somebody was always keeping
an eye out to make sure nothing got lifted from the stalls. It was a very
intense, bustling kind of scene. The organ grinder was playing and there was
that sound of the organ mixed in with the singing of the blind man and the
haggling over cheaper prices, the praising of the great products and the
arguments and the curses from a dissatisfied customer. Feathers from fowl flew
in the air, the pigs oinked and the horses whinnied and the sheep baaed.
[See PHOTO-A7 at the end of Section A]
There was no shortage of thieves who managed to steal things from the wagons
and purses. They'd have card games and throw dice. Children were not able to
sit still in heder with all of this going on and they would stumble about,
underfoot and every once in a while, for their trouble, they would come up with
an apple, a plum or a pear, which had fallen. Peasant girls and boys would gnaw
on different kinds of candy, or a sugar hen. When they got to eat these kinds
of things, they were extremely happy and you would see the remains of the candy
smeared all over their faces. In a great mood of celebration a drunk peasant
would dole out a few slaps to the hands.
At the edge of the market place there were two buildings from the two councils.
The Polish one, a very fine one, with red-white brick, was very clean. And the
Jewish one, a much more modest building because there sat very wise, Jewish
minds, who took responsibility for and worried about the community, beginning
with the Shames and Beadle, up to and including the Rabbi who was the
son-in-law of the Modzjitzer Rabbi. After someone was born, this group took
responsibility for the moyel so that the child could be circumcised. After
death, they would take responsibility for the burial with the Burial Society.
Everything that had relevance to Jewish people and to Jewishness eminated from
the Jewish council. Of course, after a considerable amount of discussion and
sometimes dispute. (You tell me, can one individual, for instance, a Rabbi, or
a Cantor, or a kosher butcher, or a Shames, be missing from a whole community
of Jews? Without these people, they are like a flock of sheep which doesn't
have sufficient direction.)
The truth is, we did have a Rabbi who had many virtues. He was a great scholar.
He came from a very impressive lineage. He had a very distinguished face and a
very beautiful beard. He himself was very modest and unassuming. He was very
well respected by everyone in town, and very well loved.
We also had a shames, who was a very devoted person and very faithful. Every
Friday at dusk, he would bang on Jews' shutters with a hammer, and tell them
the Sabbath was coming near, and they needed to shut their stores up. He would
rouse people from their warm beds to pray and urge them to go to synagogue and
pray for a good year for the Jews. Could anybody really criticize him for doing
that? I mean, because, really, if anybody really didn't want to go, they just
didn't go. But it was different before the Sabbath, at that time everybody had
to do what he said and show up.
The stores in town were shut up. Women lit candles. The town smelled of gefilte
fish. Jews in fur coats, long beards and payes, led children by their little
hands and hurried either into the main synagogue or into the other little
synagogues in the town. It was warm and bright and it was a mood of celebration
which reigned during praying. The Cantor sang and the congregation with him.
They gashockled and swayed with great religious fervor.
When the davening ended, one went home, feeling good, where mothers and
daughters were already waiting, all dressed up, in honor of Sabbath. A great,
good Sabbath filled the house and different angels came down to name a little
piece of the world in the celebration of a Jew with his holy Sabbath.
Whether poor or rich, the mood of celebration was the same. In the case of the
Sabbath meal, however, there were big differences. There were, sad to say, poor
crafts people, who would spend their last groschen for the Sabbath, for a
little bit of challah, a little bit of fish, if only the head, but they would
sing with real feeling. And there was always a little cup of spirits, and
that's all it took really.
Jewish Families and Types
A little bit on a hill, at the other side of the market, a family lived by the
name of Smiyetaneh. Each dawn, early in the morning before light, they got up
and hitched up the horse to a little wagon and yo! they were on the
way. Perhaps, even as a child, he had dreamed of holding the reigns in one
hand, and driving the horse at a gallop across the town. But, earning a living
for him was really hard. In rain and wind and snow and bitter cold, he traveled
on the roads and little byways. He and his horse together carried the burden of
making a living, really, a horse of life. More than once, he would let out his
anger on his horse and then be unable to sleep all night, and then in the
morning would make up with him. He didn't give him oats, but as a compensation,
he would sing to him. He would sing either Vismechu or
Cabekretel, or he would make him understand his complaints to the
If that was the life of a teamster, then the life of a tin maker, of the
blacksmith, the tailor, the shoemaker, the carpenter, and the glass maker, were
all very similar. They worked very hard, they tried to build up their lives,
but God had to help them with making a living. And yet, they got by. They
didn't have any big complaints. They were able to deal with the hardships of
life, and they lived with faith. Did they have a choice?
Later, a different sun began to shine in Demblin. The Jewish community began to
speak about ideas, about parties, about Socialism, about Zionism, and other
There was a custom that we had a little man with a hunchback. We
regarded him as a sage of a kind, a person who had real intelligence. He was
always trying to figure out how to improve the world and make things better for
people. He was concerned with individuals and how to make everybody's life
around there better. Around him congregated the Nisht-bozitzende [the
have-nots], as well as the people who were dissatisfied and who waited for a
very simple kind of redemption, which was that everybody would be made equal.
The rich should share with the poor. The powerful should renounce their
domination. But, if they did not want to do that willingly, what then? Well,
the majority were the weak ones, the poor ones, and they'd have to decide that
if by moral persuasion, they weren't able to make these changes, they'd have to
carry them out by force, weren't able to make these changes, they'd have to
carry them out by force, which means, a revolution. What was meant by that
revolution, and exactly how to carry it out, he really had studied with his
cohorts. Through strikes and meetings and demonstrations, in short, he was the
Rabbi and the organizer of the left wing in the town. Putting aside
for the moment his revolutionary work, he had to hide out when the Soviets
arrived. Afterwards, he went to Lodz where he died of a heart attack.
There was a woman who lived among us, a poor, simple, fish wife. She was very
pretty with a tender face and blue eyes. She didn't make very much of a living
and add to that the fact that she had to take care of a house with daughters
who didn't have a father around. But none of this stood in the way and she
dedicated herself to the needy people. She especially would work on behalf of
poor young women who wanted to get married and needed to have some dowry money.
She would gather money for women like this, brides to be, and she wasn't
particular about who she did it for. She was very dedicated. She was very, very
well thought of and people had great faith in her. As a result of that, people
would give very generously when she asked, they knew she was the real thing,
and she was honest and reliable. Nobody even thought to be suspicious of her.
And besides gathering money, she would give advice to rich and poor alike. One
always left her feeling better and followed her advice because she was very
[See PHOTO-A8 at the end of Section A]
I will describe our folk doctor briefly. He had taken over his profession from
his father. He was an expert on all different kinds of diseases. When one came
to Yarmeyohu for treatment as a sick person, one left as a healthy person. From
a medical standpoint it seemed that his cures were often incomprehensible. But
anyone who remembers him understands, that was just the way he was. He was able
to work effectively. First of all, he listened to a sick person, not with a
stethoscope exclusively, but with his heart. He took an interest in all the
hardships of daily life which people cane to him to endure. He took an interest
in their sorrows, their experiences, their worries. As the patient would
unburden themselves and get it all out to Yarme, the person felt better. He
knew that people listened to him seriously because when he would listen to them
he would have a sincere desire to help them and to understand them. With his
skill in remedies and ways to help people, he surpassed regular doctors. He had
a practice that had been in place many years. And not just Jews, but also the
Christians from town and the surrounding areas came to him and had tremendous
trust and belief in him, more than they did in the regular doctors of Demblin.
He was also very active in social affairs and in different kinds of
Before the beginning of the War, he was arrested and sent to Kartuz-Berezah
under suspicion of espionage. How such a libelous charge came to be brought
against him is not known. It was also not known his fate after that and where
he was killed.
Leibel Bubis with his wife, made a poor living. They lived in a run down little
house. Yankel had a thin face, wise eyes, and spoke with great wit. We regarded
him as a very spiritual person.
After the October revolution [the revolution in Russia in 1917], Yankel Bubis
came to Demblin. He organized a circle, and there he gave forth new ideas. His
talks were always very interesting, deep and thought provoking. His dear life
companion, Dena, distinguished herself with her intelligence, humor and her
One said of the Baigelman family: wise heads and golden hands. The father,
Laibish, loved to chat with people and to talk politics in a very polemical
way. A handsome Jew, tall and slim, he founded a benevolent association/loan
office for poor people, in order to help the needy families in town. His sons
and daughters fought a fight for justice and interested themselves in cultural
and literary problems.
Later, they as well, shared the tragic fate of the majority of Demblin Jews.
Honored be their memory.
[See PHOTO-A9 at the end of Section A]
A big, Jewish Family
by Yitzhak-Ahron Yom-Tov / Jerusalem
The town with the names Ivangorod, Irena, Modzjitz, Demblin, was close to each
of our hearts. That's where our dear ones, our close relatives lived. That's
where we were brought up and educated together. Like one Jewish family, we
lived in a comradely way, with love and respect for each other.
The first step in life and studying was made when we went to heder. We were
under the influence of the teacher in the heder and we waited for and believed
in the angel who would throw down a little piece of sugar for a good, Jewish
child. Until today, memories stay with us from those childhood years, despite
the poverty and the squalor of the cramped quarters of the heder. The sour
smells from the pickles and the cabbage, which overflowed the barrels, which
were at the house of my first Rabbi who I studied with. The odor of fresh grass
at the heder of Avrom-benTzion, which on Friday was transformed into little
bundles of hay for Jewish horses in town.
At Leibel Putermachers, we had already learned In the beginning there was
light. We learned this accompanied by a big whip. By Rabbi Sonny Melamed,
we began to learn, Shnayim Ochzin Betalit. There we were instructed
in a little bit of Hasidim including the melodies from the Modzjitzer Rabbi.
Friday, when Reb Ahron the Shames banged on the doors and called people to
synagogue, we pushed and drove ourselves to end the weekday. Jews hurried
through Warshavsky street and hurried to shut their stores, before the Sabbath
candles were lit. We used to help pull in the vegetables and the crates for the
women who would stand outside and peddle them.
Holy Sabbath in the town. People would sing the melodies of the Modzjitzer
Rabbi, but Reb Shmuel the Cantor, would sing his high melody to Lecha Dodi. Our
Jewish horses, with their ears perked up, would wait at the well for their
masters to get out of synagogue.
After this part of the Sabbath, the whole town would go out for a walk in the
street. Different groups would walk together and discuss and debate about
things, taking the right wing point of view, or left wing point of view, or
Zionist point of view.
There was quite a bit of organized social activity in the town. There were
various organizations and charitable/benevolent associations to make sure that
for instance, people who didn't have any place to stay, would be taken in.
There was a clinic, and a fund for the poor people. There was a lot of
politicking and a lot of debating. Before the elections, the community would
spread nasty rumors about each other, but after the elections, everybody in the
Jewish community made peace.
[See PHOTO-A10 at the end of Section A]
Moshe Faiga helped take care of the dead, so that he would be taken into the
Burial Society. He wasn't a tailor. Still, they took him in. At the feast of
the Burial Society, he would ask that the other people around him would give
two rolls and then he would lay a fork on his knees and he would lift up the
table. Of the procession of people in the Burial Society, he remained the only
one who went to Israel.
Friday in the afternoon before it got dark, one waited in the synagogue for
lists of how many of the numbers of people within the Jewish community paid
their taxes. The numbers of the needy people were very great. The things that
were required that the Jewish community needed to provide for itself were
considerable. For example, every year they had to repair the big, iron stove in
the synagogue. They had to provide for Mendel, the sexton of the synagogue.
They had to prepare Passover for the Jewish soldiers from the 15
divisions. They needed money for a lot of things, and more money, and there
weren't too many people who could provide it.
About my Family and Town
by Yitzhak Apelgot / Paris
My father, Yisrael Apelgot, was the son of David-Ber Apelgot, a great, Talmudic
scholar, a very wise Jew. People came to him for advice, to get an
interpretation of a particularly difficult passage in the Gemorah. He was the
bookkeeper for the very big wood merchant by the name of Kalman Zucker. He had
a big family, 21 children. David-Ber died in 1909 or 1910. There was a very,
very big funeral for him, a special service in the synagogue.
His son, Yisrael, had a family of 6 sons and 3 daughters. He worked with metal
and lamps. He manufactured soap. He had a laundry. Added to that, he was a very
observant Jew and a Talmudic scholar himself. Just like his father, people came
to him with questions about the Torah. A big question came to him in 1913, more
than a question, more like a major dispute. The two people who were disputing
were contractors who supplied the fortress with meat for the Russian military.
Yankel Apelgot had a family of 6 children. He was the head of the yeshiva in
In the First World War, in 1915, the Russians shot a Jew behind the town. It
was a Friday, in the afternoon. They sent word to the Jews that they should
come and bury this person. Everybody in the Burial Society was too scared to go
out and get the dead person. Yankel Apelgot got a wagon and went out and
brought back the Jew who had been shot. The whole town waited for him, hoping
that he'd come back alive. For this accomplishment he was inscribed in a
special book by the Burial Society Sefer HaZehav.
The Germans, during the Second World War, gave Yankel special freedoms to
travel outside the town on a train. He got this special permission because of
his trade. In this way he was able to do a number of things that benefited the
whole town. During deportation, they took him along with all of the Jews, and
they said to him that he should show his special permission that he had, and
that if he did, they would let him go. He answered that he did not want to be
an exception. What happened to the rest of the Jews would happen to him.
I was born in Demblin in 1900. I'd studied in heder and yeshiva until I was 17
years old. I studied writing and arithmetic with a private teacher because
there wasn't any school at the time available in Demblin.
There were 9 kids in my family. The whole family, children and grandchildren,
numbered 35. Only 4 people survived. The rest were killed in Auschwitz.
My mother's parents came from Bobrowniki, where the Jewish graveyard was
The first Jewish school was established in 1909 by Mordechai Sheinberg. The
teachers were Shlome Sheinberg and his sister, Faigela. The Hasidim were
against the school and agitated about it and tried to get people not to send
their children there. But the school developed very well because there wasn't
any other school in Demblin. This was a very important achievement and a
notable measure of the developments in the town for the Jewish youth. It meant
a lot to them.
I remember the storm that grew up in the town when the school presented the
first Chanukah evening. Shlome Sheinberg gave a talk. The poem, Oh, you
little candles, was recited by Henye Tenenboim.
I was 11 years old at the time. My father said that doing this kind of thing
insulted the Chanukah candles.
The second accomplishment was the establishment of a drama circle at the
cultural union. The circle had great success in Demblin, as well as in the
surrounding little towns. The drama circle was established in 1919 thanks to
the initiative of our most important folk doctor Yarmeyohu Vanapol. He played a
very great role and gave a lot of time to the circle and he got permission
whenever it was necessary and rented the performance hall in town.
The first performance was The Massacre, by Yaacov Gordon. Among the
men who played parts were: Yarmeyohu Vanapol, Yitzhak Apelgot, David
Kolowinsky, Aba Baitzman, Chana Goldberg, and Chana-Gitel Wasserman. The set
designer was: Krosny Valye.
In 1922 the drama group gave a performance in Gniveshov, 12 kilometers from
Demblin. The whole town came to see our performance. That was a big event for
When Ali Durklevitch was arrested for revolutionary activity and needed money
for a lawyer to defend him, the drama group gave a performance. Their success
was great, and they were able to raise the required sum that he needed.
In Demblin, the word went around among the pious Jews, that when the community
needed money, lets have a little theater performance.
[See PHOTO-A11 at the end of Section A]
by Yisrael Rozenwein /Ramat-Gan
Among the hundreds of Jewish communities in Poland that were destroyed by the
Nazis there was also our community of Demblin-Modzjitz. This community was
situated between the banks of two large rivers in Poland, the Vistula and the
Wieprz, and these rivers surrounded the community. There was a time when those
two big rivers partially overflowed, and part of the community was flooded and
became part of a large river that flowed directly to the Baltic by the port
city of Danzig.
I do not know historically if in Demblin-Modzjitz it was forbidden for Jews to
settle during the Kings of Poland or during the Czar of the Romanov house. The
first settlement of Jews in Demblin started in a small village by the name of
Bobrownik, not far from Demblin. After, the Jews of Demblin started to settle
in a small suburb of the city and in Demblin itself. Then throughout the
existence of the Jewish community in Demblin-Modzjitz, the cemetery of the Jews
of Demblin was in the little village of Bobrownik. The rule was that since
Demblin was situated strategically, a cemetery and/or a synagogue or any such
Jewish activity was forbidden in such locations. At the same time churches and
cemeteries of Christians were not situated there as well.
During all the wars and conquests that took place in Poland from the War with
Napoleon to the First World War, the Jews of Demblin were persecuted and
evicted. They wandered with their families and belongings through all the roads
to find shelter. All the properties that they left behind were either burned or
stolen or taken by others.
When the storms ended, the Jews of Demblin-Modzjitz would return to their
communities and start to rebuild again and again. They liked their little town
that was surrounded by rivers, lakes, forest, gardens and agricultural land.
The main income of the Jews in that town came from services to the military and
the fortress by the name of Ivan the Terrible, and also from the intersection
of the railroad that passed through the city and connected all parts of Poland.
The different occupations of the Jews were tailors who produced the clothing
for the Czar court in Petersburg (today Leningrad), shoemakers that made the
boots for the officers that camped in the fortress, metal and smith workers,
carriage owners that brought visitors from the train to the hostels or hotels
in the city, and also some who were merchandise suppliers for the military,
such as wood, food, etc.
On every Wednesday of the week there was a big market. Farmers from the
adjacent villages brought their agricultural merchandise for sale, among which
were animals such as horses, chickens and cows. In addition there were also
merchandise booths of Jews from Demblin and its environs, with their local
manufacturing such as clothing, shoes, boots, leather, different kinds of
fabrics, etc. It was a vigorous day of buying and selling.
When Poland was divided during the First World War by the Germans and the
Austrians, Demblin was situated on the border and soon enough became a center
for smuggling a variety of merchandise. A good, thorough description of the
smugglers and the smuggled items is located in the book of the Jewish writer
Ozer Warshavsky in his book The Smugglers.
When Poland became independent and was ruled by Jozef Pilsudski, the gangs of
Petlura and Denikin helped the Polish army in its struggle against the
Bolsheviks. Soldiers from the gang of General Heler from Pozen murdered many
Jews from Demblin-Modzjitz. They raped and drowned the daughters and the women
in the water of the Vistula.
The Jews of Demblin-Modzjitz were very religious but very simple. There were
not many among them who were public people or famous intellectuals. However,
the Jewish community of Demblin-Modzjitz was known by the musical tunes of the
Rabbi of Modzjitz, Reb Yisrael Taub. Throughout all the synagogues and the
Jewish communities of Poland and outside Poland, many were humming and singing
There were also a few rich people among the Jews in that community. Among them
was the famous Rabbi Kalman Zucker who was a renowned supporter of the Rabbi of
Modzjitz. Kalman Zucker donated money and support to the Rabbi's family, and
when his son married the Rabbi's daughter for a wife, he prepared a very
expensive and impressive wedding ceremony. The wedding ceremony lasted seven
days and there were many performers, dancers and magicians, and good food and
music all over.
Demblin-Modzjitz also had many Hadavim, places to study Torah and
values. It was a place where the young kids would go study the bible, values
and their heritage. There also was a female Rabbi in Demblin, her name was
Rivka the Rabbi, who taught the girls of the community the Kiriat Shma, Modeh
Ani and the alphabet.
In the yeshiva of the Hasids Gur and Alexander, young students studied the
Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud, the Rambam and all other
interpretations. There were also a few who studied to become Rabbis. In
addition there were a few secular schools in the city where the youngsters
studied free professions.
Who does not remember Reb Zalman Feltcher, the medic? He used to stand in front
of his house with three shiny cups in his hands. He was also available to help
and cure people with these cups or shiny instruments. He also had many
different kinds of medicines and ointments for wounds and pains. He was a very
good Jew who liked to help others. He gave his sons the best education and they
studied engineering and medicine and as far as I remember they never abandoned
the heritage of the Jewish people.
We also must mention Rabbi Berla, the Shames. On the evening of Sabbath, Friday
night, he used to circulate amongst the entries to the houses and declare the
beginning of the Shabbat. During the days of the Slichot, at dawn, he used to
circulate and wake up with his wonderful voice the Jews of Modzjitz to come and
celebrate and pray for the Slichot. When somebody in the community passed away,
Rabbi Berla immediately circulated a box, singing and raising money for charity
for the family of the deceased.
[See PHOTO – A12 at the end of Section A]
The Jews of Modzjitz were good hosts. They used to host the Jewish soldiers
that were camped in the fortress so that they didn't feel lonely away from
home. They would host them on Shabbat and holidays and even during the rest of
I can't complete the description of Demblin without mentioning the thugs of the
city that used to fight amongst themselves until the small hours of the night
for a variety of criminal activities. These thugs used to threaten the
non-Jewish community since they refused to threaten the Jews during market
days. When those thugs had an extensive fight nobody could separate them but
the military from the fortress, were in many cases such a fight ended up in
There were also many Jews in the community who were supporters of the land of
Israel. As they heard about the Balfour Delaration, the Jews of Demblin
arranged marches where the marcher in front was Rabbi Gershon with the other
important people of the city. They would march to the train station and there
the Rabbi would give a speech about the special event that was taking place in
those days since the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Also, revolutionary movements were not missing in Demblin. Among the many
movements in Demblin-Modzjitz, we should mention the Halutz movement, other
worker-union organizations, and of course the Zionist and non-Zionist movements.
Among the first to immigrate to Israel from the community were Rabbi Avraham
Shmetzstein, David Rozenfeld and his family, Mister Konotofsky, who by the way
was also the personal tailor of the Czar Nikolai. And also me, a young man in
those days, who joined the pioneer brigade that was led by the famous Yosef
Trumpeldor and I started a settlement at Kfar Giladi-Tel Chai. After these
first immigration moves to Israel, many of the young boys and girls of Demblin
followed and took active parts in the immigration and pioneering and the
building of the country (Israel).
Later when Poland was conquered by the Nazis, a new concentration camp was
established in Demblin and most of the Jewish community was sent to the death
camps. Only a few ended up working in the concentration camps and in the city.
Very few managed to be lucky enough to escape to Russia. And only those of the
city inhabitants who earlier immigrated to Israel established their new life
and served their lives.
We will never forget what the Nazis did to our community and the memory of
their action will never leave us.
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