[Page 127]

The Searching of the Youth

by Avraham Goldberg, Paris


The Jewish youth of Demblin, just like those of other towns and cities in Poland, in the years between the wars, lived in great material need, but at the sane time lived in a world of ideas, and constant seeking after ideals which would liberate all of humanity and their own hard pressed people.

I remember well our home, where 10 souls had to quiet their hunger every day. In this situation we were no exception. If I were today to try to give an accurate and responsible estimate with numbers I think that probably 80% of the Jewish population in Demblin lived in poverty or in a constant difficult struggle to make ends meet. In all of the homes one wanted to eat a little bit of bread not only on the Sabbath but also the other six days of the week. But from Sunday until Friday, it wasn't easy to get for the children even a couple of potatoes with a little bit of herring.

In a situation like this, the younger generation knew what it meant to be poor and also to feel discrimination and oppression from the Polish regime. They weren't interested in taking on a religious lifestyle like their parents had wanted for most of their children. It's not any wonder that as soon as they left the heder when they were young, the young people began a search. They wanted to better their lives in an economic sense, they wanted to make their lives more interesting too, in a spiritual sense. Those who had the most minimal ability to do so, wandered away to the bigger cities, if not to other countries altogether. It was quite a happy occasion for those who received some kind of certification to make aliyah to Ertetz Israel. But the majority of our youth found their world of ideas in the local chapter of the party, in professional associations, in unions, in sports clubs. In this way Demblin was not very different than other places in Poland which was cooking with very intense and varied social life.

The first of September of 1939, when Hitler hoards attacked Poland, was the beginning of the tragic end of the broad Polish Jewry and more specifically our Jewish Demblin-Modzjitz.


[Pages 128-129]

The First 7-Grade Jewish Co-Educational School

by Laibel Nodelfodim


After the end of the Polish-Bolshevik war in 1920 (The Miracle of the Vistula), an officer of the Polish army, a Jew, by the name of Joseph, came to Demblin. He hadn't completed his legal education, nevertheless, he was employed as a secretary of the military court, at the Demblin garrison of the new Polish army. Joseph hailed from eastern Galitsia. He was steeped in Polish culture and literature. And his appearance was far from a typically Jewish one. In spite of all this, a warm Jewish heart beat in him. And although he wore the uniform of an officer in the army, which itself denoted snobbism and anti-Semitism, he sought out contact with the Jewish population. He wanted to become closer to the people and always have a relationship with the Jewish community. One felt that his need and longing for Jews and Jewishness was very great. It was said that in spite of his legal work there, he could be counted among the most capable officers in the Demblin garrison. He was bold, very gentlemanly, intelligent, and an extremely capable speaker.

In the course of his work at the military court, he had quite a few opportunities to see the open hatred and anti-Semitism and the way the officers treated Jewish defendants, who were most of the time innocent. The anti-Jewish spirit and general tendency of the civilian and the military powers that were in Poland brought to the defendants seat in the courtroom many Jewish young people under trumped up suspicions of desertion. It helped very little to explain and respond to the accusations and many of them were sentenced to death. In cases like these all that Joseph could do was to travel from the fortress into town in order to get the Rabbi, Reb Gershon Rabinovitch, who was the son-in-law of the Modzjitzer Rabbi, so he could take a final confession of sins from the person who was condemned.

This Joseph, as soon as he ended his military service, didn't want to remain in the army one day longer than he had to, although in the army they offered him very advantageous conditions if he would stay. He also had no desire to travel into the bigger cities where it was certain that he could have had a formidable career. Instead, he remained in Demblin, and energetically began to work in order to establish a modern school for Jewish children, whose own education had come from heder or just playing around without supervision in the streets and the courtyards.

With ardent enthusiasm, which inspired others, Joseph, wit the help of local teachers and those who came from other places, began the first Jewish 7-grade school in Demblin. That was its official name, the 7-Grade Jewish Co-Educational School. The school was situated in the wooden one-story building of Lozer Rozenman. According to the childrens' level of Polish proficiency, they were divided into different classes. Joseph, as well as the other teachers and parents, were determined that the “raw” children should grow up as capable and dedicated students.

I also feel a responsibility and a duty to remember those who served the school with so much devotion. Those who were the assistants of Joseph, Karl Kannaryenfogel, for whom the French term, “Esprit Universal” [universal spirit], fit very well. He was a man who was well versed in literature, music and languages; Traub; Miss Foharishes; Klein-Veksler; as well as the famous Jewish writers and translators like Shlome Sheinberg and Shlome Rozenberg. They were our first teachers of Hebrew and at the same time they planted a love in the hearts of the young for Jewish literature and culture.

A separate chapter was the respected and successful children's performances which were always accompanied by recitations and singing, choral declamations and music. The programs on these occasions celebrated one or another Jewish holiday and the affairs were prepared by the teachers.

I remember well the appearance of the school on the inside. Officially, of course, it was a Polish school and it was conducted in the Polish language. But the spirit inside was thoroughly Jewish. On the walls hung pictures of our classic writers, Peretz, Mendele, Sholom-Aleichem, as well as a portrait of Heinrich, although he was lost to the Jewish people, he was nevertheless great in Jewish spirit.

* * *


With longing and sorrow I remember this important institution which was established in a town where tragically my father, mother, sisters and younger brother, uncles, aunts and cousins, were murdered. Honored be their memory!

[See PHOTO-A21 at the end of Section A]


[Pages 130-145]

Parties and Figures

by Binyamin Zilberman, Holon


Demblin's children, like all Jewish children in little towns in the Diaspora, studied at heders [schools] with melamdim [teachers]. More than being a place of study, the heder was like a prison for the young children. Not willingly and without much enthusiasm did the children study there, and many times they escaped the teacher's aide on the way to the heder in the morning. The little kid would have to sit all day on the bench in the heder, without saying a word, except for the few minutes in which he studied the aleph-beth. If the child failed to stay quiet and uttered just one word from his mouth, he would be punished with the whip of the teacher's kanchik . The kanchik was a whip made of long straps tied to a wooden handle.

No wonder then that children tried to escape. If one did flee, the teacher and his helper ran after him and all the kids would have fun. The longer the chase, the merrier the kids became. This happened everyday. A child would run away from the helper and the Rabbi and his aide would leave the heder for a long time until the “victim” was captured. The children would have mixed feelings towards their captive friend; they would feel both sorrow and satisfaction. Sorrow, for what? Because the Rabbi returned too early from his hunt. Satisfaction? Because now the Rabbi would arrange a “packle”. He would put the child in the corner, pull down the child's pants, put his hat on a broomstick, which he would place in the child's hands, and force him to stand like that, humiliated, for a long hour, until he swore that he would never again try to run away from the helper. Even though the victim was their friend, and the following day one of them might be the target, the other children would feel glee for his sorrow. Because kids know how to be cruel when their friends is in pain.

The teacher would not be content with the kid's name; they would give him a name of their own, which according to these educators, reflected the child's personality. When it was a kid's turn to read his verse, the teacher would address him with his name and nickname. For example, Binyamin-Morde, Leibel-Balltz, Meir Pitterl, Avraham-Kishke, Yakle-Ponye, Yankle-Hoyzen-Kacker, etc., etc. A childhood's nickname would stay with him for the rest of his life.

When the child reached the stage of reading the Chumash [the five books of the Torah], his parents would make a large festive dinner on the Sabbath, to which the child's friends and teacher would be invited. The child, being the star, would read a speech. After that he would read parshat hashavu'a [chapter of the week, from the Chumash] with his feeble, frightened voice. The parents would be elated, imagining him sitting one day on the rabbinate throne. In their imagination they saw the budding of a genius!

Now the chumash yengle [youngster] would be transferred to Leibel Wattenmacher's heder. Reb Leibel was a Cohen, and Cohannim, as we all know, are quick tempered. So was Reb Leibel. When Reb Leibel watched one of the kids with his thick, black eyebrowed eyes, the kid would feel terror throughout his body. If the teacher became angry, he would slap the child on the cheek with such intensity that the child would see stars. We therefore took pains not to infuriate him, and to study our chapters well with Rashi [interpretation of the Torah, required reading for kids in heder]. On the Sabbath, Father would have nachass [feel content], seeing that Reb Leibel did his job, and the teacher's salary would be raised.

The demands of the teacher Aaron Karver, however, were not as stringent. He did not require much from his pupils and therefore did not make their lives difficult. He only asked that they know by heart some Tanach [Bible] and Tehilim [Psalms]. He would point to the chapters which we had to learn, leave us alone and go to help his wife Dinah'le in her store, pickling cucumbers. Dinah'le had a reputation as an expert pickler. Nevertheless the cucumbers did not hurt his job since he knew how to teach incantation and to chant the Torah. Which father would not want his son to read the Torah? But in return for this, Reb Aaron demanded, and received, special fees.

The pickling and his wife's shop were not the only interruptions for the studies in the heder; the call “ heisse bubelach ” from outside would remove the children from the ancient Biblical world. Who could ignore the smell of fresh baked goods? The bubelach and the warm fresh bagels, baked daily in the winter and summer, tasted like paradise. Therefore, when the seller's voice was heard outside, the heder would empty in an instant and all the kids would jump on him like cats on cream. To this day I miss their taste, even though they were not made of fine flower but of rough rye and were fried in oil.

The transition from the heder to Melamed Sanna's study was a profound experience for all the children. Sanna taught Talmud to the older kids. Sanna's teaching method was based on persuasion and addressing the boy's conscience. The kanchik was of no use here; a misbehaving boy would be criticized in front of the class. Sanna's words, however, were often convincing for just a little while. In the winter, when the boys returned home from the heder in the dark, they all had lights made often or paper. Such light was sufficient as long as the weather was good and no wind was blowing. The wind would blow the candle out and you had to walk in deep mud all the way home. On nights of a full moon in the winter, when the snow was glowing, you didn't need the light.

We enjoyed very much winter's early evenings, dusk, after the Rabbi had left for the evening service in the synagogue. He would leave us alone, and we used the free hour for skating on ice and snow and on the frozen river. Is there a greater joy than skating on a frozen river? For a while we forgot about Talmud, the Rabbi and his heder, and we would skate until our faces became red and we'd be out of breath. But the Rabbi did not forget us. He would come to our skating place and try to catch us. His efforts would fail. He would hardly guess where we were, and off we'd go through narrow alleys. But when the Rabbi returned to the heder, we would all be sitting there, as if we never left or seats. This would be repeated every evening. He would go to pray and we would go skating. He would ask his wife to keep an eye on us, but we could easily buy her by feeding her geese, which she raised for Passover. Furthermore, she had enough trouble as it was.

But even the studies at Sanna's reached their end; the boys grew bigger and the heder became too small for them. They continued their studies at yeshiva, independently. Others chose the “marketplace of life”, leaving the Talmud and the studies altogether behind them. One of the more respected trades then was making shoe heels. The first to do that in town was the late Leibel Deitcher. In time he had many competitors, including my late brother Chaim, who lost much money in the trade. Leibel was not very happy to hire apprentice boys to his workshop, because learning the trade included damaging much merchandise. Therefore the apprentices worked for him for a long time without pay. Leibel's son, the late Mordechai, was a study friend of mine in the synagogue. His daughter Chaya was a member of Demblin's pioneer movement. All of them perished in the Holocaust. May their memory be blessed.



Beit Hamidrash

In the long winter evenings the synagogue would fill with many people; the place would be packed at the evening service. In truth, not all prayed in solemn silence. Many came to chat, to meet friends and to exchange gossip and opinions on worldly issues.

People concentrated around the two furnaces, which Schmerl the custodian had lit. Everybody wanted to warn up near them. The rule was, first come, first served. They would dry their coats, which became wet with snow, and their shoes, which often had holes. Everybody wanted to be as near to the heat source as possible. Schmerl would work hard to add fuel to the fire. If you moved from your place for a second, your friend would take your place. Therefore, you had to stand there and guard your place. Furthermore, from here, the Demblin furnace, all the news traveled. Who would want to leave his cozy place by the furnace? Towards dinner-time the synagogue would start to empty, unless a speaker was to deliver a speech. After, all left to their homes, only the “beit-midrashniks” would stay there, continuing their study. Then the tradesmen would come, wanting to absorb some spirituality, some Torah after a day filled with trivialities, worries and the constant struggle to make ends meet. They sat near Leibish Gershons, listened to his words and studied a page of Mishna.

At Chanukah, the synagogue would be overtaken by the children, of heder age and older. They would climb on the tables and benches so they could see Shmuel, the hazzan [conductor of the service], lighting the Chanukah candles by the southern window of the synagogue. With great difficulty, the man would make his way to the windows, while the children chanted in choir: “He's walking, he's walking, he's walking; he's stepping, he's stepping, he's stepping; he's lighting, he's lighting, he's lighting.” By the time he reached the window, the candle would be out. Then Shmuel would go again and light the candle, and again, on his way to the window, the flame would be out. So it went several times. The prayers that he would say when lighting the candles would also be lost in the din of the children.

Winter and summer passed, and it became time for the slichot nights [ the nights of Elul, the last month in the Jewish year, just before the High Holidays, are days of atonement, in which Jews ask for forgiveness ]. Walking with my father to the synagogue in the middle of the night for “slichot” was a profound experience for all kids. The custodians Ahron and Schmerl would walk in the darkness in the town's alleys, knocking on the shutters and calling out, “In shihl arien”, “steit oif zu slichot”. They created a mysterious feeling, especially for the kids. When they arrived at the synagogue, they found many people already there – those who did not wait for the custodians. They already had tea, with milk, which Schmerl had prepared. That was one of many jobs he had, although the man was always destitute.

With the slichot prayers, a special air hung over the town. The holy days arrived; who would not be moved? Who would not look to the heavens for forgiveness, for the Creator to send him good wages, health and good life, for him, his family and the whole House of Israel? All prayer houses were filled with prayer. Beit hamidrash, the stiebelech, minyanim [prayer quorums of ten] of tradesmen and merchants – all were filled with praying men. This was high time for the Cantors.

Especially in demand were Mathis-Chaim Ahrons and his sons, Beigleman, the late David Wasserman and other Cantors who were well reputed in Demblin and the neighboring towns. Many of “our” Cantors were snatched by others, but even then Demblin was not left without hazzanim and Cantors. The Midzhiz family was an affluent source of Cantors who had good voices and inspiration. The blower of the shofar [ram's horn] was Mendle-Motle, whose blasts confused the prosecuting Satan. But even Mendle-Motle could not prevent the terrible decree that was issued against the Demblin Jewish community.

Furthermore, Mendle-Motle did not earn his living waging war on Satan with the blowing of the shofar. His business was selling dairy products; cheese, milk, butter, etc. His products excelled in their freshness and taste, and therefore he had many faithful clients.



PURIM

The winter passed and spring was coming reluctantly to town. While the winter was refusing to leave, Purim would squeeze itself between rain and shine and fill the street and the homes. Although Purim is not a real holiday, as fever is not an illness, festivities were many. The thawing snow, the mud in front of the house, the uninvited rain, they do not prevent the little ones and the grownups from being merry. The noise from the children's rattles filled the town's air, and the intense activity of mishloach manot [the customary exchange of sweets and fruit between families] meant the Purim was being celebrated in full force. All carried plates or baskets covered with napkins against the “evil eye” … or maybe just so their contents would stay covered, for some of these contained a quarter of an orange, a single fig or no more than five candies. But “reality” did not mean much; what's on the plate is the main thing: a mitzvah. Purim is a good day for all Jews, but especially for the young boys, who are messengers of mishloach manot. When they run into each other on the street, one looks at the plate of another to see what he is carrying to the town's rich man. Then all know that the rich received in Purim itself half an orange, a lemon and some candy! No secrets in town, even under napkins!

But as we know, Purim lasts only one day, and by the time you enjoy it, its gone. It makes way for a real festival, a big festival, Passover, the Holiday of Liberty. Passover is also the holiday of spring, which means the end of winter, ice and snow. The heavy coats have already been stowed in the closets. The heaters were also removed, and so were the double windows and the straw from the top of the mattresses, on which the people slept all winter long. Now the whole house is being renewed! First, the walls were whitewashed, and a door, a window or a shutter are repaired. Everything is taken out to be aired in the yard, and that includes clothes, books, furniture, utensils. That will all get fresh air for a day or two, or week, after the suffocating winter months. After the house has been whitewashed, cleaned and repaired, the baking of matzoth may proceed. Preparations for this work are an interesting, suspense-filled story. Labor, sweat and responsibility are great, but their reward are mitzvah and satisfaction, because the matzoth would be super kosher. Passover eve was filled with lights and happiness that cannot be described. The second night was also celebrated according to the halakha [Jewish law], but it lacked the suspense and splendor of the first night. In the first seder all the expectations were invested, all the feelings of a festival and elation, while the second night was just for doing the mitzvah. The Passover weekdays also had a taste and purpose, because they were the best days for family visits, matchmaking and meetings between a young man and a virgin. In Passover days the town was filled with visiting guests from neighboring towns, relatives, friends and acquaintances, but mostly by matchmakers who came to praise this young man or that virgin.

This is the place to note the great compassion of the Jewish townspeople for the Jewish soldiers stationed at Fort Demblin. The community wanted them to feel festive and to give them a warm, kosher home atmosphere. My cousin Yankle-Yosks Zilberman excelled in this work. He worked much in preparing a kosher kitchen for the Jewish soldiers and spared no time and effort to make Passover a pleasant time for them. And not just for soldiers. He gave money confidentially to every poor person; one would receive a bag of coals for winter, another, money for wheat, and another, who had lost his money in business, would receive a loan. He did not speak much about his deeds; everything he did was away from the public's eye. But everybody recognized his benevolence. He established the “third meal” in the synagogue and paid its expense. All were grateful for his good heart and philanthropy. Even when he emigrated to Brazil, he kept on his charitable work. He established there a tradition of the third meal and kept his Demblin ways. His daughter, Tova, who was active in the Zionist Federation and the Halutz, died after an illness in Brazil.

May her soul be among the living.



Mendle der Heitzer

I must mention Mendle Der Heitzer, may his memory be blessed, to do justice to the man. He was the furnace operator for the mikve [the ritual bath]. The mikve was an important establishment for every town with a Jewish population. What kind of a Jew welcomes Sabbath without first dipping in the mikve? Mendle took care to heat the mikve in the summer as well, because the Jews used it also during weekdays. The heat, steam and the warm water created tranquility, and visitors imagined they were in far away, pleasant places. Often Mendle poured an extra scoop of boiling water, and the steam would engulf the naked, perspiring bodies, and all would say in unison: “Ay, ay, ay, Mendle nach a scheppele!” Mendle was a good-hearted Jew, and he would pour another bucket and another. “Let the Jews enjoy themselves,” he probably said in his heart, watching people whipping each other as a massage in the style of a Jewish mikve in a Jewish town. The pleasure did not cost much. There were those who inquired how much did a pretty, modest bride pay for her pre-wedding dip, but Mendle would not tell professional secrets in public.



Yitzhak Vershever, zal [his memory be blessed]


[See PHOTO-A22 at the end of Section A]

Yitzhakle Varshever did not wait until Mendle heated the mikve. Every morning, winter or summer, Yitzhakle would bathe in cold water. He was innocent, and a scholar, but very lazy. He studied Torah day and night, and some thought he was one of the lamed-vav tsaddikim [the thirty-seven unknown righteous meal]. He was detached from worldly life, did not even know the value of money, and also did not want to know. Except for the Gemarah and his talith and teffilin [prayer shawl and phylacteries], he cared for nothing. Only at noon would he go to the market to replace his wife at the vegetable stand, so she would go home to prepare a meal. It is hard to say that Yitzhakle did a good job. He would open his Gemarah between the vegetable boxes and sink again into the world of Talmud. The goats did not bother him, and he did not bother them. They sampled vegetables from every box. They probably liked the produce, for they feasted on them undisturbed. How could Yitzhakle not sympathize with a small or large animal? He was not the one to interrupt the meal of such poor creatures. His wife's neighbors did not agree; had they not taken the initiative and cared for his wife's livelihood and Yitzhakle's bread, the goats would have eaten away her business.

Anyway, Yitzhakle would receive his daily portion of insults from his wife even before he had his warm soup. But Yitzhakle was not one who would be upset by a woman's words! He blessed God everyday for not being created a woman. Their roles were clear. She would not study Gemarah in the synagogue, and he would not sell vegetables in the market. While his wife went to the market in the morning, he would go to the mikve, just like Dr. Zochatsky, the gentile, who also bathed daily, in the river. Every morning, summer or winter, Zochatsky took his ax, went to the river, broke a whole in the ice and bathed.

Dr. Zochatzky was a gentile, but had a rare, benevolent soul. If a poor Jew became ill, he would visit him for free, and even gave him medicine without charge, and not only that, he would give him some money to buy a chicken. For wealthier patients, he charged only for the first visit. He was a benevolent, pure soul, whose likes are so few in this evil world.



Reb Natan Kaminsky

Reb Natan Kaminsky was a religious Jew with a nice beard and good presence. He was a respected landlord and owned a large bakery. He also had a retail shop, but his main source of income was supplying bread to the Polish army that was based in Demblin. His hand was wide open, and he supported every pauper. The Kozjnitz shtieble, in which he prayed, always awaited him; the men would not start the service before his arrival. All received him with honor, thanking him for his good deeds to individuals and to the shtieble. The Rabbi of Kozjnitz, when visiting town, would stay at his home, and this is where he did the table [communal meal for Hasidim]. Many Hasidim would gather at Reb Nissan's home, and the place was too small to contain them all. They came to hear the Rabbi playing the violin, which was his hobby. His three most avid fans were three young men from Warsaw: Chonelah, Yonaleh and Mendeleh. Their livelihood with the Rabbi was greater than in their home city. After every visit, the Rabbi would give them a large tip and therefore they visited him every holiday. These yeshiva boys were smart. They entertained the Rabbi and his followers, because the Rabbi did not say as many profound Torah interpretations as his colleagues. Here the young men would forget their wives and children in Warsaw, tell jokes and make fun. Once, as a skit, the three arranged a “trial”. Mendeleh was the defendant, and Yonaleh and Chonaleh were the judges. The defendant was placed on the table for all to see and hear. He would answer the judge's questions with wit and humor, and the whole audience would enjoy it. But he did not know how to honor the place, which was the synagogue, in which one is not supposed to say vulgarities. When asked what work did his wife do, his answer was beyond what a synagogue can bear. There were many protests and a great disruption. The trial was stopped, and since then the table was moved to Reb Nissan Kaminsky's home.

There were many large families in Demblin, connected in family ties to one another. One was the Kalekotch family, which made up a large part of the town's residents. The head of the family, Reb Avraham, his sons and grandchildren, were married with many other families. No one dared say any bad things about them as was the custom in Jewish towns. They had several sources of income, and were quite wealthy. Many members of this family perished in the Holocaust. May their memory be blessed.

The sons of Chaim-Ahrons – Yossle, Mathis, Yisrael and the others were decent Jews and prominent landlords. They were merchants, and their material status was quite good. They also were active in the community's public life. Mathis was the chairman of the Burial Society, and everybody who came in contact with him knew that he was honest and decent. All treated him with respect. The other sons also kept their religious ways. Mathis would conduct the service between the high Holidays, his sons singing around him as a choir. His good voice and the sons' singing attracted many to the services.

Leibush Gershons was a Jew respected by his acquaintances. He was modest and studied Mishnah with the trades people. He was active in the burial society and other religious societies. May his memory be blessed.

Reb Avraham Pitchatz, Der Latte Schneider, was a patch tailor who sometimes sewed new clothes. He was quite poor, but content. Before he went to the synagogue, and after the service he stayed to read Psalms. Only then he would go to work, satisfied. On Sabbath eve he studied parashat hashavua with his trade people friends, as he knew how to interpret the difficult parts. All listened to him intently and joyfully. All wondered how this patcher had such a talent for speaking and teaching. As said earlier, there were better tailors in Demblin, but this man was talented with inspiration and natural intelligence. May his memory be blessed.

Yisraelk Glazer was what his name means: a glazer. But he had a hard time making ends meet for him and his wife – he had no children. A minyan of friends, Kozjnitz Hasidim, held their prayer services at his home, and he studied parashat hashavua with them on the Sabbath. He served them hot tea and kiddush wine. He did not complain about his situation, only asked his Rabbi that God grant him Kaddish [meaning that he would have a male son to read Kaddish on his grave], but his wish was not fulfilled. May his soul be among the living.

We would be unfair to say that all of Demblin Jews were thoroughly observant. All, however, kept a Jewish lifestyle, some more, some less. On the Sabbath all the Jewish men were dressed with satin or silk coats; the women also were dressed with their best clothes and jewelry, which they inherited from their mothers and grandmothers. Sabbath was a day of holiness and inspiration. No such day exists with other nations and cultures. Sabbath would begin at noon on Friday, when the town's landscape changed and as air of holiness descended over the streets, the squares and the houses. The shtielbelach would fill with praying Jews, and they were used not only for prayer. In the shtielbelach, before, during and after the service, the participants talked and exchanged their views on many worldly affairs.

When a Jew returned to his home, he came to a table that was set with Sabbath delicacies. A Jewish woman knew what Sabbath meant and how to create a festive atmosphere. The house would be clean for the holy day. The foods – gefilte fish, cholent and kogel and kishke, baked goods, meat and sweet challah – had the taste of paradise. But we will be unfair to the women of Israel if we confined their contribution to the food alone. Demblin's women were active in public life just as their husbands, and participated in the activities of many institutions, such as bikkur cholim [visiting the ill], the burial society and especially in hachnassat kalah [reception of the bride]. This one was a great mitzvah! A poor young woman who reached marriage age would be helped, as a duty, by the entire public. The women knew their roles. They took care to provide her with everything she lacked, and when she was finally under the chuppah [canopy], there was no end to their satisfaction and happiness for bringing her to this time. The women would come in their best dresses and jewels, their heads covered with shiny hats decorated with flowers, and even the grandmother would be pretty; even she remembered that she was a woman.

But let us not exaggerate. Life in the town was not all a Sabbath of rest and tranquility. Many knew poverty, destitution and hardships. The common people – tradesmen, wagon drivers, porters, wood choppers and water carriers – struggled hard to make ends meet. Nevertheless they kept heir humanity, did mitzvahs, studied at the synagogue, and made every effort to educate their sons and instill in them with as much Jewish culture as the could afford. They also knew the importance of mutual assistance, and despite their hardships, they provided help to each other in times of trouble.



Founding the Zionist Federation

The Demblin Zionist Federation grew out of the synagogue, which produced scholars and founders of the Jewish Workers trade union. Even the communist activities in Demblin had their roots in the synagogue. The old, torn Gemorah books gave them their first lesson in socialism. As said earlier, the synagogue also produced the Zionists of Demblin.

Not all students studied, for heavens sake. Many did so in deference to their fathers or regarded the yeshiva as a respectable step in their future careers; namely, they estimated that study in beit hamidrash would help them find a rich, respectable wife. Their hopes were not always fulfilled, but they did not forget their studies.

One evening, as I was sitting in yeshiva with the Gemorah opened in front of me, I noticed that the older students would go to a box that was filled with old, torn Gemorah books. I became curious. It turned out that this was their hiding place for treife [non-kosher] newspapers and periodicals. But my curiosity cost me some beating, as some of them were physically very strong. They caught me and performed “mortgage” on me; namely, they pulled down my pants and slapped, each as much as they could. I lost much of my curiosity after that treatment.

[See PHOTO-A23 at the end of Section A]

These boys were reading Zionist newspapers behind the furnace, thinking they could not be seen there. The supplier of the papers was Yitzhak Schorr Hanskel, of a Radom family that settled among us. The head of the family did not find a job in Demblin, and therefore he traveled far away to teach Jewish children. He returned home only for Sabbath, and therefore his sons grew up without discipline and orderly education, their mother being unable to control them. Yitzhak Schorr Hanskel, especially, grew up totally independent. He would appear in beit hamidrash every morning with the Zionist Heint . His appearance always provoked arguments which resulted in his being sent home from beit hamidrash. Our boy, however, was not too upset. The following day, he would again come with his Zionist Heint and provoke more arguments. Slowly, the boys began to listen to him, and eventually opened their eyes to the reality in which they were living. He influenced many to leave the parochial education and go out into the world. They opened their eyes and realized that it was a beautiful world indeed. The Gemorah could no longer satisfy them. The new lifestyle, the sight of young men and women walking arm in arm in the town's streets, also had its influence. But this is not what revolutionized their lives; it was the vacuum they felt after leaving beit hamidrash. Having left the Gemorah behind, what awaited them? What would become of them? Work was hard to find in a small town like Demblin; their chances of succeeding there were nil. Many left for the big city, Warsaw. In the first days, they went to their towns people who had settled there, but in the end they found the address of the Pioneer Society on Zamenhoff Street. On the Sabbath they went to the nearby training site in Grochov, where they heard lectures on Eretz Israel and the Zionist Movement. The seed finally began to bud.

The boys would return to their homes in the town for the holidays. On Shevu'ot of the year 1930, some of us assembled in Dr. Zochatsky's forest. We were Meir Sammet, Arye Buckshpan, Avraham Schilinger, Yankle Rosenberg, Yankle Perlstein (Reiker), Aaron Garbovnik, Moshe Iglitzky and myself, and some other young men, led by Shalom Puterflam. There we declared the founding of the Zionist Federation… Although we were influenced by the ideas of the Pioneers, we established a general Zionist federation, in order to receive assistance from local veteran Zionists such as Yosef Gilibter, Yaacov Geigenboim, Moshe Kamin, Leibel Lucxemburg, Berrish Silbergleit, Yoneh Burashtin and others. This group used to meet at the soda shop of Yosef Gilibeter to discuss issues of the Zionist movement. Other activity was not yet felt in Demblin. Only with our organizing did the Zionist activity begin. Our first club was in a small room in the home of Leibke Kanioch. Our first activity was to distribute JNF coin boxes, and we had immediate success. Not only Zionists responded, but also common people, who contributed nicely. If the box was empty at collection time, they gave their monthly contribution on the spot. Moshe Kamin's box was always the fullest, and for that he was cited by the central bureau in Warsaw. The activity extended as time passed. We invited speakers from Warsaw, but the objectors tried to blow up the meetings by throwing stones in to the hall or by interrupting the speeches with shouts. We were not intimidated and even intensified our activities. In time we had more members, including ultra-orthodox. We rented a bigger hall and had more space for recreational activities, such as dancing, singing, but mostly for meetings and conversations. We often went outdoors and hiked in the forests and fields. The religious Jews could not bear our activities, and our influence on the youth, and tried to prevent their sons and daughters from joining us. Could that be possible, that boys and girls would dance together, entertain each other and even sing? Some shtiebelach joined together to stop the “carelessness”! The Hasidim sat for seven days and seven nights until they reached a proposal: if a young Jewish woman appeared in short sleeves, they would stain her with black tar! S.N. took upon himself to stand guard for their modesty, and even committed himself to treating seven girls at once! The man was muscular and was not very gentle, but when he had to do his duty, he lost his heart. Demblin's young Jewish women continued to wear short dresses and sleeves! Although it cannot be considered a convincing triumph for the pioneer movement of Demblin, it marked the liberation of the youth from traditional ways of life that had become obsolete. A new generation had risen and wanted to make a new way for itself, because their parents' way had reached a dead end.

[See PHOTO-A24 at the end of Section A]

One day a messenger arrived in Demblin from Eretz Israel. He was the brother of the chief Rabbi of Israel then, Rabbi Cook, may his righteous memory be blessed. He spoke in a rally. His speech was filled with the love of Eretz Yisarel. He urged his listeners to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael, since settling in the land carried more weight than all other mitzvahs combined. He was asked by an orthodox man: how can he preach to a religious audience to support the Zionist Movement, which was in secular hands, controlled by people who did not observe the mitzvahs. He said that his brother too was asked this question by the ultra-orthodox. And so answered Rabbi Cook: “As it is well known, no one was allowed to enter the Holiest of Holy's [in the Temple], and even the High Priest was allowed there only once a year, on Yom Kippur. But when the place needed repair, entry was granted to trades people, and not necessarily to the High Priest. So is Eretz Yisrael. It is indeed the Holiest of Holy's but now is in ruins and must be rebuilt. Therefore, no one should be checked to closely. All are assumed kosher, and everybody who helps in this task is blessed.”

The envoy's words left their impression and eased our work. But the extremists of Agudat Yisrael [society of Israel, now a political party] continued to sharply oppose any activity associated with the building of Eretz Yisrael. They and the Rabbi of Guerr continued to incite against us and blocked our way. They regarded every pioneer preparing aliya as a Jew-hater. They did not hesitate to excommunicate people from their communities, as when they prevented my uncle Reb Avraham Shmeltzstein ( Der Purim Soycher ) to enter the shtieble, because of his devotion to the Zionist idea. They did not even hesitate to boycott his shop. But they could not impoverish him, as he had many Christian customers, farmers and railway workers. Reb Avraham Shmeltzstein was a son-in-law of Reb Shimon Silberman, may his memory be blessed (the other was the scholar Itche Pinchas Traler).

Agudat Yisrael continued to incite against the Zionists also during the 1930's. During the election campaign for the Polish parliament, we posted bills recommending our candidates, also in beit hamidrash, but they saw this as rudeness, a foreign invasion of their territory, and tore up the bills. Of course, we tore up their bills. When we again posted bills in beit hamidrash, they tore them up again, desecrating the Sabbath in their “holy war” against us. We did not forgive, and on Sabbath morning we entered beit hamidrash and beat the ones who tore our posters. In this instance the police interfered to enforce peace. But we had the objectors also among the trade unionists, who were influenced by the left, the Bund and the Communists. Among them, however, the youngsters were politically alert and intelligent.

We also established a drama troupe. The first play that we staged was “Jewish King Lear”, directed by our member Shalom Puterflam. The major roles were played by Binyamin Stemplock and Scheindle Luxenburg, may her memory be blessed.

[See PHOTO-A25 at the end of Section A]

This is the place to tell more about Scheindle Luxenburg. Her father Reb Shmuel Nachum was chairman of the Demblin community and his home was a faithful Zionist home. His son and daughters – Yechiel, Geniah and Scheindle – were active in the Haleumi despite the prohibition. Geniah left for a training farm near Lodz. Geniah and her mother were saved from the Nazi slaughter, but were murdered in their home, after the war, by Polish murderers. Scheindle, while fleeing the Nazis, perished in tragic circumstances. They did not live to fulfill their dream of life in Eretz Yisrael.

May their memory be blessed!

After the great success of “Jewish King Lear”, we produced Shalom Ash's play “Motke the Thief” under the direction of Chemia Ehrlich. The major roles were played by Yaacov Rosenberg and Binyamin Stamler. But our successes were viewed jealously by the trade unionists. They viewed our success as a danger, attesting to our influence, and tried to prevent the show by all means. They declared a boycott on the shows and tried to prevent the youth and adults from attending. But in vain. We again succeeded and the income was nice. We were encouraged to bring outside groups. Once, when we invited such groups to appear and the bills were already posted throughout the town and the hall was ready to host the show, the trade unionists notified us tat they would use force to prevent the audience from attending. And so they did. Before the show they had their people at the doors, not allowing anyone to cross. They waited for us to oppose them by force, and had their muscular men ready. In the last minute we decided to cancel the show. We paid the actors, refunded the tickets and paid for the hall., That was done to avoid a bloody battle and police interference.

Much devoted activity was done for the JNF. We placed the blue-and-white box in every Jewish home and did not miss any opportunity – family event and holidays – to raise money for the JNF from the town's Jews. On Tu Bishvat [day of the trees] we sold “fruit of Eretz Yisrael” and the proceeds were all given to the JNF. We also used the good mood of Purim, when Jews were slightly intoxicated, for fund raising.

I remember Purim night of 1931, while I was sitting at my mother's deathbed (she died the following day), I was notified that he trade unionists assaulted a group of boys that raised funds for the JNF and robbed them. Despite the difficult situation at home, as my mother was struggling to live a few more hours, I jumped out to catch the attackers. This time too we avoided asking the police for help. The few pennies that were raised were sacred in our eyes and nothing was dearer than protecting that blue box! When I returned home I was eyed by the people present; how could I leave my dying mother to protect the few pennies for the redemption of the Land of Israel?

The Leftists did not stop at anything to disrupt our festivities and meetings. When we returned from a hike of Lag Ba'omer [thirty-third day of the mourning period from Passover to Shevu'ot in memory of Rabbi Akiva, who inspired the mutiny against the Romans], while dressed in Zionist garb and were singing, the Leftists suddenly attacked us. Many were beaten for no apparent reason. But, many resisted the attackers with force. I and my brother Chaim struggled hard against M. P.'s two sons. Thanks to Herschel Koshminer – near his soda shop the scuffle had begun – we received just a few blows, but returned them as they deserved.

The work of the Zionists was not easy at that time. We struggled against both the Right and Left, but thanks to the faithfulness and devotion of our members in the town, we overcame our foes and widened our ranks. We had more new members by the day. As said earlier, the community chairman was Shmuel-Nachum Luxemburg, despite the fact that the majority was of Agudat Yisrael members. Reb Shmuel Nachum fought the battle of Zionism in the community and attained many rights for the cause, including a clause in the community's budget which provided financial assistance for every pioneer that made aliyah. The money was not given to the pioneer but to the Zionist Federation of Demblin. Indeed, this clause was a significant contribution to the activities of the Zionists in Demblin. In those years, the Zionist activity went on intensively and without many severe disruptions. We took pains to infiltrate the ranks of the trade unionists' youth, because their youngsters were mainly good. But we didn't see much success there. Only a few joined us. We decided to establish the Halutz Hasmalli [the Left Pioneer] movement, that would tend more to the left. These youths also searched for ways to join the Zionist movement, because they heard that with it, there was a chance to emigrate to Eretz Israel. The atmosphere in the town had become intolerably suffocating. Furthermore, there were letters from those who tried their luck in the Soviet Union. They wrote that they had no money for the return trip home. These messages made the Leftist youth realize that the best way was ours. Indeed, the Working Youth began to see the Pioneers as their organization, the address for their various problems, so much so that the Pioneers had more members than the Zionist Federation. The youth regarded the Pioneers as a socialist movement that promoted labor, established training sites and trained its members for aliyah to Eretz Israel. When the first pioneer from the town, Menachem Rechtman, emigrated to Eretz Israel, the news made their impression on the entire town and increased the Pioneer's influence. Many joined the movement and many of them fulfilled their ambition to emigrate to the Land of Israel.

As the Pioneers expanded with the new members from the left, so grew the Zionist Federation with the Bourgeois youth who were removed from socialist ideas and social revolutions. This youth found its place in the Hashomer Haleumi [national guard] movement, which later changed its name to Hanoar Hatzioni [the Zionist youth]. The National Guard had many school students, despite the prohibition on school-age youth to join any youth movement. The movement's group leaders tried to explain to educators and school principals that a youth movement is not a political organization but a national Jewish scouts. Indeed, the elementary school teacher Mrs. Steinhammer did not prevent her students from joining the National Guard. In time another movement was established, Halutz Haklal Tzioni [the all-Zionist Pioneer], because many wanted to make aliyah. However, without joining the training period, one could not get an aliyah certificate. Therefore, many left for the training sites that were established throughout Poland before the Second World War. Living conditions in these training sites were not easy at all: the labor was non-professional, lodging was the worse, and the food was nearly non-existent. Many failed and returned home, but many had stronger convictions and stayed on until emigrating to Israel. Truthfully, even those who dropped out did not give up the dream of emigrating to Israel. Indeed, many of them were among the country's builders and did their part in building the country!

I and Lippa Stamler also went to the training near Lodz. We worked in the farm of Asher Cohen, a famous industrialist. The work was quite difficult, but we became used to it. After some time we established another training site near Hlanovk, also near Lodz. We worked there in an orphanage that was supervised by the infamous Romkovski. It should be said however, that the orphans regarded him as their father and so they addressed him. My friend Lippa Stamler returned home a while later and did not make aliya. May his soul be among the living.

We, members of the General Pioneers worked also in Gurah Kalabria, namely the town of Guerr, seat of the Hasidic Rabbi. Their court did not shun our help, despite their sharp objection to Zionism. I still remember the debate between Yitzhak Greenboim, leader of the Polish Zionists, and the Rabbi's son-in-law, Itche Meir Levin, on the path of Zionism. The debate was heated and piercing. But in the darkest visions one could not imagine, in his most terrible nightmares, what was in store for the Jews in the coming years since that debate. Today Itche Meir Levin is member of the Knesset of the State of Israel.

After Zeev Zhabotinski left the Zionist Federation and established a Revisionist federation, he was joined by some people, headed by Feible Lindboim. In the beginning, the number of Demblin's revisionists was small, but they increased after the founding of Brit Hakhayil [treaty of the soldiers], led by Steinhammer, the teacher's son. The uniforms and the slogans on a Jewish state on both banks of the Jordan river were popular among the Jewish veterans who joined the organization.

Demblin was also home for Hamizrahi [the religious Zionists], but they were few. They included Shlomo Stamler, my late brother Chaim, Yodle Stern and a few others. But it had many non-active supporters. They did not have a club of their own and did not conduct any activity; many of the religious would have joined it had there been any activity at all. All were busy trying to make a living. Nevertheless many members of this Zionist movement were devoted to Eretz Yisrael, because they saw their future there.

Reality was more somber by the day. Anti-Semitism was rampant, and there was a boycott: “Don't buy from the Jews,” “Jews to Palestine!” Times were tough for Jews and no work was in sight. The Polish opened more and more stores of their own, using government assistance, and those competed against the Jewish establishments. The entire government apparatus was mobilized to demote the Jews from their business position and even from the universities. Income decreased, trade was being lost and the pressure of taxation was immense and merciless. All looked forward to Eretz Israel. But in order to enter the gates of the country one needed a certificate or have capital of a thousand English pounds! No Jew in a Polish town had this immense sum! Fathers, brothers, in-laws, uncles and all the other relatives asked their relatives to send them certificates, but those lucky ones who arrived in Eretz Israel could not help, because they had little. The keys to Eretz Israel were with the government of the British Mandate, and it was not generous. Everyone who had family or acquaintance in Eretz Israel asked him for help! The hazzan Doodle Wasserman asked his townspeople in Israel to help; my brother Chaim and my sister Leah and her husband Yisrael Rechtrman asked me to help, but I could not.

Berrish Silbergleit asked his friends in Israel if perhaps they needed match makers in Tel Aviv. He was afraid that he would not be able to survive as a merchant.

Much envy was felt among all towards the few happy ones who could leave Demblin for Israel. Nevertheless, all believed that they could fulfill their dream. In the meantime they joined the Zionist Federation and the other movements.

But they did not realize their dream. Like their brethren in Poland and the Nazi Block during the Second World War, they were destroyed and murdered and did not see the realization of the vision, the establishment of the State of Israel!

Had I known that my cry would be heard, I would have shouted in a voice that would make the world's institutions tremble: Murderers! Bloodhounds! What have you done to us! What have you done to the Demblin Jewish community, its Jews, women, old and child. Why did you murder our fathers and mothers! What had our little children done to you!

As long as the sun rises, as long as just one human creature remains on this earth, your memory and the memory of your people will be forever damned!


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