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
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
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]
Parties and Figures
by Binyamin Zilberman, Holon
Demblin's children, like all Jewish children in little towns in the Diaspora,
[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
. 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
[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
[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!
[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
[interpretation of the Torah, required reading for kids in heder]. On the
Sabbath, Father would have
[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
[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
from outside would remove the children from the ancient Biblical world.
Who could ignore the smell of fresh baked goods? The
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.
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
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
[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
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.
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
[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
[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
[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
[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
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
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
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
[visiting the ill], the burial society and especially in
[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
[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
[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
[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
. 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
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
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
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
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
[national guard] movement, which later changed its name to
[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
[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
[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
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
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
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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