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[Pages 28-29]

Dobrzyń and Golub on the Drwęca River

by Yehudah Rozenwax

Translated by Sara Mages

The towns of Dobrzyń and Golub were adjacent to each other. They were located on both sides of the Drweca River, Golub east of the river and Dobrzyń to its west. In the past, Golub was within the territory of Germany and Dobrzyń - within the territory of Russia. A short narrow bridge connected the two towns, a German guard stood on one side and a Russian - on the other side. And of course, there were also two separate customs houses, in the two different regions of the bridge.

However, the guards couldn't prevent the smuggling of goods, since the smugglers were able to make their way in secret, when they crossed the shallow narrow river from one region to the other. Therefore, the trading between the two towns flourished, and many Jews, who lived in Dobrzyń and the surrounding area, found their livelihood in it.

The land around Dobrzyń was fertile farmland, and the Christian inhabitants, who cultivated it in the most primitive ways, took out their food from it, though in short supply, but with dignity. There were also those among the Christian residents, who worked at the factories that belonged to the Jews, in the - sawmills, flour mills and more.

Different was the appearance of the town of Golub, which was under German rule until the end of the First World War. The town was transferred to Poland only after it won its independence in accordance with the decision of the League of Nations. It was small, but perfectly groomed: its streets were wide and paved, the houses were pretty, and the shops attracted the eye with their splendor. The appearance - was modern and well maintained, the mountains surrounding the town were covered with greenery, fruit trees and ornamental trees, and the benches beneath them offered rest to the travelers. And indeed, the locals knew how to take advantage of the beautiful mountain scenery: many hotels were built there, and were used as summer resorts during the summer months.

Trains left from the modern train station to all parts of Poland,

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connected the town with the whole country, and helped with its development. And indeed, the trade flourished in the town and the big shops, including a luxurious department store, were bustling with shoppers.

A special power station provided electricity to the town twenty-four hours a day, what discriminated the town for the better from many other towns, among them also Dobrzyń. The vibrant urban life characterized Golub and served as a source of attraction to it.

The number of Jews in the town wasn't large, but they stood out with their occupations and their activities. They were good Jews, who aroused respect because most of the factories, shops and hotels were in their hands.

Dobrzyń was poorer: its streets were narrow and neglected, and the buildings - had neither looks nor grace. It was a town like the rest of the towns in Eastern Europe. Large families lived in the small apartments in poor living conditions, something that is difficult to imagine today. The shabby toilet was located in the yard, and only the rich were able to install a washbasin inside their homes. The rest of the people had to settle for a real bath only in the Mikvah.

There were many slums in the town, where people lived in poverty and lacked the most basic living conditions. Even the water supply was quite poor: a barrel, which was coated with enamel or tin, stood in the yard and served as a water reservoir. The water was brought by the water drawers, those pitiful figures that are familiar to us from the towns of Eastern Europe.

But even under these conditions, a rich Jewish life was developed, and we continue to draw inspiration from it even today. Some of it will be told on the following pages, pages of memory and testimony to the communities of Dobrzyń-Golub that the hand of the Nazi enemy fell on with full force.

Dobrzyń's Jews were lucky since many of them emigrated from the town ahead of time. The truth is that this migration already started in the 18th century, and grew stronger after the establishment of independent Poland in 1918, because independent Poland was a fertile ground for all forms of anti-Semitism. Most of the young generation left for the United States or to other countries in the world, and some of the young people immigrated to Israel. This migration saved them from the fate of their brothers who perished in the terrible holocaust.


[Page 30]

Dobrzyn, My Town[1]

by Dr. Yechiel Lichtenstein

Translated by Allen Flusberg

Hiding in his room to escape the hustle and bustle of New York, a Jew closes his eyes and gazes far off in both space and time. His spirit crosses rivers and seas, mountains and valleys, days and nights, innumerable weeks and months, decades of years…

Yes, I am that very dreamer. My spirit wanders eastward, crossing the Atlantic Ocean, reaching land: France, Germany under the Kaiser, West Prussia, Bromberg/Bydgoszcz, Thorn/Torun (city of Nicolaus Copernicus and of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer[2], of blessed memory). And soon I get off the train at the Golub station and walk past the remains of the Teutonic knights' castle, up there on the hill. I walk down to the last Prussian town [before the border], and come to the Dreventz (Drevec) River. The building here is the Golub customs house. The bridge is still within the domain of Prussia. But the soldier over there, past the white gate, is already a subject of Nikolay II, and the building next to him is the customs house of Russian Punya, the first building of my Dobrzyn. Here I was raised and educated during the Russian era of Dobrzyn.

What is this place to me, and whom do I have here? No one of mine is left in this place. Who knows if our enemies left even the graves in their resting places; or my synagogue, my study house, the shtiebels[3] of Alexander and Gur[4], the cheiders[5] of R.[6] Beryl and R. Nisan of blessed memory—in which I studied? There, on the street leading towards Rypin[7] stood the school of R. Abba Yosef. Has any remnant of it survived?

Half a century has passed since then. I have crossed many borders, visited many large cities, and lived in various countries. Yet my heart returns to impoverished Dobrzyn, to its marshes and dilapidated houses: “The heart is the most deceitful of all and fragile; who can fathom it?”[8]

I was actually a native of Kovel[9], but fate brought me to Dobrzyn. (Footnote: We Jews referred to these two towns by the names Kvohl and Dobjinsk, respectively). I was raised in the home of my grandfather, R. Yisrael Aharon the goldsmith, and my grandmother Etyl, who was known as Etyl'che the bakeress (lekech-bekeren[10]). This goldsmith did not have any silver or gold, nor did he even have very much copper. And as for this bakeress of tasty sweets—there was not even very much bread in her home. But out of this poor house came forth Torah and good deeds, just as from one of the large, wealthy homes. I do yearn for it[11], so my heart is not being so deceitful when it brings me back to this humble home and to my little town Dobjinsk. And may these lines serve as a memorial to the members of our family and our town and those that were killed there, those that were buried and those that were not, out there somewhere in Dobrzyn, Lutsk-Slovak and Kovel, and in accursed Chelmno[12]. Let these memories of mine serve as a foundation stone for the monument that was never erected for our fallen. My heart trembles within me, questioning whether I am even worthy of helping to put up a memorial stone for our martyrs.

Was our Dobjinsk any better than other little towns of the same vintage in Poland and Lithuania? I doubt it. However, this question itself is misplaced, being akin to the question “mah dodech medod?”[13]. The answer to this question is very simple: “zeh dodi[14], this is my beloved—this is my town, irreplaceable. I will write about it with the hope and prayer that my memory will not mislead me.

The beginning of Jewish life in Poland is steeped in obscurity. Did the very first immigrants come as merchants from the west, by sea or by land? Or did they come from Russia in the east or via Byzantium and Crimea in the south? All this is still unknown. What is certain is that great multitudes of them arrived as refugees fleeing from Germany in the wake of the Crusades. In Poland they were received with open arms by princes and peasants alike. They helped developed the land and were given special privileges. The land of Polska became Po-lin[15] for them (and not, Heaven forbid, “Here I will stay because I have desired it,”[16] but rather a kind of Uganda[17], an overnight refuge that lasted 1000 years). Jews stayed over, slept and imagined that they were, more or less, at home and living securely—until Chmelniecki[18] came and woke them up, and Hitler came and wiped them out.

For hundreds of years they considered themselves part of the land, as their names will attest. Among the first great rabbis in Poland we find Rabbi Yaakov Pollak[19], “whose fame extended from one end of the Earth to the other.”[20] (The name “Pollak”, which was common in the small Jewish towns, became a source of mockery to the Jews of Germany when Polish Jews “returned” to Germany.) Jews used Polish place names but Judaized them. Thus Krakow was converted to “Kraka dechula bah[21], Warszawa to Varsha, Brzszecz to Brisk, Kovel to Kvohl, and Dobrzyn to Dobjinsk. (This name was later transferred to the family name Dobjinski). And we Jews differentiated between Dobrzyn on the Vistula and our Dobrzyn on the Dreventz, referring to them as Dobrin and Dobjinsk, respectively. Indeed, our forefathers treated even the names of the towns of Poland as their own possessions.

Every day a Jew praises the person who “admits the truth and speaks truth from his heart.”[22] In order to prevent a historical error, therefore, we must immediately add that Poland was never a Judea. The state was Roman Catholic, and the government, in general, was anti-Semitic. The large cities were at best mixed, and in general Polish. Nevertheless the small town was Jewish. In our Dobrzyn, the shamash[23] would pass through the streets of the town every Friday afternoon, just before sunset, and in a special chant announce, “L-i-ch-t b-e-n-sh-e-n!” i.e. “Light candles!” I have heard a public announcement of this type, of the sanctity of the Jewish Sabbath, at only one other time, in Kiryat Shmuel, near Haifa, where one siren blast announces the time to end labor and the second blast indicates the time to light candles. And let us not forget the buses in Jerusalem that also tell all the observant the exact time of candle lighting.

I have not yet had the merit of celebrating the Yamim Nora'im[24] in the State of Israel, but I remember the days of Selichot[25] recitation in Dobrzyn. When it was still nighttime, that same shamash would rap on the doors and windows of our homes, calling out “kumu la'avoidas haboiray!”[26] And when Jews are asked to, they act. They awaken the dawn, rather than allowing the dawn to awaken them. Some with lanterns in their hand, and others feeling their way in the darkness, they leave their homes and flock into the synagogue, or into the beit midrash[27], or into one of the shtiebels. It is Elul![28] The Yamim Nora'im! The Days of Judgment! Selichot! “Do not forsake us in our old age; do not abandon us when our strength wanes!”[29] These were cries that pierced the Heavens.

A scholar should not go outside alone at night.[30] The Dobrzyn Rabbi did not go outside alone even during the day, and certainly not on the Sabbath. We gazed after him, trembling before his holiness, as the shamash accompanied him on his way to the synagogue. It was as if he was a kind of Moses entering the Tent of Meeting[31]. The dayan[32], R. Lib'che Hertz, was not any less revered than the town rabbi. All the town residents respected him in a manner that was proper for someone who was a great, God-fearing scholar. The ne'eman[33]—who supervised kashrut—was careful not to gaze upon the face of any woman, and primarily not upon the face of a Gentile woman, even when he had to buy eggs from her in the market. R. Beryl did not profane the teaching profession by treating it as a kardom lachpor bah[34]. He was tall and round-shouldered; he would look at us with eyes filled with love and softness and say: “I hope for a single reward, that after my life is over you will attest that 'I learned this page under R. Beryl'.” R. Nissin was quite different from him. He emphasized the dagesh[35]; all his interest was in grammar, in the Hebrew language. People whispered behind his back that he had gone over to Zionism. Abba Yosef—it is appropriate to refer to him as R. Abba Yosef—would teach us reading, writing and arithmetic, that is—general studies—to the extent that it was possible to learn it during the hours of neither day nor night[36]. In actuality Dobrzyn had two additional schools that were not cheiders. One was Polish, for the Gentiles, and the second Jewish, but more “modern” than that of Abba Yosef. I don't remember if they taught any Polish in our school on Rypin Street. What I am certain about is that I didn't learn any; what did I need the language of the Poles for? What did I have to do with Polish? A Jew speaks in Yiddish and writes in Hebrew! Nevertheless I do remember that R. Abba Yosef tried to teach us some Russian, the official state language. The teacher did try, but I didn't want to learn the language of Punya, either. While the other students were reviewing all the adjectives of Nikolai and his wife, Feodorovna[37]—studies that took up an important part in the “program”—I would be leafing through Hebrew books, and in any event to this very day I have remained a complete ignoramus in both Polish and Russian. I learned my limited knowledge of general studies outside the boundaries of Dobrzyn, and even outside the boundaries of Poland and Russia. There was also in Dobrzyn a library where it was possible to obtain the works of Sholom Aleichem and Mendele Mocher Seforim, in both Hebrew and Yiddish, for a small membership fee.

The Jewish character of Dobrzyn was also attested to by the fact that the Jews lived inside the town, while the Gentiles lived outside it, near the fields of Zarembo[38]. The “outsiders” came from the villages on market days—Tuesdays and Fridays. The butter they brought was kept fresh neither in a refrigerator nor on ice, but rather on a large leaf. Before it reached our home and was placed on our table it was already half melted. On Sabbath Eve Jewish men and women would buy a live hen from the outsiders, hurrying to bring it to be slaughtered by R. Yaakov the shochet[39]. The Gentiles knew the Jewish calendar very well, raising prices before our holidays—particularly the price of the white roosters which we used ritually for kapores[40]. Once when the price of fish rose to an intolerable level, our women outsmarted them by deciding not to put any fish on the holiday table, not even waiting for the local Jewish court to announce that it would be preferable to have a Sabbath without meat and fish than to “fatten up” the Gentiles. A proper boycott!

On those weekly market days my grandfather, Yisroel Aharon, would bring his shop outside. What was his shop? And how did he bring it outside? Nowadays builders take months or years to construct a shop. My grandfather constructed his shop in a few short minutes: a chair on one side, a second chair on the other side, and a shelf between them for the box of merchandise to rest on—there, that was his shop. The merchandise, placed in the box, consisted of spools of white and black thread; packages of needles; kerchiefs; various spectacles; and all kinds of utensils—sitting and waiting for customers. And the customers were generally Gentiles from outside the town; the Jewish “residents” of the town would buy from an ordinary shop, not just from a temporary Tuesday or Friday shop that stayed open from 8 AM to 2 PM, by which time the outsiders were hurrying to return to their homes beyond Dobrzyn. And in this way my grandfather would sit with exceptional patience, waiting for customers, and in the end he would bring home a ruble, one-and-a-half rubles, or even two rubles, making a profit of two or three złoty on an ordinary day. On the days of a fair, when there were numerous customers and it was necessary to very carefully watch the additional customers—who would come intending to buy and to then “forget” to pay—the rest of the members of the family would help do the watching, and the profit may have been an additional ruble.

And why did my grandfather, of blessed memory, need a shop—wasn't he, after all, a goldsmith? He neither bought nor sold silver and gold rings, but rather he repaired them. When a necklace or earring broke, it would be brought to him. However, the male and female residents of Dobrzyn were careful, and rarely broke their rings, necklaces and earrings; it was rare for them to even warp a Kiddush or havdala cup[41]. As a result, there was little prosperity in our home, and there was a great need to supplement our income. In fact it was not for his own needs that my grandfather needed his shop. All his life he was satisfied with the little he had. Never during his life did he wait for the landlord to press him to pay his rent; he would always pay it on time. He also paid the teachers very punctually. It was not only in the birkat hamazon[42] that he pleaded, “And may You not place us in need for either a gift or a loan from another person.” This prayer was the guiding light for his life—and for his death. He collected one coin after another until he had amassed enough to cover his burial shroud and the payment to the chevra kadisha[43] out of his own money. “And may You not place us in need…”…even after 120 years.[44]

My grandfather was one of the small merchants and dedicated craftsmen who established the economic and social image of the town. The bigger merchants would travel to Wloclavek[45] or to Lodz and Warsaw to obtain merchandise; others crossed the bridge to work and do business in Golub, or traveled to Prussia for the Yamim Nora'im to serve as chazanim[46] or klei kodesh[47].

Our neighbor, R. Mordechai Hartbrod, owned a cigarette “factory” in Golub; I believe he was the only one there. On the Dobrzyn side of the Dreventz he used to wear a “Jewish cap”, while on the other side he wore a stiff Western-style hat. On Sabbaths he was customarily the last to leave the Beit Midrash, after a long friendly-political-scientific conversation with Rabbi Lib'che the dayan.

Our other neighbor, R. Zalman Hassid, was a wagon driver. In spite of the marshes on the Kikół-Lipno-Wloclavek road, he would bring his passengers to their destinations safely. When his “steeds” became tired, he would lead them slowly, then feed them, so as not to violate—Heaven forbid—the prohibition against tzaar baalei hachayim[48]. He would comfort the impatient among the passengers with “gesheft iz oich geforn[49] (l'haachil kinesia damya[50]). When we had to go up a hill, and it was hard for the horses to fulfill their task on their own, the passengers would get off to make it easier for the horses. In fall and winter, when the marshes expanded, we would tighten our belts and push the wagon until it came out into the wide-open road. The passengers who were in a hurry would be ready to set out early in the morning, but R. Zalman refused to leave with “an empty wagon”; we would wait until additional passengers arrived and the wagon filled up. And meanwhile he would stand and comfort us, “Soon, soon we will set out.” And truthfully we would set out and arrive safely, and believe me—no one was resentful. More than just a wagon driver, R. Zalman was a friend and a Hassid.

Yaakov'che, our third neighbor, was a short man, who benefited from the toil of his hands and of his shoulders; he was a porter. And did he have a good life? No! Illness never left his house, so we were doubly connected to him.

The Jews of Poland—among whom a minority was affluent but most were poor, and even desperately poor—were exemplary at establishing charitable institutions, religious institutions, and educational institutions—beginning with the period of independent rule, nearly governmental, during the period of the Council of Four Lands[51], and up to the community and national organizations of the generation of destruction in our own times. Illnesses, too, were visited upon the Jews of Poland in general and Dobrzyn in particular. The town was small and too poor to establish and support a hospital. The hospital that was closest to us was in Wloclavek. The ill among us were treated by our feldsher[52], Mr. Russak (a barber who understood medicine, as well). He would transfer them to the local doctor. In serious cases they would go outside the country for treatment, to Thorn, Koenigsberg[53], or to Posen[54] and Berlin. However within the town itself the bikur cholim[55] organization sent volunteers and aides to the homes of the ill and to their families. Every Friday the gabaim[56] would come by our door, collecting charity for the needs of bikur cholim, hachnasat orchim[57], hachnasat kalah[58], linat hatzedek[59], gemilut chesed[60], and talmud torah[61]. And the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—the wealthy, the middle class and the poor—when they were asked to, they would give. All the various types of people who were in need—those who had been through a fire; those who had been brought down low; parents whose daughters had reached the age of marriage; and ordinary wanderers—all these found helping hands and open hearts. The gabaim of the synagogue and beit midrash did not return home until they had found food and lodging for every guest.

A blessing upon those who are active—as well as on their deeds—in modern charitable organizations: their presidents, their male and female secretaries! They accomplish great things. However, it is worth remembering that today we magnify the role of “charity with one's money” over “charity with one's body”. The written check and the brain have replaced the soul and the heart—the personal participation in the grief and joy of another person. We neither wish to, nor are we capable of, returning to the previous situation of a town somewhere in Poland. However we should recognize the sanctity that prevailed in the town. Let us try to rescue from it whatever can be saved! Let our children and grandchildren see what “charity with one's body” is! Let them see and learn from our actions, and those of our forefathers, the attitude of one person to another, to his worries, to his rejoicings, to his spirit: “for you know the spirit of the stranger.”[62]

Charity of this type came to life in the form of my grandmother Etyl, of blessed memory—or as she was known in Dobrzyn, Etyl'che. She was short in stature but large in spirit; poor monetarily but rich in soul; weak in body and a heroine in her deeds. She had a “golden heart”. Even more: a heart of flesh, a heart of an upright person, of an angel.

Her children: Sarah Brayna, the firstborn, was married to a teacher who supported himself, with difficulty, by giving private lessons in Wloclavek.

Wolff, who sewed shoes—he was a machine manufacturer of shoes—also lived there. All his children perished and were cut off by the accursed ones. It is said that his son Yechiel, a follower of the Gur Hassidim, shortly before his own death handed over his daughter, then a small girl, to a Gentile woman to save her from death. The Gentile woman did save her—but for the Church. “Chesed le'umim chatat”![63] A Jewish tragedy! “Christian love”!

The youngest, Esther Yente, was more of a resident of Dobrzyn than any of the other members of the family. She was married to R. Mordechai David Kowalski in Wloclavek. His graciousness, and the graciousness of his father and mother, are deeply engraved in my heart. Only one daughter of theirs was saved; she lives in Bat Yam, Israel.

My uncle, Yaakov Hayyim, was an incidental merchant; in his head, within most of him, and with all his might he was a scholar. He was a close friend of R. Sender Techursh and Rabbi Kowalski in Wloclavek; of Rabbi Brod—of Lipno and then of Antwerp, New York and Tel Aviv; of the Rabbis Herzog—the father, R. Yoel, in Paris, and the son, R. Yitzhak, the chief rabbi of Israel. Together with Rabbi Mordechai Shochetman—who officiated earlier in Soroka, Romania, then later in Paris, and at the end of his life in New York—he established a center for Religious Zionism in France. In his position as secretary of the “Council of Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis in France”, which was headed by Rabbi Shmuel Rubenstein, he did great things to help benefit agunot[64] that were left in the wake of the War and the Holocaust. In his letter to me (dated 6 Tishri, 5714[65]) he wrote: “I have made up my mind to resign from my rabbinical position here, to emigrate to the Land of Israel, and to spend the rest of my years, that God will grant me, there. All my life I would excuse myself, not wishing to take upon myself ordinary responsibility…and may I perhaps merit reward that after the terrible destruction I did work and inquire and research a great deal into the years of evil, to find redemption and relief for those unfortunate women, and I did everything that I possibly could for this purpose; and with God's help I believe that hundreds, thank God, were saved by us.” He is buried with honor in Har Hamenuhot[66] in Jerusalem.

My father, of blessed memory, R. Grunem, was exiled to various centers of Torah study. It appears to me that he studied in Lodz, Kutno and Lipno. All his life he was humble and pious[67]. In the beginning of his life he was a Hassid, in the ordinary sense of the term. In his youth he “went” to Alexander[68]—he was unable to actually travel there, and for a very simple reason: where would he get the money from? With the passage of time he distanced himself from formal Hassidism, but he remained a Hassid in his deeds. With all the purity of his soul he was completely sold on the Zionist concept. To indicate very briefly his character, I would say that he was meticulous—meticulous in his writing, as his beautiful letters attest; meticulous in language, particularly with the language of prayer and Onkelos[69]: the siddurim[70], machzorim[71] and chumashim[72] that he left behind are full of comments and clarifications. He taught us to not hurry through prayer, but rather to think deeply about it—even if that meant that we would have to skip over some of them—particularly on the Yamim Nora'im. And many a time he would review the words he had heard from his teachers against those who fill their bellies with many prayers at the price of kavana[73]: “The printer printed it, so they say it.” He was also meticulous to a hairsbreadth about mitzvot[74] and good deeds. And first and foremost he kept and remembered the commandments of honoring one's father and mother in all its provisions and minutia. And with respect to his hairs, he did not remove a single one of them from his beard even though he spent most of his years living in Western Europe: in Germany, Belgium, France, Austria and Italy[75]. For twenty years he served as a shochet and bodek[76] in Milan, where he established an exemplary level of kashrut. He was also meticulous in ethics: like his mother, Etyl'che, “The teaching of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and with fairness, and he turned many away from sin.”[77]

From the exile of Rome-Italy he went up to the Land of Israel. There he lived his last years. He did not merit seeing the rebirth of Israel. During the “incidents”[78] that preceded the establishment of the State—when he was more than 75 years old—he was heard to call out in the streets of Tel Aviv, “Give me a rifle and I will go out to fight!” This man of peace, who during his entire life did not lay a hand on his fellow man by even a hairsbreadth, was ready to fight for his people and country. No rifle was given to him, so he never laid a hand on even the enemy. This man of peace died in peace, and was one of the last Jews to be buried on the Mount of Olives, on the 8th of Tammuz, 5707[79].

When my father was forced to wander outside the country, I was left for a while in my grandparents' home. Parting from their beloved son was very hard on them [my grandparents], but no sigh came out of their mouths. He took care of his parents in their old age—in both the physical and spiritual sense, and much more than he could actually afford. But as long as he did not earn enough for his own livelihood and theirs, there was an atmosphere of poverty in the house. In addition to the two beds in the room (which served as a dining room, workroom, bedroom and guest room), there stood in the kitchen a “sleeping bench”. What is a sleeping bench? During the day we sat on it; at night one would take off the cover, put a blanket on the “bag of straw” that was in it, and sleep a sweet and pleasant sleep, a sleep following toil in Torah and work[80]. The contents of this bag—that is, the straw—hardened with the passage of time. In honor of the approaching holy day, the straw was replaced between Purim and Passover. I do not remember whether it was also replaced between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Whenever a guest or guests happened to come, they would be given the bed or beds, and the members of the household would make their beds on the floor.

Grandmother Etyl was a good cook and an excellent baker. I can still taste the flavor of her challot[81]. A good Jew does not fill up his belly and does not wash his hands ritually on Sabbath and holiday eves[82]. In order that we children should not be hungry, we would sometimes get a little fish soup with some dessert, and as a result the neshama yetera[83] entered inside us several hours before Kiddush.

The fame of our grandmother's baking and cooking was known all over Dobrzyn. They would call on her to cater weddings and circumcisions. She baked cakes and cookies for sale before Passover. If a little dough was left at the edge of the kneading trough, she would prepare from it a small challah or a cookie for her little ones, who were proud to have their very own challah in honor of the Sabbath, “like one of the grownups.” And if no dough was left, it was enough for us to lick the paper on which the cake had been baked. She never raised her voice except for “a Jewish word,” that is, prayer. She was careful not to taste any food before prayers[84]. I think that it was from her that my father inherited his love for prayer and for extra kavana. In the women's section of the synagogue she was the magedet[85] who read out loud from the tze'ena ur'ena[86] and the techinot[87] for upright women. Either the small letters of these prayers were not so clear to the other women, or they simply enjoyed the charm of her reading, her way of explaining things, the radiance of her face and the sanctity of her deeds.

Every poor person, every sick person and everyone who was having a hard time was known to her, and she, who was poor herself, stretched a helping hand out to them: to this one she brought a little soup, and to that one a piece of chicken. She also prepared a full pharmacy jar for the ill whom she cared for, and when her own means were exceeded, she knew to whom to turn to provide help for those in need.

The month of Elul was her major month, when Jews, both wealthy and poor, came to “kever avot[88]. The Angel of Death does not distinguish between rich and poor. At that time of year, Jews arise to repentance, prayer and charity. During this month it was as if my grandmother lived among the dead in order to obtain food and medicine for the living. Did she have a special box in which she placed the money she collected? I remember only the knot that was in her kerchief. She let us participate in opening the knot and counting the wealth that she brought home—this time much more than usual.

This is what she was like, this pearl of Dobrzyn and of the world—my world: Grandmother Etyl, may she rest in peace—or Etyl'che the bakeress, as she was called by the people of Dobrzyn.

Who acknowledged her and her deeds when, after my grandfather died, she wandered off to Wloclawek, to the home of her daughter, Esther Yente? Was there anything written on her gravestone to memorialize her righteousness?

And who knows what the wicked ones, members of various nations, did to the cemeteries of our Dobrzyn, Wloclawek and Kvohl? What was the fate of the other holy places: synagogues, houses of study, the various shtiebels, as well as the various Jewish schools, community centers and auditoriums? How great was the destruction! What Jeremiah will lament it?

I can still see the new white-stone fence that had been built around the cemetery in Dobrzyn. It replaced the previous wooden fence, for which the portions that were broken through were more numerous than the portions that were standing, and so the bad shepherds would desecrate the graves with their sheep and cattle. It was easy for us to see the fence while we were walking to the synagogue, which was near it. Is the fence still standing? Who knows whether the plowmen ploughed up the very graves? (Indeed I recently found out that the plowmen, yimach sh'mam[89], did plough it all up!)

They ravaged our houses and pillaged our communities. They put our families to death, starting with the great and the good. They destroyed the Jerusalem dil'mata[90], while the Jerusalem dil'maala[91] remains and will remain for us: the memory of our Dobjinsk, as well as that of the hundreds and thousands of other Dobjinsks; the memory of our pious, who were great in their simplicity and giants in their charity.

 

R. Shlomo Hertzke,
the shamash of the Great Synagogue
[92]

 

The Great Synagogue. Drawings, works of craftsmanship decorated the ceiling and the walls of the synagogue in Dobrzyn. Colorful stained glass adorned its windows. Its floor consisted of a multicolored mosaic.[93]

 

Landsberg, the son of the melamed [94] Monus, who perished together with his entire family in the Holocaust[95]

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn-Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn-Golub Society, Israel, 1969), pp. 30-40. Return
  2. Kalischer was a nineteenth-century Orthodox rabbi and scholar who championed Jewish resettlement of the Land of Israel. Return
  3. Shtiebel = a single-room synagogue, usually Hassidic Return
  4. Alexander and Gur are the names of two Hassidic groups that had many adherents in Dobrzyn. These groups are named after the towns in which they originated, Aleksandrow Lodzki and Gur or Ger (Góra Kalwaria), respectively, both in Poland. Return
  5. Cheider = Jewish school for young children, dedicated almost exclusively to religious studies Return
  6. “ 'ר ” has been transcribed as “R.” throughout this translation. It can stand for Rabbi but also “Rebbe” or “Reb”, the latter being more a title of respect. Return
  7. Rypin is a town located 25 km due east of Dobrzyn. A major street of Dobrzyn led out of the town towards Rypin. Return
  8. Jeremiah 17:9. The wording of this verse is obscure and has been translated in many different ways. Return
  9. Kovel is located in northwest Ukraine, on the border with Poland. Between the two World Wars it was part of Poland, and before that it lay within the Russian empire. Return
  10. Lekech-bekeren (Yiddish) = bakeress of pastries Return
  11. me'ai hamu lo (Hebrew, alluding to Jeremiah 31:20) = I yearn for it Return
  12. Chelmno, located about 70 km northwest of Lodz, was the site of an extermination camp where about 200,000 people were murdered. In 1942 a Jewish escapee provided the first eyewitness report of the mass killings to the outside world. See the following link: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/Chelmno.html Return
  13. Mah dodech medod = How is your beloved better than any other beloved? (Song of Songs 5:9) Return
  14. Zeh dodi = This is my beloved (Song of Songs 5:16) Return
  15. Po lin (Hebrew) = Here stay over. Perhaps because of the play on words, Polin became the Hebrew word for Poland, whose name in Polish is Polska. Return
  16. Psalms 132:14, the complete verse being “This is my resting place forever; here I will stay because I have desired it”. Return
  17. A reference to the Uganda Proposal of the early Zionist period (1903), by which Jews persecuted in Russia would have been settled in Uganda as a temporary refuge. After much discussion, the proposal was rejected by the Zionist movement. See, for example, the following link: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Zionism/Uganda.html. Return
  18. In the mid-17th century Chmelniecki (Khmelnytsky) led a Cossack uprising against the Polish ruling class, during which his followers massacred many tens of thousands (and perhaps hundreds of thousands) of Jews. These events traumatized the Jews of Eastern Europe. See, for example, the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khmelnytsky_Uprising. Return
  19. Rabbi Yaakov Pollak, who died in 1541, is credited with bringing the intensive study of Talmud to Poland. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Pollak Return
  20. This is how he was described by later rabbis of Poland. The expression itself parallels similar expressions that occur in Talmudic and Midrashic works. Return
  21. Kraka dechula bah (Aramaic) = a city having everything in it Return
  22. This quotation is from the prayer book; it is recited daily at the beginning of the morning service. Return
  23. Synagogue beadle, who sees to it that the synagogue runs smoothly Return
  24. Yamim Nora'im = Days of Awe, the ten days beginning with Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) and ending with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Some also include in the Yamim Nora'im the days just before Rosh Hashana when the Selichot prayers (see next footnote) are recited. Return
  25. Selichot = special prayers asking God for forgiveness, recited late at night starting from several days before Rosh Hashana and, in most communities, until Yom Kippur Return
  26. Kumu la'avoidas haboiray / kumu la'avodat haborei (Hebrew) = arise for worship (service) of the Creator Return
  27. House of study, where men sit at tables studying Talmud, and prayer services are often also held Return
  28. Elul, the name of the last month just before Rosh Hashana, when Selichot were first recited Return
  29. A line from the Selichot (as well as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) prayer services, paraphrasing Psalms 71:9 Return
  30. Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 43b Return
  31. It was in the Tent of Meeting that God would reveal himself to Moses. See for example Exodus 23:8-11, Numbers 12:4-13. Return
  32. Dayan = judge in Jewish religious court Return
  33. Ne'eman = trustworthy—someone employed to supervise kashrut Return
  34. Kardom lachpor bah = a means of making money (literally, a spade to dig with). The expression derives from Pirkei Avot 4:9. Return
  35. Dagesh = emphasis mark, a diacritical mark in a Hebrew letter indicating emphasis. Return
  36. “Hours of neither day nor night” is a reference to the marginalization of secular studies in the schools of the more pious in Eastern Europe. The expression comes from the Jerusalem Talmud (Peah 1:1), which mentions that Rabbi Yehoshua (c. 100 CE) was once asked whether it was permissible to learn Greek philosophy, to which he replied, “During hours that are neither day nor night, since the Bible states that `this book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth; you shall contemplate it day and night' (Joshua 1:8).” Return
  37. She was actually his mother, not his wife Return
  38. Zarembo is likely Zaręby, a rural area 2 km south of Dobrzyn. Return
  39. Shochet = Jewish ritual slaughterer Return
  40. Kapores (or kaparot) is a ritual conducted on the day before Yom Kippur, in which a Jew would wave a purchased rooster around his head, reciting “…let this rooster be my atonement (kaparati)…” The rooster would be slaughtered, and either the meat or its monetary value given to charity. See the following link: http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/989585/jewish/Kaparot.htm Return
  41. Silver cup or chalice used for wine in the ritual blessings recited at the beginning of the Sabbath (Kiddush) and at its completion (havdala) Return
  42. Birkat hamazon = prayer recited after completion of a meal Return
  43. Chevra kadisha = burial society, the people who prepare the body for burial Return
  44. i.e. even after death, “120 years” being a euphemism for the length of one's life Return
  45. A larger town on the Vistula River, 60 km due south of Dobrzyn Return
  46. Chazanim = cantors Return
  47. Klei kodesh = religious officiators of various types (beadles, prayer leaders, etc.) Return
  48. tzaar baalei hachayim = causing living things pain or suffering, such torment being forbidden by Jewish law Return
  49. gesheft iz oich geforn (Yiddish) = business is also traveling along, i.e. the wagoner's horses are part of his business and must be cared for along the way Return
  50. L'haachil kinesia damya (Hebrew-Aramaic) = feeding is equivalent to traveling, a Talmudic-style statement that means that feeding the horses is part of the ride Return
  51. The Council of Four Lands governed the Jews of Poland from 1580 to 1764. It gave the Jews of Poland a degree of autonomy. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Four_Lands Return
  52. Feldsher = a health-care provider with no degree in medicine. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feldsher Return
  53. A city in East Prussia. After World War II it was annexed to the Soviet Union (later Russia) and renamed Kaliningrad. Return
  54. A city in West Prussia. After World War I it became part of Poland under the name Poznan. Return
  55. Bikur cholim = visiting the ill Return
  56. Gabaim = synagogue functionaries who were responsible for collecting charity Return
  57. Hachnasat orchim = provision of hospitality (food and lodging) for out-of-town visitors Return
  58. Hachnasat kalah = bridal fund to provide for the wedding of a bride from a poor family Return
  59. Linat hatzedek = charity to provide medical treatment for the needy Return
  60. Gemilut chesed = general charity for those in need, e.g. interest-free loans Return
  61. Talmud torah = teaching of Torah Return
  62. Exodus 23:9. The entire verse reads: “Do not oppress a stranger, for you know the spirit of a stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Return
  63. Chesed le'umim chatat (Proverbs 14:34) is here taken to mean “the kindness/piety of the Nations is sinful (being perhaps driven by ulterior motives)”, following an interpretation given in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Batra 10b). Return
  64. Agunot = “anchored” wives, i.e. deserted wives, wives of men who have disappeared. In the absence of a divorce, or evidence that their husbands are dead, they are forbidden by Jewish law to remarry. Return
  65. September 15, 1953 Return
  66. The major Jewish cemetery of Jerusalem, located at the western edge of the city Return
  67. Here the Hebrew word used for pious is hassid, which usage leads into the next few sentences. Return
  68. i.e., he joined the Alexander Hassidim (see Footnote 4). Adherents of a Hassidic group would often travel to the headquarters of the group, where the Rebbe of the group resided. Return
  69. Onkelos = the Aramaic translation of the Torah Return
  70. Siddurim = prayer books for weekdays and Sabbaths Return
  71. Machzorim = prayer books for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Return
  72. Chumashim = printed versions of the Pentateuch Return
  73. Kavana = concentration on meaning during prayer Return
  74. Mitzvot = Torah commandments Return
  75. The most pious of Eastern Europe (particularly Hassidim), followed a custom not to trim their beards, even with a scissors, although the latter is permissible according to Rabbinic interpretation of Leviticus 19:27. In Western Europe, where they were more exposed to Western society, this was a difficult custom to maintain. Return
  76. Shochet = ritual slaughterer; bodek = inspector of slaughtered meat for blemishes that would render it not kosher Return
  77. Malachi 2:6, referring to the ancient kohanim (priests) Return
  78. Attacks by Arabs against Jewish civilians Return
  79. June 26, 1947. As the War of Independence approached, the Mount of Olives, located in Eastern Jerusalem, became inaccessible to Jews. It lay on the Jordanian side of the “Green Line” border when an armistice was declared in 1948. It was not until the Six-Day War of June, 1967 that the Jews of Israel regained access to this ancient Jewish cemetery. Return
  80. The word for work, avodah, can also refer to religious service (prayer), which is what it often means when “Torah” and “avodah” are mentioned sequentially this way. Return
  81. Challot = special loaves of bread, usually braided, for Sabbaths and holidays Return
  82. So as to not approach the Sabbath or holiday meal, eaten after sunset, satiated. If whatever was eaten earlier in the day did not include bread, there was no requirement for the hands to be ritually washed. Return
  83. Neshama yetera = “additional soul” that provides the proper Sabbath spirituality, said metaphorically to enter a Jew's body at the onset of the Sabbath Return
  84. In accordance with a widespread Jewish custom not to taste any food in the morning until after praying Return
  85. Magedet = woman who would read a text as the other women listened Return
  86. Tze'ena ur'ena = “Go Out and Gaze,” the name of a commentary on the Torah, composed in Yiddish in the 17th century for people who had difficulty understanding Hebrew, and particularly popular among women in Eastern Europe. The name is based on the verse “Go out and gaze, daughters of Zion, upon King Solomon…” (Song of Songs 3:11). Return
  87. Techinot = supplications, prayers for women that were written in Yiddish in the 17th century Return
  88. Kever avot = graves of forefathers. It was customary for Jews to visit the graves of their departed during the month of Elul, the last month before Rosh Hashana. Return
  89. yimach sh'mam = “may their names be blotted out”, a phrase used after mentioning someone wicked Return
  90. Dil'mata (Aramaic) = that is down below, terrestrial, i.e., the physical Jerusalem on Earth, a metaphor here for the physical Jewish presence in Poland Return
  91. dil'maala (Aramaic) = that is up above, celestial, i.e. the spiritual Jerusalem. The concept of a terrestrial and celestial Jerusalem is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 5a. Return
  92. From p. 31 of reference cited in Footnote 1 Return
  93. From p. 33 of reference cited in Footnote 1 Return
  94. Melamed = children's teacher Return
  95. From p. 36 of reference cited in Footnote 1 Return


[Pages 41-43]

My childhood years in Dobrzyń

by Yakov Rimon

Translated by Sara Mages

My town Dobrzyń and the Drweca River, which ran beside her, are engraved in my memory. In my childhood, I loved to stand by the river, look at its flowing waters and marvel at the beauty of nature. The town's Great Synagogue stood in a courtyard bathed with greenery and grass, and its red roof was visible from a distance. Every Sabbath I came with my friends to sit on the lawn in the synagogue's courtyard. Even then, the greenery attracted my heart, and I loved being outdoors for long hours. I also remember the Heder where I learned Chumash and Rashi. I especially remember the precious moments in which I learned ParashatVayechi[1], and when I reached the verse,“As for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died to me in the land of Canaan” with the interpretation of Rashi, that Yakov said that he didn't bury Rachel in the land of Canaan, not even in Bethlehem, but near it, so the exiles, who were expelled by Nebuzaradan[2], will be able to cry on the tomb of our Mother Rachel when they pass by it, and plead for their lives. And then -“A voice is heard on high, lamentation, bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted”. And God answered her with words of comfort:”For your work will be rewarded, and your children shall return to their own border. “This legend, and the words “And your children shall return to their own border” moved the child in me to tears, aroused my national pride, and lit the first Zionist spark in me … which turned into a burning flame in my heart.

My brother Yehiel told me, that when I was born my father of blessed memory thought of a name to call me. Since ParashatVayechi” was read from the Torah on that week, he decided to call me Yakov, as it is written at the beginning of the Parasha, “Vayechi Yakov” [and Yakov lived], a talisman for long life. I also heard from my brother Yehiel that my circumcision turned into a Zionist event. My father of blessed memory bought “Carmel Mizrachi Wine”, the drinking of the wine from Eretz-Yisrael increased the joy and gathered the supporters of Zionism in Dobrzyń, who sang songs of Zion and danced to “Next year in Jerusalem”.

In my father's home, which was a Zionist home saturated with Hebrew and religious culture, I drew my intense love to Zion, my affection to Hebrew literature and our heritage. My father, who was an ardent lover of Zion and the manager of the Hebrew Library in Dobrzyń, bought, at that time, the book “Kinor Zion” [Harp of Zion] which was published by “Tushia” [Warsaw]. The book's editor and collector of songs of Zion, was the author and researcher, Mr. Abraham Moshe Luncz of blessed memory. From it, my father taught me to sing the songs of Zion, and I was five years old at that time. I knew these songs by heart, and since I had pleasant voice I

[Page 42]

sang them at parties, Zionist gatherings, and in the synagogue of the Warka-Otwock Hassidim where my father prayed. In “Shalosh seudoth” I sang “Shir Hama'aloth” [Song of Ascent] to the melody of “Hatikvah”, or to the melody of “Sham Bimkom Arazim” [Where the cedars grow].

Between, my mother May she rest in peace and my father of blessed memory, was a Yissachar-Zevulun arrangement[3]: she engaged in trade and my father studied the Torah

The Crusader fortress on top of the mountain range
in Golub and the Drweca River at its foot

and also served, for a known period of time, as a Gemara, Rashi Commentary, and Tosaphot [commentaries on the Talmud] teacher. The main breadwinner was my mother, and the burden of the house lay on her. I will never forget the Thursday evenings, when she was getting ready for the Sabbath after a hard day of work. She sat me on a bench, and while she was working she sang to me, with great emotion, from the national and human songs of the popular song writer Eliakum Zunser, and

[Page 43]

the labor songs of the song writer Morris Rosenfeld, who lived and died in the United States. The poems of Eliakum Zunser, which he drew from the Bible, captured my heart. His poems about “Yakov fleeing from Esau on a stormy night, the parting of his mother, Rivka, from him,” or “Yosef in the pit, and the selling of Yosef to the Midianim, moved me to tears for fear of their fate. Morris Rosenfeld's poems “I have a little boy” and “Don't search for me where the flowers grow” instilled within me great love, respect and admiration for the working man. This feeling lived inside me, and gave me the power of performance and fulfillment when I participated in the founding of “Hapoel HaMizrachi” [Mizrachi Workers] in Israel.

The first six years of my life in Dobrzyń, until I immigrated to Israel, served as the basis for my national, religious and public life, and as a future Hebrew poet. In my father's house in Dobrzyń I drew the beginning of my love for these things.

In my town, Dobrzyń, I received the first reading of Hebrew literature in my father's Hebrew library. There, I was also introduced, for the first time, to the popular composer Goldfaden. Troupes of Hebrew actors came to Dobrzyń and presented Goldfaden's plays: “Shulamit”, “Bar Kochba” and others. In the evenings, I stood next to the building where the play was presented, and listened to Goldfaden's supreme music which took root in my heart to this day. Dobrzyń established Zionist homes, and parents sent their sons to study in “Gymnasia Herzliya”, the Hebrew high school in Tel-Aviv. These sons served as a living bridge between Israel and the Jews of Dobrzyń, who immigrated to Israel and settled there. My father was rewarded, that he and his family were the first to immigrate from Dobrzyń to Israel, and settle there permanently. I wrote my first poem in Jaffa when I was nine years old, but there's no doubt that it was drawn from the Zionist and cultural atmosphere in which I grew up in Dobrzyń, and received more meaning and strength in our country - our Hebrew homeland.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Parashat “Vayechi” - the weekly Torah portion “And he lived”. Return
  2. Nebuzaradan was a captain in Nebuchadnezzar's army. Return
  3. “Yissachar-Zevulun” arrangement - is an actual partnership between a person who studies the Torah and someone who financially supports him. In other words, the “Zevulun”, who spends his day involved in business, gives “Yissachar”, who studies Torah, half of the profits that he earns. Return

 

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