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[Page 63]

The nobility and the inspiration of Dobrzyń's Jews

HaRav Yitzchak Yedidya Frenkel

Translated by Sara Mages

It happened on the thirtieth day of the passing of the genius, Rabbi Meir Shapira, the Rabbi of Lublin and the founder of “Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva”, when I traveled from Ripin [Rypin] to nearby Dobrzyń to eulogize the same Jewish genius - it was my first encounter with the town of Dobrzyń. Despite the fact, that the distance between Ripin and Dobrzyń wasn't great, the town was considered to be a border town between Germany and Poland. The bridge over the Drweca River, which crossed the town, separated the section that was called Dobrzyń from the sections that was called Golub, meaning - between the Polish section and the German section. Such was the situation until the end of the First World War, when the whole town, with its two sections, was transferred to Poland.

It was possible to distinguish between these two sections because of the major differences in construction, architecture and lifestyle. However, its Jewish residents weren't different from the Jews of other Jewish towns in Poland. The same Jews: Hassidim and men of action, scholars and Cabbalists, merchants and laborers, philosophers and intellectuals, visionaries and pioneers, Beit-Midrash and Yeshiva students. And in addition to this, a special nobility and a respectable lifestyle which characterized the Jews of Dobrzyń.

As mentioned, I arrived to the Great Synagogue, which was filled to capacity, to eulogize the same genius who died suddenly, in his prime. The Jews of Dobrzyń listened to the eulogy with great interest. Tears flowed from the eyes of many, as if the deceased was their father! At the end of my words there were a few calls, which soon caught the entire audience, to maintain the Rabbi's life work - “Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva”. Many volunteered on the spot to go to each household in the town and collect donations for the “Kofer-nefesh” [charitable] project, which will be used to support the Yeshiva.

At that time, I saw the Jews of Dobrzyń in their characteristic enthusiasm. Jews that

[Page 64]

a fire blazed in their hearts, even though they looked quiet and reserved from the outside. These Jews were the first to everything that was sacred, and were among the first who immigrate to Zion and loved their homeland.

It is possible to say, that Dobrzyń was a loyal sister to its neighboring Ripin - in the Torah, Hassidut, nobility, dedication, love of Zion, and all the qualities that characterized this environment - one of the magnificent links of Polish Jewry, which was destroyed by the German “Master race,” with the mute silence of the foreign world.

On my bed at night, when my thoughts carry me to my past, Dobrzyń is standing before my eyes as a beloved memento. I see her beautiful nobles Jews, who were satisfied with little. All the grief and sorrow of the word is reflected in their eyes as they march in rows to the center of the fire, to be sacrificed.

The silent scream is ringing in my ears and shakes the heavens…

Dobrzyń's Jews, with their wives and children, I will never, never, forget them!

The town's Great Synagogue


[Page 65]

Childhood and Adolescence (Memories)[1]

by Ze'ev Lent

Translated by Allen Flusberg

Fragments of memories from days gone by, memories of home and of the town—such memories flood my consciousness from time to time. Although they are jumbled and chaotic, they stir up my heart and warm it. They are memories of seemingly trivial things, minor matters that a stranger would not understand and would not find interesting…But someone who once lived in the town of Dobrzyn; someone whose childhood and adolescence were spent in the shadows of its houses, near the river that carries its waters into the earth of the town; someone who has taken a leisurely stroll across the bridge that connects the two towns, Dobrzyn and Golub; such a person will feel it when within him that fire is kindled, when his spirit is flooded with the recollection of small things that transpired in those towns that once were but are no more…

 

1914

I recall that we were traveling in horse-drawn carriages, along the Lipno-Wloclawek road towards the city of Warsaw[2]. My father was not with us. He had crossed the border to Germany, having not a shred of desire to fight for the Russian Czar—definitely not!

I remember that year only dimly, since I was then a very small child.

 

1915

The armies of the German Kaiser are entering Warsaw. The Zeppelin hovers over the city, threatening to bomb it. We stand next to the gate of the house and watch, our eyes turned upward to the heavens—the adults with anxiety, and we children with curiosity.

In the streets of the city the German army demonstrates its power: the soldiers are marching, accompanied by a band, as their anthem, “Germany Above All Else”, is struck up with pride. To this very day I have not forgotten this event and the singing of the anthem…

…And again we are wandering on the road, except that this time we are returning home, to Dobrzyn. I was a small child when I was first taken along this path, but remarkably I remember the places that we are going past the second time around. Near Wloclawek we cross the river again in a large rowboat, except that this time, unlike the first time, we are no longer afraid of the great waters. Father is waiting for us in Lipno. I am overcome by a strange sensation: it seems that I am shy in front of him. Although I remember what he looked like, I am not able to suppress this feeling. He is a tall, good-looking man, cultivating a beard and mustache in the style of Nikolai II[3]. His clothing is elegant and shiny, and on his head is a black hat. I look at him, and it appears to me that he is someone who has just stepped out of the world of mythology.

 

1916

I am attending school at a cheider[4] that is located near the shtiebel[5] of the Alexander Hassidim. A sofer satam[6] lives opposite the door of our house. The courtyard of our house overlooks the Dreventz[7] River. Not far from us is a path used by the water-carriers to get to the river. Along this path is a drainage pipe made of concrete; this drainage pipe serves as an attraction for children. We play a great deal at its entry point, especially the bigger children, whom we consider our heroes. Some of them, such as Yisraelik Lipstadt, Tzudek Zudkevitz and Shaya Dobroshklanka, even dare to go all the way through it, along its entire length to its end.

Tzudek was my closest friend. The two of us would do a lot of daydreaming, which we would enjoy a great deal. Each of us would brag to the other about the images he was able to see on an ordinary wall, in the air, or up in the sky. “Here, do you see,” I would turn to him to say, “Here is the ladder and there are the angels going up and down on it…” But Tzudek would not be bested for long: “Here is the burning bush,” he retorts, “and here is Moses with a lamb in his arms.”

It matters little that we both know these things are all made up, nothing more than the fruit of a vivid imagination. Neither of us gets angry at the other or contradicts him, for this is only a pastime, an ongoing form of amusement.

That summer my brother Leibel, who was a year younger than me, passes away of stomach typhus. I am depressed by my mother's constant crying. I have been used to seeing her always smiling. Ill at ease at home, I look for shelter in Tzudek's company. We are in his room. As someone whose brother has just passed away, I don't know how to behave. And in order not to show weakness, I try to make a completely different impression. I stand up and describe to all present how my brother's soul is going up to Heaven, until I am reprimanded by Tzudek's father. I am filled with shame and stop talking.

A different image from that year comes back to me: the eve of the holiday Sukkot. Everyone, me included, is working hard to put up a sukkah[8]. I feel an ache in my head, a particularly sharp pain; but I don't leave until the sukkah is ready, standing in place, completed from top to bottom. Only then do I reveal to my mother that my head aches, and I hurry to lie down. I don't go to synagogue with my father. They promise to wake me later for the festive meal in the sukkah, after they've all returned from synagogue.

When I woke up it was dark everywhere, night time. The house was completely silent. My mother, fully dressed, was asleep at my feet, a frown on her face. “Mother, have they already come back from synagogue?” I asked. “Yes, son, lie down and go back to sleep.” I tried to close my eyes, but the fierce pain in my head hadn't yet gone away.

The holiday went by and I was still ill, lying in bed, as the Polish doctor, accompanied by the medic Russik, came to see me every day. Many days passed until I overcame my illness and was finally able to sit near the window, staring at the vast market square opposite me, where German soldiers were training all day.

 

1917

We would take many strolls around town in those days, drawn to the groves as well as to the more distant forest. One of the charming places that attracted us was the Zaremba farm. This farm, which belonged to Jews whom we knew, and who attended the shtiebel that we prayed in, was located not very far from the town.

However, on our traditional Sabbath strolls we didn't go further than half the distance to Zaremba, where there was a sparse grove of pine trees. Opposite the grove there was a slope that went down to the Struga River, with a small wooden bridge over it. Sometimes we continued on our way and reached the farm itself; other times, accompanied by older children, we continued walking up to the Zaremba[9] forest, which extended several kilometers beyond the farm.

I was about eight years old then. My friends were also young, ranging in age from eight to ten. We belonged to a boy-scout group that was led by Fishel Zudkevitz. We were all students at the Hebrew school of Paznewski, located near the fire-station hall “Harmiza”. We all knew the Hebrew language, in which we would converse during all our meetings.

I remember how we all went out to spend Lag BaOmer[10] in the forest of Zaremba. We sang Hebrew songs along the way, as we walked through the grove and marched over the bridge, until we came to the farm. After a short rest we continued on our way towards the forest, as the farmers, who lived along either side of the dirt path, came out of their houses and looked at the strange Jew boys in wonder and astonishment.

We reached the forest. To this very day I remember the excitement we felt at the moment the sweet, stimulating smell of the forest entered our nostrils. Not lingering for even a moment, we burst in running, and we quickly dispersed among the trees.

Only after we had gone duly wild, we heard the whistle being blown by our supervisor. We gathered together at his call and listened to his orders. He warned us not to disperse and not to go very far, so that we should not get lost in the forest and be unable to find our way out.

We spent several hours within the forest, picking red, juicy strawberries that we devoured passionately, even putting some in our knapsacks. We kept running around, and continued to sing and fool around, while throughout we were gobbling them down.

On the way back we marched one behind the other, single file, making sure that we didn't disperse. While we were walking we kept talking to each other, and so we didn't realize we were going deeper and deeper into the forest. Just as we began wondering whether we were going the right way, we reached one of the tributaries of the Struga, one that we hadn't passed on our way into the forest. Now we knew that we had gone the wrong way. We crossed over the tributary and continued onward, hoping that we would eventually reach the edge of the forest. Walking got harder, particularly since the wooden sandals we were wearing became slippery, and we had to exert ourselves greatly to keep from stumbling.

Suddenly we were overcome with dread: eight young brawny Polish cowherds faced us. They stood looking at us with smiles on their faces. We were afraid that they were planning to do something bad to us, since they were Gentiles and that is what Gentile boys[11] usually do. Moshe Fishel, our counselor, seemed a bit ill at ease as he took counsel with himself and conferred with us to decide how to get out of this predicament. Finally he decided to suggest giving them some money so that they would agree to let us go and even give us directions. But it turned out we had no money with us. So the counselor stood up and decided that we should take up a collection—pocket knives, whistles, and the like—and hand them over. And so it was: we gave them some “gifts” and then continued on our way, following their instructions. And very soon we found ourselves outside the forest, on the road leading home.

What I remember is that in the end those Gentile boys didn't benefit from the whole affair: some Jewish boys, who were members of HeChalutz[12], went out to the forest, accompanied by one of the police. They caught the Gentile boys, took away our “gifts”, and dealt them blows appropriately.

 

1918

We moved out of our spacious apartment that was in Klinowski's house, and we moved into a wooden house on the “Street of Gold”[13]. My mother worked hard to set up a shop with various items for sale, but with no success. Meanwhile my father was appointed a border-guard policeman after the Germans had left Dobrzyn.

I recall how he brought home his rifle, warning me not to touch it, Heaven forbid! Only sometimes, after he had removed the bullets from the cartridge, he did let us play with it. For some reason it occurred to me back then that even my father himself was afraid of it, of the rifle. There were three Jews in the border guard in those days: Yitzhak Rosenwaks, now deceased, Rydz and my father.

 

1920

After the Germans had left Golub, in the year 1919, the owners of the farms that were on “the other side”[14] began to frequent our town to shop there. At that time our shop re-opened and our situation improved. My father, as well as the other two Jews, quickly quit the border guard.

It was a tense time. Rumors circulated about the Bolsheviks who were getting closer to our town, and even worse, about the Cossacks who were massacring the Jews, and about the Tatars with shaven heads, who had only one eye in their heads[15].

I recall: on one afternoon two horsemen burst into the market square, galloping like a whirlwind. They stopped their horses in the square and then, rearing their horses, turned around and disappeared back to wherever they had come from. Only on the next day, during morning hours, a cavalry unit entered our town without encountering any sign of resistance.

It seems that the days during which the Bolsheviks governed our town was a period of relative calm. In any event, for us children these were pleasant times. The Bolsheviks didn't harm anyone; just the opposite—the “bigger” youngsters among us got a chance to ride on their horses when they brought them to the river for washing.

However, after a few days had passed a group of Polish volunteers deployed on the hills behind Golub and surrounded the town. A hail of bullets fell on the houses. My parents were concerned about the children and hurriedly sent my older brother and me to the home of my uncle Hershel Lent, who lived on the second floor of Zudkevitz's house. Since the bullets were being fired nonstop, my uncle sent us down to the Zudkevitz apartment on the lower floor. We were there together with some other youngsters. We occasionally peeked outside, listening to the noise of the machine guns and trying to imitate them by tapping on the large wall closet.

After some time had passed the machine guns went silent, and a hush fell on the town. It appeared that the battle was over. We left our uncle's house and returned home. In the courtyard we found men, armed with rifles, who were conducting a search of the area. My father had been hiding for some reason, and, finding him, they thought that he was none other than a Bolshevik. Fortunately for my father, at that very time one of the residents of Golub, who knew him very well, happened along. He testified that my father was not a Bolshevik, but—the very opposite—someone who had served in the border guard at the founding of the Polish State. This testimony saved my father's life.

 

1926

The town's commerce is flourishing. Business in our store is excellent, and we have to expand it at the expense of our apartment. My brother Moshe completed his studies this year at the vocational school located in Warsaw. I myself am already in the fourth and last grade, while my two younger brothers, Nahum and Yitzhak, together with my sister Yehudit, are studying at the general [unaffiliated] school of Dobrzyn. We are coming to the end of summer vacation, a period that is generally one of the most pleasant, except that right now all the people of the town are very apprehensive because of the blood libel[16].

Gypsies, who had pitched their tents outside the town, spread a rumor that a Jew named Flusberg had kidnapped one of the Gypsy girls and had slaughtered her for ritual religious purposes. Very quickly the streets of the town were filled with Christians from Golub, young and old, who roamed around intimidatingly, trying to find some victims. As was usual in such cases, the local police did not make an appearance. My uncle, Hershel Lent, together with several others Jews, rushed out to Rypin[17] to ask for help from the district police. And wonder of wonders: quickly several policemen, few in number but spirited, arrived and successfully ejected the Golub residents from the town.

The danger passed. In the end it turned out that the father of the girl was the one who had killed her with his own hands, and that he had sought to frame the Jews. The next day the Gypsies were expelled beyond the town limits, and some of them were taken away in handcuffs. For the Jews of Dobrzyn it was a time of joy and gladness[18].

 

1929

I am now in Warsaw. Dobrzyn is too small for me, especially since working in the shop is not to my taste. And here, in the big city, I succeed in working in the profession that I have acquired, as an automobile locksmith; however, this work serves only as a means of subsistence for me, since all my interest is in sports. I belong to the sport organization Maccabi[19], and am practicing swimming a great deal, after I had previously been in boxing. I rapidly make first place in the breast stroke and appear as a representative of Maccabi of Warsaw in the country-wide competition.

In that period, as I am reaping praise as a gifted athlete and am enjoying life in the big city, I run into my good friend Kobe Lipka, who tells me that Monik Fin is immigrating to Brazil, and that he himself is preparing to do the same. He suggests that I join him. At first I am not inclined to; why should I, since I am having a good time in Warsaw and everyone here likes me? But as time passes the idea begins to gnaw at me, and I am overcome by the desire, ingrained in me from birth, to experience adventure. I decide to immigrate to Brazil.

 

1933

I have recently returned from Brazil. I am sitting with a group of friends in a coffee house in Golub, sipping coffee and listening to the results of the elections in Germany, reported by the minute on the radio. The picture is now absolutely clear: Hitler's party, the National Socialists, is the winner. However, for the time being we don't feel a thing and we are not concerned, even though in Golub itself the young people are organizing in the Hitler Youth[20] movement.

Meanwhile I am not involved in work of any substance, except for helping my parents somewhat in their shop. Business is now very bad; many of the customers are not paying their debts and we are forced to stop giving them credit. I take the responsibility for this task, which is not pleasant at all, upon myself, since I have in the meantime matured and I have obtained some business experience in Brazil. But truth be told, even afterwards we are forced to again give credit to the veteran customers, who still cannot afford to pay.

 

The customs house near the bridge leading to Golub[21]

 

Young people of Dobrzyn hiking in the hills of Golub during the winter[22]

 

Mr. Abraham Flusberg, the principally
accused individual in the Gypsy libel
[23]

 


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. 385-387. Return
  2. From Dobrzyn, the road heads due south for 65km via Lipno to Wloclawek on the Vistula River, then more or less follows the river east for 170km to Warsaw. Return
  3. Nikolai II, Czar of Russia Return
  4. Cheider = Jewish school for young children, dedicated almost exclusively to religious studies Return
  5. Shtiebel = a single-room synagogue, usually Hassidic Return
  6. Sofer satam = a scribe who writes Torah scrolls and Biblical texts (on parchment) that are placed into tefillin (phylacteries) and door-post mezuzot Return
  7. Drwęc in Polish spelling Return
  8. Sukkah = a temporary booth for the week-long fall festival Sukkot (two weeks after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year). During this period, meals are eaten in the sukkah. Return
  9. Written “Zaręba” in Polish, it is located about 2km south of Dobrzyn. Return
  10. Lag BaOmer = A minor holiday on the 33rd day after Passover, celebrated with outings in forests, as well as archery and other sports. Return
  11. The word used here is Shekatzim, a pejorative for Gentile boys or young men. Return
  12. HeChalutz = Zionist youth movement, organized to teach the Jewish youth agricultural skills that would prepare them for immigration to the Land of Israel. Return
  13. This street, called Die Goldene Gass (Yiddish for Golden Street or Street of Gold) by the Jews, ran northeast from the main square to Die Lange Gass (Yiddish for Long Street), as can be seen from the map appearing on pp. 8-9 of reference cited in Footnote 1. Return
  14. The other (Golub) side of the Dreventz, which had been in Prussia but was now incorporated into Poland. Return
  15. For a reference to myths of the one-eyed Tatars, see the following link: http://www.iccrimea.org/reports/18may2002.html Return
  16. For a history of the blood libel, the false accusation that Jews murder Gentile children for their blood, see the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_libel. Return
  17. Rypin was a larger town, located about 30km due east of Dobrzyn. Return
  18. An allusion to the end of the Purim story (paralleling the language of Esther 8:16). Return
  19. The Maccabi movement was a Zionist gymnastics and sports organization. See the following link: http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Maccabi_Movement Return
  20. The Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend in German) was a paramilitary organization whose members were indoctrinated in anti-Semitism. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitler_Youth. Return
  21. From p. 67 of reference cited in Footnote 1 Return
  22. From p. 70 of reference cited in Footnote 1 Return
  23. From p. 72 of reference cited in Footnote 1. As a result of the accusation, Abraham Flusberg immigrated to the US. The photograph was taken in New York in the 1960s, when he was in his eighties. Return

 

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