by Rabbi Shlomo Dzialdow and Rabbi Nathan Sanger
Translated by Allen Flusberg
Jewish social life in the Polish cities and towns was generally multi-variegated and also quite dynamic. There were factions, parties and social institutions, around which the various groups of Jewish society were concentrated.
In some cities, for example, the Zionist movement made its imprint, thereby affecting a large fraction of the Jewish population; whereas in other places, especially the smaller cities, religious life influenced the local Jewish inhabitants. Clearly in the latter case the individual who stood at the forefront of the religious campfirst and foremost the rabbi, who had to be the spiritual guide of the people of the communityplayed a major role.
In the last few decades great Torah scholars officiated as rabbis of Dobrzyn. The first of them was Rabbi Dovid Ber Toib z.tz.l., author of the book Binyan Dovid. After the death of their previous rebbe, Rebbe Yechiel z.tz.l., the Aleksander Hassidim asked him to be Rebbe Yechiel's successor, but he did not come forward to fulfill their request.
After Rabbi Toib came Rabbi Sonabend. After Rabbi Sonabend passed away the office of rabbi was not occupied for a long time. Instead the position was taken by the dayan, Rabbi Hertz z.l., a native of Dobrzyn, who was the author of the books Minchas Yehuda and Yehal-Or.
After his death Rabbi Blumberg arrived. He was the last rabbi of Dobrzyn.
And because great Torah scholars served as rabbis of Dobrzyn, the city attracted young scholars from the surrounding cities, thereby becoming a center for Torah study and Hassidism.
There, in Dobrzyn, there were Hassidim who had actually journeyed to see the first rebbe of Ger, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, the Hiddushei HoRim. After him the Hassidim journeyed to see the rebbe Rabbi Arye-Leib, the Sefas Emes (the name of his book, which is also now the name borne by the Ger Yeshiva in Jerusalem). And still later, they journeyed to see his son, Rabbi Avrohom-Mordechai, who, incidentally, was involved, in his own way, in building up the Land [of Israel].
Other Hassidim had made the pilgrimage to see the older Varker [rebbe], Rabbi Yitzchak Kalish, who had once been a student of Rebbe Bunim of Pshiskhe. The Varker was a lyrical-wistful rebbe; his type of Hassidism relied on pure human love, which necessarily leads to love of fellow Jews.
Synagogues and Hassidic Prayer Houses
The following Jewish Houses of Worship were located in Dobrzyn: (1) the Large Synagogue; (2) the Beis Medresh; (3) the Large Shtiebl; (4) the Small Ger Shtiebl; (5) the Aleksander Shtiebl; and (6) the Otvotzke Shtiebl.
After World War I there was also a yeshiva in Dobrzyn. The students were from Dobrzyn and from the surrounding cities, as well: Rypin, Szeps, Lipno, and Lubicz. The yeshiva students who were not from Dobrzyn were provided with meals in the homes of various Dobrzyn residents. The day the yeshiva opened its doors was very emotional. The yeshiva, which started with 11 students, was named Yavne; one of the speakers at the inauguration of the school stated, among other things, that the name Yavne signified Eleven boys were sanctified today, for which Yavne was an acronym.
We have heard that before World War I there was also a large yeshiva in Dobrzyn (details of which can be obtained from members of the older Dobrzyn generation, such as R. Yaakov Wrzos and Yechiel Bielawski in Israel). [In addition there was] a large, beautiful yeshiva Yesoidei HaToirah with a large number of classrooms, in a building of its own, where they studied secular subjects, as well. There was also a Jewish public school that had a building of its own; there they attended school on Sunday instead of on the Sabbath. The Yesoidei HaToirah yeshiva had been established immediately after World War I, when the Tifferes Shmuel was summering in Dobrzyn; on his incentive money was raised through his two Hassidic followers, the brothers Mr. Mendl and R. Avrohom Hirsh Kohn, h.y.d.. The last principal of Yesoidei HaToirah was R. Yechiel Meir Gutmorgen h.y.d.; his wife h.y.d. was the head of the beautiful, large girls' school Beis Yaakov, with many classroomsalso in Dobrzyn.
In the vicinity of Dobrzyn there were numerous estates that were owned by Jews. On one of the estates there was a training camp for the pioneers who immigrated to our Holy Land. The owner of this estate was R. Yitzchak Yaakov Szmiga, a dedicated Aleksander Hassid. Here it should be pointed out what he used to customarily do with his wealth: every year, immediately after the holidays, wagons of his, loaded with potatoes, grain and firewood, would quietly enter Dobrzyn, where their contents were distributed to the needy. From his family his daughter Genya has survived; she lives in Argentina with her husband, Yechiel Lopata, and their children.
As can be seen, Dobrzyn was a city of institutions of Torah and charity. These institutions required member volunteers to faithfully take care of the needs of the community. And we see it as our duty to recollect, to the best of our memories, those particular people and to mention them by name; for with their communal work they raised our city of Dobrzyn to a high spiritual level.
In the Large Synagogue, which stood at the edge of the city, they conducted the morning prayer service daily at dawn; on Sabbaths and holidays it was packed. The gabbai of the synagogue was R. Binyomin Yosef (Yosef Binyomin) Gonsher. The cantor of the synagogue was Rabbi Dialap, who at the same time was also a shochet. Aside from R. Binyomin Yosef there were two other slaughterers: R. Nesanel Sochaczewski h.y.d., from Czechoczinek, who was the son-in-law of the previous shochet, R. Yaakov Rozental z.l.; and R. Mendl Garfinkel z.l., who was the son of R. Yitzchok Meir Garfinkel z.l.
In the Beis Medresh, which was located not far from the mikve and the slaughterhouse, numerous minyonim met for prayer on a daily basis. The gabbai of the Beis Medresh was Mr. Freilich (a tailor). In the synagogue and in the Beis Medresh they would hold prayer services only. But by contrast in the Hassidic shtiebls they not only held daily prayer services, but also studied. This was a place of Torah; studying Torah developed there as an activity because many of those attending the services were learned. They set up daily classes where they studied various Talmudic tractates in depth, including also the daf yomi.
The gabbai of the Large Ger Shtiebl was R. Hillel Ovadya Goldbrach h.y.d. The learned men who took turns leading the classes were: R. Yaakov Rozental z.l., a shochet and bodek; R. Elly Yosef Dzialdow z.l. (his son, Rabbi Shlomo Dzialdow, lives in Frankfurt, where he works as a shochet); R. Itsche Meir Garfinkel z.l.; R. Hersh Ber Berman h.y.d.; R. Meir Henich Teitelboim h.y.d.; and others. The Torah reader was R. Yisroel Asher Wrzos z.l., and after his death R. Yaakov Henich Dratwa h.y.d. Those who led the services on the High Holy Days were the following: for the Musof service, the shochet R. Yaakov Rozental z.l.; later R. Avrohom Flusberg n.y.; and last R. Yisroel Miller h.y.d. Those who led the Shacharis service were: Mr. Avrohom Yitzchok Holtz z.l. (who died in America). R. Elly Flusberg h.y.d. had the task of calling men up to the Torah (his son, R. Boruch Mendel Flusberg n.y., resides in Israel with his wife Henye, daughter of R. Chayim Yanuar h.y.d.).
Incidentally it is worth noting what an exceptional memory R. Elly Flusberg h.y.d. had. In the Large Ger Shtiebl about 8 minyonim met for prayer services every Sabbath, and he remembered the Yahrzeit of each and every one of the participants. When it was time to call people up to the Torah he knew who had precedence to be called up, i.e. he knew who was going to observe a Yahrzeit during the following week. When I observed a Yahrzeit for the first time for my departed father z.l., the 4th of Tammuz, 5685, he [Flusberg] informed me that the anniversary of this date would never fall on a Sabbath, Tuesday or Thursday.
In the Small Ger Shtiebl the gabbai and Torah reader was R. Shoul Prager h.y.d. (Until half a year ago his son, Nachum [Norbert] Prager, who left Dobrzyn for Germany 50 years ago, lived in Hanover, where he served as head of the congregation, cantor and Torah reader.)
The people who prayed in the Ger Shtiebl were not involved in Torah and Hassidism only; they were active in social and political life, as well. Thus, for example, the highly regarded community volunteer R. Yechiel Meir Gutmorgen h.y.d. was the director of the Agudah Bank, the manager of the Yesoidei HaToirah yeshiva, and the chairman of Agudas Yisroel. The shtiebl youth organized themselves in the Young Agudas Yisroel, in which they were vigorously active. Their secretary was the young man Yisroel Meir Piechotke h.y.d., and the following were among those who served on the committee: Boruch Goldfinger, Mendl Lewkowicz, Zalman Yendziewicz, Moishe Icze Miller, as well as others.
The gabbai of the Aleksander Shtiebl was R. Yaakov Yehoshua Kufler h.y.d. Among those that prayed there the following were particularly conspicuous: R. Yehoshua Chaim Minsky z.l., a shochet and bodek (he passed away in Jerusalem, where he last resided); R. Zalman Chossid Rozenwaks z.l.; R. Leibl Lipsztadt (within his family his daughter Manya survived; she lives in America with her husband, Bolek Zeidner from Lipno, and their child); and R. Chaim Yanuar h.y.d. R. Meir Kohn z.l. was a very interesting figure who was very learned. He began his Hassidic life as a follower of the younger Vurker rebbe Z.tz.vk.l. and at the end he was a follower of the Yismach Yisroel Z.tz.vk.l. Despite the fact that he was constantly sitting and studyingand quite literally his Torah study never left his lips he raised his two sons to be in his business under the name Meir Kohn and Sons. It is noteworthy that the Yismach Yisroel said of him that he clearly knew the entire Mogen Avrohom by heart. His son, R. Mendl Kohn h.y.d., who was known in the Hassidic world as R. Mendl Dobzhinsker, was also a great personality. He truly fulfilled let your home be freely open, and he merited Torah and greatness in a single placehis business expanded, and yet he did not neglect you shall contemplate it day and night. He also played a major role in community work: he was the parnas of the community, a court alderman and at the same time an alderman of the city council. His bearing and his bearded countenance elicited great respect, even from the Gentiles. From his family only two sons survived, Yechezkel and Yaakov Kohn, who today live in Israel. R. Mendl Kohn's son-in-law, Rabbi Nathan Sanger, drained the bitter cup to the dregs. He lost his wife Nentshe and his two sons, Yitzhak Dov and Meir h.y.d.
His [Mendl Kohn's] brother, Avrohom Hirsh Kohn z.l.despite his Western dress and his wide connections in the business world, on a colossal scalewas a fiery and dedicated Aleksander Hassid; he never missed accompanying the Aleksander rebbes when they travelled abroad for treatment. In the years 1924-25 the Agudas Yisroel nominated him as a candidate for the Polish parliament. In 1925 he took his first trip to Israel, where he immediately founded a company to build a large factory for the manufacture of bricks. He merited immigrating there with part of his family before the Destruction.
Other very interesting figures among the Aleksander Hassidim were: R. Yehoshua Waldenberg h.y.d., the head of the Jewish community of Dobrzyn; and the mohel R. Shmuel Moshe Roine h.y.d. They occupied a respectable place in Jewish society and were worthy defenders of Jewish dignity. A son of R. Zalman Chossid Rozenwaks z.l. is in Israelhe is R. Yehuda Rozenwaks, who lives in Holon. A son-in-law of R. Hirsh Ber Berman h.y.d. is also in Israelhe is R. Yaakov Yechiel Bielowski of Tel Aviv.
September, 1939. The German forces crossed the border. The Polish skies were filled with Hitler airplanes, sowing death and destruction. The first victims were the Jews who were on the German-Polish border.
Very soon after the occupation, on Rosh Hashana, a portion of the Jewish population of Dobrzyn was seized and sent away towards Germany. And on Sukkos 40 distinguished families from among those who remained were rounded up; they, too, were taken out of the city by the murderers. After that at first glance it did get quieter; Jewish life was becoming stable again a little at a time. But noimmediately afterwards, on the 11th of November, 200 members of the Gestapo appeared and gathered in the town square, their guns loaded. The provincial government ordered the leader of the Jewish community to appear and then demanded that the entire Jewish population vacate the city immediately. Among the Jews a panic ensued. To reverse the evil decree a group of Jews went out into the city, going from door to door to collect money, silver candlesticks, wedding rings and other valuables; they brought all of it to the Gestapo. The Hitler-murderers gladly appropriated it, but all of this did not prevent the expulsion from Dobrzyn. Several days later the city had become judenrein.
The Jewish population of Dobrzyn shared the bitter fate of all the Jews of Poland.
May this humble account serve as a monument upon the sown graves of the great Torah scholars, their disciples, those who were active in the community, and the entire Jewish population.
There was once a vibrant Jewish town of Dobrzyn that is no more.
|A group of young men, who were from Dobrzyn, in America|
|Talmud-Torah school in Dobrzyn-Dreventz|
By Sara GronerKrantz
Translated by Allen Flusberg
A warmhearted, good town with benevolent, kindhearted people, devoted to one another heart and soul. Never envious, nor begrudging each other. Mutual help was one of the highest qualities of the town. Everyone was glad to be able to do someone a favor. For example, only a small number of people in the town had newspapers, but whoever didn't could borrow one from someone else at home; and it would even come with a small glass of tea and a slice of cake.
There were no great scholars in the town, but the generation after the First World War looked for ways to improve themselves in middle and higher education. The most important cultural institution of the town was its library, which had been founded covertly during the Czarist regime and continued to exist in secret until the outbreak of the war in 1914; it was not officially sanctioned until the German occupation. There were thousands of books, both fiction and nonfiction, in the library. After finishing reading the first volume of a novel, many a reader would wait impatiently for the second volume that was still in someone else's possession. There was generally a great thirst for culture among the working young people, who strove to broaden their knowledge and horizons in various directions, so that they could take part in discussions or scientific talks that were often held in the library or in the workers' clubs. The members of these clubs were extremely interested in these discussions and talks, and the circle of participants and audience continued to expand.
With the outbreak of the First World War the general situation in the town declined. The Germans were not so cruel in those days; still, they did not have good relations with the populace. They took men for forced labor and sent them far away; the burden of supporting their wives and children fell on the town, which was, as is natural in a time of war, in difficult economic straits. True, no one died from hunger, Heaven forbid, but the repressive inclination of the German regime towards the Jews put the town in a state of fear that was palpable in daily life.
The famous expulsion of 1914, the first year of the World War, was accompanied by earnest threats of mass murder. Even before the expulsion the Jewish populace had felt the heavyhanded pressure of the German occupation, but the expulsion shattered their morale and broke them physically and economically. We then lived through several difficult months, kept far from home under harsh economic conditions. Only after the first pioneers went back to Dobrzyn and gave us a feeling of relief did a large number of us begin to return home. And after a short time the town more or less went back to normalcy.
Dobrzyn was blessed with parties, the largest and strongest of which was the Zionist party, which already before the First World War had delegated Mr. Feibish Lipka as its elected representative to the Zionist Congress. Other parties were very active as well, among them the PoaleiTziyon, which also had a youth organization, Borochov. The activity by the Bund was more limited. Each of these parties followed its own ideals, but all had one objective in common: forging a fully conscious youth.
After the First World War a powerful movement or more properly stated, pressure to emigrate began. Some of the youth, as well as entire families, that already at the beginning of Polish rule foresaw the difficulties in making a living under this regime, sought to leave the little town. The deeply rooted Polish antiSemitism began producing more and more enmity of the Jews, expressing itself in a general boycott that robbed dozens of families of their livelihood.
One of these was my own family: we felt as if the rug was being pulled out from under us. At our first opportunity we left the town and went to America. Several other families left at the same time, among them Shlesinger, Plotniarz, and others.
In this way the Dobrzyn era of my life came to an end. I departed from Dobrzyn with a heavy heart, shedding many tears as I left behind my best and closest friends. I left the town I loved and held dear but have never seen again. All signs of its Jewish presence have been erased forever.
May these lines serve as a memorial over the ruins of erstwhile Dobrzyn.
|The Shamna veSolta of the Dobrzyn youth.
Center: Mendel Sonabend.
By Yaakov Gorny
Translated by Allen Flusberg
In 1916, while the First World War was raging, a group of comrades came up with the idea to organize a Bund party in Dobrzyn. Comrade Hersh Asher Gottlieb, who was known for his socialist leanings, approached me with a proposal to take part in the establishment of a Bund party in Dobrzyn. I agreed, and soon we were covertly contacting additional comrades, whose outlooks were known, to invite them to a meeting.
The meeting place was in Kalinowski's house, in a tiny room up in the attic that served as Hersh Asher's bachelor apartment. In this room there stood a wooden chest, an iron bed with a straw mattress, a bench, and a little chairthis, more or less, was all the furniture in the room.
The following seven comrades attended this meeting: Yechiel Zisshoif [sic], Yechiel Krulik, Chaim David Braun, Meir Mendelson, Binyamin Isser Nowalski, Fishel Baruch Smuzyk, and Moshe Golomb.
Since everything was being done secretly and conspiratorially, we were compelled to make sure that the neighbors would not notice us as we entered the little room. This was not so easyone at a time we had to climb up a ladder to another attic, from which we entered the room one by one.
After we had covered the small window with a blanket, Hersh Asher bent down over the bed and pulled a written proclamation out from under the mattress. With great reverence he proceeded to read it out loud slowly, word for word, as we all listened attentively. And afterwards Hersh Asher added some remarks of his own.
On the spot we elected a committee, with Hersh Asher Gottlieb as chairman, Yechiel Zissholtzsecretary; and Yaakov Gornyin charge of organization and finances.
We immediately began trying to influence the cultural institutions of the town, especially the library, in a positive way. Indeed, our membership expanded rapidly, and in a short time the Bund became a force of consequence.
Once Poland achieved independence, the Bund, now a legal party, became active in uplifting the impoverished masses of the town. It provided them with an elementary education and with social support. It was the Bund that established the town's first drama group, which often performed classical Yiddish plays.
The activity of the Bund was received well and was a boon to the indigent masses of the town.
|Golda Tinsky together with her children|
By Yaakov Wrzos
Translated by Allen Flusberg
In the following I would like to transcribe some of my memories from my youth in Dobrzynvarious episodes of events, facts and experiences that are deeply ingrained in my memory.
I recall that around the time that we founded an association in Dobrzyn, Tifferet Bachurimwhich dealt primarily with religious renewalwe celebrated the completion of a Torah scroll at the home of Mr. Yitzchak Lichtenfeld. The principal participants were: Azriel Elya Lichtenfeld, Daniel Miller, Avraham Yaakov Rozenwaks, the Fogel brothers, and the author of this article.
Once the very last letter had been handwritten on the scroll, off we went to the synagogue, where hundreds of Jews were already gathered. The choir and the orchestra greeted us with Halleluya, as the audience sang along; we drank a l'chayim toast, followed by some cake; and then we proceeded to dance joyfully, as is customary everywhere by Jews on such an occasion.
Several years later we founded a different association, for social welfare: its function was to support the needy of the town. We compiled a list of about 200 households that we taxed at a monthly rate of 25 kopeks. We, the members of the association, collected this payment every month. With this money we bought potatoes and heating coals. Every needy family received a monthly stipend of 50 kg of potatoes and 50 kg of coal during the winter months. Clearly this particular form of support did not go very far in addressing the general issue of the prevailing social conditions, but to some extent communal volunteers and charitable housewives were providing for the needy in other ways, thereby supplementing our effort.
At the beginning of the 20th century a thirst for culture inspired a group of us young menamong them Azriel Sachs, Shlomo Hartbrot, Shmuel Frum, Avraham Zudkewicz, Chaim Wolf Rappaport and the present authorto involve ourselves in making it possible to found a library in Dobrzyn. In those days this was not a very easy task. The Russian regime was trying to avoid as much as possible the spread of education and cultureespecially via an authorized librarywithin the non-Russian provinces of its large empire. Although each of us did have a few books, which we would exchange with one another, that did not weaken our resolve to familiarize ourselves with modern literatureparticularly the Yiddish classics that were being published at the time. I myself was a member of the Lipno library, and Shmuel Frum was a member of the Sierpc library, but we were not always able to get the books we wanted. So it was natural and understandable that we young people should aspire to obtain a legitimate library in Dobrzyn.
The first request, in the name of Azriel Sachs, was sent to the governor of Plock, whose answer was a categorical refusal. As we later found out he had reacted by sending an investigating commission made up of secret police [to Dobrzyn].
A second request to the same governor was sent in the name of Yosef Chaim Roda, but this time, too, the response was negative. Then we tried to authorize a private library through a Dobrzyn teacher who originated from Lipno; we motivated the request as being for the purpose of his livelihood. But after a short time this request was also turned down.
Once we realized that we would not get permission by following this approach, we decided to try alternatives. We wrote to Chevrat HaZamir, an organization that had a library in Mława , and we asked them to open a branch in Dobrzyn. But unfortunately the reply that we received was not encouraging, and we decided to delegate our member Eliezer Zaklikovski to meet with the representative of Chevrat HaZamir in Mława. He [Zaklikovski] happened to be the cousin of the head of that organization, the well-known author Yakir Warszawski. But after some brief negotiations in Mława, Zaklikovski was told that opening a branch would not be possible. We therefore began searching for a still different approach.
Chevrat HaZamir was active in Warsaw, as well; there, the head of the organization was a certain Dr. Levin, a fine, liberal man. Our committee held a brief consultation and decided to delegate me to approach the Warsaw Chevrat HaZamir, with the hope that we could get permission to open a branch of theirs in Dobrzyn. When I reached Warsaw I went directly to their address, where I found them holding their weekly committee meeting. After they had greeted me warmly, the president, Dr. Levin, gave me an appointment to meet him the very next day at his own home. We had a very cordial discussion at the meeting, but unfortunately nothing came of it, either. He simply noted that the only Jewish institution that could possibly help in these circumstances was the Chevrat Mefitsay Haskala in St. Petersburg, where our current president, Zalman Rubashov-Shazar, was then one of the active members. We wrote to them, explaining all the details, but after a short time they replied that they could not help us in this matter.
Having exhausted all these alternatives, we decided to set up an unauthorized library.
We held a meeting, at which we detailed the lengthy trials and tribulations of our committee as it had tried to set up an authorized library in Dobrzyn and ultimately found that there was no way to do it. On the spot we took up a collection to purchase books that we had already made a list of, and we then ordered the books from an agent who was about to travel to Warsaw, where he could purchase them. After a few days we received the books that we had ordered and immediately brought them to the home of Azriel Sachs. The books were lent out to the subscribing members twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, during the hours of 6 to 9 pm.
During these lending hours we took security measures, posting two of our members at the building entrance to monitor the passersby. Then one day our sentries became suspicious of two policemen who had been seen going past Sachs's house during lending hours. Since discovery of the library would have meant a 3-month prison sentence [for Sachs], we packed the books up in several boxes and moved them to my attic.
This was shortly before the First World War broke out. During the war, when the Germans occupied Poland, they created a civil administration in our town; it was headed by a German lieutenant named Schade who served as mayor. We asked him for permission to open a library. He immediately complied, and after several weeks we opened the library in Nowalski's house. Already at its inception the library contained more than two thousand books, and little by little the number of books continued to grow.
The committee members included (1) Dov Jalowski, (2) Yaakov Pieniek, (3) Chanoch Pinczewski, (4) Yosef Waldenberg, (5) Meir Cohen, (6) David Cohen, (7) Bunem Zaklikowski, and (8) Eliezer Zaklikowski. In its first meeting the committee decided to name the library Sholom Aleichem and to keep it out of any conflicts that might arise between political parties.
As time passed we set up literature evenings in the spacious sitting room of the library. These attracted a large audience.
I would like to note the exceptional service of the following members in developing the library: (1) Moshe Sonnabend, (2) Yosef Chaim Roda, (3) Hirsh Wolf Rusak, (4) Nachum Frager, (5) Moshe Chaim Cierklorsz, and the present writer. Also the following womenHendel Dobrzynski, Esther Wrzos and Chaya Millergave much of their free time to benefit the library.
The library also held evening language courses in Yiddish, Polish and German, led by Yaakov Isaac and Dov Jalowski. A bit later language courses in Hebrew were also offered in the library. If for any reason the teacher could not be present, either Cierklorsz or I would substitute.
This was one of the finest periods of cultural development in Dobrzyn.
|Eliezer Zaklikowski, of blessed memory|
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