« Previous Page Table of Contents Previous Page »

[Page 271]

The Diary of Rabbi Jeruzalimski
From the Days of the First World War

Translated from the Yiddish by Jerrold Landau

The diary of Rabbi Moshe Nachum Jerusalimski of blessed memory, from the time of the First World War, transcribed from a manuscripts by his son David Yonah of blessed memory and given to us to publish by his son Shamai Dov Yerushalmi (Jerusalimski).


This Memorial

These words describe in brief one one-thousandth of what I experienced during the days of turmoil, beginning from the 8th of Menachem Av 5674 until I came to my son in Kharal on the Tuesday of the Torah portion of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, on the 6th of Iyar 5675 [1].

On Thursday of the week of the Torah portion of Devarim (5674), the general mobilization began, about which we could not even begin to physically understand how we were sitting in fresh air [2]. At first at 12:00 midnight, when the “Beis Din” [3] departed for Kielce, I noticed the local shochet (ritual slaughterer). That Friday, there was a panicky flight from the surrounding countryside. Throughout the entire Sabbath day, the roads were filled with departing Christians. On Sunday the 10th of Av, despite the fast, all the Jews fled from the surrounding countryside. At night, when I felt quite weak from the fast, I received a telegraph, sent from the factory in Kharal, with the sorrowful news that my daughter-in-law Chana Rozia was with her daughter Rivka – who had taken seriously ill, and is in need of great mercy. The telegraph was written with many errors and was completely unclear. The tribulations that she was going through were indescribable.

In the morning, on Monday of the Torah portion of Vaetchanan, they summoned me from Kielce, telling me that I should come quickly. That night, when I arrived home broken, drenched from a heavy rainstorm, I found the whole city enveloped in fear, for many known reasons. I speedily arranged a Get (bill of divorce) for a Jew – a soldier who had to travel [4] shortly. On Tuesday night, there was a panic in town over the first arrests that took place in connection to the shortage of small currency, and everybody knows about the difficulties that that issue raised. I quickly issued a ban on hoarding copper and silver coins, and thanks to that, the innocence of our Jews in this connection was demonstrated. On Wednesday, 13th of Av, I went to see the governor regarding that issue and other issues. (Before I saw him in person, I had a serious discussion with his assistant, a discussion which seemed to present a favorable opportunity in my mind.) He answered each matter appropriately. He informed me about the telegram that he sent at that time to the general governor, in which he requested that the population remain calm.

On Thursday of the week of the Torah portion of Vaetchanan, at night (on the 25th) [5], the governor Ch. Ligin left Kielce, and the next day, on Friday, all of the higher and lower officers followed. It is difficult to describe the fear that this event instilled in the city, as well as another frightful happening: the sudden liquidation, based on an ordinance from the higher authorities, of the entire liquor reserve for a few million, and the open burning of all kinds of documents from the national archives, and other such items. That same day, the magistrate appointed a civic militia from all segments of the population, which would begin its activities on Tuesday of the Torah portion of Ekev (July 29), and would maintain its duties until the arrival of the “Sokolen” (the privileged Polish militia which united with the Austria-Hungary army, who were expected to march into town very shortly carrying their flag. On Wednesday, there was a shootout between the “Sokolen” and the Russian cavalry. The next day, on Thursday the 14th of Av, strongmen from our brave militia came, and a difficult battle took place between the two sides in close proximity to the city. One side took up its position on the “Karczawka”, and the other on the hill near the Jewish cemetery. Many victims fell in the city. The battle took place for one hour until the Austrians were repulsed. After a short break, about an hour later, a special emissary from the magistrate came to me bearing the very unfortunate news that the president of the city has been arrested, and the city commandant has imposed upon Kielce a contribution of 105,000 rubles. The deadline for the contribution was 5:00 p.m. Obviously, the entire city was in great danger. The weeping and lamentations of the wives and young children could be heard on all the streets… Hearing this made the hair stand on edge and caused a shudder through the heart… After a great deal of effort, and with the help of certain acquaintances, I was able to pay the contribution down to the last groszy, ant there was some relief in the city. Shortly thereafter, at evening on the following day, Friday, the peace was disturbed by a certain segment of our militia… The damage was estimated by the magistrate to be 200,000 rubles. Thanks to the intercession of the Greek Orthodox priest, peace prevailed until midday. However, shortly thereafter, in the evening, the Poles proclaimed that revenge would be taken against the Jews, which means that they were preparing for a murderous pogrom… I ran to the bishop at nightfall. He, along with his assistants, urged the public to hold their peace and to live freely with everyone. Thanks to this, peace prevailed until the next morning.

On the Sabbath day of the Torah portion of Ekev (22 Av, August 1) a frightful thing took place… The Austrians entered the city. A terrible slaughter broke out, continued until 8:00 p.m. on Saturday night. Victims fell like flies around the city and in the city itself, causing terrible scenes in several places… There was no humanity, and great distress. Whoever did not hear the shooting and thunder, and whoever did not see the disarray in the city, -- has not witnessed destruction. The darkness of Saturday night continued through the next morning, the Sunday of the Torah portion of Reeh, which given over to sweat and terror, and to various tribulations which cannot be written about. On the Monday of the Torah portion of Reeh, some of the liar-specialists attempted to terrorize the population by starting a false rumor, apparently as an ordinance from the highest commander, that in two hours the entire population, men, women and children, must leave the city. This rumor spread through the city like a thunderbolt. Who knew what kind of bad fortune might be coming! As is shown, from all of the false rumors and confusions that were issued regarding Jews, the worst was that one of the sides was “retreating”. That moment served as an opportunity for all of the tribulations and ill fortune that took place for a variety of terrible reasons in many Polish cities, particularly Radom, Kornacice, Zamosc and others. Only G-d in his great mercy could assist us in leaving the city. Most of the residents remained put in their places.

On Tuesday of the Torah portion of Reeh (August 5), the Austrians with the “Sokolen” came to Kielce. About two weeks later, the German “Landstrum” arrived, and put up three different flags. They remained with us until Thursday of the Torah portion of Ki Tavoh, on the 4th of Elul (August 29) [6]. During that month, many events took place that left a large imprint upon the hearts of the Kielcer residents. On Friday of the Torah portion of Shoftim, Mr. Herschel Preis was arrested along with several other people. They were freed two weeks later. On Tuesday of the Torah portion of Ki Tetzeh, those who resided in the building of the governing authorities and who required support through my intercession from the Jewish committee were gathered into the well-known “Komisarsz” area. Thanks to G-d may He blessed, I was able to leave in peace. On Thursday of the Torah portion of Ki Tetzeh, A. Wachsberg and his son N. were arrested. They were later freed. On Thursday, I spent a dark night with the elder Greek Orthodox priest, and the next day, on Friday of the Torah portion of Ki Tavoh, the Russian army marched triumphantly into Kielce. That same day, the “Sokolen” killed two Jews along the way, whom they had chanced upon. They hung them in the forest that was near the village of Petkowice. I first found out about this on Friday night during the time of prayers. This matter and other matters caused a great deal of discussion in town. That same day, the accident took place with the well-known Birnzweig, who aroused the Polish crowds many times that they should beat any Jewish passer-by on the Sabbath of the Torah portion of Ki Tavoh, men and women. The priests tried to calm him down somewhat. That same Sabbath, all of the Jewish stores remained open, for they had to provide all needed provisions to the Russian army who were crowding into the city. On Thursday of the Torah portion of Nitzavim (26 Elul) the governor and his assistant, along with all the ruling officials, arrived by train. They met up with Jews outside the station, who greeted them with joyous shouts of “hurray”. The governor extended his hand to me and thanked the Jewish community in his name for the enthusiastic reception. As can be imagined, the city became calmer (only in the shops on a few side lanes was there some temporary unrest). The two days of Rosh Hashanah were, with G-d's help, peaceful, spent in calm supplication and worship. On the day of Shabbat Teshuva [7], Tishrei 6, 5675 (September 13), the governor suddenly appeared with his assistants and all of the officials, and a dark bitterness fell upon all of the Kielcers. On Sunday night, there was a fright over the announcement that was pasted onto the railway station, that a special train would come on Monday during the day. A rumor spread that there was an order from the high officials that we would have to leave Kielce. It is impossible to write in this diary what was took place that night in the city. (Here, as in the surrounding cities, a large, fierce battle broke out.) Even though the chief of police posted notices, one could not trust the widespread, frightening announcements that, on Monday, half of the community would have to leave Kielce on the train and be dropped of somewhere along the way. The other residents convinced me to hold my peace, as there would be no traveling.

On Tuesday, the eve of Yom Kippur, we heard loud cannon shots that frightened the Kielcer community. Later, we found out that they were breaking apart the railway lines with dynamite. In the confusion, in the midst of the sounds of gunfire, I immersed myself in the mikva [8], in order to accept the holy fast day and the holy Kol Nidre night upon myself in purity. From all sides, one could see the great fires that broke out in the villages surrounding Kielce. We spent the night in holiness, intermixed with fear and terror – for the unique souls it was an uplifting religious experience… On Yom Kippur morning, the terrible battle got stronger. One could hear the sound of artillery during the time of the prayers. At around 11:00 a.m., the Germans stormed into Kielce… They set up their heavy artillery guns on Warsawer Street. The Great Synagogue was surrounded by cannons.

The Russian army retreated from the city in haste. The prayers finished in the Great Synagogue by 1:00 p.m. I gathered a larger crowd of people around myself, and we prayed for the entire day. We could hear the shooting throughout almost the entire day. During the time of the Avoda, as we were reciting the words “Achat”, “Achat Veshtaim” … [9], the artillery stopped, as if they were saying with us the words “Achat”, “Achat Veshtaim”… During the day, a command was issued by the German commandant that all of the stores must be opened, as the Jewish bakers must provide bread for the German military. At Neila time [10], the general called together all of the Jewish butchers and shochtim at the magistrate. At night, at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the entire brigade of German soldiers arrived, who were in charge of the life of all of the Kielce residents.

On Thursday the 5th of Tishrei (September 18) [11], the German soldiers grabbed whomever they found on the streets, either Christians or Jews (among everyone, they also grabbed my Binyamin, but a little later, they found someone else who would work in his place, and they freed him). They were conscripted to repair the railway and the artillery wagons. On the same day, I received a request from the commandant via the magistrate that the stores should remain open, and in return for fulfilling the request, he would be responsible for my well-being [12].

On the Sabbath prior to Sukkot [13], I was called to the commandant, as he wished to insure that the Jewish bakers would shortly begin baking bread. Dr. Lewi from Berlin was with me at the time. He had the feeling that they would be satisfied with the oral assurances that we would give. The magistrate would transmit the assurance to the officials, who would issue the command to all the bakers.

At this time, the German-Austrian soldiers concocted various libels, about which it is difficult to discuss. As far as I am concerned, they would make people “defer”. At that time, a significant number of the Poles, our blood-enemies, assisted in making the situation difficult for our Jews. For example, one can bring the terrible accident in Staszow, which everyone knows about: On Yom Kippur, a quorum of eleven pious, proper Jews worshipped together not far from the city. At the time they were there, a gentile set a house on fire, and the members of that quorum thought that this was done as a treacherous activity. All the proofs and pleas that they were innocent of that disgusting deed were for naught. On the holy day at Neila time, they were brought out to the field be shot. Ten of them were shot on the same day, and the prayer leader was hung. It is not possible to write at all about the libels that took place at that time in Poland in general, and in the Kielce region in particular.

Prior that time, when the German-Austrians wanted (even though the economic situation was good) they invented pretexts, for which the Jews were arrested for spying. Among these were the father and son Kaufman, and N. Wachsberg, who were freed only after a great deal of intercession. There was also the libel with the feldscher [14] Ch. Singerman who was arrested at night in the middle of the street, and immediately taken to the magistrate, where he was killed in a terrible fashion.

A few days after the burial, they wished to perform an autopsy on him; however by presenting reasons, and through intercessions, this did not take place [15]. Two Jews of Checiny were also arrested: One of them was found with explosive materials in his store, which caused an explosion that killed two people and injured the homeowner. Explosive material was also found by the second. Both were freed after a monetary fine was imposed. Prior to this time, there were many professors from Berlin and Breslau (Wroclaw) in the Kielcer hospitals who had it good with us, including Prince Joachim, Professor Oppenheimer of Berlin, and Adjunkt Bodenheimer from Cologne. They were all counted among the popular residents, and were mentioned with pride. During the period from Yom Kippur (September 17) until the 17th of Tevet, in particular on the week of the Torah Portion of Lech Lecha (14th of Cheshvan, October 18), they made preparations to flee [16]. (On the same day, an Austrian Gendarme came to me with an urgent request that the Jewish stores must open at this moment. If not, he would shoot. My prayer quorum was at the point prior to the reading of the Torah. They left the Torah scroll on the table, and hurried to insure that their stores would be immediately opened.) The same day, a Jew was arrested for carrying on a conversation with a converted soldier [17]. At 11:00, I was called to the magistrate regarding a loan of 10,000 rubles that was imposed on the Jews by the magistrate. Sitting there, one could see the removal of the flags and the retreat of the German Austria-Hungarian army. After the Sabbath they ignited the train station and all nearby buildings. They city was light as if it was day. On Sunday of the Torah portion of Vayerah, the bridge and the “Herber” railway line were destroyed by dynamite. The other bridges and buildings in the area of the Kielce railway station were in great danger, and were only saved by a miracle.

It is difficult to write about the confusion that took place that day. On Monday of the Torah portion of Vayerah (13th Cheshvan – October 20) at the time that we were sitting in the Beis Midrash arranging the loan for the magistrate, one heard the massive retreat of the Germans, Austrians and “Sokolen” with their equipment and automobiles by way of the Warsawer Street toward the Krakower Road. Thereafter, a fierce battle broke out. The bombardment was heard from the town of Maslow, not far from Kielce. The next day, the Russian army entered Kielce with songs of victory. A service took place in the synagogue to mark the victory. This took place on October 21, on the day that the Kaiser was kicked off of his throne. Kielce and the surrounding area were filled with Russian soldiers.

In truth, at the outset, Kielce and its vicinity were calm. Only later did G-d's punishment fall upon us. The Poles, our lifelong enemies, contrived a variety of false, lowly libels against our Jews. For example, a good portion of our army had confidence in that speech, which brought with it a great deal of victims. Every day, we heard tidings of fresh tribulations that took place in the surrounding towns in general, and in particular from the towns of Suchedniow, Lopuszno, Bodzentyn and others. These were tidings that would tear at the soul… In several places, our brethren were punished with beatings… It came to such a point that the old Stopnitzer rabbi, Rabbi Y. may he live long, was sentenced to the death penalty; however he was saved prior to the execution of the sentence… Every detail is fitting to be written about in a large book – “a history of mankind” so to speak.

On Friday night of the Torah portion of Vayerah (18th Cheshvan, October 25), I was suddenly summoned to the commandant. I went to him, and he angrily asked me why two Jews were found possessing liquor, which they sold to the soldiers. He then announced why I was being arrested. He then clarified the situation, indicating that he does not think that this is worthy of arrest, for they never arrest the innocent; especially somebody such as me, who is an intercessor before the authorities and all of the regional offices are pleased with my honest work – therefore he would treat me with more gentleness. I told him that, through my clerical offices, I would insure that the Jews no longer sell liquor. He was satisfied and let me go home. Indeed on the Sabbath, during the services that took place to mark the victory of our army, I spoke a few earnest words and imposed a “strong ban” on those who sold liquor, and also upon those who know about that business but do not inform. The selling did indeed cease.

On Monday of the Torah portion of Chayey Sarah, at 4:00 p.m. (the 27th) the governor arrived in an automobile along with the official of the gendarme. They arrived completely unexpectedly; therefore I was not able to greet them appropriately.

On Tuesday (21 Cheshvan, October 28) during the middle of the prayers, a great crowd came to me in the synagogue with crying and wailing, for they had heard about the sentencing of Yitzchak Hecherman (who was known as a G-d fearing person, an honest man) to death by hanging. The lamentation filled the synagogue. The children grabbed me around the neck with weeping and wailing, which shattered me… I decided what to do. I ran to the official of the gendarme, who was located in a hotel. I saw him only for a few minutes. He wrote down the names of those who were arrested, whose names he knew. On the same day, at 12:00 p.m. I went to see the governor and his assistant. He was very friendly to me, and he informed me that my request that I had placed on Monday to allow Jewish nurses in the Jewish hospital would be granted. As I was leaving from there, the official of the home-police met me along the way and informed me that there was an order from the commandant that I must come to the jail at 3:20 p.m. My heart began to beat loudly, as I understood that a death penalty was to be carried out there… I do not know with what type of powers I was able to arrive home in peace.

When the set time approached, as I was parting from my family, I said that who knows if I would come home at all. I felt as weak as a small child… I felt that I had no energy to hold up. Along the way, I strengthened. I said to myself that perhaps they had called me for something else. Only when I approached the jail, which was on Cziste Street near the town hall, did I see that they had erected a large gallows there… At that moment, my eyes became dark, and my feet underneath me became crooked so that I could not stand still on the spot… My friend Avraham Wachsberg, who was walking close to me, led me into the consular office along with some superintendent… As I entered, the general arrived in order to carry out the sentence. Shortly, they would carry out the procedures of the death sentence in the consular office by means of hanging: Yaakov Hecherman of Kielce and Shmuel Moshe Astrian. They read out the death verdict to them, and told them that they had the rights to speak to me about anything. The Radomer [18] wrote out a will regarding his estate. Then they confessed… [19] Obviously, I shed a great deal of tears as I explained to them the power of repentance at such a time. The Radomer shouted out that he was innocent of the charges for which he had been convicted. The Kielcer requested that I study at least one chapter of Mishna for his soul. I requested of the general in my name, in the name of the Radomer, and in the name of the entire Jewish committee that he permit them to be brought to a Jewish burial in the Jewish cemetery. He answered that this does not depend on him, and that one must submit a request to the higher authorities. I did so. (However to my sorrow, three days later, on October 30, I received an answer on an official document, number 721, that my request has been rejected.) Oy Vey! [20] I will never forget those minutes! I mean the reading of the sentence, the writing of the will, the recitation of confession, and over everything, the look in their eyes… together with the shrieking and wailing of the Radomer's wife as they separated her from him, and the carrying out of the hanging outside… After I told them that they should accept their fate, that their deaths will serve as an atonement for all of their sins, and that just before their deaths they should shout out “Shema Yisrael” [21], I fell down like a stone. Then the general convinced me that I do not need to fulfil his command of witnessing the execution – and I remained sitting in the consular office. (The well-known deputy Puriszkewicz, who was at that time present in Kielce, stood outside at the time of the hanging.) I arrived home greatly troubled and weakened. I lay in bed for ten days. For a long time, that which I heard continued to ring in my ears… For very long did the terrible picture stand before my eyes…

On Wednesday, they tried the rest of them: Yitzchak Hecherman and his brother-in-law Eliezer Kahn along with his son Moshe. All of them were freed with G-d's help, except for Moshe, who was sent to Vitebsk for the entire duration of the war.

Shortly thereafter, a few days later, Szaragder was arrested. He was sent to Vitebsk. Later, in the city itself and its surrounding areas, as well as in other regions, mass arrests of Jews took place. It is impossible to ascertain the number of trials, the number sentenced to prison, exile or other penalties... Not one day passed where a tribulation did not take place, one greater than the next; but the army did maintain the calm.

In truth, the Jewish population of Kielce did a great deal for the wounded soldiers. That same week of the Torah portion of Chayey Sarah (October 30), the Jewish committee opened up two “czainies” [22], one on Krakower Street and the second on the Russian Street, near the train station. Even though they were opened primarily for the wounded soldiers, with the permission of the governor they also accepted our own people from the beginning of the war and thereafter. These places did their laundry, and many Jewish daughters served as medics. (For a while, the military authorities commanded that no wounded be kept in the Jewish hospital, but later, the administration permitted the healing of the wounded, and requested a greater number of medics from us.) The Red Cross granted the Jews a grant of 1,000 rubles. At that time, the Jewish citizens committee was approved by the governor “to help soldiers wounded at war”. (I worked on this committee with all my might, together with all of its members and my children). The military, which passed through the city by the thousands, behaved in a friendly manner toward the Jews, and the city and its environs were calm. This is the way things were through the end of the month of November. On Sunday of the week of the Torah portion of Miketz, on the first day of Chanuka (November 30), the peace was disturbed by an accusation by the Polish masses, causing great damage to the Jews. The next day, on the second day of Chanuka, I went to the governor. I obtained 500 rubles from him for the benefit of the Jewish war victims. I had a discussion with him regarding various matters, the same matters that I had discussed with the former high governing officials. Thank G-d, on that same day, posters were put up by the commandant indicating that anyone who would harm another's property would be tried in a military court. Thanks to this announcement, calm returned.

My health situation became much weaker, and therefore my dear children from Kharal [23] sent me letters and telegrams requesting that I come to them, take a rest from my sorrowful work, and spend the bitter days with them. I requested a leave from the governor. On Wednesday of the Torah portion of Vayigash (December 10), the governor granted me a leave of two months. Since at that time, one could only travel by ox [24] and such a trip was fraught with danger, the trip was postponed. In the meantime, fresh disturbances came. The situation of our army remained good, but the battles became fiercer. Every day, we could hear the shooting from the police area. The number of those arrested also grew at that time. At the end of December, many hungry and thirsty Jews arrived from the entire vicinity…

On the Sabbath of the Torah portion of Shemot, I was sitting at the Third Sabbath Meal (Shalos Seudos), and many of those refugees were around my table. I glanced at their worried, darkened faces, and a deep sadness overtook my heart, and rivers of tears flowed from my eyes… At that time, I firmly decided: I could not be complacent in that place. I could not leave my embattled brothers in such a terrible situation. The next day, I informed the city representatives that I intend to remain with them until after Passover, with G-d's help. From that day, I undertook hard work on behalf of the community. (The number of refugees later reached 3,000 souls, aside from the local wounded from the war, numbering several hundred families.) The work greatly affected my health, since I worked with all my might. The donations from the Kielcer residents did not cover the great expenditures that we made. I requested support from the Jewish assistance organizations, from philanthropists in the large cities of Russia, and from the central assistance organizations in Switzerland. Our dear brethren, who excelled in their warmth and mercy, sent their support generously. The work of the committee to assist those downtrodden in spirit required even greater energy and courage from my weakened person. I did not have any rest, neither during the day or during the night, as I did all that was possible.

On Tuesday of the Torah portion of Beshalach, I received the first thousand rubles, telegraphed in from the Petrograd central committee to assist the war wounded. I received ongoing general contributions from that prestigious committee. (This does not take into account the donations from the others cities, which I intend to discuss in detail later.) Therefore, may they be blessed by G-d with all good things.

That same week (of the Torah portion of Beshalach, on the 15th of Shvat – Tu Bishvat, January 17th 1915), a bitter event took place upon us, that left its imprint upon me forever. On Friday night, when I took advantage of the sweet Sabbath delight to study my lessons [25], two superintendents came to me – one from prison, and the second – a resident, with a document stating that I should come to the prison at 5:00 a.m.. This was a preparation for the same type of thing that took place on Tuesday, 25th of Cheshvan [26]… Of course, this did not permit me to sleep. Throughout the night, my bed was drenched with tears… I hurried around the entire morning, so that I could arrive at the designated time. However, there must have been a misunderstanding regarding the documents of the commandant, and nobody came to the jail. First, at 6:00 a.m. a “convoy” arrived with a document from the commandant, indicating that the sentencing was to outside of the city, and that the rabbi should accompany him to the place of execution. I had to go by foot (with my secretary Wachsberg) behind the “convoy” for a long distance, farther than Zageiski's factory) [27]. They were already waiting for me, and I was not able to run along with the soldiers… The general who was conducting the sentencing remarked to me that they had held up the carrying out of the sentence on my account for an entire hour… I answered that I had presented myself at the jail at the designated time. I wanted the convicted man to recite the confessional, but the official did not see it as appropriate, for the document stated that I was only to accompany the convicted man to the place where the sentence was to be executed. The general explained to me in a gentle fashion that, in his opinion, they should not stop me, and that I can do as I wish, provided that I go out of there immediately after the confession. The convict was Efraim the son of Yosef Eliazd of Sosnowiec. His wailing during the confession still rings in my ears… (He was the only son of his parents.) Even though I left prior to the deed, and I did not see the execution of the sentence with my own eyes, I heard the volley of gunfire, which left a deep imprint upon my heart. Tired and broken, almost in a faint, I arrived home at 9:00. At 12:00 noon, prior to the Sabbath day meal, as soon as we had finished our prayers, I went together with the communal officials to the vice-governor. He took out his anger toward the people of Israel upon me… His spear-like, sharp words pierced my wounded heart, so that I was not capable of answering him anything at that time, until a later time when a favorable opportunity arose. (This was much later, when I came to the governor for a communal matter. At that time, I gave him a clear and sharp answer, an answer that was fitting to the mood at that time.)

The next day, on Sunday of the Torah portion of Yitro, I saw that announcements in large print had been posted about the death penalty on all of the main streets. This incited a great hatred toward Jews… This caused various false libels, contrived by our evil neighbors. Oh how did they make such designs, all together!

On Monday of the Torah portion of Teruma (Adar 3, April 3) someone from Lublin Gubernia was shot – Reuven Shlomo the son of Shmuel Licht from the village of Hodel. I could not leave the city on account of my weakness, so I sent my assistant, the judge Rappaport. From the time of those trials and those that followed, the hatred became stronger. Various new libels sprouted up. As is known, many people were arrested, and many were sent to far off places… The good G-d should have mercy and honesty should prevail before the virtuous court.

As I mentioned at the outset, what I have brought down is only one part in a thousand of that which took place to us. This is how it was in reality. It is impossible to describe everything. I want to only describe the shooting that we would hear every day from the surrounding positions. The Germans began to drop many bombs from their airplanes, which fell around the city every day. The bombs fell in the city itself as well as the vicinity. Many were wounded, and some were killed. The fear that this caused is difficult to describe. Who could carry on a conversation while the sun still shone – for one had fear to even walk out on the street. We had only cloudy, grief filled days… as far as I remember. On the Sabbath of the Torah portion of Shmot (December 27), the day was filled with grief. I had gone to request from the governor on behalf of Avraham Wachsberg who had been sent to Tomsk [28]. As I approached the governor's office, the sun came into view, and the Germans began to drop bombs from airplanes. The soldiers began to shoot at the airplanes. I ran into the crowds, who were hurrying to the houses and yards.

I also remember the 1st of January. I went to greet the governor for the New Year. When I was in the yard of the governor's office, an airplane flew very close by. I entered the governor's office, and … as soon as I was inside, a large bomb exploded near the office. The explosion was so strong that the entire office shook… I thought that the entire building would collapse, G-d forbid, but thank G-d, nothing was damaged. From there I went to the official of the gendarme to greet him as well, and to ask a favor of him on behalf of somebody. Thank G-d I arrived home in peace. I saw no living being on the street, for nobody would go outside unless it was a cloudy day.

During that time, we continued to live. We lived with the shooting of the artillery, which was used to attack the airplanes. Prior to the cannon shots, they would shoot with rifles as a warning to not go out on the streets. We even lived with that! Somebody went out on the street along his way, and got in the way. The good G-d saved us from death and let us have life, but not a peaceful, happy life… The arrests and deportations to far off places increased each day… Who can talk when the highest commander issued an order to appoint “civic zsalasznikes” [29] from the gubernias: Kielce, Radom and Lomza – all of Poland shuddered, seeing that the regime had always sympathized with us; while our bad neighbors with their accusations were guilty of our ill fortune; and who knows what further they will plan against us!

On the Sabbath of the Torah portion of Pekude (February 23), three eminent members of our community of Kielce were arrested: Mr. Henryk Nowak, Alter Maurberger, and M. Fuerster. They brought in all of the “zsalasznikes” from the surrounding towns of the Kielce gubernia, numbering 25 eminent Jewish citizens.

On Tuesday of Rosh Chodesh (the New Moon) Nissan those who were gathered in were sent to Poltava. Thirteen “zsalasznikes” were sent out of Radom, including eminent rabbis (one of them was my relative, Rabbi Twersky from Pakszownica. Later, my friend, the Staszower Rabbi, Rabbi Graubard, the author of “Chavalim Baneimim” was expelled.) The latter were deported to Czernikow. From the news that arrived from there, it seems that the regime lightened their sentence and permitted them to dwell in the local old age home, under the supervision of the community representatives. In Poltava, they were treated as true prisoners. It is difficult to describe in writing what the situation did to our Jews. Along with this, there was a command from the military authorities that all Jews who arrived in the cities after the liberation from the Germans (that is, after December 22) would be sent away a distance of 200 miles [30] from the front lines. Along with that ordinance, in that pre-Passover period, they began to arrest hundreds of Jews along with their families. Later, the situation eased, for they decided to deport only those who came from other gubernias, but not those who came from other cities from within the gubernia.

Later, on account of the many illnesses that took place, an ordinance was issued that the war refugees must leave the areas near the places of battle, and settle in designated places in the Kielcer gubernia. In Kielce itself, where the number of refugees was very large, they permitted refugees to remain. (Who can describe the difficulties that took place in Kielce due to the illnesses that circulated. People dropped dead, mainly among the refugees. I wanted to do a good deed toward the convicts who had not been brought to a Jewish burial. The sanitation committee decided that, for sanitary reasons, the corpses of those who were hanged in the city itself, and left to lie in the city in places where people walk, must be removed. Only the police, who were to carry out the ordinance, decided that the convicts should be buried “very deeply”. They decided that even from a sanitation viewpoint, there is no reason to fear.)

As it was – the turmoil deepened. The entire pre-Passover period was filled with agony. I placed a request with the headquarters that they permit the thirteen Torah scrolls that were left behind in Lopuszno to be brought back by Jewish soldiers. (Regarding this, I placed an oral request to the home authorities, asking them to place a request with the high headquarters.) Two days before Passover, I received a refusal from the highest commander. However, the corps commander acceded to my request to be allowed to send Passover matzo to the soldiers on the front. He received me very nicely, and issued the appropriate command. In accordance with the order of the high command, matzos were provided to the Jewish soldiers along with their military rations (indeed, two of them sent to Christians as well). We sent 12 pounds to each soldier [31]. They charged a cargo fee of 3,000 rubles. Thus did G-d help our brethren, who are merciful people, descended from merciful people. The refugees were granted a significant sum of money prior to Passover, on the accounts of the committee. The work of the committee (especially for me, the general chairman and the city rabbi) was beyond human capabilities. Then, difficulties arose for the masses of exiles from many Jewish families, difficulties that are difficult to write about.

On the 13th of Nissan during the day, the day prior to the evening of the search for Chometz [32], as well as the next morning, we heard heavy cannon fire. On the eve of Passover, toward evening, the cannon fire ceased, and Passover was, thank G-d, calm. The holy community was able to observe Passover in a fitting manner.

After the festival, I began to make arrangements for my journey. There were many obstacles. In order to oversee all of the communal matters, two assistant chairmen were appointed: M. Ch. Kaminer and Dr. Lewensohn. They were sent to the governing authorities to be confirmed. I requested a leave of two months from the governor. Prior to that time, the expulsions increased, as did the number of homeless. The expenditures of the committee were exceedingly large. The mind would become confused in trying to keep account. It was as difficult as the splitting of the Red Sea to arrange all of the necessary matters prior to the journey. This was the situation until the Sunday of the Torah portion of Acharei Mot Kedoshim (Iyar 2, April 5).

On Sunday, the 2nd of Iyar (April 5), I received a document from the police chief that was issued by the commandant, asking me to come at 3:00 to the consular office of the city prison, in order to assist two Jews who were sentenced to death by shooting with their confessionals: Fishel Bleicher and Avraham Gincberg. I came at the set time. They confessed with rivers of tears… I then accompanied them (in a horse drawn wagon) for several miles outside the city, where the sentence was to be carried out. (A Pole was shot along with them.) Prior to the shooting, the man with the passport in the name of Avraham the son of Moshe Gincberg from Miechow clarified to me that he was from Tomaszow, and that the correct name was Westman. I recorded this in his certificate.

I arrived home in sorrow and pain, and I continued on with my work. The next day, on Monday, I was brought the certificate of leave for two months signed by the governor, his assistant, and the home committee, from April 7 until June. The preparations for the journey took the entire day. On the next day, on Tuesday, I rendered the accounting of money that came into my hand for the benefit of the Jewish committee of Kielce.

From Petrograd 13,000 rubles
From the Warsaw communal committee 1,000 rubles
From Niezhen, Yekatrinoslav, Poltava, Vilna, Perm, Samara, White Field [33], and Kharal 2,150 rubles
Dr. Safer's contribution 300 rubles
Deputy Kanowolow (aside from 300 portions Of food every day) 500 rubles
The Governing Authority 900 rubles
Monthly contributions and private donations from Kielce itself 1,521.22 rubles
Total 19,371.22 rubles
   
From Warsaw 3,000 rubles
From Petrograd 3,800 rubles
Total 6,800 rubles

That same day, I met in Kielce with the city chairman and all of my dear friends. Who can write down on paper all of the wishes and blessings that many of them bestowed upon me! All of them lived with the hope that the situation would improve, that the regime would see the truth regarding all of the false accusations that have been placed upon us. Who knows more than I do about how the Jews are faithful subjects to the regime, and pray for its wellbeing! Even during the time when the Germans and Austro-Hungarians invaded us, and when we were not free, as we were generally, to gather in synagogues – many Jews gathered in my small home synagogue to recite the sections of Psalms that were generally recited for the “peace of the government”. There, we recited the special prayer, and prayed in a heartfelt fashion for the well-being of the Czar [34] and his family, and for the wellbeing of the fatherland. We prayed that the Russian army would return from the battlefield crowed with a garland of victory.

Each Sabbath and festival, we prayed for the well-being of the regime, as we are required to by the Torah [35]. On the Sabbath that immediately followed Passover (26 Nissan, 28 May [36]) a crowd of approximately 10,000 Jews gathered in the Kroiser Synagogue of Kielce to hear the reading of the words of thanks from our Czar to the Jewish community of Kielce, delivered to me by the general governor of Warsaw. Everyone stood and listened with respect as I read the thanks from the highest authority, which the Czar sent as an answer to the telegram that we sent via to the Czar's offices via the governor on the day that the opening of the home for homeless children, at which time we held a service for the wellbeing of the family of the Czar.

Following the reading of the thank you, we recited a prayer to the Master of the World, requesting health and happiness for his majesty the Czar and his high family, for the well-being of the entire land, and for the Russian army, that it should return from the battlefield coronated with a great victory.

We all left the synagogue with shouts of hurray, and with the hope that we would see the end of all of the libels that have been placed upon us by our enemies. We hoped that they would see the truth, that we are faithful servants of the regime, and we wish them every success, though which we hope that our own situation would be secured – Amen, may it be G-d's will – as all Jews ask of G-d.

On the same day that I took leave of Kielce, on the Tuesday of the Torah portion of Acharei Mot Kedoshim (6 Iyar, 7 April) the news reached me that in Poltava the regime eased the arrest of the citizens of the Kielcer Gubernia (and some of the Radomers) who were sent there as “zsalaszniks”. The lightening of the arrests meant that they were freed from prison and were permitted within a week to find private houses – this is also for the good!

I left Kielce at 5:00 p.m. I arrived in Lublin on Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. I visited there with my in-law [37] until 10:00 p.m. From there I traveled to Kiev. I left Kiev on Thursday at midnight, and on Friday (9 Iyar) at 11:00 a.m. I arrived in Kharal. I cannot describe my great joy upon seeing my children and their family, may they live, as well as my in-law the rabbi and Gaon, may he live long, and all of those who are near to me, as well all made the “shehechayanu” [38] blessing with tears of joy. On the first Sabbath, we observed the yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of the Tolner Rebbe, may his merit protect us [39].

Even as I was dwelling in peace in Kharal with my beloved son David Yonah, with protection to insure that nobody should trouble me, the work and tribulations that I had gone through on a daily basis broke my body, and all of my limbs were weakened. The good G-d should send me a complete recovery, so that I will recover my health and be able to draw more strength to be able to study and pray with honor and well being, for many years to come. As well, I pray and hope for G-d's assistance, so that there will be good news in all areas that affect the situation of the Jewish people, both in a spiritual and physical respect. Amen, and may it be G-d's will.


TRANSLATOR'S FOOTNOTES

  1. These dates in the secular calendar are from Friday July 31, 1914 to Tuesday April 20, 1915 (according to the Gregorian calendar – a later footnote indicates that any secular dates provided in this article use the old Julian calendar, whose dates are 13 days earlier than the Julian calendar). The Hebrew month of Av is often termed 'Menachem Av' – the comforting Av, on account of the traditional day of Jewish calamity, Tisha Beov, which occurs in that month – expressing the hope that the month will turn to a time of comfort. Incidentally, the day of the outbreak of World War I, Saturday August 1, 1914, was Tisha Beov (although the observance of the fast day is postponed one day when it falls on the Sabbath). Jewish weeks are often referred to by the Torah portion of the upcoming Sabbath. Acharei Mot-Kedoshim is a Sabbath upon which two Torah portions are read. The Torah portion preceding Tisha Beov is always Devarim, and the Torah portion following Tisha Beov is always Vaetchanan.

    This entire document follows a cycle of Torah portions to designate weeks. For those interested in following along chronologically, the Torah portion sequence is as follows: Devarim (prior to Tisha Beov), Vaetchanan, Ekev, Reeh, Shoftim, Ki Tetzeh, Ki Tavoh, Nitzavim (sometimes combined with Vayelech – and always preceding Rosh Hashanah), Vayelech, Haazinu (always preceding Sukkot), Vezot Habracha (the last portion of the Torah, always read on Simchat Torah), Breishit, Noach, Lech Lecha, Vayera, Chayey Sarah, Toldot, Vayetze, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Miketz (at Chanuka time), Vayigash, Vayechi, Shmot, Vaera, Bo, Beshalach, Yitro, Mishpatim, Teruma, Tetzaveh, Ki Tissa, Vayakhel (often combined with the following portion) Pekudey, Vaykra, Tzav (always before Passover, except during a Jewish leap year, when Passover is a few weeks later), Shmini, Tazria, Metzora (sometimes combined with Tazria), Acharai Mot, Kedoshim (sometimes combined with Acharei Mot), Emor, Bahar, Bechukotai (sometimes combined with Bahar). I have omitted the following portions of the book of Numbers, as they do not appear in this narrative. Return

  2. Seemingly an expression indicating that they could not have even imagined what this was going to lead to. Return
  3. Jewish court of law – here meaning members of an informal Jewish court who were seemingly on a delegation to a different location. Return
  4. At times of war, a conditional bill of divorce is often drawn up for soldiers, which would take effect retroactively if he does not return from battle after a set period of time. This allows the wife to remarry in cases where the husband is presumed, but not proven, to have died. Return
  5. A footnote in the text here indicates that this date, and all further dates in this diary use the old Russian calendar (The Julian Calendar). Return
  6. There is some error in the dates here, as Ki Tavoh is always two Torah portions prior to Rosh Hashanah, and therefore must fall in the latter half of Elul. The Torah portion here would have been Shoftim. Return
  7. The Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Shuva (The Sabbath or Return), or less commonly but the term used here, Shabbat Teshuva (The Sabbath of Repentance). Return
  8. A mikva is a ritual bath, used by women once a month at the conclusion of the menstrual cycle. It is also used by men on various occasions, depending on custom, but it is a universal custom among observant men to immerse in the mikva on the eve of Yom Kippur. Return
  9. The Avoda is the central part of the Yom Kippur Mussaf service, which recalls the details of the Temple service on Yom Kippur. The counting of “Achat”… (Literally One, One and One, One and Two, …) is recited communally, and commemorates the counting that was done by the High Priest as he performed the ritual sprinkling of blood in the Holy of Holies. Return
  10. Neila is the concluding prayer service of Yom Kippur. Return
  11. The date is obviously wrong here. This would be the 11th of Tishrei, the day after Yom Kippur. Return
  12. Personal safety is the assumed meaning here. Return
  13. There are 4 days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Often, one of these days is a Sabbath. In the current case, Sukkot would start on Sunday night. Return
  14. A barber-surgeon, considered an important professional at that time. Return
  15. Autopsies are prohibited by Jewish Law, except in cases of great need. Return
  16. The durations mentioned in this sentence were unclear. I added in the word 'particular' to clarify somewhat. Return
  17. The meaning of the word 'converted' 'farvanderenten' is unclear here. It does not seem to have any religious connotations. Return
  18. Evidently, Astrian was from Radom. Return
  19. Referring here to the Jewish deathbed confessional rather than to a legal procedure. Return
  20. A Yiddish expression of woe. Return
  21. “Hear Oh Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is one”, the main Jewish doxology, recited thrice daily, and also, if possible, to be recited prior to death. Return
  22. I am not sure what this means, but from the context it is apparently some type of infirmary. Return
  23. I am not sure of the identity of this town. It is spelled as 'Kharal' in the Yiddish, but there is no town in Poland or Ukraine by exactly that name. Could be Khorol, Ukraine, in Poltava gubernia. Return
  24. I am not sure of the meaning of this – perhaps an ox drawn carriage was the only means of transportation at that time. Return
  25. Referring to the study of Torah. Return
  26. Above, it is Tuesday, 21st of Cheshvan. Return
  27. Given that this was the Sabbath, he would not have accepted a ride in an automobile or wagon. Return
  28. A city in Siberia. Return
  29. I am not sure what this means – perhaps civic defense committees. Return
  30. The word used here is 'verst', which is a unit of distance. Return
  31. Something seems incorrect here, as this is a large amount of matzo. Perhaps it refers to the entire food ration per soldier for the entire Passover festival. Return
  32. Passover begins on the night of the 15th of Nissan. The evening before, on the night of the 14th of Nissan, the search for chometz (leaven) is conducted in the house. Remnants of bread and leavened products are burnt the next morning. Return
  33. The term here is in Hebrew, perhaps a Hebrew term for a Russian city. Return
  34. The Yiddish word here is equivalent with “Kaiser”, but from the context, it refers to Czar and not Kaiser. Both words come from the same Germanic root (originating from the Latin Caesar), and would often be rendered equivalently in Yiddish (unless the Yiddish is simply transliterating the word). Return
  35. In the book of Jeremiah, the Jewish exiles in Babylon ask the prophet how one should act under the conditions of exile. Among other things, Jeremiah advises them to pray for the well-being of the country in which they find themselves. This is the source of the tradition to pray for the well-being of one's country. Return
  36. The date of May 28 cannot be correct here. I believe it is the 28th of March from the context. (Note, according to the Gregorian calendar, Passover cannot conclude by March 28th, but it can according to the Julian calendar.) Return
  37. The word “mechutan” means the parent's of one's child's spouse. Return
  38. A blessing, thanking G-d for keeping us alive, which is made upon hearing of good tidings, as well as at certain set festive times of the year (such as upon lighting the Chanuka candles, hearing the Megilla, hearing the Shofar, and at the beginning of each festival). Return
  39. The Tolner Hassidic dynasty is still present today. The family name is Twersky (a name which is mentioned previously in this section as well). Return

« Previous Page Table of Contents Previous Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Kielce, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max Heffler

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 20 Jan 2008 by OR