|The looted synagogue|
Irgun Olei Kieltz in Israel
Tel-Aviv P.O. Box 891
Printed by Shem Printers, Inc., Jaffa, 34 Street, No. 5, Tel. 82808
My thanks are given here
To the Committee of the Organization of Immigrants from Kielce in Israel, which published this book and the wise men Elazar Arten, Avraham Goldrat and Avraham Kirszenbaum, for the editing and phrasing of the book, improving its style and proof reading it.
The chapters on the Shomer Hatza'ir, Po'alej Tzion and the Revisionists were written by R. Nechustaj, A. Kirszenbaum and J. Kopf. The chapters about the banks and the Kielce organizations are by El. Arten.
|(Chairman, Organization of Immigrants|
|from Kielce in Israel)|
Polish Jewry has a long history, covering centuries and even reaching a millenium. It contained ancient communities who counted their existence from the first kings of Poland. As time passed, new communities sprouted and grew in various places in the state. The community of Kielce is numbered among one of the youngest of these, whose existence began only about eighty years ago. And whoever had the opportunity to be in Kielce immediately recognized that the early morning dew still sparkled upon its markets and streets, its parks and buildings. But during the brief years of its existence, the Kielce community developed very rapidly, also spiritually, and also economically. In all areas of life, the great energies of the community were expressed, as well as its material and emotional strengths.
Every community in Israel was a cell in the national body tissue. In its procedures and institutions, it represented in miniature, the people of Israel in their entirety, but the Kielce community stood out especially among the other communities. Fresh energies pumped through it, and it grew and flourished, spread its wings wide, sent out roots in the ground and broadcast glory in every direction. The fruit that the Kielce community brought forth was a glorious and praiseworthy fruit. At its heart beautiful and encouraging orchards flourished; scholars, pious worthies, intellectuals and authors, merchants and industrialists, whose products found their way throughout Poland and Russia. Among them were notable national activists who did much to further the national renewal, whose names were known beyond the boundaries of their community. Wealthy benefactors dwelt there as well, who did much to improve the community: They established social welfare and charitable institutions and decorated it with public buildings.
The Kielce community excelled in its Zionist activities and its contribution to the national funds. Many of the youths of Kielce moved out and went to the land of Israel to participate in its reconstruction. Kielce was a training ground for hundreds of pioneers who found sustenance and support in the local community. The Jews of Kielce treated them fondly , those young people who left their parents' home, with all of their comforts, in order to train their muscles with hard labor and acclimate themselves to difficult living conditions, which awaited them as pioneers of the nation, who had taken on the burden of paving and straightening the path to the eventual rebirth of the nation in its homeland.
After the terrible Holocaust which came upon the European Diaspora, a Holocaust that had no precedent in the history of our people, we, the remnants of Polish Jewry, have a sense of being orphans; We have been orphaned of all those souls who were close to our hearts and souls. Together with the ancient communities of Israel, also the young community of Kielce was destroyed. Its Jewish inhabitants were liquidated in the gas chambers of Treblinka and Auschwitz. The city, in which we lived and worked, was emptied of its Jews. Its splendid synagogue stands orphaned, looted and defiled. The scrolls of the Torah, in which god-fearing scribes wrote each letter in holiness and purity were devoured by fire, and those which were saved from burning were trodden down as lining for Polish cobblers to line their shoes and their boots. Also in our cemetery, our enemies and their impure hands destroyed the wall; broke the tombstones used them to pave the sidewalks. Their cattle were sent to graze upon the graves that a Jew would have been careful of stepping upon out of respect for the dead. For our enemies it was their highest desire, to erase every trace of Jewish settlement in this place.
Thus a Jewish community was erased from the face of the earth. Only a few, shadows, saved from the fire, who managed to escape while there was still time and chose to live a nomadic life in the Russian steppes, or those who retained strength to survive stubborn hunger, torture and the deprivations of the Nazi hell and the back breaking labor of the work camps, they constitute the remnant of the decorated community of Kielce.
With the strokes of sorrow and pain at the great destruction that came in our time upon large portions of the Jewish nation, our eyes tear in particular over the destruction of the community of Kielce, our childhood cradle and original home. We decided, therefore, to erect a monument to this community, in a memorial book of our people. It is a community worthy of being counted among the Jewish communities of Europe, which were laid waste in the Holocaust of 1940-1945.
The description of this community its people, institutions and endeavors is
the goal of this book. This composition will be a partial relief for a sorrow
that knows no limit, the sorrow of losing sons, relatives and friends, and
above all, the sorrow at the loss of an entire community, of which we were an
inseparable part, flesh and blood.
In order that the last generation may know, children will be born, rise up and tell their sons.
In 1852, 101 Jews lived in Kielce and 3,639 Christians. These Jews were contractors of the Russian army and soldiers of Czar Nicolas I. This small number of Jews did not yet constitute an organized community; the births were registered in the birth registers of the community of Checiny, the dead were buried in the Checiny cemetery, and in general, in all religious matters, like marriage and divorce they were dependent upon the Checiny community, the village nearest to Kielce.
Kielce was obviously a city holy to the Poles. The Bishop had his seat there; many large churches towered over the north, west and east of the city, among them the cathedral with its beautiful buildings and towers. Close to the city limits, in Kadtzovka, a monastery was built up on a hill among the trees of the forest. Across from the cathedral was a seminary for the training of priests. In general, within its walls the city of Kielce contained a concentration of Catholic priesthood, whence it disseminated Catholic doctrine to the nobles of the area as well as the peasants. However, together with the love of Christianity, it also spread hatred of Jews, who had crucified their savior, and initiated despicable libels against the Jews. Anti-Semitism found deep roots in the hearts of the Poles who lived in Kielce and the area. Even later, when the Jews began settling in Kielce, hatred of them did not stop.
After the Polish insurrection of 1863 and after the liberation of the serfs of the estate owners, Jews were allowed to settle in Kielce. Earlier, Kielce had been a small town. Were it not for the splendid churches towering over the landscape and a few shops, whose owners were Germans, and several wine-drinking establishments, which lent it the flavor of a city, it could have been considered a large village. Its low houses with their thatched or shingled roofs, the many fruit orchards around the shacks, the fields of grain that stretched from the houses at the edge of the city to the nearby forests, the wells which were primitively dug in every yard, gave the place the air of a village.
When the Jews began settling in Kielce, its former atmosphere changed. Gradually, the trees, fruit trees and ornamental trees, disappeared, and in their place two and three story stone houses were built, in which shops were opened with display windows. The Jews came and saw the Kielce was surrounded by mountains which were as virgin soil, untouched by human hands, and immediately began to extract the treasures hidden in their midst; They set up great kilns for burning the limestone into whitewash, for firing bricks. The saw the thick forests that surrounded the city and established sawmills. Next to the forests several tanneries were set up to work leather. Industry developed, commerce developed, the population grew and Kielce, from a small town, wholly immersed in the holy waters of Catholicism, became a secular city, a commercial and industrial city, a central city for the whole district, which supplied not just the religious needs of the entire area, but also its daily needs, with textiles, leathers, colonial goods and drink. Its wares reached places far away and out side of the state. The city grew wealthy, the Jews were the employers and the Polish residents were the employees. The concepts of exploiters and exploited were not known in those days at that place.
[Photograph from page 12: The Market Square at Kielce]
The Jews who settled in Kielce remembered the days when they were outsiders in this city. Even sleeping there for one night was forbidden to them. During the great fairs, Jews flocked from the neighboring villages to sell their produce and wares. However, towards evening they were forced to gather their products, pack them up and take them out of the city to sleep in a nearby village located on the other side of the city. The next morning they returned to the city limits and again dealt with buying and selling until the fair was over and the nobles of the area returned to their estates. Their Polish neighbors regarded the Jews as lepers who contaminated the place with one night's sleep. The Polish author Adolph Dugszinski recounts in his memoirs how as a student at the Kielce Lyceum in the 1850s he saw no Jews in the entire city save two Jews: One called Wilk and another called Lis, they would come to the Lyceum students to buy used clothing and books from them. They were also not permanent residents of the city at the time, but were nomadic tinkers and peddlers whose travels in search of a livelihood led them to step upon the holy soil of Kielce as well where they negotiated with the Lyceum students, sons of nobles who needed pocket money for their games and entertainments. They sold the clothing off their backs and their schoolbooks. The same two Jews can be found later on in the city when they were older and respected homeowners. They raised large families, children and grandchildren, some of them merchants, some artisans, some pious Hassidim, Torah scholars, and in later days, also Zionists.
[Photograph page 13: Hanna Kochen who died at age 106 one of the first to settle in Kielce]
After the second Polish uprising in 1863 conditions changed in the land of Polin; the limited local powers the Poles had had until then was taken away entirely; The local authorities also passed into the hands of the Russians. The estates of the nobles, who had participated in the uprising, were confiscated and handed over to Russian Generals and these leased them to Jews. From this time, the Jews began to settle in Kielce without hindrance. And after a time the Jewish community was organized.
In 1868 the names of Jewish births began to be registered in the birth lists in Kielce. That year fifteen births were registered, and they were:
|Kalman Bunem Moszkowski||January 16, 1868||Izrael||merchant||Szarceh||Grynbaum|
|Abram Mosze Goldberg||February 8, 1868||Michl||owner of a tavern||Pesil||Marmont|
|Josef Lis||February 16, 1868||Anszel||merchant||Hanna||Kwekzylber|
|Szejndl-Ita Lapa||April 7, 1868||Hersz||tailor||Perel||Pomeranc|
|Hynda Goldszajder||April 17, 1868||Abram Dawid||glazier||Sora||Kuperberg|
|Mosze Haim Kaufman||May 3, 1868||Awraham-Icak||tailor||Ester||Haus.|
|JosefLajb Zylbersztajn||15 June 1868||Jakob||butcher||Frajda||Blacharowicz|
|Bajla Giser||August 1, 1868||Dawid||clerk||Duba Rajzel||Dziadek|
|Izrael Cwajgel||September 11, 1868||Nachum||glazier||Frajdl||Zilberszac|
|Szlomo Wajs||September 12, 1868||Mosze||merchant||Malka||Szapiro|
|Awigdor Mendl Klajnsztajn||September 18, 1868||Josef||teacher (melamed)||Myrjam||Wajsbrot|
|Jakob-Lewek Moszenberg||October 7, 1868||Josef||teacher (melamed)||Rywka||Berkowicz|
|Hersz Wasserman||October 21, 1868||Icak||bartender||Chawa||Igelberg|
|Frajda Hajt||November 9, 1868||Hersz||merchant||Fajga||Zalcer|
|Hinda-Fajga Moszkowski||December 7, 1868||Josef||merchant||Anna||Klajnsztajn|
The same year the Kielce Jewish cemetery opened. On the tombstones there are no engravings from before the year 5630 .
[Photograph from page 15: Izrael Cwajgel, one of the first Jews to be born in Kielce.]
After them came the Jews with special privileges, such as soldiers of Czar Nicolai I who had franchises for selling salt, kerosene, cigarettes, and similar good, and they too joined the pioneers, and thus the nucleus of a Jewish community was created in Kielce.
Jews from the surrounding villages began to gather around the early settlers, and the Jewish settlement in Kielce continued to grow.
The number of Jews in the city grew markedly after the Warsaw-Vienna railway line was built. Jews participated in the endeavor as labor contractors and suppliers of construction materials and wealthy people appeared who built themselves beautiful homes in the city.
The authorities also transferred their offices to the city. Kielce became the district and provincial capital [in 1867]. The district governor and minister of the province settled there with all of their clerks and secretaries. A branch of the national bank opened in the city. The district court made Kielce its seat. The city was full of officials, and for their children, who needed schools; two Gymnasia (high schools) were opened for boys and for girls. The Jews played an important role here; they were the construction contractors, the suppliers of furniture to government offices.
Energetic Jews were attracted to this city, for they saw it was doing well, and that there was a wide field for their activities there. If a fire broke out in a neighboring village and its homes went up in flames, then instead of rebuilding the ruins where they stood, the townsfolk moved to Kielce. In Checiny a fire broke out in 1905, and most of the homes of the Jews became mountains of ash. The crowds of Jews with their wives and children flocked to Kielce and remained there permanently. The Kielce community expanded at the expense of the Checiny community. The inhabitants of Kielce had a saying: Kielce was built on the ruins of Checiny.
The community of Kielce became wealthy physically and spiritually. People of intellect arrived along with people of economic prowess: teachers, educators and other holy vessels.
Members of the free professions, doctors, lawyers, clerks and accountants also found many opportunities for advancement in Kielce. Bankers also appeared in this continually growing city. Large banks opened branches in Kielce. Their managers were mainly Jewish, for the banks' customers were Jewish merchants and industrialists. The Jewish community developed rapidly alongside the development of the industry and commerce in the city, whose primary movers were Jews. As the community grew, it established charity organizations, educational institutions, and economic institutions as was customary in well-regulated communities of old.
The time came when the Jewish population became varied: Hassidim, followers of the enlightenment and educated people, artisans and simple laborers made up the assembly.
The lack of a central synagogue in which this variegated population could gather in prayer was sorely felt. And then, such a benefactor was found in the community, Rabbi Mosze Fefer, a man of great donations; the community's affairs were close to his heart and he built a splendid synagogue, built in the accepted synagogue style; a house of study in one wing and in the other a large hall for the charitable institution Achi'ezer. On the upper floor was the women's section, supported by pillars. A magnificent Holy Ark stood at the eastern wall, which was approached by marble steps and was decorated with a gilded Torah crown. At its side was a loft for the singing choir. The raised Bima in the middle of the synagogue, also approached by steps, was a work of art. The walls and ceiling of it painted by an artist-painter; figures of the zodiac, the Seven Species of Fruit with which the Land of Israel was blessed, holy animals and verses selected from the prophets adorned the walls and the ceiling. The stained-glass windows that stretched from floor to ceiling gave all those who arrived to pray an uplifted spirit and a holy feeling would conquer their being and direct their hearts towards the heavens.
A cantor known for his talent and ability to conduct a choir was invited to this synagogue. His prayers and tunes attracted great numbers of worshippers to the synagogue. The synagogue would be full to the brim, people standing crowded together without feeling pressed, all eyes raised to the heavens, instilled with lofty feelings, the feeling of spiritual delight, which attended them at the sound of the melodies of the cantor accompanied by his choir. This synagogue served not only as a place of prayer, but also for public gatherings, in this large building the words of the rabbi, the lecturer and great speakers of the time were heard.
Such a splendid community needed a worthy rabbi to serve it. After the death of its first rabbi, Rabbi Tuwia Gutman HaKohen, ZL [may his memory be a blessing], the Gaon Rabbi Mosze Nachum Jeruzalimski, ZL, who had become famous in his own circles, in which he demonstrated his great knowledge in rabbinical literature, his sharpness and the depth of his intellect, was summoned to serve in Kielce.
When the Zionist movement came into being in the Jewish world, the Jewish inhabitants of Kielce did not stand idly by, but participated in activities in support of the rebirth of the nation in its homeland as a living organ of the national body. A Zionist Association was founded in Kielce that contained all of the activist energies that yearned to uncover cultural, educational, social and national activities and which consisted of the cream of the community.
[Photograph from page 18: View of the Synagogue in all of its glory.]
The community was young and fresh and easily impressed by everything going on in the wider world. This is why it did not remain unaffected even by the revolutionary workers movement, cells of workers' groups were set up there who operated underground against the existing political regime and against the regime of exploiter and exploited.
Every movement in the world in general and in the Jewish world in particular found a place in the hearts of the Jews of Kielce, and they responded to them in different ways.
Eventually, Kielce also attracted Hassidic leaders Admorim pious men. The community grew and there were no pious men to defend it. From near and far, religious people came and settled there. The community was blessed and made holy by the courts of the Admorim, to which Hassidim flowed from near and far to crowd close to the images of their leader, bask in their glory and receive their blessings.
At the start of the twentieth century, a Jew who found himself in Kielce and didn't know its history might think at first glance that he was in one of the ancient communities of Poland, a community of settled procedures with sophisticated embellishments, with all of the adjustments necessary to the normal development of a public entity. It would not occur to him that the years of this community's existence numbered only a few decades and that it did not yet have any ancient traditions, ties with well-born families, customs and behaviors that had become sacred with the passage of time. But Jews in the Diaspora, in general, and the Jews of Poland in particular, had a special virtue: that places in which they set foot flourished. The Jews of Poland excelled in their well-developed national recognition, whether they knew this or not, and this feeling functioned as a sort of glue to unify and cohere the individuals into a homogenous public body. The creative powers with which they were endowed acted to create the organs needed for their existence.
Here is a table that shows the growth of the Jewish population in Kielce.
Kielce could have been a notable example of the fact that has been repeated so often in our long history: wherever the Jews went, economic life developed; industry, commerce and various skilled crafts began to grow and flourish. A Jew creates sources of livelihood wherever he finds himself, not only for himself but also for his neighbors. If he is granted some flexibility and freedom of movement, he doesn't sit idly by but begins the task of development with great energy, which brings blessings to the place and its inhabitants. The results of the development projects are the plenty and wealth that are bestowed on the entire area. The population grows, life in general is enriched, not only economically, but also in other ways. Cultural and social life are improved. According to the old adage: If there is flour there is Torah. The multitudes of landless laborers flock to the city from the villages and find work, the farmers have a market for their agricultural produce, therefore they have an interest in increasing the quantity of their produce since they are getting a decent price for their work.
Kielce was a living example of the power of the Jews to cause life and work to grow wherever they set foot.
Up to 1863 Kielce was a hamlet, despite being called a city. It had only a few
homes, a few inhabitants numbering less than three thousand souls. There was
no trace of a respectable industry except for small cottage industry. It had a
few shops, whose owners were of German extraction, and most of their trade was
beverages and various sweets. Their customers were the estate owners in the
area, who would gather there from time to time for entertainment, pleasure and
religious assemblies, for Kielce was a religious center for the Christians. In
those days, it occurred to no one that Kielce would become the district
capital, to an industrial city, a populated city whose inhabitants would
eventually number sixty thousand souls.
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