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[Page 112]

The National Movement

By Meir Brand-Urban

Translated by Shira Hannah Fischer

Kolo was a Zionist city – most of its residents belonged to the movement through its different federations: the general Zionists (progressives), Mizrachi, Poalei Tzion right and left, HeChalutz, central HeChalutz, and the Zionist Youth. During the years 1931-1932, groups of youth and adults organized branches of “Brit HaTzohar–Beitar and “Brit HaChayal” in the city.

When the revisionist movement started in Poland, it did not skip over Kolo. The works of Jabotinsky arrived to Kolo's residents through newspapers and spurred participation in the leading movement, Beitar. When the first cell was created, Eliyahu Epshtein, head of the Beitar center, came to visit from Kłodawa, and he successfully organized the youth movement and acquired a meeting space in Wacoldar House, and then later in the Weinbaum brothers' house. Immediately after that, a branch of “Brit HaTzohar” was formed, headed by Mr. Weisman and a branch of “Brit HaChayal” led by Mr. Koren.

Brit Trumpledor (Beitar) was extremely active. Its leaders were Meir Biagevinski and Beinush the elder. The Beitar center brought its members to the land of Israel with the second aliya. Among them: A. Lentzitzky, Meir Zilberberg, R. Weinbois, and others.

 

Beitar Leaders
Front row, right to left – H. Weinbaum, Tz. Weinbaum, Berta Chaim, Sala Weinbaum,
Back row – P Wanana, Velkoitch, Pogel, Kenig Blumtsha Krok, Beinish the elder
[not enough names for the number of people]

[Page 113]

Beitar participated in the large petition that was presented to the League of Nations in regards to opening the gates of the land [Palestine] to its “returning sons,” and also participated in the organization of elections for the new Zionist Federation.

Beitar members Meir Zilberberg and Avraham Lentzitziky, who immigrated to the land [Palestine] with the second aliya, were among the active members of the Irgun (National Army Organization = Irgun Tzvai Haleumi = ETZE”L). Shreter and Epshtein immigrated on the Altalena ship and took an active part in the occupation of Jaffa.

A group of women was active in the movement and they formed the “Organization of Revisionist Women” (headed by Ester Chaya Brenner z”l). They published the “Dinar” and conducted “markets,” whose income was dedicated to the movement.

Active in the women's organization: Mrs. Itta Michelson, Mrs. Weinbaum, Mrs. Rivka Goldberg, and others.

Most of the members of the Federation of Revisionist Zionist Youth in Kolo were not granted fulfillment of their dream. They believed in the revival of the State of Israel. Zion stood before their eyes until the last moment.

May their memories be a blessing.

 

Child in a Beitar uniform

 


[Page 114]

WIZO, Women's International Zionist Organization

Ruth Rimmer-Iman

Translated by Shira Hannah Fischer

In writing about WIZO in our city, I hope to save from oblivion an important component of the Zionist Movement in Kolo. I can still remember the words of the Zionist leader Nahum Sokolov at the WIZO national convention in Warsaw in 1934: “You, the Zionist women, are the mother of the movement that is bringing our nation back to Zion.” The activity of WIZO in our town confirmed this statement.

The Kolo branch of WIZO was founded in 1934. Among the founders were Esther Nashlaska, Ruth Iman and Gutcha Levin. When we set off on our journey we were few, but our persistent efforts granted us a recognized place among the other Zionist organizations in the city.

The meeting place of WIZO was at the home of Mr. Stechelberg, in the little alley near the new market. Every evening, the members gathered for a “club discussion.” The topics were many and varied. From time to time, lecturers from different branches of the Zionist movement were invited to speak before the small audience. Most of the conversations focused on Eretz Yisrael and on literature.

Assimilated Jewish women, particularly from the intellectual circles, joined us as well, and as they became members of our organization they worked enthusiastically on all our projects. Our activities included organizing “bazaars” whose income was dedicated to the Jewish National Fund. These well-organized markets attracted great crowds, among the visitors were also notable non-Jewish city residents.

Thanks to our excellent publicity two more WIZO branches were opened in neighboring towns. Each year the number of organized Zionist women grew, and their influence was felt in the education of the younger generation as well. At the WIZO national conference in Poland, two delegates participated from our branch: Ruth Iman and E. Nashlaska.

We also supported those who left for Eretz Yisrael, who lacked the necessary means for the journey.

Among the most active members, who readily answered every call of the organization, were Salomea Ijbitzka, Marilla Bresler, Pepper, Shlachtaub, Gutcha Putter-Kaufman, Tempelhof, Esther Firnikaj, Sara Borkovska, Ritchka, Pshedatzka, Schetchinska, Steinberg, Cohen (of the Shaten family), the wife of doctor Bialostotzki, and Shayka Waikowovitz.

 


[Page 115]

The Hassidim in Koło

By Yosef Fogel

Edited by Hillel Kuttler

The Chassidic movement did not conquer Kolo, but it certainly made an impact on the town. Although only a few saw themselves as “the elite,” they looked down upon all their detractors and considered their shteibels as impregnable. On Shabbatot and holidays, their presence was felt, and they tried more than once to impose their authority upon the religious life of the town. Only the rabbi was considered more authoritative in deciding halachic matters.

Who does not remember the shtiebel in the alley of the bath house? In the building of the Brookstein family, the owner of the olive press, were two rooms on the second floor that were used for prayers and as a meeting place for festivities and yarzheit meals. That room was too small to hold all the adherents, about 200 members. They were Gerer Chassidim who visited their rebbe, Itche Meir Alter, whose nickname was “Sfat Emet,” several times a year.

During the weekdays, the Chassidim were imbued with feelings of joy and belief in the tsaddik who was near and dear to God. On Shabbat, another spirit invaded the house of the chassid. His clothing, shiny overcoat and black velvet hat showed that he was different from his fellow Jews. On that day, some Chassidim even wore a streimel.

The preparations for Shabbat were manifold and started on Friday. People closed their shops early to go to the mikvah, to cleanse themselves according to religion's rules. After bathing came the spiritual preparations for Shabbath. All members of the family were warned not to neglect either the least or the most important of the commandments, not to trust the obvious alone, and to dedicate themselves completely to the holiness of the day.

How different were the services in the shtiebel! Those who led the prayers, Reb Mendel Kutchinsky, Reb Baruch Zholavsky, Reb Ephraim Schochet, Reb Shlomo Schochet and others, uttered them with incomparable pathos. The prayers were long and nobody rushed off to the elaborate meal, as if the whole world existed only for Shabbat.

Among the strange people in town was Reb Gabriel Sitner, one of the closest associates of the Gerrer Rebbe. When he prayed, his whole body was involved. At that moment, he seemed to be in a secret world. The young people used to whisper under their breath, “He is catching angels!”

The first Shabbat meal was special due to the singing of zmirot (special songs for Shabbat), which could be heard outside the house and which attracted those in the street. The songs distracted the thoughts from the physical reality of the food. The next day, the weekly Torah portion was read before the meal: twice the text of the Torah, and once the Onkelos translation into Aramaic. On summer days, the food was served cold — except cholent — as if to keep the Shabbat commandment, “Do not kindle a fire in the places where you live.”

In the afternoon, there was no time for sleeping or amusements. The bookcase, filled with copies of the Talmud, had its own demands. Those who had sons sat together with them and discussed the Talmud, and those who were blessed with daughters invited friends and tried to conquer the difficult passages together.

The Minha (afternoon) prayer did not herald the beginning of the end of the holiness of Shabbat. On the contrary, all the Chassidim were completely serious when they spoke about three communal meals. In the two rooms of the shtiebel, tables were prepared and each Chassid made the benedictions over the food he had brought from home. Sometimes, the gabbai added a piece of honey cake and a class of liquor so that there would not be a difference between poor and rich. It was not the foot that was of main importance, but the sitting together, the feeling of cohesiveness that made the heart grow warm.

The Chassid, Reb Michel Leib, the son-in-law of the scribe, started to hum the tunes during the three meals. He had a thin, small voice, but it grew immediately stronger, as if a source started flowing, and the whole community burst out after him. One tune after another — and the singing went on until the evening prayer. Afterwards, everybody bade one another a “good week.” They went home for a short while, thenreturned for the fourth meal, the “melava malka.” This was how the Chassidim of Kolo spent their free time!

The most important figure was the aforementioned Reb Sitner. He was very slim, an ascetic who had withdrawn from earthly pleasures and spent most of his time near the rebbe to bask in his glory. His business was run by his wife with the help of their sons.

On the Shabbatot he spent in Kolo, Reb Sitner invited his friends to the Kiddush and regaled them with wonderful stories about the rebbe. He brought a new tune and sometimes also spoke about religious topics. I once had the privilege to be in his house, and the impressions of that encounter never faded from my memory. All those who participated forgot completely about worldly matters and only dwelt on spiritual preoccupations, as only a Chassid is able to do!

Other memorable Koło Hassidim:

Reb Neta Cohen (Himmel) had the reputation of being a scholar who lived for the sole purpose of studying and was knowledgeable in all the secrets of the Talmud. He made a living as a teacher, but he earned very little. He never complained about this poverty, accepting everything without complaint.

Reb Yochanan Hassid did not enjoy any of the earthly pleasures. He always dwelt in heavenly spheres and did not take care of the needs of his household. His wife traded and earned for money for the family.

Reb Michael Emmanuel Wallenberg, whose nickname was “der med-yad,” prepared wine from honey or raisins. Everybody in Kolo brought their wine for Kiddush or Havdalah from him. On weekdays, he was either studying or working.

Reb Itche Feldman was considered by everybody a good-natured, good-hearted and well-disposed person, a very religious Chassid and a rich person. He had a wholesale shop for fabrics.

Reb Mendel Kutchinsky's nickname was “Mendel the song-maker.” We already mentioned his prayers, which he sang in a pleasant voice—a balm for the soul. It was pure pleasure to listen to his prayers when he served as cantor.

Reb Michael Hassid (my father, of blessed memory) read from the Torah in our stiebel. He went three times a year to the rebbe; when his son grew up, he took him to the yeshiva in Gur to study there.

I'll mention a few more names so that nobody will accuse of me favoring only a few select people: Reb Benyamin Toibenfliegel, Reb Moshe Leib Fordonsky, Reb Yoseph Akiva Hirshbein, Reb Shmuel Yaffe, Reb Moshe Peretz Klein, Reb Ephraim Shlumper, Reb Lipman Patalovsky, Reb Henich Foigel, Reb Leibish Koninsky, Reb Hirsh Levin, Reb Aharon Bachorsky, Reb Pinchas Roshbasky, Reb Ephraim Shochet, Reb Hirsh Sitner, Reb Selig Sitner, Reb Yitzchak Halter, Reb Moshe David Fuks, Reb Henich Ravitsky, Reb Moshe David Shike, Reb Yoseph Kott, Reb Yaakov Feldman, Reb Shimon Nashielsky, Reb Itche Michalowitch, Reb Yehezkel Baruch Bergman, Reb Moshe Baruch Zashlavsky and Avraham Zvi Nelkin. Hanoch Brodziak survived and lives in Bnei Brak, Israel.


[Page 118]

How did the kehila [Jewish community] function?

By S. A. Tchorz

In the years between the two world wars, the Jewish community of Koło represented the 5,000 Jews who lived in that town. It was similar in the scope of its activities and it jurisdiction as those of other Jewish communities in Poland.

The first priority of its administrative body was the financial support of the educational and cultural institutions. Each party, whether from the right or the left, set up its own educational institutions: the Jewish Gymnasium, the elementary school Yavneh, Etz-Chaim, the nursery school s of the Poalei Zion of the left, the right and the Bund, evening classes and a folk university. The representatives of the various parties made sure that these institutions would benefit from the budget of the Jewish community. It should therefore surprise nobody that the meetings concerning budgetary matters were often extremely stormy.

This body seem to be composed out of two completely opposing camps during the meetings of the board and the executive. One camp insisted that the Jewish community should operate as an autonomous organization which should stress its social and cultural needs. The other camp, however, which was in the minority, wanted to limit the activities of the Jewish community only to religious matters. The minority group had the backing of the government, which agreed with this point of view.

As the budget had to be approved by the Ministry of the Interior, it often was not and that in spite of all the hard work that had been done by the autonomous body which had been elected in democratic elections.

One fact among many: In my capacity as chairman of the executive, it was my duty to submit the budget for the Ministry's approval. The official in charge read the pages and erased with a red pencil all the items in favor of non-religious institutions.

In spite of all these interventions aimed at imposing its will on the elected representatives, various stratagems were devised to set aside part of the budget—which was contributed by all the members of the Jewish Community—for non-religious purposes.

The income from the Jewish community came from a variety of sources: payments for ritual slaughter, from taxes for community purposes, and payments for burial. Each year these various contributions amounted to 70,000 golden coins.

It was not easy to collect this among and the taxes were usually not paid on time. These obstacles caused the delay in the payment of the salaries and made it difficult to operate efficiently. However, the members of the executive found various ways and means to circumvent these problems and to continue its activities. One of the stratagems was to give the leaders of the party the power to collect the dues from among the member of the party.

Each source of income had its advantages and disadvantages. The most important source of
income was ritual slaughter but it was not easy to collect these taxes. The Jewish community fought again “illegal” ritual slaughter i.e. against slaughter which was not recognized by the Rabbi, and which meant a significant drop in the income for the community's budget. The ritual slaughterer Matulishkov was the foremost competitor. He took a small sum for slaughter — less than the norm – but in this way he attracted many clients. When the “parnassim” saw that they could not win, they decided to pay him a monthly salary to keep him under control.

The second source of income was the tax, or, as it was called in popular language, “atat.” This too was not collected easily. The rich people did not pay their dues on time and protested against the amount they were supposed to pay. The negotiations with them took up much time and the ones to suffer were the educational institutions.

The third source of income derived from the cemeteries. When a person died, the Jewish community received payment for the plot which consisted of four cubits of the grave. It was extremely difficult to collect this payment. The rich inheritors refused out of stinginess to pay the required sum. Quarrels broke out, much shouting and curses accompanied this.

From time to time there was a mistake in the assessment, when it appeared that the deceased left neither money nor assets. The man, who had been evaluated as a person of property, was in fact poor and destitute. Often the mourners decried both the deceased and the Jewish Community which forcefully demanded money for the burial.

The administrative staff of the Jewish community consisted of eight members of the executive: the chairman, Sh. A. Tchuraz, and a council of twelve members, headed by R. Shlomo Glixmann of blessed memory. The meetings of the executive took place once a month, those of the council, once a week. The meetings which dealt with the budget were always noisy. Each party mobilized its partisans to come to the balcony and encourage their representatives by clapping of hands and other such means. The discussions made it difficult to get some practical work done.

It happened that when the authorities saw that the work was not done according to their wishes and that no agreement could be reached, they disbanded the Jewish community, appointed a temporary “commisar” until a new executive was elected which, perhaps, would follows orders better …

The first appointee of the authorities was the engineer Bornstein. After a short period of time, he was dismissed and in his place Shlomo Goldberg was appointed. He too did not stay long in his job. The third 'commisar' was Shimon Schwartz and his main task was the organization of new elections as soon as possible. He was elected as the chairman of the new legally elected executive.

When the Nazis took over the control of the city, the Gestapo called upon Shimon Schwartz and forced him to submit a list of eleven persons responsible for the Jewish community, and became at the same time their hostages. Hereafter are listed the new representatives who replaced the executive council of the Jewish community: Joseph Schwartz, Leib Bruchstein, Pinchas Brenner, Shlomo Podchlebnik, Henjik Hirschbein, Yehuday Bornkovski, Kaufman Frankovski, Moshe Sheinfeld, Joseph Koninski, Chaim Shladowski, Joseph Avigdor Zelniker.

Those mentioned above were called to the Gestapo. As SS officer put each of them in a special room and under threat of death, demanded that they would meticulously execute all orders given to them. Should any Jew oppose the new regime, the council of eleven would bear the responsibility and would pay with their lives. One of the first orders that the Jewish Council had to execute was to make a list of all the assets of the Jews. They had to do this in three days and woe on them if they would be late.

Both the Jews and the council were terrified. How could they possibly fulfill this order within such a short period of time, without the necessary staff trained for this kind of work?

It was decided to make use of the children from the higher grades of the Jewish schools and they were sent from home to home to make a detailed list of the possessions, both property and cash. The lists were put in files to be submitted in due time.

On the third day, at 9 p.m. the members of the Council assembled in the office of the community and five minutes before the deadline, loud knocks were heard on the door and the angels of destruction entered. “Is everything ready” they asked the chairman. “Yes.” After they had handed over the file to the SS officer and his escort, the Germans left without saying a word.

The other decrees, the Shoah and the destruction of the community will be dealt with elsewhere.


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