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[Page 204]

I Have No Grandfather
(A prose translation)

by Bilha Rochman (the daughter of Moishe Rochman)

On a night in Nissan or Av, I thought who, o who is my grandfather?

I have read legends and stories of Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, who had a long white beard and leaned upon a staff.

Great is my astonishment that I have no grandfather; great my astonishment that I have not seen his face – For my grandfather, uncle, cousin and family are not alive – there, in the death camp of Treblinka, they were killed by the Nazis.

They were deported from Kozienice to slaughter and strangulation, there, in the distant death camp Treblinka. They were shot, strangled, slaughtered, and burnt while still alive, mother and child, the old, the young, women and men, because they were Jews.

And thus thousands of Jews were slaughtered each day, six million of them in all sorts of death camps, among them my uncle, my cousin, my grandfather and grandmother, may their memory be blessed, all of them victims of Hitler, in the days of the dissolution of the Kozienice ghetto.?


[Page 205]

The Jewish Folkspartei

by Yissokhor Lederman, Rio de Janeiro

After the First World War, the old rebbi'ish and hasidic way of life lost its lustre. The town passed over to a new way of life.

1916 In that year the first culture club, in the name of Y.L. Peretz, was founded in the nicest meeting hall in town, which belonged to the Weinberg Family.

A group of bes–medresh boys and older people had founded a library as early as 1906 in the home of Yitzkhok Krishpel, the town maskil. A sports–club and drama group had also been founded and were directed by Khaim Berman, Tobe Berman, Melekh Avenstern, Yitzkhok Postasznik, Yisroel–Dovid Domb, Mottel Goldstein, Yoyne Weinberg, Shimon Berman, Yissokhor Lederman, Yitzkhok Krishpel (prompter), Yankel Ring, and others.

Every shabbes, there were concerts, discussions and lectures by Yitzkhok Weinberg, Yissokhor Lederman, Yitzkhok Krishpel, and Yankel Ring.

Party–life was developing greatly at the time. Each party naturally wanted to expand its influence, and this led to a fragmentation of the town's cultural forces.

 

The Party Was Founded in 1918

In 1918, the greater part of the membership left the club, and founded a cultural society called Di Yidishe Folkspartei (the Jewish People's Party). This took place in the Mintzbergs' meeting hall, in the same building as the residences and offices of the high Russian officials, as well as of the city hall.

The Folkspartei embraced almost the entire middle–class, artisans and merchants, as well as a large segment of the young.

The party conducted intensive cultural and community work. The most eminent of its leaders, writers and poets appeared and lectured, thus lending the town a certain prominence. Even Noah Prilucki came to Kozienice twice before the elections.

The Folkspartei and the artisans put three representatives into the town council, Khaim Berman, Z. Halputter, and Yitzkhok–Eli Korman. Their representatives on the Jewish council were Khaim Berman, Yissokhor Lederman, Leizer–Itche Silverberg, Moishe Wasserman, and Itche Kestenberg.?

[Page 206]

All the representatives evinced a lively activity in every field of Jewish life: they gave help with their word, counsel, and deed, and sent representatives to all the Folkist and artisan conferences in Warsaw and elsewhere.

At that time we also formed a relief committee for the pogrom victims in Russia under the management of the Folkspartei.

Until my departure from Poland in 1928, the Yidishe Folkspartei was the representative and defender of the entire middle class.


[Page 207]

The Trade Union Movement in Kozienice

by Yerakhmiel Sirota, Paris

There were no trade unions in Kozienice before World War I. There were also no large factories. The majority of workers worked for their parents.

Those who lacked the ability to employ their children looked for work in the larger cities. Many could not do so because of family matters or material considerations, and they were obliged to adjust to any condition–

Wages were very low then. After a week's work a number of workers were forced to go from house to house on Friday afternoon to make a couple of groschen. This was not a rare event.

 

Sixteen and Seventeen Hour Days

The work–day was sixteen or seventeen hours, and before yontef people would work all night. Hence, the exploitation was complete: there was never any talk of a strike.

The majority of the town's skilled workers consisted of shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, blacksmiths, stitchers of linen, shinglemakers, capmakers, and watchmakers – everything a city needs for its use.

 

The Stitchers Embroiderers Worked for Pennies

The stitching was concentrated in small workshops. This trade employed women, girls, and children of eight to ten years.

The bosses made a living. The work was brought from Warsaw and other cities for pennies. No machines were necessary; everything was hand–stitched.

There was a further advantage for the boss: he did not have to have all the workers in the workshop. Many of them worked at home due to lack of space in the shop. At home, the workers had no fixed hours, and one got the impression that the work went on twenty–four hours a day.

 

Yankel Birnbaum Opens a Shoe Factory

A little later, Yankel Birnbaum opened our first mechanized shoe factory. It employed twenty workers, and marked the beginning of the proletariat in Kozienice. The wages were dictated by the boss.

The entire production was directed to the Russian market, which gladly bought Kozienicer shoes.

[Page 208]

Once, Yankel hit the road before yontef with a lot of merchandise. Just then, conditions were good: there was a great demand for shoes, the designs were very nice, and the work was good, so the merchandise was sold quickly and Yankel took a lot of orders.

Things didn't always go so quickly. There were times when Yankel would be on the road for a couple of weeks. This time, he sold his merchandise quickly and brought back good things from Russia.

 

The Ball and the Strike

On his return, he threw a ball for his workers. There was every sort of good thing at the ball, and the crowd ate it all up with relish. What a shock, then, was visited upon the boss the next day when the workers presented him with a demand for increased salaries, told him that a ball would not satisfy the economic needs of their families, and then shut down work.

The strike didn't last long. The boss was forced to give in to his workers' demands.

This was the first strike in Kozienice before World War I.

With no greater events in the offing, the usual way of life continued until the outbreak of the war in 1914, except for the period of the 1905 rebellion when our town distinguished itself with demonstrations against the despotic Czar.

 

The Front was Close

Our town suffered greatly in the First World War. On several occasions, the front was close to us, and we were forced to abandon the town, carrying our necessities on our backs.

Many families, having nowhere to lay their heads, wandered through the fields.

Our parents' despair was great. After a few days of suffering and torment, we returned to town, for the Russians had succeeded in stopping the Germans for a while. To our great misfortune, half the houses in town had been burnt down. It was impossible to recognize the place where we had lived.

Everyone settled down somehow. Many left town and went to larger cities like Radom and Warsaw. Others suffered with several families in a single room.

 

Hunger and Want

After this, we underwent the Austrian occupation, accompanied by a terrible famine. The population did not suffer greatly at the hands of the occupiers; on the contrary, we felt freer, for the Russian Cossacks had caused us terrible suffering. They plundered, and we had to hide our girls.?

[Page 209]

Thus, we did not – terribly regret the end of Russian rule. But the hunger was great, shortages and the black market were constant visitors.

There was no work. Everything was disorganized, and a terrible confusion reigned.

Slightly later, the Austrians began to repair the roads which had been damaged by the cannons and trenches. A considerable number of workers was employed in this, and it somewhat alleviated the want in many poor houses.

 

A New Page

Poland attained independence after the war, thus opening a new page in its history. Political parties and trade unions began to form immediately. In Kozienice, a great deal of activity in this area was established in a short time.

The Jewish shoemakers were under the influence of the Bund, the tailors under that of the Po'alei Tzion. The Polish shoemakers were under the influence of the P.P.S. The Wiedza Robotnicza was directed by the Communists, with Dr. Gruszczinski, the director of the gymnasium and a great friend of the Jews, at its head. They were all thrown into jail a short time later.

 

The Union Movement Develops

Skilled labour began to develop greatly. Large and small factories began to increase. A new market – Galicia – was added. Circumstances were looking all right.

After the war, people were empowered. The workers began to earn some money, strikes occurred more often, and prices were set by the unions.

The bosses also organized themselves into an artisans' union under the influence of the Folkspartei. Naturally, it sometimes happened that they would fight for several days during a strike.

Thus, the workers gradually became a fighting element.

Regrettably, there were no properly trained cadres at the time, but they remained in permanent contact with the headquarters, and representatives came to lecture from time to time. Workers' journals, pamphlets, and literature began to appear. And so, workers who took the administration of the unions upon themselves began gradually to appear upon the scene.

 

The Makers of Ornamentally Studded Shoes Go On Strike

First of all, order was introduced – work was to begin and end at fixed times. We proceeded to organize all the trades, for example, the makers of ornamentally studded shoes.?

[Page 210]

Several people were employed in this trade, and it was not easy to call the first strike. They hung together: it did not last long, and we won. Then the workers understood that the union was a necessity and needed to be protected as if it were an eye, for it was their livelihood.

 

The Linen–Stitchers Strike

Next came the linen–stitchers' turn. They were not so hard to organize because they were just young girls. We organized them well.

Our first impression was that we were in a grade school. The first strike was not easy because the work was divided haphazardly. Until then, there had been no fixed wages, but we gradually shaped the girls into an exemplary trade.

 

We Organize the Porters

The moment when we called upon the porters to demonstrate unity and solidarity is characteristic. This was the first time, for up until then they had been ruled by fear, in both their work and their relations with their bosses.

They had never been paid according to the value of their work. In the greatest frosts and snows when it was impossible to make out a human face, they froze, waiting in the street, beard and mustache hung with ice, in case someone should call them. Many days could go by without their earning a groschen.

At the first meeting, we explained what was going on in simple language. The porters were very comfortable with me, because my father was a porter, too.

All the householders respected my father. They called him Colonel Moishe–Eli, but why, I don't know. I gave them to understand that if they were united, the bosses would have less chutzpah and their earnings would increase.

They understood that we wanted their good, and they all agreed that Moishe's son was indeed right. A three–man committee was selected at once.

The next day at a meeting of the elected committee with us, we worked out a schedule of fees: so much for a sack of flour, so much for a crate. Their work was off to a good start.

Some time later, I succeeded in organizing them into a partnership. My father was elected treasurer. They raised their fees so that their living conditions improved significantly. The bosses' treatment of them changed as well.

In this way we raised the morale of the porters.?

[Page 211]

The Tailors Were Well Organized

The tailors' section was not large, but it was well organized. If an employer needed a worker, he had to go to the union; if he wanted to fire one, he had also to go.

A special commission to deal with all social conflicts was created in each section. The administration of all the sections was burdened with work. Thanks to their activity and devotion, their work became exemplary.

It is natural that the political parties were watchful that the work of the unions bear a class–conscious character, and moreover, they gradually began to recruit members, each for his own party.

Political discussion began to develop in the unions, the clubs, and the street, often in a very heated atmosphere. One tried to convince the other that his idea was more beautiful, better, and better adapted to the requirements of human life. It was simply a pleasure to observe the struggle among the parties.

 

The 1920 War

This lasted until 1920 and the outbreak of the Russo–Polish war, which brought great disorder to the work.

A number of active members were called up by the military. The Polish government didn't fail to show its stinking antisemetic face – many Jewish soldiers were confined in the concentration camp at Jablona under the pretext of giving military secrets to the Bolsheviks.

But the war did not last long. After the Polish defeat at Kiev, after the Bolsheviks chased them as far as Warsaw and Lublin, the Polish government was forced to make peace.

After the war, normal life gradually began to be established. All the military personnel were demobilized and they went back to their community work.

 

Many Threw Themselves Into Shoemaking

It can be said that the work of the various organizations bloomed and began to bear fruit. Economic circumstances were good. Shoe factories began to grow like mushrooms after a rain. Everyone threw himself into this trade. Even the hasidim began to open shoe factories.

Everyone in town wanted to be a specialty shoemaker, but the trade commission resolved not to let just anybody learn the trade and thus create a surplus of labour. One didn't need any great qualifications to become a specialty shoemaker: four weeks was enough to learn the trade perfectly.?

[Page 212]

We Struggle for Influence

In 1921, a new page was opened in the history of the world workers' movement with the establishment of the Comintern. All the workers' parties suffered splits which created the secret Communist party, the vast majority of which consisted of the better element of the Kozienice working class.

A violent struggle for control of the unions began all over again. It was not easy.

We had a difficult struggle for endurance because of the police, who persecuted us at every turn. Yet despite all the difficulties, we gradually began to win the sympathy of many workers.

The town intelligentsia also began to join our ranks. We can say with pride that we had the nicest cadre in our town. It wasn't long before we controlled the work in the unions.

Our work in the political sector went on with the same momentum. Nothing was neglected. The struggle against Polish fascism and antisemitism occupied first place for us. We were not scared off by any sacrifices.

Our activities continued thus until Hitler's march into Poland. The work of all the parties, unions, artisans* clubs, youth organizations, drama groups, and libraries which was established with so much self–sacrificing devotion came to a halt.

Eternal glory to the fighters and martyrs of Kozienice.

 

We Continue Our Work

After eating, if it was nice out, you used to sit yourself down by the door and have a chat with your neighbour. We didn't have much pleasure, because we were all suffering for the sake of a piece of bread.

The town's surroundings were glorious. Thick woods, fields, several rivers and lakes. Summer was very pleasant. Boys and girls went out walking and sang songs. All in secret – their parents shouldn't know.

Many of us still remember the Beilis trial well. We lived in daily terror of pogroms. The Czarist government had a good chance to stir up antisemitism, and the Poles exploited it well. Jews were afraid to show themselves in the street; people yelled “Beilis”** after them.

Fights broke out between Jewish and Polish children. The Polish nobility and wealthy classes exploited this for their own ends.

[Page 213]

A Newspaper A Rare Event

In those days a newspaper was a rare event in town. There was nowhere to get any news, except from a purveyor who had gone to Warsaw for a little merchandise and came back with a little news. A Yiddish book could not be found.

A little later, before World War I, Yiddish books began to turn up secretly. Nasheleki was the pioneer. He recruited his readers, few and clandestine, from the bes–medresh boys. If any of the religious Jews had found out that Itche was leading the youth astray, he would have been placed under the ban.

There were the first sprouts, the first rays of light to begin shining upon our town.

 

A Lack of Cadres

After World War I, Poland became independent, with a provisional left–wing government, and people began to breathe a little more freely. Political parties, trade unions, and cultural organizations began to form immediately. Of course, cadres were lacking.

This made a particular impact on the ranks of the workers. The bourgeois parties did have some intelligence, but they did not understand that something must be given to those who had nothing. They felt like bourgeois aristocrats.

At the age of 16, I joined the Po'alei Tzion. I threw myself into its work with the fervour and energy of youth. Soon a workers' youth organization had been formed. After this, all the other parties imitated this example.

I was elected to the cultural commission. This was a great honour for me. My work was not easy; I had to distribute newspapers, books, and pamphlets which we received from headquarters. Regrettably, many workers and artisans, and the greater part of the youth were unable to read and write: This did not, however, scare us off. We organized evening courses in Yiddish and Polish, and before long had attained good results. This gave us courage, and we continued our work more fervently.

In a short time, our town became unrecognizable. All the parties were active, each in its own realm. Lectures, readings, and “box–evenings” were arranged. Gradually, a class–conscious and mature working class started to crystallize.

There was also a gymnasium (Hi School) in Kozienice. Naturally, it was attended only by the children of well–to–do parents. Later, when the illegal Communist party had been formed, we had a great many sympathizers among these students. They were very active, especially in the field of culture. We formed a splendid library and a drama group, and put on a presentation with no outside help.?

[Page 214]

At the same time, we went to organize workers in the neighbouring towns. There was a wide field for political activity. We also conducted a strong propaganda campaign on the street in order to combat antisemitism and fascism. At the time, the Polish jails were overflowing with political prisoners.

 

The May Day Demonstration in 1926

On May 1, 1926, we organized a united demonstration of all the workers' parties, Jewish and Polish alike. The demonstration was very impressive; in fact, Kozienice had never seen a May Day demonstration before. The local authorities mobilized the police from the whole vicinity. Representatives of all the parties gave speeches, and the demonstration broke up peacefully, each party with its flag. We carried the union flag.

Next day, the searches and arrests began. Twenty–six comrades were transported to the prison in Radom. This brought about my departure from Poland.

Despite the persecution, the work did not stop. Those who remained in Kozienice continued it with more courage and obstinacy.

 

Help From Paris

Coming to Paris, we organized a campaign for the benefit of those arrested in Kozienice. All the landsleit responded warmly, and we sent a considerable bit of money home.

Before the war, we formed a society embracing all the Kozienicers in Paris. In 1936, we organized a large fund–raising campaign for the sake of the needy in our hometown. All the Kozienicers in Paris took part in the campaign. We thus demonstrated our solidarity with our families who were a couple of thousand kilometres away.

Soon after the great catastrophe which befell our people, we the surviving Kozienicers, organized a committee for the benefit of our landsleit.

We raised money and brought it to needy houses. With love and devotion we gave support to all those passing through who stood in need thereof.

We have continued our work up until today. This is the greatest tribute we can pay to our parents, brothers, and sisters who were killed by the Nazi barbarians.

To their glorious memory.?


[Page 215]

The Trade Union in Kozienice

by Yissokhor Lederman, Rio de Janeiro

The truth is that I am neither close to the union nor terribly familiar with its activities. Nevertheless, I cannot complete my work without mentioning the activities of the union, which conducted a self–sacrificing struggle for a better and more beautiful future.

 

When was the trade union formed in Kozienice?

It took place soon after the First World War, when Poland had become independent and the shoe factories and other workshops which had been shut down during the war began to organize themselves.

Jewish party–life revived. There was a need at this time for a workers' body which would stand guard over the workers' lives and protect their rights in every area.

True, the Bund, which had set the protection of the Jewish worker as its goal, was already in existence at this time, but the new winds of freedom from the Soviet Union helped to organize and strengthen the ranks of the so–called “Left Workers' Union”, which represented a stratum of the town's labour movement.

 

The Union's Leaders

At the head of the union stood workers and intellectuals: Rosen, Brandspiegel, Sirota, Tennenbaum, Greenstein, Zucker, Shabsi Korman, Zeitfinger, and Rechthand.

The last three were girls who defended the rights of the seamstresses and stitchers. They conducted an intensive activity, and together with Polish workers organized strikes in order to raise wages, and also fought for an eight–hour day in the factories, where the workers were still labouring twelve hours a day.

At that time, this was a great achievement for the workers in Kozienice.

Together with the Polish workers, they conducted a fight during the elections to the Sejm and the city council. They carried on fine cultural work, were interested in Yiddish literature, and organized night courses in Polish and Yiddish for poor workers* children. They also had their dramatic group.

 

The Authorities Shut the Union Down

Regrettably, their activity did not last long. The reactionary Polish government cast an eye on the union, began to persecute its leaders, confined them to prison, and finally shut the union down and tortured its leaders.?

[Page 216]

If I am not mistaken, young Rechthand died in the Radom jail. Some came out of prison with broken fingers, others with tuberculosis. Still others fled the country.

All these troubles and misfortunes were caused by a Polish provocateur who was shot in 1927 by comrades from the Warsaw Central Committee with the assistance of Greenstein, who fled to Russia during the night.

This is how the Kozienicer trade union was liquidated at that time. It wrote a beautiful chapter in the book of our town's workers' movement.

Later, I went to Brazil. Whether a union still existed after that is not known to me.


[Page 217]

The Story of a Red Flag

by Yissokhor Lederman, Rio de Janeiro

The story I'm going to tell here took place in 1901. I was then studying with Berele melamed, a gemore teacher, a very angry man, a kohen. He enjoyed thrashing the children on their naked bodies or on their heads. – it was a miracle that they weren't crippled. But this is not what I intend to tell.

Coming home from kheder on a certain evening, I met two strange men in our house, along with two Kozienicers whom I knew well. One of them was a shoemaker named Shayele Katter, who worked for my father as an apprentice.

Shayele Katter was the only son of Aharon melamed, a Gerer hasid. His mother, Reizel, sold cooked lima beans in winter and fresh water in summer.

The second Kozienicer was a baker named Ickowicz, a son of Yidel the bastard.

 

What Were they Doing at Our Place?

My sister, Khantshe, was a seamstress and a good stitcher. The men had brought her a red canvas with a big piece of paper on which was written in Yiddish and Polish, “Workers of the world, unite!” and “Long live the first of May!” They promised my sister three rubles if she embroidered these inscriptions in gold on the canvas.

Naturally, neither my father nor my mother understood the danger threatening their daughter, nor did they comprehend the significance of the words.

My sister sat at the work all night. Incidentally, it came out very well.

For her part, my sister was satisfied, too. She had earned three rubles for a night's work.

 

Turmoil in Town

Three days later the town was in turmoil. A group of Jewish and gentile strikers had come from Radom. Marching with them were groups of shoemakers, tailors, and other workers, with Shayele Katter and Ickowicz in front. They were carrying red flags with inscriptions, and went straight to the bes–medresh to hold speeches.

The streets were lively. Jews ran home, closed their shops. Women wrung their hands – a calamity for the town, the Cossacks would soon come and destroy the bes–medresh, and make a pogrom on the Jews.

[Page 218]

We kheder–boys ran after the strikers into the bes–medresh. Our mothers looked around for us and chased us home.

Although I was but a boy of eleven, I went into the bes–medresh. The strikers had stood their flags up opposite the ark, and were singing Yiddish and Polish songs.

I didn't understand the speeches but the strikers would often shout out, “Down!” and “Viva!”, and I shouted along. A man with white–grey hair – I don't remember if he was a Jew or a Pole – yelled out, “Down with the Kaiser! Down with the pogromchicks!” and shot into the air.

There was a bit of a stir. The crowd began to march out of the bes–medresh, singing, and shouting “Down!”

With the flags in front, they marched through all the streets, until they reached the bridge.

 

The Police Mix In

After Lublin Street there were already soldiers and police. The mayor, Kozlow, asked that the demonstration disperse; if not, he would shoot.

Naturally, there was a commotion in the crowd. They did not wish to resist even though some of the Radomer group were armed. Due to the great number of women and children following them, they avoided bloodshed, and the crowd went singing back to town.

The same night, Shayele Katter, Ickowicz, and several Polish workers, were taken from their beds and sent straight off to Radom in shackles.

Afraid lest someone inform on her, my sister Khantshe went to my uncle Shmuel in Warsaw. She stayed there working until her marriage to Moishe Wasserman.

The end of the two Jews: in 1905 they were hung in the Warsaw prison along with other fighters.?


[Page 219]

The Labour Movement in Kozienice

by Avrum Tennenbaum, Warsaw

My reminiscences will embrace almost exclusively the years from 1923 to 1929, as well as certain isolated incidents from my childhood.

The time I wish to describe was one of very far–reaching political–communal and cultural activity on the part of the progressive Jewish population of Kozienice. It was also the time of my own community activity.

If the years from 1918 to 1922 can be characterized as a time of establishment of political–communal groups and party organizations in Kozienice, the years from 1922 on can be considered as a time when all the Jewish workers of Kozienice were organized into the political organizations then in existence.

A significant portion of the workers belonged to the Communist party and its youth organization. The Bund was also popular among Jewish workers, and the Left Po'alei–Tzion had its adherents, too. There were also workers who belonged to the Zionist organization.

All workers, without exception, were organized into unions. The tailors' and stitchers' union was exclusively Jewish. On the other hand, the leather–workers' union numbered around four hundred Jewish and Polish workers, and was a strongly class–conscious organization, a strong support for the political work of the Communists, the Bund, and the P.P.S. This union was the chief organizing force of a large number of economic and political actions.

 

The First May Day Demonstration

The memory of Kozienice's first May Day demonstration in 1926 is engraved deeply in the memory of all surviving Kozienicers. Over a thousand workers with their wives and children demonstrated in the streets under red flags, and ended the demonstration with a great meeting, at which Jonas Weinberg, Rembalski and Yerakhmiel Sirota spoke.

The demonstration was the greatest political event in the town's history.

Among the prominent figures in the leather–workers' union were Meir–Shalom Tennenbaum, Yoysef Flamenbaum, or Yoysef Senate, as he was called, Waszita, Rembalski, Itche Weizberg, and others.

The stitchers of Kozienice, who numbered over 150 persons, also carried on a wide–ranging community activity. The Communist party had a great influence upon them.?

[Page 220]

The Youth Was Very Active

The working–class youth of Kozienice was very active in political–community life. It can be stated that at certain times the role of the youth was decisive. It was very active everywhere. It is no exaggeration to say that a youth so ebullient, so full of life and a deep belief in a happy future as the youth of Kozienice was, was seldom found anywhere.

The bright figures of the Kozienice Jewish youth of my time would require a separate and comprehensive description. The youth – a separate, heroic chapter in the history of the Jews of Kozienice.

The political–communal life of the Jews of Kozienice had a reputation extending far beyond the town itself. We recall how many active leaders from the central authorities in Warsaw gladly used to spend days and weeks in the summertime among the people and woods of Kozienice.

The activities of Shloime Brandspiegel were also well known. Together with the great humanist Stephania Gruszczinska, they represented the interests of the workers – in the name of the Left Workers' Movement – on the Kozienice city council.

What, though really states the fact that the Jews of Kozienice were heavily engaged in community life?

 

Kozienice Lived From Work

First of all, the vast majority of the Jewish population of Kozienice was comprised of workers. Two–thirds of the Jewish population lived from salaried labour and labour in general, and with the arrival of summer, almost the entire population, young and old, was enlisted to make canvas slippers.

Despite the legal requirement of an eight hour day, the workers laboured ten and twelve hours, the bosses eighteen and twenty.

In winter, many people worked hard in the leather industry, but for significantly small wages.

Just how popular the summer season was can be seen from the fact that only shoemakers and those in related trades were said to be able to indulge themselves with fancy baked goods.

Another group of shoemakers, the so–called shpilkove, or makers of ornamentally studded shoes, occupied themselves with the production of shoes and boots for the fairs. Linen production was almost exclusively designed for export to Galicia.

There were proportionally fewer retailers in Kozienice then in other towns at the time.?

[Page 221]

A New Age

This is the soil from which a wide–ranging, radical community movement grew, but external factors were also of no small significance.

I know that the reverberations of the victorious October Revolution reached the progressive Jewish population of Kozienice quickly. The workers felt and understood by instinct that a new age had dawned, and that no power would prop up outmoded social forms.

As is known, Jews the world over placed great hope in the October Revolution, which, among other things, set itself the task of up–rooting every form of racism and making an end of wild antisemitism.

We believed that the victorious October Revolution meant that dreadful antisemitc persecutions and pogroms had become a thing of the unhappy past, and that Jews would now be able to live on an equal footing with everyone else.

These new ideas had an even stronger influence on Jewish youth.


[Page 222]

The Communist Party in Kozienice

by Yerakhmiel Sirota, Paris

Among the other parties in Kozienice, a many–branched Communist party was also active. It embraced extensive circles of the youth, had a beautiful library, and a drama group which played in the neighbouring towns.

The party had five founders: Yoysef–Hersch Rosen, Avrum Kestenberg, Moishe Shapiro, Yoysef Flamenbaum, and Yerakhmiel Sirota.

It is worth mentioning that all the comrades who struggled self–sacrificingly for a free tomorrow and a beautiful future for all mankind were killed in the gas–chambers and crematoria, like all the Jews of Poland.

I will list several of them: Yoysef–Hersch Rosen, Yoysef Flamenbaum, Shmuel Huberman, Moishe Shapiro, Yissokhor Shapiro, Shmuel Weinberg, Itche Wizberg, Meir–Shalom Tennenbaum, Shmuel–Leib Goldman, Benzya Greenstein, Khane Orentstern, Leibel Rechthand, Yekhiel Silverberg, Ratze Silverberg, Pesya Krishpel, Beile Friedman, Feige Wizberg, Khane Rechthand, Pearl–Dina Potasznik, Avrum Kestenberg, as well as the youth which performed splendid work in the Movement until the Hitlerite murderers entered the town, and, along with the five thousand Jews of Kozienice, also killed the glorious figures of the Communist party.

We honour the memory of the unfortunate victims.

We, the survivors, are duty–bound not to forget them.


[Page 223]

The Bund in Kozienice

by Yissokhor Lederman, Rio de Janeiro

At the same time as the formation of the Folkspartei, the Jewish workers' party, the Bund, was also formed. Its leaders were Yoyne Weinberg, Dr. Schwartzbaum, Leibel Zaterman, Yoyel Weintraub, Kissel Roiseman, Binyamin Frish, Ya–akov Korman, Nossen Flamenbaum, and others.

They conducted an intensive activity among the poorer classes, such as small home–manufacturers and workers, organized strikes among the leather–workers when such were necessary, and took part in all May Day demonstrations and other actions with the Polish workers.

 

A Wide–Ranging Activity

They also conducted fine cultural activities: they founded their own library, a school, a relief fund, and a sports section for the youth.

The central committee in Warsaw sometimes sent lecturers and propagandists to help develop the Bund's work.

They were at their most active during the elections to the Sejm, or city council, and kehilla. Although they were not a large group, they nevertheless got their representatives onto the city council and the kehilla: Yoyne Weinberg, Dr. Schwarzbaum, Yoyel Weintraub, and Leibel Zaterman.

In later years, younger forces distinguished themselves; Pola Luxenburg, the Weinberg brothers, and others whose names are not known to me.

In general, we must admit that the Kozienice Bund had a dynamic youth in its ranks, as well as older members, who energetically carried on its professional, political, community, and cultural work.

The founder of the Bund, Yoyne Weinberg, died of a heart attack when the Nazis occupied Poland. The other leaders and members shared the fate of the entire Jewish community of Kozienice.


[Page 224]

The Bund in Kozienice

by Leibele Fishstein, Ramat–Gan

In 1922, the economic life of Kozienice revived. There was not a single house in which a small canvas–shoe factory was not operating. The entire production was directed to Russia.

Such shops were opened not only by shoemakers, but wood–dealers, khazanim, and merchants took up this line of work. Whoever had enough money for a set of iron lasts and a little canvas became a manufacturer, hired workers, and made shoes from cardboard, canvas, and leather.

The manufacturers contracted their workers for an entire year, in order to make sure they would not go work for someone else.

 

An End to the Long Work Day

The workers did not make bad money, but they worked sixteen hours a day, and all night before yontef.

Among the workers were several leftists who read a left–wing newspaper and who decided to put an end to the long work day.

They met at a secret meeting at which two items were dealt with: setting up a meeting hall for the society, and the institution of an eight–hour work day. The originators of the idea were Binyomin Frisch, Aharon Sherman, Yerakhmiel Sirota, Shalom Tennenbaum, Loser Lampa, and Kissel Roiseman.

In a short time, a sufficient sum of money had been collected, and a large hall was rented in Mintzberg's house. Yoyne Weinberg, a student, was engaged as secretary, and the society was opened.

At the first general meeting of all the workers, two new faces were noticed. They were emissaries from Warsaw, the one a Bundist, and the other a Communist.

The Bundist speaker clarified the importance of the eight–hour day, for which the Bund was fighting. Here, too, it was important to establish the party which fought to improve the condition of the workers as well as for national and cultural autonomy.

After the meeting, about seventy percent of those present registered in the party. Yoyne Weinberg took it upon himself to organize and run the party.

Party activities soon began in the hall. The Reds and Po'alei Tzion were not agreeable to the Bundist hegemony in the labour union, but they remained a minority.

[Page 225]

In a few years, the number of members had increased, and the party rented a whole house from Moishe Medallion.

The party conducted political and cultural work, and formed a youth Bund called Zukunft (Future), with the energetic Paula Luxemburg in command.

 

Paula Luxemburg

She came from a very religious family, and because of her activity in the Bund had a difficult life at home. But she came into her own. Day and night, body and soul, she was absorbed in the work of the party. Besides being chairman of the youth organization, she was also the leader of “Skif”.

Her deputies, Yisroel and Khaim Rochman, were always prepared to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the Bundist ideal. They contributed a lot for the cultural development of the youth.

 

A New Hall

A very wide–ranging activity began when the Bund moved into the house with the tall chimney. It had a large hall in which lectures used to be held, and where heated discussions developed more than once with members of other parties who had come to oppose the speakers from Warsaw.

Those who came most often were the party leaders Erlich, Victor Alter, Ya'akov Pat, Himmelfarb, Shetmer, and others. When Kozienice saw a poster that a Bundist leader from Warsaw was coming to lecture, half the town went to hear him.

“Box” and recitation–evenings, entertainments, and one–act presenta– tions used to take place in the hall. There were smaller rooms around it: a library, a night school in which Yiddish, mathematics, history, geography, and natural science were taught. The teachers were the popular Yoyel Weintraub and Avrum Kohn.

Aside from this, there were “circles” which studied Bogdanow's political economy, and the philosophy of Spinoza and Kant.

There was also a dramatic circle which staged various plays in the cinema.

The party also had two cooperatives, a shoe factory and a consumers' co–op.

Yoine Weinberg was the Bundist representative on the city council, the leader and organizer of Bundist activity in Kozienice. He was very popular, not only among the workers, but among the entire population. He was a merchant and had a confectionery business.


[Page 226]

Economic Life in Kozienice

by Yissokhor Lederman, Rio De Janeiro

My work is based upon the economic life of Kozienice before World War I. I emphasize that memory is the major source of my work, because there are no documents which I could utilize at my disposal.

My landsleit, as well as plain readers of this book will forgive me any inaccuracies.

Maskilim Left the Town

Regrettably, our town is seldom mentioned in the history of the Jews in Poland. The reason could be that hasidic life had too strong a hold on the town, and the worldly segment of the Jewish population generated no great cultural forces.

Those who began to think differently had to leave the town. Among such were Khaim–Yekhiel Bornstein, to whom Nahum Sokolow pays great tribute in his memoirs, Simkha–Nossen Kestenberg, the Greenberg brothers who were teachers in the Warsaw region, the maskil Reuven Lichtenstein, Weinberg, the Yiddish teacher, and still others whom the life of the town drove away.

Although Kozienice had a Russian school, it never happened that a Jewish child attended it. As Pinye Katz tells in his memoirs, the rich Jewish families engaged private tutors for their children. The Jewish artisans taught their children neither general subjects nor foreign languages; the kheder and bes–medresh were their educational institutions.

Outside cultural forces who visited Kozienice from time to time have left notes on the life there. We have drawn some information from these sources.

In Yiddish and Hebrew literature our town was noted by Nakhum Sokolow, Khaim–Yekhiel Bornstein, Pinye Katz, Yitzkhok Shipper, Sh. Stupnicki, Lazar Kahan, Leo Finkelstein, Ya'akov Pat, A. Litvak, D. Reisen, and others as a town distinguished for two traits: hasidism and shoemaking.

Hasidim A Means of Livelihood

And it's no exaggeration. Fifty to sixty percent of the Jews in Kozienice made their living from these two sources. Three or four times a year thousands of Jews, hasidim and simple folk alike, visited the Maggid's tomb in Kozienice. On Shavuos, the Days of Awe and shabbasim, the Jewish inns were filled with hasidim from all Poland. Hundreds of Jewish families lived off the town's three rebbi'ish courts.

[Page 227]

Shoemaking

The second source of livelihood was shoemaking. This trade lay exclusively in Jewish hands, although there were also some gentile shoemakers who sold their wares at fairs and markets.

It is worth noting that neither the bosses nor the workers were organized, but shoemaking was yet a source of livelihood for hundreds of Jewish and non–Jewish families.

Shoemaking was divided into three categories: larger factories, which called themselves specialty shoemakers, in which hundreds of workers were employed: beaters, shiners, rakhtevers, upper–makers, button–sewers, box–makers, packers, buyers, and clerks.

Aside from these there were also merchants who supplied leather, boards, linen, tacks, laces, buttons, heels, and other materials for the factories.

Merchants came from Radom to sell leather, for Radom was famed for its tanneries. They sold the leather on their own and the customers' notes.

The second category was the workshops for ornamentally studded shoes, in which childrens' shoes and boots were made. Five to six workers were employed in the shops. Each workshop had its own upper maker who made boo tings for it.

The third category consisted of home–manufacturers. They worked along with their children, and sold their merchandise in the town itself and at fairs in the neighbouring towns. They didn't make much money. They always wanted for shabbes, but as we Jews say, “Make a living honourably and don't go looking for handouts”.

It is worth recording that as soon as a Jewish worker got married, he started looking for a way to become his own boss rather than somebody else's employee.

Kozienicer shoes and boots were renowned throughout most of Russia. The manufacturers would take their merchandise to the farthest–flung spots in Russia two or three times a year, and come home with big orders. They also went to the yearly fairs in Lenczne, Lublin, Smolensk, and Nizhni–Novogrod.

Other Means of Living

Other trades in Kozienice remained in Jewish hands such as the tailors, capmakers, furriers, shingle–makers, soap–makers, pulp–makers, and carpenters. They all lived from the town fair and from fairs in the smaller towns around Kozienice.

Peasants used to come to Kozienice with their agricultural products, and the Jews would buy them up. The peasants would then buy shoes, boots, clothes, salt, candles, matches, and several metres of fabric from the Jews, and drink the rest of their money away in Jewish taverns.

[Page 228]

Although Jews numbered only fifty or sixty percent of the population of Kozienice, they comprised eighty to ninety percent of that town's wood, iron, brick, paint, garment, egg, fowl, fish, orchard, cattle, and horse dealers.

True, the Polish priests and estate–holders formed cooperatives in order to wrest the commerce from Jewish hands, but they were not successful. The peasant and urban worker had no faith in the pans and their clerks, before whom they were obliged to take off their hats and even to bow down.

The peasant felt more comfortable with the Jewish shopkeeper; he could buy more cheaply and was able to haggle. Deals were concluded with a handshake. In winter, he would warm himself by the oven and drink a glass of tea.

Kozienice also had a credit union run by Jews and Christians which supported the Jewish artisans and shopkeepers with low–interest loans. Shalom Mintzberg's son, Yoine, also ran a private bank which discounted checks.

It is important to mention that the Smolensk regiment, which was stationed in Kozienice until World War I, was also an important source of Jewish prosperity.

Nevertheless, the poverty was great. The majority of the common people lived in a section of Lublin Street: water–carriers, porters, messengers, carters, poor artisans, and plain Jews of every type who would go from house to house on Fridays – or even in the middle of the week – to beg for alms or a little bread for their ailing wives and children.

Thus did Jewish life appear before World War I.


[Page 229]

Only Ashes are Left of My Town

by Shmelke Spiegelman

(A prose translation)

Where are my father and mother, my sisters and brothers, and good little Shloimele? Where are you, all our children?

Where are you, good Jews of Kozienice, the beautiful, morally pure youth who worked and hoped for peace? Where are my near one's remains?

By the river bank in the valley, I see the moss–covered stones; many a time I have thought that the bones lie under them –

The bones of my nearest and dearest who were and are no more. I was not at their funeral, did not shed a tear.

Sometime from the mysterious wood, perhaps, from the muted green mountain, perhaps I will hear a voice, perhaps a sign will appear.

Or perhaps from the river in the valley, which noisily falls from the mountain, perhaps sometime it will tell how my town was turned into ashes.


[Page 230]

Jewish Livelihood in Kozienice

by Itche Blatman, Paris

The Jews of Kozienice engaged in all trades but agriculture.

The artisans employed no workers, but laboured by themselves from sun–up to sundown. Nearly all of them lived in one room in which they worked, ate, slept, and kept five or six children. Shoemakers, tailors, capmakers, tinsmiths, carpenters, and shopkeepers lived in such conditions.

There were two classes of merchants – small and smaller. No living could be made from trade because the competition was so great. People killed themselves to get a customer, and yet they married off their children and supported their sons–in–law for a year or two.

They all took their merchandise on credit. After each wedding, the large merchants went broke, while the smaller ones simply didn't pay, because they didn't have the money. After the years of support had run out, the sons–in–law became Hebrew teachers, or else their wives opened small shops, because the husbands knew no Polish.

 

My Melamdim Lived in One Room

There were many melamdim (Hebrew teachers). No matter how many I studied with, they all lived in one room in which they slept and cooked with fifteen or twenty students and three or four children of their own.

Although the mothers considered it a great mitzva to pay the melamed every week, all my melamdim went hungry. They were full only on shabbes, for their earnings sufficed only for shabbes. It was also a mitzva to eat on shabbes.

They were also butchers, peddlers, orchard keepers (sadovnikes), grain–dealers, and flour–dealers in town who had enough to eat because they dealt with the villagers. But their houses were cold and dark.

 

The Regiment Leaves Town

In Kozienice there was a regiment, that is, three to four thousand soldiers, from whom people made some money.

The regiment left Kozienice in 1911. The great fair, which had drawn peasants from the entire surrounding area, also fell apart. The whole town groaned; it was now impossible to support oneself. The elderly and religious began to emigrate to Belgium, England, and America, the young to France.

[Page 231]

A New Bunch of Sorrows

With the outbreak of the war in 1914, a new bunch of sorrows swept down onto the Jews of Kozienice. The authorities chased all the Jews from the town. They rode, they went by foot, without knowing where to, because such was the Czarist government's will.

Finally, the Austrians came into Kozienice, and with them prosperity. Men, women, and children became smugglers. They lugged packs on their backs, on their bellies, under aprons and capotes, and anywhere else they could. They had to guard themselves carefully from secret agents, Jewish and gentile alike. If you weren't caught the first or second time, you were caught the third time, and nothing was left of all your earnings.

Many became ill with T.B. from terror or physical exhaustion. The typhus which struck first visited the exhausted smugglers, many of whom died.

When Poland became independent, more troubles: “pure” Polish businesses, and propaganda were not to buy from Jews. The Jews of Kozienice groaned and hoped for better times.

 

Sheyne Yidn

There were Jews in Kozienice who were called sheyne yidn. They could learn well, had great pedigrees, and were greatly destitute. They had letters of pedigree, and went from town to town giving sermons and saying toyre, and made their living from this.

On Pesakh, they came home to their wives and children. Until then, the wives and children went hungry.

 

The Wealthy

There lived four great rich men in Kozienice, timber–merchants, the Justmans and the Mintzbergs. They conducted their lives in a fashion befitting their wealth. They engaged teachers and melamdim for their children; their wives and daughters went abroad to visit the baths. They went to the big cities to marry off their daughters, never to Kozienice.

They went their own way in Kozienice, and did not mix into community matters. In other towns, the rich would either raise or spend money for charitable, cultural or religious institutions, but in Kozienice the wealthy were no philanthropists.

 

Where Will the Money to Fix the Mikve Come From?

There was a mikve in Kozienice said to be several hundred years old, dating from the time of the Maggid. It had been closed down by the government several times because it was on the verge of collapsing from age. The community, however, had no money to build a new one. It always happened that, before his death, the rich man would go to Radom, and Kozienice would be stuck with the old mikve.

[Page 232]

The Fenceless Cemetery

The cemetery in Kozienice was not fenced in. All sorts of unclean creatures naturally hung around it, because it was completely open.

The community never had the money to build a fence. They always counted on one thing: when the rich man died, the khevra–kaddisha would get money for a fence from his heirs.

All four rich men had already left town prior to my departure from Kozienice and the cemetery remained unfenced.

 

Two Jews Import a Little Culture

Two Jews opened a crack to allow a little light to shine onto Jewish life in Kozienice. These two Jews began to import a little culture and some enlightenment.

A change in the spiritual life of the town began to be noticed. We have no documents bearing witness to the appearance of Jewish life in Kozienice one or two hundred years ago. Therefore, I begin at 1900 with what I myself have seen and heard.

 

A Hasidic Life

The Jews of Kozienice lived a hasidic life. There were three rebbi'im and three rabonim in town. Hasidim came from nearly all of Poland. Jews from Kozienice also traveled to other rebbi'im. Religious Jews founded Psalm–societies and Mishna–societies, and had teachers who learned with them every shabbes.

The bes–medresh was always full of boys learning. The entire spiritual life consisted of learning Torah, khasidus, and piety. No spark of enlightenment was to be discerned.

People sang and danced on Purim and Simkhas–Toyre. It was all very cozy, even though their poverty was great; yet they lived in the hope of better days.

*

It was 1909 or 1910. Jews used to come over to chat with my father, drink a glass of tea, and tell of boys in the bes–medresh who were reading the heretical Peretz.

At the same time, the rebbe married one of his daughters to the son of a rebbe from Galicia. It was said that the son–in–law also read such books ... The conclusion was that he was forced to divorce the rebbe's daughter.

About fifteen bokhurim left the bes–medresh at this time. Some went to the big cities, others became professionals. Eliezer the White became a poet, a writer; others got married and looked for a livelihood.

I recall several bokhurim: Eliezer the White, Khaim Berman, Yissokhor Lederman, Yankel–Eliezer Isaacs, Shayele Herschel Kokhniks.

[Page 233]

Itche Krishpel Founds a Library

Maskilim gradually began to appear openly in town. Something in the Jewish life of Kozienice had changed.

The first two heralds of spiritual change were Yankel Zeigermacher and Itche (Nashelski) Krishpel. Itche was a dear person with heart and soul and a great deal of culture. The first, clandestinely–read secular books in Kozienice came from Itche Nashelski. He had a small, secret library. The bes–medresh boys who secretly read secular books got them from Itche Nashelski. He later had an “above–ground” library. Many boys and girls began to read his books. Thus was the first library established in Kozienice.

 

Discussions at Yankel Ring's

The second person who helped with the enlightenment was Yankel Zeigermacher Ring. He was also a dear person, steeped in Jewish lore and widely read in Yiddish literature. He was a maskil, very emancipated according to the standards of Kozienice at the time.

Elder and younger maskilim used to come to his shop to discuss literature, philosophy, the theatre, and politics. Yankel Ring later set up lectures about Peretz, Shalom Asch, and others.

 

The Youth Yearns for Culture

So far as I remember, Jewish life in Kozienice began to change thanks to these two dear persons. The youth formed a self–education circle.

As we know, ninety percent of the Jews in Kozienice knew no Polish. There was a school in which Russian and a bit of Polish were taught, but no Jewish children attended it because the students were not allowed to wear caps.

I recall several girls who attended this school. They were daughters of the three rich men and of older maskilim.

I remember a teacher who taught Russian and Yiddish. He did not make a living from it, and he left Kozienice.

There was also a teacher called Tabachnik who ran a kheder where he taught writing and davening. He was also very poor, because he had no students.

At this same time, many boys went to Warsaw to work or learn a trade. They used to come home for Pesakh, bringing books and newspapers from the big cities, and would discuss literature and the theatre. A youth apart from the bes–medresh bokhurim was beginning to appear.

[Page 234]

The war broke out in 1914, bringing great troubles in its wake. Things were even worse in the big cities, and many, whose parents were still there, returned to their shtetlekh. They also brought something of the big city with them.

 

The First Steps of the Bund and Folkspartei

Parties were organized in Kozienice. Jonas Weinberg organized the first one, the Bund, which developed very nicely and attracted artisans and workers from the shoe–trade.

The second party was the Folkspartei, led by Kahim Berman and Yissokhor Lederman. This party, too, developed very nicely. It had a club in which members, especially Yankel Zeigermacher, often gave lectures. Yiddish writers would also lecture on occasion.

A drama group, which successfully put on plays by Shalom Aleichem, Ansky, and others, was formed.

 

The Zionist Organization

After the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the Zionist organization along with its women's organizations and children's groups, was formed. Every party had a children's group. The leader of the Zionists was a certain Erlich. He came from Warsaw, but was the son of wealthy Kozienicer timber merchants.

To write the history of the Zionist movement in our town would be very difficult. Nevertheless, I consider it an act of homage to mention those who helped disseminate the idea of political Zionism in Kozienice even before the First World War.

 

Forbidden by the Czarist Authorities

They, of course, had no organization, and, for various reasons, could have none. Firstly, the Czarist authorities did not allow any Zionist activity. Second, religious, hasidic circles persecuted the Zionists severely. They considered them dangerous heretics who did not believe in the Messiah and were leading the youth astray from the true path of Judaism.

Still, the Zionists secretly disseminated Zionist appeals among bes–medresh bokhurim, and read Ha–Tzefira and secular Hebrew books.

After the shabbes meal on Friday night, they would conduct discussions of the Zionist congresses and their leaders, sing Hebrew and Yiddish songs, collect for Keren Kayemet, sell membership certificates, and empty Eretz–Yisroel pushkes at home.

[Page 235]

The Active Zionists

This lasted until World War I. We will respectfully mention the names of the active Zionists: Re wen Lichtenstein, Shloime–Zalman Grabler, Mottel Potasznik, Ya'akov–Loser Weintraub, Itche Krishpel, Yitzkhok Milgroym, Shmelke Bornstein, Yitzkhok–Meir Silverstein, Avrum Rosenberg, Zelig Shabbason, and Moishe Avenshtern.

After their fifth year, young bes–medreshniks joined them: Yisroel Honikstock, Khaim Berman, Loser Weifer, Yissaskhor Lederman, Shmuel Karpman, Hillel Luxemburg, Avrum–Yankel Freilich, Shmuel Hirschenhorn, Notte Lipmann, Yankel Papieroshnik, and Yankel Ring, who came to Kozienice at that time.

This is the group which established the library at Yitzkhok Krishpel's.

After World War I, several events which made a great impression transpired in the town.

 

The Rebbe's Children Go to Israel

Rebbe Yerakhmiel – Moishele's daughters – Khanele, Malkele, Khavele – and their brother Yisroel–Loser departed for Israel with their families immediately after the Balfour Declaration.

Several merchants and artisans went with them. They bought large tracts of land and helped found the Kfar Hasidim colony. A portion of them returned and left their land ownerless, but the rebbe's children remained in Israel, lived through the holocaust there, and lived to see the Jewish redemption.

After the holocaust, several families who had survived returned to Israel and settled on their land.

And now, a few words about the Zionist organization in Kozienice.

 

A Society With its Own Hall

After the First World War, a Zionist organization with its own hall was formed, led by elder and younger Zionists: Yisroel Honikstock, Shmuel Karpman, Pinkhas Freilikh, Avrum–Yankel Freilikh, Zelig Shabbason, Y. Zeman, Kuropatwa, Yekhiel Salzberg, and others. They conducted Zionist cultural work among merchants and youth.

From time to time, they brought in great figures in the Zionist movement. They conducted a heavy propaganda drive for emigration to Israel, and thanks to them, several families did indeed emigrate.

They also elected representatives to the city council and kehilla. In civic matters, they were always hand–in–glove with the Folkspartei and tradesmen.

[Page 236]

A Cultural Development Appeared

Party lecturers and writers often came to Kozienice to lecture. In this way, a cultural development became noticeable.

When Poland became independent, a gymnasium (Hi School) with about forty Jewish boys and girls as its students was opened.

When I left my hometown in 1921, Kozienice had changed. A cultured, progressive youth which used Polish and enjoyed a secular education had developed.

 

The Change in Community Life

As we know, community life was run by overseers who were appointed, not elected. At the time of the Polish regime, the government demanded that a leadership be elected for the Jewish community.

The elections used to take place in the bes–medresh. There were two blocs: The “progressives” encompassed the Zionists, Folkists, and Bundists, and was led by Khaim Berman and the lame Berish Kronengold. The second bloc consisted of all the religious Jews, headed up by the rabbis.

The elections were held in the following manner: the religious stood on the eastern side, the “progressives” to the west of the oven, and representatives of the government counted them. The struggle was grim; the “progressives” won by a great majority.

The first change in community life in Kozienice took place then. The kehilla became more democratic up until such time as the Nazis destroyed everyone, religious and progressive alike.

 

The Shtarke Get Even With The Farmhands

There was a palace in Kozienice called Per Hoyf (the court) in which the nobleman Larski lived. The scenery behind the palace was gorgeous: green lawns, long fields of rye, beautiful lanes, and a narrow river meandering round and round. It was pleasant and enchanting, a veritable Garden of Eden.

When our parents used to lie down and relax on shabbes afternoons, we youth would sit out behind the palace in order to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Boys and girls would stroll, sing, discuss, and make love in poetic fashion.

The administrator of the palace didn't like this, and he used to send out the farmhands, who would beat up the Jewish girls and boys.

There was a group of Jewish workers in Kozienice called Di Shtarke (The Tough Guys). One shabbes afternoon, they went out behind the palace to teach the farmworkers a lesson. As soon as they showed themselves and began to interrupt the promenade, the Shtarke got even with them, as they well knew how.

[Page 237]

The Shtarke were no scholars, they did not sit and study day and night, but Jewish honour was dear to them. From that shabbes forth, the farmworkers never showed themselves again.

This is how we lived until the bestial Nazis tragically killed the Shtarke, as well as the romantic souls of the boys and girls of Kozienice.

 

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