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[Pages 84-86]

The Jewish Social Life In Lodz

Y. Rafski

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Until the time when Hitler brought havoc and destruction upon the world and especially upon the Jews, the Jewish social life in Lodz was developed and advanced, and it can be said that all types of social institutions and associations were represented and well organized. Beginning from the community, through the various parties, societies, organizations, cultural institutions, economic institutions, charity societies and social groups, all were well structured and managed. Every institution had its own devoted leaders, active members and a large circle of helpers, so that work would be carried out systematically and efficiently. They had archives, they kept records of the meetings and the regular daily work, and some even issued periodical newsletters that described their activity.

All this came to an end with the German invasion – especially when the Jews were driven out of their homes to the Lodz ghetto – and the developments following this dramatic event.

A book titled The Social Life in Lodz, edited by M. Frankenthal, was published in Lodz in 1938. The book was sent from Lodz to our friend Francis Jocelyn by her father, soon before the outbreak of the war. We are attempting here to reveal at least some of the richness of the Lodz social life described in the book – a life that had flourished and was lost. Unfortunately, the information and data in the book reach only the year 1932.

 

The Community

By the decree of Alexander I in January 1822, the temporary communities were dissolved and replaced by “Synagogue Districts” (Dozory Bożnicze), which functioned normally until the First World War.

The first elections to the Lodz community took place in July 1924. Out of 34,794 eligible voters only 16,975 actually voted. The members elected to the Community Council were: Shlomo Bodzinger, president; Asher Israel Mendelsohn, vice-president. The members of the administrative body were Dr. Jerzhi Rosenblat, president and Leizer Henech Berger vice-president.

Later the community was dissolved again and new elections took place on 14 February 1928. In 1931 the government canceled the community council and a few years later they had new elections.

 

Parties

As in the other Jewish towns and cities, the Jewish population in Lodz was divided by parties. All parties were represented, each party independently organized: the Zionist organization, the Mizrahi, the right-wing and left-wing Po'alei Zion, the New Zionist party, the Bund, the Aguda and its ramifications, and the Volkists.

Lodz had a large Jewish school system: hadarim [plural of heder = Torah school for small children], Talmud-Torah [religious school] small Yeshivot, Batei Midrash [schools for religious study], Jewish public schools and high-schools, Tahkemoni and Bet Yaakov schools, child care homes and orphanages.

 

Culture

Lodz published two Jewish daily newspapers: Lodzer Tageblat and Folksblat (the latter appeared until the war) as well as several weekly and monthly periodicals. The various organizations published newsletters or periodicals. Jewish publishing houses regularly published books in Yiddish and Hebrew, sometimes also in Polish, on Jewish subjects and problems. At any time there were one or two Jewish theater groups, the “Hazamir” [the nightingale] and “Culture League”, libraries, sport organizations and a subdivision of YIVO.

 

Economy

We had in Lodz several manufacturing and merchants' associations, a number of Jewish workers' unions, retail merchants' union and an association of Jewish craftsmen.

 

Social Life

The Jewish community maintained several aid and charity organizations: “Bikur Holim” [visiting the sick], “Linat Holim” and “Linat Tzedek” [sleeping facilities for the sick and the needy], “Mahzikei Holim” [supporting the sick], ORT, “Bread Giving” society, “Clothing the Needy” society, several Homes for the Aged, a “Women's Protection Association,” the special “Lodz Jewish Society for the Protection of Orphans,” an orphanage, several Talmud Torah schools (Rav Meisel's Talmud Torah, the Shomrei Hadat Talmud Torah, the Talmud Torah Society), the “Society for the Dissemination of Education and Technical Knowledge among the Jews of Lodz”, “Mahzikei Hadat” [Supporters of the religion], “The Jewish Geographic Society of Poland,” “Friends of the Jewish Scientific Institution,” “Friends of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.”

Jewish Lodz had its representatives in the local government as well (the City Council and the Judicial Offices) and in the State ruling institutions (the Sejm and the Senate).

The Jewish population of Lodz, second in size in Poland, revealed along the years a high spirit and an enormous creativity. In normal circumstances, under the rule of a government without anti-Semitic tendencies, this spirit would have been a blessing not only for the Jewish section of the population, but for the general Polish population as well. However, even under the abnormal conditions in Poland, the Lodz Jews demonstrated a great power of endurance and perseverance, and a determination to sustain the community institutions with their own inadequate material means. From time to time the community would receive some help from abroad, including from our own “United Lodz Rescue Committee.”

In spite of the very difficult fight for survival, The Lodz Jewry lived a creative life, until the day when Hitler attacked Poland with all its might and Hitlerism swallowed Lodz as well. All that the Jewish spirit, energy, work and money had created during more than 100 years was totally destroyed, not the slightest remnant was left…

Now, after the war, the economic life of individual Jews could, perhaps, be restored with the help of Polish or international funds; however, the burden of renewing the Jewish social life in Lodz depends on the Lodz Jews scattered around the world, especially on the organized Lodz Jews in America.


[Pages 87-91]

Yiddish Theater in Lodz

Miriam Zilberzweig

Translated by Pamela Russ

For a period of many years, a great injustice took place in terms of the Jews in Lodz. That does not mean, naturally, for the individual Jew in Lodz who was considered an interesting creation of a person, but this referred to the general Jewish population. It was held that the thinking of the Lodz Jews was totally absorbed in business and contacts of the most distant, remote places, that his brain was drowning in trading with merchants with the most outlandish names to whom the Lodz Jews sent their merchandise that was produced under huge chimneys that every now and then, and for a long period of time wheezed their smoky breath, or that would be given into the hands of the nearby starved hand weavers where great lack ruled with strength as if it had chosen to establish dominion there for all time.

One was able to see that Jewish Lodz was a bubbling, multicolored society, with all shades of social activities: socio-political parties from the far right to the extreme left with all types of cultural societies; and this scope is not one of imitation, but is the natural largesse and worldliness [of the place].

These seemingly always busy Lodz Jews produced and spread many political activists and leaders around the world, an unimaginably large number of writers, poets, journalists, artists, sculptors, musicians, and actors.

My goal here is, in a defined space, to present at least a few famous historical facts about the important cultural venue - Yiddish theater in Lodz.

Even though Warsaw started earlier with Yiddish theater, and in the time that Warsaw had established Yiddish theater Lodz had from time to time only several performances, nonetheless, Lodz was the only city on Poland, and in Eastern Europe in general, that evolved into a more modern and literary theater than Warsaw, that was the capital of Poland and that had the largest Jewish population from all Jewish settlements in Poland.

Without a doubt, it is true that the three cultures (German, Polish, and Russian) that ruled over Lodz, and each of which tried to rule the population, had no small influence over the character of the Yiddish theater. But this was only the second part of the influence. Because if these foreign cultures would be the main factors that changed the levels of Yiddish theater in Lodz, then the same evolutionary process would have taken place in other cities in Poland that were - if not so entrenched in the German as Lodz - were nonetheless governed by Polish and Russian culture.

When one leafs a little more through the history of the Jews in Lodz, it is easy to discover that the main source of the development of upgraded Yiddish theater …

[Page 88]

… in Lodz lies in the rise of the industrialized textile industry, where local Jewish workers were drawn into large factories where there were German and Polish workers as well, and together they undertook to fill their energies with the struggle against their economic situation. In these factories, and later in the professional unions, the Jewish workers became accustomed to, and slowly understood the languages of the non-Jewish workers.

A similar process came to pass with the employees, who in Lodz were called the “prikashtchikes” (foremen or bosses), which was mainly comprised of youth that had just left the Beis Medrash, where their instruction of Russian grammar and reading Polish and German books was received under the religious books on the benches in the Beis Medrash. As they worked in the factories or stores, they already were more independent, and they began to frequent the German, Russian, and Polish theaters. Most of all, they attended German theaters because, naturally, this language was easier for them to understand. And because the German theater used a great number of German workers with their engineers, technicians, master weavers and workers, they always had a large, talented troupe that was from time to time bestowed with significant gastronomical delights from Germany, and they performed the largest and most important part of the European repertoire in drama and in operetta. This had a great influence on the Jewish spectators.

Jewish employees and general workers, who made a great effort to attend the German theater, along with other intellectual Jews of Lodz who occasionally sneaked into the German theater, were no longer satisfied with the state of Yiddish theater. They felt that even in Yiddish the repertoire could be improved. It was this very feeling that was the catalyst for the group lovers to adopt drama societies called “dramatic arts groups,” “Harpe” (a society for culture and education), and others, that struggled for the elevation in status of Yiddish theater.

The Yiddish theater director Yitzkhok Zandberg, who himself was from the broad intellectual masses, felt that the audiences in Lodz aside from the workers and employees, had surpassed the interest in the stereotypical Yiddish theater repertoire, and that motivated him to give them pieces of Asch (a Polish, Jewish American novelist), Hirshbein (playwright), and also to allow performances of European repertoires, and even European operettas. In this way, later on Julius Adler and Herman Sierocki took the same venue in their Scala Theater just at the beginning of World War One, and also during the war, and afterwards as well. With great breadth, they gave European operettas priority over the poor, original Yiddish operettas, and enriched their dramatic performances with an entire line of classical and modern European pieces.

In the 1920s, Lodz was also the first to adopt a modern Yiddish small drama theater, and later, also the first to adopt a marionette theater.

At the request of the playwrights, Lodz memorialized the Hebrew-Yiddish author Yitzkhok Katzenelson with a selection of original one act plays and pieces, which were …

[Page 89]

… first performed in Lodz. Moishe Broderson, who was the father of the performing arts theater for which he collected dozens of scripts and one-act plays, and the translated operetta “Bajadera”; the writer Hershele, that translated the operetta “The Rose of Stambul”; M.I. Platt with several historical pieces; Sh. Barber with the melodrama “The Revenge of a Woman”; Kh. Kramer with his drama “The Jewish Tragedy”; Zalman Zilberzweig with his dozens of translations from the European repertoire and a few dozen one-act plays that comprised the repertoire for groups of Yiddish lovers across Poland. Volf Zilberberg with several translations; Julius Adler with several translations and other works; Lazer Kahan with a few translations; and I. Uger and Zwi Kohn with several dramatizations. Also, several pieces by Kh.I. Brzhostowski, Yisroel Adler, Volf Gelbart, I.L. Boimwohl were published but not performed.

Lodz also contributed greatly to Yiddish theater music. Other than the fact that the famous Yiddish theater composer Yosef Kumshinski actually began his stage career later on in Lodz as the first director of the Lodz Hazamir (performing and cultural center), Lodz also produced the theater composer Henokh Kohn (who later rescued himself and left to America), Dovid Beigelman, and L. Zelman, and the theater's artist Yitzkhok Broyner.

Lodz brought forth many Jewish actors who became popular around the world. Of those, two became very famous in America where they eventually died: Samuel Torenberg and Max Rosental. In Lodz, there was the grave of the world renowned Jewish performer Zigmund Fineman who died in Lodz during the time of his stardom.

Lodz also played an important role in the history of Hebrew theater. Here was the first evidence of being able to attract professional Jewish actors to the Hebrew stage. From here the first Hebrew troupe was organized, and they travelled as far as Vienna to the Zionist Congress and later did a whole tour across the entire Russia. Lodz also helped found two institutions to help establish the Hebrew theater in Israel: Oksenberg and Ben-Yamini.

In Lodz, through Z. Zilberzweig and Lazar Kahan a Yiddish theater journal was published, and in Lodz, during the First World War, the first Yiddish professional artists' union in Poland was established.

In Lodz the initial plans and first steps were taken to compile the monumental work about the Yiddish theater, “Der Lexikon Von Yiddishen Theater,” The Lexicon of the Yiddish Theater.

Hitlerism, that destroyed the lifeblood of the entire existence of Jewish life, naturally upset the living pulse of Yiddish theater in Lodz. Certainly, many Jewish performers and theater people died, but even the Hitler animal could not wipe out the beautiful pages that Lodz wrote into the general history of Yiddish theater, and we are filled with hope that when new Jewish life will begin in liberated Lodz, Yiddish theater will take its place once again - with distinctly greater heights.


[Page 90]

On the Destruction of Lodz

Regina Feldan
Reporting-Secretary for the United Emergency Relief Committee for the City of Lodz

Translated by Pamela Russ

It will be very difficult for the contemporary historian to make the future generations believe that in the twentieth century Jewish suffering took on such a frightful enormity, because such horrors have never before occurred in Jewish history.

The destruction that was brought onto the Polish Jewish residents is frightening. Those Jews were the first to be under Hitler's bloody, barbaric rule. Jewish life was crushed under Nazi boots, and our beloved home town of Lodz was the first to be crowned with the treif (unkosher) name “Litzmannstadt” (after the German general Karl Litzmann who captured the city during World War I).

In a beastly fashion, the Nazis exterminated and uprooted all the beauty of our city of birth, brought death and devastation to our sisters and brothers, locked up thousands in prisons and in concentration camps, punished thousands to death, tens of thousands died from hunger and disease, divided families and ripped children away from their parents. Their cries of pain reached all the heavens. The echoes of this suffering found their first resonance in the “United Emergency Relief Committee.”

For the last four years, as secretary of the United Emergency Relief Committee, I am inhaling every cry of pain from our persecuted sisters and brothers. Each report, written in anguish, makes me a part of them - the tormented ones.

Of course, it gives me great satisfaction to give my time and energy to this organization that has made part of her goal to bring some comfort to the tortured Jews from Lodz.

When the bells of freedom will toll, and the gates of our home town will open, we, the “Relief,” along with our work, will try to ease the new lives of the survivors. We will extend our plans for the emergency relief to a great extent. We will devote our energies to building a new Jewish life on top of the bloodied destruction of our martyred city of Lodz.

When the idea of publishing a Yizkor book came about, none of us could imagine how much time, energy and sacrifice this would cost, particularly when there were stones and thorns thrown on the road to this achievement.

[Page 91]

The spirit of the undertaking of the United Emergency Relief Committee, supported by deep feelings and a strong will to help our sisters and brothers and by a profound connection to the home town, was strong enough to help us achieve our desired goal. The format of the book should be a symbol for other similar organizations, and with this, should break the tradition of publishing stereotypical jubilee and event journals, and this should serve as an example that one can place an undertaking of this sort on a high level, and reach the goal of raising money for help through a spiritual and cultural manner, as well as have an eternal memory of the home town.

It is a great honor that I have had the privilege of contributing my designated part of this published work, the Yizkor Book.

Hopefully, this book will be an important enlightenment on the Jewish ways, and will certainly paint the pictures for the Jews of Lodz all around the world who have never seen their home town.

 

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