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Personalities and Community Workers

 

Henach Flakser (1878-1943)

 

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My father, Reb Henach Flakser, was brought to Ostrolenka as a young prodigy. After becoming the son-in-law of Efraim and Frejdele Goldbruch, they supported him permanently in their home. He had rabbinical ordination and was supposed to be the rabbi of the town of Kol, in the Kalisz region.

He organized the first loan and savings fund in Ostrolenka, which helped many storekeepers and tradesmen when the Poles imposed a boycott on Jewish businesses during World War I. He even organized a group of Jewish firefighters when the suspicion arose that the Poles not only refused to save Jewish property, but that they themselves were the arsonists.

My father was elected as an “elector” to the Duma, the Russian Parliament. The voters in the shtetlach assembled in Lomza, the district city, to elect their representative to Parliament. His election was a great victory for the Jewish population, because the anti-Semite, Dr. Psarski, ran against him.

All this extensive activity did not prevent Henach Flakser from learning Torah every morning with a group of young men from the city's elite. Among them was also Yisroel Shtern, who became a famous poet.

The destruction and expulsion during World War I brought him to the town of Chorol, in the Poltawa district, where Rabbi Mosze Nachum Jeruzalimski lived. The latter was the rabbi who had ordained him, and who served earlier in Ostrolenka and later as the Rabbi of Kielc. When the war ended, he [Flakser] settled in Warsaw, from where he was sent to Treblinka, with all the Jews, by Hitler's emissaries.

Menachem Flakser


Mendel Bialy

 

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Outside the city, on the way to the village of Lenczysk, sprawled a large plot enclosed by a fence, which belonged to Mendel Bialy. Here stood his sawmill, which supplied boards to all the Gentiles in the area. He also sold wood to Jewish merchants in our city and in towns in the area. At the entrance to his yard lay thick logs, the age of which only real professionals knew. When it seemed as if they would lie there forever, they were suddenly loaded on carts that took them by a track straight into the sharp teeth of the saws. In a short time, the logs became long, straight boards. Piles of boards, newly sawn, sorted and arranged lay in the yard, ready to be transferred to the train, loaded on rail cars and sent to different places, to merchants who had ordered them.

The house of the owner, Mendel Bialy, stood among the piles of boards. In contrast to the sawmill's noises and sounds, which could be heard from afar, rare

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quiet and serenity prevailed in the house, as was proper in one of the most beautiful homes in Poland before the war. The Bialy family was one of Lomza's most respected families.

Motel Bialy from Lomza, also a sawmill owner, was a member of the wealthy echelon, a Bund adherent and supported the organization with advice and deeds. His brother, Mendel Bialy, who owned the sawmill in Ostrolenka, was an ardent Zionist and actively participated in work for the Land of Israel funds. He was Chairman of the city's Keren HaYesod committee. All meetings concerning the distribution of monies, in which representatives of the Center in Warsaw participated, were held in his home. The host influenced those gathered by his refined and modest behavior. Everyone tried to refrain from unnecessary comments and to suit himself to the host's character. He espoused the motto “It is not the talk that counts, but the deed”. All Keren HaYesod documents and correspondence were administered by him in an exemplary way, with no less attention than his private business. He was gladdened by every success. Due to his unstable health, he was unable to participate personally in the collection of monies, but he took care that no wealthy person was missing from among the donors.

Because of his poor health, Mendel Bialy was not involved in community matters in the city, except for his Keren HaYesod activity. Indeed, his gentle character was unsuited to participation in matters that often required vigorous struggles and demonstrations of stubbornness and audacity. The entire city's population, Jews and Christians alike, treated him with honor and respect. He was a generous philanthropist. At every fundraising campaign, even for non-Zionist purposes, he contributed the highest amount. He received fundraisers warmly and gave them his donation with a smile. They left his home proud and encouraged.

Alas for those who were lost, and will not be forgotten!

Chaim Drezner

* * *

He was from Lomza, from a distinguished family. His family lived outside the city, among the Christian population, and was greatly respected by the latter. He was not a “Ma Yafit” Jew and did not like flattery, God forbid. He was a proud nationalist Jew. His was, I think, the only house in which a map of the Land of Israel was hung on the wall. For years, a teacher came to his house and taught Hebrew to his children. Mendel Bialy was a Zionist in his heart and soul, and worked on behalf of Israel and the funds. His personality may be summed up as one of “gentle ways”.

Moshe Kamin, Netanya

* * *

As already mentioned, he was an affable man. A quiet man, gentle and refined in his treatment of everyone around him, with humane sensitivity toward opponents as well.

While Mendel Bialy was modest, he changed completely where any Zionist matter connected to the Land of Israel was concerned. He was a zealous Zionist, uncompromising, as if the love of Zionism and the Land of Israel were the sole foundations of his existence. In his eyes, anything without affinity to Israel was not “glatt kosher”.

The story of the etrog [citron], which I will never forget, proves his love of everything connected with the Zionism rooted in his heart, and his yearning for the Jewish State. Mendel Bialy heard that the etrog we bought to use for the blessing in the synagogue on the first day of the Succot holiday was not from Israel. (There was also an etrog from Israel that was sold at a very high price.) He took a pocket knife out of his pocket and, in our presence, cut the etrog into four parts. Then he said, “Here you are. Now, each of you can make a blessing on your own part …”

As a Mizrachi activist, I once met with him regarding the Zionist funds. I can testify that he was one of the most refined and gentle figures in our city, devoted to Zionism.

David Kaspi (Sarniewicz)


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Mosze Aron Kaczor

 

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He was born in Ostrow-Mazowiecki in 1870. In his youth, he studied at the yeshiva in Ostrow. Later, he married Rejzel, the daughter of Welwel Benedon of Ostrolenka. When he came to Ostrolenka, he worked with his father-in-law in the wood trade and was active in the Mizrachi movement. In time, he became involved in municipal matters, primarily, committees for the welfare of the general population.

At the time of the German occupation during World War I, he was appointed mayor by the German regime. In 1918, the government passed into the hands of the Poles. Although they persecuted those who cooperated with the Germans, they permitted my father to continue in his role as mayor. During that period, anti-Semitism was rampant in Poland. Pogroms against the Jews were daily affairs. Certain anti-Semitic leaders, who knew about my father's good deeds on behalf of the Polish population, saved him from serious danger and harm during the pogroms. From this, one can understand how great my father's influence was in general municipal matters.

My father served as mayor until 1922.[1] The Poles then suggested that he continue as deputy mayor. In time, he also became very active as head of the Jewish community, and helped rehabilitate Jewish organizations that did not function during the war.

My father, of blessed memory, devoted much of his time to Zionist activity in various funds and committees. He was also one of the organizers of the soup kitchen, which distributed free meals to Ostrolenka's poor families. Later, my father was a member of a delegation to the governor in Warsaw, together with the Jewish leaders Icchak Greenbojm, Rotensztreich and others, regarding urgent matters that concerned the Jewish population.

It is appropriate to mention the following incident: when my father was appointed mayor during the German occupation, he received a congratulatory letter from Fon-Papen, the Interior Minister at the time. The latter expressed his readiness to protect him at any time, and recommended that he contact him in the event of any trouble or danger. During World War II, when the Nazi murderers rampaged in our city, my father did not want to exploit this favoritism, and said, “I am going with all the Jews!”

My father was killed in the Vilna Ghetto, together with his wife, Rejzel, their sons Lejbel and Azik, and their families.

May God avenge their blood.

May their memories be blessed.

His son, Shlomo Kaczor, Haifa

Footnote

  1. According to Polish sources, the city council chose the Pole, Wladyslawa Banacza, as mayor of Ostrolenka in 1919. Return

 


Chaim Pinczas Gingold

One of the most interesting and respected figures in Ostrolenka. A learned man, among the intelligent Gur Chassidim and, in addition, a noted community worker, a gabbai of the synagogue, a member of the city council and, later, Chairman of the Jewish community. Reb Chaim Pinczas was an honest man who did not know what flattery was. He was unwilling to accept anything unjust. On the other hand, as to things that were right and true, he zealously protected them with all his Chassidic soul, and was proud of being Jewish.

During that period, the Halerczy attacked Jews in the streets and cut off their beards. Once, an anti- Semitic bully attacked him. He did not surrender, but grabbed a brick, ready to throw it at the bully's head. The Gentile froze in his place, mouth agape. Thus he saved his beard and his Jewish honor.

Once, the question arose of accepting two new ritual slaughterers in the city. (Cywiak and Meirel, who wanted to become slaughterers when they did not succeed in business.) Chaim Pinczas, as head of the community, strongly opposed this. He saw this as

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injurious to the incumbent slaughterers, because the community could not promise a livelihood to more than three slaughterers. The dispute became worse, sides for and against were created, and an intransigent struggle was carried on using kosher and not-so-kosher means… The shtebl of the Gur Chassidim divided into two camps. Reb Chaim Pinczas, who led those opposed, won the struggle. The two new slaughterers were not officially accepted; however, those who favored them enjoyed their services “on the quiet” and used their meat. (It is said that later on, the community accepted Cywiak as an official municipal slaughter.) Since then, however, there was no “domestic peace” in the Gur Chassidim shtebl, even after the Rabbi of Gur, in person, became involved in the matter and stopped the war between the sides.

His wife, Judyt, was among the righteous women and excelled in good deeds. She was the daughter of Meir Chassid Kajmowicz from Lomza, one of the Sokolow Chassidim and a great lamdan. While she did not always agree with her husband's position on public matters, she was of the opinion that his work for the general good was not sufficiently appreciated in the city. She cooperated with him in particular when he collected money for giving charity secretly to the suffering and the needy, and for the lending bank, with a weekly payment of one zloty.

After World War I, when his glass factory was burned with all the other buildings in the city, he opened a sewing notions store where his wife, Judyt, ruled. The store was in the building he owned in the old market square.

Reb Chaim Pinczas was very active in the operation of the American soup kitchen during the German occupation. Together with Lejbel Korman (Trocky), he participated in supervising the construction of the municipal mikveh and was also a member of the committee which administered the municipal loan fund.

Reb Chaim Pinczas Gingold was born in Opocznie, near Lomza, and lived all his life in Ostrolenka. He passed away in 1938, a year before World War II broke out. His sons and daughters, Chanoch, Lazer, Herszel, Lejbel, Chaja Gingold and Tanja Cuker, live in Australia today. May his memory be blessed.

Y. I.


Lejbel Barszcz

 

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He was from Makow-Mazowiecki. He married an Ostrolenkan and became an inhabitant of our city. After a number of years, he was elected head of the community. In the beginning, people were skeptical: so young and relatively new in our city, and already elected Chairman?! But all these questions were answered when Lejbel began running the community. He took his position seriously and filled it responsibly. His principle was to work faithfully for the public's needs. He was supported by Agudat Yisrael. They hung their hopes on him as a future politician, because he was from the Gur Chassidim and had a sharp mind. He acquired the trust of all circles, however, because he knew how to treat people. He was punctilious about good manners and tried to prevent disagreements. Before I went to Australia, he talked with me more than once and consulted about his problems. He had a visa to Australia, but here, in Ostrolenka, “I dwell among my people”. And what would happen there concerning Sabbath observance and Jewish laws in general? No, he preferred to stay where he was. “What will happen to three million Jews – will also happen to me.”

He was killed in Molczat, where he ended up, together with many Ostrolenkan Jews, and shared the fate of not three, but six million Jews…

Yitzhak Kachan


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Icel Sojka

 

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In a sense, Icel Sojka was unusual among community workers. He was born in Ostrolenka to a Chassidic family, and married the sister of the famous Hebrew writer from Chorzel, Fiszel Lachower. After the wedding, he opened a fabric store, but his temperamental disposition of a community worker did not permit him to stand quietly in the store and measure meters of material. He brought material from Warsaw and his wife and, later, his children, worked in the store. Icel concerned himself with public matters, often until late into the night.

Although he had not studied in schools, he knew how to speak and write in Russian and Polish. Even later on, when he became Leszcz's partner in the big flour mill and in the large building at the corner of Lomza Street and the market, he was at the mill very little. Even in the bosom of the family, he did not have peace. Every day, embittered and needy people turned to him, airing their requests and complaints, some about excessive taxes, some about other matters. Icel Sojka was a member of the evaluation committee, and had great influence in this area. Icel and his wife were affable and never got angry that people were disturbing them and taking up their time.

Icel was a Worka Chassid, and among those who prayed morning prayers on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur in his shtebl. He loved Jewish tradition with his heart and soul. Every morning, he walked along with his big prayer shawl bag and was punctilious about communal prayer.

Although he did not belong to any party officially, he was a member of the city council for a long time, representing the entire Jewish public. The extreme leftists also supported him, because they knew that Sojka would honorably and honestly protect the interests of all Jews, without exception. He came to council meetings prepared, equipped with all necessary information, even if it concerned the general population's problems, and not only the Jews'. The Gentiles also liked to hear his wise opinions about the city's economic problems.

At a time when many Jews exchanged their long kapotas for modern suits, Sojka was not ashamed of his Jewish attire. He was modest and did not look for honors. He saw himself as one of the people. He went his own unique way, without irking or humiliating anyone. Although he never wanted to fit into a narrow party framework, because he favored building the Land of Israel, he supported this enterprise with all the means at his disposal. He was the most suitable representative in the city council of all Jews, and of the observant in particular. All echelons of the Jewish townspeople respected his behavior. Often, at meetings about the townspeople's concerns, when there were complaints about the lack of protection of Jewish municipal concerns at the city council, it was Icel Sojka, in a quiet and logical way, who proved that it could not be otherwise – and thus the complaints were closed. In the eyes of all, he was suitable and important as their city council representative.

Icel Sojka shared the fate of all Ostrolenka's Jews, at the time of the extermination of the Jewish population in Slonim.

May his memory be blessed.

Chaim Drezner


Zalman Chanoch Gorzelczany

 

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When we describe Zionist activities in Ostrolenka, and those involved in them, Zalman Chanoch Gorzelczany has a place of honor at the eastern wall. Even if it hurt his livelihood, if a matter concerned the Land of Israel, nothing was dearer to him.

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He was principal of the Yavneh School, where children whose parents were anti-Zionist also studied. He was often warned that, as principal, it was best not to emphasize his viewpoint. To this he replied, “I will not object if you limit me in anything else, but for Israel and Zionism, I am ready to lose my livelihood. No one will hinder me from my activities!”

At his public appearances, he fulfilled the phrase “All my bones will praise …” He was glad of any good news from Israel and fully believed that the settlement of the Land of Israel was the beginning of the redemption. Although he did not know how and when it would happen, he aspired to realize his life's purpose – to settle in Israel.

Although he was extremely busy as principal of the Yavneh School, which had about one hundred pupils and where he taught many hours a day in different classes, he participated in all Zionist meetings as a Mizrachi representative, together with his good friend, Efraim Chmiel. If he suspected that an injustice was being done to the Mizrachi movement, he immediately made an emotional speech about protecting his movement, using all his rhetorical talent. All the city's Zionist factions, and the left among them, treated him reverently, because they knew that Israel and Zionism were part of his soul, his life. The Yavneh School, which he founded, was one of the most superb educational institutions of its kind.

The Mizrachi center in Warsaw often proposed that he join them and travel all over Poland to propagandize for the party. He refused, because he did not want to leave his city, even for a few days. Ostrolenka, with all its Zionist parties, was dear to his heart.

When the Nazis banished Ostrolenka's Jews, after much hesitation, he went to Slonim, where he had been a Hebrew teacher many years before. I heard that during that stormy period as well, he did not neglect education.

To this day, his later history is not known to me.

C. Drezner


Efraim Chmiel

When we describe the typical “types” of our city, Ostrolenka, such as workers devoted heart and soul to public affairs, we must mention Efraim Chmiel, may God avenge his blood, who held an important place in the gallery of honor of our city's personalities.

An uncommon prayer leader and Torah reader, he demonstrated his beautiful voice. He attended nearly every joyous occasion, and used to sing the well-known song, The Contrasts. I thought then that he, himself, was a person of contrasts. On the one hand, he took care of small children, whom he supported and educated, so that they would grow up well. This was the aspiration of his life. He was devoted heart and soul to his children's education. On the other hand, he always answered every call to meetings where matters of the needy Jewish population would be discussed. Meetings of this kind did not occur without Efraim Chmiel's productive presence and wise advice.

He was among the first to help and establish the cooperative bank in the city, which was later known as one of the most splendid Jewish financial institutions in Poland. Over the years, he served as the bank's Chairman. With great enthusiasm, he devoted himself to its development and saw the fruits of his labors. Hundreds of tradesmen and small merchants borrowed money from the bank and thus, survived, despite the difficult conditions prevalent in towns at that time. He had a warm heart, which beat for the good of nationalistic Zionist goals.

Over the years, he represented the Mizrachi in all Zionist organizations, together with Zalman Gorzelczany. He participated in all Keren HaYesod and Keren HaKayemet fundraising campaigns, and for a long time he was the active Chairman of the Yavneh School Board. For all this, he was a humble and modest person. Therefore, at all community meetings, they fought for the election of Efraim Chmiel.

When someone came to him to ask for his help with a matter pending at some ministry, he did not have to stand on the doorstep and wait to be invited in. He was received immediately and made to feel welcome. Efraim heard his request and tried to resolve the matter as well as he could.

He was always happy and cheerful, as if he had no worries. He loved the Land of Israel with all his soul and, at every joyous occasion or social gathering, he sang Zionist and nationalist songs. With great joy, he saw some of his children emigrate to Israel, including Dr. Chaim Chamiel (Camiel). He educated his children in the traditional religious spirit. On Sabbaths and holidays, when he sat with his wife at the head of the table, he beamed with happiness. Around them were all the children, from the biggest to the smallest, and they sang zmirot [songs traditionally sung at Sabbath and

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Festival meals] and nationalist songs with their father.

He especially loved the Mizrachi environment, and aspired to fulfill the saying “Serve God with joy”. No Sabbath or even a vacation day passed without a meeting of Mizrachi members. These were respectable pastimes, with words of Torah and energetic Chassidic dancing until late into the night, mostly at Efraim's house. On Simchat Torah, he invited the entire community to his house for a communal kiddush [sanctifying the Sabbath or a holiday by reciting a blessing over wine], like a general leading his army. Later, there were traditional visits to the homes of almost every member, accompanied by Chassidic songs and Jewish folksongs. Everything was done with and energy and enthusiasm that did not show weariness or signs of age. Even when he was a grandfather, he looked like a young man who had just completed the period of living and being supported in his father-inlaw's home. Until … until World War II broke out in 1939, and Hitler's armies drove the Jews from their homes, like birds from their nests.

I met Efraim Chmiel then in Bialystok. An internal struggle waged inside him. He tried to be happy and full of hope, but he could not succeed when he saw thousands of Jews from Ostrolenka and other cities, with small children and bundles of clothes, wandering around in synagogues and sleeping in the streets, with no way to help them. It hurt him to see that his life's work had gone down the drain. The city of Ostrolenka, where he lived and founded, with others, Jewish institutions for the welfare of his people was suddenly destroyed, and there remained no vestige of a Jew.

His fate was as the fate of all the martyrs of Ostrolenka. With his family, he wandered from Bialystok to Stolin. Some postcards he sent from there reached his children in Israel. In them, he wrote that he was trying to live under the Russian regime and hoped for the opportunity to realize his Zionist dream. The German invasion of Russia put an end to all his hopes, and Efraim Chmiel and his family disappeared without a trace.

Alas for those who are lost and who will not be forgotten.

Chaim Drezner


Mosze Lejb Skrobacz

He was a tall and broad man, in contrast to his small, thin wife, who was always busy in her store. No one was exactly sure what kind of merchandise was primarily sold there: paint, wool, kerosene, cement or whitewash. There was an extinguished lime pit in the yard of his house. Whenever a railway car full of lime arrived, farmers with wagons and horses [gathered] near the railway station outside the city, waiting until his son, Herszel Skrobacz, arrived with money to receive the merchandise. He carried on an extensive business. In the city, it was said “Korach's treasure is necessary to maintain and support a house like Mosze Lejb Skrobacz's.”

Mosze Lejb himself looked like someone who had become a storekeeper by chance, and that that trade was not his calling. Prominent under the brim of his Jewish hat were a high, intelligent forehead and quick eyes. He was a Torah scholar, expert in Mishna and verses, as well as ancient Hebrew literature.

Although at his house, he ran a shtebl of Amszinow Chassidim, who were at that time far from Zionism and nationalistic aspirations, he did not refuse to help Zionist causes. He always helped with advice and contributions.

Instead of using his knowledge in the rabbinate, and delving into the ocean of Talmud and the Early and Later Sages, he was forced to be in his store during the week and help with the sale of paint, kerosene, wool, etc., to farmers from the area.

On Sabbath and holidays, Skrobacz's house changed its look, as did its owner. In his apartment on the second floor, Mosze Lejb sat at the head of the big table, studying a sharply-debated page of Gemara with his sons, all of whom were Tze'erei Mizrachi members. In the shtebl below, the Chassidim waited to pray until Mosze Lejb, in his long silk kapote and velvet hat, came down, accompanied by his sons – they, too, in handsome traditional dress, in beautiful shirts with elegant ties.

In any disagreement about the Even Ezra or a section of the Midrash, Mosze Lejb was the highest authority. If he decided that the simple explanation was such and such, everyone understood that it could not be otherwise. He did not want to be involved in public affairs. Only during the last period was he persuaded to join the community committee as Chairman.

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Mosze Lejb was expert in worldly matters and, in conversations about politics, he often expressed original and logical ideas. Once, in Warsaw, the writer of these lines witnessed an “examination”, when Mosze Lejb examined a graduate of the Tachkimoni School – which, in addition to a matriculation certificate, also granted rabbinical ordination – as a candidate to marry his daughter, Zlata, who owned a pharmacy.

In a short time, he covered different Mishna tractates, verses, the history of the Jewish people, ancient and modern Hebrew literature. I sat amazed that a man who spent so many hours a day in his store could have such a wonderful memory and be so expert in all matters of Judaism.

World War II broke out. His house was destroyed, like all the other houses of the Jews. We were expelled from the city. I met him while wandering in Bialystok, where he had opened a restaurant. Later he was in Slonim. It seemed that after all the troubles that came upon the Jews of Ostrolenka, Mosze Lejb was still holding on.

He was killed in the last act of extermination of the Jews of Ostrolenka.

May his soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life.

C. Drezner


Pesach Hochberg

 

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Who in Ostrolenka did not know Pesach Hochberg? Just as surely as no one in Poland even somewhat expert in the history of his country did not study about the famous battle near Ostrolenka, so there was no one in our city, Polish or Jewish, who did not know Pesach Hochberg. The Poles envied us: how was it that, for years, a Jew could be the supplier of the Fifth Regiment of the Polish Cavalry encamped in Wojciechowice, a distance of four kilometers from our city? With “kosher” and “non-kosher” means, they tried to expropriate his supplier's license, but they did not succeed. Every year, when the tender was held for supplying meat and other goods to the army, they informed on the Jews, as if the latter were deceiving them with merchandise unsuitable for consumption and with short weight. But the commander and other high officers protected Hochberg, contending that he was an honest, conscientious merchant.

Nearly every day, Hochberg came to the regiment in his carriage, which was harnessed to a pedigreed race horse, and thus aroused the Gentiles' envy. The audacity of the Jew!, they said. But the Jews enjoyed this and were glad – at least one of us has risen to greatness. In the winter, he wore riding trousers with matching boots; in the summer – light trousers, carefully pressed, in which he looked ten years younger than his age. Pesach Hochberg maintained good relations with the city's administration. He often drank a toast with the police supervisor or with a high government official, and gave them charitable loans – not to be returned, of course – so that he could ask for a favor for a Jew, whenever a problem arose.

On the other hand, there were Jews who did not look favorably on his devotion to anything connected with Zionism, with the Land of Israel. I often accompanied him when he collected money for Keren HaYesod and saw his suffering when a Jew did not wish to contribute, or contributed an amount much less than he could afford.

Over the years, Pesach Hochberg was authorized by HaKeren HaKayemet. At Lag BaOmer celebrations, when, in a unified parade, the youth went out to the forest near the city, he gave them his horse and carriage in order to bring them everything they needed. Toward evening, when the young people returned to the city and passed through the main street, singing Hebrew songs, Pesach Hochberg received them and marched with them, dressed in a HaShomer uniform, his chest adorned with medals that he had received from HaShomer HaTzair's Central Leadership in Warsaw.

All meetings took place in his home. He gave HaKeren HaKayemet a spacious room for activities. A regular minyan also prayed in that room. He did not

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send invitations to meetings, but stood in the street and called to members of HaKeren HaKayemet's committee. He was not always satisfied with the members' work, contending that with a little effort it would be possible to collect more. Pesach Hochberg had sufficient means to live a comfortable life, but he could not be easy because of his concern that not enough was being done for the Land of Israel. He did not get involved in general matters, but only in Zionist activities. All parties, both left and right, respected and cooperated with him.

Every visit of emissaries from Keren HaYesod and HaKeren HaKayemet in Ostrolenka ended with a reception at the home of Pesach Hochberg.

Who among the surviving remnants of our city, once active on behalf of Zionism and the Land of Israel, does not remember Pesach Hochberg's house? At night, when the entire population was already sunk in deep slumber, in Hochberg's house the light was still lit for a HaKeren HaKayemet meeting.

Before Chanuka or Purim, activity continued until late at night, preparing fetes, the revenues of which were dedicated to Keren HaKayemet. He did not let us leave his house before everything was ready, to the last detail.

When we asked him, “Hochberg, when will you sell your house already and go to Israel?”, he replied, “Soon, in a little while, I will liquidate everything and go to Israel to see with my own eyes Jews working their land with plows, and fertilizing it with the sweat of their brows.”

September 1939 came and World War II broke out. The Jews ran from the city to wherever they could go. On a certain Friday, notices were hung in the streets, in Polish and German, that all Jews must leave the city.

On one of the roads near the town of Lomzica, I met Pesach Hochberg for the last time. Hundreds of Jews from Ostrolenka and the area were there. He whispered something about the destruction that had visited our townspeople and all of Poland's Jews, but because of the noise all around, I could not understand what he said. Only one of his words is engraved in my memory: Israel.

He survived the cruel war, returned to Ostrolenka together with two other Jews who were townspeople, and was murdered there by Poles.

May his soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life.

C. Drezner


Mosze Margalit

 

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The son of Aron Jankel Margaliot, of blessed memory. Like his father before him, he was involved in public affairs and, for some time, was the head of the Jewish community in Ostrolenka. He was an active member of the Poalei Zion (Z.S.) party.

During the days of the Zionist crisis – the hard policy of the British Mandate, the events and the limitation of emigration – despair stole into the ranks of the Zionist camp in our city. Active members, whose only dream was the Land of Israel, also left Israel a short time after emigrating there, when they found it hard to hold on in the difficult circumstances. But Mosze Margalit did not despair, and together with other friends, he remained steadfast in his belief. The city found in him a loyal head of the community, who took care of the Jewish public's needs. He was one of those who could communicate with members of the Polish government.

Mosze Margalit emigrated to Israel in 1936. There, he immediately began to do routine work. He opened an upholstery workshop and rebuilt his family nest.

Suddenly, an incurable disease struck him, from which he did not recover.

Mosze Margalit left a wife, two daughters and a son, as well as sisters and brothers – one of whom, Meir Margalit, is known as a major actor in the Ohel Theater, and all of whom are in Israel.

We honor his memory.

A Landsman


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“The Father of Ostrolenkan Youth”

(In memory of Pesach Hochberg, of blessed memory)

Pesach Hochberg was a friend to many. A friend to those equal to him in seniority and status, a friend to those younger than him in experience and life, a friend and guide to many of the younger generation which grew up in our city.

Pesach Hochberg was a community worker, a public servant in the finest sense of the term. He administered the activities of HaKeren HaKayemet LeYisrael, filled central roles in HaShomer HaTzair, attended to economic problems and was a sort of shaliach tzibur [prayer leader, designated representative] of the youth in the entire city. When matters arose for his attention, his character was always outstanding. He encouraged individuals, the suffering and uncertain friends, as well as the community. Indeed, everyone knew him well and treated him with love and great honor. Even when he was busy and prostrate under the yoke of the tasks loaded on him (because he did not know how to refuse), he always found time to listen, to organize and to guide. He was a father to Ostrolenkan youth, and was greatly interested in its deeds. He did everything with all his heart and soul, completely devoting himself to activities for individuals and the community. As one who gave his heart and soul to others, the figure of Pesach Hochberg will remain as a man who loved life and people, as a symbol of friendship and devotion to individuals and the community.

Rachel Sapir (Romani), Ayelet-HaShachar


Article which appeared in the newspaper Dos Neier Wort, No. 197, Warsaw, Tuesday, 25.8.1936


Ostrolenka

Member Margules Emigrates to Israel with His Family

Member Mosze Margules and his family left today, on the Warsaw-Konstanca train, on their way to Israel.

Member Margules is not a veteran member of our party. He is one of its young ones. He came to us when he was already head of the community in Ostrolenka and a member of the city council. There, in the community and in the city council, when he witnessed the sincere and devoted activity of our members on behalf of the poor population of our people, and for building the Land of Israel, he was enthusiastically swept up in their work. He officially joined the party and HaOved, and devoted himself to party and public activity. As head of the community and a city council member, he used his influence and helped the poor population as much as possible.

His Zionist work was prominent not only in the community, but also in the party and in the street. If a certain member needs help, if another member does not have work or a new member arrives in the city – where do they turn? – to Member Margules. The doors of his house are always open, not just for members but also for strangers. Everyone knew how to show their appreciation before his emigration; the many farewell parties held in his honor attest to this. His friends say, “If with his leaving we lose one of our good friends, his aspiration is also our aim, because we all hope to meet there and work for the Working Land of Israel.”


Mendel Brin

Reb Mendel Brin was a special “type”. We were neighbors. His house stood not far from our house in the beautiful city square, and he was a friend of my father, of blessed memory. Members of the Brin family came to our house every day. We would meet and stroll together in the municipal park. I can still see Reb Mendel, of blessed memory, as if he were still alive and active and full of life … Tall and handsome, of majestic appearance, with his fine, well-groomed beard. He was very punctilious about his dress. He was a great Torah scholar, and numbered among those who prayed at the Gur shtebl. He dealt in forest commerce. He was an agent for the purchase and sale of forests around our city, because to purchase a forest for himself, in his responsibility, required a great deal of money – which he did not have.

He traveled frequently to Germany for his dealings in forest commerce, and when we saw him travel to the railway station in his carriage, we could not recognize him. An English lord to the last inch. Dressed in a beautiful black frock coat, a top hat on his head, white gloves on his hands, everything majestic. His way of life in our city was out of the ordinary and strange to us, because Reb Mendel Brin, may he forgive me!, was far from rich. Every Thursday, he made the rounds of his neighbors to ask for a charitable loan for the Sabbath.

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Of course, he returned the loan immediately after he had some new earnings. In short, he lived from hand to mouth, but had a great deal of confidence, was always cheerful, brimming with humor and jokes about others and also about himself, an optimist in the full sense of the world. We never saw him despondent and sad, and he always lived expansively. He bought himself a magnificent carriage with rubber wheels and a beautiful and noble horse. The coachman was a Russian, who wore special clothes: a uniform with buttons that were always shiny and polished, an extraordinary hat on his head and gloves on his hands. When he brandished his long whip and struck the horse, the bells tied to it rang. When Reb Mendel and his family went out in their carriage for a trip outside the city, the city pranksters stood and looked after them, shaking their heads and calling after them, “Whoever lives recklessly – dies without confession …”, but he continued to go his own way, as did we.

And whoever has not seen his portable succa [temporary dwelling used during the Succot holiday] – has never seen a beautiful succa. Not just a succa, but a temporary apartment, a real house! Big and wide. A wooden floor beautifully painted, with beautifully painted walls and on them Succot holiday pictures. A large, beautiful rug on the floor, the succa was hung with all kinds of fruits. Reb Mendel slept in the succa every night of the holiday. In the summer, he moved his succa to the grove near our city and set up a summer camp for his entire family there. The carriage came a few times a day and brought food and other requirements to the merry campers. And who could compare to them? We children were a little envious of them. The man lived in a beautiful, spacious apartment. Elegant furniture adorned the house, and everyone had their own room. It was unique in the city. An elegant desk stood in it, proclaiming its quality. Beautiful armchairs in various corners of the apartment tempted one to sit and rest in them. An iron box stood in one corner, as if it wanted to emphasize its owner's importance. And when they asked him, “Reb Mendel, tell us please, why do you have an iron box, since there is no money in it?”, he answered with a laugh, “And where will I keep the Sabbath fish – it serves me as an ice-box on the Sabbath.” On top of the box were two pictures: one – a rich banker, sitting serenely and comfortably on a beautiful armchair, replete with pleasure, a cigar in his mouth and a gold chain adorning his chest, and at his side an open box, full of sacks of gold. In the second picture was a poor banker who was bankrupt, miserable, full of worry, his clothes patched. The box was open and empty, and mice jumped in and out of it. “This is me myself” – Reb Mendel would announce. So lived the man in happiness, living for the minute, as it is said, Thanks be to God, every day!

May his memory be blessed.

Awiezer Drori-Kupferminc, Kfar Yechezkel


Mendel Gedanken

The son of Pinie Gedanken was born in Ostrolenka. He studied in heders and yeshivas. He received a religious-traditional education. He had a fabric store and his own house. In the beginning, he was active in the Mizrachi movement; later he moved to the General Zionists. He worked with Mendel Bialy for the Zionist funds.

In particular, Mendel Gedanken excelled in his work on behalf of the Hebrew University. He was one of the founders of the Culture School in Ostrolenka. For a few years, he served in the city council as a representative of the General Zionists. In the last elections in 1937, he was elected Chairman of the Jewish community in Ostrolenka, a role he filled until the destruction. He was killed, together with his family, in Slonim. May God avenge his blood.

A. L.


Awraham Piaseczny

 

ost180.jpg

Born in Ostrolenka in 1885. He was one of the main pillars of the city's middle class. In his actions, his

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forbearance and great-heartedness, he was an example for all his acquaintance.

During World War I, the Jews were expelled from the city by the Cossacks, who burned it. To rebuild the city when the Jews returned to it, Reb Awraham Piaseczny, of blessed memory, was one of the few to lend a hand to establish a financial organ, the Handwerker Bank [tradesmen's bank], which greatly helped the rehabilitation. For many years, he was a member of the board of the bank and guided it in every phase of its development until it was well-established.

Over the years, he saw that the middle class needed spiritual focus. Together with his friend, Efraim Chmiel, of blessed memory, he established a synagogue for this class, [funded] nearly all from their own money, and also obtained the ritual objects.

From 1932-35, he was elected a member of the community committee and, later, Chairman. During his tenure, he succeeded, after a great struggle, passing an article for financial support of needy pioneers for emigration to Israel. This decision was intended to increase emigration from our city, despite the alienation from it of many in the community committee.

During World War II, when the Jews were expelled from the city by Hitler's soldiers, Awraham Piaseczny and his wife, Fejga, moved with their family and the family of his brother-in-law, Pesach Hochberg, and his wife, Sara Rywka, to live in Lomza (Lomza was then under Russian occupation). After three difficult months in Lomza, they were moved by the Russians to the town of Dereczyn, near Slonim. With the capture of the region by the Nazis when they attacked Russia, the Jews of the town were arrested and shot in the forest. Among them were found the Piaseczny family and Pesach Hochberg and his wife, Sara Rywka. Chaja, a Piaseczny daughter, succeeded in escaping from the valley of murder to the forests, and joined the Partisans; but in the winter of 1942, her strength weakened and she died somewhere in the forest.

The last postcard, sent by the family from Dereczyn on 27.1.41 to their son, Chaim, in Israel, describes the great tragedy of the family's fight to survive in inhuman conditions; it also describes the breaking of their spirit with the arrest of their son, Mosze Hersz, and his being sent to Siberia for five years of hard labor (now in Israel).

Their last hope before the outbreak of the war was to liquidate their property and emigrate with the Hochbergs to Israel, to build their home there, together with the family of their son, Izrael Chaim.

The war and Hitlerism put an end to their dream and their lives.

May their memory be blessed.

C. P.

 

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