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[Page 220]

Modern Figures / Activists and Writers

 

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Berisz Srebrnik-Sylberman a”h

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

He was a son of Reb Isachar melamed and left for America before the First World War.

In 1917 he joined the Jewish Legion (Hebrew Brigade) to fight together with the English military to free Israel (Palestine) from Turkey. He agreed with the Balfour Declaration about founding a Jewish homeland, so he signed up for the Jewish Legion.

After the war he remained in Israel with the idea of settling there permanently. He and several friends from the Jewish Legion founded a colony, Tel Edshim in the Jezriel Valley. There were financial difficulties involved in developing the colony, (the Agency was not able to give them a large enough stipend which was essential to make water available), so it was failed. In 1923 Berisz Srebrnik-Sylberman a”h returned to America where he lived until he died in 1947, at the age of seventy.

May his memory be blessed.


[Page 221]

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Once, once…

Mendel Fajncajg a”h

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Once, once,
In my young days,
When life was
Like a smooth, long road,

On a winter pre-dawn
In the pitch black
The last bit of night –
Spread over the house
Back and forth
My father is absorbed.

And out loud recites Psalms.
He goes on in
“Do not cast me off in old age”.
I lie in my soft
And warm bed.
His voice soothes and caresses;

And I cannot understand
The reason for his lament…

And now when the days
Of life become shorter,
The echo
Is carried to me

Of my father's song,
And his words
Further still
Take on meaning and significance.

And in my sleepless
Nights that are
So long and black,
The same old prayer
Explodes from my heart…


[Page 222]

The Homecoming

By Mendel Fajncajg, New York

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Naked and barefoot, with a broken spirit
From his destruction
Stands the eternal Jew.

Through hunger, epidemics, through fire and sword,
He came home,
To his own land.

No roof, no house - everything laid waste
From all his work and sweat
A pile of rubbish...

Fathers and mothers, wife and child,
Dispersed, dispelled
Like leaves in the wind.

Is it starting to snow? For who? he ponders,
And bends his head
Closer to the ground.

But his eyes fall on an old stone,
The only trace from the past,
Of all that once was here.

A witness to life, to plenty, to joy.
A witness to hell,
To misery and to death.

And a resolution, hard as that stone, dispelled his grief,
And it straightened his back,
The old builder.

His eyes burning with conviction and confidence,
And from his heart resounds:
“I will build a new life! I will build!”


And the hard stone says:
“Build! Build! Build!”


[Page 223]

 

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My Husband Max Goldsztejn a”h

By Nechama Goldsztejn, New York

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Max Goldsztejn arrived from Warszawa in 1912 and soon became interested in doing whatever he could for the social and cultural life in Ostrowa.

First he founded an amateur theatre troupe to put on plays. It was a great success for a long time and became an established Ostrowa institution. He was the head of the theatre troupe until he left Ostrowa in 1927.

He never sought recognition for himself, even when he had earned it. He always shared the accolades with his actors, who were dear to him. The eagerness and seriousness of the actors gave dignity to each performance and they truly deserved every effort the audience made to see them.

The first play brought about a lot of friction between parents and children, but the courageous and headstrong youth felt invincible and they played to a full theatre.

There were demonstrations and outcries that Shabes that all those who crossed the threshold of the theatre would be excommunicated[1] – because the theatre was considered a threat and would bring evil to our town. Still, it was a huge success.

I stood by my husband's side and encouraged him in his work. He always gave his best and was loved by the young men and women with whom he worked.

When he left Ostrowa, almost everything to do with the theatre stopped. Around two, three years later the air already had the smell of gunpowder and destruction.

Max Goldsztejn a”h died in America.

 


[Page 224]

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Mosze Holcman hy”d

By Chana Holcman, Tel-Aviv

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

In memory of his ten years of cultural and social work in Ostrowa, (1919-1929)

Holcman arrived in Ostrowa towards the end of 1918. He was twenty-three years old and with youthful fervour dedicated himself to cultural and social work. He did not speak Yiddish very well, but in a short time he was giving lectures with literary themes in Yiddish. Engraved in our memory were the lectures he gave on “Portrait of Dorian Grey” by Oscar Wilde, “The Blue Bird” by Meterlink, “Der Shney” [“The Snow”] by Przywiszewski; all beautifully delivered and with deep insights. He gave many other lectures as well and people felt they had learned something from the teacher, Holcman.

I also remember the impression that was made with Dostoyevski's “Roskolnikow”. For two nights, until late, Holcman portrayed all of Roskolnikow's victims and that evening was remembered for a long, long time.

The Jewish library was a beautiful chapter in the cultural life of Ostrowa, to which Holcman devoted a lot of time and energy. He knew the cost of running the library, and he constantly worried about finding funds. If it wasn't the rent or the electric bill then it was money to buy new books.

At the end, from time to time, plays, literary and vocal musical evenings would be arranged and Holcman was always active in these presentations.

I must mention the 25th anniversary of the Jewish library- it was very impressive. Once again Holcman contributed. He designed a card, had a lot of copies printed which were sold as souvenirs and turned a nice profit.

A little later he began giving time to Zionist causes. He was a member of the Committee of Zionist Organizations, was active in Keren Kayemet and Keren HaYesod and was very interested and involved with Zionist youngsters. He was a General Zionist and a patron of HaShomer HaLeumi, but this did not stop him from helping other Zionist youth organizations from the extreme left to the extreme right. From his point of view, if it was to build Israel then it was dear to him and so he worked with all the Zionist youth groups in Ostrowa.

Holcman also helped the Jewish artisans organize a union in Ostrowa and solved several problems for them. He always led the general meeting and was elected as their representative.

 

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Card celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Jewish Library in Ostrow

We have now come to the government in Ostrowa – the Polish Socialist Party with Stanisław Leszniewski at its head as mayor, whom the Jews had chosen for the town council through an election. Holcman had taken an active part in the election: He was even proposed as a candidate for vice-mayor, but if he had been elected, he would have had to leave the school, which he did not want to do.

Zlotkes was elected as vice-mayor and Holcman became a councilman. He gave long speeches in the council in order to get subsidies for Jewish institutions. For the first time ever the library, Tarbut and Yavneh received subsidies from the municipal government.

The Socialist party [P.P.S. Polska Partia Sozialisticzna] had to give way and the government party “B.B.” Blok-Bezpartinich – Impartial Party] took over. The Jews, mainly Zionist councilmen, remained in a block with the Socialist party, which angered Governor Zarzicki. He could not forgive Holcman who took all the well-known councilmen with him to the opposition party. The Governor tried to send him to teach in a village in order to unseat him from his government position.

Comrades and friends advised my husband to stop the conflict with the Governor, because he would lose his job. The answer was: as long as I live, my wife and child will not go hungry and I will not sell out the interests of the Jewish population for the sake of a job. That was Holcman's character.

But the Governor had been busy. Two delegates from the Warszawa Trust Board arrived to visit exclusively with Holcman, in order to relieve him of his position. But the visit turned out well. They decided that Holcman was a good teacher and instead of sending him to a village, they sent him to Warszawa.

Holcman had often mentioned a desire to live in Warszawa, but he kept putting it off.

Once Holcman was invited by the Zionist organization in Ostrowa to a lecture about the election campaign. His introduction of Arija Margolis, also a councilman, was a crowning success.

Holcman continued his Zionist work in Warszawa, and introduced Zionism into the teaching milieu and the teacher's union. He also initiated and founded a Teachers' Home in Poland. Until the outbreak of the Second World War (I want to talk about his life up until the last minute) he was still active in the community, Zionism and also in his so-called field of knowledge.

Holcman hy”d was killed in the Warszawa ghetto in December 1941.

So much pain and suffering.

May his memory be blessed.

 


[Page 227]

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Mosze Raf hy”d

By Israel Sztejnberg

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Mosze Raf was one of the first Jewish educators and teachers in Ostrowa between the First and Second World Wars. He lay the foundation for the government public school (for Jewish children) which later grew and became a very important educational institute with a large number of students (over eight hundred), mainly working class children. He was a teacher at the school when it first opened and he served for over twenty years until the tragic end. Thanks to his pedagogical skills, he was very popular with the parents, accepted by his colleagues, and loved by the students. He put his heart and soul into his profession, proudly appeared before the school board and in many instances asked for the institution to be enlarged, for more Jewish teachers, for furniture and learning tools. He personified the character of the school, fought against assimilation, always tried to raise the level of education and instituted new learning methods.

Mosze Raf was very gifted and excelled in various areas. He played the fiddle very well and accompanied the children during presentations and dances. He had a wonderful talent for working with his hands, especially carpentry. Under his leadership, the students completed several woodwork exhibits thereby enhancing the school's good reputation. He instilled a work ethic in his students.

Mosze Raf was very modest and people respected him. His relationship with the teachers and students was one of mutual respect, friendliness and simplicity. He was a warm man and dear Zionist.

He became a councilman and an alderman. He was proud to represent Jewish interests and served the town well. His prestige grew day by day and he was one of the most beloved social activists. He gave a lot of his time and energy to the library. With his knowledge and love of books, he worked with the cultural institutions throughout their existence. Each new book brought him joy and every cultural event was a holiday for him. Unfortunately the Nazis killed Mosze Raf hy”d. The students and teachers want to thank him. The surviving Jews from what was once Ostrów Mazowiecka will remember him with great respect.

Honour his memory!

 


[Page 228]

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Michel Podbielewicz hy”d

By Israel Sztejnberg

Translated by Isaac Peled (Podbielewicz) and Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Everybody in town knew and loved him. Even non-Jews referred to him as “a dear and honest Jew, with a good heart”. Everybody talked that way about him. Businessmen were surprised by his honesty and straight forwardness; Hasidim were aware of his good behaviour, open hand, good heart and good deeds. “Good parents are a good sign for good sons”. His father Icchok Jankiel was a good Jew and loved by everyone. He had a good heart and was a popular and active person all his life. Michel surpassed his father.

Michel was always available to people and his house was always open for a Jew with problems. He organized the Porter Cooperative, was their bookkeeper, treasurer and solved all their problems. If a Jew had a problem he ran to Michel in order to pour out his troubles, to cry and to receive help.

If the government declined to issue a work permit or withdrew a work permit from a Jew, Michel intervened. He worked until the town management committee issued the proper documents. Whoever had a legal problem with the government had Michel working for him until he had prevailed and the matter had a positive outcome. Michel put a lot of time and effort in at City Hall to convince the councilmen to support the Jewish institutions in Ostrowa. His house became an unofficial social aid institution. Michel rescued many Jews and he got many Jews out of trouble - The Porter's Father - is what they call Michel in artisan circles. Yes, the porters had Michel - body and soul. They were willing to go through fire and water for him. Michel was the father of the poor labourers and he truly made sacrifices for them.

When I visited Michel, I always saw porters sitting there - they felt at home there. Michel would send the doctor and medicine to take care of a porter's sick child. If a porter had an accident on the job - Michel would take care of the hospital bill and provide a living for the family. The artisan masses liked him for his modesty, simplicity, popularity and warm Jewish heart. His membership in Poalei Zion–ZS and his activities in the HaEvud gave him the opportunity to understand the hardships of the Jewish craftsmen and laborers. This created a broad field for him to work on their behalf. Michel liked “simple” Jews, understood them and he worked to relieve their poverty and better their lives.

For Michel community work was not a burden, he was a public servant from heritage and birth. To him public service was an ideal.

His name at the top of the list of candidates was one of the reasons Poalei Zion-ZS was successful in the elections for city council and kehilla. His name attracted votes from all classes. His prestige was great and his name full of honour.

Let these lines be a monument to this great Jew and labour leader who loved Israel. Michel Podbielewicz hy”d - Honour his memory.

 


[Page 230]

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Symcha Graniewicz a”h

From “Lexicon of Jewish Literature”, NY 1958

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Symcha Graniewicz was born in Ostrów Mazowiecka in 1905 - died tragically in Tel-Aviv in 1936.

He came from a middle-class family. At the age of twenty he went to Uruguay, and from there in 1928, to Argentina. He became a Jewish teacher in the Borochow schools in Buenos Aires and Cordoba. He was in Israel for a short time. In 1932 he arrived in Sao Paulo, Brazil and worked there in the Jewish press. Afterwards, he went back to Israel.

Graniewicz e”h printed stories and sketches of Jewish life in Argentina in “The Press” and in other periodicals published in Buenos Aires. In book form: “ In Red Evenings”, stories and sketches published through a society committee, Buenos Aires 1929.

Literature in Argentina, Volume 1, 1944.

Several of his sketches were in the “Anthology of Jews”.

 


Symcha Graniewicz z”l

By Riwka

Translated by Ros Romem

Born in 1907 in Poland in the city of Piantnica, Łomża province. His mother was Ester, née Drozdowski and his father, Pinchus Graniewicz. When Symcha was a year old his parents moved to Ostrów Mazowiecka. Symcha received a traditional heder education and later attended the Tarbut School. He was a gifted and sensitive youth. During his childhood he excelled in Hebrew essays and poetry. Those in the know prophesied a future for him as a writer. Pinchus Graniewicz was an educated man and Symcha grew up in a Zionist home and a cultured atmosphere. He was the youngest child and the family favourite. From his early childhood he was an active member of the Zionist HeHalutz movement. Obviously he thought of making aliyah, but the gates of Israel, at that time, were locked. The situation for the Jews in Poland during the days of Grabski[2] was not good and Jewish youth in the surrounding towns suffered even more. The youth aspired to freedom and the ability to study in Poland was stifled. Trying to enroll in a Polish school was futile and there was no freedom for Jews. The Depression of the 1930's made life unbearable. Symcha decided to leave Poland no matter what. Because he was unable to immigrate to Israel, he went to South America where he had friends. He thought that in time he would be able to reach Israel from there. And so it was.

On his arrival in Uruguay he found it difficult to adapt to the way most of his friends “made a living”. He eventually moved to Argentina. In Buenos Aires he held a position of respect as a Hebrew teacher and writer, associated with the newspaper “Neie Presse”. He always dreamed of going to Israel and in 1933 he achieved his dream and made aliyah.

In those days there was an economic crisis and he was without work or managed to work two to three days a week. In her letter, his girlfriend demanded that he return. Despite his love for Israel he returned and lived in the Diaspora. But he was restless. A great longing drew him to Israel and within two years he made aliyah for the second time. This was a great physical and emotional effort and he collapsed.

He reached Israel, ill. He was a man of high ideals and he was met by a tough, even cruel reality. Tragically, Symcha Graniewicz z”l ended his life at the age of twenty-nine.

May his memory be blessed.

 


[Page 231]

Icchok Ajzyk Gąsior a”h

From “Lexicon of Yiddish Literature”, New York 1958

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Born in Ostrów Mazowiecka in 1901 to a Hasidic family - died 12 February 1955. Received a Jewish and public school education. In 1925 went to Argentina. There he was a Zionist and social activist as well as a speaker and lecturer on Jewish and secular subjects. In later years an instructor for Keren HaYesod and he travelled on business throughout the Argentinian provinces and neighbouring countries. Started in print with articles about literature and business affairs in the Buenos Aires daily newspaper “Di Presse”. In 1928 and 1930 worked for “Der Spiegl” and for a while was a member of the editorial board. Also published political articles under the pseudonyms “A Consverzater”, “Alef Rozenberg”, “Ben Abihu”, etc. Died in Buenos Aires.

 


Aron Albek hy”d

From “Lexicon of Yiddish Literature”, New York 1958

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Born in Ostrów Mazowiecka and killed in Białystok ghetto in 1943. He was the son of the Zhyrodower Rabbi, Reb Menachem Mendel. Studied Torah and was an enlightened man. He was constantly the victim of the Russian Gendarmes because of his underground work in Poalei Zion. Prepared for his matriculation from Gymnasia in Warszawa. At the end of 1913 settled in Białystok. During the First World War was active in “Kansum” Union (representative). At the end of 1918 with the founding of the Folk's Partei [also called “Folkists”, literally People's Party] in Wilno, he was elected to the central committee. Founder, editor and contributor of the Białystok daily newspaper “Dos Neie Lebn” [The New Life], where he published articles and a series describing Hasidic life. 1921 produced “Albek” that published an entire line of work including Nach Prilucki's “Yiddish Teyater” [“Jewish Theatre”], P. Kaplan's “Krilow's Moshl” [Fable], Yapanisheh Mayse'lach [“Japanese Anecdotes”] and so on. Was a kehilla dozor and Town Councilman. Wrote valuable memoirs about Jewish writers.

 


[Page 232]

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Jechezkiel Frejlich a”h

From “Undzer Veg”, November 1955

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Born in Ostrów Mazowiecka on the 11th August 1905 - died tragically in New York, the 23rd October 1955.

Came to America in February 1924. Graduated from the Jewish Teachers Seminary, became a teacher at the Workmen's Circle and Sholom Aleichem schools, studied at Syracuse University, earned a Bachelor of Social Science at City College, earned a Master of Arts at New York University and became a Spanish teacher.

Published stories in English on Jewish subjects for English newspapers, was a literary critic in “Tsukunft” [“Future”] and “Undzer Veg” [“Our Way”]; in 1948 - a book entitled “Widerklangen” [“Echoes”]. In 1951 published “Undzer Wort” [“Our Word”] in Argentina. This year, a book “Doros” [“Generations”], in the last years he was editor of “Undzer Veg” and a member of our central committee.

 


[Page 233]

Jakob Frejdkies a”h

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Among the hundreds of obituaries in the Jewish papers from Białystok, Warszawa, Wilno and Paris, the one that brought the most grief to the masses and organizations was the loss of the militiaman Comrade Bernard, who was killed in combat on the Spanish front.

Who was he, this person whom the radicals and workers mourned with tears, at emotional memorial meetings and in the Jewish press?

Bernard was our townsman, born in Ostrowa as Jakob Frejdkies. He became known because of his social activities and from 1925 travelled between Białystok, Warszawa, Paris and Spain.

Blood poured from the Jewish population, as well as from the workers, coal miners and demonstrators in the streets of Lemberg [Lwów, Lviv], Kraków and other cities during pogroms in the Polish cities and villages.

1937 and a new chapter in Bernard's life. He went to Spain to fight against General Franko - Hitler's servant.

June 15, 1937, the sad moment arrived. Jakob Frejdkies (Bernard) was at the front when gravely wounded. A comrade risked his life to get Frejdkies (Bernard) away from the front, but Frejdkies was hit again by two dumdum bullets. The doctors gave him blood transfusions at the hospital, but to no avail. He died in the hospital at the age of twenty-eight.

Among the thousands of martyrs and fallen heroes at the Spanish front was our townsman, Jakob Frejdkies a”h (Bernard).

Honour his memory.

 


Dawid Koza a”h

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Dawid Koza came from one of the poorest Ostrower families on ulica Pułtuska. Due to his parents' poverty, he could not continue his education and began working in Brok and Warszawa at an early age.

He was involved in the radical Jewish workmen's movement and under their influence studied on his own. The Jewish library was his school.

Dawid showed courage and persistence, but was quickly dragged off to a Polish prison, for a long stay.

When civil war broke out in Spain, Dawid Koza a”h managed to reach there through the underground. He went to help save democracy and died while trying. Honour his memory.

 


[Page 234]

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Abraham'cze Perec hy”d

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Soon after the First World War, while still a young man, A. Perec became known in Ostrowa for his radical speeches. He came from a middle-class family. At first he was a sympathizer of the Bund and became an activist in the Bund Cooperative. Later, as was the way of many Ostrower idealists and militant youth, Perec turned to the left and worked illegally with the Jewish Communists. With time he became a strong influence and joined with the young Szaja Fryd (who later went to Russia and his fate remains unknown) and Frejdkies (killed during the Spanish Civil War).

Among his contemporaries were activists Srulke, der Kamashamacher [the gaiter maker], and Szejndl Fajncajg who was imprisoned for one year in Łomża jail and tortured. She died soon after she was freed.

Perec worked very hard and prepared to reach his goal...to become a teacher. He left Ostrowa and settled in Warszawa where he graduated from Poznański's Seminary. He overcame many difficulties. Perec was dedicated to the poor Jewish masses. He also wrote articles on education and reports for Jewish Warszawa newspapers about the Jewish poor on ulica Niske and Krachmalne in Warszawa. He took part in and also wrote an education dissertation in the periodical “Dziecke” [Polish “Child”] edited by Dr. Peker, well known in Warszawa (today in Israel).

The last years before the Second World War, Perec worked with the teacher and writer Janusz Korczuk[3]. Abraham'cze Perec hy”d was murdered by the Nazis in Treblinka, together with the orphans.

Honour his memory.

 


[Page 235]

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Alter Jagoda hy”d

Rubin Siedler, Tel-Aviv

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Alter Jagoda, born in Ostrołęka in 1912, lost his father when he was still a young child (his father was killed in combat during World War One) and his mother moved the family to Ostrów Mazowiecka and through hard labour and drudgery she raised her children.

Alter studied in heder and at Tarbut. Of the subjects he studied, he was most interested in drawing and painting, taught by Holcman.

After several years he had to interrupt his studies in order to be able to help the family, because they relied on his earnings as well as those of his older brother Jeszaja.

Alter painted and sold pictures, but had no way of attaining an artistic level of painting in Ostrów. With the help of Lejbl Margolis, he was able to travel to Wilno in 1929. But, short of funds he had to return to Ostrów after a short time and continued his work as an artist and made a living by painting signs.

In later years when I was in the Scandinavian countries, I received letters from him in which he complained about his difficult situation and really regretted not being able to have his own studio.

After the Second World War broke out, Alter Jagoda hy”d crossed the border to Slonim together with many of the Jews from Ostrowa and there, in 1941, found death at the age of twenty-nine.

 

Footnotes
  1. The Orthodox Jews (Misnagdim and Hasidim) were against Jews being involved in the theatre or for that matter, anything modern that would take young Jewish people away from Orthodoxy. They certainly tried everything they could to put a stop modernization. Return
  2. Grabski was the Minister of Finance for Endecja, an anti-Semitic Polish political party Return
  3. Janusz Korczuk, was born Henryk Goldszmidt, a secular Jew, was a famous teacher in Warszawa, Poland. He ran an orphanage where the children worked and studied and were able to forget that they were orphans. The orphanage was a “free republic” - with a President and with elections - entirely run by the children. They were happy in Janusz Korczuk's home.
    Then the Nazis invaded Poland. They came to the orphanage and took all the children. They did not take Korczuk because he had been a Polish officer, but he said: “No, I go with my children. I lived with them and I will die with them.” He got into line with the children, holding one in each hand and walked with them through the streets of Warszawa to the umschlagplatz. They went to their deaths together. Return

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