(From Machzikei Hadat, Biweekly, Lwow)
B. H. Sunday, Parshat D'varim, 5640 [July 11, 1880], Oshpitzin
How pleased we are to be able to inform you that the light of the distinguished assembly of the Machzikey Hadat, shining as the sun at noon, has appeared here too as the Oshpitzin association, whose light will attract most of the inhabitants of the city. The Godfearing and Pillars of Torah, the cream of the elite
[Overblown announcement on the founding of the local branch to strengthen efforts against assimilatory trends, listing the names and elaborate titles of the officers and organizers. Time necessary to render in a readable fashion is, in my opinion, not worth the effort!]
[A bombastic and florid paean of praise describing in biblical and medieval lyrical poetic style how the community marked the event. The only way to translate it and give it the right flavor is in the style of the King James version of the Bible. I pass ]
Oshpitzin [October 8, 1880]
[A description by the same writer in similar style of the visit at Oshpitzin by The mighty, pious, and merciful Emperor, may his name be exalted, etc. ad nauseam.
Oshpitzin Tammuz 3 5641 [June 30, 1881]
Thursday, last week, at noontime, the towers' bells sounded the fire alarm. Soon the skies reddened and fire rose up to the heavens and took hold of the Christian House of Worship in our town, from whence it extended into the city where it became a Godly fright. From on high the Lord had sent a consuming fire which devoured most of its dwellers' goodly homes and charred them to their very foundations. Forty elevated and lofty houses in all, in which dwelt several hundred souls of Israel, rose up on the pyre with all of their precious belongings. Woe. The lamenting occupants are strewn out on the pasture lacking a lodging place. The cries of the people, remaining denuded and lacking all have waxed exceedingly. Each heart must melt like unto water on hearing the wails of the unfortunates whose homes were burnt along with all their accumulations and chattels. For the many multitudes have had their staff of life shattered and are now consigned to a surfeit of wandering. They are all enwrapped in hunger in the open marketplace embracing dunghills without shelter from flood and tempest. Should a heavy rain arrive they would be engulfed. The souls of our brethren are given over to great distress such as no human can portray the terrible catastrophe here.
And now, behold the wail of the city of Oshpitzin has been heard afar, for great as the sea is its ruin, and amongst the burnt and cursed of the Lord, a roar shall bellow forth and bewail their palaces and dwellings which are no more, and spread forth their palms to you the beneficent people, to have compassion on them, to pity their desolate ruins, to have mercy on the destitute, to garb the unclothed.
Stir ye in all your cities to endeavor with all your might to find the help and sustenance for these unfortunates. Seek ye the welfare of this place of conflagration to rush them succor from near and far, and may the Author of Recompense reward you and your good works for forever.
Yehuda Ze'ev Wolf Segal [Levite] Horowitz
Secretary and writer of the Machzikey Hadat
To the honorable Chairmen and Leaders of the Holy Society Machzikey Hadat of the Holy Kehilla Lwow, May the Lord Protect them.
We have received the sum of 120 Silver [Thaler] sent to us by The Rabbi, the Gaon, The Renowned Philanthropist, etc. [sic] Our Master and Teacher Yitzchak Ahron Ettinger, the Light of Israel and our Master and Teacher Yisrael Rapaport, and we are preparing to distribute the above sum with the assistance of the Head of our Kehilla, our Master and Teacher Noson Wulkan, to the fire victims here, and may the Lord reward them well and may their strength and numbers increase.
Here too, in our town, lightning struck several times and caused much damage, but thank God, there were no casualties.
The local Jewish Community is very content with their relationships with their Christian neighbors and live together in harmony. The mutual tolerance is constant and steadfast. We, on our part, will do everything in our power to strengthen peaceful accord and perpetuate it. In this vein we are entreating his eminence that he in like fashion bestow his blessing and that his words strike root in the hearts of all who hear them so that they will keep, learn, and revere them so that the peace be a lasting state of affairs to the end of days. When the Rabbi concluded, the Cardinal replied and said: From the depths of my heart I wish to express my appreciation with a feeling of love for the kindness and respect you have bestowed on me in coming here to honor me in the eyes of my people. Especially, accept my gratitude in that you have pledged to endeavor with all your might to preserve amity in the future. I, on my part, shall do likewise for the preservation of peace, and may Heaven concur with us.
The entire audience heard these explicit words issuing from the mouth of the Cardinal, and nearly each and every one pledged to love Israel and be of service at all times in the future.
Issue 21, Ellul 12 5653 (24 August 1893)
Issue 4, 7 Kislev 5654 (November 16, 1893)
On the Friday preceding Passover, one of our local brethren was returning from making his rounds of the villages where he had been on a buying trip for available merchandise, and along with the rest of his purchases he had with him a basket covered by a cloth which contained a suckling lamb. The lamb bleated and wailed bitterly. A Christian woman happened to hear this and she wisely surmised that it was a Christian child that the Jew was conveying as part of his booty in order to slaughter him and use his blood to besprinkle the Matzot. This bellwether unhesitatingly sallied forth and brought five armed policemen, who made no attempt to inquire of the village head as required, and surrounded the house and let none in or out until the arrival of other policemen to conduct a thorough search. The house was that of R Mordechai Schnitzer, who by that time was already in the House of God for evening prayers, and upon his return found the house encircled by a great throng. He wished to enter his home, but the police did not permit it, and only after many appeals and entreaties did they consent for him to go in and show him the place where the child was kept. He went with them from door to door of all his neighbors and residents of the building and then they heard the bleating of the lamb. The Christian woman heard it as well and joyously proclaimed: This is the sound of the child I heard. How very great was their disgrace when they saw that it was but a young lamb tied to the bedpost and longing for its mother. They departed in humiliation.
Would you imagine, dear reader, that this titillating affair made the slightest impression to silence our Polish brethren who gleefully publicize such calumnies? Not at all! One of the Polish periodicals in Krakow entitled Kurier Krakowski, hurried to delight their readers with the news that the Jews in Oshpitzin had prepared themselves to slaughter a Christian child to celebrate the Feast of Matzot. Only the timely intervention of the diligent policemen had prevented them from shedding blood. Thus, they related an actual event, and who can deny it? Who will decree the closure or burning of that periodical as has become the custom with Jewish periodicals who point an accusing finger and besmirch Deckert? May his mouth be silenced; in that there is hope.
Issue 15, Iyar 4 5794 (May 10, 1894)
Oshpitzin, December 3, 1896
[A paean of praise on the demise of Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik Landa - not translated]
Oshpitzin, September 2, 1897Today, 24th of Av 5657 a caravan of Jews from Chrzanow passed through town. They were 12 in number, men and women, old and young on their way to Zion. Among them were the prosperous who found it possible to be self-supporting in their goal to appease its stones and to beseech its dust. May the Lord grant they arrive at their destination.
Oshpitzin, June 23, 1898
Armed soldiers of the militia were stationed in the cities of Oshpitzin, Dukla, Korczyn, and Wieliczka to guard against pogroms and larceny directed against Jews. As soon as the soldiers left, the rioters rose up and followed in their wake and burned down a Jewish home on the road to Toroszowka.
Oszpitzin, June 14, 1900A Christian maid was employed in Oshpitzin by a Jew named Gross. Because of some illness she contracted she left her job and disappeared. It was surmised that she was admitted at some hospital. Last week, a man was cropping some of the tall grass near the fence of the Jewish cemetery, and since the grass there was very high, it seemed to look like an open grave. At once, a rumor spread through the town that the Jews had murdered the girl, had buried her, and that now the guards had disinterred her and brought her to the morgue at the Christian cemetery. The guard there [confronted with a mob] guaranteed that there was no corpse in the morgue and refused them entry. At that point the wrath of the mob increased and they tore the window of the morgue from its frame, and turned in its fury to the town's Jews and threatened them with the destruction of their homes unless they brought out the body of the victim. The police were hard put to disperse the angry mob and the Jews were sorely afraid.
Oshpitzin, July 12, 1900Our readers will recall that in Oshpitzin our oppressors laid a false charge of blood-libel against the Jews in the wake of the disappearance of a Christian maiden before Passover and witnesses testified that the Jews had brought her to the Jewish cemetery for burial. All the efforts of the police had so far been in vain. Lo and behold, the maiden was found by the Prussian police in Jast on the Prusso-Silesian border, where she had gone after her lover, to the boundless joy of the Jews in Oshpitzin.
(From Hamitzpe, Krakow)
Vol. 1, Issue 30, 26 Heshvan 5665 [Nov. 4, 1904]
[Florid self-praise relative to Kehilla activities and a personal attack against a complainant Yakov Hornung, about unsubstantiated claims regarding finances against the Kehilla leadership].
Vol. 1, Issue 31, 3 Kislev 5665 [Nov. 11, 1904)
[A rebuttal in the same vain in support of Hornung's claims].
Vol. 1, Issue 35, 1 Tevet 5665 [Dec. 9, 1904]
This past week, more than 150 refugees from Russia came to our town, and no one paid any attention to them, to perform the Mitzvah of hospitality until the members of the Zion organization in our town arose and had compassion for these bewildered exiles and came to their deliverance. [A list of
activists and their activity follows].
Vol. 3, Issue 21, 1 Sivan 5666 [May 25, 1906]Of the muck of the Kehillot
[A description of the infighting between various powers that be and those that would be in the Kehilla and the dire results, when these quarrels result in adjudication of the civil powers involving police and the courts to the ultimate shame of Jews and Judaism].
Vol. 3, Issue 30, 5 Av 5666 [July 27, 1906]From Near and Far: A Soul on Fire
The Banishment of a Criminal:
This past Shabbat, the Krakow Socialist Grossman came to Oshpitzin to deliver speeches. The townsmen went out to confront him, and do what was done to him in Chrzanow, but he took care to go to the outskirts of town. A large group pursued him and he was forced to declaim about a league from the city, there to pour out his wrath and vow vengeance.
Vol. 11, Issue 6, 10 Shvat 5674 (6.2.1914)
Recently, on the border between Galicia, Russia, and Silesia, a Royal Crown was discovered under an old oak tree that had been uprooted by the wind. The peasants brought the crown to the Krakow Museum, where everyone was delighted, because they claimed that the lost crown of the Polish Monarchy had been found. The antiquities expert, Dr. Radzokowski, however, proved that it was the crown of the German Emperor, Karl IV, who had celebrated his wedding in Krakow and had a new crown made, and on his return to Prague, the crown had been stolen. This took place in 1363.
(In the Journals of the Council of the Four Lands)
[A historical survey of the Council and its activities and several mentions of Oshpitzin. A synopsis of its activities and procedures is detailed. For a more comprehensive picture, see Salo Baron's History of Polish Jewry, or Graetz. I see no value in translating this section, since it will be better covered when we get to the Geshuri History of Oshpitzin].
|1150||Oshpitzin was a thriving city according to the Idris Map.|
|1179||King Casimir the Pious (Sprawidlawy [?]) grants Oshpitzin and four other nearby cities as a principality to Mieczyslaw Raczubirsju [?].|
|1232||The city is mentioned as "Osuachin" in early historical sources.|
|1291||Mieczyslaw III, Prince of Czyzyna [?] and Opole and the first independent Prince of Oshpitzin, grants rights to the inhabitants and establishes a storehouse for salt and fodder.|
|1313-16||After the death of Mieczyslaw III, the principality is inherited by his son Wladyslaw.|
|1322-26||Jan, the son of Wladyslaw, becomes the ruler of the principality.|
|1327||The princes of Upper Silesia declare their loyalty to Jan Luxemburgczik [?], King of Czechia, who affirms the right of inheritance of the Oshpitzin Principality to Casimir Cieszynski [?], thus transferring the principality from Poland to Silesia.|
|1372||Jan dies; his only son, Jan II, succeeds him.|
|1397||A pact is signed between Jan II and Wladyslaw Jagiello to interdict cross-border acts of robbery.|
|1406||Jan, who dies childless, bequeaths Zator and environs to his wife Jadwiga; Oshpitzin passes to the Cieszyn Bishop, Przymislaw [?] the First.|
|1407||After the demise of Przymislaw, Oshpitzin passes to his minor son Przemisl; until his majority, his uncle Boleslaw of Cieszyn reigns over the principality.|
|1433||At the death of Przymislaw, the possession passes to his three sons: Waclaw [?], Przemysl, and Jan.|
|1442||With the division of the inheritance, the Oshpitzin Principality passes to Jan.|
|1453||Oshpitzin is besieged by forces led by Jan Szczekarz and Jan Kuropatwa and the principality surrenders to the King of Poland.|
|1454||Oshpitzin's earlier privileges are confirmed by Casimir IV; they are subsequently renewed by Zygmund August in 1564.|
|1470||Fire breaks out in Oshpitzin and the city goes up in flames.|
|1471||King Casimir Jagielloncik [?] visits in Oshpitzin en route to Prague with his son Wladyslaw to receive the Czech crown; from then on an increasing number of privileges are bestowed to develop the city.|
|1497||Jan dies and the Oshpitzin Principality dynasty comes to its end.|
|1504||The village council, which had passed by inheritance for generations, is disbanded.|
|1519||The King grants Oshpitzin the concession of three fairs per annum for a two-year period with a series of tax and duty exemptions, with a view to regularizing the salt trade.|
|1539||Citizens receive the right to buy from Wieliczka and to trade in salt.|
|1558||A customs house is established in the city to collect duties on the Rivers Vistula and Sola.|
|1563||The first map of the Oshpitzin Principality is published in Venice, prepared by Stanislaw Pogorzlask [?].|
|1564||Burning clouds darken the skies of the city and a portion of it is destroyed along with the Dominican Monastery.|
|1564||On February 20 Poland annexes the Principality of Oshpitzin; the city becomes a regional center containing a palace; arrangements are made for the first census in town.|
|1565||The town is granted permission to establish and maintain a warehouse for merchandise; this is subsequently confirmed in 1647 and 1667.|
|1569||Concessions to brew beer and fishing rights on the Sola River are granted the inhabitants.|
|1572||A wooden bridge is constructed to span the Vistula.|
|1604||A hospital is put up in town.|
|1630||The district governor, Piotr Komorowski, repairs the palace and diverts the Sola so as not to damage the palace.|
|1633||A commission is appointed by the Sejm to investigate expenditures made in repairs of the palace.|
|1652||City debt reaches the sum of 2,000 gulden.|
|1660||A census is taken by district authorities, encompassing Oshpitzin and the palace along with six villages and estates.|
|1655||Nearly the entire city is destroyed in the Swedish War.|
|1660||The 1660 census reveals a very sad picture: half the homes are empty of residents and there remain in town only six craftsmen; in 1662 the population consists of only 350-440 souls.|
|1667||The Sejm decides to levy a tax on fishing on the Vistula near Brzoskowice, for the purpose of repairing the palace once again.|
|1736||The Sejm orders the palace repaired, after having collected taxes for thirty years without having made the repairs; all the while, its condition deteriorated further.|
|1765||The census report includes a report on the neglected and failing condition of the palace.|
|1771||Piotr Malackowski [?] is appointed district governor of Przedborz and Oshpitzin.|
|1773||Oshpitzin, as part of Galicia, comes under Austrian rule.|
|1800||Oshpitzin is recaptured by Austria.|
|1813||The flooding River Sola severely damages the palace walls.|
|1818||The principalities of Zator and Oshpitzin are declared a part of the German Republic; this step is later rescinded as part of the Prussian Treaty in 1866.|
|1851||The city's population numbers 2,453 souls.|
|1856||Railroad service between Oshpitzin and Dziedzice and between Oshpitzin and Trzebinia is inaugurated.|
|1863||Population reaches 2,792.|
|1863||The church, town hall, and 130 homes are destroyed by fire.|
|1866||During the Prussian-Austrian War, Prussians cross the border and capture the city's railroad station; after several skirmishes, they are driven back over the border.|
|1884||Railway service is inaugurated between Oshpitzin and Krakow with a depot in the city.|
|1897||Railway service is inaugurated between Oshpitzin and Katowice.|
|1900||Austrian authorities grant Oshpitzin the concession of holding 12 fairs per annum.|
|1900||The population now numbers 2,118 souls in 295 wooden houses.|
|1914||Under an old oak tree near the border at Oshpitzin, the royal crown of the German Emperor Karl IV, which was stolen from him on his way to Prague, is discovered; it is placed in the Krakow Museum.|
|1918||The Austrian monarchy collapses in November and Independent Poland is established.|
|1939||Oshpitzin now numbers 12,000 souls.|
|1939||On September 3rd, Oshpitzin is bombarded by Nazi Germany.|
|1940||The city and environs are transformed into one of the most horrible extermination camps.|
|1945||Oshpitzin is liberated by Russian armed forces in January.|
|1947||Rudolf Hoess, Chief Executioner, and 23 henchmen are hanged at the camp gates on April 14th.|
|1947||Opening of the International Museum of Genocide [?] with a special Jewish wing on June 14th.|
|1453||Jewish "heretics," excoriated by the murderous Priest Capistrano's atrocious propaganda in Germany, flee to Oshpitzin and pay an entry tax on crossing the Sola Bridge.|
|1563||King Zygmund August limits the growth of Jewish population in town and forbids them to buy or build houses in the market square.|
|1564||The census comprises only those Oshpitzin Jews who pay various taxes.|
|1564||According to the census, there was only one Jew in Zator who had paid his poll tax; those who had not paid were not counted.|
|1581||Only one woman storekeeper and 113 craftsmen are listed as Oshpitzin taxpayers.|
|1627||On the Sabbath prior to Purim [Feb. 27th] a libel is leveled by Poles against the Jews of Oshpitzin, which is resolved only by intervention of the Council of the Four Lands and the payment of reparations.|
|1667||Oshpitzin appears on the House of Israel Map of the Four Lands at the edge of Poland; it continues to appear there until 1764.|
|1756||A Jew converts to Christianity in nearby Chocznia [?].|
|1765||A census taken in Oshpitzin reports 133 Jews.|
|1776||Eight Jewish families engaged in agriculture settle in the Principalities of Oshpitzin and Zator.|
|1783||(5443) Rabbi Yitzchak Eisik Landa, head of the rabbinical court in Oshpitzin and trustee of the Council of the Four Lands, dies at the age of 70.|
|1785||A Jewish code of regulations is prepared.|
|1793||Rabbi Yechezkel Landau of Prague dies; his work Noda bi'Yehuda contains a responsum addressed to the head of the rabbinical court in Oshpitzin (Part 14, 1st edition, section 66).|
|1838||(20 Kislev 5598) the Tzadik Rabbi Berish Frummer, author of Divrei Tzadikim, dies.|
|1849||(3 Nisan 5609) Rabbi Moshe Yakov Scharf, head of the rabbinical court and author of Darchei Yosher dies.|
|1863||Two synagogues go up in flames in a major conflagration of the city.|
|1880||(5640) Rabbi Abba'le Schnur is installed as head of the Rabbinical Court, replacing Rabbi Shlomo, the Tzadik of Bobowa, who moved to Wisznice.|
|1880||The city's Machzikey Hadas [Upholders of the Faith] Organization, headed by Chaim Schenker [?], is founded on July 9th.|
|1881||A huge conflagration destroys the church and about 40 houses, leaving hundreds homeless.|
|1882||The learned sage, Rabbi Ephraim Yisrael Blycher, Oshpitzin's rabbi, educator and author dies.|
|1886||Oshpitzin now has 5,054 inhabitants, 2,535 of them Jews.|
|1890||The city now comprises 5,414 inhabitants, of whom 3,063 are Jews.|
|1899||(5659) Rabbi Yehoshua Bombach, author of Ohel Yehoshua, is appointed to succeed Rabbi Abba Schnur, who moved to Tarnow.|
|1900||In June, a blood-libel is leveled against the Jews in Oshpitzin accusing them of the murder of a Christian girl, who is found alive several days later.|
|1901||A Zionist association is founded in Oshpitzin as a branch of Hitachdut Zion, and its library is opened.|
|1910||Subsequent to the latest Austrian census, there are 3,000 Jews in Oshpitzin.|
|1913||Dr. S. Piltzer [?] is the Oshpitzin Zionist delegate to the Zionist Congress.|
|1917||Rabbi Shlomo [Halberstam], the Tzadik of Sassow, settles in Oshpitzin, which becomes a center of Sassower Hasidim.|
|1918||Following the declaration of Poland's independence, nationalist rioters attempt to carry out pogroms targeting the Jews of Oshpitzin but are prevented from doing so by Jewish self-defense.|
|1921||Results of the census in town show 490 apartment houses and 12,187 inhabitants, of whom 4,950 are Jews, 40.3% of the total.|
|1923||Mizrachi Youth is founded at the beginning of 5684, providing evening classes in Hebrew, Tanach, and Talmud.|
|1924||WIZO is founded in town.|
|1939||The city's population reaches around 12,000 of whom some 7,000 are Jews.|
|1939||On September 3rd Nazi German forces enter the city. On that very first day, eight Jews are murdered.|
|1939||On September 20th the Nazis burn the Great Synagogue, its 40 Torah scrolls, and its contents to the ground.|
|1940||In the spring the building of the Auschwitz Camp begins. On June 15ththe first transport of Polish political prisoners arrives.|
|1941||On April 25th the Nazis deport the entire Jewish population from Auschwitz to Sosnowice-Bedzin [Szrodula Ghetto].|
|1945||The city is liberated in January by the Russian armed forces.|
|1945||In May, the High Commission to Investigate German Crimes in Poland convenes in Oshpitzin.|
Dedicated to the memory of my father, RYosef Ben RYitzchak Ben RChaim
who perished in Bergen-Belsen Camp
[See photo of author on page 144]
My return to Oshpitzin
In June 1945 I returned together with my wife, my children and my late stepmother to the town of my birth Oshpitzin. We came back as beggars of the lowest category, shriveled, hungry, dressed in tatters and penniless. Thus we stood at the train station of my birth-town without any possibility of recognizing it. The station had been enlarged, the inner hall looked different, and more tracks had been added. It was only after leaving the station that we spotted the Zator Hotel and came to realize that we were really in Oshpitzin.
We had not seen any familiar faces in the station which instead was full of drunken and raucous Soviet soldiers. Meanwhile a farmer arrived on his wagon and decided to take us to town, as luck may have it, since my stepmother was unable to walk and we had barely managed to get her off the train.
The farmer took us to the address I had given him, Jagiellonska 41. We stood there on the sidewalk in front of my villa from which I had fled in the beginning of 1940 and into which we were not allowed to enter as the militia had occupied it. The Commander brought us to my father's villa situated opposite, and billeted us in a small room on the second floor. This villa had served at different periods during the German Occupation as a hospital for Volksdeutsche patients, as a military headquarters, and as an employment bureau.
Next morning I came down to bathe in the River Sola. I didn't see a soul on either bank. Without intending it I was flooded by memories when at evening time the river and its banks was full of Jewish bathers. To be honest, I would in those times have met only a few bathing enthusiasts in the early morning hours, among them Dr. Moshe Goldberg with whom I had friendly ties. He had been the elder of the Zionist Movement in Oshpitzin. Although belonging to the General Zionists, all of the town's Zionist factions regarded him as a leader and ideologist. This was a man of broad knowledge, modest, and kindhearted. I had once sketched his children in their garden on Bialik Hill which had been arranged by the family members in terraces. His wife too, was sympathetic and cultured, a daughter of a distinguished family in Stanislawow. They had perished there in their home at the outbreak of the War.
Unintentionally, my eyes caught the hill on which Dr. Goldberg's home had stood and which had been later sold to Kornheiser [?]. Swimming in the river I was suffused by an emotion which remains with me to this very day. It was as if I had returned from different worlds after centuries of deep sleep to a well known land which had in the meantime become a place without people I know, without relatives and friends, and only the houses and landscape remaining as they were.
From the river's edge I saw the view towards the city: From afar – the cement bridge and beyond to the Piast Fortress with its tower, which after WWI had been covered by an awning by its owner at the time, Emil Haberfeld, and the building which had been renovated before the War to house the district offices (Starosta [?]). Just in front of it the gigantic structure of the monastery of the Silesians, and below that were the remains of the Kehilla building and the boilers of the Mikveh. Over that, like a bald spot, the place where once stood the Great Synagogue that was torched in the winter of 1939/40 after the Germans had entered the city. Closer still – the new building of the Casa Oszczendnoszczi [?], erected near the outbreak of the War, in which my father's friend, Dr. Reich, the last Jewish deputy mayor had lived. Still closer to me – the Post Office and next to it Mehl's home, associated with childhood memories and where so many Jews had lived. Next to that was the Courthouse which belonged to my father's friend Shmuel Weinberger who had died before the outbreak of the War. Behind it the building of Moshe Grinbaum, the flour wholesaler. Overlooking there, at the top of the hill, was my late father's villa. On the slope of the hill – the water mill, that had been converted into an apartment house. So many youthful memories bound me to that villa which my mother had bought from the widow of Notary Nowak [?]! Further on – the trees and bushes of the arboretum whose upkeep had cost the municipality huge sums due to the depredations of frequent floods of the River Sola.
On my way back from the river I saw the remains of the football field, where here and there pieces of the cement benches were still visible. Here and there cows and goats were gnawing away at the tree trunks.
On returning home I found my family still asleep. I thanked God that I had managed to save them in spite of all the hardships and dangers that had lain in wait for us, and we had succeeded to remain alive.
I was enveloped by a terrible ache remembering that of all my extended family no one remained other than just my immediate family. It was then that I remembered a strange incident that happened to me at the beginning of the War, when the Gerrer Rebbe passed through our town on his way to the Land of Israel. This was in October 1939. Biberstein, the Head of the Cracow Judenrat, had informed me by telephone that the Gerrer Rebbe and his close associates were to pass through Oshpitzin by train, and requested that I provide them with some warm food, since they had not been permitted to approach the train in Cracow.
We rode to the train station in the company of Kehilla officials, Aaron Silbiger, Abraham Jachtzel, Michael Sandel [?], Abraham Gross, and Yitzchak Hutterer, taking with us thermos bottles of hot tea and pastries. In the second-class coach, completely isolated, rode the Rebbe, his family, associates, and his personal doctor. The coach was guarded by S.S. men. They allowed us to approach in order to provide the travelers with food and drink. I was busy with the distribution of the pastries while the Rebbe, short of height, gray of hair, in a wide and high hat stood at the window of the coach and took leave of all the Jews. He called me over, took both my hands in his and wished me: You, your wife, and your children will remain alive and will succeed in surviving the War.
The train moved, the Rebbe was on his way, and we stood and watched as the train rode off to freedom. By order of the train officials we were obliged to leave the station.
On our way back from the station, in silence and sadness I heard the whispers of my companions: The Rebbe did not wish us a thing, but you he blessed, and from us he only took leave!. I was amazed as to why the Rebbe in his blessing had said You, your wife, and children, and not You and your family, which would have been simpler and more natural.
Now, as I returned from the river, I understood that which to my sorrow, had been foreseen by the Gerrer Rebbe. As my eyes teared I wondered: Was this blessing intermingled with a curse? And perhaps, the Rebbe at that time was pleading for our lives before the Creator and redeemed us by his blessing. I remembered Aryeh, my sister Sala's son, who had been like a son to me and had been with me throughout the entire war at Camp Bergen Belsen, and died during his sleep on the night of our liberation on the train taking us from the camp to freedom.
Aryeh did live to see the end of the war. My father died of starvation one month before the war ended. My sister Libe was betrayed and delivered to the Germans in Wieliczka in 1942 by a Polish woman, in whose home in the village she had hidden, and she together with her lovely children was taken to the cemetery where first they shot her children and only afterwards shot her too, my dear sister Libke Hofstadter [?]. My brother Mendel was shot on the road from the prison in Wisnice on the way to Bochnia in 1942. His wife and two children were deported from Zaloszyce to Belzec. Yitzchok, the second son of my sister Sala, was taken from me together with my mother-in-law on a transport in Tarnow. My brother-in-law, Zalman Frankel, the former husband of my sister Sala, perished together with his second wife and their children in Cracow. All of this took place in 1942.
In spite of all the tribulations we experienced in the ghetto, in the prisons, in the bunkers, in the forests, and in the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp, we remained alive by the grace of God, I and my wife and children. However, to our grief – the only ones of the whole family.
Throughout the entire war I had the inner feeling that we would make it through the war safely, and it was this feeling which gave me the strength to make quick and fateful decisions.
We were always like hunted animals. Wherever we came I sensed the life- threatening dangers that lay in wait for us. I never slept unless I had a bunker nearby, or a prearranged hiding place in mind. We always had ready travel permits and hidden money concealed in our clothes. In some wondrous fashion my path always took me to towns in which seizures of Jews and deportations were about to take place. I already knew the signs for this and warned the people wherever I could. In spite of this I was often in danger, shot at, arrested, sent on transports, discovered in bunkers, and those with us were killed, but we were somehow protected by Providence and saved at the last moment.
The second path I took after my return home was to the cemetery, to visit my mother's grave. The surrounding ancient wall had disappeared, and instead of my mother's grave I found a giant crater caused by aerial bombardment. A terrible sadness came over me as I realized that I would never be able to visit my dear mother's grave. A great number of the headstones, especially those of marble, had disappeared, and the remaining ones overturned, and some half buried under grass. I dug around and found pieces of the headstone of my great-grandfather, R Chaim Schenker, and those of his wife, Libale and of my grandmother Miriam Mali Hollander.
I sat on the ground and before my eyes, as in a film, arose the memories of my family. I sat there leaning against the remains of the wrecked walls of R Yekele's tomb. I looked at the wrecked headstones of our ancestors. I remembered the legendary familial tales of ancient times told to me by my grandmother Miriam Mali and felt somehow a debt I find difficult to describe. Suddenly, I sensed that this ground on which I sat was holy. I shook myself awake and looked around and the entire image represented futility and portended a hopeless future. I felt the accusation by the dead of all mankind, in that even their last resting place had been barbarously desecrated. I said to myself that this sacred ground ought to be fenced off. I asked myself was it worthwhile? I concluded that everyone had to do what he could and others would see to it in the future.
Sad and depressed, I went to the city hall to register. I saw sidewalks made of tombstones that had been taken from the cemetery. In the former Enoch House [?], to which the city hall had been transferred yet in the days of the German occupation, I saw steps made from Jewish headstones. When I left city hall I saw piles and piles of headstones on the place where the Great Synagogue had once stood. I went down to the river, where I was shown headstones loaded on barges that the Nazis had prepared to send to Germany.
I thought it my responsibility to have these stones returned to the cemetery and to have it fenced off once again.
Two months had passed from the day the Germans had left, and the Poles began to complete the task of Jewish extermination on the Jews returning from the camps. A young Jew and his mother and sister who had returned reopened a grocery store in Brzeszcze. I was amazed that he was not afraid to live alone in a village. He laughed at me and said the Poles liked him very much and that he had many friends in the village. I warned him to lock his doors well at night. One night the Poles attacked and killed them. I had to send my horse in order to bring their bodies for a Jewish burial. Thus, the Jewish cemetery once more served its function
With the active assistance of Heshek Kinrich [?] we were able to rebuild the wall around the cemetery and rehabilitate it. We devoted much time and energy to this task. Only a short time afterwards, to our sorrow, Polish hoodlums destroyed the headstones we had replaced and smashed them with sledgehammers. Not a year had passed and City Hall began to debate whether the Jewish cemetery was still in use, or whether it was now possible to expropriate it and subdivide it for building plots.
The Jewish cemetery still exists!
We turned our thoughts to a place of worship. I repaired what was left of the Chevra Mishnayes. It was difficult to gather a Minyan, but, nevertheless, Jews again prayed on the Sabbath in a synagogue in Oshpitzin, even though hoodlums threw stones and smashed windows during the services. That's how things were on the return to Oshpitzin.
Again there were reports of Jews removed from trains and being killed, about the murder of Jews who were escaping through the mountains to Czechia, about the pogrom in Kielce. I also received anonymous demands to pay ransom which were accompanied by death threats.
Jews began to wander westward where they were concentrated in refugee camps. The poisonous hatred sown by the Germans increased anti-Semitism in Poland. The Poles regarded every returning Jew as a threat to having to surrender stolen property. Jews sold their possessions for a pittance and began to wander to distant places. It would, however, be an injustice to accuse all the Poles, as there had also been those who saved Jews without recompense. I, too, was saved by a Pole when I escaped from Wieliczka and he hid me in the forest.
I remembered stories about our family from the distant past, when my ancestors left Regensburg in Germany in 1519 to make their way to Poland. In February of that year, when the winter was at its worst, the edict of expulsion of the Jews from Regensburg was announced. They themselves were required, by order, to destroy the synagogue. Immediately after their departure the cemetery was destroyed and 5000 Jewish headstones were utilized as building material for the city's houses. As then, so also now, the magnificent Jewish community of our birthplace was wrecked by the Germans.
I decided to remain in Poland where Jews had begun to settle as far back as the 10th Century. Of course I had doubts. I always remained aware of the persecutions and pogroms that had taken place in Poland. Yet, I also considered the great contributions that Jewry had made in all spheres of life in the Diaspora – in economics, culture and religion, and primarily – in the nurturing of the idea and the hope of the return of the people to its land and birthplace. Was it right to abandon the remaining vestiges of the cultural and religious heritage of Polish Jewry to the Poles, the very little that did remain from the unclean depredations of the accursed Nazis?
In the celebrated synagogue of R Itzik R Yekel's Synagogue in Cracow, there now hung a gigantic black cross. The Spitalna Street Synagogue had become a Greek-Orthodox church. In the Sieroka [?] Street cemetery the headstones of Rabbis and Gaonim had been smashed. From time to time Jewish children who had been delivered to Poles appeared and needed to be reclaimed as well as Torah Scrolls brought for sale by Poles which we were required to redeem, and so on and so forth
Yes indeed – for ten years I lived in post-war Poland
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