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Part I:

Creative Years

 

Pages from the Past

 

Early Jewish Settlers

Radom is one of the oldest towns in Poland. Its origin undoubtedly could be traced to at least the 10the century. History books recorded a castle and church erected there by King Casimir the Just in 1187.

There is very sparse material on the early settlement of Jews in Poland. They escaped slaughter and persecution by the crusaders in Western Europe. The Polish rulers encouraged their settling in Polish towns and villages for they felt that the Jews as traders and artisans would be beneficial to the country with an economy based completely on agriculture.

 

The King and Little Esther[1]

There is no historical clue to indicate the origin of the name Radom. There was a legend which had been passed on since time immemorial until it became part of Radom's history.

King Casimir the Great had been deer hunting with the noblemen of his court in the forests of Solub. A frightened beast ran out of the woods and darted toward a young girl picking berries near a farmhouse. The King shot the beast just in time to save the girl's life. The King was enchanted with the girl's beauty and charm. Her Jewish parents dared not resist the King's solemn wish to take 'Esterka' along to the palace.

The monarch had become very attached to little Esther, who meanwhile had flowered to great beauty. In order to keep her away from the amorous knights of the court he had a palace built exclusively for Esterka near the site of the memorable hunt. King Casimir spent many happy days with Esterka in the palace which is still preserved in Radom and known as “Esterka's House” at numbers 5 & 6 Rynek (Market Place). When a town grew around that house it was named after Esterka's 'Rad-dom', the House of Joy.

 

Pioneers in Trade and Commerce

The Jews then lived for centuries in peace and harmony with their Polish neighbors despite their differences in customs, dress and tongue. They settled in proximity of landowners' residences and kings' courts and greatly contributed to the development of the country's commerce.

The trade of the time was based on barter and Jewish merchants began the importation of silks, velvets, carpets, fruits and wine in exchange for Polish products, such as grain and furs. Later the Jews introduced the minting of copper and silver coins to be used as mediums of exchange, as was the practice in the western part of Europe. Poland's earliest coins were inscribed with Hebrew characters.

 

Persecution and Expulsion

The dark forces of ignorance and hatred that dominated Europe during the Middle Ages did not spare Poland. Jews were made scapegoats for all evil. The primitive peasants and town dwellers plagued by epidemics, floods and fires, were aroused by the devout Jesuits against the “non-believing” Jews. Under pressure of the Church some Polish kings permitted the expulsion of the Jewish population from many areas.

In the year 1633 Radom was declared closed to Jews except on market days. As the seat of the State Treasury and Supreme Court, Radom became a center of trade and commerce and many Jewish families established permanent residence there despite the ban. They were treated as second class citizens with no rights and forced to pay exorbitant taxes. The Polish bourgeoisie considered the Jews as

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The Early Ghetto

Radom without Jews faced economic ruin. The Treasury and Court closed down and Radom was degraded to the status of a village. Poland, meanwhile, went through a grave crisis and was partitioned among the three neighboring states of Russia, Austria and Prussia.

The Poles in Radom were helpless in the face of poverty and disaster and hoped to revitalize the economy by inviting the Jews to live in Radom. In 1789 Jews moved to Radom again and were assigned to the slum area around the ancient palace. Thus started what later was known as the ghetto.

 

Napoleon: Equality for Jews

Only a small number of Jews took advantage of the residence permit. According to available records there were only 34 Jews in Radom in 1812. But by 1815, the number grew to 413.

Napoleon, considered by Poles and Jews alike as the savior of Europe and champion of liberty and equality, had left his mark on the early nineteenth century generation. The Napoleonic Code was written into the constitution of an independent Polish State recreated by him. It contained guarantees of equal rights for the Jews of Poland. With the defeat of Napoleon, the Polish state collapsed and so did all noble slogans of fraternity and equality. The comparatively small Jewish community of Radom found itself again at the mercy of the local rulers. In 1829 they passed a law confining the Jews to the ghetto around Walowa Street. The Jewish population, by then grown to about 1500 mainly consisted of newcomers from the surrounding villages. The first large synagogue was erected in 1844, designed by an architect and artist from Warsaw, Samuel Reingewirtz.

 

An Organized Community

The erection of the synagogue may be considered the beginning of an organized Jewish community in Radom. For according the laws of Poland a Jewish community could receive official recognition only after building a house of worship. And only as an organized community would they be permitted to own land for burial purposes. Until 1831 the Jews of Radom were forced to bury their dead in the town of Przytyk, about 20 miles away. Przytyk had established a community long before Jews were permitted to live in Radom. Due to a severe epidemic and quarantine during 1831 the Jews were permitted to acquire cemetery grounds in Radom.

 

Synagogue: the Baron, the Tsar, and the City of Frankfort

In connection with the synagogue building in Radom, there is an interesting story, reported to us by Mr. M. Staszewki of Tel Aviv. It tells of the struggle of the Jews of Radom in the 1830's, the generosity of the German Jewish Baron Rothschild and the plight of the great Jewish community of Frankfort, Germany, 100 years later.

The Jewish community leaders of Radom had made many attempts to secure a building permit for a synagogue from the local authorities, all to no avail. Nathaniel Beckerman, one of the leaders and a man of stature and wealth, in a desperate move, decided to try and get a permit directly from the Tsar of Russia through the intervention of the world renowned, influential head of the House of Rothschild. Beckerman traveled to Frankfort and was received in audience by the Baron Anshel Rothschild.

As a result of Beckerman's trip Radom received shortly afterwards not only the Tsar's permit to build a synagogue, but also a generous personal gift from the Baron and a donation from the wealthy Jewish community of Frankfort towards the building fund.

A full century later, in 1936, an urgent letter was received in Radom from the Jewish community in Frankfort, asking for the immediate repayment of 3600 marks. To us in Radom this request was another proof of the plight of German Jews in the early years of the Hitler regime.

As a footnote to the story may we add here that the synagogue in Radom, a proud symbol of Jewish community life was destroyed by the Germans 100 years after its erection.

The front page of the Jewish section of this book has a drawing of the synagogue portal, done from memory (with symbolic interpretation) by M. Perl of Tel Aviv.

 

The Hospital: 15 Years in the Making

Sanitary conditions in the nineteenth century were in general very poor. The city was plagued by diseases and epidemics. The Jewish population, though slightly better off in this respect due to their adherence to hygienic and dietary laws of their faith, could not care for the sick in their midst because they lacked hospital facilities and personnel. Jewish patients were barred from the city hospital, which was administered by Catholic fraternal orders.

The community, being comparatively small (1500 people), could not raise the necessary funds for a hospital building. They were overburdened with heavy taxation imposed on them by the government. In addition to the usual taxes the Jews paid extra taxes for their right to consume Kosher meat and wear long robes. The Jewish leaders made frantic

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Attempts to receive, in return, government aid for the hospital fund. The Beckerman family made the first step by donating the land for a hospital.

It took many years of intervention and prodding for the government to agree to divert the special meat and dress taxes toward building the hospital. The Jewish hospital was finally completed in 1859. The City Council imposed on the Jewish population an extra hospital tax for its maintenance. The supervision was entrusted to its founders, headed by Nathaniel Beckerman and his son Reuben, who was a great philanthropist in his own right. The medical staff consisted of Dr. Spielrein, Dr. Fiedler, and Israel Finkelstein.

 

The Duke: Champion of Civil Rights

One of the most memorable dates in the annals of the Radom Jewish community was the year 1862. It was then that they were given complete citizenship by a noble lawmaker, the Duke Alexander Wielopolski. In this he was vehemently opposed by the Church, and was later forced into exile. He died in Germany, forsaken by his compatriots. When the Duke's body was brought to Poland, the Jewish people declared a period of mourning and paid tribute to the great reformer and champion of civil rights by placing his coffin in the synagogue where he lay in state, an unusual honor accorded a Christian.

 

Pioneers in Industry and Fighters for Freedom
New Frontiers

The ensuing years brought a considerable improvement in the progress of Jews towards emancipation. The ghetto walls crumbled. Jewish men took advantage of available opportunities and stepped up to new frontiers. For the first time in history they participated in the city government as representatives of the Jewish faith. They were pioneers of modern industry in and around Radom. In the suburb of Firley, Jews owned a large plant producing agricultural machinery, a steam flour mill – the largest in Poland. Near these the Beckermans built plants for grain and rice processing, brick and nail factories. Others pioneered in the iron industry, soap and candle manufacturing, and textile industry. A number of Radomer Jews left town and later made a name for themselves in the world of finance, education and science. Many young men joined the ranks of Polish patriots and fought in the uprisings of 1861-1863 against Tsarist Russia. To illustrate, we give here a few short biographies, based on research done by a Jerusalem historian, Dr. N. M. Gelber.

 

Nathan Bloch: Railroad Buildier, Pacifist, Economist

He was born in Radom in 1836 of a textile weaver's family. He attended both a religious and secular school. At the age of fifteen he followed in his brother's footsteps to Warsaw, converted to Christianity and changed his name to Jan Bogumil.

Bloch continued his education in Warsaw, the capital of the Russian empire, and through contacts with Jewish banking firms, he was awarded the contract of the Tsarist government to build the Petersburg-Warsaw railroad. This enterprise brought him a large fortune with which he established his own banks in Warsaw.

During the Polish uprisings of 1863 Bloch attended the Berlin University where he acquired a great knowledge of world economic problems and military strategy. Upon his return to Warsaw Bloch devoted his efforts to railroad building and construction of modern industrial plants along his distant routes.

While his fortune multiplied he gave considerable amounts to Jewish charities with special emphasis on the emancipation of the Jewish people. He spent millions on projects aimed at the absorption of Jews into productive occupations. In his factories and lumber mills Jews had employment priorities and were given free housing.

In 190 Bloch organized an office for the study and reform of the Jewish economic and social structure and in this project he drew the support of J.L. Peretz, Dr. Theodore Herzl and the Barons Hirsch and Ginsburg.

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As an expert in railroading and finances Bloch wrote three volumes on the subject. He also published a five-volume work on economic and social problems of nineteenth century Russia and Poland, with special emphasis on Jewish issues. As an ardent pacifist he attempted to avert bloodshed and used his enormous prestige for a conciliation in the bitter struggle between the Poles and the Russians. He also published a major work in seven volumes, entitled “The Wars of the Future” which was later translated from Russian into four western languages.

During his entire adult lifetime Bloch made it a point to underscore his Jewishness and few knew that he had ever converted to the Christian faith.

Bloch-Bogumil died in 1901 in Warsaw. In his will he acknowledged that he had always remained a Jew and asked for a Jewish burial.

 

Rosenblum: Financier and Art Patron

David (Karol) Rosenblum, a native of Radom (born 1829), was primarily known as the initiator of the sugar industry in Poland, which later became the major exporter of this commodity to Europe and Asia.

Like Bloch, Rosenblum amassed a fortune in the banking business and also when he was awarded a contract by the Tsarist government to pave the streets of Bucharest, Rumania. He also contributed greatly to the growth of industry by investing in coal mining and textile mills. He left his mark on Polish commerce with his active role in the organization of chambers of commerce.

Rosenblum was widely known as a generous supporter of Polish artisits and painters. He donated his rich collection of paintings to the Warsaw Museum. He died in 1899.

 

Dr. Bauerdorf: Medical Researcher

Born in Radom in 1845, Bauerdorf, like many others, migrated to the big city, the open world, to face a new challenge. Under the influence of the Renaissance, the youth was caught in an intellectual ferment, a yearning to leave the stale atmosphere of the ghetto and breathe in the fresh air of a liberalized Europe. Bauerdorf and others found their way to the universities of the western world. He studied medicine and practiced in hospitals in Germany, France, and England.

From 1882 until his death, he lived in Warsaw and was on the staff of the hospital. He simultaneously edited a medical research publication.

Dr. Bauerdorf did extensive research on the pathology of the nervous system. Incidentally, among his friends were the literary greats of those days, Henryk Sienkiewicz and Boleslaw Prus.

 

1863: Fighters for a Free Poland

Jews of Radom actively participated in the historic uprising against Tsarist oppression and gave financial assistance to the cause.

Dr. Jozef Handelsman of Radom commanded a fighting unit in a nearby town. He was later sent abroad with a delegration of the Polish National Committee to secure arms for the uprising. He was caught by the Russians and exiled after a court-martial.

M. Benzion, a native of Radom, was arrested in Warsaw and court-martialed for armed resistance.


Footnote
  1. The story is based on an article written by the late S. Bennet, historian. Return


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Religious Life in Radom

 

Portraits of Hasidim[1]

The Hasidic movement of Eastern Europe left its mark on nineteenth century Radom, and it never really capitulated to the advent of the modern movement of Haskalah-Enlightenment. Many of the Hasidic greats lived in Radom at one time or another and drew many followers both in the town and surrounding villages.

Each group of Hasidim believed their Rebbe to be a saint, able to perform miracles. They longed to be near him, share with him their sorrows and joys, receive his advice in business matters and even medicine for the ailing. Throngs of supporters would come from far-away places to see the Rebbe on holidays.

Adherents of a Rebbe would form a shteeble or club and meet regularly for prayers ad study of Torah. The meetings would frequently turn to prolonged story-telling about the wonders and wisdom of their favorite Rebbe and end in communal singing and exalted dancing.

Radom had many shteeblach, each supporting one of the major Rebbes of Eastern Europe; and Radom had several “courts”, or resident Rebbes.

 

Rebbe Israel Taub: Composer

During his residence in Radom, the town was filled with son. Rebbe Israel (“The Modgitzer”) composed his own music and lyrics. His tunes later became true gems of Jewish folk music, still sung and played all over the world.

On Sabbaths and holidays Rebbe Israel's house on Lubelska 61 was beleaguered with his ardent musical followers. At those times the Rebbe's tune would carry beyond the city's limits and fan a true Hasidic “fire” among his listeners. They felt then that their souls were united with that of the Creator, for in song they reached the heights of ecstasy.

The most famous of the “Modgitzer's” creations is The Song of the Homeless, also known as The Tune of War and Peace, composed by Rebbe Israel during World War I in Radom. He died in Warsaw in 1921.

 

Rebbe Yaakov Taub: Liturgy

Though with a lesser following, Rebbe Yankele, a brother of Reb Israel, was a credit to the Modgitzer tradition. He lived on Lubelska 3 and could usually be found in his study, leading a small congregation in prayer. He composed some tunes and liturgical music and developed his own individual style of prayer melodies. Due to his extreme modesty he did not wish to take any credit and, consequently, it is not known which Hasidic tunes were originated by Reb Yankele.

Rebbe Shraga Yuer Rabinowitz: Scholar and Author

A native of Bialobrzegi, Rabinowitz lived in Radom for many years and attracted to his “court” hundreds of pious Jews. His emphasis was on teaching the Torah and he published two volumes of commentaries, still used as text books by Orthodox students. He died at the age of seventy-two in 1911. Scores of great rabbis from many countries came to Radom to attend his funeral.

 

Rebbe Yosef Rabinowitz: The Martyr with the Shofar

A nephew of the above, Rebbe Yosele was extremely pious and conducted daily services in his apartment on Witolda Street, which served as a house of worship to a generation of Jews in Radom.

At the age of eighty he was shot with a group of followers by Nazi soldiers. Before killing him, the Nazis tried to wrest from the sage a package he hid beneath his vest. It turned out to be an ancient shofar, a family relic.

 

Moshe Frimer: The People's Rebbe

He settled in Radom in 1902, on Starokrakowska Street 12. The large house of worship adjoining his apartment was always filled to capacity. Reb

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Moshele attracted mainly simple people, artisans and laborers who loved to listen to Reb Moshele's lectures explaining Torah and Judaism in Clear and simple terms. He often used parables and anecdotes and thus awakened the people's imagination and renewed their religious feeling and understanding of Jewish laws.

The poor and sick found in Rebbe Moshele a willing and sympathetic ear during private audiences. They would always leave his room consoled and uplifted in spirit. A man of wisdom and compassion, he would prescribe harmless cures and treatments, based on hygienic principles of the Talmud.

Frimer was killed with his entire family by the Germans during the “deportation“ of 1942.

 

“The Kozienicer”: Rebbe of the Young

Reb Elimelech Rokeach came to Radom as a refugee from a nearby town during World War I. He was extremely popular with the Young people of Radom and had many adherents among Talmudic students and learned men. His “court” was in L. Den's house on Szpitalna Street. Though he lived in poverty, he was happy to share his last with the most destitute. His passing shortly before World War II was mourned by the entire city.

 

The Chief Rabbis of Radom

According to available records still preserved in the County Court of Radom, the Jewish community had no official spiritual leader until 1845. Prior to that year the community lacked the essential elements required by law in order to establish a congregation: a synagogue and a cemetery. Thus there was no legal basis for the seating of a rabbi.

In 1826 the Russian authorities introduced a civil registry system which placed the responsibility for keeping adequate birth, marriage and death records in the hands of an official rabbi. In the absence of a rabbinate in Radom, the civil records were supervised between 1826 and 1845 by various rabbis from neighboring villages.

Needless to say, Radom never had a shortage of Klei-Kodesh, religious servants to fill the needs of the community, as kashrut, religious instructors, holiday observances and services, or outstanding rabbinical judges. None of them, however, could meet the requirements set by the Russian authorities to occupy the position of chief rabbi and representative of the community to deal with the world outside the ghetto.

In 1845 the Kehillah of Radom finally received authority to install Rabbi Landau as its spiritual leader. Joshua Landau, descendant of a famed dynasty of scholars in Prague, served a term of twelve years as chief rabbi of Radom, until 1857. He was known to have actively participated in the hospital building campaign and in the founding of an interest-free loan association.

 

Rabbi Samuel Mohilever (1824 – 1898)

succeeded Landau to the rabbinate in Radom. Rabbi Mohilever was a man of great knowledge both in religious and secular subjects. He was influenced by the new Haskalah or Enlightenment movement and devoted himself zealously to the task of elevating his people.

During his extended travels Rabbi Mohilever met with other great reformers of his time. Together with Ahad-Haam he formed the Lovers of Zion movement.

Rabbi Mohilever was also one of the founders of religious Zionism. Through his international contacts Mohilever approached Baron Edmond Rothschild with a detailed plan of Jewish colonization of Palestine (1882). As a result of Mohilever's endeavors Rothschild financed the establishment of the first settlement at Acron in Palestine, with pioneers from Radom as the first settlers.

Despite his preoccupation with the Zionist cause on a world wide scale, Rabbi Mohilever spared no effort to improve the conditions of the Radom community. He was especially concerned with the problem of education and believed in the need of a thorough reform of the antiquated confinement of Jewish boys to the study of Talmud only.

While fostering the ideals of “Return to Zion” among the Jewish people, he stood watch over the rights of his brethren under Russian tyranny. In the 1870's, the Tsarist Governor of Poland decreed that all Jew must shave their beards and ordered

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Mohilever as their leader to be an example by shaving first.

Mohilever went to Warsaw to intervene with the Governor. He walked out of the Governor's office with a written annulment in his hand.

In a book by I. L. Maimon, entitled Leaders of the Century, there is a revealing anecdote on the Hasidim of Radom who greatly revered Rabbi Mohilever and desired to crown him their rebbe. They would come to his house on Sabbaths, partake of his meals, entertain him with Hasidic tunes. One day, in their Hasidic fervor, some started to confess their sins to him and even ask for cures and miracle drugs.

Rabbi Mohilever, a confirmed opponent of Hasidim, felt abhorrence at these requests. He then quickly called his wife to join him at the table and sit next to him. At the sight of a woman in their midst the dismayed Hasidim struggled to the nearest door.

 

The Dreisin Affair

After Rabbi Mohilever's departure from Radom in 1884 to head the rabbinate in Bialystok, the Jewish community in Radom found it difficult to select a successor who would measure up to Mohilever's personal qualities and prestige.

The Russian government intervened and nominated a certain Yosef Dreisin, censor of Jewish books and Russonphil, as Radom's chief rabbi. At the insistence of Israel Frenkel (see next chapter), who conducted a public campaign against Dreisin and his Russian supporters, the Kehillah withheld the recognition of Dreisin as spiritual leader. For three years Dreisin terrorized the Jewish community as the Russian-appointed inspector of schools in an attempt to win for himself the Kehillah's approval as chief rabbi. In a campaign of vilification against Frenkel, Dreisin denounced him from the Russian authorities as a revolutionary and confiscated all textbooks of the Frenkel School.

The community's courageous stand against the Russian stooge prevailed. Dreisin had to leave town. He later converted to Christianity and remained the scourge of several Jewish communities in Russia.

 

Rabbi Abraham H. Perlmutter

In 1886 Radom succeeded in finding a worthy candidate to fill the vacant seat in the rabbinate in the person of Rabbi Perlmutter. He was a traditional scholar who was also well versed in Russian, which made him acceptable to the Russian authorities.

He actively helped in the maintenance of the Jewish educational institutions founded by Israel Frenkel. In 1901 Rabbi Perlmutter was one of the founders of a savings and loan association for both Poles and Jews. In recognition of his services to the community he received a gold medal from Tsar Alexander III and a silver medal from Tsar Nicholas II.

Rabbi Perlmutter published several volumes of commentaries on the Talmud. In 1902 he resigned from the rabbinate in Radom to accept a high rabbinical position in Warsaw. He was later appointed Jewish representative in the Council of Regents of Independent Poland and deputy to its first Sejm (Parliament).

 

Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Treistman (1864 – 1920)

He was installed as Radom's Chief Rabbi in 1904. A man of integrity and valor, he immediately won the affection of the entire Jewish population and the cooperation of the local ad supervisory Russian authorities. Rabbi Treistman brought to the city harmony and stabilization in communal affairs. He made a name for himself as an able arbitrator in civil law suits and attracted clients from a wide area. This additional income enabled Rabbi Treistman to live comfortably on the principal street of Radom.

These were days of revolutionary upheavals and political ferment in the Russian Empire. Rabbi Treistman's interventions with the governor saved many lives of young Jewish men and women arrested for revolutionary activities.

After ten years in office, Rabbi Treistman left Radom in 1913 to become chief rabbi of Lodz.

It seems that Radom served its rabbis as a springboard to greater rabbinical careers. In Radom they acquired experience in community leadership and maturity in Jewish scholarship, which made them eligible for high positions in the larger Jewish communities in the land.

When rabbi Mohilever came to Radom he was hardly known outside the limited circle of the Wolozyn Yeshiva. When he left Radom, after sixteen years in office, to head the rabbinate in Bialystok, he was a world renowned leader of the Hibat Zion Movement.

Rabbi Perlmutter came to Radom completely unknown, but due to the reputation he gained during his sixteen-year tenure of office in Radom, he was sought after for the chief rabbinate of the capital city of Warsaw, a steep climb to success in anyone's career.

Similarly, in the case of Rabbi Treistman, if it were not for his experience gained in Radom, he never would have aspired to the honored post in the great industrial city of Lodz, then known as the “Manchester of the Russian Empire.”

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Rabbi Treistman made headlines during World War I by his war relief work for thousands of destitute refugees in Lodz, for which he enlisted the generous assistance of the Dutch government. By his courageous stand and heroism, he averted a near pogrom and slaughter of the Jewish population in Lodz by the retreating Russian armies.

The fact that the three largest Jewish centers in Poland came to Radom to enlist their spiritual leaders attests to the Radom community's focal place among Polish Jewry.

 

Yechiel Kestenberg – Radom's Last Rabbi

Born in 1888 in Radom of a rabbinical family, youthful Kestenberg, like so many young men of that strife-torn generation, attempted to break the barriers of his orthodox home environment and step into the new world opened to Jews by emancipation ideas. While a student at the Yeshiva he secretly read modern books, wrote poetry and met with revolutionaries. Forced into submission by strict parents, he abandoned his lofty ideals and finished the rabbinical school. His domineering father found a rabbinical position for him in a small nearby town.

While the Kehillah in Radom was searching for a chief rabbi to replace Rabbi Treistman, twenty-five year old Kestenberg came to town and tried to force his candidacy by means thought to be unbecoming his profession. The community was irked by the intrigues and coercion employed by Kestenberg's supporters in their bid for the rabbinate. Kestenberg then made the unfortunate mistake of requesting the Russian governor's help in the nomination and thus sealed his own fate.

According to the laws of the country, all tax-paying members of the Jewish community had the right to elect a rabbi by secret ballot. This was one of the privileges granted the population after the revolutionary upheavals of 1905-07. Liberal elements were then in command of an absolute majority and they would certainly not tolerate a rabbi imposed upon them by the governor, symbol of Russian despotism. To put an end to this situation, a suitable candidate was found and the electorate voted unanimously to accept Rabbi Tzirlson of Kishinev as chief rabbi of Radom. Rabbi Tzirlson declined to accept the position on the grounds of supposed intimidation by the Kestenberg group.

Meanwhile, the war of 1914 broke out. The misery and deprivations of prolonged warfare overshadowed the Kestenberg conflict. Rabbi Kestenberg was then installed by the Russian authorities as temporary rabbi of Radom. When the Austrian armies occupied Radom, they confirmed Kestenberg in the same capacity.

During the early years of Poland's independence, Rabbi Kestenberg carried on his duties and gained some supporters in the ranks of the artisans and assimilationists. He also made friendly contacts with officials of the new Polish administration in the city.

The Polish constitution had, meanwhile, regulated the laws governing the Jewish community. It enlarged the scope of responsibility of the Community Council, giving it autonomy over all aspects of Jewish life. The Council, representing all parties, was elected by popular vote. The Kestenberg group received only three positions out of a total of twenty-two councilmen.

At the Council's first meeting it was resolved to set November 1, 1924 as the election date for a permanent rabbi. In this the Council was thwarted by Kestenberg's intervention with the Polish administration. The election of a rabbi was cancelled and the case of Kestenberg vs. Radom was fought in the courts, including the Supreme Court, for many years. The case had its repercussions in the Polish Parliament and was the cause célèbre until the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Rabbi Kestenberg never achieved the goal for which he fought for twenty-five years.

During the German occupation he lived in seclusion and did not participate in any official affairs of the city. In those days of general calamity caused by the savage Nazis, the Jews of Radom forgot the entire controversy.

Rabbi Kestenberg was among the thirty thousand Jews of Radom rounded up for “deportation” on August 16, 1942. If he was ever guilty of any wrong-doing he completely vindicated himself on that day when he attacked, with his bare fists, a German storm-trooper who had just killed a child. Rabbi Kestenberg died a martyr's death.

Those who witnessed the scene will always remember Rabbi Kestenberg not as a controversial figure in the fight for the rabbinate but as the courageous man of patriarchal stature who gave his life in a fight for his people's dignity.

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The Cantors of Radom

Radom had, in addition to its elaborate synagogue, a large Bet-Midrash, or Institute of Learning, with a seating capacity of over one thousand, which also in all sections of the city, dozens of shteeblach where services were held regularly.

The congregations were usually led in prayer by Baal-Tfilot, men with proven integrity and a high degree of learning in Jewish subjects. What were primarily required of them, however, were a pleasant voice and some knowledge of liturgical music.

Since the job of a Baal-Tfila was an honorary one, they would in most cases derive their livelihood as ritual slaughterers, or Shochet. We deem it important to mention here that Radom had a succession of distinguished Shochtim, starting with the Zucker family.

Reb Simcha Binem Zucker was a contemporary of Rabbi Samuel Mohilever and a personal friend of Israel Frenkel. Zucker was an early Zionist and inspired his children with his devotion to the ideals of Enlightenment and Hibat Zion. His grandchildren were among the early pioneers in Palestine. Numbering over two hundred, the Zucker descendants are now a closely knit family in Israel. They contributed in great measure to the rebirth of the State.

Reb Binem's two sons followed in their father's footsteps and became Shochtim in Radom, as did his son-in-law, Reb Israel-Isaac Neidik, a noted scholar. Samuel Seidik succeeded his father. He now lives in Israel.

Another man, prominent in the profession, was Reb Hayim Leib Hertz, who was Shochet in Radom for forty years.

(A complete list of Shochtim is on page 59 of the Yiddish section of the book.)

 

Isaac Rubinstein

As the community grew, the Kehillah sought to enhance the services in the great synagogue by employing a cantor. In 1895 a contest for a cantor was announced and Isaac Rubinstein came out the winner.

He was a man of great talent and musical culture. In those days he was one of the few cantors who knew how to read notes. He played the violin well and gave private music lessons. A lyrical tenor, he impressed his audiences with his synthesis of traditional liturgical melodies with contemporary music.

He was assisted by a choir of thirty boys, of whom we will mention a few: Israel Zweigenberg and Joshua Den (both now in Tel Aviv), Isser Lipshitz (later principal of the Jewish school “Kultura” in Radom) and Jechiel Popper (now in Montreal, Canada).

All Rubinstein's children received a musical education. His grandson, Sascha Rubinstein, became soloist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

 

Gershon Yaffe

After Rubinstein's retirement in 1910, Gershon Yaffe won the contest for the cantorial position in Radom.

A native of Russia, Yaffe graduated from the conservatory and sang in Russian operas. He put great emphasis on the choir and therefore engaged the known composer Akiva Dormashkin of Vilno to serve as choir director.

In the Voice of Radom (September 1959) Mr. S. Rosenbaum of Toronto, who sang in the choir, recalls the following members of the Yaffe choir: Kirsch (now President of the United Radomer Relief in New York), Den, Lewin, Zelitzki, Rychtman (all in Israel), Weintraub (now in Detroit), S. Malach (now in Paris), S. Berlinski (now cantor at the Rothschild Synagogue in Paris), and I.L. Goldwasser (now cantor in South Africa).

Yaffe retired in 1937.

 

Moses Rontal

A graduate of the Vilno Conservatory and the Vilno School for Cantors, Rontal was installed in the Radom Synagogue in July, 1938. He was the last cantor in Radom.

During World War II M. Rontal experienced all the sufferings of his adopted city. He first was put to forced labor in the munitions factory in Radom, and then in the concentration camps of Germany.

After the liberation, Mr. Rontal conducted High Holiday services in the Stuttgart Opera House for thousands of camp survivors and Jewish members of the United States armed forces. He was assisted by a choir of young men from Radom. It was a stirring event.

[Page 12]

Mr. Rontal's Kol Nidre service, heard again after six years of slavery, left a lasting impact on the audience. The years of deprivation obviously affected the cantor, for on Yom Kippur Mr. Rontal lost his voice and Mr. Leib Rychtman, a member of the choir, completed the services.

Rontal and Rychtman later organized a choir among the Radom survivors in Stuttgart, Germany. The choir gave frequent concerts over Radio Stuttgart and in displaced persons camps.

After Rontal's emigration to the United States of America, L. Rychtman was the official cantor for the Jewish community in Stuttgart and for the rabbinate of the United States occupation army in the area. Moses Rontal is now cantor at the Humboldt Jewish Center in Chicago, Ill.

 

Cantors from Radom in Other Countries

L.M. GOLDWASSER, born 1898, received his first training in Yaffe's choir in Radom. In 1922 he was ordained as cantor in Warsaw, later he held cantorial positions in Leipzig, Paris and Zurich. For the past seventeen years he has been cantor at the Jewish Center of Meusenberg, South Africa. An expert of liturgical music, he wrote several articles on the subject. Some of his cantorial songs have been recorded on discs.

SHALOM BERLINSKI, born 1918 in Radom, was also a member of the Yaffe choir. As an adolescent he set out to pursue an opera career and studied music at the Paris Conservatory of Music. He received voice training from the La Scala tenor Valdernini in Italy.

At present S. Berlinski is chief cantor at the Rothschild Synagogue in Paris and is on a concert tour of Europe. His diverse repertoire includes Western classics as well as Jewish folk songs.

JACOB BERLINSKI, born in 1913, received instruction in music at the age of seven from Dormashkin in Radom. He is a graduate of the Paris Conservatory of Music and a recipient of awards for outstanding original compositions. His latest work, the “Van Riebeek Symphony”, commemorates the three hundredth anniversary of the founder of the Union of South Africa. It has since been included in the repertoires of the leading symphony orchestras of many countries, including the United States.


Footnote
  1. This chapter is based on articles written by L. Fishman, M.S. Geshuri and I. Grintz, all of Tel Aviv. Return


Modern Currents

Elias Tenenbaum Pioneers of the Haskalah Movement

The road to emancipation of Jewish masses in Eastern Europe was a hard and long one. While the comparatively small Jewish communities of Western Europe promptly adopted and adjusted themselves to the patterns of the surrounding culture, Polish Jewry was still dominated by the mighty forces of Hasidism. It took over half a century for the Mendelsonian ideals of Enlightenment to penetrate the darkness of the ghettos in Eastern Europe.

The avant-garde of the Haskalah movement in Poland sought to let in a little light and fresh air into the lives of the Jewish masses, to elevate them to high cultural levels and, through education, to improve their economic position.

The people of Radom were fortunate in having in their midst some of the greatest pioneers of Haskalah: Rabbi Samuel Mohilever and Israel Frenkel. Both drew nourishment from age old wells of Judaic tradition and knew how to combine it with modern ideals and aspirations. Both were motivated by love for their people and sought practical ways to make the old dream of redemption from exile and return to Palestine a reality. In this belief they were forerunners of Zionism.

 

Israel Frenkel (1853 – 1890)

This distinguished Maskil – man of spirit, wisdom and accomplishment – whose name is recalled with respect and admiration by all who knew him, was born in Radom in 1853. His father, Reb Shraga, of a scholarly Hasidic family, died when Israel was eleven years old, and he was brought up by his mother Nehama, nee Potashnik, a direct descendant of the Prophet of Lublin.

Frenkel attended several famous yeshivas, but most of his youth he spent with Rabbi Mohilever, who instilled in him love of Torah and love of the people and land of Israel. He always remained Mohilever's student, friend, and right hand. It was

[Page 13]

Rabbi Mohilever who exerted a major influence on Frenkel's ideology.

In 1872 he married the daughter of the Hasid Shalom-Yehiel and Pessa Kirschenbaum. The home of Israel and Speranza Frenkel became the center of the emancipated youth of Radom. Although they could hardly make ends meet, their household was geared to feeding whole groups of hungry students and scholars.

Frenkel's great moral stature and outstanding personality created a magical influence over the assimilationists of our community and brought them back to Judaism. They were even persuaded to assume active roles in the cultural and social life of the community.

Israel Frenkel was an understanding and extremely warm friend of the poor of Radom. Their constant guide and counselor, he raised his fellow Jews from the depths of their darkness and loneliness and opened new vistas for them with his eloquence and knowledge. He cared for the education of their children; he raised them in the Jewish way and taught them the secular subjects of t his modern age. He was not content just to preach and lecture, but started free evening courses for adults, utilizing other Maskilim as unpaid teachers in Tanach, Hebrew, Polish, and Polish and Jewish history.

He founded a Talmud Torah, with an educational standard as high as that of any modern school. The reformed Talmud Torah was subsidized by the Jewish Education Council in Warsaw. Its fame went far beyond the boundaries of Radom and it was open to all who wished to study there. About half of its three hundred students received free tuition. The institution eventually grew to such proportions that an entire floor had to be leased above Koplar's Brewery.

While Frenkel's authority and stature in the community grew, it by no means pleased the wealthy aristocratic elements that he was so deeply concerned with the ordinary folk; the Hasidim, on the other hand, were outraged because he introduced the study of secular subjects. Reb Herschel Diament, the father of Shalom, waged a “holy war” against Frenkel. The latter was denounced as an enemy of the Tsar and Russian government and as a supporter of the Polish underground.

Frenkel was indeed a Polish patriot, and as a result of an article written by him, the Hatzefira, a leading Zionist periodical, was suspended from publication for some months. Had it not been for the intervention of Rabbi Mohilever, Beckerman and the elders of the Warsaw community, Frenkel would most certainly have been arrested and his school closed.

Frenkel had a host of friends, devotees and defenders. These included: Mordechai Weissman, the famous sage, Adolf Zucker, proprietor of a large book store, Reb Herschel's son, Shalom Diament, Professor Pelta Muskatblit, the master tailor Abraham Pomerantz who was the chief speaker for the working class, the shochet from Przytyk, Reb Binem Zucker, and of course Frenkel's staunch supporter and shield, Rabbi Samuel Mohilever.

It should be also noted that among Frenkel's devoted friends were to be found personalities of the caliber of Professor Moshe Dickstein, Nahum Sokolow and Haim Yechiel Borenstein.

In Nahum Sokolow's house Frenkel as treated like a member of the family. He contributed his articles and essays frequently to the top literary and political periodicals of the time: Sokolow's “Hatzefira”, Smolenskin's “Hashahar” and others.

Israel Frenkel was considered to be one of the best Hebraists of his time. The revival of Hebrew as a modern language became a cornerstone of the Hibbat Zion movement and Frenkel, armed with an ideal and determination, demonstrated remarkable vigor. Influenced by the great philosophers and reformers of his day, Frenkel acquired an immense fund of Jewish lore and learning as well as a considerable amount of secular knowledge. His pen was concise but with a poetic power of expression. He had a perfect command of the Polish language as well as German and French.

The following works by Frenkel were published in book form:

  1. Mutiny of Traitors, a drama.
  2. Queen Esther, a dramatic play in six acts by Kozlovski, translated from Polish into Hebrew.
  3. A translation into Hebrew of Lessing's A Girl Easily Persuaded.
There were several other volumes, whose titles cannot be traced due to the holocaust of two world wars. He left many unpublished manuscripts and an unfinished German-Hebrew dictionary.

Frenkel died during an epidemic in 1890 at the age of thirty-seven. He was deeply mourned by Poles and Jews alike. Thousands followed his funeral cortege and thronged to pay their last respects. The eulogy in the great synagogue was delivered by Rabbi Perlmutter while the congregation wept bitterly. All businesses in the city were closed for the day. The whole Jewish press published obituaries and tributes, emphasizing the irreparable loss to the Jewish community. The impact of Frenkel's personality and achievements were felt in Radom until the tragic end of the Jewish community half a century later.

[Page 14]

Elias Tenenbaum Leon Lieberman

Yehuda (Leon) Lieberman was the first pioneer of the period of Enlightenment in Radom. He came originally from Krakow in 1859 and opened a book store in Radom. With government assistance he was able to organize a number of modern schools and was soon designated an Elder of Kehillah.

At the start, local Jewry was sympathetic and Lieberman's authority grew. But when he began to exert his influence as a leader of modern thought and advocated radical reforms in Jewish life and thinking, he made many enemies. He fought the darkness of ignorance, prejudices, and fanaticism. He closed some classrooms and places of worship because they lacked necessary sanitary facilities. This, of course, aroused the anger of the Hasidim and others who began a fierce feud and boycott against him which eventually brought Lieberman to ruin, bankruptcy, and flight.

The newspapers of the day published articles, mostly penned by J.L. Lichtenfeld (the father-in-law of I.L. Peretz) protesting the intolerance of the Radomers and the injustice of their actions which brought ruin to a respected family. Israel Frenkel replied to the accusations in his articles, which appeared in 1875, in Hashahar and Hatzefira. He attempted to defend the Radomer community on the grounds that Lieberman brought his misfortunes upon himself by his association and close cooperation with the despotic Russian regime, thus antagonizing the Polish neighbors who were then fighting for an independent Poland.

Lieberman later became a Hebrew teacher in Warsaw and published a modernized prayer book with a German translation. He died at the age of ninety in a street-car accident.

 

Distinguished Educators

Elias Tenenbaum Shalom Diament

An ardent Zionist and distinguished educator, he raised a generation of leaders for the Zionist movement in Poland. Diament was a student and relative by marriage of Israel Frenkel, whose work he carried on into the 1920's.

Diament was a member of the “Palestine Committee” in Odessa, the pre-Herzlian center for Zionist activities. He was also a supporter and active worker for Radom's social and charitable organizations. For his livelihood he operated a book store on Lubelska Street. His name was inscribed in the golden book of the Jewish National Fund.

 

Professor Pelta Muskatblit

He was born in Radom in 1872.

One of the “last Mohicans” of the Haskalah generation led by Israel Frenkel, and a graduate of the Frenkel School, Muskatblit continued his education in Warsaw.

Muskatblit taught at the Frenkel School in Radom and later became teacher of Jewish religion and history in all high schools of Radom. Professor Muskatblit worked in the latter capacity for forty-four years and had earned for himself the respect of both the Jewish and Polish population. He raised three generations of boys and girls in the spirit of national consciousness.

In addition to his endeavors in the field of education, Muskatblit was extremely active in the Zionist movement, especially in fund raising campaigns.

Muskatblit earned a great name among Hebrew scholars by his translations of Polish and German works into Hebrew, too numerous to be listed here.

After Frenkel's death, Professor Muskatblit became correspondent for Nahum Sokolow's “Hatzefira” from 1890 to 1907, and also permanent correspondent of the “Israelite”. He wrote essays on philosophical subjects as well as dissertations on Hasidism and mysticism.

Prof. Pelta Muskatblit was the epitome of honor, righteousness and goodness. He died in Radom in 1934.

[Page 15]

Elias Tenenbaum Mordechai Weissman

A man of great erudition and oratory, he made a name for himself as a propagandist for the then-sprouting Zionist ideal. In this capacity he toured the United States for two years.

M. Weissman, nicknamed Muflag, meaning The Expert, was in charge of cultural activities of Mizrachi, the religious branch of the Zionist movement. He also wrote many books, revealing a deep insight into traditional Judaism. Weissman came to Radom in 1868 together with Rabbi Mohilever and died in 1938 at the age of ninety-six.

 

Jacob Potashnik

A leading figure in the Haskalah movement of Radom, he was born in Przytyk in 1843. He taught Hebrew and Talmud at the school of his nephew, Israel Frenkel, and was a frequent contributor to the leading literary periodicals in Poland and Russia.

 

Hersh Rosenblatt

Born 1798, he came to Radom in 1845. Rosenblatt distinguished himself with his translation of the Napoleonic Code into Russian, for which the Polish Prince Paskiewicz granted him an honorary citizenship of the city of Warsaw and freed him from taxes during his lifetime. Rosenblatt also received the privilege of being the first Jew to live in Kielce, a town near Radom, hence his nickname “the Kielcer”.

Rosenblatt founded a non-profit pawn bank in Radom. He willed most of his estate to the poor of Radom.

 

Samuel Weinberg

He was a dynamic figure among the Haskalah leaders. His wife Ronia was equally well educated. Both devoted their lives to the welfare of the people, particularly students and scholars.

 

Abraham Goldsobel

In 1890 Goldsobel received a license from the Russians to open a private school in Radom. He taught mathematics and Russian and hired teachers to instruct in other subjects. Goldsobel was a graduate of the Frenkel School. H e was also known to have given tuition to rabbis preparing for state examinations.


Radom – Center of Industry

 

Early Jewish Settlers

Radom was one of Poland's important industrial centers even before it came under Czarist rule. Its tanneries, ceramic and furniture factories and foundries were an essential part of the Polish economy. Archives show that the tanning industry existed in Radom as early as 1460.

In the beginning of the twentieth century Radom possessed fourteen tanneries, some producing three thousand hides a week.

Russia was then the sole market for Radom's leather. The demand was so great that some Radom tanners went to Russia to build branches, thus originating the leather industry in Russia proper.

Between the two world wars Radom's leather industry expanded, giving employment to thousands of people in close to one hundred factories. By 1939 the total output grew to ten thousand tons of sole leather and twenty-five million square feet of upper (soft) leather.

The second largest industry in Radom was the metal industry. There were six factories employing about one thousand people and producing pipes, radiators, water turbines, agricultural and tanning machinery and tools. The output of the metal industry served as a basis for the growth of the government-controlled armament factories in Radom.

There were three ceramics factories in Radom producing porcelain articles, sanitary equipment, ceramic tiles and pipes. Named Rothenberg, Chmielarz and Maryvil, they were owned by Jews and employed one thousand workers.

There were several woodworking factories producing furniture (bentwood factor J. Cohen, owned by Leszcz and Teichman), plywood and veneers (I.M. Leslau), wood supplies for shoe manufacturing (Fabian Landau), and others. There were also many lumber mills.

There was a sizeable chemical industry – “Porsa”

[Page 16]

--- paint and lacquer factories, owned by Adler, Kleif and Tenzer, “Java” chicory factory owned by Jonas Kirschenbaum, supplying all of Poland.

In addition we ought to mention some smaller plants, geared to local needs. For example, brick factories, hardware manufacturing, shoe and clothing factories, food-processing and printing shops.

 

Jews in the Leather Industry
by Moshe Rothenberg

Long before the First World War, Radom was already known for its tanneries and as a center of leather trade. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were large tanneries specializing in sole leather. Four of these tanneries belonged to families of German descent, and the rest to Jewish firms. Of the former, one was later bought by Schmerl Brams, who adapted the greater part of the factory to the manufacture of ceramic products for sanitary purposes, the first of its kind in Poland. This was later sold to Abraham and Bluma Rothenberg.

Leather production depended to a great extent upon the chemist's skills in the preparation of the chemical formulae and tanning agents used in the processing of hides and skins.

The tanneries made it their business to engage the best specialists and master tanners from Poland and abroad, and in spite of the fact that these specialists kept their methods strictly to themselves, many of the owners and more able workers soon learned enough about the craft to be able to handle the operation themselves.

Most of the workers in the tanneries were Poles, except in some of the Jewish owned firms, which also employed Jewish workers. Skilled factory work was performed by Poles exclusively. They were organized in unions with membership closed to Jews.

A large part of the leather production of Radom was sold to Warsaw. There was a steady flow of traffic between the two cities with finished leather going to Warsaw and chemicals, dyes and skins being brought to Radom.

Parallel with the tanneries, there developed in Radom numerous channels of trade involving hides, dyes and chemicals, and leather by-products; further, the leather wholesale and retail trade, which lay completely in Jewish hands. There was shoe manufacturing for local markets and for export, reaching countries in the Far East. Although we have no exact statistics, it would be safe to say that about twenty-five percent of Radomer Jews were engaged in all branches of the leather and allied industries. The material success of the industry was enormous for these days, creating general prosperity in town.

With the outbreak of World War I a severe crisis ruined the industry. The declaration of full mobilization in all territories wrecked the trade in Poland. On their retreat the Russian armies emptied the tanneries, taking with them entire stocks, raw and finished, as well as the chemicals. Some of the owners went with the Russians and continued their leather production in Russia.

The German-Austrian military occupation authority requisitioned the whole of the remaining stock in the tanneries, paying for it in notes that were never to be honored.

The Austrian occupation permitted production f leather for military needs in a few small tanneries, providing only for an insignificant quota of goods for the civilian population. This resulted in a “black market” of considerable magnitude, involving smuggling activity and bribery of the occupying authority. Those willing to take the risks were able to enrich themselves by trading with leather produced secretly in Radom. A sizeable smuggling operation with leather from Vienna, Budapest and Prague was carried on with the co-operation of some Austrian officers.

After the end of the war, it was found practically impossible to re-organize the leather industry because of the many changes that had taken place. Firstly, a great deal of equipment had been ruined and most of the remaining equipment was outdated and unsuitable for adaptation to more modern operation. There was a lack of capital and people willing to risk investment in the industry. The drastic geographic alterations that had taken place had cut off Radom from her traditional Russian markets. Moreover, Poland had now received parts of Germany and Austria which contained thriving tannery centers.

Gradually the industry started on its road to recovery. Some of t hose businessmen who had become wealthy in recent years invested their capital ad had hides processed and sold on a commission basis. Many enterprising Jews of Radom pooled their resources and formed partnerships and cooperatives.

They made a fresh start and with proverbial Jewish ingenuity developed an industry with new equipment and techniques. Radom's leather was of excellent quality and was soon in a position to compete in all markets of the world and bring stability and prosperity to the city, impoverished by war.

With the leather industry there came a tremendous growth in the allied field of shoe production, chemicals and raw materials for the trade. Jewish

[Page 17]

Participation in the leather industry and trade remained powerful enough to withstand the Polish government's many efforts during the succeeding years to remove the Jews from their economic positions by means of boycott, intimidation and discriminating policies in granting export licenses and credits.

The government promoted the establishment of many non-Jewish enterprises in the city with the aim of forcing the Jews out of business. They succeeded in all instances except in the leather industry. Not a single Polish merchant opened a leather shop before 1939.

We will read of the tragic Nazi period in another part of this book. But it was destined that the leather industry of Radom should again play a leading role in the community's life at this terrible moment in history when the mad dogs howled and a people were almost effaced from this earth.

Soon after the occupation, the Germans began to plunder Jewish property. Some of the tanneries were closed down, and in others local Poles or Germans were placed as overseers. At the beginning the owners were able to remain as workers or clerks. Since most of the overseers or commissars were not tradesmen, it often happened that the Jewish owners remained unofficially in charge of operations.

Leather became an expensive and important commodity. A “black market” operation of some considerable size was soon in progress involving Germans and some of their Polish sympathizers, who had the means of transportation which were not available to Jews. Gradually, having no alternative, the Jews accustomed themselves to this trade and were able to earn some sort of a living through the leather industry.

At the end of 1940 a new phase in the liquidation of the Jews began. The Germans then decided to dispose of all Jewish specialists and brought in their own. Most of these specialists, however, were unfamiliar with local systems and had to retain the Jews in their jobs.

Thus the Jews made themselves indispensable in an industry which the Germans considered important to their war effort. Still a very small portion of the production went for military purposes. Most of the leather was channeled to the black market and the tannery owners had accumulated sizeable fortunes.

It must be said here that the Jewish owners contributed generously to alleviate the misery of the ghetto inhabitants. They donated large sums to the “Joint Distribution Committee”, whose representatives conducted an effective relief operation. In addition, hundreds of families were saved from starvation and cold by the continued support given to them directly by the tannery owners. When the Germans leveled heavy fines on the community, the leather manufacturers contributed the major share.

In the circumstances prevailing under the Nazis, employment in a tannery was considered safe from the danger of deportations. By bribing the “commissars” the former owners succeeded in sheltering in the factory premises not only their own families but also hundreds of friends and neighbors.

These were islands of security in the midst of a stormy sea, filled with tears and despair. The tranquil islands did not last long. During the “deportation” to the death camps, in January 1943, all tannery personnel shared the fate of the entire Jewish community.

The machines still hum in the Radomer leather industry, built with Jewish initiative, determination and ability. It supported thousands of our brethren in a bustling city and sustained them later, in a time of calamity.

The chimneys of the Jewish tanneries in Radom continue to smoke, but there are no more Jews in Radom today.

 

The Jewish Artisans of Radom

The artisans or, using the Hebrew idiom, Baalei-Melaha, men of handwork, were a sadly neglected people. Their profession was looked upon as degrading and thus placed them in a lower social category. This belief dated back to the times when only study of the Torah was considered the fitting occupation for a Jew.

The period of Enlightenment and specifically the personal influence of its pioneer in Radom, Israel Frenkel brought a considerable change of attitude towards the craftsmen. In his efforts to elevate the standard of the working people, Frenkel had organized evening courses, giving the local artisans free instruction in reading, writing, history, as well as in biblical subjects. The campaign of the Maskilim, coupled with their personal exemplary conduct, resulted in bringing a general democratization of the Radom community in the succeeding years.

In 1906 the artisans organized an association named Achi-Ezer (Brotherly Help), which was to serve a manifold purpose: mutual assistance, loan cooperative, a social club and, on Sabbaths and holidays, as a house of worship.

Meanwhile the profession grew both in numbers and prestige. Many artisans opened their own stores, in which they sold their products and thus became merchants as well. With economic growth business became more complex and the artisans felt a need for a larger institution of mutual assistance.

[Page 18]

Following the example of the artisans in the large city of Lodz, they established in Radom in 1912 the second institution of its kind in Poland. Among the founders were: Ludwig Briliant, Chaim Korman, Moshe Rubinstein, Jacob Stroftchinski, and the teacher Marcus, who secured the necessary permits from the Russian government.

The Artisans' Club, located in new quarters on Lubelska Street 5, comprised a large library with books in three languages, a reading room, a social hall. To augment the cultural activities, Mr. Briliant, a drama student, organized a drama circle that gave several performances.'

The outbreak of the First World War and the resulting economic crisis prevented the artisans from carrying out the original plans for a professional organization. The war confronted them with new, pressing problems. The families of drafted members were in dire need of help as were the numerous unemployed. (The government assumed no responsibility for the welfare of draftees' families, nor were there provisions for unemployment benefits.)

The club administration met the challenge head on and rendered a great deal of assistance. The club was turned into a kitchen and free meals were given daily. Financial help was given to those in need. They also looked after the Jewish servicemen who were stationed in Radom.

A fund was started for interest-free loans. From this modest beginning there developed later the Artisans' Cooperative Bank with 1200 members.

With the establishment of a free Poland, the artisans participated actively in the municipal elections as a non-political party and won three seats in the City Council.

The Polish government enacted laws aiming to restrict the activities of Jewish artisans. In an attempt to eliminate the Jewish population from their economic positions, the government helped the Poles to open competitive commercial enterprises by means of long-term credit and lenient taxation. At the same time state banks refused loans to old, solid Jewish firms and the government arbitrarily imposed heavy taxes on them. Jewish artisans and merchants sought to survive by methods of self-help, higher productivity and intelligent marketing.

In addition to their bank, the artisans organized cooperative buying offices and supply-stores for their members. The services of experts were secured to provide legal aid and technical assistance to all members of the trade.

Thanks to their initiative and remarkable vitality, the Jewish artisans surmounted the obstacles and held on to their positions. Many reached eminence as masters in their profession and distinguished themselves as leaders in the community. To mention a few among the operators of larger custom tailor shops: C. Bojman, Ch. Korman, M. Rubinstein, P. Weisbord. Of the preceding generation: Jacob Eifer, who worked for the benefit of his fellow craftsmen, and Urish Gluzman, who made a fortune as a garment manufacturer in the Russian period and owned most of the land on two principal streets of Radom.

There were about three hundred and fifty tailors and as many shoemakers in town. Among the prominent shoe producers we wish to mention the Fogelmans, the Goldbergs, the Kestenbergs, and the Neimans.

There were forty Jewish bakeries in Radom (plus six Polish owned.) The largest were Friedman's, Hoch's and Silberstrum's. About a hundred Jewish families operated butcher shops.

Exclusively Jewish were the following trades: furriers, upholsterers, woodworkers, saddle-makers, glaziers, goldsmiths, engravers, watchmakers, painters, soap-makers and barbers.

Certain trades were a monopoly of Jewish women, who made their living as dressmakers, seam-stresses, milliners, hairdressers, etc. Some had large modern shops employing many workers.

To summarize, the Jewish artisans occupied important positions in the economic life of Radom as in all of Poland, positions created by themselves, with tireless energy and great talent, often literally out of nothing. In general, however, they derived a meager living out of those positions due to the economic squeeze imposed on the Jewish traders and artisans by the anti-semitic Polish ruling class. In the 1930's ostracism of Jews and their elimination from the economic and social life of Poland became official government policy.

(Based on an article written by Shalom Stroftschinsky of Tel Aviv.)

 

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