by Dr. Yeshayahu Feig
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
When I was 13 years old, I was captivated by the Zionist movement. At that time, I would spend my summer vacations at my parents' home in the village, while during the school year (since I went to school in town) my parents arranged for my to live in the apartment of a widow, on Kosharow Street, across the street from the army barracks. In another apartment in the same courtyard lived the family Bienenstock, actually a widow (who made her living by giving private lessons to pupils who had difficulties in learning) with her three children: Max, a student at the University; Adam, a high-school student, and Sara, who went to elementary school. One summer, just before starting high-school, I went to visit my landlady, proudly dressed in my new uniform, with the shining silver stripes on my collar, and as I entered the courtyard I saw Max, in mourning dress, a black band on his sleeve. Frightened, I did not dare ask him what had happened. I went straight up the stairs to the widow and asked her what the meaning of Max's mourning attire was. She explained that a person by the name of Herzl just died, a man who wanted to create a Jewish state. He was a bit deranged in his head - she added, but Max was in correspondence with him, and his idea was about to be realized. He even spoke with emperors and other rulers about the problem she added, laughing. But now he is dead, so there is no use talking about it, only Max decided to wear a mourning band, and tonight they will be holding a mourning gathering.
That evening I did not go back home to the village. Through my uncle, who went back, I let my parents know that I will spend the night in the apartment of my landlady.
I cannot remember who attended the mourning assembly that evening in the Zion-Hall. I listened like spellbound. An entire new world opened for me, a world of mixed feelings, hope and sadness, wonderful visions and terrible tragedy.
I left the place as in a dream, and I couldn't sleep all night. Next morning I left the house furtively and looked for my friends, to discuss with them the happenings of last night. I asked for Zionist literature, and I was handed old editions of the newspaper Die Welt - every new edition passed from hand to hand as soon as it appeared. I returned home a new person and, if I may compare small things with great ones, I'd use the Latin saying: Saul was transformed into Paul.
It became clear to me that I must join that wonderful movement. A secret group by the name of The Jewish Circle has been formed by the students of the High-School upper grades. The students of the lower grades were not accepted, since it was feared that they would not be able to keep the existence of the group secret. Would the authorities become aware of it, the lightest punishment would have been expulsion from school. I remember well the founding meeting of our group, which took place in the hotel London, owned by Mr. Haber, the father of one of the members. Later, after the Haber family left Tarnow, the building was rented by the community for the Hebrew school Safa Berura (the young Haber left the movement and I do not know his fate). The meeting was attended by: Alter Beitch, whose father was a book-binder; Emil Wieder, the son of a goldsmith; Bernard Edelstein, the son of an iron merchant (Wieder and Edelstein's older brothers, who were in the higher grades of the school, belonged to the higher group); Yitzhak Fisch, the son of an accountant; Naftali Leinman, whose father was a land owner some distance from Tarnow, and the writer of these lines. I am not aware of the fate of all the persons who founded the Zionist organization in town. I know this much - that Beitch was later in Berlin and died there at an early age; the older Wieder lost a leg in the First World War; Edelstein died at the end of the War during the epidemic of the Spanish flu and his older brother was the director of a large Children's Hospital in Berlin named after a Queen (I think Victoria) and is now a famous pediatrician in Tel Aviv; Yitzhak Fisch was an attorney in Tarnow and Leinman was, I think, the owner of a movie theater in Krakow at the outbreak of the Second World War - both perished after the Nazi occupation. I can remember another detail: we tried to persuade Adam Bienenstock to join our group, but he had already been a member of the higher circle.
When we reached the 6th grade of high-school we were ready for the higher group. Some of its members were really talented persons, who later became famous: Wilek Berkelhammer, Eliyahu Tisch, Adam Bienenstock, Wilek Schenkel, Yosef Maschler and others. Young people who came to Tarnow to study and joined the group brought new life to the movement. Often we invited them to give lectures on various subjects (Max Bienenstock, Yitzhak Schieffer and others). The first lecture I heard in the group was given by Adam Bienenstock, on Lilien, the famous illustrator of the Bible. We would also gather to read newspapers, to keep up with the important events. Some of the Tarnow young people made Aliya to Eretz Israel: Yosef Perlberg, Leib Lichtinger, the Leibel brothers. In our eyes it seemed like a journey to the North Pole. The rumor was that there, in Eretz Israel, people are dying of malaria and other diseases. Those immigrants were heroes in our eyes, larger than life, and we envied them. One of the colonies in Eretz Israel, Machanayim, was founded by our townsman Avraham Saltz, the vice-president of the first Zionist Congress, and Bromberg-Britkovski. We heard that Radek Sobelsohn, a friend of Max Bienenstock, had become a nihilist and as a revolutionist he fled to Russia. Laufbahn from Dembitz went to Eretz Israel, as did the Brandstetter brothers, Yehoshua and Yehezkel. They were of a very rich family, and their aim was to live off the land in Eretz Israel, like simple peasants. Yehezkel is now a land owner in Yavneel in the Galilee and Yehoshua works in the film industry in the country. Their families followed them soon, and all are now strongly rooted in the land.
Eagerly we studied for the end-of-the-year exams. Passing the exams would mean that we were ready to join the higher group. With our hearts racing and full of hope we submitted the applications to the group. When we joined, a new world opened before our eyes. We could attend lectures about art, literature, Judaism, Jewish artists, Hasidism and emancipation. Berkelhammer was the editor of the journal Moriya. But he was not only editor: he filled the pages of the journal, writing on various subjects under different pseudonyms: Berwill, W. B., Pepin (after the name of his mother, Peppi). It should mentioned, that he could not sign his real name, because he would have risked being expelled from school.
The discussions in our group were stormy. We had to overcome and subdue two strongholds: the assimilation, which threatened to become a fighting anti-Zionist power and the religious Jews, who may have been Zionists in their hearts, but in practice they were against Zionism. All events pertaining to the Jewish life were reflected in our discussions. We also discussed the various factions of the Zionist movement, but these were friendly conversations, devoid of the dislike that dominated the discussions concerning the assimilation and the orthodoxy. At the time, the Zionist movement consisted of two sections: The Mizrahi and the Po'alei Zion. It is worth stressing here the fact, that the first Po'alei Zion group in Galicia was founded right here in Tarnow, in 1902. The founders were: Yakov Kenner, Yitzhak Butterfass, Sigmund Penichel and Henrik Flor. The fighting Po'alei Zion group in our circle was represented by Eliyahu Tisch, who made every effort to win our sympathy. Although our group did not include active Mizrahi followers, we knew that certain members went to the synagogue every Sabbath and holiday and observed at least some of the Jewish laws; however, openly they would not acknowledge membership of the Mizrahi.
When we graduated from high-school we joined the students' organization Bar-Kochba. During the school-year, the Zionist activity at the university was minimal; however it came back to life in the summer months. The Readings and discussions were endless. On summer vacation the students came back from the university-cities, bringing to town a variety of news and scientific reports, including problems. Most of them studied in Krakow and in Vienna. A student's organization by the name of Hashachar (The Dawn) was active in Krakow, and in Vienna the Jewish students joined the Bar-Kochba group. As for myself, I did not take an active part in the summer events of the organization, since I went to my village to spend the summer with my parents. Besides, there were many students more talented than myself who could lead the activity. The first among them were Wilek Berkelhammer, Eliyahu Tisch, Wilek Schenkel, Fritz Wasserman (who was employed at the income tax offices), Adam Bienenstock, Shimon Schoenfeld. Among the older members were Max Bienenstock, Yitzhak Schiffer, Shmuel Spann, and Dienstag, who was later an actor at the Vienna Folk-Theater and changed his name to Stefan Darnau.
When I began writing these memories, I remembered many facts and events, friends and acquaintances. However, in the course of writing, as I realized that all those that I am telling their stories were so cruelly murdered, tortured and persecuted - I feel the tears filling my eyes, not allowing me to further weave the thread of memories about Jewish Tarnow that once was, but is no more.
|Dr. Yeshayahu Feig (at right) and the
Poet Uri Zvi Grinberg on his visit to Tarnow, in 1932.
At left: Dvora Hurwitz-Abramowitz
by Gershon Argov (Reev)
A graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Translated by Sara Mages
In memory of Dr. M. Rosenbusch, the school principal in the last years of its existence, who was tortured to death by the Teutons of the 20th century.After I graduated from the Polish elementary school in a small town in central Galicia, I was confused, and didn't know where to turn and where I could continue my studies and my education. All of my parents' efforts to enter me into a government high school failed. Torture and anguish penetrated deep into my heart, and filled my whole being. Horror gripped me at the thought that I might have to spend a few more years in the anti-Semitic atmosphere which dominated all the government schools in Poland. For three years I wasn't able to attend any school, three precious years have passed without a formal education. And here, by chance, I learned of the existence of the Hebrew high school Safa Berura [Pure Language] in Tarnow, one of the few that existed at that time in Galicia. The idea of studying at a Hebrew school attracted my heart. The fact, that there is an institution where the principal and the teachers, without exception, are Jewish, at a time when a Jewish teacher in a public school was scarce, and best of all - an institution in which Hebrew is one of the languages of instruction. All that excited me, and with great energy I studied for the exam for the sixth grade, the upper class of that year in the young institution. This isn't the place to tell the whole story of the difficulties that I had until the authorities allowed me to take the exam. The teachers' cordial attitude toward the examinee left a great impression on me. But the most pleasant surprise for me was the exam in Rashi that was given by the principal - Dr. Zechariah Silberfenig. The exam took place in a classroom during a lesson. My tongue stuck to my palate from excitement and I couldn't utter a sound from my mouth. Not only that Rashi was taught from the Chumash while the teacher and the students wore hats on their heads. Not only that the subject was taught in the traditional manner that I studied in the Heder, but in a different understanding, different explanation and interpretation, but primarily the fact, that Jewish girls studied Rashi with Hebrew interpretation together with the boys, and their knowledge wasn't less from the knowledge of the boys. This fact surprised me, because I remembered that the education of Jewish girls was neglected in the Diaspora, and all their knowledge was limited to the reading of Tze'nah u-Re'nah, Kav ha-Yashar, or similar books that were translated into Yiddish. In recent generations, many of them turned their back on Jewish culture, flocked to foreign schools and integrated in the foreign environment.
|A group of teachers at the Safa Berura High School, with the school physician Dr. Y. Feig|
I breathed in relief in the school's atmosphere. National spirit and Hebrew atmosphere prevailed in all the corners of the institution. Every day, when I left the school's walls after the lessons ended, it seemed to me that I left Eretz-Yisrael for the Diaspora. The three years, in which I studied at the Hebrew high school Safa Berura in Tarnow, were years of happiness for me. A long line of living images is standing before my eyes when I remember that period. The building, which was the property of the Zionist movement in Tarnow, stands vividly before my eyes. It stood in a beautiful quiet corner of Tarnow with its rooms full of light, its narrow corridors, and a small courtyard that contained a very valuable treasure: a Hebrew elementary school with several hundred Jewish children, a Hebrew high school with two hundred students from all circles - from the children of Agudat Yisrael and the ultra-orthodox, to the children of the Bund and the extreme assimilated, from the rich to the poorest - and a Hebrew library of thirty thousand books, which served the large Jewish public of the holy community of Tarnow.
I especially remember the preparations for the matriculation exam in Hebrew. The students of our class were considered to be pioneers because we were the first graduates of the institution.
The administration and the teachers treated us very well. Of course, there was no lack of moral preaching from the principal and the teachers, which energized us to intensify our studies. The teachers also spent their best efforts to prepare us properly for the exam. And indeed, the results were quite satisfactory - as Dr. Tratkower, the chairman of the Hebrew exam said: Three out of the fifteen examinees received a certificate of excellence. Dr. Chaim Neiger attended the examination of a female student, and after she explained the point of view of Ahad Ha'am, he said: I doubt if a high school student in Eretz-Yisrael knows Ahad Ha'am the way this graduate knows.
The purpose of the institution wasn't only to increase the Hebrew intelligence and add a few dozen Jewish graduates, but to produce Jewish graduates who were imbued with Jewish national recognition. Therefore, it didn't only teach the Jewish subjects according to the curriculum, but also included national recognition in every lesson.
|A group of teachers at the Safa Berura High School|
In addition to that, the classes gathered once or twice a week and various international issues were discussed. A broad activity on behalf of Keren Kayemet LeYisrael [Jewish National Fund] was conducted at school, and every month the classes competed with each other and tried to collect the greatest amount.
The teaching staff cared to develop the social life among the high school students, and for that purpose, a student council, which handled the school's internal life, was elected by the students of the four upper classes. The management gave a broad freedom to its students, and didn't restrict their life within the regulations of the governmental schools.
By this conduct they reinforced the students' sense of responsibility. The relationship between the teachers and the students were quite friendly. Often, it was possible to see a teacher and a student walking down the street engaged in a conversation. Not once the students visited their teachers and vice versa. The cordial relationship, which existed between the teachers and the students, didn't stop even after the graduates' final exam.
The existence of the school wasn't easy. Of course, the Polish government didn't support it at all, and it was also not supported by the community, which was controlled by Agudat Yisrael, the orthodox and the Hassidim, the supporters and the helpers of the Polish government. Not only that they turned a blind eye at this Hebrew and national institution, which educated a new Jewish generation, they also put obstacles on its path and found ways to fail it. Therefore, the institution's budget was only based on the students' tuition.
Most of the students came from the poor circles, and it was necessary to give a large discount to the children who were eager to receive a Jewish education.
The board of supervisors, with Chaim Neiger and Dr. Shmuel Schefen as its leaders, often wondered how to balance the school's budget. The institution was able to grow and develop only thanks to the numerous efforts of these people. The school was able to develop and move into a spacious building, to receive governmental rights, and to open its doors to a large number of Jewish children.
And here, at the height of the development of this institution, came a cruel hand, and destroyed it.
Only four graduating classes left the high school in Tarnow. Several of its graduates immigrated to Israel and continued their education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Seven years have passed since I wrote these lines. Meanwhile, we learned about the destruction that came on the Polish Jewry in general and on the Jews of Tarnow in particular. None of the teachers of Safa Berura high school in Tarnow survived. The principal, Dr. M. Rosenbusch, was tortured and murdered by the Nazis immediately after the outbreak of the war. Only a few graduates and students survived and arrived to Israel, and two of them, Adam Schenkel and Domst hyd, fell defending the homeland in the War of Independence.
Next year will mark the twentieth year since the first class graduated from Safa Berura high school. This institution, which the Zionists of Tarnow were proud of, is noteworthy by the former residents of Tarnow, especially by its students.
I hereby propose, that a reunion of the school's Alumni and those who worked for it like: Dr. Z. Silberfenig, Dr. S. Schefen, Dr. Homet and others who live in Israel, will be held next year.
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