Translated from the Polish edition by Martin and Agnieszka Cahn
Notes on the history of the Myślenice Kahal
Dr. David Jakubowicz Tel Aviv
1. The reasons for the short existence of the Jewish gmina
The history of the Myślenice Jewish gmina is, like that of Wadowice, very short. According to the data in the Polish Geographical dictionary, and the Encyclopedia of Russian-Jewish historians Jews were still prohibited from settling on the territory of Myślenice as late as the 19th century.
There is no mention of Myślenice in the Book of Jewish Parliaments (Księga Sejmów Żydowskich) containing resolutions of the General Jewish Parliaments for the years 1580-1764 and records of Kahals paying taxes. Also, Myślenice does not appear as a Jewish settlement on the map of Jewish settlements and towns in the Rzeczpospolita for the period 1667-1764 which is attached to the record book.
However, in contrast to the history of Wadowice, the sources 1 and 2 above do not give any legal basis on which this prohibition rested, only underlining that this prohibition was the reason that the number of Jewish inhabitants in this town was still not worthy of remark at the end of the 19th century. As seen in the results of the official listing of people in ks. Wadowice roz. I ust. 3 uw. 1:
In 1880 in an overall number of 2455 inhabitants there were 386 Jews
In 1890 in an overall number of 2600 inhabitants there were 431 Jews
In 1900 in an overall number of 2549 inhabitants there were 482 Jews
There exists a large monograph on the history of this town in which, on the basis of countless archival documents and historical work, the history of the town is presented from its dawn i.e. from the 12th century, until the year 1890. The author pays particular attention to its collective life, its legal structure, - he did not even desist from giving lists of the bourgeoisie from different periods, but as far as Jews are concerned, the monograph contains only one short mention that during the army conscription in 1806 there was not one Jew in Myślenice and that according to the decree of the Court of Chancellery in Vienna of 28 March 1805, Jews were prohibited from settling in the town and purchasing houses (ibid p136).
There is no doubt that the decree cited was not one of the legal documents on which the prohibition of Jewish settlement depended, but other legal acts preceded this from the times before the partition of Poland. These were undoubtedly reiterated by the Austrian monarchy as a consequence of the efforts of the Myślenice bourgeoisie who did not wish to base their law on old documents from the no longer existing Polish state and so caused the publication of the Court decree in 1805.
In support of the thesis that the non-tolerance of Jews was not only a fact but had a legal basis over the centuries we give several historical justifications:
Up to the mid 19th century Myślenice was one of the Polish towns possessing significant political, and economic importance and an important role in communications
Long, long ago it was an important point of defence against armed attack from Hungary. When the political relationship with Hungary normalised, all the trade to Hungary went this way, and also people going to Hungary would go along this road.
Myślenice had strong trade contacts with the nearby towns of Orawa and Kieżmark.
The political and commercial significance of Myślenice is attested to by the fact that it had already received municipal rights under the Magdeburg laws in 1342 and from the beginning of the 16th century it had the constitution of a royal free town and a tax-free town. Thanks to these customs and tax privileges, the trade and craft industries of the town developed greatly. (ibid p13 etc)
In every period of the existence of the Rzeszpospolita Polska the bourgeoisie attached importance to the renewal of the royal privileges and the obtaining of new ones (ibid 88-90)
Also after the partition, the town still kept its political significance for a long time. Austria, after having liquidated the Zator district which covered today's starostwo (authorities) in Biala, Wadowice (ibid p13 etc), Zywiec and Myślenice, created a regional office (Kreisamt) in Myślenice in 1782 which included all of these powiats. This existed until 1819 when its headquarters was transferred to Wadowice.
There is no doubt that Jews very much tried to settle in a town of such economic value, especially given that the neighbouring Jewish gmina in Krakow was overcrowded, but there must have been barriers of a legal nature which means royal decrees, non-tolerandis judeis, undoubtedly obtained by the bourgeoisie of Myślenice who feared an influx of Jews and the resulting competition. A significant importance in these arrangements was assumed by the Catholic clergy which was very negative towards Jews and which had a big influence in the town (famous Myślenice indulgences, numerous churches, schools and hospitals in the hands of the clergy).
It can be assumed that only the constitutional acts from 1867-1868 described in the section about the beginning of the Wadowice gmina annulled the Royal decree from 1805 cited above and permitted the creation of the Jewish gmina. The first official date of existence of the Jewish gmina, i.e. 1874, can be found in the hypotheque record book for the Catholic gmina in Myślenice related to the opening that year of the cadaster and the entry of the Jewish gmina as owner of the land on which the Jewish cemetery was set up.
Such a late start of the Jewish religious community influenced its future fate. Its existence for just three generations was not enough to gather an important number of believers and so it stayed the smallest settlement of all the Galician powiat towns. Similarly the later history of the town was not propitious to Jewish settlement because the waiving of the prohibition happened after Myślenice had already lost its importance. About the middle of the 19th century railway lines, first Vienna-Krakow-Lvov and later Krakow-Chabowka-Nowy Sacz, were built which completely bypassed the former transport routes leading through Myślenice to the East and to Hungary because in order to drive a railway line through a town situated in the mountains long tunnels would need to be built which cost too much with the then current technology. Also strategic reasons prevented it which was the proximity to the Krakow citadel.
Road traffic, previously so heavy on the Myślenice Krakow and Myślenice-Gdow-Bochnia- Tarnow routes, dropped to a minimum. Also travel routes to Hungary along the new main railway lines, Zywiec-Zwardon, Nowy Sacz-Muszyna, missed out Myślenice. It fell to the level of those few powiat towns which you could only get to by horse-drawn wagons. This was a real irony of fate. Through centuries Jews knocked on the gates of this town which thanks to the countless Royal privileges was in its prime but the gates were not open to them. They only became open when the total crash of the town happened, which can be noted even from the census from the years 1890 and 1900, namely in 1890 the town had 2169 inhabitants and in 1900 only 2067 inhabitants. The loss of 102 inhabitants in 10 years (= 5%) is even bigger if you take natural increase into account. Such a case in the situation of a general tendency to emigrate from the villages to the towns, was not met in any other place.
It is not surprising therefore that when the walls closing off the access of Jews to the town fell, the inflow was minimal. The result is shown up through the comparison of the figures for the growth in the numbers of Jews in Wadowice in the years 1880-1890, namely in the period the number of Jewish inhabitants increased:
in Wadowice from 404 to 975 that is by 571 inhabitants which is by 140%
in Myślenice from 386 to 482 that is by 96 inhabitants which is only 25%
Different factors encouraged the Jews to settle in Wadowice, in particular the building of a district court, head tax office, the development of an army garrison, the creation of railway access through the building of a new railway line Siersza Wodna-Skawce going through Wadowice, and what is most important, the liberal atmosphere which Jews found there. The atmosphere of the town was created by an administration raised in an environment of a State heirarchy run along lines of tolerance and democracy.
By contrast the bourgeoisie of Myślenice, raised for centuries, as already mentioned, in a clerical spirit and faithful to its rules, was not welcoming to the settlement of Jews, especially at a time when there was a sudden decline in the town.
2) Distribution of Jews in the town and the countryside in the powiat.
Jews had always lived in the countryside of the powiat in particular in Budzow, Droginia, Jawornik, Lubien, Pcim, Rudnik, Osieczany, Stroza and were particularly numerous in Sulkowice where they had a prayer house and ritual bath.
From the establishment of the Myślenice Kahal they also became members of the Myślenice Jewish religious community.
In the book on Wadowice we wrote of a mass exodus of Jews from the countryside to the town at the end of the 19th century (ks. Wadowice roz. I ust 3 nr 1). The number of Jews in the countryside in Myślenice powiat was small even in the second half of the 19th century which means before the general movement of Jews from the country to the town started. The result is shown clearly in the combined figures of Wadowice powiat namely:
|Year||Overall number of||Percentage
|Inhabitants||Jews in the
|Jews on a
|in Myślenice powiat|
|in Wadowice powiat|
Because there was no prohibition on settlement there, the figures are evidence that Jews also settled unwillingly in the countryside of Myślenice powiat if the proportion of Jews in the Wadowice countryside from 1880 until the general exodus to the towns was 75% higher than the Jews in Myślenice's countryside. The Myślenice countryside was saturated with a clerical atmosphere like the town. Podhale and the adjoining powiats to Myślenice were known as domains of anti-semitism. In such soil grew the fanatical anti-semitic movement of Doboszynski in the interwar period which led to the attack on Myślenice's Jews in 1936.
The process of the exodus of Jews from the countryside did not pass over the Myślenice countryside with the only difference that in Wadowice the Jews went for the most part to the town of Wadowice, in Myślenice they went completely out of the powiat. Evidence of this is found in later statistics. Whereas we noted the number in 1880 as 386 Jewish inhabitants, in 1939 there were 850 Jewish inhabitants. The growth over 60 years was therefore about 464 inhabitants which amounted to 120% whereas in Wadowice the increase in numbers registered in the Jewish gmina amounted to 400%.
The growth in the numbers of Jews in Myślenice therefore was almost only linked to natural increase and the movement of Jews from the countryside to the town was minimal.
The first rabbi in Myślenice was probably Rabbi Naftali Perlman, the great Talmudist from Limanowa of a respected family. After his death the rabbinate passed to his son Rabbi Josef Szmuel Perlman, a pupil of the famous rabbi Chaim Halberstam from Nowy Sacz, also a great talmudist. He filled the rabbi's office for many years and was known for his perfect sermons and dedicated dissemination of the study of the Talmud to the population.
During his time the gmina grew significantly and so his brother-in-law Rabbi Szimel Derszowicz was appointed Dayan. After Perlman's death, he became his successor. Dersowicz was a great scholar and very respected by everyone.
His son, Rabbi Berisz Dersowicz, was the last Rabbi. Apart from Talmudic knowledge, he possessed a broad secular education. He knew how to make people like him and was respected and loved by all fellow co-religionists, he was an ideal spiritual shepherd to the gmina.
He was often invited by the town council to take part in public meetings, delivering speeches in Polish and Hebrew. In writing them and translating them into Polish he had the help of an apprentice lawyer, Dawid Perlroth, son of the leader of the Kahal Icchak Jeszajahu Perlroth.
On the outbreak of war he left the town and died with his family in the extermination of the Jews in Nowy Sacz.
Noach Weinman Rehovot
Rabbi Mosze Langenauer is up to today held in our memory as a wonderful person. The son of a rabbi from Komarno, de soler ruw, of small stature and an intelligent countenance, he had a great knowledge of the Talmud. He lived at the start in the house of Chana Schongut, in a modest dwelling where he prepared me and other colleagues for Bar Mitzva, teaching us the Gemara with its interpretations, Shulhan and other Talmudic knowledge.
After a certain time he moved from this dwelling to his own house not far from Targowice behind the house of Wolf Buchheister. He fulfilled the function of Dayan in our town for the last 20 years. He had an open house and received people with a pleasant face with a smile on his lips. In his house a minyan was always praying.
The Torah scrolls were kept there. Everyone who didn't want to be tied to the Hassidic Court of Bobowa, Koleszyca or Belz could go there because the rabbi was very tolerant and modest. In particular those close to the Agudat Israel movement were keenly involved, not being able to find themselves a place in the town prayer houses which were completely and totally immersed in Hassidism.
Among the people frequenting his flat were Szlomo and Naftali Bittersfeld and Chaim Baruch Bittersfeld who today lives in Israel.
With the rise in anti-semitism in Poland he was forced to give up his house into the hands of strangers almost for free because his neighbours were anti-semites. Stones were often thrown at his flat and threats were made to burn it down.
He moved to the centre of town where he lived up to the outbreak of war. Even in his cramped flat, he only had one room in his house, the prayers continued like in the old days.
When war broke out and I, with my family, escaped from Myślenice, I heard that Rabbi Langenauer escaped with another group of fugitives to Tarnow, but after that time all trace of him disappeared.
Thus disappeared his family, his wife Chana, daughter of the Myślenice rabbi Jozef Szmuel Perlman, his son Jozef Szmuel, his daughters Chaja Pusa, Tsipora and Nechama and his daughter Sara and her husband Eliezer who was a well known Talmudist with a good heart, generous in giving tzedakah (alms). Eliezer was the son of the rabbi from Komarno who came from a Hassidic family from Sadogora and was a descendant of the Rabbi Ajzy-Pua from Komarno.
His son Mordechai Langenaer, who has semikha (rabbinic ordination), lives in the US.
Rachel Perlroth - Tel Aviv
There is a lack of any information about the first leaders of the Kahal in Myślenice. Probably, when the gmina was established and they defined its statutes, the kahal election was for ever delayed because of different views. This created an illegal situation which forced the administrative authorities to nominate government commissioners, not necessarily Jews, to run the kahal's affairs. Since they were forced on the gmina by the starosta without the consent of the inhabitants, the commissioners weren't popular in the town and therefore they haven't stayed in the memory of our ancestors.
Only after years had passed and after long negotiations and pressure from the activists desiring agreement with the town, did they succeed, little by little, in achieving agreement and holding elections.
The following people were chosen by means of free elections as representatives of the kahal:
Biographical details of some of them remain in our memory:
Icchak Jesajahu Perlroth , son of Jekutiel Zalman, born in 1864 in Zakliczyn.
After entering into a marriage contract with Miriam Leibler, daughter of Jehuda Leibler, he settled in Myślenice in 1888 and was already devoting himself to social affairs in the first year following his marriage.
On his initiative and thanks to the money donated by him or collected among people, a synagogue was built in Myślenice in 1890.
Together with his brother Chaim Jehuda from Zegocin, he founded a loan fund which assisted poor tradesmen.
Being a town councillor he was very active for the good of the Jewish minority in the town. As noted above he was for 20 years the Chairman of the Jewish Gmina. When in 1912 the international situation was strained, and the Austrian army carried out manoeuvres near to Myślenice under the command of the heir to the throne, Archduke Charles Habsburg, Perlroth used the moment when the town made a welcoming celebration to get closer to him as the representative of the Jewish Gmina, begging him to support Jews whenever necessary and he received replies which satisfied him.
He kept an open house, hosting people, and aiding the poor with money. His wife Miriam helped him in this, and it was she who remembered about families too ashamed to beg and on her own went to them with tzedakah. Not paying attention to her own poor health she went to the houses of the poor and bedridden, carrying them pots of soup and meat.
During the War Icchak J. Perlroth moved to Wielicka from where the Nazis took him away, probably to Niepolomice Forest, and shot him.
He had 8 sons and 5 daughters. After the massacre of all the family only one daughter, the writer of these words, remained alive with her husband Nachum, son of Chaim Jehuda, and their family.
In the interwar period Eliasz Neuman filled the office of Chairman for a certain time, a devout man running a traditional home. As described below, during the cleaning of the town from communist elements in 1940 he was taken to Montelupich Prison in Krakow and condemned to death.
In 1936-7 the Chairman of the Kahal was Hirsch Horowitz, born in Myślenice, son of Naftali. He came from the noble Isz-Horowitz family known throughout Poland. He possessed a franchise for beer and alcoholic beverages from Archduke Stefan Habsburg in Zywiec. He fulfilled his duties with great dedication and devotion in the difficult years in which the Jews of Myślenice went through the Doboszynski attack and was one of the principal witnesses in the criminal process against the perpetrators of the attack.
He died with his wife and two children at the time of the holocaust.
Mosze Perlroth, son of Icchak Jeszajahu was the last leader of the kahal in 1938-9. It was at the time of the greatest anti-semitism in Poland, even so he held out in this position to battle with all his heart for the rights of Jews.
When War broke out the Germans arrested him, as ex-Chairman of the kahal, and sent him to Montelupich prison in Krakow where he was maltreated in a dreadful manner. He was freed from it in such an awful state, that he died several weeks after returning to Myślenice. He was very much liked and respected in the town on account of his personal character and his social work .
Dr. David Jakubowicz
In the first years of existence of the settlement people only prayed in private minyans. With the growth in the number of inhabitants, a large synagogue was built in 1890.
In the final period prayers from the pulpit in front of the Ark were led by Rabbi Berisz Dersowicz, Icchak Langsam, Leibish Mannheimer and Jakub Reigelhaupt. Jehuda Holander and Moshe Zollman were the Baalej Korej and the gabbaim were Chanina Backer and Josef Brachfeld.
There was also a prayer house of the Sieniawa Hassids in which the functions of gabbaim were filled by Eliezer Mordechai Aftergut and Menachim Lustig.
In the Talmud Tora building, which was built in 1925, there was a minyan for adults. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur it was full to the brim with those praying. The gabbaim were Abraham Icchak Goldblum and Hirsch Horowitz.
This work was performed in our times by Szalom Klarman and Mosze Zollman, who distinguished themselves with a good character and a deep knowledge of the prescriptions concerning ritual killing.
Szalom Klarman met a cruel fate. At the outbreak of the War he fled Myślenice and reached Radomyśl Wielki. There the Nazis reached him. Being on the street and seeing the Gestapo getting near to him in order to arrest him, he went into the church, having found himself in the vicinity of a place in which he believed that he would save himself. But the Gestapo ran after him and killed him in the church itself. They were so cruel that they didn't even hesitate to shed blood in a place that is holy to every Christian.
The Jewish Cemetery
The cemetery, as we noted above, was registered as a possession of the gmina in the municipal land register in Myślenice in 1874. It lies beside the main road leading to Krakow at a distance of 2km from the town. The dead from the surrounding area were also buried there.
The gabbaim in our period were Meir Kaufteil and Nachman Stiel and others whose names it is difficult to bring to mind today. All fulfilled that heavy duty with charity and with commitment, not taking any reward.
The family of Nachman Stiel and his wife Miriam were among the most respected in the town. The uncle of Miriam Stiel, Rabbi Natan Aron Neiger, was the leader of the yeshiva in the town, of which we write below in the section on the Talmud Tora. Their daughter Chaja Reich was a teacher in the Beit Jakow school, in Wadowice (see the chapter on Wadowice). All the family died in the holocaust apart from the daughter Jafa Kirschenbaum who immediately after the Doboszynski attack in 1936 left the town and settled in Israel. She currently lives in Tel Aviv.
The Myślenice cemetery was witness to a terrible massacre carried out by the Nazis on innocent Jewish country people who the Germans didn't manage to bring in from the surrounding area to Myślenice in time on the tragic Saturday in 1942 when the Jews were taken away to Skawina. Words are said on this Saturday in the section below on the extermination. The latecomers were shot in the cemetery and buried in a common grave.
The cemetery was destroyed by the Nazis, the fence torn down, memorials smashed and some of them used to repair the footways of streets in the centre of the town. Only 5 graves remained untouched and stand to this day in their place.
After the War the devastated cemetery was restored by the Jewish Congregation in Krakow under the leadership of Meir Jakubowicz, brother of the writer of these words. A new fence was erected. Those grave stones that were not standing in their place and broken into pieces were taken and according to ritual regulations attached to the cemetery wall. A memorial plaque was placed by the gates to the destroyed cemetery and in the cemetery there is a monument to the unfortunate victims whom the Nazis murdered.
Zhawa Fenster, (Olga Weinman). Holon
In our town there was a yeshiva which had already been established in the 19th century and was famous throughout all Western Galicia on account of its high standard of education. It attracted pupils from neighbouring towns.
The director of the yeshiva in the years 1890-1900 was its founder, Rabbi Natan Aron Neiger, cousin of Chaim Neiger from Tarnow who was a Zionist activist known throughout Galicia. The yeshiva owed its great development and high level of teaching to Neiger's outstanding talent as a teacher and extensive knowledge of the Talmud.
In our times the director was Rabbi Mordechai Arie Freind, grandson of Rabbi Eliezer Rosenfeld from Oswiecim who was son in law of the famous Rabbi Chaim Halberstam from Nowy Sacz, author of the work Diwrej Chaim.
In former times the yeshiva was based in a property on ul Planty, later they moved to a rented dwelling by ul. Bisińskiej, and in our times they were based in the Beit Hamidrash. In the end about 50 young people studied there and as we have already noted, it was the centre for the study of the Talmud for all the surrounding area.
Boarding students were invited to the tables of the local inhabitants. They slept in the Beit Hamidrash building on the second floor. Baruch Buchheister, Wolf Langsam, Szlomo Perlberg and others took care of their proper accommodation.
Up to 1925 small children studied in a place not designed for teaching on ul. Bisinskiej. The gmina was growing and in the end lacked space for new children. The public protested about this. In order to get rid of this problem the Kahal resolved around 1924 to build their own school building, which they succeeded in doing within one year and realised thanks to the community's financial contributions.
The new building next to ul. Bisinskiej included 4 classrooms and two rooms for a prayer house called the Talmud Tora.
About 150 Jewish children studied in this school from the age of three until their Bar Mitzva, and from there they went for further study to the yeshiva.
The teachers in the final period were:
Chaim Iciu Pflanmenbaum
The gmina could rightfully be proud of this institution. All the children, concentrated in one place and divided into classes, could absorb knowledge according to a programme prepared in advance by qualified teachers, not like in other neighbouring gminas where, for the lack of a public building, the children were scattered in different cheders in all the extremities of the town and their education was not coordinated between their teachers.
The Kahal also built a mikveh which was managed by Kalman Bienenstock.
Such an association existed and had as its task to give free medical help to poor people who were ill. The leader was Aron Kempler, who gave a great deal of time and his own money to the association. On the board were Natan Backer, Izrael Weinman, Eliasz Neuman and others.
The Tomchej Anijim association existed for years in the town, taking care that the poor, particularly those from outside the town, didn't have to go from house to house seeking alms. They received assistance in one place. For this purpose all the inhabitants paid a monthly levy. Among the members of the board were Josef Weissberg and others.
There was a widespread custom in the town of distributing alms in a discreet manner. Thus every evening, particularly on a Friday, they distributed bakery goods and cooked food to the poor of the town.
When the Pesach holiday was approaching, the kahal distributed Matza (Kimchi d'Pischa) to the poor.
Cooperation with the town council
In the final period Mordechai Natan Bittersfeld, dr. Lazar Goldwasser, Izrael Karger, dr. Karol Leibel, Eliasz Neuman, Chaim Weinmann and others were members of the town council. Jews formed only 10% of the overall number people in the town, nevertheless in the elections they always obtained 3-4 mandates whereas according to the overall number of members of the council they would only have obtained 1-2 mandates.
One time when they got 5 mandates and the candidature of the priest failed, a Jew legally elected, Wolf Buchheister, resigned in his favour. This success in elections was caused by the great interest of Jews in public life and their great participation in elections. In spite of anti-semitism Jewish candidates were popular among all the people of the town and also got Catholic votes.
A loan institution existed in the town whose managers were Mosze Chaim Czapnik and Henoch Tiefenbrunner. Despite being a private institution, it gave to general needs and also awarded credit with a wide hand to poor traders and other persons in need.
Stefan Bober (Ozjasz Wasserfall) - Holon
It turned out to be our destiny that our small town differed greatly in many aspects from other neighbouring towns of a similar size, and even more completely from the larger Jewish settlements in matters relating to its socio-cultural life, being as far as this is concerned, for objective reasons and not entirely of its own fault, strongly reactionary.
Therefore with even greater respect it should be mentioned that this small town also had its short, however not less stormy, period of activity, and this thanks to a spontaneous effort of a small group of, at that time, enthusiastic people thanks to whom the town can write on the record of its otherwise poor history the history also of their own Zionist movement and in parallel the flourishing period for the development of social life which accompanied it.
One counted merely some 6000 souls which included about 250 Jewish families. Distant from the centre of the voivodeship, the town of Krakow, by a mere 30 km. but unfortunately left out of railway communication, seat of the powiat authorities with the starosta at its head and with the powiat offices, simultaneously without any industrial base, it was a poor small capital of an agricultural-peasant district of the mountain foreland. A somewhat more active life and economic activity developed in later years thanks to the development of the tanning and fur industries. I especially mention this in order to underline the contribution of the Laubentracht family in the development of this sphere of the economy, extending its production, exporting goods within the country and even abroad.
The Jewish population was concentrated in the very centre, except from some Jews scattered on the periphery and country families in the surrounding area, and it possessed a structure typical for those times, that is to say the overwhelming majority were in trade, which was 99% concentrated in their hands. This feature did not differ from other small towns, in particular the neighbouring ones. As already stated, the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community of the small town were religious families, families which were highly orthodox, trying by all means to sustain the community's structure and ideas by bringing up their children and youth in this spirit and by protecting themselves from any new, especially secular ideas, which were a threat to the existing situation. There lived in the town between ten and twenty, and possibly more, families, so called progressives, be they native Myslenicans, be they also arrivals from other towns who were brought to Myślenice by work or matters of existence.
This wasn't however a shuttered up small shtetl and the sounds of life from nearby Krakow and neighbouring small towns managed to penetrate through to it. And thus one certain day the idea of founding a Zionist organization emerged, modest and suitable for every aspiration, which means a general Zionist organisation, which at the same time would try to revive or create another social life with the participation of many, the masses.
It is known that the motor of all organisational life is primarily youth, and among them the main role falls on those young people who are learning, that is students and originating from them in due course, the professional intelligentsia. How did these matters appear in our shtetl in the light of the social structure of the local Jewish community?
The shtetl was the centre of the powiat which was linked with a special privilege, the possession of a state gimnazium (secondary school). But it was impossible to imagine that the children of the orthodox homes would be sent to this school, in which in addition one studied on a Saturday. This would be equivalent to breaking the rules of the faith. One could count the small number of Jewish children on the fingers of one hand, the so-called progressives, who were educated in this gimnazium or finished it to continue their study in a larger town. In my memory there are the names (and I doubt that I will neglect many), starting chronologically Adam Goldwasser, Maryla and Hanka Kupferman, my brother Chaim Wasserfall, Dawid Perlroth, (he studied in the Hebrew Gimnazium in Krakow and finished there), Dawid Zanker. After a break of several years there appeared three last pupils in one class, Erwin Zuckerman, Mendek Perlroth, and the author of these words.
Here I want to highlight a few words on Erwin Zuckerman of blessed memory. After obtaining his abitur (high school certificate), he resigned from further studies in Poland and went on hachshara in eastern Malopolska and in 1939 went to Israel as a halutz and there joined a kibbutz. He served with Haganah and took part in the War of Independence, and in his final years worked as a high official in the Electricity Society. Unfortunately he died in about 1956 before we came to Israel, leaving a widow and son and daughter about 20 years old.
The people mentioned above were about the entire group of Jews from Myślenice who studied in the Myślenice gimnazium, if we pass over a few young boys from surrounding shtetls who were only studying temporarily.
In these conditions an important role was played by the professional intelligentsia and the older generation, primarily from outside, who settled in the shtetl at different periods. I will mention here the families: Dr. Karol Leibel, mgr. Vorschmidt, Winkler, Judge Dr. Jerzy Federgruen, mgr. Syda Kranz, Dr. Loeffelholz
I return to the central theme of these memoirs. And thus Hatikva was set up one day at the end of the nineteen thirties. That was the first and probably the last general-Zionist organisation which was set up with the objective of stimulating social and community life and directing the interest of the Jewish community, a feature that had been a very active part of the life of other towns' Zionist organisations for a long time already.
The birth of this organisation was painful and its delivery was difficult. Because of fear of the influence of this organization on the female element of Orthodox youth, who were the overwhelming majority in the small town (young men, of course, went for tradition through dress, study in the yeshiva, scrupulously saying their prayers, work and help in enterprises, during which the girls, having more time, and of course more interest in new life through reading many books, could be more susceptible to new ideas). A defence action was started against the new organisation which got directly at the young, collecting written declarations that they wouldn't join Hatikva, and using all possible moral pressure on the families, and everything with participation of the rabbi and under his direction. There were even direct fisticuffs when the sons of the progressive Zancker family, who were cohanim, were not allowed to pray the Birkat Cohanim during a festival. When these memoirs will be read today by the unfortunately not numerous descendants of the once orthodox families, today people in the prime of life, they should be able to forgive their families for their resistance and backwardness at the time. This is how communities develop, learning from the mistakes of the past. How would we be happy if as many as possible among the conformists of that time had lived to the present day.
The first and probably the only person to act as chairman of this organisation was chosen spontaneously, Dr. Lazar Goldwasser, old Zionist activist, still coming from the generation of Theodore Herzl, who he knew personally in his youth. His deputy became one of the most respected citizens in the town, Dawid Faden. The organisation had its management bodies, and activists, an executive, a treasurer, general secretary, librarian, theatre-music circle, and a commission for heterogeneous activities like the study of Hebrew, collections, sales of shekels and almonds from Erec Israel, the K.K.L. Fund etc. As much as my memory allows, I will try to mention at least by name the families and members of the organisation: Aftergut, Balsam, Birn, Faden, Fleischer, Gassner, Goldwasser, Goldberg, Hirschfeld, Kaufteil, Kriger, Kupferman, Laufer, Dr. Leibel, Neiger, Pflaster, Perlroth, Silber, Stemer, Silbering, Schornstein, Wasserfall, Zancker, Zuckerman.
Different semi-religious families were not spared internal fights within them. It is necessary therefore to remember many sympathisers who couldn't openly declare their support and acted in the form of supporting members. The period of active life commenced. Performances for particular occasions, social evenings, tea and social games, lectures and the study of Hebrew, the appearance of their own musico-theatrical circle and guests from neighbouring towns, that was only a part of this life in which people from different classes, education and financial status participated. In one word, it was making up for years of backwardness.
Unfortunately these activities didn't have a chance to develop into a long-lasting movement, and to become an organic part of the life of the shtetl. It was only active for a short time, certainly no more than three years, after which the emptiness returned as in the preceding years. Without doubt the cause of its demise was a lack of those willing to take over and a lack of professional youth described above with the departure of part of the active youth, for instance to nearby Krakow , and the lack of substitutes.
Lack of advance is known to be regression. Thus the organisation started to contract. It had previously been based in beautiful premises, and later moved to a small room, and in the end completely stopped activity. Even so it is all difficult for me to understand and I don't possess any precise data on this, why it happened and why its former activists lost energy and why the collapse of the organization was allowed to take place.
There were later attempts by a few, new young people, mainly immigrants to the town, to organize modern Zionist life, but already with the colours of political parties, however it undoubtedly didn't succeed, which was a distinct contrast in comparison with neighbouring towns where life pulsed intensively to the last days before the outbreak of war.
It is known to me that around the year 1937 there were attempts to resurrect a Zionist movement. A group of Zionist youth numbering several tens of members and sympathisers organised a centre under the name: Ognisko Akiba (Akiba Centre) and, as far as I can remember, it ran until the outbreak of war. Because of fear of the devout, work was done in secrecy. Since virtually all of the members of this organisation perished in the Shoah, it is difficult today to recreate the activity of this movement.
It should be underlined that there existed in Myślenice, like in other towns, individual aliyahs to Israel. Apart from Erwin Zuckerman mentioned above, the following went to Erec Israel before the War:
Jeszaya Rotenberg, and Jafa Stiel, now Kirschenbaum, both living in Tel Aviv.
Rut Stein, who emigrated to Germany and from there to Israel.
The above memories don't encompass all there is to say on this topic. One could cite many interesting little things from that period but let it be my excuse that I was then a young boy in my teens and I am not able to remember many things from that time since I was not yet actively participating in their events and later, as I mentioned, the Hatikva organisation had ceased to exist.
If the above words reach those few participants in those distant days scattered throughout the world who are still alive, undoubtedly it will awaken their imagination, drawing into their memory pictures of those former times, and then the goal of sketching this short note will have been fulfilled.
Cwi Faden - Akko
When of an evening my thoughts awaken memories of former times and my memory takes me back 50 years ago, I see in my mind my family town of Myślenice, and when I look up close, in my reflections appears the most outstanding figure in Myślenice Jewry, Dr. Lazar Goldwasser.
Of medium height, with spectacles, curly hair with streaks of grey, with a long moustache, a very skilled lawyer, clever mathematician, lover of music and the fine arts, knowledgeable on philosophy, full of life, energy, knowledge and understanding, with a quick and clever wit, and what is most important, a J e w in the full sense of that word, with a Jewish heart, good and feeling for every, even the smallest, harm, ready always to give help to each person in need and at every moment that is the figure of Dr. Goldwasser.
He sat for many years on the town council and in his hands was found a department for the care of the poor Jewish population. Who doesn't remember his activity in this sphere, his battles without break for the civic rights of the Jewish population, to increase the care budget for the poor strata of the population living either in the centre of the town or in the suburban districts whose economic situation got worse from year to year as a result of the spread of anti-semitism.
With the needs of the Jewish population growing from day to day, the anxieties linked to this and the unbroken will of Dr. Goldwasser to attain ever more for them led to stormy discussions during the town council sittings. It is worth remembering the famous attack of Doboszynski on the town in 1936 when anti-semitic tension reached its zenith. It is not difficult to imagine what were his feelings at that time, the effects of which one didn't have long to wait for.
Pain, which wore him out, the natural sensitivity of his soul and his reaction against that which was happening broke out like a volcano in one of the sittings of the town council. He didn't then hesitate to criticise in a courageous manner the action of the magistrate which had harmed the civil rights of the Jewish population and did not fulfil their elementary communal needs. At this the Mayor stood up from his chair and running over to Dr. Goldwasser, slapped him on the face, the echoes of which resounded for a long time in our ears.
Dr. Goldwasser received this belittling action with the pride characterising all his life, not letting himself be terrorised and continuing his actions.
One of the most sensitive strings of his soul was his belief in Zionism. A strong Zionist, member of the Bnei Brith Lodge, follower of Herzl's view of the world, believing unshakeably that the Jewish state will rise up, sacrificing a great deal to that goal, both emotionally and materially. He knew that the foundation on which to build this state is Jewish youth. He worked in a difficult context against the negative attitude of part of the Jewish community which opposed each idea linked to a Jewish state and which day and night made propaganda against Zionism, not only among Jewish youth but even in the prayer houses, leading to small fights between Zionists and believers. Despite all the difficulties accumulating on his road he managed through hard work to remove numerous difficult obstacles and assemble around himself a centre of progressive youth and even older citizens, establishing a Zionist organisation under the name Hatikva. Of course the main pillar of this organisation was Dr. Goldwasser. With time this organisation developed and took action in many directions, organising lectures, performances, trips, it was a place for meetings of young Zionists, with, the main goal of promoting Zionist consciousness in youth and the conviction that their place wasn't here, but there, through organising the ranks of pioneer builders of a Jewish state.
Let me cite one little episode, but very characteristic of Dr. Goldwasser. One evening, at the end of 1918, when one could already feel that something was happening, we met in the house of my unforgettable parents, (Dr. Goldwasser with his wife Hermina, his only son who was a graduate of the Sorbonne in Paris and teacher of philosophy, and the writer of these words). In a break in the conversation, touching on this and that, Dr. Goldwasser started to talk on a theme that was his favourite for discussion, Dr. Herzl in Vienna, whom he had met in what he considered the greatest event in his life. His face lit up talking of this happy memory, and he grew more animated minute by minute. It could be seen that in this moment his thoughts carried him to a room in the flat of Dr. Herzl and his dreams of an Israeli state. Two great tears like diamonds trickled suddenly from the eye of the speaker, his voice broke in his larynx, and a deep quiet filled the room.
That was his world.
Thus internally he needed to help the other thoughts affecting him, sensitivity to the suffering of his own nation. Turning over and over in his brain ideas on which avenue to follow and which means to use to reach this goal led to the birth one day of the idea of creating a bank for giving loans without interest and with favourable conditions using the support of the funds of the Joint, that is the Kasy Gemilat Chesec.
He was head of this bank from its creation until the day of the outbreak of the Second World War. The bank brought many good things to the small craftsmen, different door to door salesmen and quite simply the poor. Who from among us doesn't remember the Jewish door to door salesmen, wandering day by day and night by night from one house to the next in order to earn a crust of dry bread for their family? Those were the people under the care of Dr. Goldwasser.
It is somewhat difficult to formulate in a few words the exact life-story of this man. I have limited myself to citing these few slim facts about a life so fruitful. Let these words be a monument to the memory of the one who dedicated his whole life to his nation.
Dr. Dawid Jakubowicz
In the final years before the War an atmosphere of strong antisemitism reigned in Poland, which led to heavy illegal anti-Jewish activities, and even to killings of Jews in Przytyk, Minsk Mazowiecki, Częstochowa and other towns.
Shtetl Myślenice also lived through such a pogrom on 23rd June 1936, whose echoes rebounded as wide sounds throughout the Jewish world. Both after the attack and during the court case the town found itself in the columns of all the Polish press. Much was written and said about this, including abroad, even in America, perhaps more than other pogroms.
The reason for the great impression that this pogrom made on the world is easy to understand. In other towns the main motive for the excesses was a desire to rob and enrich themselves at the expense of the Jews through seizing Jewish goods and possessions. However the Myślenice pogrom was organised on a clearly ideological platform, which meant that the tendency was to not to plunder, only destroy on the spot and burn Jewish goods and demolish shops and stalls (the court case showed later that that some of the hooligans didn't get the message and plundered).
However the principal objective was through the attack on the powiat authority and the police station to provoke similar attacks throughout the whole country and in this manner to stir up chaos and disturbance in all towns and using this opportunity to overthrow the hated government and install a fascist regime.
The Jews served only as a means, like a tool for attaining this objective according to the system tried out by Hitler with such success in Germany.
That was the situation of the Jews in the diaspora - the innocent were to serve as scapegoats in a time of battle and conflict between the political parties of certain states.
The plan for the Myślenice pogrom was worked on carefully by intelligent people who first held training of the participants in the rebellion, and during the action itself were their leaders.
Three groups totalling over 100 people launched the attack in the morning and entered the town singing religious songs. Before everything they cut the telephone connection, after which one group broke into the police station, disarming the policemen on duty, and after demolishing the building they took rifles and ammunition, the second made an attack on the starosta's house and plundered this completely. The starosta escaped only by a miracle thanks to the quick-thinking of his servant who presented him as an arriving guest and the starosta as being away from home. The third group set about knocking down the doors of the Jewish shops, dragging all their goods out into the street, piling them up, and afterwards covering them with petrol and burning them.
During the court case the leaders of the pogrom and their defenders used the courtroom to charge the Jews of bringing communism, that they were motors of the communist party in Poland, arguing in that way that they are worthy of total extermination.
Biological racial hatred of Jews was revealed by Doboszynski, applying to the court to remove press correspondents from the courtroom, aggressively attacking converts to Christianity. This was revealed by the ironic comments of the defendants that even the Jewish premier of France, Leon Blum, didn't wish to open the gates of Madagascar to Jewish emigration, and they cited the words of the famous renegade convert, Jakub Frank, who had said that Poland is a land of Israel and Krakow is Jerusalem etc.
Unfortunately a part of the Polish community was also on the side of Doboszynski and his associates the evidence of which could be seen at the end of the first criminal process against him in front of the jury court in Krakow in June 1937. When the question of his guilt was put to the 12 jurors they unanimously gave a negative answer. The state judges were forced to waive the verdict and refer the case to the next session of the jurors to look at it again.
Only during the second criminal process was Doboszynski found guilty of the crimes he was accused of and condemned to a term of imprisonment. The other accused were judged before the common court and sentenced to different penalties during the criminal process, which took place in Krakow before the common court on 20th May-12th June 1937.
Doboszynski came to a pitiful end. After the War he was active in diversionary actions and sabotage against the communist government in Poland, for which he was arrested, put before the court and condemned to death, which penalty was carried out.
(Note: There are an additional 8 pages of text in the Hebrew edition of this Yizkor Book providing contemporary reports on Doboszynki's attack which are not translated in the Polish version).
Mendel Becker Givataim
Fear and panic overwhelmed Myslenice's Jews when the Germans invaded Poland on 3rd September 1939. The small town was only about 20km from the Slovak border. The entry of the German army was going to take place at any moment. The Polish army retreated without a fight. The catastrophe happened suddenly. Even a day beforehand we all lived in the illusion that the Polish-German conflict would be resolved peacefully. Now everyone was overwhelmed with one concern, how to save life and no attention was paid to the fact that all possessions would fall into enemy hands.
As early as Saturday, the second day of the War, Myslenice's Jews had already fled chaotically from the town and without any sort of plan. They fled in the direction of Bochnia and Tarnow. All means of locomotion cars, horses were confiscated by the Polish army, and since there was no railway in the vicinity it is easy to imagine the unfortunate situation of the fugitives who, with their wives, children and the elderly, had to escape on foot. Apart from Jakub Baruch Ringler, Jozef Weissberg and Basia Gassner, who stayed in the town due to their poor state of health, all the Jews left the town.
Basia Gassner was the first victim of the war. She was burnt alive in her house during the retreat of the Polish army and their destruction of the bridge in the centre of town. The bridge burnt down and with it her home standing nearby.
After a few weeks almost half the Jews, numbering about 850 souls before the War, had returned back. Those who returned were those who had not succeeded in escaping to the East due to lack of means of travel or had been surrounded by the Germans during their escape.
When they came back they found their shops robbed and confiscated by the Germans and given to Poles who declared themselves belonging to the Volksdeutsche German nationality. Only the bakery of Miriam Kunstlinger stayed in her hands in order to bake bread for the Jewish people.
From the beginning of the occupation the Gestapo kept going around Jewish houses taking Jews to forced labour, clearing the streets, getting rid of snow, cutting wood etc., taking no account of their age or state of health. A cruel attitude was shown to Jews during the work. Michel Rosenthal, the son-in-law of Miriam Kunstlinger mentioned above, was killed during cruel torture in the municipal school. He was thus the first victim of the Nazis in Myslenice.
After several weeks a kahal was organized. The leader became Morris Neiger and the board members were Eliasz Neumann, Moshe Perlroth (the former chairman of the gmina), David Rand and Moshe Weiss. From this time they were responsible for planning the work programme and keeping order when allocating work.
The second victim of the Nazis was Abraham Itchak Goldblum who was sent with 9 others to Montelupich Prison in Krakow. The Germans had the habit of designating 10 people as hostages answering for the safety of the German administration and institutions.
During the period when these people were hostages, a grenade was thrown at the post office in Myslenice by the Polish resistance. Everyone sent to that prison, Abraham Goldblum included, did not return.
In 1940 a group of Jews was arrested during an action to clean the town of communist elements. Some very religious people were among them, such as the chairman of the kahal, Morris Neiger, Moshe Perlroth, and Eliasz Neumann with his three sons. They were also sent to the prison mentioned above and tortured. After a few weeks they all returned except Eliasz Neumann who was tortured to death in prison. However the state of health of Moshe Perlroth was so appalling on his return home that after several weeks he passed away as well.
The material situation of the Jews got worse day by day. They were forbidden to trade. Even everyday food had to be secretly bought from the country dwellers. If they ran low on money, they had to sell all the items they had in their homes to the Poles for whatever price they could get.
The kahal had to give aid to those people who were sent to forced labour and to support the poor who didn't have anything left to sell. They also had to give bribes to the Gestapo. To keep up with this the kahal imposed heavy taxes on the Jews.
Every few days draconian new regulations came along, such as preventing Jews from going out of their homes on certain days, e.g. during markets, imposing a curfew, forbidding people to leave their home by the front door, forbidding the wearing of beards and sidelocks, praying in the synagogue etc.
Destiny of the Kahal Institutions
When the Germans arrived in town they turned the synagogue into a stable for the rural police who had established a based in Myslenice, and when they left the synagogue was turned into a warehouse for the corn that the country people brought to the town for the Nazi authorities. The Jews were forced to burn all the Torah scrolls and holy books with their own hands.
Unlike other small towns, the Nazis didn't destroy the synagogue structure and after the war it was used by Poles for different purposes.
Immediately after the War broke out, Poles broke into the Talmud Torah building and converted it into a residential home, and it serves this function to this day.
From the moment of the outbreak of War until mid-1942 several transports were organized from Myslenice to forced labour in Krakow and Debice. Only a very small handful managed to escape from these and return to town.
In August 1942 there was the final deportation to the transit camp in Skawina and from there to Belzec. There was a compulsory contribution demanded from the victims of the deportation to cover the costs of transporting them.
On a particular Saturday they procured wagons from the surrounding area and gave an order for Jews to appear at a given place. There they forced them to get into the wagons and under police escort armed with firearms, took them to Skawina where they stayed several days, after which they took them to the extermination camp in Belzec by train. In the Yizkor Book of Kalwaria is a note that on 3.9.1942/21 Elul, a train with Jews went from Skawina via Krakow Plaszow station to Belzec.
It therefore seems certain that the Myslenice Jews were found in this train and this date has been taken as that of their final deportation.
Furthermore I received the last news on this transport from my father on 25th Elul, via a postcard sent from Basznia Dolna, the last railway station before Belzec. My father knew the address of my brother who was in a work camp in Krakow and addressed this postcard to him. This had a postmark of 5.9. 1942 (23 Elul) and therefore I have taken this last date as the date of my family's yahrzeit.
In this transport there were 400 Jews from Myslenice. Not one of these was saved. They all died.
I alone was saved by a miracle. The order for the deportation was already known by the municipal authorities at the beginning of the week and an official I knew who was employed in the town hall revealed the secret to me, and the risk of death threatening those who were captured trying to attempt to escape.
I wrote straight away to my brother who was in Krakow. He bought off an SSman who sent a lorry to the edge of Myslenice. I and several other people went to the lorry and hid in it under the tarpaulin until we reached Krakow. They didn't examine documents along the road as the Gestapo man was wearing Nazi uniform. In Krakow I entered a work camp and this saved my life.
At the end of the War it turned out that from those people who were in work camps and those who had succeeded in escaping before the final deportation, altogether about 20 people survived.
Apart from these, a small number of people survived from those who in Sep. 1939 managed to escape to the East and were dispersed among different places in the USSR.
As a result, from 425 people who were there at the outbreak of War, the claws of the Nazis destroyed about 400 people.
Beno Richtman, Kiriat Motzkin
Thousands of refugees who in the latter half of September 1939 were returning back from the East to the West into their regions and houses already knew and talked about the horrors that the Waffen SS had prepared for the Jews of Myslenice. Nowhere in the Krakow region had such Dante-like scenes taken place as in this tragic little town. The town had not yet recovered properly after the March on Myslenice by Doboszynski, famous all over Poland, during which a group of peasants led by Ing. Doboszynski had robbed, damaged and trampled on the possessions of the poor merchants who were the Myslenice Jews.
On the way to my native Bielsko I stopped in Myslenice because my father came from the town. Unfortunately all the stories about what had been happening in Myslenice turned out to be true. Jews were being tied to cars and asked to run. Whoever could not sustain the speed was dragged until he gave up the ghost in horrible agony. There were the most refined methods of sadism through which tens of people died. Even Polish people, who watched those performances themselves in the beginning with satisfaction and internal contentment, were terrified by these horrible things later on. The second time I came to Myslenice with my father to stay for longer. This was when we returned from the famous Eichmann transport to Nisko in October when the Russians put us in jail in Rawa Ruska and returned us to the Germans. We couldn't go back home since in the meantime Bielsko had been annexed to the Third Reich and the border followed the River Skawa. There were already regulations covering Jewish life in Myslenice, there was already a Judenrat, and there were already occupation authorities. Administrative life in the town was governed by a Myslenice citizen of German origin, called Ziegler. His position was Deputy Starosta. The Starosta was a German called Haman. Ziegler, a longstanding inhabitant of Myslenice who knew all the inhabitants perfectly well, issued draconian anti-Jewish regulations. Jews could not be found in the morning either on the Market Square or in its vicinity, and obviously it was only here that you could find food, a difficult problem at that time. Therefore Jews were left to the mercy, or lack of it, of old lady street traders who were in any case scared of having any contact with Jews. Jews could not live on the main streets; they had to move to the side streets and courtyards.
The Jewish Committee Judenrat
At the head of the Judenrat stood Morris Neiger, the owner of a glass workshop , an extremely fair and decent man, but unfortunately of a weak character, a marionette in the hands of Weiss, a refugee from Germany, a monster and German agent. He was short, fat, balding, always with a cigar in his mouth, and without blinking fulfilled any regulation.
There were several local people like Perlmutter, Sachs, Wynd who were decent people but extremely fearful and all submitted to the directives of Weiss. The Jewish Committee provided people to clear the streets of rubbish and during the winter to clear them of snow, to clean the army garrison etc. Every Jew when meeting a uniformed German was obliged to remove a head covering, bow deeply, and step out from the pavement, 3 steps before and 3 steps after him. As is already known, from December 1939 there was an obligation to carry a wide white armband with the Magen David sign on the left forearm so that Jews could be recognized at a distance.
There were antagonisms between us in relation to the work. There were native Jews and there were refugees: two families from Cieszyn, several from Krakow, my father and I from Bielsko. The refugees felt disadvantaged because the locals had better contacts and opportunities, moreover the refugees were not religious fanatics which was a feature of the local Jewry. And that is why the contacts between us were limited to the meetings at work.
The refugees used to meet in the flat of Mrs. Korngut from Cieszyn whose maiden name was Faden and who originally came from Myslenice. Here the youth used to meet for discussions, among them the young and extremely bright Magister of Philosophy from Krakow, Eda Gassner with her sister Dola, Tosia Korngut from Cieszyn, Halina Faden, Lermer, Noë Heitlinger, Perlmutter, all from Krakow. There were discussions about self defence, sabotage at work, about acts of diversion, but unfortunately all ended in discussion. There was no contact with the outside and the local Poles had an unfriendly attitude towards us. I met twice with Stanislaw Molek, former Polish Army officer, in which I asked him to provide help to some Jewish youth, some real help. He was not ready to give me any answer. The same was the case with the second professional officer. Both were leading members of the A.K..
In March 1941 all the Jews living in the countryside and not owning land had to live in town on the orders of the authorities so that they had more precise control over these people.
An unusual and warm attitude to the refugees was shown by Szlomo Silbering and his sisters Genia and Mania who opened their doors to the homeless.
Myslenice's Jews lived through a heavy time in Spring 1941 when, as the result of an act of diversion, 10 hostages were taken to Montelupich Prison in Krakow. After sterling attempts to get them back, 3 Jews returned. I only remember the name Perlmutter, the other two I have already forgotten.
The economic situation was becoming dire. You could not buy or sell, you had nowhere to work, people were selling their clothes off their backs, hunger and poverty started staring most inhabitants in the face. There was only one inhabitant who could work and earn, Jozef Stemer who had a blacksmith's workshop together with his brother and he supported 5 young siblings and an ill father, and he even married a girl from Myslenice's prewar elite who preferred to marry a worker rather than to die from hunger.
From the moment of the outbreak of the German-Russian War the Jewish problem stood out again in all its acuteness. On the market square in Myslenice, an enormous map was installed with little flags showing the victorious march of the Germans on the front running from the Crimea to far-away Finland in the North. And again the fencers of slogans about Judeo-communism triumphed; in each Jew they saw a communist, an agent of Comintern. People were allowed to attack, hit or torture us, we were put outside of the law. The awful Polish newspaper Goniec Krakowski, issued in Krakow by the prewar company IKC, Illustrated Daily Courier, of Prof. Marian D¹browski, with its venom, poisoned even those decent Poles. This newspaper published heartbreaking stories about Jewish Commissars who hit and murdered all anti-communists and raped women.
Leningrad was still defending itself, the elderly prayed in secret and created a minyan on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Each was the last one in Myslenice because they did not survive to the next year's high holidays. But we, the young ones, rebelled. We could not put up with the idea that God had abandoned us because every German carried encrusted on his belt the words Gott mit uns.
In the meantime people returned from the East, Jews who preferred to go back to the Germans rather than run away with the Russians. The family of my father the Goldbergs and my cousin Lola and her husband Feliks Keller together with their three small children happily returned from Brzezany to the home fires of Myslenice and unfortunately didn't last even one year.
A heavy winter arrived once more, and again we had to clear snow off the roads and under pain of death give furs to the starosta's office under Zeigler because the German soldiers were freezing on the front. A Myslenice citizen, Korn, was arrested when they found his daughter in law's slipper lined with fur in his flat during a search. For this crime he was sent to prison in the ghetto in Krakow and from there after a few months to Belzec. The Judenrat was being ground down under the heavy weight of demands. A contribution of an astronomical sum was imposed on the town and it had to be collected. People escaped from their homes, hiding in the fields and forests, and in the end they did a deal. The Germans accepted as much as had been collected but the leader of the Judenrat was terminally ill.
The Polish police known as the Blue Police persecuted Jews at every step. Searches took place in homes, cellars and attics. For hiding provisions there was a high penalty, for a dirty or crookedly worn armband, a penalty. The Commandant of Police was Otto Kepa, a prewar inhabitant of Bielsko who deserted to Germany before the War and persecuted us in an awful manner. His wife together with her close friend Mrs. Lew, owners of a shop in Myslenice on Stradom St. (now Niepodleglosci St.) used to go with a large Alsation to the Jewish dwellings and seize the most valuable things. Mrs. Lew became the owner of a large shop after the War in the centre of Bielsko, by 3rd May St. in the Bialik Centre (now Banialuka Puppet Theatre), the prewar Jewish People's Centre, which was entered from Mickiewicza St. but the front of the shop opens onto 3rd May St.
Afterwards Kepa also held the positionsof Meister Gestapo in Kalwaria and Miechow. After the War he was arrested and the authorities requested that whosoever knows anything about Kepa's activities should testify. I delivered my testimony in which I said that he was of Polish origin and lived in Bielsko before the War. He was sentenced to death.
We were emotionally broken. This liberation which we craved for was not coming from anywhere. My mother and sisters were in the ghetto in Wadowice to where they had been transferred in May 1940 from Bielsko. I and my father were just 36 km from them but we never saw each other. Our hopes in the Red Army were disappointed. The English were not hurrying to help and we wanted to live. I worked on the farm of this officer Stansilaw Mollet with whom I once negotiated acceptance of the Jewish underground. I was digging potatoes, I was threshing corn, I was doing all the work in order to have food for my father who was lying in bed at home after having been heavily beaten. Using false papers in the name of Antoni Owczarkiewicz he used to go to provide food for the Krakow ghetto. A Pole from Myslenice betrayed him and turned him into the hands of the Gestapo in Krakow at Zamoyskiej St.. He was arrested and heavily beaten. Thanks to the intervention of the family Englander, the owners of the paint factory E. Lutz, he was bought out. He returned home ill and broken.
The first recruitment for the labour camp Julag I in Plaszow took place on 1st May 1942. The town was in shock. From each house someone was taken. At that moment the instinct of self defence appeared for the first time. Two brothers Tiefenbrunner from the village of Rudnik near Sulkowice escaped to the forest. They were young boys, horse traders, who hoped to manage in any situation.
Sixty days later there was another transport. I found myself in this transport which was almost completely formed of children taken from their mother. One could feel the beginning of the end in the air. After a few months in the Julag another two of the Tiefenbrunner brothers escaped to the forest. All of us in the Julag who came from Myslenice worked in the Klug company.
Then came a quick finale. A regulation was issued to concentrate all the Jews into one place where they will be under the close supervision of the authorities. This was done for the security of the state as Jews were considered as enemy elements opposed to the government of the Third Reich. The authorities chose Skawina near Krakow. Kalwaria, Izdebnik, Sulkowice, Myslenice, Dobczyce, Gdow were the communities which met in Skawina. In the second half of August 1942 the road from Krakow to Zakopane was full of wagons loaded with duvets, suitcases, saucepans moving slowly along and by them staggered broken human skeletons along the highway from Krakow to Zakopane, Jews, the last Mohicans of their birthplaces walking into the unknown.
Not one word of support sees them off. None of those with whom the Jews lived their lives, with whom on 3rd May they used to sing Witam Nam Majowy Jutrzenko (Welcome our May dawn) standing under a red and white flag, had any tear of compassion in their eye. Why should they have any? Did the parish priest have any? And where was he when the march of condemned Jews was passing? Obviously here walked the murderers of Christ. And those remaining were busy rummaging through their leftovers to search for their treasures.
In Skawina people were accommodated in stables, courtyards, and where-ever well paid for, flats. On Sunday 30th August the brothers Zygmunt and Bernard Tieffenbrunner smuggled themselves out of Julag camp to go to their father and sisters in Skawina. They came back completely broken. Skawina was surrounded by many cordons of police so nobody could go in or out. Those days I received 2 postcards (photocopies of which are in the Hebrew version). One dated 29th August was posted in Skawina by Dola Gassner. Here are its contents.
I did not write, I didn't have the patience. I assumed that the situation would somehow settle, that we will perhaps stay here for certain. It happened otherwise. Tomorrow we are probably leaving this temporary living place. Bye Beno, look after yourself. Maybe we will see each other sometime, sometime again. I am begging God for it. I am not even stressed. I must have courage, we have to be strong. Bye, kisses, Dola.
And here are the contents of the second postcard sent from Krakow on 25th August 1942.
Darling Beno,The stamp on the postcard features the face of Hitler.
Although I just wrote a letter to you, here I am writing again. I am in terrible despair if they will save themselves. Tosia is writing postcards asking us to save them. But how can I help when my own hands are tied. Dreadful days are passing and I am passing with them. Whether this, whether that, we all are finished. A day earlier, a day later. And still we so much desire this lousy life. How are things with you; is everything all right? I hope you will be at my place on Sunday so we will talk about everything. Kisses. Halinka.
The author of this first postcard, Dola Gassner, together with her entire family, her parents, her sisters Eda and Bianka were in this transport from Skawina and perished together with my father, his sister Berta Baldinger from Jawornik, his brother Leopold Richtman, cousins Lola and Feliks Keller with their three children and my father's sister-in-law Fryda Goldberg.
The author of the second postcard Halina Faden from Krakow, who uncle Dr. Rosenzweig was a president of Krakow ghetto, is currently living in Australia (later in USA).
Around 4 or 5 p.m. on one of those tragic days, when we were in Prokocim camp beyond Plaszsow, we saw tens of wired cattle wagons under heavy guard speeding to the East. We were signaled to from behind the wires. They managed even to throw us messages: we are coming from Skawina, we are going to our deaths. Don't forget us.
The train was heading in the direction of Belzec or Treblinka. In Skawina, many elderly and ill people were loaded into lorries and taken behind the town into the forest and there shot. And I have continuously in my ears the words of the Polish poet Wladislaw Broniewski Zydom Polskim (To the Polish Jews).
Z polskich miast I miasteczekIn the camp Julag 1 I met citizens of Myslenice. From there remain in my memory the following surnames: Aftergut, Bucheister, my friend Lermer who died from exhaustion (actually survived lives in Melbourne Australia), Roth and Krumholz from Kalwaria who were shot.
Nie slychac juz krzykow rozpaczy
From Polish towns and villages
No more shouts of despair
It is worth also mentioning the surname Tiefenbrunner. Two brothers who were in the camp escaped and joined their brothers in the forest. They operated near Rudnik, Izdebnik and Sulkowice. I personally remember their attack on the mansion in Krzyzkowice . They attacked, they robbed, they took revenge for Jewish suffering. Currently they are in Nebraska State in USA.
I managed to escape on 3rd August 1943. I wanted to get to my mother and sisters in Wadowice, but in the meantime the ghetto there had also been liquidated on Tisha Be Av 1943. I hid in the vicinity of Myslenice until liberation on 19th January 1945. I volunteered immediately for the Polish Army and I fought all the way to the West.
After the War I came twice to Myslenice as an officer of the Polish Army. I walked along the streets looking for Jewish traces, although I knew that I will not meet Jews. Shops and kiosks, purely Polish. From everywhere there were surprised glances at me. I walked and tears were coming to my eyes. I was biting my lips in silent pain. Just a couple of years ago there was lots of movement and noise and Jewish life spilling out. But today everything looked like after a historical cataclysm.
Before dusk I quickly jumped into a car going to Krakow because a Jew was not supposed to stay overnight in small towns as at night boys from the forest used to come to finish off those not already finished off by the Germans.
Let these few sheets of paper covered with writing become my praise for those with whom and at whom I lived through my heaviest and most tragic years.
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