Translated by David Rendelman
After three months of war in 1914. No- one received any newspaper, because the Russians had retreated in the direction of Ivangrad, and the Austrians were strongly set in their positions.
Suddenly, one evening, when all the Jews had gone to pray the evening prayers, a extraordinary sound was heard coming from the street. It didn't last long, and the small group of friends that ran to see what happened, came back to the synagogue screaming to their fathers. Confusion and a great commotion ensued, and the praying was quickly brought to a finish. The children called the fathers home. The Austrian military retreated. A terror fell upon all the Jews.
The next day the entire town had the appearance of a war-zone. All of the streets were filled with military personnel. In the middle of the market square stood a huge kitchen which provided food. It didn't last long and the Austrian and the Hungarian Poles yielded to the Russian army. The terror from the wild Russians and Cossacks fell upon the Jews. The Austrian and Polish legionnaires fled in terrifying anarchy, leaving behind supplies, provisions, arms, and their dead and wounded soldiers. No one could guess that the entire town was surrounded by the Russian Cossacks, and in several villages the Russian cannons were lined up in the direction of Rabshtin in which the Austrian and German armies were located, and tried to put up a resistance.
When the Russians returned to Wolbrom, from the beginning they were passive to the Jews, and did not bother them. The local Poles communicated to the Russians that the Jews were friendly to the Austrian occupiers. As a result of this the Russians required the Jews to pay an enormous sum of money. They also took hostages from the Jews. They seized Hershl Kornfeld and Fishl Lerer (Dovid's). Fishl was soon freed. However, they sent Kornfeld far into Russia,and he returned just after the end of the war.
I remember that in the small synagogue, as my grandfather Shaime Kivkavitsh prayed, there took place a great and stormy assembly and funds were collected for the Russians. Between the different men of the synagogue who contributed with various sums was also Yoske Grossman, who had set aside a dowry for his daughter, and he gave this money to rescue the Jews from the Russians, knowing that with the Russians one must not play any games, because things could always backfire, God forbid, upon Jewish heads.
With great sacrifice they collected the money and handed it to the Russian general.
The news in November 1918 that the war was over and that Poland had become independent, this also sent waves of joy through Wolbrom. People said that the Germans and the Austrians ran home from the front through Poland, leaving all behind them. Poles disarmed the Germans, tore off the epaulets from the officers and took anything from them that had any worth. A joy ruled over one and all. We had lived to see the end of the war. We thought that with the independence of Poland, we, the Jews, were also free.
However, soon after the war, when Poland returned to being an independent state, we didn't see any good prospects for the Jewish lives at all and for the provincial towns especially. In the same year, when the Poles took over power, even before the Austrians had left the town, the arms were captured by the Polish "sakaln" and with their greed for power they ruled with an iron fist over the Jewish population.
In Wolbrom, the Christian recruits from the villages, who had gathered in order to join the newly formed Polish military, wanted to take advantage of the "good" opportunity and beat the Jews. Day after day they bullied the Jews and beat them as much as they were able. And on one particular day the Polish "youth" started a riot and beat the Jews with their clubs. Yohanan, a certain Jewish horse-handler, a strong, robust and courageous man, went to one of the Christian "youths" and grabbed hold of him and slammed him to the ground, and the youth was knocked out. Immediately a great turmoil broke out. The giant mob threw itself on Yohanan and wanted to take revenge on him. He did not wait and ran away and hid in his son's house in the market-place. The police barely could save him from Pavl, and took him to the police station, and there he was hid until the giant mob disbanded.
These very recruits, coming from the poor villages to Wolbrom, were absorbed with hatred of the Jews and thanks to the anti-Semetic literature from the Polish nationalists like Roman Dmavski, they picked on every Jew who they met in the town. The Jewish youth organized one day, amongst them were Getsl and Volf Kivkavitsh, Haim Grossman and others, and yet other strong ones, and they went to battle against the recruits. They threw themselves upon them and taway their clubs and broke their bones, and drove them all over the place. This was the first time in Poland that the youth stood up and fought against the attackers, and taught them a lesson in manners.
After this event the local Poles were unable to endure the "Jewish offense" with the fist, and they arranged for an accusation in court against the Jews that they had driven the recruits away because they came to recruit for the Polish military…After an intervention by the Jewish parliamentary deputies with Yitzhak Greenboim at the helm, the judge threw out the accusation.
Suffice it to mention that after the ambush the Poles did not dare to attack the Jews.
Volf Kivkovitsh was the first and only Jew in the fire-brigade of Wolbrom. His grandfather, Shaime the Shuster (Kivkovitsh) was amongst the older Jews in the town, a wealthy man, tall and strong, who once donated a Sefer-Torah to the Shul. The celebration of bringing the Sefer-Torah into the shul lasted eight days, attendant with a great "bonfire" meal with Jewish riders on horses which made the celebration all the more impressive. The same family was well known in the town as hard-working Jews, earnest merchants and good people in all. The grandfather took pride in his grandson Volf, the first Jewish fireman in the town.
The Wolbrom Volunteer Firemen Society was founded by the local Christian bourgeois with the help of the Russian government. The town needed it, many houses were built of wood and were easy targets for fire. Further, the poor had many wooden houses. With the support of the Jewish population the fireman- society developed quickly. However, the Jews did not need to participate. The commanders, as well as the chairmen from the managing committee were all Christian. Volf Kivkavitsh was the first Jew who broke the old tradition and joined in the fire-brigade. And through this he brought much pride to the Jewish community. When the firemen marched in the town, and Volf marched with the trumpet in hand – the entire town stood in the market and watched and drew pleasure that a Jew found himself in such an institution that until then was "Judenrein" .
In the realm of localized fires the Wolbromber firemen had recorded a great success. The fire-equipment in the earlier days was rather primitive (horse-teams, small wooden kegs, etc.). Only later they began to have motorized equipment.
The Jews in Wolbrom were proud of their fireman and they supported the firemen in their activities. The firemen were in a constant state of preparedness at the station. When in service the firemen were dressed with uniforms and helmets.
As a primary source we bring authentic material taken from the archive books of the city of Wolbrom, which were maintained through great efforts of "V'ad Yotsei Wolbrom", which began to gather written material, to cover articles of the city- folk, to collect money to finance the book, and they also concerned themselves with obtaining the historical material about the Wolbromer Jews from primary sources. The material is not complete, however it is more precise than the unofficial material. And with that we present here the material:
First I will report the necessary facts, and then I will give the general material. At the base of the chronicle and a monograph about Wolbrom I gathered that the first dates from the Jewish population in Wolbrom was from the first half of the 16th century, which is to say: from 1542 until 1548. In the eternal message comes an observation "that the Jewish population is obligated to keep an accounting of the foreign born" This is the first notice about the Jewish population in Wolbrom in the aforementioned time-period.
In the year 1791, which is to say, when the survey of Wolbrom was done, the Jewish Quarter was included under the name of "The Jews from Nova-Lanka", and there were 58 Jewish owners of buildings and rooms. It is difficult to assert the exact count of Jews in that era. And it is also difficult to determine their social situation. At a glance the list of owners of immovable property and their names convinced me that most were small artisans, and also farmers, with a small percent of merchants.
Exact figures about the Jewish population were first given in the year 1931, when Wolbrom became an official city. In that period Jewish Wolbrom had 5340 people. In the time of the Nazi "resettlement" in 1942, the Jewish population totalled 9300, and all were included in the "transport" from Wolbrom.
In the years 1931 to 1939 the Jewish population in Wolbrom consisted of : 40% artisans, 59% merchants, the rest were farmers, intellectual workers, laborers, and others.
Until 1931, when Wolbrom was still a "gmina", the Jewish population did not participate in the administrative affairs of Wolbrom, then there did not exist a local council, and in the climb of the "gmina" there was a "Vait". For important matters they used to gather together general assemblies of the population, and the Jews and Poles adopted resolutions about the will of the "Vait". As Wolbrom advanced to eventually become a city, the Jews did not actively participate in decisions about the running of the cities economy and development.
From 1931, the Jewish population participated with their own representatives in the city council and in the administration of the city. The membership-count from the council amounted to 40, and the Jews had fifty percent of the seats. Later this amounted to 60 percent. From this we can see clearly the participation of the Jewish population in the city's economy. Besides this, the Jews of the era had their representatives in the Parliament, for a time Dr. Aleksander Eizenshtadt, and before him the post was taken by was Moshe or Leib Patosh.
I have already mentioned that from1931 the Jews represented half of the council, and there were: Haim Roicher, Abraham Perlmuter, Hersh Bidlavski, Natan Tarlo, Bibik Mitlman, Alter Reuben Mitlman, Dr. Aleksander Eizernshtadt, Magister Hernrik Rozenboim and others. From 1932 Henrick Rozenboin served as Vice-Mayor of Wolbrom, and her aldermen were: Hersh Bidlavski, and for a time also Bibik Mitleman, secretary of the Jewish community in Wolbrom.
By chance it is worth mentioning that Bidlovski fought energetically in the city council for the rights of the Jewish population, and especially against poverty. And in general he was the leader in the managing committee. He was a capable fighter and a stubborn leader. In 1932 until l937 Fishl Yekubzon served as "Vaz'ni" and specially represented the needs of the local Jewish population. He was as honest as they come. His son lives in Paris.
I am more than willing to provide more facts if you ask specific questions.
…The facts which I give here cover the first Jewish citizen in Wolbrom, and the later years, and are supported by documents, several of which can be found today in the possession of "Presidium of the Moatse", and several have already been for years in the Kloister Archive.
Searching through the archives in the local Kloister Parish I found that from 1310 until 1750 nuns kept records of civil-matters, and even records of the Jews. From the oldest birth-register we find only those books from 1750 onward, and the earlier books are missing. The name of the oldest Jewish citizen I found in the "Grund-Ahuzot-Briv" ("Founding-Property-Letters") which were arranged by the elder Hede, and from them was set the duties for caring for the entire city. This document originated in 1562. From the financial obligations and tributes set for the Jewish population to pay , which amounted to two groshen for each artisan to keep the old in the little hospital, we can state that there were 26 Jews in Wolbrom at the time. There names are precisely written on this list.
From the later documents, which originate from 1791, about the surveying of immovable property in Wolbrom, it is clear that in the city there were living Jews who owned real estate. The total area amounted to over 9 acres. In that era already existed a shul, a mikveh, a slaughter-house, and all were concentrated in the Jewish Quarter. And in this survey is a list of names and family-names.
The shul was taken down and ceased to exist. However, there were still graves and places of mass-burial which can be found in the forest. There are also photographs of her community-leaders from 1930-1939, of the vice-mayor and mayor Her Magister Rozenboim and the great businessman Bidlovski, whose photographs, in my opinion, are of great worth.
In the letter, the writer promises to later lend a list of other worthwhile documents for the chronicles of Wolbom, and it is a shame that they were lost.
Anyone who wants to browse through this book to discover the memories of his own life must first begin by the high pillars which carry the name: father and mother. And his sentimentality and tendency to the romantic will be ascribed as an inheritance from the mother, and the spirit of entrepeneurship, the energy – to the father.
And when one wants to browse through the history of the town, one must begin with the shul (school) and with the synagogue, not as an integral part of the town, rather as a treasury of the souls of the people.
All religious and ethical value, which, during the course of years, has strengthened the existence and ability to survive of the Jewish people, we inherited from the synagogue. This is perhaps only from the historically religious point of view, however, also from the sociological standpoint, the influence of the synagogue can not be regarded lightly, and I refer to the simple use of the synagogue, the House of Prayer, from Minchah- Maariv (the afternoon and evening prayers, prayed at the synagogue just prior to and after sunset, respectively.) Because in the synagogue Jews discovered the news of the town, and news of the world, and everyone was able to speak out his opinions about town matters, and even about important world problems which hovered over the entire world.
Here they spoke of wars, determined who should be victorious and who should lose, here they crushed entire armies and all was achieved during the long winter nights, between the two "koplove" ovens which poured around them a home-felt warmth.
The only street in the town which carried a Jewish name was "Shul Street", where wooden houses stood for generations, nestled together one to the other, as if they ruled over those who knelt and worshipped. And a bit secluded from the houses, upon the hill, standing majestically were the shul and the synagogue. The synagogue was composed of three sides with huge, broad windows. And on one side was found a small entrance door which stood open, scholars, students, ordinary Jews and sweet tiny tots, for all was the door open. The synagogue smiled to all, called to all.
And opposite the synagogue stood the shul. A tall quadrangular building with high, narrow windows, opened wide with small, colored, glass panes which multiplied the shadows inside the shul. An immensely tall and wide entrance-gate, and iron gates which were covered with copper and brass flowers. And upon the gate, a head of a lion with a bronze ring in its mouth which served to open the gate, which accordingly was kept shut.
I do not wish to wrongly measure that which I write of the synagogue, because to write of the synagogue is to portray the lives of thousands of Jews. Their monotonous lives on one side, and the effervescent, and much embittered, lives on the other side.
I want only to mention the times, when I had, in my younger days, celebrated in the synagogue with learning. Tables with benches stood like a letter "het" on all three sides. And by the tables sat students of different ages and learning. Each learned with his particular song, each with his voice. And yet all poured out as one great symphony.
And the learning lasted from before sunset until late into the night, and this went on for dozens, perhaps hundreds, of years. There were also students who used to learn throughout the night on Mondays and Thursdays. And after midnight when one wanted a bit of rest for the head, they stopped learning and bit into an apple or munched on a pair of "birndlekh" which was bought at the "pantikn" and then they chased each other over the benches which were drawn around the bima and in the morning they learned again. And merchants after closing their shops, and artisans after finishing with their work, when they used to come to pray Minhah-Maariv, used to stay afterwards in the synagogue and partake in learning.
A sweet sensation embraced one hearing the Torah-inspiring songs which poured through the night's stillness. Songs which tell of the longing and searching for an answer to questions not yet even asked.
Still today there sounds in my ears the learning of the Mandjeiover student, "Leibl", who learned "Sh'hita" (kosher slaughter) from Feivel Shohet.
Dozens of Jews used to spend hours each day sitting in the synagogue and hearing the splendid "Benkshaft Tener" with whom he "bafliglt" his learning.
And not only common Jews, rather also the students of the synagogue used to often remain sitting by opened Gemaras, still, and listen to his beautiful learning. His "tener" were utterly beautiful, flowing around, like small white clouds upon a blue-white sky. And listening to his learning reminded one that the entire world lay in hold in a mist and a dream, an everlasting dream from which it is a shame to have to awaken.
And not only for the students of the synagogue was the synagogue the high source that nourished their lives. Also for the simple Jew the synagogue was as salvation's bread. When concerns increased, the Jew ran to the synagogue, here he forgot all his worries. Here he could "spin more or less with his hands behind him undisturbed." Or listen to gossip about other town Jews, or only to speak of town matters, like election of a new Rav, acquiring a shohet, a chazan, or only worldly matters.
Many Jews came to the synagogue because in their home there was insufficient heat from the oven, and the cold drove them from their home.
They came to the synagogue to warm by the oven, and to listen to the wonderful tales that were told there. About good Jews who suffered from need for many years, and how Eliyahu HaNavi once brought them good luck. Or common stories about demons and spirits that wandered around every night after midnight by the wells or by certain trees which stood somewhere in the middle of their way, and they were happy to be in the synagogue, where the demons were powerless over them.
Oh, but things were different when it came to the shul.
Although the shul was more newly built than the synagogue, the distance between them was powerful. The great "shul danger" stood in the dark, a mystical secret, and this caused fear, various legends were spun around the "shul". It was told that, for example, every night after midnight the dead came into the shul to pray, those who could not find rest and here they searched for their "tikkun", their "reparations for bad deeds done while alive". They removed the Sefer-Torah and read from the scroll, therefore, whoever went by the shul at night had to knock on the gate three times in order that the dead should disappear. If he doesn't do this, the dead might call upon him to read from the Torah. Then he must go into the shul and rise up to the bima and make a blessing and leave without looking around. However, one must have mercy, because it is said that many years ago the Shamesh of the shul forgot something in the shul, and late in the night he remembered, he went into the shul without knocking first; what he saw there he did not wish to share with anyone, and, in that same year, he died.
Even the little ones, and perhaps also the bigger children, were afraid to enter the shul at night.
And a sign that all was true what people saw in the shul, "was the not knocking a Mezuzah" .
Still today I remember the fear that the shul threw upon me when I went home late at night from the synagogue.
The shul threw upon each and every one a fear as if it wanted to tell us "there is judgement and justice" and that soon, here, near, still stand the old cemetery which showed the end of each person.
The synagogue, therefore, warmly comforted and each felt free there and protected, and it was as a children's home for children, a school for youths, and a university for the bigger ones.
Yet later, when, in the city, parties were coming into existence, almost all activity was conducted by the students of the synagogue.
And the bridge which led the young from the synagogue to politically-active lives was Zionism.
And the first to lead the young visionaries of the city over the bridge were: Abraham Ts. E. Shtark and Ovadia Gotlib.
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