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[Page 53]

My Zawiercie – Streets and Lanes in the City

 

[Page 55]

The Station

by Sh. Spivak

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I no longer wish to take a stroll through the streets of “Judenrein” Zawiercie. We no longer have anything to look for there. We did indeed leave behind the memorial to our dear ones who were either murdered in the city or dragged out of the city.

It is not so easy to forget the former life in our Zawiercie, with its streets, marketplace and alleys, where Jewish life once pulsated.

Would it be possible to forget the nerve center of our city – the railway station?

***

The railway station was indeed the nerve center of Jewish Zawiercie. Merchants would travel to and fro, helter-skelter, boarding the train almost at the last minute. This was because they always had some last minute business to conclude, or they had a recalcitrant “customer” to deal with, shaking his head as the merchant would forget that the train, which he must take for his business activities, was slowly pulling away.

Jews would often travel by the train, and often do business. Sometimes, indeed, a confusion regarding paying of a promissory note would hold the merchant up from going on the train. It would indeed be a good deed to offer a “Gmilut Chasadim” loan so that one could pay a promissory note that was due a few days earlier. The next day, early in the morning, an additional sum would have to be paid to register a “protest” with the regent. One would then borrow from a Jew, a neighbor for an hour or two, and the neighbor would later also have to pay a promissory note. An hour or two later, he still could not pay, for no serious customers came (nudniks[1] would always be there). In short, one had to run to a different neighbor in order to pay the first neighbor for his good deed. Often, one would have to run to a fourth or a fifth, in order to once again make the rounds through the crowds with his help.

This was the manner in which business was conducted, and thus did one have to run to the railway station at the last minute. It is a pity that there were no prizes

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for a wager on a race. Many Jews would have honestly won the first prize for their speedy running. Yokel, Moshke Milchior's son, was the best. He would run and whistle, panting like a locomotive. Thus he exuded courage. People would call him “the train” or “the express.”

***

There was a constant din of Jews at the station. I recall the “silken young men” with their curled peyos and partially grown beards going in groups to the station in order to wait for Sh. Yatzkan's “Heint” in which he published a “highly thrilling romantic novel” (seemingly: “In the Net of Love and Hate”). They could simply not wait until the newspaper would be brought to Marszalkowska Street and its lanes. They wanted to know as quickly as possible, what happened with Berta, the heroine of the novel.

There were also “final money” names, “shpiliters” (speditors[2], who used to make purchase transactions for merchants for a certain percent). There was also a Jew who conducted business with “delayed cargo,” for which the Russians would pay a fine. However, he did this on the other side of the train tracks, where there was a merchandise depot. There, Zalman Margolis, and later his son, had a storage depot for merchandise, just like we have here in Israel. The “pawn depots” I do not recall.

Others have written about the romanticism for the dark neighborhood of the station and the hot couples[3]. However, it should be mentioned that, more than once, a gentile [shegetz] threw a stone at a couple from a dark alleyway, not far from the houses of Potok and Buchner.

At one time, there was a small railway station in Zawiercie. Later (I think in 1910) a very respectable station was built. It was destroyed, however, when the Russians retreated through the city in 1914. Later, it was rebuilt by the Germans.

***

On more than one occasion, the station bore testimony to bloody events. In 1920, or 1921, the pogrom of the Poznań and Szlanzak Hallerczyks[4] took place there. This was a portent of difficult, terrible days on Polish soil...

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zaw057.jpg
Nazis tormenting Jews at the railway station

 

However, let us together remember the station as a testimony to a great arousal of the Jews, at all times when people of Zawiercie would set out on aliya to the Land of Israel. The station was full of Jews. People wished each other, “next year in Jerusalem,” hugged and kissed, and sung proud songs of the Jewish renaissance. People would wave handkerchiefs and say: “we will see you again.”

Unfortunately, many did not see each other again.


[Page 58]

Streets of Zawiercie

by Israel Drezner

Translated by Jerrold Landau

zaw058.jpg
Marszsalkowska Street

 

When one descended from the train and went into the city, one would run across the platform and push past the “turnpike” of the ticket controller, moving toward the always overflowing station. A Jew would go out to the street alone, and grab a horse-drawn cart. One would hear the names being called: Danziger, Avraham Worcman.

Many of those who arrived set out to the city by foot through the lovely alley, both sides of which were lined with trees. Among the trees, on the inscribed side[5], there were comfortable benches upon which Jews and Christians, both young and old, would sit. One could hear discussions in Yiddish, as well as songs from Jewish children. On the second side of the alley, one could find houses of Jewish and Christian bourgeois citizens. Among the houses, there was a hotel with a magnificent garden and the studio of Glater, the Jewish photographer. He had work from both Jews and Christians. The alley continued on to the Przejazd. The train went through there. Marszalkowska Street began on this second side.

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It was the center of business in the Jewish quarter. This was the street of fine Jewish businesses, of Jewish livelihood, and of Jewish life. To the left, one would find the new marketplace, where the Jewish stores would be filled with all types of delicacies every Thursday. The Jewish women would run there to make their purchases for the Sabbath, and one would hear the shouting of the Jewish shopkeepers: Yitzchak Moshe, Yehuda Mendel, the Yellow Hillel, Avraham Ziskowicz, the Black Yisrael, Yitzchak Wielgis, etc.

From all ends of the market, one would hear the calls: cheap fish, live fish, fine renaten[6]. One could obtain everything from the market. The children would come along with the mothers, and drag home the full baskets of purchases. One would prepare for the Sabbath already on Thursday. The fathers and the children would go to the mikva [ritual bath] early on Fridays to bathe. On Friday before candle lighting, Orthodox Jews such as Shamale Opieker, Yokel Froman and others would march about, calling out for people to close the shops as the beloved Sabbath is arriving. It did not take long for the businesses to close.

The mood was Sabbath-like on the streets. The large synagogue and the Beis Midrash were located on the same street.

In the Jewish homes, people were preparing to go to the synagogue -- the fathers and the children, dressed up in the silken kapotes [hassidic cloaks], and the small, round black hats. Young and old would hasten to the synagogue to hear the cantor welcome the Sabbath. The rabbi arrived accompanied by the beadle. On Friday night, the rabbi would worship in the Beis Midrash, and on Saturday, in the synagogue. When the rabbi arrived in the synagogue, every Jew would greet him with respect.

In the synagogue, one would listen with respect to the prayers of the cantor, accompanied by the choir.

Jews rejoiced with the Sabbath. Both the rich and the poor prepared to honor the Sabbath. When the fathers and the children returned from the synagogue, the family would sit around the table and celebrate the Sabbath.

In the afternoon, the children would run about – each to his organization, or go for a stroll in the streets or the alleys.

One could hear Yiddish and Hebrew songs from the alleys. Groups of Beitar and the other parties would convene. Leibel Rosenberg was noisy. He would gather a choir consisting of: Yehudit Drezner with her high voice, Salke Pardes, Regina Zajdman, Breindel Zoller, Guterman, Rosenberg (with the name Katzike), Avraham Yaakov Pardes, Tzrail Drezner, Yehuda Grinkraut, Menachem Dikerman and others. There would also be

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excursions of the Jewish organizations in various directions. There were lovely places in the area of the city, such as the Łazy Forest, Konszilowka, Barowa Pola, Hutkes, etc. The youth of Zawiercie spent their free time there.

We should also mention the lovely park, in which various forms of entertainment often took place.

The next day, after the Sabbath, daily life began again. The children would hasten to school in the morning. The Jewish principal Lezerowicz and his teachers made sure that the children would behave calmly, that they would learn well, and display appropriate respect. Zawiercie had a Jewish public school as well as a Jewish Orthodox school. The Orthodox would often take part in various outings.

Everyone was occupied with work throughout the week: the Jewish businessmen and the Jewish tradesmen of the various trades who were organized in the Handworkers' Union.

The Christian population went to the Jewish businesses to make purchases on every 1st or 15th of the month. At those times, the businesses were overflowing. The city also had various factories. This made it easier to earn a livelihood.

Thus did the Jewish population live through good days and fine Sabbaths. Everyone had their own environment in which they spent hours together.

This is the way things went until the war came, and with it, the destruction of Jewish Zawiercie.

zaw060.jpg
A work unit of Zawiercie Jews led by the Gestapo

 

[Page 61]

The Streets and lanes of Zawiercie

by Tzvi Shapira

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

The Synagogue Courtyard

The Synagogue Courtyard was a large area surrounded by a wooden fence. The synagogue was there, facing Marszalkowska. The Beis Midrash was behind the building. There was also a special building which housed the Talmud Torah and the communal offices of Jewish Zawiercie from the good days. Reb Avraham Leib, the beadle [shamash] of the synagogue, lived opposite the Talmud Torah. The black ark stood in a special structure. From the Synagogue Courtyard, one could go out to Hoża Street.

 

The Beis Midrash

Already at the entrance, you could see Reb Alter the Shamash at his table, where he was selling cigarettes or serving tea from the gleaming samovar. The Beis Midrash had five tables. A different person delivered the lesson at each table: the Gaon Sh. A. Pardes, Zisha Bornsztajn, Simcha Mendel Neigeboirn, and Yoel Zwiegel. Reb Meir Lelower was the prayer leader in the old fashioned style. He squeezed his vocal cords with his right thumb so that his voice would be stronger, while the rest of his right hand rested on his back. Reb Yossel Finkel did the same thing when he “supported” him.

zaw061.jpg
Alter the Shamash and his wife

 

The Torah reader was Reb Yisraelke Briger, with his heavy, bass voice, which also resounded with the news of the world. One would listen to him. His livelihood – in the Sabbath spirit: one could purchase from him a glass of beer, sweet cakes, chickpeas, and a quarter of a goose. It was a sort of club there.

My father, Reb Mendel Litwak (Kenigsberg), who was called Mendel Fania the Hatmaker, used to tell us, the children, that Reb Yisraelke's wife, a short woman, was stuffing kishka[7] one Friday. She stuffed one of the kittens that used to run around Reb Yisraelke's house, and had suddenly jumped onto the table, upon which she was stuffing the kishka,

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The substitute Torah reader was Reb Yatzek Moshe, a communal activist who was involved in everything.

 

The Synagogue

People who were a bit “enlightened” from all strata would worship there. The more aristocratic people would worship near the front, whereas the less well-to-do householders, even the water carriers, would be nearer to the door. Reb Nachum Mandel, who had not grown a beard, and at times also Reb Leibel Hipszer, a cheerful tailor, would lead Pesukei Dezimra[8]. Reb Shabtai, a fine, wholesome Jew, would continue from Shochen Ad[9]. At that time, the Torah reader was Reb Avraham Bornsztajn. He was very nearsighted and almost hovered over the scroll. The two gabbaim [trustees] who stood at either side of the table as the Torah was being read, were Reb Leibish Frank and Reb Birech Blatt. Sometimes, Reb Leibish would also read the Torah. Reb Avraham-Leib the beadle would stand near the gabbaim at the podium and issue warnings if anyone was talking too loudly. He would also help distribute the aliyas [Torah honors]. (He remembered who was owed an aliya.) One was only allowed to whisper in the synagogue. During my childhood, the rabbi was Rabbi Landau – a handsome, tall man with a long, grey beard, always well-dressed and with a long, silk jacket. On solemn occasions (not on Sabbaths and festivals), he would come with white gloves and hold a cane with a silver handle in his hand.

The worshippers exhibited great awe toward the synagogue.

There were always guests in transit staying over at the Beis Midrash. (Every Sabbath, a visitor was hosted by a householder.) Once, an honorable guest approached the gabbai and asked if he could lead the Sabbath eve service. He led the services in a fine, cantorial manner. At “Raza Deshabat[10], he began with a “head voice” (“elcanto” in music literature, which means: fine chanting). His singing reached a crescendo: thin and fine. The crowd in the Beis Midrash, who enjoyed making a bit of a commotion, did not hear and mocked the cantor. There were only a few experts who were knowledgeable in musical matters. They invited the prayer leader to the synagogue on the Sabbath morning to lead the Shacharit and Musaf services. The synagogue was packed, for worshippers came from all the Hassidic shtibels to hear him. Reb Yankele the Cantor, as the prayer leader was called, won over the crowd with his sweet prayers. He remained in Zawiercie as the cantor of the large synagogue.

In the Beis Midrash, there were religious youths undergoing “Powor” (military

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Recruiting) who worshipped the entire night and recited Psalms a few days prior to the “Powor” so that they would be saved from the gentile hands[11]. Others also remained awake the entire night prior to their recruitment appointment, but what did they do? They got drunk, let loose, perpetrated scandals, ripped signs off the businesses, etc.

 

At the Well

And now – the well. The water carrier was Avraham Stock. His wife hobbled. She was the “wise one” and would always ask him rudely how much he earned for each instance of water porting. Yonah the water carrier was the second wise man by the well. He had a red face and a yellow beard. One could barely understand what he was saying. There was also Yeshaya and his son Avrahamele-Tshupa, about whose wedding someone else will certainly write. Finally, there was Rudolf with the high pride, about whom everyone said, his “head is swollen.” In 1914, at the outbreak of the war, he disappeared from Zawiercie, and people spread rumors that he was a spy.

zaw063.jpg
A Nazi torment session on the streets of Zawiercie

 

Fires

The fire in Moszkowicz's courtyard (coming from Reb Shabtai's shoe fastening factory) was not that tragic. In the wooden house of Reb Peretz Worcman the butcher in the old market, the fire ended in tragedy, leaving two people dead. One victim was a direct result of the fire: as he was escaping from the fire, the porter Hershel Morowicz, who lived

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atop of Berish Hochberger's home, forgot that his son was sleeping in a small room in his dwelling. The young lad was burnt to death. The second victim was Yisrael, Peretz Worcman's son, who was killed on a Saturday night with an axe when the younger Worcman was outside of the butcher shop. The reason was that the Morowicz' claimed that Worcman had started the fire in the building so that he could collect insurance. A trial took place, and the younger Morowicz was sentenced to a year in jail.

 

“Pietrowa Place”

At times I caused my parents aggravation. How many times did they need me to eat, or to send me somewhere, but I was not at home. They always knew where to look for me: In Pietrow's Place. I went there from our house, going through a pathway from Reb Aharon Banker's courtyard on Marszalkowska.

Pietrowa Place led to the railway tracks. From there, one could run across the rails all the way until the “Ciemny Alejkas” (Dark Alley). One should not say what took place there, in order to avoid accusing the youth of that time. There, in those dark alleys, one could find every young lad who started to go out with a girl without the knowledge of his parents.

A large proportion of the youth from all strata would gather at Pietrowa Place. The youth would play hide-and-seek and football there. There, the Jewish “White gang” of Zawiercie conducted battles with the shkotzim who came from the other side of the tracks – by throwing stones at them. At times, I would come home with injured sides and a cracked head.

From Pietrowa's Place, one could go through the wires and sneak into the fruit orchard that “Shimele Bas”, a known klezmer [musician] in town, would rent every year from the owners of the orchard, Reb Leibel Berger and his brother-in-law Reb Binyamin Moshe Landau (their house was in front of the orchard). Various fruit trees, apple, pear, cherry and plum, etc. grew in that garden. I would often refresh myself there, hiding in the branches of the trees.

Reb Berish Neiman and his family lived in Banker's house, among other neighbors.

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Reb Berish was an honest householder. He provided for his family through the work of his ten fingers, properly and honestly. He sewed shoe parts. Thereby, he supported his two sons – Yisrael who was murdered during the Holocaust, and Moshe Leib, who lives today in Israel.        In his workshop, even while he was working, one could always see groups of youths who would gather there, as if in a club. One could find out various news items there. The house was a gathering place for all the Zionist and Socialist youth.

It was impossible to go through Banker's house and not visit the Neiman brothers.

Shlomo Kolin would be the first to show up there, early in the morning, with a newspaper in his hand. He would read out loud the various articles of the daily news. He would never interfere with the work of the Neimans. The work continued on, even if they sang various songs from time to time.

 

The Club in the Apteczna

After work, the members would gather in the clubhouse on the Apteczna that was owned by the Goldberg brothers and was located in the courtyard of Levi Haberman (where Mordechai Hillel Windman also lived). We would spend our evening hours there playing bridge, chess and dominoes, singing, playing and engaging in other pastimes. The group there felt cozy, and there were talented youth among them. If there was a recreational event, a ball, a dance, or an excursion, everyone would feel bored for a long time until the members of the club gathered together. As soon as we all appeared, it became lively. With our arrival on the scene, even the Orthodox gained new courage to play. The same thing happened with respect to singing.

The club fell apart since some of the members got married, and others made aliya to Israel. The rest were killed abolished by Hitler and his gangs.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A colorful Yiddish word for “pests.” Return
  2. I suspect that these two words are local Yiddish jargon. Return
  3. I suspect that this refers to the couples in love walking around the area. Return
  4. Hallerczyks are followers of the Polish general Haller, who perpetrated atrocities in Poland at that time. The pogrom in Poznań is known. I am not sure of the identity of Szlanzak. Return
  5. I am not sure what this means – perhaps the side of the street on which there were written signs. Return
  6. I am not sure what this means. Evidently, a type of fish. Return
  7. Stuffed derma. Return
  8. The early part of the morning service, sung with less cantorialism than the other parts of the service. Return
  9. The opening words of the Sabbath Shacharit service, at which point the prayer leader generally changes. Return
  10. A section of the Friday night service in accordance with the Nusach Sephard mode. This proves that the synagogue in Zawiercie would have followed the Nusach Sephard prayer mode. Return
  11. They were wearing themselves out so that they would appear unwell before the military recruiter. This was a common practice at that time. Return

 

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