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{618}

In My Destroyed Home

Memories and reflections from a visit to Zgierz in 1959

by Fabian Greenberg of New York

{Photo page 618: Uncaptioned. Fabian Greenberg.}

a)

Here I am, standing once again on in the old market of my hometown that I had left 20 years previously. This particular point gives me the spiritual longing (and to a certain degree – also physical) to embrace the entire city, especially the Judaism in it, that has forever passed away.

The houses stand sorrowful – poor, dilapidated, like orphans. Sorrow overtakes me. How can it be that my grandfather's house, built like a fortress, stands intact? The plaster was cared for and clean. This is a sign that the Christian who now lives in the house is a very good homeowner. I wished that this house had appeared bitter and black, damaged like the other Jewish homes in the city.

My grandmother had told me that the post office was in their house. Wagons drawn by four horses would carry mail and passengers to the surrounding villages. As the wagons coming from the directions of Ozorkow approached the civic garden, one of the drivers would sound a trumpet – the mail is coming. The horses realized that their home was nearby. At the end of the trip, they would run into grandfather's yard in order to rest for a day.

This house also had an eminent resident. The Maskilim of Zgierz of that time brought in the Hebrew-Yiddish poet Yaakov Binyamin (Ben-Yamini) Katzenelson in order to open up a modern cheder for their children. His son, the later poet-martyr Yitzchak, wrote his first Hebrew poems in that house. One of Ben-Yamini's students later opened up a cheder near the fish market, in a long yard. This cheder was always left neglected, until it had to be shown to a school inspector. The Rebbe did not observe the ordinances of the Lodz school trustees. Mordechai Szwarc and I were among the youths who were happy to have a day off. He, Marek Szwarc did not absorb enough Judaism from that cheder to last him an entire lifetime…

I will most probably not see my grandfather's home again during my life. I want to take another glance. A happy moment comes to my memory: Purim with my grandfather. The entire family is gathered around the table. It was before the Purim feast. The door opens up and the Purim players push themselves in. The “repertoire” changed every year. This time it is about “the binding of Isaac”. The players were hand weavers, craftsmen, and students. Their acting was not bad. Perhaps they felt that this was the last time. Therefore they indeed paid attention to the roast turkey that was sitting in the roasting pan in the kitchen window. “Let them come!”, grandmother said.

Yes, they were correct. This was the last time. An era ended. Revolutionary winds began to blow along the Jewish street, and blew away several traditional Jewish customs.

b)

Here is not far away from the Jewish street. There, the synagogue and the Beis Midrash stood. My parents worshipped there on the High Holy Days. My father, a Maskil and a scholar, regarded many prayers as literary creations. He analyzed piyutim of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Shmone Esrei [1] along with his neighbor on the eastern wall of the Beis Midrash. They figured out what century the particular piyut was written. The prayer “Hineni Heani Mimaas” [2] made the greatest impression upon me. That prayer was for me the theme of all my later societal activity in the municipal institutions, where I became the speaker for the rights of the Jewish community of Zgierz.

Thinking about the burned holy buildings, I walked along the alley upon which my father, still a young man, was carried to his eternal rest. His son has now come from a far away land to visit the graves of his ancestors. I found a few broken monuments in the cemetery. This ground upon which the barbarian enemies uprooted our holiness has become a wasteland – very fresh green grass for cattle grows here.

The houses standing around the market did not have any luck. They did not awaken any memories, with the exception of Zalman Feldscher's (Grynwald's) house. The famous poet Yaakov Cohen spent his youth in that house. One day, I came to that house along with my father of blessed memory. As we traversed the market, we saw Leon Rosinow standing near the entrance. He reproached us as to why we had not taken the sidewalk around the market. The official of the Russian Police, Stanislavski, lived in the second house, and the meeting of the Gemilut Chassadim [3] on the second floor was illegal. There was a fear that the police would arrest all who gathered together for that memorial evening on the fourth yahrzeit [4] of Dr. Herzl.

That meeting was conducted with the Zgierz Zionists and with my latter longstanding friend Leon Rusinow of blessed memory. He was a very impulsive, energetic man who was imbued with fire during a discussion with political opponents. He was as sober as a Litvak [5], goodhearted and sentimental. His heart was as soft as butter when it came to dealing with Jewish needs.

The societal work kept us very busy. I remember that during an enthusiastic speech delivered by Yitzchak Nissenbaum in Lodz to acquaintances, we were both so overcome by emotion that we were not embarrassed to weep, despite the fact that we were both known as young Zionist revolutionaries.

3)

Our old wellspring was also of interest. We studied Ein Yaakov [6] privately with Reb Wolf Leib Haltricht, in order to bind the golden past with the gray struggle, so as to create a bright future in the land of our dreams. He, Leon, was not destined to see the Land. He perished in the Holocaust [7].

This was the time when the Jewish press in Poland grew and made inroads among the broad masses. Our Zionist circle gained new people. Among others, this included the enthusiastic member Menachem Berliner, with his hoarse voice. He impressed the youth with his unshakable belief, deep persuasion, logical thinking and fascinating example. He made aliya to Zion, worked hard, and wrote spirited letters. He came back after some time. However, he was not able to remain long in Zgierz. The Land called him. He was lacking his hands [8]. Menachem was not of those who go halfway. He again found himself among the pioneers who were drying up the malarial swamps.

In the midst of the First World War, the sad news arrived that our fellow died of that terrible disease.

4)

… A house stood not far from the place where I find myself – and it is not there. The Germans took over this house and simply tore it up. This brick house belonged to Isucher Szwarc. This house housed the Jewish library, where our meetings took place, where books were collected and later purchased. There, a library of several thousand Jewish and Hebrew books grew.

Isucher Szwarc loved the youth. He would come in with a smile on his pleasant face. He had a majestic presence. He would admire the first sculpture work of his son, tell a story, and encourage us in our further work. He was the admirer and important activist. He was a delegate to the First Zionist Congress. He was a scholar, and wrote articles in Hebrew periodicals under the pseudonym “Yam Shachor” (Black Sea). He was known far from the borders of our city. His eldest son was no embarrassment to the Szwarc family. He was famous as the researcher of the Marranos in Portugal. He left behind a manuscript in French regarding his life's work. This manuscript found its way to the editor of the New York “Teg”, Aharon Alperin – and began to be published. His son Mordechele became Marek Szwarc, a well-known painter and sculptor. I found an interesting sculpture by him in the French Institute in London.

The Jewish library, which bore the name of our fellow native, the writer David Frischman, played an important role in Zgierz. It increased the cultural achievements of the Jewish population, especially of the youth. We wished to include the Beis Midrash students in our circles. At that time, that element was under the influence of the anti-Zionist religious leadership. By becoming a reader in the library, the boy would come a bit closer to Zionism.

Aside from the Zionist literature, the atmosphere was Zionistic, and we developed an audience for Zionist readings. As well, the Hebrew courses at the library were a laboratory for preparing the appropriate human resources for the benefit of the ideal that occupied us. The image remains in my memory of Wolf Fiszer and his friends dressed in clean Jewish hats and long kapotes, coming for the first time in the library. They remained on the doorstep somewhat ashamed, for they had not yet completely decided to “cross the Rubicon”.

That element later helped us attain a greater position in those institutions that had a relationship to the religious needs of the Jewish population.

Our friend Menashe Szwarcbard was among the founders of the library. He was a man of the people with a fine sense of humor, and was close to the Jewish masses. As a former Beis Midrash student, he took advantage of the opportunity to influence the youth from religious homes and to bring them into the library circles. He often held readings for the youth.

We became friends, and worked together in the library and in the Zionist organization. He also realized his ideal and immigrated to the Land of Israel. They encountered unfavorable conditions, and he returned with his family, and died. I honor his memory.

I can also mention that among those who took an interest in the founding of the library was Aharon Cincinatus, who died in Israel. He left the city and went to Vilna, where he later became the Vilna correspondent for the Warsaw “Heint”.

5)

The First World War broke out and completely ended the entire social, cultural and political activity of the Jewish community of Poland. The parties began their competition, and a general mobilization of the youth commenced. Who would dominate? For the future of the Jewish Land, it was important that the greatest Jewish community should for the most part be on the side of our agents and leaders who prepare the terrain for great and important happenings. We realized that each city and town is important. With youthful fire and zeal, we placed the Zionist stamp on all Jewish institutions in the city.

If leaders were lacking, one member would take on several positions. If we had no understanding at all of philanthropy, it was important that the activists in the philanthropic institutions should be our friends. If it was crowded for us in the clean house of the Jewish organization, which was bounded solely by religious needs, we knew that when the census of communal activists who belong to the Zionist camp would take place, our society would belong to them. We broke the Orthodox stronghold. We transferred the leadership of the community to the religious wing of our organization, and the victory would be acknowledged in the entire region, for it was bound up with a struggle within the Sirkes family. They were a typical example of well-known Hassidic families who were cracked on the route to the Jewish renaissance. This was a political and religious struggle between two brothers. The Orthodox chairman of the community, Eliezer Sirkes, was forced to leave his post. The Mizrachi man Daniel Sirkes became the head of the community.

The communal councils of surrounding cities, Such as Strykow, Glowina and others desired the same inclination as we conducted and won the election struggle. We sent our members to those places (Yitzchak Glicksman of blessed memory and others) – and the communal councils of the entire region became dominated by Zionists.

As one position was conquered, we went over to a second. It was time to demonstrate to the world that we desire to save our people – that we are searching for a refuge for them. Our leaders wished to conduct a referendum. This would help their endeavors to maintain the Balfour Declaration. We did this thoroughly, so that no Jewish home would be passed over. I shudder with excitement to this day as I recall entering a Jewish house where I requested a signature for the declaration. The Orthodox young man answered me: “No, we have a different way”. The answer that our members had was satisfactory. We had a wonderful, knowledgeable youth, and every action in the city was conducted with national discipline and responsibility.

6)

… After everything, I am still standing in the old market immersed in thoughts. For me – the city hall, the magistrate. I entered there in 1919 as a young councilman in the first elected city council of Zgierz in free Poland. The united Jewish list was led by three councilmen; Eliezer Sirkes (from the Orthodox), Avraham Morgensztern (independent), and Fabian Greenberg (from the entire Zionist spectrum).

Eliezer Sirkes was a factional Orthodox activist. He founded various institutions in the city, such as “Hazamir” and the orphanage, and he was a co-founder of the touring organization [9], etc. However, not having a backbone behind him – an organization or a party, it always happened that either the institution disappeared after a certain time, or the leadership was given over to other hands. In this manner, he was not able to immediately create a new organization.

Our task in the city council was twofold: defending the rights of the Jewish population and stressing at every opportunity that Jews are citizens of the land with equal rights. We were representatives on all of the commissions, which took up a great deal of time. Each of us was required to serve as a member of different commissions.

A characteristic situation must be pointed out here. It was shortly after the First World War. The population was in need. The industrial enterprises, primarily the textile factories, were waiting for the calm to prevail outside the country in order to set the weaving looms in motion, which provided a livelihood for the majority of the population. A shipment of old dresses from the United States arrived at the city council, for the impoverished Christian population of Zgierz. The Jewish caucus felt the need also to have a representative in the distribution committee in order to demonstrate that we Jews also participate in the management of the city. We had to go from house to house to determine who has the right to receive these old clothes. On the day of the division of the items, it became obvious that there would not be enough for all those who have the right to receive help. The crowds were raging and were on the verge of demolishing the entire office. The socialist councilors understood that the first victim would be the Jewish councilor – and they let me go out through the back door…

I can see here the window of the large meeting hall of the magistrate, where for 20 years, the entire length of time that Poland was an independent republic, we wrangled with those who hated us, who wished through various means to tear away the piece of bread from the Jews. We defended the right of the Jewish population to receive subsidies for their philanthropic and cultural institutions. The efforts and endeavors of the Jewish councilors in intervening with the local authorities to prevent a malevolent official from mistreating a Jew were very difficult. It should be stated here that they counted on us Jewish councilors. The makeup of the city council was such that in many cases, our votes were decisive. Now I am standing in front of the city hall as a broken person, and I call out with pain in my heart: where are my constituents, what happened to them?

7)

I come from the State of Israel. I circulate around the splendid buildings of the University of Jerusalem [10]. But here I hear the resounding applause from the hall of the nearby “Luna” theater. The enthusiasm is for the founding, in 1925, of the University on Mount Scopus. The following people speak: the editor Y. Ungar of Lodz, and the Zionist councilor. Representatives of all of the nationalist groups in Zgierz bring their greetings as well. The feelings of the gathering are raised. One can hear the waving of the wings of the redemption, as the speakers call out that the university is a step forward along the difficult path to a Jewish independent state. There were two things that we could not know at the time: that the realization of the hopes would cost so much blood, and the buildings of the university on Mount Scopus would remain empty and orphaned [11].

But enough of these thoughts. Come, my dear readers, dear Zgierz Jews. We will move from this place, and go around the city through the main street of the city. There were Jewish shops on both sides of the street. They did business. However, the shops had to close at 2:00 p.m. Not even one shop remained open. The synagogue was crowded. The call to protest the Kristalnacht pogrom in Germany had a sharp echo. The president of the city, Jan Szjercz gave me permission to close the stores. He was not an anti-Semite. At that time, that was a great accomplishment. We entered the corner where the building of Mottel Margolies stood. The communal offices were on the first floor, and the Gerrer Hassidim worshipped underneath. This caused a constant war. Everything was so new. Stretch out the hand – and the shtibel can be taken over by the communal council. We were dragged along the way many times. I remember the disgrace that the two Reichert brothers-in-law had to endure when they worshipped in that synagogue. They were Zionists, Heaven forbid!…

This was also the case with our friend, the Mizrachi member Manes Engel. Not adventurists, but rather Hassidic youths knocked him down in the shtibel, beat him, and tore up and threw away his kapote. He did not go to the Polish court, but a religious judgement granted him a sum of money. He took the money, and made aliya with his family to the Land of Israel. We kissed each other in his own house in Pardes Chana.

I stand and observe the window of the communal office, and my heart throbs with pain: there I participate in all political actions, local and national, relating to the city council or the Sejm during the 20 years of the existence of the Polish state. There we extended a helping hand to the refugees of Zgierz who were driven away to Zbaszyn by the Germans [12].

During the time of the Russian-Polish war in 1920, when many soldiers passed through Zgierz, we made an effort to host all Jewish soldiers during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Jewish population demonstrated a wonderful display of solidarity. Rich and poor took in the Jewish soldiers. An embarrassed Jewish daughter came to my writing table and gave me a note from her father: “I apologize many times, but we unfortunately cannot take in Jewish soldiers. It will be a sad holiday. We have no livelihood.”

Our youth, from all parties, conducted this activity with great responsibility. They did not ignore one Jewish household.

8)

The economic situation of the Jews of Zgierz was generally better than that of other Jewish cities and towns. The textile industry, which was concentrated in the hands of a few Jewish and non-Jewish firms prior to the First World War, underwent a great metamorphosis. It was transferred to the hands of people who had no involvement with that industry, such as small-scale craftsmen who rose to a higher rung on the financial and economic ladder during the time of the war. At that time, the old manufacturers, who suffered greatly from the Bolshevik revolution whose former customers in Russia had their means confiscated, and also suffered from the German confiscations – were not able to conduct their businesses in the same scope due to capital pressure. Several liquidated their businesses, and the rest strongly felt the competition of the numerous newly arrived, small manufacturers. They ensured that a greater number of people would be employed by the mechanized weaving operations and the various auxiliary occupations.

The rabbi of Zgierz was concerned to ensure that Jewish workers would also find employment. It is worthwhile to stress that he was a rabbi who not only took interest in religious affairs, but also in social affairs. The number of Jewish weavers increased. However, they could not find employment in the city. With the initiative of the rabbi, a meeting of all Jewish manufacturers was called. He demanded simply that all Jewish manufacturers must employ 10% Jewish weavers. From that day on, the unemployment of the Jewish weavers ceased.

… Enough of standing here. It is futile to look around.

Jews would stand and converse in the center of the city. Good news and bad news would be shared. A commissioner with a merchant appeared. One had to run home. They did not wish to lose the ransom.

A group of Jewish porters stood there and waited patiently from someone to ask them to carry some merchandise or yarn for the weaving plant. Among them, was “the Bielas”, blond, angry, with a strange face. At his side – his sister, like two drops of water, figuring like a classic tragic comedy. Looking at them, it was possible that it was necessary to repeat that a person is created in the image of G-d. However, it was possible to admire the warm feeling of family solidarity which always pervaded between them, and the concern of one for the other (see their photo on page 630).

It is possible that Yosef Meir Haran would also come out from the alley. He was a good friend, the last chairman of the Zionist organization in Zgierz. The tenants of his house were the Zionist office and the Jewish library.

The mind works, the realities are sad – and with such a mood I go further around the city. At its summit, at the so-called new part of the city stands a large factory building, the former property of the well-known textile firm “Sirkes and Eiger”. The partner of the firm, Moshe Eiger was a Jew who was a Maskil. He was a calm, peaceful, feeling, poetic soul, who published a collection of poems in Hebrew and Yiddish. We young people did not see him among us. However later, in his old age, he drew nearer to us. We had the impression that he believed that money can be lost, but the extra soul remains forever. He became very active in Zionist and societal life, as if he was rectifying and paying back for the previously neglected time.

9)

Before the walk ends, I want to tell not only of what took place in that Garden of Eden, but also about that which surely did not bring honor to Jewish Zgierz. Enough water flowed into the Bzura River of Zgierz since two “nice youths” were disgraced in our city: they were out of jail – and we then saw them go forth again with chains on their hands, under a police guard. They were thieves and extortionists. They tortured the poorest of the poor, Jewish servant girls from whom they demanded redemption money. Those who did not comply with their request were beaten and threatened with rape. Zamele somehow was able to detach himself from hell, for he later got married and earned his piece of bread honestly as a tailor. Itchele left Zgierz, apparently across the ocean.

Of the approximately 5,000 Jewish souls, a miniscule percent were lawbreakers.

10)

I leave you, my old city. Presently, “old city” is not a rhetorical term. Digging under the earth below the foundation of the large “Boruta” chemical factory, stone and iron items were found. The vases with relief drawing were from a much earlier time. Historians estimate that there was already a human population here from the 3rd century. About 70 years ago, one could see Swedish trenches around Zgierz from the Swedish-Polish war. Jews lived in Zgierz for approximately 250 years. A small corner of the Polish-Jewish settlement, bound and connected with it and with the entire Jewish population of the wide world.

Three Jews remained in Zgierz. A patio saved them. I rejoiced with them in Israel.

On that day when I set out on my far journey, I saw one of the pioneers (chalutzim) who underwent their Hachsharah with us in the city. When he found out where I was going, his eyes opened wide and he asked:

“Why not to the land of Israel?”

It was hard for me to answer him. However, his question has been ringing in my ears for all these years. I could not find him in Israel. Who knows if he came to the Land? However, hen I came to the Organization of Zgierz émigrés, a soldier woman came to me, hands pressed together, and told me that it was because of me that she was here in the Land. I knew that she was not the only one, and I also had helped carry a few bricks for the upbuilding of our land.

I know also that that chalutz, if he is still alive, still hold his eyes open – and perhaps asks the same question…

{Photo page 630: The Bielases – a brother and a sister (covering her face), the most well known porters in the town.}

{631}

For My Birthplace Zgierz

by Yisrael Asher Malchieli

Memorial bricks
To a Jewish community
That was pushed away
And is no more…

a)

“My birthplace”? – – Indeed? – This is not the true meaning of the words,
Your language is foreign to me, with it can I not express thoughts;
Not in you did mother's birth pangs frighten me, to the air of the world did I hasten,
Not in you did my nursing mother satiate me, on the breasts of peace did I clasp my fists;
To walk on two, already with a “name”, I already learned proper things,
I became familiar with the Lithuanian language, my mother tongue, and I chattered in it;
I differentiated, and discerned between the hugs of mother and embraces of grandmother,
In the courtyards, I played together frequently with children of my age,
“There”, in the city in Lithuania, which dwelt in strength from a time ago,
As a Divine cloud from the tents of Jacob, in the spirit of the Gra [13];
The voices of “Sinai” echoed, and filled the entire Kloiz,
Every common person there knew Torah, and the masses – Gemara.

b)

And I – when I came to Zgierz, I was big, I was already five years old,
I studied Chumash and Rashi, and my steps were encouraged with the Scriptures;
The prayers were fluent on my lips, and I also studied chapters of Talmud,
“I ploughed” in “These are the found objects”, and in “The ox that gored the cow” [14]
On my student desk, among older people, I was never embarrassed of their friendship,
And the queries of the rabbi and his riddles, I answered easily, before everyone.
Indeed, I was already older when I came,
This five-year-old was not a small mater,
And I knew well how to differentiate,
Between that which was forbidden and permitted…

c)

But to you, my city of Zgierz, where I took my first proper steps,
But you were new to me, my youth rejoiced in you;
The tumult of your streets and their crowds, and various childhood pursuits
Made me forget my memories from “there”, slowly slowly they were stored away and
were no longer;
Even though my complaints were many, I did not know pleasure and enjoyment
I found what was to be found for my age, and my cup was filled to abundance;
From your clear autumn days, did not caress me in the summer with my guile
And in the civic “pleasure garden”, my feet never trod upon,
I also, in my manner, enjoyed my life at that time,
I strengthened myself with walks, and my soul ascended to the clouds.

d)

On Sabbath and festival days, when I went out together with my father
Outside of the city, to the fields, there, to the railroad bridge,
Then my soul was filled with joy. All sadness distanced itself from me,
I moved my legs like rams, and I skipped along without stopping.
As usual, Reb Isucher Szwarc or his brother Shmuel joined us,
Both of blessed memory, may their soul dwell with G-d;
Also Reb Wolf Leib, the wonderful prayer leader, whose melodies I so enjoyed,
He was also an expert mohel, and he busied himself with watches in his corner,
In that small store, the likeness of which I can still see in my dreams,
However his portrait, the mohel, is very much etched in my memory…
For he always would visit us, and he would also join us for meals,
On the long Sabbath evenings, or at the conclusion of the day of rest,
His palate enjoyed the appetizers, or the taste of raisins and plums,
He would always say that the raisins were the best…
And once on a Rosh Hashanah evening, I remember, when he came to us
He brought a small bunch of grapes for the Shehecheyanu blessing [15];
I asked “Is this from the Land of Israel?” – What a forlorn question;
– “From where did you think?” – was the answer that shot out,
And three small grapes, that I so desired to chew and swallow,
I tasted the taste of delicacies that I will forever never forget – – –

5)

As I talk about “prayer leaders”, other cantors come to memory,
Reb Fishel Bunim, with his yellow beard, who lead prayers on the Sabbaths of the year,
And Reb Fishel Rus, who sang nicely, and his prayers cut open into the heavens,
He called together all of the angels of high, and even arose the dead to life;
On Rosh Hashanah and the fast of Yom Kippur, he stood like a “rock for his nation,
Like the sharpest attorney, there was none more successful than he in his task,
All of them like the cedars of Lebanon, mighty in prayer and song,
They died, passed away and are no longer, and their melodies have ended.

*

We are speaking of Fishel, and I remember one more, who would sit in the tents of study,
He stood on Holy guard, and he was not a cantor or a mohel;
Reb Fishel the well-known shamash, who kept his post without problems,
At the Great Synagogue and also at the cemetery for those who dwelt in the graves,
Where his family were slaughtered like sheep, and his own life was crushed to the
ground,
During the time of the evil murderers, by whose iniquity suspicion was aroused in his
community.

6)

I surely remember you, Zgierz, your poor and your noble ones,
I remember your elite, and also your dross;
The open street of the Jews, where your beloved ones were centered,
There the synagogue and the Beis Midrash stood as the main places and centers for your
flock;
The Beis Midrash!... Where I worshiped daily and also studied Gemara,
Along with my older friends, who also set aside times to study Torah there;
If I am not mistaken, even the rabbi of the city also stood to assist his dwelling,
From atop that public oven, which was very crowded before Passover;
There we baked matzos together, we kneaded and rolled the dough,
We poured the “mayim shelanu” [16], we divided up the pieces,
There are the round, large matzos, which we carried on the shoulders with a sheet,
And I waited to greet Passover night – the time to dispense with bread…
For the matzo was dear to me, together with the four cups of wine,
I waited with joy in my heart, and the festival was tied to me with bonds – – –

7)

I mentioned the rabbi of the city,
His image is still before me,
As he lectured before his flock,
With words so saturated with sadness;
I was crowded among his listeners,
Who included sons with fathers,
And I listened to the flames in his words –
To his voice that hewed flames;
Sometimes he would raise his voice in a roar,
As he preached his message and his discipline,
The faces of his audience fell and froze,
They were filled with worry;
I heard him on Shabbat Hagadol [17]
Where he talked about the days of yore,
Also on Shabbat Shuva and Chazon [18]
When he discoursed upon the “Hiding of the Face” [19]
And in the gatherings of the masses, at times of joy and sorrow,
The rabbi preached his words before all of the elderly and youth;
He was a merciful father to his community,
And a strength for the downtrodden and those who toiled,
To bring bread to their homes,
And to take out the curse [20] from the uncircumcised ones.

8)

Yes, this was the bustling street of the Jews, where living Judaism was nurtured,
And to separate with the boring “Lutna”, and with him also “Czytczgo Mayo”,
We also lived on these streets, I saw in them suffering and hope,
On them I played, studied, worshipped, and also accompanied to the Mikva [21]
Father of blessed memory, I was always joined him on his paths,
To his friends and the homes of his acquaintances, I was bound with bonds of yearning;
For he delivered lessons to private people outside of the hours of cheder,
To good students, of good fortune, who were born to the homes of the wealthy;
I accompanied him of my own desire, and perhaps also to his command…
That I should not waste my time, and that he would bestow of his Torah also to me;
I enjoyed these visits, for aside from the fact that they prepared treats for me,
On occasion I would also find some boys and girls there,
Especially at the home of Richert, where there were young people and games,
And I was able to slip out into the yard at times;
For I loved the garden of Berger, I tasted his fruits on occasion,
Also at the home of P. my friend, where I became close with his sisters,
They were beautiful girls, and I always desired their friendship,
With a Gemara open before me, more than once I placed their face before me…

9)

And “Stary Rynek”, this is the market, I remember it on Mondays and Thursdays,
(Also, as usual, on the following day, Friday, the eve of the Sabbath),
The bustling of selling and buying, where all of the villagers gathered,
With their wagons laden with all good things, they placed their bounty before the Jews;
They hated and were jealous of the Jews, but they removed their hats to receive their
money,
And the Jews did business and purchased, enjoyed and ate to their satiation.
There, in the east side of the square, the flag of the “magistrate” fluttered,
That place of strange government, which I would pass by slowly,
As I thought about the “evil eye” of the guard standing in the gate,
(In the exile, I was afraid of police, always, when I was young).
And to the left of that building, as I walked with my friend to his father's home,
We passed in front of a mighty building, with a tower and gate around,
That cast its heavy shadow, and its heavy bells tolled –
That “Kosciol” was a deterrent, in my imagination – the home of the demons,
As I passed by – my hair bristled, I was afraid, and I hid my steps,
My heart pounded fearfully, I was covered with strangeness and frights.

10)

I will recall further the market square, with its water wells at its belly,
Where I would visit in the mornings with pails, every day or two;
Then, with Tzirel Poiznerson, a widow, a woman of means,
Who stood at the entry gate, and raised the fee every year;
This Tzirel, who educated [22] her children, and she was so strong and wonderful
The fate so darkened her face, weariness was always with her.
Chaim Pinchas her eldest – his name was like fine oil,
He was observant and followed the Torah, he was upright and faithful to his people –
He was also a Maskil and knowledgeable, an activist and enthusiastic Zionist,
He went out barefoot, cut off, towards the Heavens in mourning for this father,
On the day that the weeping was bitter, and his agony spilled outward – –

11)

I will no longer wax great with words, and it is best that I run to the “Blotene” [23]:
This is “Ocyca Hablotene”, the street upon which I grew up,
I worked at every hard task, and I also toiled in my studies,
Then the world war broke out, and the bread – Oh! It disappeared from the market,
I forgot previously to mention the farm of the gentile “Kaczok”.
She was a Pole, crafty, conceited, who spoke Yiddish as a Jew,
However, her mouth only spoke sycophancy, and we were not admired in her eyes…
There were many good neighbors there, to my sorrow I do not remember their names,
Except for the families of Librach and Blatt, and this…Moshe Yosel who remains in my
memory from among their children.
Those were difficult years, laden with much suffering and fear,
We endured famine and horror, and all the misfortunes came upon us together.

12)

However, from the midst of the clouds of agony, the stars gaze down and wink,
Bright lights in the darkness, which broke through and peeked from the clouds;
A that time, I toiled greatly in Torah, and I increased my wisdom and knowledge,
For in this father fattened me up, as much as his hand was able;
Then, many students streamed to father's cheder,
Including the children of the poor and struggling, but the vast majority from the well off,
These broke the famine in our home, and enabled us to provide our needs and food,
They studied, became wise and knowledgeable in the words and vision of the Nation of
Israel.
These were the sons of Richert, Wader, the Katzes, and many others like them,
To my sorrow I am not able to remember and name everyone by name,
Also the children of Haron and Berger, and including Meir Mendzicki.

13)

From here, we will turn aside to another street, and go over to “Marshal Pilsudski”.
That is where Jews desired to live, among gentiles and the upper class;
There, the magnates were known to the poor, and every woman honored her husband.
We had lived on this street previously, when we first arrived in the city,
I was still young at the time, a boy, very, very young…
We lived in the large courtyard of that fat Szymanski,
A gentile, who blessed aloud, and also answered Amen to curses.
There, across from us what the “Zagoda”, that building of great proportions,
The dwelling of the money powers, and the fortress of the reservoirs of “the futures”…
Jews mixed with gentiles there, and competed in the making of money,
Until the end approached, and they ere annihilated and lost with the multitudes

*

And, to differentiate, I will also mention the “tower of Richert”, the source of all action
and deeds,
Where Zionism was commanded and nurtured, and the hearts were prepared for
Redemption:
There, the youth saw their home, and there they suckled strength and power,
To fight the battles of their nation, to approach the inheriting of the Land;
There “Hatzofim” conducted its activities, students came with teachers,
This was an exemplary house, as a sign for generations to come.

14)

There were youth in Zgierz, young and very active
Zionists, Mizrachists, Agudists, students of the Beis Midrash, scouts, Maccabeans;
Even those on the margins and assimilationists whose entire life was based on false
hopes,
Destruction overtook them all, together we were judged for annihilation,
Aside from the few, free people, whose soul yearned for redemption,
They made haste and made aliya to the Land, and broke through even as it was locked;

*

I will remember these in trembling, as they entered into Richert's home at night,
As they walked in the shade on the streets, with energy and might as people of valor;
They were accompanied by marching songs, as they opened their mouths in song,
And the voice of the leader shouting: “Forward, left, right!”
At the head of the marchers I remember, a lad, intelligent and good,
I do not know who was in the ranks, here my memory is weak,
But I recall the head of the marchers: It was Yoav Katz the drummer.

15)

I had counted your streets, from the market to the new city,
Walking and marching forward, towards “The New City”.
There, there are gay and lovely houses, clean streets, polished,
There is no trace of the poverty of the poor, and old houses are no longer seen;
There riches rule, and a new life turns over,
There a Jew walks with pride, walking as a man among men;
Near here, also the “tram”, the king and pride of transportation,
Moving to and fro, going to Lodz and its crowds.
From the time I departed from the “tram station”, many many years passed
And I do not know what it was doing during the days of Hitler, whether it to brought
people to the furnaces – – –

16)

Oh remember! I will remember Zgierz, your residents and Hassidim decorated,
With beards and clothing, peyos and splendid kapotes,
The Jews of the Sabbath and festivals, and the Jews of all the days of the year,
Imbued with faith and awe, and also the “progressives” and those weak in faith,
Manufacturers, men of commerce, and practitioners of all skilled crafts,
Men of initiative and deeds, and also those eat the bread of sadness;
From the “Tolaat Yaakov” store, I would bring goods for my mother
And from “Tzofe Shamayim” in the square – salted fish and bagels;
And Aharon Yitzchak, that is “Nechemia Itzel” who would “donate” [24] greatly to
charity,
He would speak quietly and calmly, and he would bear all depressing burdens on his
shoulders;
He was always wandering the streets, I never knew where he lived,
His image still stands with me, as his spittle ran down his beard.

17)

From where did I purchase fruit and vegetables? This was from “Tzadok Hatzahov” [25]
Whose store was filled to the brim with the fat of the land
He had good merchandise, well preserved and set out
He was assisted by the woman of valor, his wife Menucha.
I loved his pickled cucumbers, and I especially purchased his radishes,
(For my father loved radishes, and he saw in them wondrous benefits,
For those who suffered maladies of the liver and intestines, and other types of illnesses.)
I did not purchase apples and pears, and this astonished his customers
Until at one time he embarrassed me. In front of all the woman customers,
As he saw me, he called out “Here he is, the radish lover!…” [26]

18)

I will also recall Kaszikoc the worker, a Jew who wove linens,
At the edge of the city, close to his farm, and here I will also recall the pitchers –
Pitchers of bubbling milk, that I brought to our home each day,
We loved this drink, which was our chief beverage,
Warm, fresh milk – I watched over the milking,
At “Frau Peltenberg”, of Mielno, a quiet and dear family,
There were Germans, proper and good gentiles,
They did not pursue gain and honor, and they were not gluttons and drunkards,
Their son Ervin was calm and peaceful, and he was called “Charvona” [27] by us
He also had an older sister, modest and refined;
Who would have possibly imagined that when the Hitlerist storm arrived,
That these would also turn into Volksdeutsche, and would let lose and behave wildly,
These too – Woe! – they took a rope, in the cruel hunt for Jews,
To rob them, frighten them and beat them, hang them and bring them to the skillets.

19)

There are many more people of Zgierz whom I feel obligated to mention,
Including Reb Rafael Henech Blausztejn, may G-d remember him for good,
Who taught us Gemara with Tosafot [28]. He was a “Sinai” and an “Uprooter of
Mountains' [29],
He fed our spirit with his didactics, and tied them into bundles;
He even prepared our lectures for Bar Mitzvah. How he toiled to impart to us, I
Remember,
The days were short at the time, and we studied by candlelight.
He was an exacting teacher. He was meticulous, he came to class seriously,
To impart his Torah that was his merchandise, and to spread from his wellspring outward,
The sons of Sirkes, Szpiro, Szternski, also Tevil the grandson of the judge;
I cannot remember them all, for the bed is too short to spread out,
There were many diligent lads, I walked with them all as a friend.
And my friend, David Abramowicz, who was an artist and a sculptor together.
Who made aliya with me to the Land, and returned to the Diaspora out of fear,
Lest he want for bread in the Land, and there he was torn apart,
I do not know what his fate was, did he perish in a furnace and was burnt?
And Yitzchak Weisbaum, who was pleasant, how pleasant was his friendship to me,
We were good friends, and he was uprooted and disappeared with his wife.

*

I forgot Zalman the medic, he was a feldscher who could do everything
He was the chief sorcerer for any illness, from the head and heart to the liver and spleen,
He was a redeeming angel to the suffering, and an expert craftsman for all wounds,
He would extract teeth magically, and present medicine at the spur of a moment.

*

I still have to obligation
To recall with blessing and good
Zodekowicz, Reb Mordechai Shmuel
Who waited and pined daily for the coming of the redeemer
He was a wise man who possessed nobility,
Who worked me hard in studying the calendar
He taught me the mathematics of “Iyb Tshzag” [30]
To determine the start of the month and the date of the festival – – –

20)

Where are they, the Hassidim of Gur, the faithful of Strykow and Sochaczew, fine
people?
Destruction overtook them, they were cast upon the fields like dung!
Men of Torah and Divine service, experts in prayer and Kabbalah,
They were sacrificed to the demons, the angels of destruction trampled and crushed them;
Your afflicted and shriveled bodies were torn up by the human beasts,
You did not come to rest in the grave, and your blood was not covered by the dust – –
He will pass judgement on the nations, and it will be filled with corpses [31] – the
children of Israel who fertilized the fields,
Who were pilled up dead and alive, in pits dug by the enemy.
May their names and memories be blotted out, may Amalek be destroyed forever!
And may the redeemer come to Zion, and the exile be swallowed up forever!!!

*

My soul weeps for you, woe! – Zgierz, what became of all your Jews?!
All of you left, and are no longer! – – not one will return to you;
Strangers devoured their hosts, and they applauded loudly your castaways;
We will erase the memory of your builders from you, the voice of those that speak finely
is silent,
All of it in the days of darkness, it was turned to dust and ashes
And nothing is left of the nation except for a memory in a book – – –


TRANSLATOR'S FOOTNOTES

1. Shmone Esrei (literally eighteen, from the eighteen benedictions of the weekday prayer service) is the central part of the daily prayer services. In fact it has nineteen benedictions, as one was added later, but it still retained its name. Even though on Sabbaths and festivals there are only seven benedictions (except for Rosh Hashanah Mussaf where there are nine), the name Shmone Esrei still sticks. A piyut (plural: piyutim) is a poetic addition to the prayers. The High Holiday prayers have a large number of piyutim. Back

2. Literally “Here I am, poor in worthy deeds”, the prayer recited by the prayer leader prior to the commencement of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Mussaf service. In this prayer, the prayer leader confesses his unworthiness for his task, and asks that the congregation not be blamed for his failings. Back

3. Charitable organization. Back

4. Yahrzeit is the anniversary of death. Herzl died in 1904, so this story took place in 1908. Back

5. Lithuanian Jews (Litvaks) are known as being very level headed. Back

6. A compendium of the aggadaic (stories or legends) from the Talmud. Back

7. Literally: He was destroyed. Back

8. Probably meaning: He was lacking the work of his hands. Back

9. Turen farein, which I expect means touring organization, as strange as that sounds here. Back

10. He must be referring to the Hebrew University. Back

11. Between 1948 and 1967, the territory surrounding the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus was in Jordanian hands. The area of the campus itself was an Israeli enclave surrounded by Jordanian territory, but was effectively inaccessible. After the 1967 war, the Mount Scopus campus again began to function. In the interim, the functioning Hebrew University campus was in Givat Ram. Back

12. Zbaszyn is a town on the former Polish-German border. In the pre-war Nazi years, Polish Jews in Germany were deported back to Poland through that town. Back

13. The Gra is the acronym for the Gaon Reb Eliahu, otherwise known as the Vilna Gaon. Back

14. These are names of chapters of Talmud. Back

15. The Shehecheyanu blessing is a blessing thanking G-d for keeping us alive, which is recited on special occasions, including all festivals. On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to also eat a new fruit at the time of the Shehecheyanu blessing. Back

16. Water that has been left out in the open all night, which is used for the baking of matzos. Back

17. The Sabbath prior to Passover. Back

18. Shabbat Shuva is the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Shabbat Chazon is the Sabbath preceding Tisha Beov. Back

19. The hiding of the face of G-d, so to speak, when evil befalls the world. Back

20. Literally, Bilaam – whose curses turned into blessings. Back

21. Ritual bath. Back

22. The root 'sh k l', could mean to educate, but it can also mean to lose one's children, or even to miscarry. I chose the first meaning here, but it is not clear that the second is not intended. Back

23. “Muddy”, here referring to the Muddy Road, referred to several times in this book. Back

24. The odd reflexive form here “Hitrim” has the connotation as to take in donations rather than donate. Back

25. Tzadok the yellow. Back

26. Does not translate well into English, literally: “He of the multitude of radishes”. Back

27. Charvona was one of the servants of Achashverosh in the Book of Esther, who interceded on behalf of the Jews. Back

28. Tosafot is a prime commentary on the Talmud (Gemara). Back

29. The Talmud records a dispute as to whether it is better for a scholar to have a vast repository of knowledge, or to be able to delve deeply into a topic. The term for the scholar with the vast repository of knowledge is “Sinai”, reminiscent of the entire Torah given on Mount Sinai, and the term for the scholar with the ability to delve deeply into a topic is “Uprooter of Mountains”. Back

30. Numerical mnemonics used in the derivations of the Jewish calendar. Back

31. A quote from the memorial to martyrs recited on Sabbath mornings in the synagogue. Back

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